Home zones are residential streets in which motor vehicles take second place to people. They’ve been a feature of some parts of continental Europe for 25 years, but have only recently begun to be discussed seriously in Britain. The government has recently asked local authorities to nominate neighbourhoods to be turned into such zones. The term is still uncommon in the UK, at the moment mostly being the jargon of traffic engineers and local environmental campaigners. Similar ideas have been put forward in other English-speaking countries, but the term is even less well known than in Britain.
In continental home zones, pedestrians and cyclists have legal right of way, and motor vehicles are restricted to not much more than walking pace. The distinction between vehicle and pedestrian areas is deliberately blurred; trees, seating and play areas are added so that the streets become open spaces for walking, sitting, playing and talking. Home zones are marked with an internationally recognised sign showing a walker, a house, a child with a ball and a distant car.
The word is the English equivalent (what grammarians call a loan translation or calque) of the Dutch name for the system, woonerf.
What would Home Zones be like, in practice? For residents, parents, children, pets, strollers and promenaders in the spring sunshine they would be delightful. Queues of cars would be unlikely to form, because cars would avoid them unless absolutely necessary.
The Times, Jan. 1998
Home Zones have existed in many other European countries for years, and play a key role in improving the quality of life for residents in towns and cities, reducing the demand for new housing in rural areas and cutting down on commuting.
Manchester Forum, Summer 1998
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