30 Jul 2009

20 is Plenty comes to Whiteshill and Ruscombe

This week the '20 is Plenty' signs have gone up around the village and the stickers for recycling boxes are being delivered with the latest edition of The Warbler.

Photos: taken earlier this week

Many will know I have long advocated 20 mph limits - see the article below printed in this blog for the first time but originally in The Citizen/Echo's community blog back in March this year - clearly this '20 is Plenty' is not mandatory and already I can see it is being ignored by some - have some even noticed??? A waste of time? More signs to litter our countryside?

No. Sadly the way it works is that if we want to go for a mandatory 20 mph then we need to get speeds lower - this voluntary scheme has been shown to lower speeds in other areas by a small amount - our hope is that this is a step towards getting a mandatory 20 mph.

Anyhow big thanks to the Parish for helping get this done - and for the idea re stickers for the recycling boxes - hopefully every recycling day there will be a reminder to everyone to go 20 mph. It is also worth mentioning that Randwick Parish are in hot pursuit and are planning their own '20 is Plenty' scheme....Feedback welcomed on what folk think about it all......anyway here is that old article...

Communities want streets not transport corridors

A warm welcome to this Community Blog. I am sure it will grow into a useful and interesting place for comment, debate, information and indeed a celebration of our Five Valleys. I applaud Stroud Life for making this space available to the community.

Cartoon: courtesy of local artist Russ

One issue I'd like to kick off with is the need for 20 mph zones in all urban areas. Too many of our communities have been blighted by traffic - to such an extent that many now see it is normal to have roads that are little more than what some have described as 'traffic sewers'.

On Saturday I joined six Whiteshill and Ruscombe Parish councillors to consider sites for '20 is Plenty' signs in the Parish. These signs are advisory rather than mandatory and some see them as a waste of time as so many drivers ignore them. However they are one of the first steps communities can take towards shifting opinion about traffic speeds and getting mandatory 20 mph zones.

In Whiteshill Village, the Main Road is so busy, that many parents don't allow their children to cross the road to the playground. At no point is a crossing suitable. We have also seen an increase in traffic using the village as a short cut after many used it when the A46 was closed last year. Speed gun tests by the Parish Council show many people are travelling at the speed limit but 30 mph is too fast on those roads.

Sadly current policy is that unless the vast majority of cars are already travelling at 20 mph or less on the road then you can't have a 20 mph zone. It is considered too costly to enforce/police. This leads to absurdities like in Springhill (see photo left) where a 20 mph zone was put in with road paint and ugly signs on a road that I doubt anyone can drive along at over 15 mph. A waste of money which could have been better spent on traffic calming measures on roads that really need it.

20 mph: the arguments are overwhelming

When a pedestrian is hit by a car at 40 mph they only have a 15% chance of surviving, at 30mph, 55%, but at 20mph the chance of survival increases to 95%. This is more than sufficient justification for a default 20 mph in urban areas. Amazingly even a 1 mph drop in average speed is estimated to reduce accidents by 6% in urban areas.

Research shows that 20mph limits are a critical success factor in promoting walking, cycling and public transport as alternatives to the private car. This means less CO2 emissions and healthier residents.

20 mph limits help create 'living streets' as this is the speed at which drivers can have eye contact with other users of the street. It is the speed at which pedestrians feel more confident about crossing the road, children play outside their homes and it is quiet enough to hold a conversation. Research has also found that residents of busy streets have less than one quarter the number of local friends than those on streets with little traffic. Increasing motor traffic has impacted on people's sleep and health and forced people to make adjustments to their lives to shield against in some cases nearly constant noise, pollution, dust and danger outside their front doors. Shockingly four times as many poor children as rich children are killed on Britain's roads.

20 mph is just the start: we need a new approach to traffic

In going around the Parish on Saturday it was obvious that we did not need to put signs up at some points in Ruscombe or side roads in Whiteshill, as vehicles would be hard pressed to go more than 20 mph. Indeed any additional road paint and signage would be unnecessary urbanification of the village.

In 2005 I co-authored a report, 'Better Streets for Stroud District' that looked at how to reduce dangers on our roads. It focused on a radical new approach, now known as 'Shared Spaces', that has been shown to reduce accidents rates, reduce congestion and is good for communities. It is based on 20 mph speed limits but also is about removing traffic lights, guard rails, signs, humps and road markings.

The approach is based on the view that it is only when the road is made less predictable and less certain that drivers will stop looking at signs and start looking at other people. In other words, instead of relying on the street system for security, drivers are forced to use their reactions. This helps explain why research in the County found that accidents with children did not occur more outside schools - when schools are busy cars tend to drive more carefully. See my article, 'Green Streets are Naked Streets', that I wrote for Resurgence magazine with more info here.

Shared Spaces has produced some astounding results where it has been implemented, but I'll save my enthusiasm for another time.The good news is that the original report led to a seminar at Stroud District Council and a growing understanding of how the approach could revolutionise traffic engineering approaches. The County is already trialing some of the ideas, but it is early days and we still have not created the political will to introduce blanket 20 mph zones.

Time for a change

The World Health Organisation rightly regards the 1.2 million annual road traffic deaths not as 'accidents' but as a 'predictable and preventable' result of fundamental structural problems. Quite rightly there is outrage whenever terrorist bombings kill even one person, let alone a hundred. Yet we are turning a blind eye to the deaths of nearly 3,000 people and 248,000 casualties on Britain's roads every year.

Photo: Looking for suitable locations for '20 is Plenty' signs in Ruscombe then approval will be sought from Highways

Britain's record for child safety is amongst the worst in Europe and we have discouraged cyclists and walkers from our roads. We are long overdue the time when all our all our urban areas are automatically 20 mph. The equivalent 30kph limit is almost universal in urban areas in Germany and the Netherlands.

Communities across the Five Valleys like Whiteshill, Randwick, Chalford, Nailsworth and more are trying to cut speeds. Every councillor from all parties I have ever spoken to about traffic has been concerned, especially in the context of schools and children, and yet progress towards a safe road transport system is painfully slow.

In my correspondence with the County Council there seems little appetite for change in Gloucestershire, but other Councils are starting to make the necessary changes. Hull City Council has reduced child pedestrian injuries by 75% in its 20mph zones while Portsmouth is implementing a 20mph limit Traffic Management Order for the whole town. Norwich and York hope to follow. But we also need the Government to end the bureaucracy associated with the creation of such zones.

The government must also end it's huge road building programme, which their own research shows only leads to more traffic. We should reward responsible motorists by abolishing the Road Tax, which provides no incentive for less polluting travel choices. Instead shift the responsibility onto fuel duty. Money can then be invested in good alternatives to driving.

Gloucestershire has seen a 17% rise in traffic between 1997 and 2006 - five percent higher than the national average. The forecast is 5.7m more cars on British roads by 2031. We know we can't go on like this. Traffic is destroying our communities, our health and our environment. I welcome the moves by Parish Councils and others to shift thinking so that 20mph should be the default in urban areas. We urgently need better road designs and enforcement, but most of all we need leadership to make it a reality.

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