Op-Ed: Why things are not good for UK citizens — and how to make them better

- By John Whitelegg

We are not doing very well in the UK on things that matter to most people.  We are the 6th richest country in the world and yet we come very near the bottom of most rankings on things like child poverty, inequality, pensioner poverty, excess winter deaths, teenage pregnancy, NEETS, percentage of electricity generated from renewables, levels of cycling and quality of public transport.  None of this is necessary and it is safe to assume that local and central government did not set out to achieve these poor quality outcomes.  So what is going on?

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More on public, private and social space. Dispatch from Andrew Curry reporting from occupied London

We think quite a lot about space here at World Streets, from at least two perspectives. First and naturally enough given that the goal of transportation/mobility/access is specifically to find ways to bridge space, in one way or another, and for better or for worse. And second, because when we get to cities, and given the bulimic, gorging nature of our present dominant transportation options, space starts to get in very short supply (the so-called elephant in the bedroom syndrome). But it is not just space per se; no less important is the quality of public and social space in cities that is (or at least should be) a continuing concern of policy makers and citizens alike. So when we spotted a thoughtful piece such as Andrew Curry’s short article that follows, we are glad to be able to share it with our readers. Continue reading

Interview with British Transport Secretary / Attitudes towards the car

From: Simon Field [mailto:s.d.field@talk21.com] The Guardian interviewed UK Transport Minister Philip Hammond last week: you can read Andrew Sparrow’s piece in full here: Throughout the interview you will see that Hammond refers to carbon as the problem, largely ignoring or dismissing other concerns about the car. Read More via Network Dispatches

Support for High Speed Rail in Britain

Strange as it may seem when you do the basic arithmetic, there is strong support from the three main political parties in the UK for the HSR proposal, and if our first article in this series argues that the reasoning behind it is heavily flawed, it is important in these matters to present the arguments of those who may not agree. Here you have some extensive extracts from a group, Greengauge 21, that have aggressively argued for the HSR proposal. We leave it to your attention. Beyond what you see here they have a more detailed leaflet outlining their arguments which you can have here – “HS2 — why the critics are wrong“. And once again, we welcome your comments. Continue reading

UK High Speed Rail: Going very fast in the wrong direction

In the field of transport, no matter how straight-forward the issues may seem to be to the busy citizen, merchant, reporter or policy maker, when it comes to making wise policy it really does take a certain level of time and attention to detail to come to grips with the underlying issues and priorities that shape the outcomes. The awful conundrum encumbering the mobility issues of our new century from a policy perspective is that just about everything turns out upon study to be unobligingly complex, interdependent, complicated and time lagged – no matter how simple it may appear to be on the surface. In the article that follows, the authors  have a go at a lot of the too-easy thinking that is the main currency of the High Speed Rail discussions in places like Britain and the US, where the only experience with these technologies and operations has been that of a far-away time-lagged dream machine. Let’s embrace a bit of complexity here. Continue reading

Testimony: Science and Technology Select Committee, UK House of Lords

In the last weeks I was asked to provide written testimony and evidence in answer to a “Call for Evidence” for the UK House of Lords Science and Technology Select Committee on the subject of “Behaviour Change —Travel-Mode Choice Interventions to Reduce Car Use in Towns and Cities”. As can happen in these things, in my remarks I moved away from the chosen topic (instruments for behaviour change),  on the grounds that there are other more fundamental issues that need to be tackled first. In the following you will find my submittal of last Monday to the committee, whom I thank for giving me this opportunity to share my views.
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Unfair, unsafe and unwise – a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain

Dear British Friends and Colleagues,

Forgive me if I am being naïve, but based on what I am reading and hearing it strikes me that there is a major crisis abuilding for sustainable transport in Britain in the months immediately ahead — as a result of the coalition government withdrawing funding from a lot of mainly small and local (since they really have to be small and usually local and focused if they are to succeed) sustainable transport initiatives This strikes me as a caring if distant observer as unfair, unsafe and unwise. Continue reading

Transport, environment and public policy in hard times

We have no money gentlemen, so we shall have to think.
– Ernest Rutherford, on taking over the Caversham Laboratory in 1919

On 2 December the managing editor of World Streets, Eric Britton, was invited by the organizers of the National Autumn Conference of ACT TravelWise to present the keynote address, following an opening presentation by Norman Baker, MP and Parliamentary Undersecretary of State for Transport of the just-elected UK coalition government. The theme of the conference was “The Right to Travel – Getting more for less” — and Britton was asked to bring in some international perspectives and possibly some less familiar ideas for the largely British audience after the Minister’s presentation. Continue reading

Will the real British local transport policy please stand up.

About two weeks ago I sent out a red flag to a short list of my most respected British transport/environment colleagues with a cry for help in preparation for a keynote speech I had been asked to deliver to a conference scheduled to take place this Thursday, 2 December, in Liverpool, and where the speaker just before me is a respected ministerial representative of the latest British government. I confessed to my distinguished British friends that I was at best half-educated in terms of the current policy and practice debate in Britain and needed a fast tutorial before exposing myself to a critical audience. They responded fast, generously and most usefully as you will soon see here in a follow-up piece to the conference; but one of the responses opened up his perceptive comments with an amusing analogy which I thought you might enjoy this morning. Continue reading

The P2P carsharing saga continues: The WhipCar story

WhipCar is a very recent British start-up in the still little known peer-to-peer car owner/rental business.  World Streets recently interviewed the group’s founders and managers, Tom Wright and Vinay Gupta, to get at their side of this unfolding rather surprising 21st century alternate car story.  (And the first thing they told us was that it’s not quite carsharing. Let’s have a look.) Continue reading

Honk! One really does try to be balanced . . .

. . . and not allow oneself to get caught in every political elephant trap and querulous carping of those not in office. But there are times when it is necessary to shine the spotlight on a really mean-spirited, disingenuous idea or statement about the important matters which bring us all here. This is one of those cases. We introduce you to a very short video in which Britain’s new transport secretary talks very clearly about his investment priorities and intended policies. Very disturbing to World Streets.

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No need for speed

As our regular readers know well, World/Streets believes that there are a lot of excellent reasons for slowing down. And every time we run into something that we think can help advance this worthy objective, well here we are. This time the irrepressible Elizabeth Press, peripatetic videographer from New York City’s StreetFilms project, got on a plane and made a short film about what happens when cities slow down their traffic in a uniform and substantial way – in this case the terrific UK program ” 20’s Plenty for Us”. Her five-minute film went on-line yesterday. Continue reading

World Transport Policy & Practice – Vol. 16, No. 2

The Journal of World Transport Policy and Practice is the long standing idea and print partner of World Streets and the New Mobility Agenda. The summer 2010 edition appears today, and in the article that follows you will find the lead editorial by founding editor John Whitelegg, along with abstracts of the principal contributions. (For a more complete introduction to WTPP click here.) Continue reading

Honk! The greenest thing about the budget was knotted around the Chancellor’s neck

Strong environment reporting from the UK.(From the editor)
To move to sustainable transport in our cities, we need to create a strong citizen consensus for change — a tough call since the issues and necessary remedial approaches tend to be quite complex and unfamiliar to many of us who are so accustomed to what we see out on the street every day that it effectively tends to freeze our minds. While there have for years been examples of outstanding environmental reporting, the mainstream media by and large have not yet been brought around to our side. However this is changing, and while certainly more slowly then one would wish we are increasingly hearing from a growing culture of investigative journalists and commentators who are showing that they are ready to dig in and deal with these complexities.
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New Politics, New Economics and New Mobility : Frugal Transport comes of age in Britain?

John Whitelegg, Editor of World Transport Policy and Practice, offers up a lead editorial in the latest edition of the Journal which was published today and is freely available here. His proposal makes particular economic sense at a time of great economic uncertainty, and of course not only in the UK. His core recommendation: (a) Cancel systematically all public investments that do not pass the sustainability test. What goes? (b) £10 billion for unnecessary road building. (c) £32 billion for uncalled for high speed rail. And (d) elimination of all but a handful of domestic aviation subsidies and investments. And with those frugal savings, the new government team can really go to work to guarantee the sustainable transport agenda.

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Hell is a gyratory system . . . so we want our cities back – Views from Britain on our one-way past

We put in traffic lights and stop signs in order to make our streets safe. We convert from two-way streets to one-way streets in order to permit cars to move more rapidly down them. And in almost all cases these decisions are made not on the basis of a broader systemic understanding of the traffic network as a whole, nor from an explicit philosophy as to what the basic underlying values and priorities should be, but always piecemeal, ad hoc, and one of the time. All of which renders the networks of most of our cities ripe for rethinking and redesign. Here is one view from London.

Hell is a gyratory system,
so let’s celebrate the return of cheerful anarchy to our roads

- Stephen Bayley, from The Times

It is the end of the road for the detested one-way street. Transport for London, perhaps the biggest manager of one-way systems in the world, at last acknowledges a truth painfully proved by harrowed pedestrians, bruised bicyclists and infuriated drivers: one-way systems do not work. Cities have been wastefully sacrificed to the false gods of efficiency and rationality. Now we want our cities back.

After a consultation in 2006 Tottenham Court Road — and soon Piccadilly, Pall Mall, Gower Street and the notorious Wandsworth one-way system (a congealed eternity of hot metal and annoyed people) — will return to two-way traffic. So a ruinous experiment is under final notice after 50 years of fuming. A culture that thought speed a measure of success and volume a measure of prosperity is being driven down the off-ramp.

This is a powerful metaphor for the new, more liberal, reasonable, responsible, lightly governed future that we are told awaits us. Certainly the one-way past created absurdities we could do without.

What is more existentially exasperating than a No Entry sign? This graphic of universal urban frustration was standardised by the League of Nations in 1931 (the year that the same ineffectual busybodies merely tut-tutted about the Japanese invasion of Manchuria).

Roads are not natural; they are inventions. And sealed roads to carry heavy traffic are inventions as typical of the 19th century as the typewriter and the diesel engine. MacAdam created the information superhighway of Victoriana. One-way streets were the final, and now obsolete, refinement of the road as a communications medium. They remain as dread memorials to vanished concerns, alien values and hopeless, irrelevant targets.

The concept began with good intentions. Albemarle Street in Mayfair became uni-directional in 1808 when crowds attending Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s lectures at the Royal Institution made traffic-planning necessary. But the modern theology of traffic management dates back only to 1963 when Colin Buchanan, a town planner, published his ruinously influential report Traffic in Towns.

Wheeled traffic has been successfully mingling in towns and cities since the Etruscans, but Professor Buchanan took great exception to the idea and intended, with great athletic earnestness, to separate people and cars, the better for us to prosper by accelerator. The official attitude to cars in 1963 was curiously similar to Victorian ideas about prostitution: a mixture of acceptance and disgust.

With a fixity of purpose perhaps inviting Freudian interpretations, Buchanan wanted flyovers, clearways and pedestrianisation. Out went the clutter of accumulated townscape. Towns were to be cleansed of intimacy, hazard and surprise. In came Mr and Mrs Citizen swooping at high speed along urban motorways in a bizarre dystopia where your Cortina “saloon” would drive you to a Ballardian destiny in a tower block (where unspeakable crimes might be perpetrated).

In towns, the false god of the one-way street was an agent of change that proved catastrophic. This, of course, was the very moment that other visionaries thought it wise to, quite literally, decimate the railway system in the interests of “economy”. The M25 between Junctions 8 and 9 northbound on a Monday morning is their memorial. And the hell of Wandsworth, Vauxhall Cross or Hammersmith is Buchanan’s.

One-way systems are wrong because they are counterintuitive and seek to impose a spurious logic on human behaviour, something always at its most interesting when irrational. There is surely something very nasty in the concept and expression “gyratory”. It suggests circles of Hell and invites the conjoined idea of futility and an endless quest for an impossible goal.

To enter any gyratory system — often survivable in a car, more precarious on a bike, but suicidal on foot — is to go on bargaining terms with urban aggression and the one-dimensional solutions of the traffic engineer. In pursuit of something that looks good on a graphic, but does not work on the ground, sinister gyratory systems generate millions of unnecessary miles and thousands of tons of pollution.

And people hate them. Best to reinstate the Darwinian struggle of the two-way street and re-create cities that respond to the cheerful anarchy of individual purpose, not a chilly master plan. This is a prospect pleasantly hinted at in a new exhibition. The architectural publisher and bike evangelist Peter Murray has created a series of enamel plaques mocking London’s one-way system. Of Fitzrovia he says it “fails in its aspirations to speed the traffic, but succeeds in confusing cyclists and traffic alike”.

One-way was designed to “reduce congestion”. In true conformity with the Orwellian model, it did the opposite. One-way ? “Wrong way, go back” as the signs say on US freeways. I’m glad to say we are.

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About the author:
Let me quote the author directly from his website you can find at http://www.stephenbayley.com/: “Stephen Bayley was once described as ‘the second most intelligent man in Britain’. This is controversial and very possibly untrue, but what is indisputable is that – as the author of more than ten books, nearly thirty exhibition catalogues, countless articles, broadcasts and newspaper columns – he is one of the world’s best known commentators on modern culture. Tom Wolfe said of him “I don’t know anybody with more interesting observations about style, taste and contemporary design.”

Source: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/guest_contributors/article7097837.ece

Learning from each other: New York looks at London (So who are you looking at?)

We started World Series last year not because we felt that we were going to tell you everything you need to know about sustainable transportation, but rather to offer you a lively independent platform with worldwide coverage in which all of those of us were concerned with these issues can exchange ideas and commentaries freely. Here is a good example of a shared learning process that does not have to stop with the two cities directly involved in this report. Continue reading

Question: Should car advertizing be more heavily regulated? Or taxed? Or mandate compensatory advertizing? Or or . . . ?

Our sustainable colleagues over at Nuova Mobilità, our Italian-language sister publication, have shown more consistent aggressiveness concerning debating the issues of car advertising then we (which points out the advantages of diversity) — but from time to time we too consider that it is useful to give this some thought and dialogue. N/M picked up the following quite contentious article on the subject today from the Guardian, which we are also pleased to share with you for your information and comment. (Ours appear at the end of this article).

Want to promote cycling? Cut back car adverts now

- Tom Bogdanowicz, guardian.co.uk. London. Wednesday, 17 February 2010.

The UK spends £500m a year on car ads and fetishises auto-ownership – no wonder cycling is stuck in the slow lane

Step out of your home and what do you see? There is a subliminal and overt message on the streets and in the media to buy cars and use them. You’ll find it on TV, on your computer, in the newspapers you read. It makes the promotion of any other form or transport, such as cycling, an uphill struggle regardless of how convenient, healthy and sustainable it may be.

The advertising spend on the promotion of motor vehicles in the UK exceeds £500m a year. And, by and large, it works: car ownership has grown steadily since the 1940s and, after the current economic crisis abates, it will likely continue to do so.

In sharp contrast, the promotion of cycling and walking is almost non-existent. When Transport for London ran a TV ad promoting cycling it was a unique occasion. The number of cyclists on UK roads has dropped sharply since the 1940s, and London stands out as a rare example of a city where cycling has doubled in six years.

While the government encourages us to walk, ride bikes and use public transport, it knows that car advertising is persuading us to do the exact opposite. Instead of sharing one car, households buy two or three so that everyone can express their own personality through their vehicle. If you believe the advertising, your car will make you more attractive, more popular and more successful. How many car ads show the reality of being stuck in traffic or the frustration of searching for a parking space?

Cycling gets the occasional media boost when team GB sweeps the Olympic medals or cycling in London soars, as more people realise it’s faster around town than driving. But very few companies pay big money for bike ads, so newspapers don’t have cycling sections – with notable exceptions, such as this blog – and there is no cycling equivalent of Top Gear.

The outcome of all that PR for cars is more sales as well as more congestion, more pollution and a greater demand for scarce parking spaces. There would have been no need for the congestion charge in London if not for the success of the auto industry’s publicity machine and the popularity of motoring programmes.

Reversing the trend of ever-increasing car ownership and use is not as difficult as it seems. If governments were to limit car advertising, as they did with alcohol and tobacco when the health impacts were recognised, people would take decisions about their mode of transport based on common sense rather than the promise of open highways, high speeds and glamorous locations. Common sense might well encourage cycling or walking for more journeys.

The survival of cycling as a transport mode and its growth in London is a tribute to its convenience and simplicity. Surveys show that one-in-five of us would like to cycle. If the barriers to cycling were removed – such as perceived danger and a lack of cycling infrastructure – cycle journeys in the UK might increase tenfold to the levels seen in Holland or Denmark. The benefits are obvious: more cycling and walking would help prevent health problems as well as climate change.

Holland is lucky to have invested in cycling before car-oriented planning created a road system that discourages cycle use. The UK, unfortunately, has seen several decades of car-centred planning. But, as London shows, the UK can still join the virtuous circle. Local traffic management schemes can be redesigned to allow cyclists through them and urban gyratories can be removed.

If reduced auto promotion stemmed the growth in car ownership as well, we could see more people cycling and drivers might discover that the roads were less busy and parking spaces easier to come by. In fact, there is little choice; Britain’s urban population continues to grow – unless we enable people to cycle and walk more, and stop persuading them to use cars, we face gridlock.

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About the author:
• Tom Bogdanowicz is campaigns and development officer for the London Cycle Campaign

* Source: guardian.co.uk. http://tinyurl.com/yb7ssh9

* Reader comments here: http://tinyurl.com/yznghcu


From the editor: A Personal Reflection:

It is not exactly that recourse to the law is the last refuge of a scoundrel, but it – that is the crude hammer of the law – is certainly the last refuge of citizens and political leaders who are not able to come up with a better and softer path to get the job done. Which is to say that we approach matters like this with a heavy heart, but then are ready to hear the arguments from both sides, all while not forgetting what sustainability and social justice are all about.

The bottom line: As an essentially naïve person, I always tend to confound or confuse (or wish hopefully about) advertising as having primarily an information function. Of course when any of us has a point we wish to make, there is also a human tendency to try to make that point in a way which renders it agreeable for the public you are trying to get on your side. At one point of course this can become a matter of more even than simple cajoling , namely attempting behavior modification, and this brings us in front of an ethical choice, or maybe better a dilemma.

I, and I am almost certain you also, have reached the conclusion that advertising in public places and the media can be extremely useful in matters in which society is having a problem or two: smoking too much, speeding too fast, drug dependency, various forms of unfair discrimination, the long list goes on. No reasonable person can deplore the intelligent and in a surprising number of cases pretty effective advertising/information campaigns that have been run over the last several decades in order to modify behavior of large numbers of people and create really a better and safer society for all. Moreover I, and once again I bet you too, want to see more of this done wisely and effectively.

Now back to our topic, namely the at least highly dubious habits of the automobile industry advertising practices. And here I have to put my cards on the table and state that I am not an anti-car guy. I have had quite a range of cars over the years which by and large I greatly appreciated and I think have used wisely. On the other hand, we are all increasingly aware that as things stand today there are many situations in which “own-cars” are not always necessarily the best way to get around every day (particularly in cities of course). Anyway, we shall soon enough have a billion of them raring to go all over the planet, so it is our job as citizen-guardians of the concept of sustainable transportation to provide perspective and, if we can manage it, wise counsel as to what exactly is going to be their proper place in society. After all, that is what governance is all about.

For starters, anyone would have to be blind or soft in the head not to see the pernicious qualities of much of the car advertising that we presently have in our various print and electronic media. Much of this goes well beyond giving us simple information about their products, and with the help of very sophisticated media specialists and experts in behavioral psychology often combine to create pattern and attitudes which are far from being in the public interest.

The fixation with speed, the subtle ways of manipulating and implying speed as a personal (to some) if not a social value — and hey! everybody knows that speed kills — gives us a great place to start. Some of the rest is more puzzling and is going to be more difficult, so until we can sort this out, speed gives us a good training ground to get going and figure out how to handle the rest.

My position on this today then is that I feel there is every reason for the vigorous public debate in as many fora and places as can be reached. Tom Bogdanowicz’s points are worthy of reflection, and it is good to see him looking at all of this from the perspective of cyclists. And if you click here – http://tinyurl.com/yznghcu – you will be taken to the extremely lively commentary that his article has excited, and which also might find it useful to spend the time with.

I wish I could tell you that I have a way to wrap this up so that you can put it all behind you and move on to other things. But I cannot and so as resourceful citizens we have to keep thinking about it, talking about it, and pretty soon doing something about it.

Eric Britton
Editor, World Streets

World Streets Annual New Mobility Country Reviews: A 2010 update on carsharing (Car Clubs) in the UK

Carsharing has been a slow starter in the UK, lagging considerably behind the leaders. However in the last half dozen years the operators have gained considerable momentum and are now entering into the mainstream of practical transport innovation and day to day practice. Carsharing is really hitting the road in Britain in 2010.
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20’s Plenty Where People Live in Portsmouth

In the firm belief that you cannot get too much of a slow thing, here is a second piece in a row on how they are slowing things down in Portsmouth and Britain more generally. We present it as a step toward building your own tool kit for slowing things down in your city. Look at Portsmouth and build on their example to do better yet on your streets. As Newton reminded us, real progress occurs only by standing on the shoulders of giants

Twenty’s Plenty Where People Live in Portsmouth

- Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us , UK

On 14th May 2008 in a United Kingdom House of Commons Transport Committee evidence session the respected head of the Netherlands Road Safety Institute, Fred Wegman, commented :-

“Until 2000 we were always looking to the United Kingdom when it came to road safety. You were the inventors of many good activities and polices. All of a sudden, somewhere in 2000, you stopped doing things and we continued with our efforts. A simple figure to illustrate that is that, compared to 2000, in 2006 you had 7% fewer fatalities in this country. We have one third fewer.”

The resultant critical review of road safety in the UK by the Transport Select Committee was tellingly entitled “Ending the Scandal of Complacency: Road Safety beyond 2010”

Experts will debate the reasons for the slow down in better safety on UK roads. Some will put it down to an over-reliance on engineering measures which may well simply keep prevailing vehicle speeds higher and inevitably make it more dangerous for our vulnerable road users. Indeed whilst the number of total road fatalities has dropped from 3,221 in 2004 to 2,538 in 2008, the percentage of these which were pedestrians has been steadily rising from 20.83% in 2004 to 22.54% in 2008. In fact UK’s skewing of road fatalities towards pedestrians is one of the highest in Europe where the average across the EU14 countries in 2005 was just 14%. In 2005 in the Netherlands it was just 9.4%.

However, things are changing. In 2006 the Department of Transport issued some new guidelines to Local Authorities for setting speed limits. One city, Portsmouth, seized upon a slight change in the guidelines for 20 mph limits without traffic calming and decided to embark upon a new initiative based upon the premise that 20’s plenty where people live.

And last week at a special conference “Portsmouth – Britain’s First 20 mph City” the presentations in the Guild Hall in Portsmouth may well have created a pivotal point in road danger reduction in the UK.

Until now, speed management has mainly been implemented by means of localised interventions on streets to make the driver slow down. Whether they are speed cameras, or speed bumps the essential engagement has been with the driver on the road whilst he or she is driving.

At the conference, Portsmouth City Council and the Department for Transport reported on the results from the completely different approach taken by Portsmouth when in March 2008 they completed their setting of all residential roads, bar arterial routes, with a speed limit of 20 mph. 1,200 streets were set to 20 mph over a 9 month period. No bumps or humps, but most importantly a decision not just made by Traffic Officers but by the whole community as they sought a way to deliver lower speeds and a better quality of life for their residents. Quite simply, Portsmouth people decided to slow down wherever people live!

Of course, setting lower speeds with traffic calming is so expensive that one only usually does it where you have excessive speed problems. But when you make the decision as a community to slow down wherever people live then it is inevitable that many streets will already have speeds below 20 mph. In fact in Portsmouth they monitored 159 sites. 102 already had mean speeds of 20 mph or less. 36 were between 20 mph and 24 mph, whilst on a further 21 the mean speed was above 24 mph.

And because of that mix it was found that overall the mean speed for all the roads did not change very much. In fact it reduced by just 1%. But what was very significant was the fact that in those streets where speeds previously were 24 mph or above then a huge 7mph reduction in mean speed was recorded.

Whilst casualties also fell by 15% and total accidents by 13%, more time will be needed to establish statistically significant collision figures. However, the presenter noted the changes in child and elderly casualties in before and after numbers :


Portsmouth’s success is as a community that has debated how the streets should be shared more equitably and has gone through the due political, democratic and administrative process to take that community commitment and turn it into a framework within which everyone can take their part in making their city a better place to live. One where casualties reduce and people have quieter streets with more opportunities for cycling and walking.

The spaces between our houses, which we call streets, will never be the same in this country. Portsmouth has shown that communities can change their behaviour and sensibly embark on a 20’s Plenty Where People Live initiative that delivers real benefits to every road user. More and more towns, cities and villages are following this trend to put citizenship back into the way we drive and share our roads. The same plan is proposed in Oxford, Leicester, Newcastle, Norwich and Islington, with widespread trials being conducted in Bristol and Warrington.

But people in Portsmouth are perhaps no different from us all. But what they have found is a way to enable them to turn an aspiration for safer and more pleasant streets into a reality. I suspect there will be plenty more similar communities saying 20’s plenty for them as well. And that may well put the United Kingdom back on track in improving the safety of vulnerable road users and bringing a little more calmness to our urban and residential streets.

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Rod King is Founder of 20’s Plenty for Us, a national voluntary organisation formed in 2007 to support local communities who want lower vehicle speeds on residential and urban roads. 20’s Plenty for Us works with local groups around the country as well as lobbying central and local government. He can be reached at 20’s Plenty for Us – http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk Tel +44 07973 639781 . E: rodk@20splentyforus.org.uk

Portsmouth – Britain’s First Twenty is Plenty City (mph)

One of the pillars of the New Mobility Agenda approach to sustainable transport in cities, is to slow down the traffic. It works as an environmental trigger. Thus when you start to go slower, when you organize your daily life around this principle, you necessarily end up going less far. Which in turn sends out a whole range of signals for land use in our cities. The exact opposite of the forces behind urban sprawl and all that goes with it. If there were one first step to take, slowing things down would have a strong claim to this place of honor. And this movement is gaining real force in Britain.

Portsmouth – Britain’s First Twenty is Plenty (mph) City

Portsmouth has many claims to fame, home of the British Navy, Western Europe’s most densely populated city and now the first city in Britain to set a 20 mph limit across its residential road network.

What sets the 20 mph speed limit in Portsmouth apart from the other two and a half thousand 20 mph zones in England is not just that it is city wide, but also that it relies not on traffic calming or speed cameras for enforcement, but simply signs and publicity to encourage driver behaviour change.

It could be argued that this is one of the largest travel behaviour change initiatives in the country, and although the main objective for the scheme is safety, there are potential modal shift benefits which the city hopes to realise.

How the scheme works

The scheme was made possible by the amendment to Section 84 of Road Traffic Regulation Act in 1999 which allowed local authorities to set local speed limits without the need to get Secretary of State approval.

Due to a high population density, Portsmouth streets were largely already slow moving, so while the decision to go for a city wide 20mph limit was brave; it was not without local support.

The 20mph limit was launched in six city sectors, with the first introduced on 1st October 2007 and the last in March 2008.

In line with DfT guidance the streets included in the scheme were largely residential where average speeds were already below 24 mph, and while the strategic roads network was excluded, they have included some high volume routes where average speeds were above 30 mph.

Following a media campaign and wide scale community consultation process, streets that were to be included within the 20 mph limit had roundels painted at the entrance together with 20 mph signs, with repeater signs placed at 150m intervals along the length of the route.

The speed limit has been largely self-enforcing, with local residents being proactive in reporting speeding traffic. Traffic speed surveys have been used to identify problem streets, which have then been reported to the partnership of police and council officers, which swoop on offending drivers several times a year. The support of local motorists to the 20 mph limit is essential, so rather than just issue a penalty notice, police offer offending drivers an option of attending a half hour seminar educating them on the danger of speeding, which has proven very effective.

How Behaviour Change Interventions have been used

For a project of this nature, where the aim was a culture change, promotion and consultation has been the key.

To highlight the benefits of lower speeds the city first targeted the most vulnerable road users, school children, and issued each school child with pamphlets listing the roads which were to have a slower speed limit. The pamphlet included a ‘Frequently Asked Questions’ section and a hotline was set up for further information.

Posters and informational leaflets were distributed at public places such as schools, community centers, health centers, libraries, churches, sports clubs and universities.

Neighborhood forums were extensively consulted, with city officials going out to talk to them about the proposals and to listen to their concerns.

The local media and press, while initially skeptical, soon understood the potential benefits, and published many positive articles about the scheme. While the city also published statutory notices in local newspapers.

While of course there were some very vociferous objections from a small minority, overall objections were in fact minimal, and the vast majority of messages received by the city were in support of the proposals.

How effective has it been?

Since the scheme is so new, it has been difficult to gather clear robust evidence of effectiveness, but initial results appear positive.

Speed surveys show that there has been a reduction of about 0.9mph in the residential roads where average speeds were previously at or below 24 mph.

The most effective measures were actually on streets where speeds were previously above 30 mph, which have seen average speeds fall by as much as 7 mph.

While very few physical calming measures have been used, extra space has been provided for pedestrians and cyclists, and straight roads have been made to meander in those streets which had recent fatalities.

Initial evidence show a reduction in traffic incidents, and overall casualties are down across the city since the implementation of the 20 mph limit.

The potential for modal shift

There is anecdotal evidence that some modal shift has already been achieved, but so far there has been no study to confirm if this is the case. However since road danger is usually cited as the primary barrier to cycling, it seems logical to assume that a city wide reduction in speeds would have some impact.

Promotion of the 20mph limit initially targeted schools as an extension of the safe routes to school programme, and children have been encouraged to celebrate the introduction of the lower speed limits. This link between school travel plans and the safe speeds initiative should reinforce each other and help increase sustainable travel to school in the future.

It is known from other initiatives that when packages of measures are applied together such as parking controls, PTP, WTP, bus priority, then this does have a significant impact on modal shift.

While this has not yet been applied in Portsmouth, the smarter choices team have been included from the beginning and future modal shift promotion is planned, with ideas such as community street parties being considered.

Conclusions

While the overall speed reduction and impacts on accidents is much greater for a traffic calmed 20mph zone, than a city wide 20mph limit without accompanying calming, there are distinct advantages of a city wide limit.

The costs are much lower, and issues over emergency vehicle access, noise generation are avoided. With lower costs and less resistance to the initiative from the media and public, it has been possible to roll out the limit city wide in a very short space of time. This is a huge benefit in itself, since residents of the city all gain from living in a 20mph street themselves; they are also much more likely to respect the speed limit for neighboring communities that they drive through.

While it has so far not been possible to evaluate the full benefits of the limit, initial evidence seems to show that road safety has improved, and with a coordinated smarter choices follow up initiative it seems certain that significant modal shift benefits could be gained from the scheme.

Thus the ultimate benefits could be many; public health, well being, noise, pollution, climate change, reduction in accidents, deaths, reducing NHS and police costs.

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About the author:
Rory McMullan works for PTRC Education and Research Services, which organises training events for transport professionals on topics such as Portsmouth’s introduction of a 20 mph speed limit. As a cyclist and father, Rory is a strong supporter of slower speed limits in cities, because road danger caused by fast moving traffic is one of the main barriers to the take up of cycling, and the biggest concern for protecting the safety of children, whether walking, cycling or playing on our streets.

References:
* Speed limit to be cut to 20 mph in government bid to reduce number of road deathshttp://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1171706/Speed-limit-cut-20mph-government-bid-reduce-number-road-deaths.html
* 20mph speed limit on residential roads in Portsmouthhttp://www.portsmouth.gov.uk/living/8403.html
* Related World Streets articles: http://newmobilityagenda.blogspot.com/search/label/slower

 

OP-Ed: John Whitelegg on The global transport challenge

The world’s transport system wastes lives, health, and money – and is choking the planet. There is a world transport crisis. Three thousand people are killed every day in road-traffic accidents, air pollution from vehicles is bathing our cities in a chemical soup and deaths from respiratory diseases exceed deaths in traffic accidents. Citizens need to take control.

- John Whitelegg, Editor, World Transport Policy and Practice

Continue reading

So you think you know how children travel to school?

Now I do not want to offend, but in all probability, what you think you know about travel to school could well be wrong. Equally some of the things you encourage people to do in the name of health and sustainability will not help and in some cases will make things worse!

- Andrew Combes reports from the Dorset County Council, UK


The School Travel Health Check

Some thoughts/facts to ponder:

• Soon (we may already be at this point) we will reach a position where the majority of the UK’s children do not attend their nearest school.

• We consistently over estimate the distances children will walk or cycle to school.

• We have no spatial approach to the delivery of education.

• A sticking plaster is no good for a severed arm – We are in danger of using up schools considerable enthusiasm for achieving change in this area by failing to have policy in place at the local, regional and national level that supports their efforts.

The good news:

• If you live close enough to your chosen school you will walk (Walking is and will always be the majority mode).

• If we ever manage to achieve ‘European standard’ cycle infrastructure (experience shows this to be unlikely – please prove me wrong!) we will see far more cycle trips.

• What parents really want is ‘A good school locally’. This equals sustainable travel and communities.

Why are we at this position?

• We have failed to make best use of the rich data sources available to us.

• We have been handed a politically sensitive task which we have ducked; At the Local Authority level the notion of ‘Challenge and Support’ has quite a way to go!

• We struggle to work across borders.

• By placing the emphasis for change on schools we miss our strategic responsibility.

• Put another way we are still blaming lazy mums in their 4 by 4’s and expecting children to walk far greater distances than they ever will be able to.

How do we move forward?

1. Use your data well– The School Travel Health Check (used by 21 authorities to date) has recently been recognized as best practice by the Sustainable Development Commission and used as a case study within their publication ‘Towards a Schools Carbon Management Plan’ (June 09).

Put simply it works at all levels from school to central govt. But beware; it does not shy away from the Challenge and Support that is essential if we are to achieve real lasting change – some are scared of this (pretty sad really as we are only holding up a mirror to show what is going on).
NOTE: Please do contribute to the current DCSF ‘A carbon management strategy for schools ‘consultation that this document supports! http://www.dcsf.gov.uk/consultations/

2. Build on this foundation to put in place the strategic policy chain that can deliver sustainability

3. Pester your Local Authority to get involved in the School Travel Health Check – Yes it costs money; yes the private sector is feared and yes theoretically this work could be done in house. BUT, having spent most of my working life in Local Government I know what works and what does not… You will have to trust me on this

I still don’t know what a School Travel Health Check is?

1. Sorry far too much to fit in to this article and sorry no time to develop a dedicated website:

2. But do check out the resources in out InfoMapper ViewFinder under Safer Routes to School: www.viewfinder.infomapper.com/dorset/resources

3. School Census spreadsheets folder – Look at ‘Quick Guide 1’. Then take a look at the various spreadsheets.

4. School Travel Health Check folder – Examples of output going back in to schools.

5. Feel free to take a look in the other folders – we are making a start on delivering a spatial approach to the delivery of education.

Interested / Still confused? = Call me.
I work from home, which is great (Thanks Dorset CC!) and our dog loves the company, but it is nice to talk to a human from time to time! +44 1823 432946. a.combes@dorsetcc.gov.uk

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Andrew Combes, andrew@combes1.plus.com
Dorset County Council
County Hall, Dorchester
Dorset DT1 1XJ United Kingdom