Sunday, 17 October 2010

Presentation to Transport Planners Society

Last week I was asked to present in a debate on 20mph speed limits in Manchester. Here is a copy of what I said :-

For many years Britain has led the world in terms of lowest deaths per head of population on our roads. But that has led us into a state of complacency. It is true that we have been gradually engineering our roads to be safer. But for whom. Whilst in the Netherlands 10% of road deaths are pedestrians, in the UK it is 22.5% .

Our levels of active travel in the UK are some of the worst in Europe. And in a recent survey by Road Safety Analysis of UK child road casualties it found that for the worst 10 local authorities, 1 in 15 children would be injured or killed on our roads before the age of 16. And 9 of those 10 local authorities were in the North West.

So we may have gradually engineered away many of our black spots, and have better trauma care, and better in-car safety, but for our vulnerable road users we are, collectively failing to meet their needs for free and safe passage on our roads.

We use the term “Total 20” for the setting of 20mph as the default for all residential roads in a local authority. This allows the local traffic engineers to determine the exception as appropriate for local conditions. It does so without putting in additional speed bumps and only “light touch” enforcement. “Total 20” stands on its own merits in terms of cost effectively reducing speeds and casualties.

In Portsmouth we know that on faster roads, where casualties are most common and severe, there has been a 6mph reduction in speeds and a 22% overall town-wide reduction in casualties.

In Warrington the recent 20mph pilots resulted in a 800% First Year Rate of Return when the costs and achieved casualty reductions were analysed.

• We know that 30mph streets will never provide the basis for encouraging active travel.

• We know that children are far more at casualty risk around their homes than around their schools.

• We know that a 30mph limit set in 1934 as better than nothing is now inappropriate for so many of our streets.

• We know that a large percentage of all casualties are unclustered and cannot be addressed by data led interventions.

• We know that whilst speed may only be the cause of some collisions it is implicated in the inability to take avoiding action in the majority of incidents.

• And we know that in European cities the 30kph limit is the foundation of their cycling and walking strategies.

We need a fundamental change,…. A paradigm shift in the way we approach danger on the roads.

Total 20 provides the catalyst for that change. Its starts with the community aspiration for lower speeds where people live. And that aspiration means that compliance is not some driver reaction to a speed limit sign but a conscious lifestyle decision that we should all take steps to make our streets better places for us all. 20 becomes plenty when we see the presence of people for Speed becomes Greed when it dissuades others from walking or cycling due to fear of traffic.

It asks us to recognise that our journey times are hardly affected by our maximum speed but largely determined by the time we are stopped or in congestion.

And it is because that authority-wide decision requires the democratic and political processes for it to be implemented that it forces the community debate and creates that paradigm shift. And this is where the approach radically differs from most “Data led” road safety interventions.

You see there is no constraint in “Total 20” that anyone can rely upon. No guarantees to give councillors. It is “social engineering” rather than “highway engineering”.

It requires a move away from the drawing board and the statistical analysis of past collisions and asks how can we best act as a catalyst for behaviour change. How can we take that universal aspiration for a better place to live and transform that into our society examining its actions and making that “lifestyle decision” to slow down?

How can we transform the aspiration of children to cycle or walk to school and transfer that into their parents recognising that their driving may be part of the problem?

And we need to have faith in the people. And most of all we need to engage with those people. And that is the key to the success of Total 20. The more you do to reach out and engage and debate and discuss and inform and consult and listen, then the greater will be the success.

You see “Total 20” is an initiative that is community led but establishment endorsed. It needs that community leadership. And we know that 75% of those asked, including 72% of drivers believe that 20mph is the right speed limit for residential roads.

There are some key aspects to the “Total 20” approach :-

1) It delivers the benefit of lower speeds on most driver’s home streets. Hence giving them ownership of that benefit.

2) It is consistent with the message that wherever you mix motor vehicles with people then the people must come first.

3) It takes away the current isolated 20mph patches which merely re-inforce higher speeds on the rest of the network.

I have been campaigning for lower speeds on our urban and residential roads since I travelled to Warrington’s twin town in 2004 and observed that their 23% of in town trips being made by bicycle. This was not built on cycle facilities or off road routes, but on a 30kph (18.5 mph) speed limit for residential roads across the whole town in the early 90s.

Since then I have noticed is a huge shift towards the acceptance of lower speeds as a requirement for improving not only road safety, but the quality of life in our communities. So many organisations from Association of Directors of Public Health, to the National Audit Office and now the Dept for Transport say that 20mph limits are needed for residential roads. 20’s plenty for Us now has 60 local campaigns around the country and our feedback from those communities is that more and more politicians and council officers and police are looking to “Total 20” as a modern, cost effective initiative as a response to community aspirations.

But it is simply not enough to just “ask” people to slow down. It needs the establishment endorsement that comes with a mandatory speed limit being set.

We need to leave behind our “baggage” of what didn’t work in the 1980s and realise that our communities have changed.

We need to think way outside the traditional road safety box. We need to recognise that active travel and its consequent health benefits, better road utilisation, a less car dependent culture, lower noise and lower pollution are all valuable deliveries alongside lower casualties.

These cannot and will not be achieved by mere tinkering with a few isolated speed reduction techniques. The obsession with physical constraints creates that isolation. It creates the view that we can drive at 30 mph on most residential roads but only need to slow down occasionally. Indeed it even promotes faster speeds by large 30mph signs at the end of every isolated 20mph zone.

20mph zones with physical calming are 50 times more expensive per km than Total 20 schemes with their authority-wide economies of scale and communities with a collective commitment to safer roads. Or to put it another way “Total 20” allows 50 times the coverage than isolated zones for the same cost.

And I know that some will talk of the need to “manage community expectations”. Otherwise everyone will want lower speeds on their streets. I say harness those expectations, ride the tiger and use it to deliver a better and fairer sharing of the roads.

I know that some of you will be sceptics. Some will say people won’t change. But in towns across the country communities are asking for that change and politicians and officers are delivering it. Portsmouth is proving that slower roads stay slow and faster roads get slower.

The time has come to give all our citizens a “quality street”. Its time to humanise the space between houses which we call streets and give it back to the people who live in those houses.

20 is already Plenty for the citizens of Portsmouth, and Oxford, and Islington, and Newcastle, and Wirral, and Leicester, and Hilden, and Copenhagen, and Brussels, and Amsterdam, and Rotterdam and Ghent and Graz, and so many more. I trust that you also think that its time that we started to make 20 Plenty for our Northwest towns and villages as well.

At 20’s Plenty for Us we would be pleased to help you. Please contact us.

Thank You

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Statement to Warrington Bourough Council

Warrington Borough Council recently asked me for a statement to go into their report on their recent 20mph pilots. It was as follows :-

Driving slower where people live is nothing new or radical. In fact it is already common in towns and communities all over Europe. Indeed, it was a trip to our twin town, Hilden, in 2004 which made me realise that so many of our attitudes to sharing the streets were unfair to the young, the old, the disabled, the disadvantaged and every one of us who wants their streets to be as much a place to live as to drive. From this came the formation of 20’s Plenty for Us as the national voluntary organisation supporting communities who want better streets through lower motor vehicle speeds.

In Hilden and other European towns the vast majority of in-town trips are made by walking, cycling or by bus. In Hilden an 18mph speed limit on residential roads was put in during the 90’s and became a foundation for active travel. Their children largely cycle or walk to school and drivers accept that a few seconds longer on a journey is no real inconvenience.

The only thing stopping us doing this in Warrington and other UK towns is our resistance to change. Whilst we disagree with the need for the pilots (there is ample evidence that 20mph limits do work), the recent 20mph pilots have shown not only that Warrington drivers will elect to travel slower, but also that residents will feel that their streets have become better places to live. The evidence from other towns which have adopted 20mph across the whole town is that this delivers even greater results. On slower roads it keeps the speeds low and on faster roads reduces it by 6mph or more.

That reduction makes a huge difference in reducing the danger on our roads. And Warrington really is in need of such a change. Every 12 hours in 2009 someone was injured on Warrington roads, every 4 days someone was seriously injured and every 60 days someone died. In Warrington 1 in 26 children will be killed or injured on the roads before their 16th birthday. For child road casualties we are in the worst 25% of towns in the country. This is not simply about reducing pedestrian and cycle casualties, but also motor vehicle occupants as well.

We all know that council budgets are tight, but the cost of road casualties in Warrington is put at £50m per annum. That’s £253 for every man, woman and child and 50% more than most towns of our size. The cost of implementing a 20mph limit throughout the town on all residential roads and excluding arterial roads is just £1m. Whilst it will not instantly reduce our casualties to zero it can become the foundation for making all of Warrington a better and safer place to be.

It will show that we can make the right judgements about what matters to a civilised and compassionate community. It is time for all of us to take a hard look at our collective sharing of roads and simply say that 20’s Plenty Where People Live. And that time is now.