Friday, August 12, 2016

How to slow residential traffic....

First off, this isn't actually a "how to", the actual answers and solutions evade me, and many others it would seem. There is no quick fix, and no 100% effective way to do things. But that said, there are some really daft ideas tried out from time to time.
I can actually remember when speed humps first appeared round where I live in Forest Hill (South London).

I recall being out on my street with friends, and hearing a loud bang or thump from the top of the road, followed by a long screech of tyres skidding to a halt. We all ran up the road, turned into the next road, and there it was, a car stopped at an angle, people gathering on the pavement by a wall, and starting to take off jackets etc.
In short, a speeding car had hit a child, launching him into the air and throwing him onto the pavement. I never did know the outcome of the accident, but the moment stuck with me.

Having been hit by not one but two cars as a child (separate incidents, I'm not THAT unlucky!) I understand how silly kids can be, even with the right education on the matter, kinds by their nature do not rationalise things too well.

Now, I can't tell you the exact time line of events after that, but Sunderland Road was one of the first local to me to get speed humps (not cushions), and boy were they nasty ones, proper little car launchers.  So epic in fact that one actually near as damn it, saved my life in a completely unorthadoxed way. I shall digress quickly, its a good story...
One night while walking around to pass time, with my Walkman on, I stopped on the corner of Sunderland and Waldram Park, I had spotted a red Mercedes convertible speeding up towards the junction of Sunderland where the speed humps started. Knowing they were unpainted and hard to see at this time, I watched on as the Merc hit the first one. An almighty smashing sound as the car bottomed out, before being launched into the air.

Chucking to myself, I turned and started walking up Waldram Pk Rd towards my road. Seconds later, a car rounded the corner, mounted the pavement about 10ft in front of me, taking out a road sign, bus stop , fence and ending up in the bush. Running over to the car I quite quickly found the driver to be drunk as he staggered from the car and begun to walk off.

This is before mobile phones, so I walked with him for a moment, he turned into my road, so I ran ahead, called the police on my home phone, told them which way he was heading and that I would rejoin him walking and wave the unit down when I saw them. 5 mins later her was in cuffs, and I was being thanked.
Moral of the story is, if I hadn't stopped to watch the Merc launch over the speed hump, I most likely would have been under the car.

Anyway, that was around the time that the first road I recall was filled with speed humps, I would have been 18, so it would have been, errrrrr, 1991 or there abouts.
Since that time, Sunderland Road has remained fully covered in speed humps, while as time went on, other local roads would see this wonderful new inventions. Speed cushions, and road narrowings.

Now let me tell you a little story about speed cushions... They don't really work, unless you choose to drive a small car with a narrow track like my Smart. Anything normal just manages to straddle the cushion. Given the design is to allow safe and unhindered passage to emergency service vehicles, it wasn't really ever a great idea. Other than ripping the underside from low cars, or cars with anything hanging (serves them right for straddling it though eh!), they do very little, I would go so far as to say pointless. UNLESS.....

Unless that is, you live on a road where in their infinite wisdom they have decided to stagger the speed cushions, creating a slalom. So now, instead of driving down the middle of the road where possible to get a clear path straddling the humps, you now get cars, already speeding, with no intention of slowing from 40+ (in a 20) swerving violently from side to side as they zig zag down the road. At the point there are 3 humps, when no cars are parked, cars will swing in tight towards the kerb, as that one is lower. All in all, ineffective and dangerous.

Not sure if you can make it out in the picture but there is a set of 2, then a set of 3. 3's all the way would have made far more sense surely. Raised with Lewisham a number of times, my concerns have gone reply free. One day, just for a laugh I will film from the top at rush hour.

Right now, I know what you are thinking. I am against speed calming, and think people should be allowed to speed around. Well, no, you are wrong.
I do however think the approach is a bit gung-ho, and badly thought out and implemented.
First off, to put an almost blanket speed limit on the whole borough! What the hell was the thinking behind that. Now I know some roads will remain 30mph, A205 as far as I understand, and maybe some others. But here is the truth.
Sydenham Hill was made a 20mph a while back. The road has had a speed camera on it for a long time now, way before it was a 20mph. People would slow for the camera, then carry on speeding. So putting in the 20mph on this road has had the following effect.
For the most part, NOTHING! People still slow to 20mph, then speed off again. However, occasionally someone will do the whole road at 20mph, and experience people hurriedly overtaking where they can, and probably driving far more dangerously than they would in a 30.

Now, I know, I know, it is the idiots speeding that are in the wrong, and some are obeying the law... But it has still resulted in speeding, dangerous driving, and possible accidents. The same occurs in other 20mph zones around London, and there is no better example of how people behave after being frustrated by a lower speed limit for a given amount of time, than seeing how people drive immediately after leaving a temporary 50mph on the motorway governed by SPECS. I guarantee that 80% of cars travel at least 10mph more than they were before entering the temp speed limit.

The point being is quite simple, make people feel penned in and delayed, and they immediately become frustrated, irrational and driven to make up time. Even pedestrians do it, taking more chances to cross a road, catch a train or bus, etc. It is simple human nature.

The only thing that reigns this behaviour in, even a bit, is serious consequence. Injury, incident, or penalisation. For humans, barriers are put up to slow footfall to a controlled level, and manage its direction (still people ignore it and take chances) Give pedestrians a crossing, and most will consider it too long to wait, and just walk out, but that's another story for another day.
For car drivers, the threat of being caught, delayed further, or penalised with points on your driving licence, and a fine seems to work, hence they slow for a bit on Sydenham Hill. Not threat, no risk, no point in obeying those little signs. Simple.

Now, this is where my argument gets interesting. In rural areas, less so in suburbia, there are community groups who work with the local police to do speed checks. Armed with a speed gun, and a clipboard to record registrations on, these volunteers regularly visit traffic speed hot spots, and give up a few hours of their time to record and report people travelling at an excessive speed. Training is given by the police, and I would assume only trusted people can participate to avoid fraudulent reporting, but the result is a visible deterrent, and another part of the borough where speed will be tackled head on, and not just signposted and hoped that people will be good.

Sadly, although there are a number of schemes throughout London, I would dare to say there are more needed. When the police dare to do static speed checks with hand helds, people scream at them that they should be out there fighting real crime. OK, that's fine, hand it over to the public, allow those willing to play their part, and spread the catch net over a far wider area. There are people ready and waiting to do this. It just needs the funding of the equipment, which I am sure could be achieved by spacing the smaller 20mph signs out a bit further apart than 150-200 metres, and not spending thousands on planning and installing more and more and more physical traffic calming measures (which don't work too well as I already mentioned).

I guess what I am trying to say here is, it is not just the councils that are bothered about the speed some traffic moves at. Residents of the areas are concerned too about the increasing number of idiots on the roads, and are ready and waiting to do something about it. But the same residents also don't want to spend 30% longer getting around their area, because 5% of motorists can't behave or drive in a reasonable manner. The residents suffer with the speeding AND the consequences of the calming measures too. Allow the same residents to do their bit, and help get the idiots, who bring this blight upon them, dealt with officially.

There are targets to reach, as well as budgets to spend, but how about we think about this logically now. Take the money and tarmac being used to build up mounds in the road, which will disintegrate over time and become useless, let alone be ineffective from the word go. Take them and repair some of the most desperate roads in the boroughs. Not so people can speed, but so motorists can drive down them without damaging their cars, or damage other peoples cars spitting up bits of broken road surface.
Make them safer and smoother to encourage more cyclists (like myself) to get out there and ride instead of driving. Less traffic, less speeding cars.... See my logic?

Then, instead of utilising an already stretched police service, and allow them to carry out other roles. I avoid saying more important roles, as catching speeders IS important regardless of other peoples opinions. Take their time just the once, training members of the local communities to use the equipment themselves, have a visible presence on the roads, especially at key times of the day, and make people aware they ARE being watched, recorded and reported.

Simple human nature tells you the following. Put signs up that say DON'T, people become curious and do it just to see why they were told not to. Climbing on scaffolding, walking on railway lines, even drinking or eating household products. Say no, the brain says why not, and challenges the instruction.  Exactly the same with speeding. Set a limit, people will drive just outside that limit. Just to see what they can get away with.

Put a barrier in the way of someone, something physical to try and prevent an undesired action, and the human mind will tell some to overcome it. Fencing by scaffolding, razor wire near railways, etc, all things that people ignore daily. Knowledge of the injuries people sustain daily is still not enough to stop someone doing something.

However, place a human challenge in their way, and you see the best response towards prevention you are going to see. The risk of unwanted human interaction, and the possibility of a penalty, and the success rate goes through the roof. Watch how people approach blue lights in general, slowing from afar (albeit some to rubber neck), compared to how late people brake, and how fast they speed up again for a speed camera. It's very telling.

As you can probably tell, I am one of the people who advocates empowering the public, and allowing them to take pride in their residential areas, work together and make their community safer. Who knows, people might even get to know their neighbours too in the process. Hopefully not while reporting them for speeding!

Going back to the beginning of this blog, and the reasoning for it, the press release from Lewisham Council regarding their plans and implementation of the borough wide 20mph. Some of the wording in it worries me slightly.
The borough-wide limit is expected to bring about a culture change over time where it becomes ‘socially unacceptable’ to drive more than 20mph in Lewisham, in the same way as drink driving or not wearing a seat belt currently is.   
OK, so we are trying to make something socially unacceptable. Problem is, how many pedestrians have build in speed sensors, and can actually tell a car is exceeding the speed limit? Making something socially unacceptable is great, but you have to make people aware that it is being observed and dealt with, not just stick signs up and wash your hands of it. The way to do this is to work with others in the borough to enforce these limits. To get the message out there that speeding is NOT OK. But at the same time not be irrational and make certain roads 20mph, which actually serve no purpose at 20mph. Think about this, if a main road is a 20 and has a camera, and a side street is 20 with no camera, people will turn to rat running again. Neither route is quicker, but the residential one poses less risk of being caught. Hmm that isn't good!

Reducing traffic speed also helps people feel more confident about being on their local streets. This results in more children walking to school and elderly people feeling more able to travel independently and safely. 
So does having people visibly on random streets on different days of the week, checking speeds, and enforcing the slowing of the traffic on these roads. Although sadly, I get the impression that slowing traffic will have a negative experience to the pedestrian experience. Going back to SPECS, watch he traffic behaviour and you will see car after car, evenly spaced out, fed up and unwilling to let people join the convoy. Apply that to a road where everyone is bunched up, and pedestrians will find it harder to cross, especially at informal crossings, and traffic merging will find it a nightmare to get out, and take risks.

On the whole, calmer road speeds help to make walking and cycling more attractive leading to less traffic congestion, better health, less noise, more social interaction and stronger communities. 
As a whole, stating that walking is a better alternative than driving makes a mockery of the point of owning a car, and a pressure on those who need to commute to work. It emphasises that the priority is not to get the roads moving. All while saying it will cause less congestion, and better health. Although I am pretty sure that slowing a smooth running road, from 30 to 20 will cause vehicles to spend more time on said road, and possibly INCREASE the pollution. Suggesting that communities will grow stronger by reducing the speed limit by 10mph is a pipe dream, and serves no purpose in this matter, the same applies for social interaction. Lets fill the press release with the concerns focus groups highlight the most, and make it sound a lot more positive than it really is.

 Roads that are managed by Transport for London (red routes) will not be included at this time. These are primarily the South Circular (A205), New Cross Road (A202), Bromley Road leading to Lewisham High Street (A21) and Lewisham Way leading to Lee High Road (A20). Private roads or those on housing estates are not included in the borough-wide limit
Thank heavens for that, Yet ironically, it is most of these roads which play the biggest role in congestion, so in fact the whole scheme doesn't actually address the route cause of the issue, and leaves cars who have driven painfully slow for no reason (in some cases) will still arrive to join busy main roads, and sit in traffic. Hmm. Flawed logic?

At the entrance to all borough roads 20mph signs will be in place. On roads that border red routes there will again to be clear signs informing drivers of the speed change limit. Smaller '20' repeater signs are proposed to be placed at regular intervals on either side of the road. There may also be 20mph flashing Vehicle Activated Signs (VAS) to remind drivers to keep to the new lower speed limit on certain roads if required. 
Lots of signs, cluttering up the streets, to inform two groups of drivers. Those in the know who know what speed they should be driving at. And those who couldn't care less about what speed they are being told to drive at. If there is no management or enforcement of these limits, ignore them. As for the flashing signs... They have ignored all the signs they passed all the way down the road at intervals of 150-200 metres, but a flashing sign means business, and will really get the point across? How much do these 20mph signs and VAS cost?

The police have responsibility to enforce all speed limits. The police have said the 20mph speed restrictions will be treated in the same way as any other speed limit. We do not expect everyone to drive within the 20mph limit from the outset, but over time, we expect compliance to increase.
Of course, the council puts up signs, washes their hands, points at the police and say, done my bit, up to you now mate, you find the funding yourself.
I believe this part is called, passing the buck.
Taking a moment to digest this, the police are strapped for staffing and funding to perform enough speed checks on the roads as they are. They do a cracking job, but are at their limits. Allowing a fair threshold and prosecuting above a certain speed, their impact is minimal on the behaviour of drivers already. So, lower the speed limit, increase the number of potential people speeding, and remind me again of how exactly the police are expected to manage the exponential rise in potential offences?
If you can't serve customers fast enough in a shop, you don't try and increase your footfall do you?
Flawed logic again?
The closing statement of not expecting people to obey the limits is the deal maker for me, makes the whole thing worthwhile don't you think. OK it says they "hope" it will increase, well, that's nice.

The introduction of the speed limit is intended to make the roads safer for all road users.  Although at the moment there are no speed limits for cyclists alone, people on bikes are expected to ride in a safe manner especially in shared areas. A cyclist can be prosecuted for riding with undue care.  
Fantastic, so I can do whatever speed I want on my road bike, under or overtaking slow moving impatient cars. With the pedestrians with renewed confidence walking out into my path, and being hit by a 30mph 220lbs bowling ball. Well that's OK then, human vs human impacts don't hurt anyone. Oh unless you seat one unsecured human behind another, stop the car suddenly, and the rear passenger continues at 30mph, killing the front seat passenger. So I am clear, riding fast on a bike is NOT dangerous at all, and won't cause harm to anyone they strike. That's good then.

Larger signs (600mm diameter) are needed at the entrance points to the borough and smaller repeater signs (300mm diameter) are required at regular intervals, approximately every 150 to 200 metres. We will design the scheme to put signs on existing poles or lampposts where possible and to keep the number of signs to a minimum. Existing signs in affected areas will be reviewed and indications are that we can often remove many redundant signs. 
Removal of redundant signs, like 1 in 2 of the signs on roads every 150 metres maybe? More signs does NOT equate to more safety. Signs = distraction = increases potential of not seeing someone stepping out. Unclear signs, conflicting signs etc all play their role in making roads more dangerous, not safer as it is suggested.

Delivery stage
​Traffic order applications​Mar 2016July 2016​
​Implementation​Sep 2016
​Monitoring​Sep 2016​Mar 2018
​Design options for roads with low compliance​Oct 2016​Oct 2017
​Implementation of remedial measuresJan 2017​​Mar 2018

This is the bit I like the most.
With comments all the way through, suggesting it may take some time to get compliance to a decent level, awareness may take time etc, we have the above timescale.
Implementation, Sept 2016
Design options for low compliance, Oct 2016
30 days after implementation, people will start drawing up plans how to make changes to roads and layouts to enforce the new speed limits, while at the same time the planners admit it will take time to get things moving!

Is there some unspoken of plan somewhere, where someone wants to revolutionise the road layouts of the borough, almost pedestrianising them? Does someone have a fantastic deal with a contractor, promising a couple of years of work, based on a 30 day review of a new speed limit.
Think I am being irrational about this, well then consider this. The last time the data was gathered for review, and to see what needed to be done, it took a bit longer. This long in fact.

​Data collection and analysis​May 2014​June 2015
13 months of collection an analysis. This time around, after transforming the whole borough almost over night, 30 days will do the trick, before plans are laid out to throw what will probably be millions of pounds at highways contractors to make sweeping and lasting changes to out roads. With planning ending and work starting by January!

So I will say it one last time.
Please for goodness sakes, expand the community speed checks, empower the communities (that WILL bring them together, that WILL make them more social), take the pressure off the under funded, overworked police, and be sensible about the matter.
I am sure when this all goes ahead, in years to come, some amazing figures will be released saying how well it has all worked. Meanwhile the number of prosecutions for speeding or dangerous driving will remain, the culprits will remain unpunished, and full of confidence that the rules don't apply to them.

Good luck with the changes, you are going to need it!

No comments:

Post a Comment