Thursday, 7 March 2013

If It Ain't Broke, Fix It - Green Politics in Brighton and Hove

The end of the financial year is approaching and - in the UK - local Councils with more money in the bank than sense in their brains are desperately trying to get the bank balances down to zero.

Here in Brighton and Hove, the Council has already spent as much as it can on replacing functioning pedestrian crossing controls with new, state-of-the-art out-of-phase-ones. Yes, watch as the tourists and language students wait and wait looking at vehicles which are also waiting and waiting! Laugh as the green persons turn to red as soon as pedestrians have stepped into the road! If you don't believe me, position yourself for five minutes at the junction of Holland Road with Western Road and Palmeira Square.

But alas it wasn't enough to empty the bank accounts. So now as a last desperate fling a 20 mph City speed limit has been introduced - justifying a frenzy of spending on new street signs. Where would we be without the sign makers and the signwriters to take our money?

The signwriters have been out writing "20" in large circles on any vacant strip of tarmac. But still there is money which must be spent - so now we have new "20" signs going up at the entrance to every side street off a "30" zone. It's fantastic -  and good news too for dog owners who are thus provided with brand-new shitting stops.

More importantly, I just think our Council and its Highways Department don't really understand the nature of urban traffic. If you are looking at your speedometer in city traffic, then you shouldn't be driving. Full stop. Driving in a city is about staying alert for hazards - pedestrians, cyclists, buses, other vehicles in general. Driving in a city is about slowing down to 10 mph every time it is necessary and speeding up to 40 mph when the road is clear - as it often is at 5am in the morning (but Green councillors aren't around then so they wouldn't know). Cyclists are in exactly the same position as drivers, though they tend to understand better the idea that you Go when you can Go. That's why they are usually ahead of the cars.

It does make sense to warn drivers (and cyclists) that there is a School Ahead and to instal calming devices near Schools * . In contrast, if you carpet bomb all your streets with road signs then these just become so much background noise. They serve no traffic control function. They just allow the Council to get rid of  money it didn't really know how to spend.

(* The big hazard near Schools seems to be created by parents collecting their children and determined to elbow their 4 x 4s ahead of everyone else's).

I don't expect Brighton and Hove's roads to be safer as a result of the new Twenty is Plenty. Maybe the opposite: there will be some road rage as drivers have to crawl behind a vehicle whose  driver - eyes glued to the speedometer and hunched over the wheel -  is "Sticking to the Limit".

Brighton and Hove does not have a very good road safety record, as far as I understand the figures you can Google. I think you deal with that by looking at where accidents occur, when and involving whom. You should then try to tailor your response to specific problems, like the hazards of contraflow systems or the fact that your city has an unusually high number of pedestrians - language students, tourists - who come from countries where they drive on the other side. Do the language schools offer as a first Lesson, Watch out for the Buses!

Roads would be safer if driver education was focussed on paying attention to the road, on learning to get over the fact that there will sometimes be congestion, and in accepting that there are other road users - pedestrians, cyclists, vans making deliveries - who have a right to be there too. Safe driving is about respect for others.

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