Thursday, 30 January 2014

Zebra crossings - do they make the streets safer?

Abbey Road zebra crossing - pic from BBC News

Above the famous Abbey Road zebra crossing.  Due to concerns about road safety, parents of the Fircroft Primary School are calling for a zebra crossing to be installed on Glenburnie Road.  Near the school there are the results of previous 'road safety' interventions, including a raised table and speed humps.

But, do they work?

On crossings, our Labour MP asked a question in parliament recently which highlighted that of the 70 people killed whilst walking in London last year (from someone driving into them in a vehicle) 26% were killed whilst on a crossing.  The other interventions around Fircroft Primary School clearly haven't been enough. The road danger is still clearly felt by those who send their children to school there.

For the families of those killed last year on crossings, and those seriously injured, the crossing provided no protection at all.

In case there is any doubt, I'm totally in favour of creating safer streets. I'm fully supportive of the parents calling on the council to take action to reduce road danger.

However, for me this is the key question that needs to be asked and answered:

What is the principle source of danger on our roads? 

Until we agree on the source of danger, and agree that action needs to be taken to reduce that danger, danger will remain.

For me, the source of danger is people driving irresponsibly, both too fast for the conditions, and without due care for those around them. I feel that we should reduce the opportunities people have to drive irresponsibly, creating safer streets to the benefit of everyone.

I've been petitioning around Tooting to pilot measures, such as those shown below. They have been implemented across Hackney over many years to great success.

Thanks to Rachel Aldred for this picture - Glyn Road in Hackney
There are local examples of similar things which have been done in Wandsworth.

On Welham Road (SW16) it's not the easiest to cycle through, it works better when people haven't parked their cars right up next to it.

 Or a better example where Elmfield Road meets Bedford Hill.

Just off St John's Hill, where Nantes Close motorised through access has been cut to Harbut Road.

By piloting such schemes, we can see how local people will react to them in terms of how they travel through and around Tooting. They've been done before locally, and people adapted. I think few people who live on those streets today would like them to become rat-runs. A number of people are of the opinion that piloting further schemes will cause more congestion. The evidence from other parts of London suggests that this will not be the case. In fact believe it or not, in Wandsworth the amount of distance driven over the past decade has actually decreased.

One thing is clear though, if we don't try it on other streets, we'll never know how it might work in these other locations.

Friday, 24 January 2014

Compulsion is not the answer!

Yesterday I saw an open letter written by the Putney Labour party, regarding the redevelopment of the Putney Hospital site which you can see here.

This was the comment which really hit me:
"Make parents sign a “green transport plan”. Once a school is up and running, all parents should be asked to sign an agreement not to bring their children by car."

For me this highlights a number of things.

For one, campaigning and lobbying efforts from local groups tend to be directed towards the people that hold the power.  So if a party that isn't in power doesn't have full access to information, or hasn't been educated on the issues, they could be excused in part for having half-baked solutions.  But, with walking and cycling, there really isn't any excuse.

The comment above just highlights how for decades our streets have been mismanaged by politicians of every persuasion.

What we really need locally is to design out road danger, that is, people driving irresponsibly. At the same time we design in attractive options for people to walk and cycle. People will then choose to cycle or walk short trips as they will have become the most attractive choice, no compulsion or signing of agreements needed.

Whilst the Conservatives locally choose to suggest that collisions that happen on our roads are all 'accidents'.  Labour's PPC for Putney and the chair of Putney Labour suggest that we can compel parents not to drive their children to school.  The Tories policies mean officers tell residents that, "no-one has been killed there yet" is a reason not to act if a concerned resident writes to the council.  If compulsion is the 'big idea' from Labour, well, that's just not going to work.

Out of the major parties locally, it seems like it's only the Lib Dems, who have been really listening to groups like Wandsworth Living Streets, and the Wandsworth Cycling Campaign who have been pushing forward viable solutions for years now.

Design safer street environments where walking and cycling are properly recognised as a means of travel, and a lot of our congestion issues will evaporate. If the Tories and Labour aren't going to take meaningful action on this, then perhaps it's time for some Lib Dems to be on the council.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

Shared frustration at inaction

As regular readers will know, I've been petitioning quite a bit around Tooting of late. The support that I've been getting for my petitions has been fantastic, but not altogether surprising.

The support for my local #saferstreets petitions tallies with a similar support level shown for 20s Plenty across the country. I'm delighted that it seems some of the local Conservatives, and Labour councillors and candidates are now successfully campaigning on 20mph limits.

What frustrates me, is that it seems it takes the approach of a local election to elicit this kind of movement from our current batch of councillors. Over the past few years, I've seen various approaches by local residents asking for our council to take action to make our streets safer fobbed off by officers.

Responses to these calls for action to make local streets safer include:

"No-one has been killed there yet."
"If we made changes there, then we would need to make changes across the borough."

A number of years ago, I would have directed my frustration towards the officers. It's easily done, they are the people writing these letters out to concerned residents, or responding on behalf of the council at committee meetings.  Through my campaigning with groups such as Wandsworth Cycling Campaign, Wandsworth Living Streets and the Wandsworth Environment Forum, I've learnt that whilst errors may be made by the officers, all too often the real issue is the political direction they are given to work under. I also know that the key figures on the relevant committees are aware of both the problems and viable solutions. They are the gatekeepers to allowing or inhibiting any changes to our streets.

The Conservative policies, seemingly approved by Labour councillors, mean that without change more people writing to our council asking for safer streets might be asked to wait for someone to be killed before meaningful action will be taken.

I'm campaigning locally now with the Lib Dems, as I believe that we need a fresh approach to local politics in Tooting and in Wandsworth. Do get in touch if you'd like to help.