John Stewart (who is a key campaigner for the Stop Heathrow’s 3rd runway campaign) became RoadPeace Chair in late 1996. He has written a thought piece. He’s a fantastic campaigner, and now an advisor – his input is immensely valuable to RoadPeace. Many thanks John for writing this piece.
A lot of things are changing in transport at the moment. Cycle lanes are popping up all over the place. Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are being introduced. Electric cars are on their way. Autonomous vehicles may see the light of day. 20mph speeds limits are being brought in on many streets.
I’m wondering if the key question when assessing all of them should be this simple one: do they reduce danger?
Take cycle lanes. A major study found that installing protected bike lanes cut deaths not only for cyclists but for drivers too. Drivers were more aware of their surroundings and more willing to slow down in areas that had extensive cycling infrastructure. But it needed to be dedicated cycle lanes, separated from the traffic. Cycle lanes just painted on the road did not do the trick.
You can read more about the study here: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/bike-lane-cycling-road-safety-driver-deaths-fatalities-a8934841.html
Slower speeds are known to cut danger. A report by the International Transport Forum looked at the way road safety performance in ten countries changed after they changed speed limits or introduced automatic speed cameras on a large scale. It confirmed earlier scientific evidence that speed has a direct influence on the occurrence of traffic crashes and on their severity.
You can read more about the report here: https://www.itf-oecd.org/lower-speed-means-fewer-road-deaths
A lot of places are putting in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods since Covid-19. Because they are newer, certainly in this country, they have been studied less than other measures but it appears they bring all-round benefits. This is how Living Streets has put it: “We know that low-traffic neighbourhoods –- also known as ‘mini-hollands’ –- deliver genuine benefits to all residents. Children play out more, neighbours catch up, air pollution is lower, road safety improves and walking and cycling are the natural choice for everyday journeys”.
My own view is that Low Traffic Neighbourhoods have all the ingredients to cut danger. In fact, they could pass the ultimate test of more people being on the streets – children playing; residents walking to the shops or having conversations; cyclists pedaling through – but with fewer overall crashes and casualties. The car will have been tamed.
However the planners need to ensure that these neighbourhoods do not push yet more traffic on to the main roads. That would mean that people living on these main roads, who already have more than their fair share of noise, pollution and danger, could be in an even worse position. This can be overcome by putting in measures to reduce car traffic on the main roads – such as wider pavements or bus and cycle lanes – at the same time as Lower Traffic Neighbourhoods are introduced.
The jury is still out on electric cars and autonomous vehicles. Electric cars, certainly at lower speeds, are quieter than conventional vehicles. At very low speeds sound will need to be added to them to warn pedestrians and cyclists they are approaching. It is too early yet to say, though, what the overall impact of electric vehicles on road danger will be.
There is even more uncertainty over autonomous vehicles. The manufacturers claim that they will eliminate driver error but their critics argue they will not be able to deal with the unexpected.
But times are a’changing. Let’s continue to do all in our power to ensure that the cutting of road danger is woven into all the changes.