Brian Mooney: Hasty and faulty – the Council’s slower speed consultation

 A guest post from Brian Mooney of the Alliance of British Drivers. Brian is a management consultant and used to be a keen cyclist before his bike was vandalised. He also runs a personal website.

In my October article, I outlined reasons why LB Hammersmith and Fulham (LBHF) should not go ahead with its proposed borough wide 20mph scheme.

My objections are shared by many other concerned local people. When the public meeting kicking off the consultation was announced in May, there was quite a backlash. In roughly the first 24 hours after the webpage went up, those expressing a clear opinion divided 67%:33% against a borough-wide scheme, and 62%:38% against, if you strip out the responses that were specifically against 20mph limits on main roads.

A fair number expressed concerns about speed camera enforcement. The Council responded in a very one-sided consultation booklet that I understand is being posted out to all homes. It says it is not proposing more speed cameras – but that doesn’t rule it out.

Of course, if borough-wide 20mph limits went ahead, existing cameras such as the ones on Fulham Palace Road and Shepherds Bush Green would not be left at 30mph.

We would then have the farce whereby the law was changed to make life easier for those who couldn’t be bothered to respect road safety laws and senselessly step out in front of traffic, but safe drivers could be prosecuted for doing a speed that is legal in most of London and the UK.

It makes a mockery of the current administration’s manifesto pledge of being “fairer to drivers

The scrutiny committee meeting open to the public on 9 June was also farcical. In one of the rambling floor speeches, a supporter of the scheme defended it as “You can’t stop children dashing out”.

Hang on a minute. Dashing out can be dangerous to other road users, too – particularly if it causes a pile-up when a driver has to slam on the brakes, or if a driver swerves to avoid the culprit and collides with an innocent person.

It should not be encouraged – rather children (and some adults) should be educated in proper road safety, particularly in using designated crossing places. This will prevent them being hit at any speed, with all the grief to their loved ones.

The Highway Code is quite clear on this – especially the need for parental responsibility. (Think – it would be equally unacceptable for parents to claim that they “can’t stop children playing truant” for instance.)

The entire thrust of the “argument” is wrong. Nobody suggests that, say, the mains voltage should be reduced to make life easier for children who stick their fingers into power sockets. If a public figure got up and said that trains should be slowed right down to make life easier for trespassers on the track, they would rightly be considered daft.

The consultation form (inside the booklet and online) is equally lacking. It reminds me of the episode of Fawlty Towers where all that is on the menu is duck, duck with lemon, or duck with orange. The only alternative for guests is a cricketing duck – i.e. nothing at all.

To me, it is questionable whether the consultation meets expectations that residents are offered fair alternatives and a means of intelligently selecting a course of action.

While being high on imagery and suggestive language, there is no real discussion on the causes of accidents.

Police accident reports aren’t an exact science, but they comprise the best available information. I’ve studied a deep cross-section from the last three years, and am amazed at how infrequently (excessive) speed is a factor.

Far more prevalent are misjudgement of turns, lane changes or overtaking; car users opening doors unthinkingly, pedestrians and cyclists not taking due care….

Labour’s national Shadow Roads Spokesman is Richard Burden MP. As holder of a track licence, he knows much about driving safely and speed. Responding to his own local authority consultation (in Birmingham), he called for proper safety assessments in context to determine how best to make roads safer. He felt 20mph zones were not a ‘silver bullet’ for improving road safety, rather “The goal… should be to build and manage safer roads and save lives, not to reduce speeds as an end point in itself.”

Unfortunately, the “arguments” in LBHF’s consultation booklet are so weak, that a colleague has the suspicion that the proposal’s main focus is speed reduction rather than road safety (no other approaches mentioned), and by sending out such a biased booklet out in bulk, it will soft-soap enough residents to tick boxes and thus claim “support”.

There is not even any ‘white space’ for general comment on the form, only what duck, sorry, “speed restricted roads” and “traffic calming features” respondents would like!

The sloppy booklet is not even consistent with other LBHF documents. For instance, it claims pollution reduction as a “benefit” although elsewhere this is decided to be “negligible”.

To promote a more balanced debate, the Alliance of British Drivers has been giving out leaflets and talking to residents and cab drivers. A webpage provides more information about the proposal, how to object, and some proper alternatives for road safety!

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