Announcing a proposal to limit speeds on the M1 near Sheffield to 60mph, the Today Programme interviewed Samantha Heath of SERA, an environmental pressure group linked to Labour. Her holistic approach seemed to boil down to lower speeds and fewer cars. As usual, no mention was made of my 2007 proposal, voiced in No Idle Matter and supported by among others, Prashant Kumar of Surrey University, to reform the system and remove the prime obstructions to sociable speeds and efficient filtering, viz. traffic lights.
Yesterday Teresa May gave a speech about a “shared society”. Last night I dreamt I was having a party, when the door bell rang and it was Teresa May. She said she had seen my Equality Streets website and thought the ideas were great. I woke up in a sweat, not because I was excited at the prospect of finally getting somewhere, but because I’d forgotten to turn off the heating.
Teresa May wants a fairer, sharing society. She could start on our roads and public spaces. Replace priority with equality, enabling peaceful give-and-take among all road-users. In the absence of a bridge or flyover, let all junctions be filter (more or less) in turn. That would bring real progress in fairness and sharing. It would transform road safety and air quality, and free up the tens of billions squandered on traffic control for constructive use elsewhere.
There is increasing evidence that traffic fumes cause heart disease, respiratory disease, strokes, neurodegenerative conditions, early death, and now dementia. Ten years ago, in No Idle Matter, I wrote that traffic control multiplies harmful emissions by a factor of four. Engineering lecturer at the University of Surrey, Prashant Kumar, says the multiple is as high as 29 – no surprise if you’ve endured the interminable hold-ups from innumerable traffic lights on roads such as the A24 in Balham. Despite the evidence, and proof that sociable filtering without regulation more than halves journey time and emissions, traffic authorities do nothing. Corporate man’s laughter, or corporate manslaughter?
… in obtuseness and idiocy. It’s 60 years since instant TV replay was devised, but only now are FIFA are proposing it for future World Cups. Meanwhile, countless injustices, not least Maradona’s ‘hand of God’, continue to take place on fields of play. Similarly, it’s about 60 years since our first stretch of motorway was built, yet only now are witless policymakers proposing to incorporate motorway driving – only voluntarily – into driver education. What is it that make officials so impervious to sensible ideas and change? When the dimensions of the goal were decided in the 19th century, the average man was 4 inches (10cm) shorter, yet the goal size remains unchanged. Road casualties and congestion are at unspeakable levels, yet the powers refuse the reform that would cut congestion and virtually eliminate “accidents”.
Rampant health damage from poor air quality, including 40,000 premature deaths, prompts NICE to propose removing speed humps and introducing citywide 20mph to smooth traffic flow. As usual, the primary source of air pollution from staccato traffic motion – traffic lights – is ignored, so it’s hard to take the NICE proposals seriously. As I told Boris when he toyed with allowing left turn on red, such tweaks to a flawed system amount to fiddling while London and other cities continue to fume, in both senses. Real improvements in road safety and air quality will only come from traffic system reform and driver re-education: above all, replacing priority with equality as the central rule of the road. This would enable us to filter sociably and smoothly at low speeds, and would remove the “need” for most traffic lights, speed limits and speed humps.
Mobile phone use while driving is of course a no-no, but it’s a convenient scapegoat for traffic authorities who refuse to reform a system that is intrinsically dangerous. If mobile phone use is banned on the ground that it distracts us and takes our eyes off the road, should traffic lights, speed cameras and speed limits be banned for the same reason? In four years, the death toll from accidents involving phones is 25. In the same four years, there have been 100,000 deaths and serious injuries that do not involve phone use. While radio phone-ins and newspapers purvey shock horror at mobile phone misuse, they ignore the unspeakable casualty toll which is largely due to the dysfunctional traffic control system.
The traffic system puts the onus on the child to beware the motorist. That single fact puts it beyond the pale. Countless attempts to bring the odious nature of the system and the need for reform to the notice of politicians, policymakers, traffic authorities and commissioning editors are met with silence or refusals to heed the case against the current system or to adopt equality-based reform. Not once did The Sunday Times article about congestion (16.10.16) cite traffic control as a cause. Ditto the 2011 Select Committee’s report on congestion. In its “Access Strategy”, Cambridge fails to mention shared space or Equality Streets as an option, thereby failing in its duty under the 2004 Traffic Management Act to explore all options for improving congestion, road safety and air quality.
“A combination of arrogance, negligence and incompetence”, said Huw Edwards (BBC 10 o’clock News, 18.10.2016) on the subject of Aberfan. An apt fit for the perpetrators of the traffic control system by which we are forced to live and die. Their negligence is helping kill, injure, delay and make us ill on a monumental scale. Aberfan was a one-off. The road casualty toll continues unchecked, spawning evermore costly, restrictive practices that fail to address the cancer at the heart of the system.