Lights or phones more dangerous?

Officialdom justifies draconian new measures against mobile phone use by casualty figures where phone use has played a part. But those figures are much lower than “accidents” at traffic lights.

According to this BBC news  briefing, in 2019, there were 637 road casualties, including 153 where phone use was a factor. That’s 24%. Not good. But Westminster City Council’s safety audit shows 44% of “accidents” occur at traffic lights.

If mobile phone use is banned because it distracts us from watching the road, should traffic lights, speed cameras and the rule of priority be banned for the same reason?

Fair enough to outlaw phone use while actually driving, but when you’re in a jam, probably caused by traffic lights?

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Dereliction of duty?

If the aim of Devon Highways is to increase congestion in Barnstaple and elsewhere, then Cabinet Member for Highways Management, Stuart Hughes, is to be congratulated.

If, however, the aim is to reduce congestion and improve air quality, then he is failing in his duty of care, and has been doing so for years.

Pilton Causeway is an example of grotesque traffic mismanagement. Years ago I pointed out to both Council and Police that northbound traffic gets less green time than side road traffic, despite northbound traffic being much heavier, especially in the afternoon. The lights cause tailbacks not just to the roundabout at the High St, but further afield.

Recently I re-timed the lights. Northbound traffic gets 18 seconds of green time, then has to sit at red, polluting the air, for 62 seconds. Often, nothing is happening on the junction. If traffic weren’t held at red, it would be free to disperse. As congestion dissolved, courtesy would thrive.

This happens whenever traffic lights break down. Low-speed, sociable filtering breaks out. I’ve witnessed it countless times on a micro scale, and on a macro scale across London in 2007 and 2008.

In 2009, I came across a local press story about improvements in congestion when lights failed in Portishead at a double T-junction similar to the Pilton Causeway/St Georges Rd junction. I proposed a monitored lights-off trial.

Via Councillor David Pasley, North Somerset Council agreed. The minute the lights were switched off, drivers and pedestrians started taking it more or less in turns, merging seamlessly at low speeds. Traffic queues disappeared. Monitoring showed that journey time fell by over half, despite a return from back-street rat-runs and greater numbers using the now free-flowing main route. There were accompanying improvements in road-user relationships, courtesy and safety, air quality, noise pollution and general well-being.

Despite the proof from Portishead, Hughes refused even to discuss a lights-off trial, with pedestrian priority, at Pilton.

A former Monster Raving Loony Party candidate and resident of Sidmouth (62 miles from Barnstaple), Hughes lists other interests in his public profile, including a disco and laser light show. “He is a member of the South West Regional Flood and Coastal Committee, President of Sidmouth Town Football Club, Chairman of PATROL (Parking and Traffic Regulations Outside London), and Chairman of LGA Public Transport Consortium.”

So perhaps he is too busy with commitments on the other side of Devon to attend to the needless delay and abysmal air quality in Barnstaple and Braunton, which is largely due to the negligence of traffic managers who lord it over us to our cost and detriment.

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Abusive traffic policy

Just as the exposure of abuse in the Church must bring penitence and reparation, says Stephen Cottrell, Archbishop of York, so the perpetrators of the traffic system, which causes untold injustice and harm, then blames you and me for the consequences, should own up to its abuses, make reparations to its countless victims, and resign itself to accountability and radical reform.

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60mph on motorways

New 60mph limits are being imposed on stretches of the motorway network, “to cut levels of nitrogen dioxide”, says Highways England.

Highways England is the state-run agency that promoted the use of hard shoulders – at some locations, can you believe, on bends. The result was 38 avoidable deaths and life-changing trauma to others involved. (Outgoing chief, Jim O’Sullivan, is on a salary of £456,727, with 63 other taxpayer-funded HE execs on £100,000+.)

So yet another layer of control and enforcement is coming into play. The intelligent move, of course, would be to bring highway law into line with Highway Code, which tells drivers to use the inside lane except when overtaking.

Moreover, a lower limit will make many drivers use a lower gear to maintain engine revs, and do nothing to improve air quality. Also, there is likely to be more braking, pumping more brake dust into the atmosphere.

What a wonderful life.

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Totally totalitarian?

On the Today Programme, that eminent scourge of totalitarianism, former High Court Judge, Lord Sumption, challenged edicts restricting freedom of movement and assembly. If a 75 year-old chooses to see her grandchildren and risk possible infection, rather than shut herself away, the choice as to which is the lesser evil should be hers. One-size-fits-all rules that deny freedoms are not only inhumane but inefficient. Clearly his remarks apply equally to traffic policy in all its miserable manifestations.

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At last?

Cambridge has built a new roundabout embodying the change in hierarchy that usually happens when traffic lights are out of action. It seems to be the breakthrough I’v‪e been advocating for two decades. The desired shift in the balance of power in favour of the vulnerable road-user might have been achieved for less money, and nationwide, via re-education, de-regulation, roadway redesign and legal reform, but this looks to be the first decent thing Cambridge and the DfT have done since I saw the light about traffic lights in that city in 2000. My calls to abolish unequal priority have always been rejected by the DfT, but maybe they were listening all along. The fact that this story (as far as I know) didn’t make the mainstream press or the Today Programme shows the bizarrely low value placed on road safety and efficiency. Article here.

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Misuse of public funds

The government announces a 2bn spend on protected cycle lanes. It claims to be treating causes not symptoms, yet is leaving the the fatal flaw at the heart of the system – priority – untreated. Promoting one mode at the expense of the general good is misguided. This is another case of misdirected public funds.

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50 to 60

The speed limit along motorway works is being raised from 50 to 60. They ‘needed’ a year-long study to show we can drive in a straight line at 60 in perfect safety. Policymaking in the traffic field is puerile and pernicious yet we have to pay for it.
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Govian sense overruled

On the subject of making it compulsory to wear a mask in enclosed public places, Michael Gove said it’s always best to trust people’s commonsense. Agreed. So why are we forbidden from using commonsense about when or what speed to go? We all lose when officialdom gets involved. Now mask-wearing is compulsory, and on the roads, the use of intelligent discretion continues to be unlawful.

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More misdirected govt funds

“Why fund one special interest group at the expense of others? You could make roads safe for ALL users, and maintain freedom of choice, by replacing priority with equality as the central rule of the road, as explained at equalitystreets.com“. That was my reply to a tweet from transport minister, Grant Shapps, he who plagiarised and misrepresented our IEA report, Seeing Red, in his semi-literate government report, We’re Jammin’. His original tweet: “Brilliant to see cycling levels increase by around 70% compared to early March 🚴🚴‍♂️. And really keen to ensure healthy active transport sustained, so am providing councils with funds to install urgent infrastructure to keep cyclists safe – with more of this to come soon! 🚲”  – Pah! More funds misdirected. The entire caboodle, from the dysfunctional rules of the road to street design and the driving test, needs reform, to ensure safety and efficiency for everyone.

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