Last night was a bad news night. Doyen of shared space, Ben Hamilton-Baillie, speaker, practitioner, father and friend, died of cancer on Sunday. He coined the term “shared space”, later preferring “low-speed environments”. Hans Monderman died aged only 62. Ben made it to just 63. He leaves a huge hole and an important legacy.

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J’accuse (again)

So the Duke has apologised for the “accident”. But it wasn’t an accident. It was an event contrived by the rules of the road, specifically, main road priority. The Duke was a victim, as were the others involved. If junctions were all-way give-ways, the “accident” would never have happened. So it’s not for the Duke to apologise, especially as he was further disabled by blinding sunlight. It’s for the DfT, along with local traffic authorities, traffic managers and successive Roads and Transport Ministers to apologise – for subjecting us to a lethal system. Of course they never will.

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The Fluke of Edinburgh

It probably was a fluke that the Duke survived the crash at the junction on the A149.

Consider the dilemma. You’re on a minor road. You arrive at a junction. You are faced with streams of traffic coming at you from right and left, 60mph, 50 or 40, it’s immaterial.

The problem is, the main road you’re trying to enter or cross has priority. Drivers are programmed and licensed to plough on and ignore hapless drivers on minor roads. So you wait for a gap. But if the main road traffic is continuous, you are faced with an indefinite wait. So, in mounting frustration, you prepare to risk an ever-decreasing gap.

Main road priority is a recipe for disaster.  The system sets the stage for lethal conflict, but never gets the blame when the inevitable happens. Most “accidents” are not accidents. They are events contrived by the misguided rules and design of the road.

The solution? Scrap the priority rule. In the absence of a bridge or flyover, let junctions be all-way give-ways. It would mean low speeds and a level playing-field. All road-users would be able to filter sociably and safely.

This fundamental reform needs to be accompanied by a new driving test, to teach people to give way to others who were there first, whether on foot or on wheels. That’s the only way to make roads intrinsically safe. As it is, they are intrinsically dangerous.

Low-speed filtering is not only safer, it’s infinitely more efficient. It halves journey times and emissions. It transforms quality of life and space. It would save the public purse tens of billions in traffic (mis)management costs.

The pitiful traffic authorities ignore these efforts at reform. Their solution? Reduce the speed limit from 60 to 50, and install speed cameras. Are the pusillanimous media complicit? My email to PM and the World at One was not even acknowledged.

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Clean air “strategy”

The government’s clean air strategy aims to halve harmful emissions by 2025. It plans to ban wood burning stoves and ammonia from farm fertilisers, but abdicates responsibility for vehicle emissions to Local Traffic Authorities. Equality on the roads is the solution. It transforms road safety and efficiency (as I’ve explained to numerous LTAs), it can save the public purse tens of billions, and it more than halves emissions, more or less immediately. How? By eliminating the wasteful stop-idle-restart drive cycle produced by traffic control.

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Road rage v road sage?

On most things to do with street design and road-user relationships, Ben Hamilton-Baillie and I are of one mind, but we diverge on one point. He says street design alone can achieve the desired behaviour change – from war to peace, intolerance to civility – however you like to phrase it. A clash the other day between me on foot and a driver illustrates my call for a change in the rules of the road to precede or at least accompany changes in street design. It was at the entrance to a supermarket car park. The driver was coming out; I was walking across the gap between the pavements. I was there marginally first, so didn’t break my stride. He drove on, forcing me to stop, so I slapped his side window with the palm of my hand. He stopped in the middle of the road, remonstrating with me for hitting his car. I stood my ground, saying he was an oaf for not giving way. Jaw jutting forward, he got out and came at me. I said, “Are you going to hit me?” Meanwhile, traffic had stopped, bystanders were gaping, a bus was making a big deal of passing the obstruction … He said, “No, but you shouldn’t hit my car,” and backed off. As I often say in such situations, I said he was in the wrong, but I blamed him less than I blame the rules of the road which promote intimidation and neglect of vulnerable road-users. DfT, Jesse Norman, et al, take note. 

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Mugged by ministerial apathy and negligence

This woman, a talented musician, was attacked outside her home. She was crossing the road with her child, when she was hit by a car. She managed to push the child to safety. She needed 21 stitches in her head. Would this “accident” have happened if equality, not priority, was the basic rule of the road, and if the onus for road safety was on the driver instead of the pedestrian? Not in a million years.

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DfT and ministerial negligence

A government paper announces funding for local authorities to ‘tackle air pollution’. One of its grotesquely overdue measures is to ‘adjust traffic signals to cut congestion’. So the paper is an open admission that traffic lights contribute to 40,000 premature deaths a year from poor air quality. How overdue are these proposals? Half a century ago, when I started driving, it was blindingly obvious that woeful timing of traffic lights at Knightsbridge, for example, caused permanent congestion. It’s identical today: hardly any green time for traffic heading to the West End. Ministers and the DfT miss an equally vital point: traffic lights – symbols of the dysfunctional system of priority – help cause 24,000 casualties a year from “accidents”. I’ve had replies from the DfT claiming priority is necessary because it lays down clear rules. Its support for its own lethal system reveals the pitiful depths of its ignorance and negligence.

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Voice in the wilderness

Last year there were 240 deaths from drink driving. Richard Allsop of the RAC Foundation estimates there would be 25 fewer deaths if the drink-drive limit were cut from .08 to .05. The story made the news, but the numbers are negligible compared with the casualties caused by the lethal rule of priority, which never make the news (despite my efforts). Those “accidents” are routinely attributed to driver error – a travesty of the truth.

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Corporate manslaughter

It’s well-known that dirty urban air causes lung, heart and developmental damage, but increasingly it’s being linked to brain damage. The Times didn’t break the news but covered it on 19 September under the front page headline, “Dementia soars in areas hit by pollution”. Countless cases of dementia could be avoided by cutting air pollution from traffic. Because most of it, through a trick of chemistry, is invisible, governments get away with inaction which amounts to manslaughter.

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The goons (the unfunny ones)

I diverge on only one point with street designer, Ben Hamilton-Baillie. He thinks street redesign alone can bring about the desired behaviour change from hostility to civility, or danger to safety. I’ve always thought it should be preceded by, or go hand-in-hand with re-education, a new driving test and a new rulebook. A moment in a supermarket car park illustrates the point. I was on foot, struggling with a heavy bag of multi-purpose compost. A driver looking for a parking spot bore down on me even though I was already crossing. I didn’t break my stride, which meant he had to stop. I eyeballed him. As he eyeballed me back, there was no flicker of acknowledgement that he might’ve been in the wrong. Conditioned by the barbaric rule of priority, with its relegation of the pedestrian to serf status, he looked miffed that I’d asserted my equal right to the road space. As usual, I blame him less than I blame the system which promotes such ignorance. It was just a microcosm of the evils perpetrated year in year out, across the globe, by the vile rule of priority. That rule is supported by the law of the land, the unspeakable goons at the DfT and in local traffic authorities, and by successive transport ministers.

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