In the market town of Barnstaple recently, as I crossed Pilton Causeway on foot through slow-moving traffic, I was honked at aggressively (the guy must’ve held down his horn for about ten hours). The reason for the driver’s wrath was my temerity in asserting what I see as my equal right to the road space. All he had to do was take his foot off the accelerator, and he lost no ground in slowing so I could cross. What he couldn’t stand, and what in my view is the root of road rage, is that I disobeyed the rule of priority, which gave him right-of-way. I motioned for his passenger to open the window. The point I tried to make through his invective was that I blamed him less than I blamed the system for promoting his brand of delinquency. – This was just one instance of countless similar ones which shows that priority is anathema to civilised road-user relationships, and the trigger for road rage. Priority is also, I submit, the root cause of “accidents”. And yet, despite its defects and dangers, and my efforts to disabuse the custodians of the system, priority is defended by the Department for Transport and promoted by traffic authorities as the fundamental rule of the road. I hereby accuse the Department and all who sail in it of stupidity, negligence and abuse.
About six years ago I was called in by a group of citizens in Hereford, led by farmer, John Harrington, to advise them about their city’s chronic congestion. It was immediately apparent that traffic control was the main problem, as it is everywhere else on our over-regulated roads. John set up a meeting with Jesse Norman, MP. Like John, he quickly cottoned on to the idea of Equality Streets. A few years later, when Jesse became Roads Minister, he palmed my stuff off to the DfT. They, of course, are programmed to resist change, so nothing happened.
To my delight, at the recent local elections, John’s group was elected, and John himself is now Councillor for Roads and Infrastructure. And he’s up for something I’ve been pitching for for years: a citywide experiment in signal switch-off. At last!
This morning I was on BBC Hereford and Worcester radio. One of the things I was trying to say was that drivers should give way to pedestrians, especially if the pedestrian is there first. Most people, including AA President, Edmund King, who appeared after me on the programme, think primarily in terms of cars. He talked about improvements at Hyde Park Corner since traffic lights went in. But traffic lights do not ensure safety – far from it! A 66-year old pedestrian was killed only last night crossing the road! Story here. Other people on foot have been killed there, notably a woman mown down by a bus. Under the current system, drivers watch the lights instead of the road and each other – a recipe for disaster!
The idea that traffic lights ensure, or even promote safety is an odious myth.
By law, new electric cars travelling at 12mph or less must now emit warning sounds of their approach. Like traffic lights, this is an attempt to retrofix a man-made problem. If the zombies running the system made drivers responsible for safety, and made them, by law and through the driving test, defer to the vulnerable road-user, none of this expensive regulation would be necessary.
Reports of 83 year-old Irene Mayor, injured by a motorcyclist in a royal convoy, speak of an “accident”. Irene thought she could trust the traffic lights to guide her safely. But they led her into danger. Without lights, she would have been watching the road, and seen the convoy approaching. This is another case of the rules of the road setting the stage for an “accident”.
Central to the reforming agenda of Equality Streets is a shift in the balance of power in favour of the pedestrian, the child, the vulnerable road-user. Why should they wait for traffic to clear or lights to change, inhaling the baleful fumes from vehicles whose drivers are licensed to neglect them? Why should toddlers learn age-inappropriate road safety drill? Why is the onus on the child to beware the motorist? So ingrained are the delinquent rules of the road that a lorry driver who stopped to help an old lady cross the road makes ITV News! Malino Wilson, former soldier, immigrant from St Vincent in the Caribbean, is an enlightened gentleperson, something we could all be if the rules of the road promoted empathy instead of neglect.
A boy of 11 is killed trying to cross the road. This was no accident. The rules of the road, and nothing but the rules, are to blame. It’s another case of state-sponsored manslaughter, or child abuse. Shame on traffic officers, politicians, transport ministers and policymakers for subjecting vulnerable road-users to a lethal system, and failing to adopt reform!
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.
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.
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.