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Comment - Streets for Living / Road Safety

Thinking streets save lives by David Hughes.

Currently our streets are dangerous, as every parent knows. We are all familiar with pedestrian crossings, traffic lights and pavement railings and we see them as ways of making streets safer. But they have dangerous and undemocratic consequences.

Take pedestrian crossings. They tell drivers to stop for pedestrians and offer safe routes across busy streets. But they also siphon pedestrians away from the street between crossings and from shorter or preferred routes. This is particularly unfair for pedestrians in a hurry, elderly people and people with mobility problems. And in doing so they increase opportunities for speeding between crossings, encourage drivers to 'switch off' and create a false sense of security. They also give rise to queues of stationary vehicles, wasted fuel, poor air quality.

Essentially the same objections apply to pavement railings and traffic lights.

The thinking behind all these measures is essentially defensive - to protect pedestrians (and other road users) from fast-moving vehicles. If this was the only way it might be a depressing necessity but it is NOT the only way. Much safer and fairer ways of managing urban streets are afoot using techniques sometimes referred to as 'Thinking Streets' and 'The Moral Model'. 'Thinking Streets' because drivers, cyclists and pedestrians are encouraged to think and negotiate rather than obey instructions, The Moral Model because the strategy is fairer for all categories of user. In this approach 20 mph speed limits (an established Green policy) are key because, safety aside, priority by eye-contact, need and courtesy can be negotiated at that speed. Journey times are not increased because the stop/start of traffic lights and pedestrian crossings is removed. With the best of intentions, devices and rules have been adopted that make urban streets more unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists, and damage communities. At last there are strategies that can improve the situation.

First published in the EGP members newsletter, March 2012

Published and promoted by Bill Linton for Enfield Green Party, both at 39A Fox Lane, London N13 4AJ