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
First published in the EGP members newsletter, March 2012