Dear Editor, The Local Transport Plan set out the targets for travel in the West Midlands. In at least one way a failure has been recorded. After years of bringing the casualty statistics down, evidence collected by the local authorities in their “Draft Delivery Report” suggests that the decline in casualty rates has bottomed out. The authorities say there are now few locations where engineering solutions can produce “cost-effective casualty benefits” (Draft Delivery Report for the West Midlands Local Transport Plan 2006-2008, CEPOG, December 2008 p111)
This appears to be an admission of defeat, and an acceptance that they cannot do any more.
However they can do something, and compared to the existing methods of traffic engineering it offers a much greater return.
A number of local authorities across the country, including Portsmouth, Leicester, Newcastle and Oxford have moved towards a policy of introducing a default 20 m.p.h. speed limit on residential streets. All those authorities have done is introduce a programme of bulk traffic orders covering groups of streets, and ordered bulk signage to be installed on the residential roads. There has been no installation of traffic calming, no endless consultations and no need for officers to manage an never finishing programme of “micro” 20 m.p.h. zones.
Roads which can support higher speed limits can have them (such as a dual carriageways), but there is assumption that if it is a street where people live there will be a default 20 m.p.h. limit.
Where a micro 20 m.p.h. limit has been introduced, there have been benefits noticed already. These include a greater modal shift to walking and cycling, increased child mobility (vital in an age where children are not getting enough exercise from other means), lower noise and pollution levels, greater independence for the elderly and disabled, and a greater sense of community wellbeing. Plus less traffic, less “stop-start” driving conditions for motorists and a smoother traffic flow.
Across Northern Europe the default speed limit in residential streets is 60 per cent lower than the current 30 m.p.h. default limit in built up areas in the UK, and their accident casualty rates are far lower.
It may cost money to bring in a 20 m.p.h. limit for streets across the urban areas in the West Midlands, but there would be no need for traffic calming unless absolutely necessary. The costs would be peanuts compared to the taxation revenue lost, and the loss to the local economy from the potential earnings once of working age, of a child pedestrian killed in a road accident.
Why are the West Midlands authorities prepared to accept the death of vulnerable road users?
If Portsmouth, Newcastle and Oxford can do something to minimise casualties to a level as low as reasonably practicable, why can’t Birmingham, Coventry and Wolverhampton?
Kevin Chapman, Chair,
West Midlands Campaign for Better Transport
Martin Stride, Transport Campaigner
Birmingham Friends of the Earth
John Davison, Living Streets, Birmingham Local Group