Monday, March 04, 2013

Why Brighton's new 20mph speed limit is just a can of slow worms

One of these days someone will explain to me the logic behind the transport policies of Brighton council… the Green one that had to do a U-turn on massively increasing parking charges because it drove away visitors, left councillors with a £200,000 black hole in the budget (told them it would!) and angered local shops and businesses.

In the latest battle against the motorist, the council will turn much of the city into a 20mph zone next month and, to this end, has started to erect numerous signs and to paint the roads with roundels. Not, you might think, a problem. However…

Signage, as I argued with a previous council when new parking signs degraded not only the view of Royal Crescent but also the sea view from the Grade II properties, is a scourge on historic towns.

You might expect today's Green council to agree. Indeed, in January this year, the "chair" (one with two legs, I guess) of the council’s transport committee, Ian Davey, said: "We’re in favour of removing what our traffic experts regard as excess signage and road clutter".

Excellent, well done! Ah, but… with the new hopping in and out of 30mph to 20mph zones, NEW signs and road markings are popping up, especially along the seafront – one of the city's greatest assets. I suppose they are considered "necessary".

Is the new limit for safety reasons? Why then will the original 30mph remain on the road I consider to be the most dangerous near me? Perhaps it's because no one takes a blind bit of notice anyway. Is it actually enforced? (Which opens up another can of slow worms).

Then there is the shiny new 20mph sign that's about to be unveiled on a minuscule lane leading off this road. You can just about get down it, but not without mounting the pavement on to which several house front doors open. Anyone who "raced" along there at more than a few miles an hour should be prosecuted for dangerous driving. And yet they wouldn't have broken the new limit imposed by the sign.

So, is this lower limit to save fuel? I doubt it… there must be many cars such as mine that can't get out of third gear at 20mph. I'm no expert, but wouldn't that mean my using up MORE fuel?

An AA test in 2008 showed that "cutting the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph on the wrong roads can increase CO2 emissions by more than 10% with the result that well-intentioned safety schemes may backfire in environmental terms".

One study pours scorn on the argument that more fuel is used and thus more CO2 emitted at 20mph because, it says, journey times will not be significantly increased as delays at junctions and other places will be the same (which, incidentally, shoots down any hope that a lower limit will reduce congestion).

The council has an excuse for this lower limit, of course. "The aim of the programme," it says, "is to improve the street environment for all road users, including car drivers, by reducing the number and severity of collisions and casualties on the city’s roads, improving traffic flows and making the city a safer and better place to live in.

"We hope that making the streets safer and more pleasant to use will encourage more cycling and walking especially for local trips. This will not only bring road safety benefits, but will also help to improve overall health and wellbeing, reduce congestion and could improve air quality."

Mumbo jumbo?

1) How does new signage and using more fuel "improve the environment"?
2) How are the roads safer if the limit is not enforced?
3) More people won't cycle, or walk just because the limit has been reduced by 10mph. Being hit by a bus at 20mph will still hurt… quite a lot, I guess… even if you are minding your own business on a cycle lane or pavement.
4) How does a new limit reduce congestion? Any way, if you did reduce congestion, more cars would actually be travelling faster! Does the council think you can drive at 30mph in a traffic jam?
5) Note the "could improve air quality". Is there any evidence?

So, does all this matter if the 20mph scheme makes the streets safer?

I would argue that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

A Brighton council spokesman said only four months ago: "We are fortunate in that Brighton and Hove sees relatively low casualty numbers, compared to the size of population, both residential and visiting, and traffic on the roads."

Six people were killed on the roads of Brighton in 2011, out of a population of about 273,000 plus millions of visitors, and the number appears to be static.

Twenty times that number will die this year from drink and drugs abuse.


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