Saturday, 19 September 2009

Twenty's Plenty Needs You

I know I covered this just two weeks ago but this is IMPORTANT and needs action from all of us. As you may have noticed I'm generally pretty cynical about what Bristol City Council do in the name of sustainable transport and in this case too they are set to make a fundamental error. But this time it really matters because the 20 mph concept is our best chance, perhaps our only chance, of making a real change to the character of our streets so that ultimately they are no longer thought of as inherently dangerous places for people on foot or on bicycles.


The A420 Church Road, 20 mph in Redfield, Bristol.

As I explained before the main issue is the proposed exclusion of so many streets within the proposed 20 mph pilot areas. We know that the highway engineers are generally hostile to the idea of 20 mph areas and I suspect the proliferation of excluded streets is their way of undermining the scheme. We also know that some Councillors, notably Executive Member Jon Rogers, are very keen to get 20 mph implemented and he is on record as being unhappy with the number of excluded streets.

Now you may think 'why doesn't Jon Rogers, our elected representative, just tell the officers to cut the excluded streets?'. Well it seems that the levers of power aren't that simple or direct. He cannot do this alone and needs our support. We need to demonstrate the extent of popular support for the 20 mph concept and opposition to the excluded roads. And we need to do it by the end of this month when the formal consultation comes to an end.



One of our allies in this is George Ferguson, whose 'By George' column in today's Evening Post makes the case very well. I know I've had a pop at George on many occasions but that's just the iconoclast in me. In mostly makes a lot of sense and makes it very eloquently, especially in this case. To quote a few salient points from George's piece:-

"Having given the (20 mph) area a clear boundary, the document then complicates the issue by suggesting leaving certain routes through the area at the current 30mph limit. The fact is that these key routes are also key cycling and walking routes, and go past some of the seven primary schools within the area.

The trouble with traffic measures is that they are generally planned by highway engineers, who – however well-meaning – tend to think in terms of roads and traffic flow, and have very different criteria from those of us who occupy the streets for shopping and walking to school or to work and who regard them as social territory."

Great stuff. But we need more support and that means YOU. I know, we're all busy, etc. So I'm going to make it easy. Below is my own submission. Please use it as a template for your own comments. Delete anything you're uncomfortable with, add anything you think is missing, but PLEASE send something to 20mph@bristol.gov.uk (and copy it to Jon Rogers and your local councillors) and please do it now.

I strongly support the general principle of 20 mph as the general speed limit for all residential and shopping areas in Bristol.

The benefits are numerous, including of course less danger and intimidation of pedestrians and cyclists, easier and safer crossing of streets, less noise and pollution, less stress and even less traffic. The costs could be minimal if signing were kept to a minimum.

I would like to see the introduction of 20 mph over the whole of Bristol's residential areas, or at the very least the whole inner city where streets are generally narrower and/or heavily parked. I do not see the point in limiting it to two pilot areas since this increases the perimeter to area ratio so requiring more signing at more public expense for a given area.

However the major flaw in the current proposals is that the pilot areas have 'excluded' streets. In most cases these are the streets which most need lower speeds, where danger and intimidation is greatest, where most crossing movements take place, where people shop, walk and cycle, where schools are accessed and where noise, pollution and stress are greatest.

Excluding these streets will totally undermine the stated purpose of the 20 mph scheme. It will greatly increase the amount of signing required and hence the cost of the scheme and it will the create confusion by making it unclear whether a particular street is 20 mph or 30 mph without constant reference to signs which is impractical and a dangerous distraction in urban areas.

Apart from clearly non-residential roads like Easton Way there should be no exclusions within the 20 mph areas. In practice actual speeds will vary around the 20 mph mark according to local conditions, as they should, and on some streets the average may be significantly higher, but even speeds slightly above 20 mph will be a big improvement on speeds slightly above 30 mph.

Getting the 20 mph scheme right is of fundamental importance for the credibility of Cycling City, the Council's Walking Strategy and indeed the Council's overall 'Green' aspirations. The current proposals with the excluded streets have already been widely criticised and there can be little doubt that a 20 mph based on the current proposals will be seen as a failure of nerve on the part of the Council.

22 comments:

Docsavage said...

http://www.bristol.gov.uk/ccm/content/Council-Democracy/Elected-Representatives/councillor-finder.en?Task=name&CouncillorId=


find 'em in here folks.

Lets get writing.

Chris Hutt said...

Thanks DocS but I already had that link built into the piece, if you look at the words 'local councillors'which should show as blue.

Docsavage said...

i realised that after - Doh!

The Bristol Blogger said...

Forgive my ignorance, but why can't Jon "our elected representative, just tell the officers to cut the excluded streets?"

The explanation "that the levers of power aren't that simple or direct" is a little thin.

I thought we elected people to do precisely this.

On her appointment Jan told us that the politicians told her the "what?" and her officers came up with "how?".

Can officers refuse to do what the Executive wants? I would like to know the "how?".

Chris Hutt said...

A good question BB. I've forwarded it to Jon Rogers in case he wants to respond.

As you say the principle of democracy is that our elected representatives are mandated to instruct the officers in terms of policy objectives and strategy, even down to the tactical level.

In practice an Executive Member can only do so much and must have the cooperation of his officers to be effective. As was ably illustrated by 'Yes, Minister' that is not such a simple matter.

Chris Hutt said...

Jon Rogers is at the Lib-Dem conference until Wednesday as has limited internet access so has emailed a response to me as follows:-

"I am keen to respond, where possible, to residents, drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and businesses.

I think that a majority of people in and around Ashley would like to see more roads included. I certainly would, but this is a rare example when feedback can easily make a difference, and I welcome all feedback.

I am less sure what people think in other areas of the city and which roads would be suitable."

owenslat said...

Sent my 2p worth...

...included a plea to sort out A4 Bath Road. You can but hope...

Anonymous said...

How can I register my 'disapproval' of this scheme?

Chris Hutt said...

By the same means. I'm sure the officers would be delighted to have some opposing views to set against those of us who want 20 mph.

Docsavage said...

Hey Chris, make of this what you will, but here's a reply from a LD counciller.
'Many thanks for your email, which raises very important issues.

You may well be right: I am no expert on such matters. My initial question, though, after reading what you say, is to ask whether a general speed limit of 20 mph would indeed do what may be expected of it. Using my own vehicle as an example, at 20 mph I would not be able to use fourth gear, and I would take much longer to complete each journey.

I was told many years ago that the lower the gear, the more fuel is relatively consumed. If that is true, could a longer journey (in time) and in a lower gear not cancel out any saving in emissions? Would it also have any unacceptable side effects, such as frustrated drivers losing their tempers or simply ignoring the limit, if and whenever they thought they could get away with it? And how would you enforce it?

Have any studies been carried out in a country with a large car ownership per capita? If so, they could tell us a lot. If not, would it be like buying a pig in a poke?'

hmmmm, answers on a postcard?

yours
Doc

thebristolblogger said...

That letter is pure gold.

Which councillor wrote it?

Adam said...

Wite him back. I have a few example answers you're welcome to borrow from / develop.

"My initial question, though, after reading what you say, is to ask whether a general speed limit of 20 mph would indeed do what may be expected of it."
=== By the same logic what effect will an intermittent 20mph limit have?

"Using my own vehicle as an example, at 20 mph I would not be able to use fourth gear, and I would take much longer to complete each journey."
=== You can't use fifth gear at 30mph... the point being? Journeys might actually be quicker with less idleing time as it has been proven that the main points of congestion are often junctions, overloaded by traffic arriving at them above certain speeds and never relenting enough to allow natural gaps for vehicles to pull out of junctions in gaps between one another arriving. A quote > "Congestion on urban roads is governed mainly by the capacity of junctions, and lower speeds increase that capacity. Time savings at junctions gained through lower speeds in Växjö, Sweden, led to journey times being reduced overall; [6] where 30kph zones have been introduced in Germany, drivers spend 15% less time sitting stationary in their vehicles." I found this study cited on another website but can now only locate reference to it at http://www.galwaycycling.org/archive/info/20mph.html

"I was told many years ago that the lower the gear, the more fuel is relatively consumed. If that is true, could a longer journey (in time) and in a lower gear not cancel out any saving in emissions?"
=== The more blocked and static the junctions the worse the emmissions. The 20mph limit is also not primarily about emmissions, it's about safety, real and perceived and community and encouraging other forms and choices of transport to be more realistically integrated amongst those who can't or don't want to find an alternative to the car.


"Would it also have any unacceptable side effects, such as frustrated drivers losing their tempers or simply ignoring the limit, if and whenever they thought they could get away with it?"
=== How would this be any different to the current situation? Road rage and speeding are already real phenomena.

"And how would you enforce it?
The same way it is supposed to be enforced now." Through the Policing that we are already paying for.

Have any studies been carried out in a country with a large car ownership per capita?
==See above reference to Växjö, Sweden.

If so, they could tell us a lot.
=== Yes.

If not, would it be like buying a pig in a poke?'
=== Not sure what this means. Is it political / governmental slang?

Chris Hutt said...

It's a bit embartrassing when one of the ruling group councillors seems so out of touch with the details of one of the initiatives being pursued by his group, which in this case are explained in some detail on the BCC web pages linked to.

Taking his/her questions at face value, I would answer them as follows:-

1. Journey times. In urban areas journey times are more influenced by congestion and the need for frequent stops or give ways at crossings and intersections than by the speed between stops. A reduction from 30 mph to 20 mph would have marginal effect if 30 mph were only achieved for less than 50% of the journey time anyway.

Slower speeds also enable conflicting movements to occur more easily so reducing the need for traffic light controls and enabling traffic to flow more smoothly. This is being put into practice this month in Portishead where the traffic signals at the Cabstand junction have been switched off and a 20 mph limit imposed.

2. Gears. Manual transmission cars work more efficiently in 4th gear and all else being equal this would be the optimal gear to use at a speed of >20 mph. But other considerations like safety and minimising the need for stops are far more important. Besides the 20 mph isn't going to be rigorously enforced so a fair amount of discretion will be involved and speeds slightly higher and compatible with 4th gear might sometimes be appropriate.

3. Frustrated drivers. My experience is that driving more slowly is more relaxing (and boring) and one is less inclined to become frustrated than when trying to drive faster. Slower speeds may lead drivers to have more realsitic expectations about journey times and therefore less frustration with the inevitable delays.

4. Studies. Portsmouth has adopted 20 mph as the default speed limit throughout the city (except for excluded roads, of which there are too many) and this has provided practical experience.

Anonymous said...

Surely it is entirely healthy that a political group doesn't have to rigidly tow a party line?

Chris Hutt said...

Of course, but is this councillor's position an informed one or an uninformed one?

It looks as if he is unaware of his council's own briefing papers on the 20 mph proposals.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bristol City Council and Councillor Rogers,

I understand you will be getting many(?) emails from people stating they are in favour of the 20mph limit being set in Bristol. Starting with the following line:

I strongly support the general principle of 20 mph as the general speed limit for all residential and shopping areas in Bristol.

The benefits are numerous, including of course less danger and intimidation of pedestrians and cyclists, easier and safer crossing of streets, less noise and pollution, less stress and even less traffic. The costs could be minimal if signing were kept to a minimum.

I would however like to register my opposition of this.

The council at the moment seems to be bending over backwards to help a small but very vocal group of environmentalists/cyclist who seem to be hell bent on forcing people out of their cars, by either financial penalties or making it impossible to travel anywhere by car.

£11.4 million pounds is being spent on numerous cycling initiatives that either cyclists don't use or want. Think of the improvements in public transport this could have been spent on?

People are stubborn. The only way you are going to help convince a person out of their cars is by:

1. Making it cheaper to take public transport than drive
2. Making it quicker to take public transport than drive

At the moment Bristol is neither.

More Carrot less Stick please!

Anonymous said...

'The council at the moment seems to be bending over backwards to help a small but very vocal group of environmentalists/cyclist '

Ahh. If in doubt, try the silent majority argument.

Chris Hutt said...

Anon, you're perfectly entitled to your opinion but I don't see any contradiction between the objectives you list and the objectives of 20 mph.

There's no reason why 20 mph, improved public transport and car restraint shouldn't all go together.

I suppose a 20 mph limit would reduce the top speed of buses but since it would result in smoother traffic flow it's quite likely that the overall effect would be to improve bus journey times.

It's a mistake to look at any one mode of transport in isolation. Many people routinely use two, three or four different modes of transport according to what is most appropriate for a particular journey.

Public transport doesn't work well for short local journeys or longer journeys away from the main radial routes, nor can it cope with peak travel demand, so it needs to be complemented by good cycling and walking conditions if living without the car is to become an attractive option.

Anonymous said...

"Ahh. If in doubt, try the silent majority argument."

Not at all. It is much easier to campaign for change than it is to keep things the same.

Anonymous said...

Couldn't agree more with this comment."It needs to be complemented by good cycling and walking conditions if living without the car is to become an attractive option."

My view from a person who probably makes 50-60% journeys by car and 40-50% by walking is this:

Whenever I see an improvement to either the walking/cycling conditions in the city it is at the detriment of the car.

We have 24 hour bus lanes that do not have buses running down them 24 hours. We have traffic lights deliberately set up to allow buses past cars, only for the buses then to stop in the middle of the road, 100m past the traffic lights for minutes while passengers get on off blocking all traffic behind.

I am all for improving the conditions for cyclist/walkers as agree this needs to be way forward.

MJ Ray (software.coop) said...

Well, I've sent my comments in. I wonder what will happen.

Dare I ask the Anonymous one which Bristol cycling or walking additions have been to the detriment of the car? The recent major transport schemes I remember as a frequent business-and-leisure visitor to Bristol are the Princes Street Bridge (which I think is why I found this site) that was also to the detriment of cyclists and Cabot Circus where cyclists and walkers lost some useful bridges and gained a facelift of a badly-designed traffic sewer and a hazardous gyratory system.

Anonymous said...

'Not at all. It is much easier to campaign for change than it is to keep things the same.'

One of the stupidest comments I have seen in a long time.