Thursday, 14 January 2010

Slow and Nice

Now that the snow and ice is disappearing it is perhaps time to become a little nostalgic about it. Of course there were problems with ungritted pavements (as I may have mentioned) and neglected cycle paths, but every cloud has a silver lining and so with the snow and ice - it radically reduced the speed and volume of traffic which is the holy grail for many environmentally minded campaigners. At a stroke Mother Nature achieved what we mere humans can only dream of - a city where cars were rarely used, where everyone drove slowly and cautiously, where walking became the default mode of transport and where people suddenly found that they had time to stop and talk to each other.

Others have waxed lyrical on the same theme. Even hard case Evening Post columnist Mike Ford (the Bedminster Bigmouth) seems almost human in his latest column. Those commentators attribute the change in the public mood to the snow and ice but I suggest that it was as much the secondary effect of dramatically suppressing vehicular traffic which transformed out streets from hazardous race tracks to places to enjoy at a gentle walking pace. So many people have remarked on how much more sociable our local streets became over the last few weeks with neighbours stopping to talk to each other for perhaps the first time ever.

In part I think this renaissance in sociability was down to the fact that the street itself (and not just the narrow footways at the side) became a relatively safe place to walk, or just to stand and chat. The presumption that the street was the exclusive domain of vehicles was called into question by the impassable nature of the snow and ice covered footways. Everyone seemed to recognise this and even the 4x4 brigade seemed a little less arrogant. On almost every street except those that had been cleared most people took to walking down the middle of the road out of sheer necessity.

So can we reclaim something of that pedestrian friendliness and sociability by slowing and restraining traffic as a matter of course? That is certainly what many hope and the widespread support for the 20's Plenty (20 mph) campaign is I believe based largely on such aspirations. I'm tempted to ask whether we should perhaps abandon pavements in some streets and encourage people to walk down the middle of the road instead. This approach is known as 'shared space' but remains very controversial with many feeling that pedestrians would then be at the mercy of bullying motorists. At least let's all think about the lessons that we can learn from the Slow and Nice experience of the last few weeks.

1 comment:

Des Bowring said...

Ah, yes, the Dunkirk Spirit was alive and well in Montpelier.

My 'old guy trying not to fall over' act elicited many a sympathetic word of advice from young women especially - an unexpected treat. Roll on next winter.