Masterclass on campaigning for 20mph, 1st May

Reducing urban speed limits makes streets safer and more pleasant places to be – helping to encourage walking and cycling, revitalise local high streets and reduce air pollution.

8.5 million people around the UK (including 1.5 million in London) already live in local authorities with a policy of rolling out 20mph limits on most roads. These include cities such as Oxford, Cambridge, York and Liverpool, and the whole of Lancashire.

This masterclass will explore the reasons why implementing 20mph across London makes sense and consider how to successfully campaign for lower speed limits on streets where people live, work and shop.

Rod King and Jeremy Leach from 20’s Plenty for Us will outline the wide range of social, economic and environmental benefits of 20mph and explain how its 189 local campaigns are transforming the way our roads are shared; and Caroline Russell from Islington Living Streets will explain how and why Islington became the first borough in London to implement 20mph on all their streets.

7pm on Wednesday 1st May at 3Space Blackfriars, 58 Victoria Embankment, EC4Y 0DS.

The masterclass is free but space is limited, please register here if you’d like to attend.

This event is part of 3Space’s Re:Think Festival and is being held in association with Living Streets and 20’s Plenty for Us.

Playing Out in Hackney

Photo: Hackney Council

Photo: Hackney Council

A guest article by Jono Kenyon.

People are constantly amazed when I mention I live on the same road I grew up on. Something about London seems alien to the concept. Either you grew up here, then promptly upped sticks the moment you had a family, or you moved here at some point in life. For me, fate and luck brought me back to the same street I played on as a boy. Many of the local roads adjacent to Seven Sisters Road were closed off to through traffic in the early eighties to curb prostitution. This was an incredibly successful strategy, and it also led to a better street environment.  My brother and I played in the street regularly, despite there being the huge Finsbury Park less than 100 metres away.

So here we are, 20 years later, and things have changed. It’s rare to see children playing in front of their houses with other kids from the street. Children are spending more time indoors or being shepherded from one structured activity to the next.  In many parts of London, people don’t know their next door neighbours, let alone any other families on their street. I often wondered whether we could ever rekindle the old sense of community and see children out playing as I used to.  Then two things happened.  We had a street party, instigated by some neighbours we had never met, and I read a piece in the Guardian about a scheme called ‘Playing Out’, started in Bristol, aimed at encouraging street play. It struck a chord with me. We want our children to trust the space outside our home. We want them to get to know the people we live near, not just next door to.  We would like to generate a sense of community, rather than waiting for one to magically come about.  At the street party, we found many people that we live amongst, but had never met, who felt the same way.

So what stops us from just opening our doors and letting the kids roam free? Cars. Despite the gates, vehicles continue to travel in a fashion unlikely to encourage kids to play naturally in the street. Drivers just don’t expect to encounter anyone or anything on the 200-metre zip up the road.  Playing Out offered a way to begin to take back some ownership of the space outside our homes.

Essentially the idea is to formally close a street to through traffic to allow children to play.  Giving children the freedom to play in the street allows them to form relationships with kids they don’t go to school with.  Younger children can bond with older ones too. Unstructured playtime allows children the opportunity to gain independence from their parents.  Kids make up their own games with their own rules and ultimately resolve their own conflicts without adult interference.  In addition, Playing Out helps to develop a sense of community in the street. We had a lot of support, not just from the parents of children playing, but also from childless and elderly neighbours.  Our experience of other sessions elsewhere in Hackney was that many people simply came out to have a cup of tea and a chat with others.

So how did we organise the first of our 12 playing out sessions this year? I attended an evening workshop given by Alice Ferguson, who co-created the Playing Out concept. The workshop outlined why Playing Out was a good idea, and ran through the procedures required to get it going. Our road had a great head start as two other neighbours came to the workshop. The three of us got together and began the process. A great deal of the groundwork had been done by others including local resident Claudia Le Sueur Draper who had organised with Hackney council to facilitate the sessions. The council were encouraged to start a 12 month trial to allow the granting of temporary road closures for street play, or TPSO.

We leafleted the whole street to introduce the idea and find more support. We then had to go through a formal consultation process, notifying all residents of our intended 2-hour road closures. Once that was completed, Hackney supplied us with formal notices and some ‘Road Closed’ signage. Volunteers strung up bunting across each end of the street and stewarded these entry-points, slowly escorting through any residents’ cars and turning away all other traffic.

Our first session was for 2 hours last Sunday, and was great, albeit cold! What struck me was how little encouragement the kids need. We didn’t need to worry about them being bored at all. As soon as the barriers went out, it was ‘game on’. Neighbours came out to offer cups of tea and home-baked treats.

Ultimately, I would like the formal side of Playing Out to fade away in our street, as well as neighbouring ones. I would like the 6 roads that make up our network here, to become a safe zone for street play. It would be nice for cars entering residential streets across the UK to know that children may well be in the road, and should take priority.

Lots of information is available on the Playing Out website.

A new movement for The New City – Bruce McVean’s The New City lecture

This is a write up of Bruce McVean’s The New City lecture given on Monday 11th February 2013 at Cambridge University’s Department of Architecture.

A brief (and over simplified) history of transport and the city

Cities have always been shaped by transport, while the planning and design of cities impacts on transport choices. The first cities were inherently walkable – the primary mode of transport was people’s feet and cities were necessarily compact in size and form as a result.

Public transport allowed cities to grow well beyond a size that would allow a person to comfortably walk from one side to the other. The expansion of train, tram, bus and tube lines helped suburbia spread, but the component parts of suburban growth remained walkable – homes needed to be within walking distance of train stations, tram stops, bus routes, shops and services. Today we’d say that cities were expanding through ‘transit orientated development’.

Mass private transport came in the form of the bicycle, which enabled people to travel further for journeys not served by public transport, bringing new personal freedom of movement that helped whet the appetite for the even greater freedoms promised by the car.

Aspirations towards car ownership were matched with aspirations towards home (and garden) ownership. After the Second World War rising car ownership freed developers from the need to provide easy access to public transport. Shops and services no longer needed to be within walking distance. Aggressive lobbying by car manufacturers, government investment in road building, and changes in planning policy and development economics all helped fuel the rise of the car as the transport mode of choice.

Now those who live in suburbia have little choice but to drive – trapped in a vicious cycle of car dependency as the separation of land uses continues to place jobs and services beyond the reach of those on foot, while low densities make the running of decent public transport nigh on impossible – and most people looking for a new home have little choice but to buy in suburbia.

Of course, it wasn’t just suburbia that was being shaped by the car. In existing urban areas perfectly functional buildings and even neighbourhoods disappeared under the wrecking ball to provide the road and parking space necessary to bring the car into the heart of the city.

The problem with cars

The negative impacts of our love affair with the car have long been acknowledged. As have the difficulties of trying to do anything meaningful to address them. In 1960 the Ministry of Transport commissioned a team led by Colin Buchanan to look at the problem, resulting in the publication of Traffic in Towns in 1963. 50 years on the project steering group’s famous acknowledgement that, “We are nourishing at immense cost a monster of great destructiveness. And yet we love him dearly…” still rings true.

Undoubtedly many people still aspire to car ownership, or view owning a car as essential to maintaining a high quality of life. And who are we to deny them? Engines keep getting more efficient and electric cars will help wean us off carbon dioxide emitting toxic fossil fuels. What about those self-driving cars we keep hearing so much about? Aren’t they going to use road space so efficiently that congestion will be a thing of the past, along with crashes? Perhaps, but what kind of city do we want to live in? One where everyone zooms about in their own metal box, completely removed from their fellow citizens? Ask anyone how they think their city can be improved and the answer is unlikely to be more cars – self-driving or otherwise.

Technology may soon address the problems of the internal combustion engine and the contribution that car travel makes to carbon emissions and air pollution; but technology alone can’t solve the myriad of other negative impacts of car dependency that are neatly summarised in the diagram below from the Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution’s report The Urban Environment. Tackling carbon emissions and air pollution is an essential task, but it’s not the only task – the big villain isn’t the internal combustion engine, it’s the car. As Taras Grescoe argues in Straphanger, “The automobile was never an appropriate technology for [cities]. As a form of mass transit for the world, it is a disaster.”

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September’s Street Talk

We hope you can join us for Street Talks next Monday when we will be exploring the relationship between cheap oil, car dependency, road danger, the inactivity pandemic, climate change and obesity with Professor Ian Roberts, author of The Energy Glut: The Politics of Fatness in an Overheating World.

Upstairs at The Yorkshire Grey, 2 Theobalds Road, WC1X 8PN at 7pm (bar open 6pm) on Monday 10th September.

From the Street Talks Archive: Amy Aeron-Thomas, Executive Director, RoadPeace

Amy Aeron-Thomas, Executive Director, RoadPeace: Towards a safer and fairer city – traffic justice in London (5th July 2011)

RoadPeace provides support for victims of road crashes and campaigns to reduce road danger. If you’d like to support their work you can join them or make a donation.

Presentations from all previous Street Talks are available here.

Addison Lee – a road danger reduction myth buster

A guest article by Dr. Robert Davis, Chair, Road Danger Reduction Forum

Following cancellation of some accounts and the promise of a flash-mob protest outside his offices tonight, the boss of Addison Lee has issued a pseudo-apology while re-stating his prejudices  – which discriminate against cyclists and other road users outside motor vehicles in general and Addison Lee vehicles in particular.

For us he is digging himself in deeper. This saga is not just about a publicity seeker angling for notoriety and some extra business (he has form, as indicated by the excellent David Mitchell in yesterday’s Observer). It actually reveals a lot about the way in which we are supposed to think about transport and safety on the road.

This is not just one more extremist. His views are simply versions of the dominant ‘road safety’ ideology which bedevils a civilised approach to transport and real safety on the road. His tendency to get hold of the wrong end of the stick not just once, but on a range of issues is typical of the inversion of the reality that passes for ‘road safety’.

The most obvious example of this corrupt ideology is that Mr Griffin (see Saturday’s Times) has actually signed up to The Times cyclists’ safety campaign. Yes, he is actually on the side of cyclists!

But ‘road safety’ has so often been against the safety and well-being of cyclists and others: after all, if cyclists get out of the way of motor traffic, they won’t get hurt or killed. If people are too scared to cycle or walk (or their parents to let them), then they won’t get killed – something which traditional ‘road safety’ sees as progress. Griffin is just part of that tradition, and the following expresses it:

“My foreword in Addison Lee’s magazine Add Lib, has caused quite a storm amongst the Twitter community, and I’m glad it has. In the article, I argue for compulsory training and insurance for London’s bicycle owners and I still stand by my contention.

“About one cyclist is killed on London’s roads every month and countless others horribly injured. If the article causes a debate around cycle safety, and perhaps saves some lives, bring it on.

“Cycling is a deadly serious issue and lives are at stake. There have been huge campaigns recently to encourage cycling, but not so much in terms of improving safety and awareness for cyclists. “I’m glad that the issue is being debated. If anyone has more ideas for improving safety for cyclists, I would be delighted to hear them. In the meantime, I will continue calling for compulsory training and compulsory insurance for bicycle users.”

So let’s take this opportunity to puncture some of the myths:

TRAINING (or perhaps we should say ‘TRAINING’, as plainly what Addison Lee drivers are all too often up to indicates that any training they may have received has been for a form of behaviour which is not advocated by the Highway Code).

This is the classic example of getting hold of the wrong end of the stick – twice over. Firstly, if anyone needs regulation to control behaviour which is genuinely anti-social because it threatens other people’s lives, it should be the motorist. After all, by any objective measure (the third party insurances of motorists as compared to members of the cycling organisations, for example), it is motorists, not cyclists, who need control and regulation.

The other stick wrongly handled is that of ‘training’ in the first place: generally it is not about control or regulation anyway, it is about breeding confidence. The RDRF has strongly supported National Standards cycle training as a way to do this and generate more cycling, with major safety benefits accruing from the greater awareness by motorists of increased numbers of cyclists. Much of this cycling will of course be precisely the assertive cycling (taking the primary position, etc.) which seems to upset so many motorists, Addison Lee drivers among them.

It is about empowerment and enablement. It is not something to be forced on actual or potential cyclists; it isn’t what Mr Griffin would probably like to see anyway (it teaches rights as well as responsibilities), and it is ludicrous to see cyclists, rather than motorists, as the problem to be controlled.

INSURANCE There is a  good case for motorists carrying third party insurance – but there have to be proper chances of errant motorists actually being found liable and with proper pay outs for the damage they cause to people’s lives: we would argue that neither happens at the moment.  We need black boxes on vehicles to establish cause of collisions and proper reparations. Also, we certainly have a significant proportion of London’s motorists who don’t pay third party insurance, which Mr Griffin does not seem to be chasing up.

But full insurance against responsibilities is just that – a way of protecting motorists from their responsibilities. At the very least no more than 80 – 90% of the cost of injury to human beings (we are not so concerned with damage to property) should be recoverable through insurance. Third party insurance should be seen as at least in part another example of motorists getting away with it.

WHAT – OR WHO – IS ‘DANGEROUS’? Throughout, Griffin assumes that because some road users are not inside crashworthy vehicles there is something wrong with them – not the road users who are dangerous to them and everybody else on the road. We won’t go into how the increasing crashworthiness of vehicles has made motorists even more of a potential menace to others: suffice it to say that we need to see the principle problem as  those who can endanger others the most. This seems to be completely outside Griffin’s world view.

‘Road safety’ ideology protecting the (careless) motorist has always patronisingly muttered about ‘protecting the vulnerable road user’ (that’s human beings outside cars) – what do you think may actually be endangering them?

In case anybody wants to point out that cyclists and pedestrians can – surprise, surprise – actually break the Highway Code, well:

1.     We would argue that it is generally less dangerous to others than motorist law breaking, and therefore less of a priority, and:

2.     Motorist law and rule breaking is generally accommodated – or even colluded and connived with – by the creation of crashworthy vehicles (crumple zones, seat belts, airbags, roll bars etc.) and a highway environment (anti-skid, crash barriers, felling roadside trees etc.). Maybe try doing that for cyclists if equality is what you’re after?

TAXATION We need to demolish the myth of motorists being ‘overtaxed’, although it is not there in Griffin’s latest outpourings.

LAW ENFORCEMENT We will certainly need to raise again – London cyclists have long complained about this – the lack of law enforcement by motorists in general and private hire cars in particular. This episode should be seen as an opportunity to do so. The failure to discuss this has been a major problem in The Times campaign so far, as we have pointed out. If it is not to fail it needs to be addressed.

One thought does stick in the mind from the original Addison Lee ‘Editorial’: what cyclists would have to do to join ‘our gang’, including being ‘trained’. If it is a question of being in a gang which can hurt and kill with minimal (if any) punishment, there might be quite a few cyclists who would welcome such ‘training’…