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It is time to stop the killing on our roads

It is time to stop the killing on our roads

This year has seen an upsurge in the number of people dying on our roads, sadly those with the power to change things don’t seem to be interested, so we need to send them the message: It is time to stop the killing on our roads!

Our roads are not a war zone, this is not the fog of war, people dying on our roads are not some poor buggers who have wandered into their covering fire, they are not collateral damage. They were just ordinary people going about their business who died needlessly before their time. Now is the time to make it stop, we can do something about it, but it needs political will. Throwing money at dualing roads won’t save lives. Lowering speed limits, better infrastructure to protect vulnerable road users, strengthening the law and enforcing it, these are things which save lives. It is not rocket science, there is much we can learn from just across the North Sea. We can make our country a better place to live for all, Active Travel IS a matter of social justice. Here are some Manifesto suggestions for Active Travel, let’s push our political representatives to take them seriously. After all, they are there to serve the people.

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Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

Manifesto suggestions for active travel revisited

With the Scottish elections coming up in May, I thought I would revamp my manifesto suggestions for active travel.

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, it can boost local economic activity, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos for the coming Holyrood elections with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

 

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country (or Enrique Peñalosa in Bogotá), but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

So here are a few other suggestions:

Strict liability. As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, this is an issue which the Scottish Parliament can and should legislate on.

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, throughout all built up areas. People living in built up areas want to feel safe on the streets. One of the major reasons for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling is the speed of traffic in areas with busy roads. The thing with 20 mph zones is that not only do people feel safer, they are safer. There is a wealth of data on the effects of these lower speed limits, studies have shown that introductions of 20 mph zones are associated with a reduction in road casualties of up to 42%.

Enforce the speed limits. Drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. This is creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, but all too slowly.

Cycle training. There is an excellent training programme available for all school children in Scotland, but less than half of Scotland’s school children get the training. Cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills) should be part of the school curriculum, this is an import life skill, not just a leisure activity like golf.

A tax car on parking spaces. Over the last twenty years is there has been significant growth of retail parks and shopping malls, these use large car parks and have greatly increased levels of traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling the life out of small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and again reduce congestion.

Encourage the provision of cycle parking. This could provide real economic benefit, an Australian study has shown each square metre of space allocated to cars contributed A$6 per hour in expenditure, whereas each square metre of space allocated to bicycles brought in five times as much (A$31 per hour). A significant element is that a bicycle take up 12% of the space used by a car, therefore, one car parking space can be used by 8 bikes. So it can be seen that replacing car parking with bicycle parking makes economic sense as part of a parking management plan.

Even the Westminster government has recognised that pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users provide as much if not more spending power than car users in town centres. However, there is a consistent misinterpretation by traders that the majority of their customers arrive by car, and this is not just a UK phenomenon. In Graz, Austria, traders reported that 58% of customers arrived by car when objective data showed that this was 32%, while 68% arrived by sustainable travel modes and yet traders believed just 42% did so. Surveys in Edinburgh, Bristol, and Leicester have shown similar results.

To encourage the provision of cycle parking, rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to buildings. Also, to introduce a planning requirement that all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses. Of course people also need secure bicycle storage at home, and this should be encouraged.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclists and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Let’s face it, 5% isn’t a big ask, the return on investment from active travel infrastructure is far higher than for other forms of transport, by as much as 20:1! This is far greater than the return on investment from providing infrastructure for electric cars. However, currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

Introduce a lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Give people back their travel choices, help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

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Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Manifesto suggestions for active travel

Active travel is a great idea as it achieves so many policy objectives: it is clean, it is green, it reduces congestion in towns and cities, and it is healthy (active people, such as regular cyclists, live longer). In addition, people who use active ways of travel to get to work are more productive, and it is relatively cheap and therefore has great potential to save money (the future savings in health cost alone make worthwhile). So, with a general election looming, I thought I would make a few suggestions, which the political parties might like to adopt for their Manifestos with regard to active travel.

First off, what is active travel? Well, at its simplest it is making short journeys by active means, such as walking or cycling. So how do we encourage active travel, here is a proposal from an unexpected source:

  • Treat walking and bicycling as equals with other transportation modes
  • Ensure convenient access for people of all ages and abilities
  • Go beyond minimum design standards
  • Collect data on walking and biking trips
  • Set a mode share target for walking and bicycling
  • Protect sidewalks and shared-use paths the same way roadways are protected (for example, snow removal)
  • Improve non-motorized facilities during maintenance projects

Now these might sound like the sort of policies you would get from a liberal neo-socialist European country, but just look at the spellings, this was cut and pasted from the official blog of the US Secretary of Transportation. If the Americans can do it, why can’t we?

Here are a few more suggestions:

Strict liability, this is common in most western European countries, in fact the UK is one of only five countries which does not have a law of strict liability, the other four are: Cyprus, Ireland, Malta and Romania. The principle is simple, the person who is in charge of the heavier vehicle should be presumed liable in a crash. For example, if a lorry was in a collision with a car, the lorry driver would have to take the greater responsibility. So where the driver/rider of a motor vehicle is involved in a crash with a cyclist or pedestrian, the motorist would be presumed liable. This is not always popular with motorists, there are people who are not willing to take responsibility for their actions, but this is why we need to enshrine strict liability in law. The other objection which is often given by motorists is that this would lead to cyclists and pedestrians deliberately running into motor vehicles in order to claim compensation. This seems unlikely, but where the motorist could prove the cyclist or pedestrian was at fault, i.e., if the motor vehicle was stationary and a cyclist ran into the back of it, then the motorist would not be liable (as is currently the case for crashes between motorists).

Reduce speed limits in built up areas from 30 mph to 20 mph, not just around schools, but throughout all built up areas. This would make the streets safer for everyone, as around two-thirds of crashes in which people are killed or injured occur on roads with a speed limit of 30 mph. According to RoSPA the probability of serious injury to a person wearing a seat belt in a front seat at an impact speed of 30 mph is three times greater than at 20mph. At 40 mph it is over five times greater. Impacts at higher speeds are more severe than at lower speeds, and so lead to more serious injuries. At 35 mph a driver is twice as likely to kill someone as they are at 30mph.

It is sobering to realise that:

  • Hit by a car at 20 mph, 3% of pedestrians will be killed – 97% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 30 mph, 20% of pedestrians will be killed – 80% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 35 mph, 50% of pedestrians will be killed – 50% will survive
  • Hit by a car at 40 mph, 90% of pedestrians will be killed – 10% will survive.

Added to this, drivers who speed are more likely to be involved in collisions, and they are also more likely to commit other driving violations, such as red-light running and driving too close to the vehicle in front. A DfT 2007 Speed Survey showed that on 30 mph roads, 49% of car drivers exceed 30 mph and 19% exceed 35 mph. Tougher enforcement of the existing traffic laws would also help, currently the police are reluctant to prosecute drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit, unless they are travelling in excess of 40 mph. This is a major reason for people not feeling safe when walking or cycling in areas with busy roads. [Update: this is now creeping on to the political agenda in Scotland, all be it slowly.]

Cycle training. All school children should have cycle training to at least National Standard Level 2 (Basic on road skills) and preferably to Level 3 (Advanced roads skills). In addition, training needs to be made available to adults, there is a “lost generation” of adults who have received no cycle training and who don’t understand that the correct place to ride is on the road rather than the pavement, and that the rules of the road apply to them too.

Scrap Vehicle Excise Duty, and instead raise the tax revenue by increasing fuel duties and tax on car sales. This would discourage the excessive driving which has become the norm. People choose to drive short distances rather than walking or cycling because driving is relatively cheap. According to the RAC, in real terms it is 24% cheaper to buy a car and 57% cheaper to run a car now than it was 20 years ago! At the same time the cost of public transport has risen significantly. Overall, tax incentives are pushing people towards driving rather than using other forms of transport.

Reduce VAT on bicycles, the car scrappage scheme was used to encourage the sale of new cars (which helped to lift France and Germany out of recession), why shouldn’t there be an extra incentive to encourage people to buy bicycles?

Tax car parking spaces, another change over the last twenty years is the growth of retail parks and shopping malls. These use large car parks and generate significant traffic congestion, while at the same time strangling small High Street retailers. One way to redress the balance would be to tax car parking spaces. This could also be applied to workplace car parking to discourage commuting by car and so reduce congestion. Rebates and grants could be given for providing secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the front entrance to the building. As a planning requirement, all new developments should have to provide secure covered cycle parking within 50m of the main entrance to the building, at a minimum rate of one bicycle space per 500 m2 of floor area for commercial offices, and one bicycle space per 900 m2 of floor area for retail and most other commercial uses.

Require planners to count pedestrians and cyclists when they carry out traffic surveys, by law. Every traffic planner in the country can tell you how many motor vehicles there are on the roads in their area, but few (if any) can tell you how many cyclist and pedestrians use the same routes. How can you plan for non-motorised traffic if you don’t know how many people are travelling by these means?

Commit a minimum of 5% of the transport budget to be spent on active travel. Currently less than 2% of the total transport budget is spent on active travel, and yet we are all pedestrians at some time in the day. No one can drive absolutely everywhere, no matter how much some people might want to…!

A lifetime driving ban for drivers who kill, without exception. Currently drivers who cause death by dangerous driving are given a five year ban, starting from the date of sentence (this runs concurrently with any prison term). Drivers who kill, but are convicted of lesser offences, often leave court with little more than a fine and six penalty points on their licence. Anyone causing the death of another by means other than driving can normally expect a substantial prison term, so why are we so lenient with drivers?

Lets give people back their travel choices, lets help them to choose active travel, for a longer, healthier, and happier life!

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How green is your daily journey?

How green is your daily journey?

Given at that the eyes of the world are looking to the Climate Change conference in Copenhagen for answers to the biggest environmental challenge of our time. I thought it would be a good day to ask, How green is your daily journey? To help you work out if you are doing you bit, I have found this handy Travel footprint calculator from travelfootprint.org.

If you would like to know more about the methodology used to assess the impact of your journey, see here.   For what it is worth, my journey today resulted in the emission of approximately   46.4 g of CO2. The emission due to my writing of this post and your reading it, are another matter.

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Friday blues…

Friday blues…

Having yesterday written about my new commute, I got up this morning, having listened to heavy rain falling over night and heard the weather forecast say there was more to come throughout the morning. So I decided to to take the bus instead. I knew there were several buses which I could catch, and when an express bus arrived I got on it without thinking about it. Only when I sat down did it occur to me that the bus directly behind, while a wee bit slower, would stop 5 minutes walk from the office, whereas the bus I was on stopped at the far side of the estate, a fifteen minute walk from the office. This wouldn’t normally bother me, but the reason for catching the bus this morning was the forecast of heavy rain and sure enough, as I was walking the long way to the office, it bucketed down.

As I was walking along the road through the Bush Estate, I was surprised to see a fire engine go past, as this was not a main road and such occurrences are rare. I arrived at the office a short while later, completely soaked, to find the fire engine in the middle of the car park and my colleges standing outside sheltering from the rain under the gable end of the building. It was another 15 minutes before we were given the all clear and allowed to enter the building, by which time I was starting to get cold. I didn’t fully dry out until the afternoon tea break.

If only I had cycled in, I would have arrived warmed up and invigorated from the ride, with a set of dry clothes to change into, after having a warm shower. So the moral of the story is: cycling is best.

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