I wrote the piece below and was wondering how I could précis it so that it could appear in the Worthing Herald when I got news that a friend, who days before I had said that he ought to get back on his bike, was knocked down by an over taking car. The car sped off leaving my mate unconscious in the centre of the A259 at Brooklands. Luckily the following driver saw it and was able to call the emergency services.
So I rode home last night with maximum light power, helmet and flouro jacket and was frightened. Some of you might think me as a “hard” rider. I am not, I am scared ****less. Every time I approach a roundabout I think it could be my last. What has this town come to? What has the country come to?
Travel anywhere in Western Europe and you find that in most towns the road space is shared by pedestrians, motorists and cyclist – maybe even donkeys. In fact even in Eastern Europe (Turkey at least) there is a common tolerance of all road users by all road users. There are two fundamental reasons for this. One, it has always been in their culture that in their towns to be tolerant and sharing. The other reason is that in some countries the governments (the people) actually decided to encourage a change to a sharing environment. Simply put the countries of Northern Europe (Denmark, Germany, Holland etc) went down the planning route to facilitate the change in driving culture whereas other Europeans seemed to be born into its sharing mentality.
What about Britain? I was a school child throughout the sixties and a young driver in the seventies. During that period, whilst those Northern European countries where changing their roads systems to a shared environment, our great country was bulldozing just about everything in sight to give the motor vehicle absolute priority. Now you may think that this made good sense for inter town traffic movement but to adopt the same car is king approach to living areas was destined to failure as car numbers inevitably grew to unmanageable levels.
Nearly all of those sixties and seventies dual carriageways that I enjoyed blasting down as a careless youth have now been reconstructed and reduced in size with white lines, bollards, curbs, road islands, speed cameras etc in order to try to control the murderous beast that we created through the misguided approach of that period.
That murderous beast is “British Driving Culture”. So ingrained is it in our lives that drivers in towns will even shout at pedestrians crossing in any other place than a designated crossing. Drivers will pass cyclists within a hairs breadth without even realising. The result of those decades is that we have a created a country with the most dangerous roads in Europe if you are not in a vehicle but the safest roads provided that they are in the front seats of a car.
Speed kills, the culture that encourages looking for gaps (not people) kills, roundabouts where priority to the right means you look right, not straight ahead, kills, pavements giving drivers the sense that they have priority kills, parents screaming at traffic on the school run indoctrinate their babies and this ultimately kills too.
There is a discussion to reduce traffic speeds to 20mph in areas where people live. There should be no need for this if British Driving Culture was not what it is. An alternative, possibly better, option would be to remove all pavements in towns so that all space was shared. This can be done in a sophisticated way as in many regenerated UK town centres (research shows that with no signage car speeds drop to below 15mph in busy areas), however, it would be prohibitively expensive. The other option is to let pavements fall into disrepair (my Turkish experience) letting cars park on them and generally making them unusable for pedestrians so then walkers have to use the roads too with the drivers accepting them. This is a cheap option but for health and safety reasons it would never be tolerated in the UK. The final solution, which would take many generations, would be to run an education program from pre school through to all aspects of adult life to change driver’s attitudes.
All that pedestrians, equestrians, cyclist and any other no motorised users want is for drivers to recognise that they are there and allow adequate room for them not just adequate room for the car. It would seem an obvious solution. However, so ingrained in our culture is the absolute priority of the car that possibly the only alternative is to initiate schemes such as the 20mph speed restriction in areas where people live.
For or against, the mere fact that you have read this and that there are vociferous proponents from both sides creates a debate and that very debate is the first step in changing British Driving Culture.
If Mr Angry from George V Avenue creates enough fuss and outrage he may well scupper the plan for 20splenty4Worthing but to reverse the inevitable he will have to generate a huge town wide debate involving the press, radio, town councillors, county councillors, MPs and, top of the list, every dining table, pub and work place all discussing road safety in Worthing. Simply discussing the road safety issue in our town will be enough to remind drivers that roads are being used by the old, the young and vulnerable as well as the motorist.
The ironic thing, Mr Angry, is that with so many of Worthing’s roads having on street parking both sides as car numbers rise and with the general increase in cycling in the UK, especially Worthing, most roads will end up with averages equal to the slowest cyclist. Enjoy!