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The Quieter Neighbourhoods schemes which Enfield Council are planning will use various "traffic calming" measures, the aim of which is to reduce traffic accidents, encourage walking and cycling by reducing the stress associated with heavy or fast traffic, and generally make life pleasanter for people living, walking or cycling along residential streets away from main roads.

Traffic calming is not universally popular - concerns include noise and damage to cars allegedly caused by speed humps and hindrance to access by emergency services caused by road closures.  Furthermore, some people consider that it is an unnecessary restriction with few if any benefits.  However, there are strong arguments in favour of traffic calming.

Cutting the number of casualties

Analysis of road safety data shows clear benefits in terms of reductions in deaths and serious injuries.  Two studies of 20mph zones with traffic calming, both looking specifically at schemes in London suburbs, have confirmed significant reductions in injuries and deaths.  One study found a reducing of 42 per cent in all casualties, the other a 50-56 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries (click here to read more details). 

Quite apart from the human cost of road deaths and injuries, they impose an economic burden both on the country and its taxpayers, because of the cost of emergency and health services, and on companies, who need to recruit and train new employees or get by without them while they are in hospital.

While improvements to cars have reduced casualities among drivers and passengers (though they are still unacceptably high), this is not the case for pedestrians.  Nationally, on average 16 pedestrians are killed or seriously injured every day.  In London the long-term improvement in pedestrian casualty figures has gone into reverse (see this article), one probable cause being changes to traffic light phasing introduced by the current London Mayor.

What are streets actually for?

Obviously, streets in residential areas are there for cars to drive along.  However, this is only one of several functions and, until relatively recently, not the most important one.  Other obvious functions are for people to walk along and cyclist to ride along.  But streets are also a social space for people to stroll along, talk to their friends, for kids to play,.. 

Unfortunately, for the right reasons - with the goal of improving safety - traffic planners have made the wrong design decisions.  By using physical methods or road markings to deliberately segregate cars from pedestrians, and sometimes also from bicycles, they have given drivers the impression that the carriageway "belongs" to them alone.  With the added confidence that this gives them, drivers tend to go faster, and a vicious circle sets in because people on foot and children at play react to the increased risk from fast cars by retreating indoors, making drivers all the more confident that the roads "belong" to them.  And so on...

Traffic calming - more imaginative approaches

Traffic calming measures are aimed at redressing the balance by forcing drivers to slow down and deterring them from using what should be purely residential roads as through routes.  But the physical methods that predominate don't always work and may have negative side-effects.  For instance, merely putting up signs ("20mph", "Play Street" etc) only works when drivers take any notice.  Blocking off roads can cause problems for emergency vehicles and force drivers to make noisy and polluting three-point turns.  When speed bumps or cushions are installed, some drivers go over them too fast (creating noise nuisance), others accelerate after a bump then brake sharply, wasting fuel.

In recent years more imaginative methods have been introduced.  They make the environment pleasanter and more interesting and have a psychological effect on drivers which causes them to become more aware of their surroundings and to slow down.  Often this is done by de-emphasizing separation between carriageway and pavement, reducing drivers' feeling that the street belongs to them - the "shared space" approach.

The "DIY Streets" approach promulgated by Sustrans uses these kinds of technique.  But others have taken them further, implementing traffic calming "via intrigue and enchantment", "mental speedbumps" and "civility outbreak".

People living in a residential street in the suburbs of Oxford that was suffering from severe traffic problems experimented over a four year period with "Road Witching" and other forms of "folk traffic calming" measures.  Methods included "chevron parking" - residents parked their cars at a 45 degree angle to the kerb.  This leaves sufficient room for traffic to drive by and not only makes parking manouevres easier, but actually fits in more cars.  The effect on passing drivers is to impede the view ahead and create enough uncertainty to cause them to slow down.  Other experiments involved painting large colourful patterns on the road and pavement.

The most famous exponent of "shared space" in the UK is Ben Hamilton-Baillie, who earlier this year gave a talk in Enfield Town.  His successful schemes cover not just relatively quiet side roads, but also a busy A road where it passes through the village of Poynton in Cheshire.

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  • 11 May 2020

Government tells councils to reallocate roadspace for walking and cycling 'as swiftly as possible'

The government has told local authorities that it expects them to take urgent measures to reallocate roadspace away from cars to provide more room for walking and cycling 'as swiftly as possible, and in any event within weeks'. They are to include 'pop-up' cycle lanes with light segregation features, more school streets, lower speed limits, pedestrian and cycle zones that exclude motor traffic, low-traffic residential neighbourhoods, and bus and cycle corridors along key routes into town and city centres. Enfield Council's 'Streetspace Plan', announced last week, will incorporate measures of this sort - residents are able to upload their own suggestions on the council's Consultation Hub. Read more

  • 13 April 2020

Hackney to implement emergency anti-rat running measures

Hackney council is planning to implement measures to curb rat-running during the coronavirus lockdown, with the aim of protecting walkers and cyclists, allowing them more space to socially distance, and as a countermeasure to increased speeding by reckless drivers taking advantage of much lighter traffic levels. By doing so Hackney stands out from other UK local authorities, but cities in other countries all over the world have already done much more to reallocate road space away from cars. Read more

  • 08 January 2020

A 'dashboard' showing traffic volumes and speeds in the Fox Lane area

Detailed traffic speed and volume data collected during the 'planters trial' in the Fox Lane quieter neighbourhood area is now available via an online 'dashboard'. Over a one week period in March just under 260,000 vehicles passed the data collection points - 235825 cars, 18,594 lorries, 1682 bicycles and 351 cars pulling trailers. They included 25 vehicles doing more than 70mph, of which 14 were exceeding 80mph and two were recorded at speeds between 96 and 100mph. Read more

  • 10 November 2019

What councils can do to reduce carbon emissions from transport

Nearly two thirds of London councils have declared a climate emergency. While it is relatively straightforward to declare an emergency, it is far more challenging to commit to specific interventions that will deliver big cuts in carbon emissions. The London Living Streets group has identified a range of key policies that local authorities can adopt right now to reduce carbon emissions. All have either been adopted by another major global city, by local authorities in London or elsewhere in the UK. Read more

  • 19 June 2019

What next for the Fox Lane quieter neighbourhood?

It was standing room only at last week's open meeting of Fox Lane & District Resident's Association (FLDRA) as people from the Association's catchment area (and some from further afield) flocked in, hoping to discover what Enfield Council has in mind for the Fox Lane Quieter Neighbourhood scheme, now that the planters experiment has been officially declared a failure. Actually, we didn't learn much at all about what new traffic calming measures will be proposed, but it was nevertheless a very useful meeting because of what we, the Council and the FLDRA found out about residents' views on traffic volumes and speeds in the so far not very quiet 'quieter neighbourhood' area. Read more