Does Richard Tracey understand his own recommendations?

London Assembly Member Richard Tracey has past form on writing odd letters to local newspapers in London. In August I reported on his claims that a Tory mayor and Tory boroughs were responsible for London not seeing a rise in unemployment – when in fact unemployment, sadly, has soared across the whole of London.
Now he has sent this letter to Southwark News:

“The introduction of speed cameras to enforce 20mph zones in Southwark, Waltham Forest and other London boroughs is bad for London’s hard-pressed motorists.
There are already too many revenue-raising speed cameras on the capital’s roads, London does not need more.

Furthermore, there is a danger that large areas of average speed-check cameras will encourage drivers to concentrate on their speedometers instead of the road; which would have a counter-productive effect on safety.

Many road-users feel that congestion means journeys in London already take too long and 20mph speed limits will force people to spend even longer in their cars. Not to mention that driving at 20mph causes even more pollution and higher CO2 emissions than driving at 30mph.

Richard Tracey, London Assembly Conservative Transport spokesman”

Richard Tracey might have a point that speed cameras are not popular, but he does seem to be exaggerating just how many would be necessary to ensure that 20 mph zones are effectively enforced.

It does seem he is just finding excuses against the increasingly powerful evidence that demonstrates the real safety merits of 20 mph zones. Suggesting that motorists in a 20 mph zone will be forced to watch their speedometers and not the road is a particularly strange argument. Following this logic it’s an argument that speed limits should be removed on all types of roads!

Tracey was happy to support the recommendations in the London Assembly Transport Committee’s report: Braking point – 20mph speed limits in London a year ago, one of the main findings of which was:

“20mph zones have made a major contribution to London’s road safety record. In areas where zones have been introduced there has been a 42 per cent reduction in casualties.”

The same day that his letter was published in the Southwark News a report appeared online in the British Medical Journal which found:

“The introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends. The percentage reduction was greatest in younger children and greater for the category of killed or seriously injured casualties than for minor injuries.”

The study concluded that

“20 mph zones are effective measures for reducing road injuries and deaths.”

Liberal Democrat Islington council is introducing a 20 mph speed limit on all of its residential roads from January.

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4 Comments

  • There’s some safety sense in 20mph zones in areas near schools or other risky routes, speed limits should reflect the road conditions and environmental risks.

    Blanket reductions unrelated to conditions though, I’m not so sure. There’s a wide and ongoing debate in road safety (alluded to in the quoted letter) about whether you need to herd drivers like sheep or set conditions that encourage alertness and responsibility. But that is a big debate. There is a more simple economic point here:

    A 42% reduced casualty rate (which seems to be based on the one modelled study you link to) means that if you introduced a blanket reduction across the whole of London 100 deaths and serious injuries would be avoided (http://www.physorg.com/news179737862.html). Which would mean about 3 lives a year in Islington, or maybe 2 given the actual reduction applies only to residential roads not those owned by TFL.

    The cost of introducing the zone in Islington I’m not sure, but there’s an estimate here from a supporter at £1m http://www.cyclingcouncillor.com/index.asp?PageID=150

    So to be horribly economic about this it’s between £333k-£500k per life saved in one year, or if spreading the cost over a decade £33-50k. You can knock off some cost for medical treatment and scene of accident services avoided and add some for maintaining the zone information… but the key question in respect of the quality of the policy is not how much is a human life worth but are there not other road safety measures that could save more lives or prevent more accidents at lower cost than this?

    As the report says:

    “What we cannot answer from this analysis is how 20 mph zones compare with the effect of other possible forms of traffic control systems, including such innovative ideas as redesigning road layouts to make the space more shared between pedestrians, cyclists, and motor vehicles. Further research is also needed on the impact of traffic calming in other settings in which the background decline in injury rates might be less dramatic, particularly in low and middle income settings, where 85% of road traffic related injuries occur3 and where there has been little evaluation of the impact of traffic calming schemes.”

    Politically the measure has some ‘something must be done’ appeal. It is also a clear pledge where you can demonstrate quite clearly that you have delivered. But on the flip side, if it doesn’t stack-up and it can be shown to be more a political gesture than the best safety policy for the money spent then it is a gift to the opposition. I would also be particularly cautious, as a liberal party, as always appearing to reach for nanny.

  • Pete Dollimore 16th Dec '09 - 8:09am

    There are often two sides to an issue.

    Tracey is quite right to warn against anythng which distracts a motorist from the necessity to pay careful attention to what’s ahead. H’e also right about the pollution too. Both of these things matter – the both have potential to kill. I wonder what his view would be about the new flashing illuminated adverts I see alongside the A40 – they are of course DESIGNED to distract you. But we’re thinking more about residential roads and those near schools in this debate.

    Yes, 20mph zones are a sensible tool in the armoury of road safety. But there are others that we seem to neglect these days. There was a time when it was frowned upon for a pedestrian to step into the road without looking or for a cyclist to ride at night in dark clothes with no lights. Perhaps if less cyclists rode on the pavement, then pedestrians would not quite so often leap out in front of motor cars! Everyone ought to follow the Highway Code for everyone’s safety. And that means “not just drivers”.

    As a driver I accept my responsibility to take care in using this dangerous machine. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that other road users are also expected to pay their fair share of attention to safety and not to always heap the “blame” on the driver.

    Fairness, that’s what Liberal Democrats stand for. Not picking on easy targets.

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