Alongside my interest in transport, I spend a fair bit of time campaigning on issues around road safety.
You could argue it’s pretty much a lifelong interest – given that I was knocked out of my pram and sent bouncing down the road by a driver who failed to stop at a pedestrian crossing when I was ten weeks old.
But that would be pushing it a little bit. When I finally got my hands on the £100 of compensation that was put in Trust for me until I was 17, I spent it all on driving lessons. I couldn’t wait to experience the freedom that a car can offer….
In reality I only really took an interest in these issues – alongside the broader transport and city design issues – when we got rid of our car in 2011. Over a few months we went from being a family that mainly got around in a car, to a family that mostly got around Leeds on the bus, on foot or on bikes.
I cannot emphasise enough how changing how you get around your city also changes how you look at the place. I’d always been pretty sympathetic to arguments about the negative impacts of cars, particularly from an environmental point of view. But like most people I mostly got around in a car. Suddenly, without one on the drive, I was seeing Leeds from a whole different perspective.
I’ve written before – and will no doubt write again – about transport – and all the reasons we should be investing in high quality public transport, whilst also making cycling and walking a much more attractive option for short journeys. But today I want to focus on another aspect of a car-dominated city – the impact on vulnerable road users – people who walk and cycle around their city.
Someone asked me the other day if I’m “angry” about transport in Leeds – as they thought my #LeedsTransport tweets suggested that I was. In fact I’m not – I’d say I’m exasperated and impatient for change, but mostly not angry. I’ve certainly (in the main) learnt not to tweet whilst angry at least.
But when it comes to the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads, I’m angry. When I consider how the justice system tends to deal with cases where people have been killed by drivers, I’m angry. And when I see much of what’s being done in the name of reducing the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads, yes, I’m pretty angry.
It’s hard to summarise such a complex issue. But in short, I think we have come to accept violence (I choose that word carefully) on our roads in a way that we would never accept such regular violence in other parts of our lives.
Recently shared statistics suggest that 305 people were killed or seriously injured on Leeds roads in 2017. That’s down on the previous year, but still significantly above the “target” figure.
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) January 17, 2018
I won’t pretend to have considered all the statistics in detail, but another fact stands out – pedestrians and cyclists accounted for 47% of those killed or seriously injured, even though they only account for 13% of journeys made.
From Leeds Safer Roads Action Plan: “Journeys by bike or on foot account for only around 13% of all journeys, but last year (2016) accounted for 47% of all those Killed or Seriously Injured.” — Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) January 17, 2018
And what are we doing to change things? Again, it’s complex, and again, as much as I try to keep on top of this, it’s something I’m doing in my spare time and as an “amateur”. But you can read a summary of what’s being done in the Safer Roads Action Plan at Item 7 here.
I think there’s some good stuff in there – in particular I think the work to redesign streets (including a focus on “district centres” where there are plenty of people walking, shopping etc) sounds good.
But, as always, there appears to be far too much emphasis on what you might call “educating vulnerable road users to stay safe”, rather than dealing with the source of much of the danger – tackling driver behaviour through enforcement activity.
It’s something that I’ve tried to raise before, particularly with the local Police and Crime Commissioner. And it’s been raised before by the Council’s Scrutiny Panel – with a report expressing concern about the lack of enforcement activity – caused by a lack of police resources.
Number of children/young people killed or seriously injured on Leeds roads up – again. Council report points to lack of police enforcement as an issue – again. What will you do about it @WestYorksOPCC? #AskYourPCC https://t.co/o6FEveZL4D
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) December 20, 2017
My concern is that things will continue to get worse. We appear to be in a bit of loop – with the Council and their partners focusing on what they do (particularly around road re-design and education) whilst pointing out, year after year, that the lack of police enforcement is an issue.
It will be interesting to see if this gets raised again at this week’s Scrutiny Panel.
“A lot of enforcement now is by education”. – police rep at @ScrutinyLeeds
— Rob Greenland (@TheSocBiz) September 9, 2015
As I make clear, I’m no expert on this. But day after day, walking and cycling around Leeds, I am put at unnecessary risk by a significant minority of drivers – and I’ve had enough of it. Too many streets are designed in ways that facilitate the movement of vehicles, at the expense of people walking and cycling. Whilst the stats I’ve pointed to above confirm the particular impact unsafe streets have on vulnerable road users.
I don’t know what to do – but I think we need some radical action. Maybe it’s time to look at initiatives like Vision Zero – and start thinking about how we can work towards a target of no-one being seriously injured or killed on our streets. I can see why such a target might sound ridiculous. But I think we’ve gone too far the other way – as a society we seem to accept that “accidents” happen. I think we can do better than that.