20 is plenty for where people live

The reactions to my comments promoting the 20’s Plenty for Horsham Town Campaign and the suggestion that such speed restrictions could be applied to other areas where people live across the district have been fascinating.

It is always interesting to hear a variety of views though it is a shame so many of the advocates of the current status-quo seem not to be able to engage with the issue itself but prefer simply to express irrelevant anti-cyclist sentiments and the odd, inevitable, personal attack.

The case the campaign makes is a simple one. The roads in our towns and villages are a shared space. A shared public space. The road network in Horsham is actually the largest shared public space in the town. That such a shared public space is so dominated by one section of the community, the motorist, to the extent that large sections of that shared space are set aside for their near exclusive use, their dominance almost excluding other, more vulnerable, shared space road users, is unacceptable and cannot be allowed to continue.

This dominance is, with the exception of ghastly mistakes like Albion Way – who builds a bypass through a town centre? - largely unintended and has crept up on us all, little-by-little, year-on-year so slowly and subtly that we scarcely noticed the change until it was too late.

The dominance of the motorist in the town of Horsham is so pervasive that many are not even able to question it.

Do I hate cars or other motor vehicles? Of course not, I’ve held a full licence for both car and motorcycle for more years than I care to remember, I drive our family car regularly though I choose not own a car of my own to drive myself to work.

I cycle, get the train or obtain lifts. Cars have their place, but that place is not the domination of the shared public spaces in our towns and villages.

A 20mph limit is too low and would cause unacceptable delays? Horsham is a small town, a couple of miles across. Sticking to a 30mph limit on a clear road it takes two minutes to drive a mile. At 20mph it takes 60 seconds longer to cover the same distance. The argument that 20mph limits would create unacceptable delays just doesn’t add up. All the evidence suggests lower speed limits serve to reduce congestion.

Those in favour of hard traffic calming measures, like those in Roffey, or in Southwater, neither have a realistic grasp of how expensive they are to install on anywhere near the scale required, nor how little positive effect they have on driver behaviour.

Only someone with no grasp on reality or little driving experience could argue, for instance, that drivers don’t race, and speed up, to obtain the priority on the Crawley Road in Roffey. Hard measures reinforce the dominant position of the motorist over others. Look at the southern end of North Street. A dual carriage with barriers to prevent people crossing the road.

This sends a clear signal that the pedestrian must get out of the way of the car, and is to be herded and penned and forced to cross the road at the motorists’ convenience. The same is true of the strange cycle facilities in the traffic calming infrastructure on the Crawley Road; they communicate the message that cyclists have no place in front of cars, that the traffic calming measure are themselves to be regarded as hazard and cyclists should remove themselves from the presence of the mighty car. No cyclist with any sense would use them.

In this light is it impossible to reasonably argue that more vulnerable road users are not treated as second class citizens by the current arrangements in the town. Hard measure as admonishingly expensive to build and in these straightened times that just provides another reason not to introduce them even where the perception is that they are needed and would be effective.

A number of folk have commented that if people who support 20’s Plenty want to drive at 20mph where 30mph limits apply they should do so. Some local campaigns encourage this and provide people with 20mph car stickers.

But one can only assume these comments are made somewhat tongue-in-cheek by those hostile to the campaign. Try sticking to the speed limit, let alone drive at 20mph, whilst driving on Comptons Lane, or North Parade, for instance, and see how quickly you become the victim of inappropriate behaviour from other motorists.

A lot of comments have been made that 20mph limits are unenforceable and therefore inappropriate. Gaining widespread driver compliance with 20 mph limits involves much more than relying on police enforcement.

The desired outcome is that drivers voluntarily slow down and respect a maximum of 20mph, culture change and behaviour change. Studies have shown that even on isolated streets, if you simply alter speed limit signage from 30 to 20mph there follows a 2mph reduction in speed and crashes by ten per cent.

When implemented across a complete neighbourhood, town or community falling maximum and average speeds bring additional important safety and quality of life gains. On faster roads self-enforced reductions in average speed can be as great as 7mph.

So, reducing community street limits to 20mph is all about social behaviour change rather traffic engineering. Generally, 20mph limits should be self enforcing. Motorists must realise that the street of Horsham are also where people live, shop or enjoy leisure.

Most people agree that streets are not only for fast traffic. For mixed use streets, the message is 20’s plenty where people live. The 2011 British Social Attitudes Survey showed that 20mph speed limits where people live are popular with the vast majority drivers; 71 per cent of drivers support 20 mph speed limits on residential streets.

Our own county council hase come up with similar results; a recent West Sussex County Council survey shows that 73 per cent of us would like to walk and cycle more and 65 per cent of us would like to use our cars less. Yet what stops us is the danger posed by traffic, with almost 70 per cent of people stating that speeding in areas where people live is a real problem.

The campaign locally. What’s next?

Several communities in West Sussex are pressing for change and for 20’s Plenty and we want Horsham to be among them. Worthing and Chichester have had active campaigns for some time, have got the support of the public and are engaging with local politicians to make their streets safer and more pleasant places to live through the introduction of 20’s Plenty. Over 200 local communities across the UK are campaigning to join the list of towns that have already introduced 20’s Plenty to their streets.

In the coming weeks we intend to begin to gather signatures to present to the North Horsham County Local Committee to press them to begin a public consultation on the issue.

We are planning a series of open public meetings for the spring to raise the profile of the campaign and to encourage people to come forward and volunteer to act in support of our goals. A number of local district and county councillors are in support of these goals already and we are seeking to influence more.

We will also be pressing Horsham District Council to support the campaign which we believe will go along way to making Horsham a truly great place to live. A new website is in the course of preparation and we hope to launch it shortly and there is already a Facebook page called 20’s Plenty in Horsham Town.

But what of those nasty cyclists?

Some very interesting comments were made suggesting, mistakenly, that the roads in our communities are only there because of the car. Obviously this is wrong, particularly in the centre of town where the road layout was established, with notable exceptions like Albion Way, years, decades, or centuries before the motor car was even thought of.

This ignorance of history also allows some to claim that those who don’t pay ‘road tax’ are not entitled to express opinions on the management of traffic on our shared space public road networks. Road tax was abolished in 1937. Road tax doesn’t exist. It’s a car tax, called Vehicle Excise Duty (VED), a tax on cars and other vehicles, not a tax on roads or a fee to use them.

Motorists do not pay directly for the roads because our roads are paid for via general and local taxation. So every taxpayer pays for the roads. For those who like to attack cyclists in particular over this issue the evidence suggests more than three-quarters of cyclists also own cars and therefore do pay car tax.

Many call for car tax to be applied to bicycles. Such a call is plainly ridiculous when one considers that car tax is based on amount of CO2 emitted so, if a fee had to be paid, cyclists - who are sometimes branded as ‘tax dodgers’ - would pay the same as disabled drivers, police cars, the Royal family, and the owners of VED Band A cars. Zero. Because a bicycle emits no CO2. Other insist on compulsory registration for bicycles. Motor vehicles are all registered but this doesn’t seem to prevent their use illegally.

Inevitably many of the comments were simply criticisms of the behaviour of the small number of people who ride bikes who choose not to ride sensibly or in accord with the Highway Code.

This behaviour is unfortunate and I don’t condone it. Red Light Jumping (RLJ’ing) is a commonly cited example. I find this very strange as I often witness motorists RLJ’ing and Amber Gambling when I’m driving, cycling or walking around the town and yet many motorists only choose to highlight those people who RLJ on bicycles. Common sense and a knowledge of physics suggests that for the pedestrian being struck by a bicycle travelling at 10-15mph is going to result in much less serious injuries than being hit by a car travelling at 30mph as the driver chooses to ignore, say, the red lights on a pedestrian crossing.

Motor vehicles kill and main hundreds of more vulnerable road users every year. The number of pedestrians injured by cyclists is vanishingly small in comparison, so we need to consider relative risk and maintain a sense of proportion.

Anyone driving, cycling or walking around Horsham will routinely see drivers committing offences. Speeding, pavement parking, defective lights, RLJ’ing, driving cars that are unroadworthy or untaxed. People still drive drunk, or under the influence of drugs. Are a handful of pavement riding youths on bicycles really the problem that needs to be tackled that some seem to feel they are?


20’s Plenty for Horsham Town Campaign and Horsham and District Cycling Forum, Hurst Road, Horsham