Friday, 4 October 2013

Who killed Road Safety?

Highbury, Jesmond  
It's being an engineer I suppose. I just love data and data analysis. And I really do not like to see its misuse or misrepresentation. Or, on the other end of the scale, I also dislike the problem of over-reliance on data getting in the way of doing things. In February I wrote about cycle track safety research and today I'd like to talk about a speed survey.

There is a suspect rat run on my commute (a popular cycle commuter and school route) - it's called Highbury (just south of Ilford Road) and Newcastle City Council after some arm-twisting carried out a speed survey. Obtaining the data was fine (a few little glitches aside), but I could not have been prepared for the way the analysis was carried out or the way data was 'explained away'.

Quick scene check: Highbury is a 20mph residential street in Jesmond. Residents have long been arguing that their street is misused as a short cut in the southwards direction - drivers bypassing Blue House Roundabout from Jesmond Dene Road to Great North Road. Schools are nearby.

Granted, it's not a busy road for its traffic volume. Looking at the data however, more drivers are in excess of the speed limit than in observance on every single day when data was recorded (1 week survey). And even when we disregard the drivers in the 21 to 26mph bracket, the proportion of drivers exceeding 26mph was still over 20% in both directions and on every day. The 85%ile cut-off (widely accepted as a measure for 'the feel of the road' - as opposed to its speed limit) was about 28mph with every 1mph increment, as you can imagine, killing the street's atmosphere and livability. 

If that's not a speeding problem than what is? 

Using their 'standard approach' for analysing the speed data, Newcastle City Council concluded there is no real problem on Highbury. And continued, road safety on Highbury is fine as no-one had been killed: "Highbury has a good road safety history with no personal injury accidents recorded in the last 13 years." And it is this that determines, apparently, what action is taken (hello, Newcastle City Council we are still waiting for a pinchpoint review, prompted by Rev Malleson's tragic death on Heaton Road).

Newcastle City Council again: "the main factor we use to determine whether remedial measures are required is not vehicle speeds, but the road safety history and the number of personal injury accidents that have been recorded by Northumbria Police." Accidents, don't get me started. And it felt like they were re-rewriting the story board.

And yes, regardless of everyone still being alive (and we are abundantly grateful),
it was also abundantly clear after all this... that... a lot of drivers exceed the speed limit. And, to comment about the short-cut, the survey showed that there were more drivers going southwards than northwards, proving Highbury to suffer from short-circuiting.  

And putting both together: we now know that Highbury is suffering from rat-running.

Newcastle City Council states with usual kindness, wisdom and care: "Regrettably, because of the limited funding we have available to introduce remedial measures, we cannot treat every street that we and residents would wish, and therefore we must identify the worst streets and prioritise these on a worst first basis. This is achieved using three basic criteria, firstly personal injury accidents, secondly speed of vehicles, and thirdly volume of vehicles. As Highbury has no personal injury accidents, it is low priority and therefore unlikely to have remedial measures introduced in the foreseeable future."

Yet it would cost next-to-nothing to physically close down Highbury to the southward rat-runners. There may be other associated costs, and I asked them to explain but haven't heard from them since. There is apparently a works programme. But, again, I have yet to see it to believe it.

People first? Not currently so. Road safety is dead. It died the day rat-runners were prioritised over locals.


  1. Dutch style protest? Stop murdering our children! I think that we are all so angry at the lack of activity following such high promise that it would be a success.

  2. I am one of those rare cycling motorists, I commute (25% bike 75% car) North up Highbury in a morning and South in the evening as I live locally.
    The majority of the traffic (bike and car) is in the opposite direction but most if not all road users on Highbury are courteous whether I'm on 2 or 4 wheels and the only near miss I have witnessed was a cyclist failing to observe the give way to a van where Highbury joins Lyndhurst Gardens.
    I don't think this road is the problem you suggest and to close the Lyndhurst end to Southbound cars would inconvenience residents and push car traffic onto other routes. Picking your battles more carefully and sorting out some of the illogical cycle paths would make more sense. Ever tried to cycle from South Gosforth to Gosforth Park along Salters Lane? cycle path is a joke.

    1. Interesting how vastly different perceptions of road environment can be! I avoid Highbury, particularly on my morning commute Gosforth to Newcastle Business Park (getting off Highbury at the earliest opportunity: Mildmay). It was great when the Metro bridge was closed for refurbishment (same on Stoneyhurst in Gosforth). I think a re-arrangement of priorities could be good start - Highbury to have priority over Lyndhurst.

      Yes, other locations are under discussion too. Blue House, Brandling Park, Acorn Road, Tankerville Terrace, Osborne... and city-wide: Strategic Cycle Routes and North-South route specifically - there is a works programme called Cycle City Ambition Fund you may have heard of.

      Get involved, Jesmond or citywide?
      Library talk
      Next Newcycling members meeting

  3. I'm sure that more could be done in Salters Lane (and many other places). No-one claims that road users in Highbury are discourteous, and yes of course there are some rogue cyclists who disregard the rules of the road. But the point is that (a) Highbury suffers from being used excessively by drivers seeking to avoid Blue House Roundabout during their morning commute (that much is pretty obvious and is wholly consistent with the hard evidence) and (b) over half of all road users in Highbury exceeded the speed limit on all the days when the council carried out a survey recently.

  4. Same Kind of problem we are facing in India, The road safety has become a major concern for state governments. All lot of people are losing there life in road accidents. State Govt and Govt and India has initiated many awareness program which is backed by NGO's DLF Foundation is also contributing in this social cause.

    Community Development Programme