This week, Liz Kelly, a former co-ordinator of IoM Friends of the Earth and longtime campaigner, looks at developments in how pedestrians and traffic co-exist – and wonders if there’s a better way.
‘Naked roads’ is a term used for a way of managing traffic by taking away such street furniture as traffic lights, stop signs, crossings, railings and speed bumps. It’s been introduced in countries such as Holland, Germany and Sweden – perhaps surprisingly, with really positive effects.
The approach has also been trialled in parts of England.
Meanwhile, in the Isle of Man, we continue to separate pedestrians from traffic by putting railings along the roadside at junctions, and by installing ever more sets of traffic lights.
One of the problems with this is that the railings inhibit the freedom of pedestrians, so that cars don’t need to slow down (or at least, their drivers perceive this to be the case).
Thus, the cars take precedence and proceed at a pace to suit their drivers.
Furthermore, traffic lights take the drivers’ attention away from the road to the lights.
We all know how dangerous it is to look at a mobile phone while driving a car – yet signs and traffic lights are taking our attention away from the road all the time.
A recent audit done by Westminster City Council showed 44 per cent of personal injury accidents are at traffic lights.
Traffic lights make us stop when we could go, and take our eyes off the road.
So before we continue with this line of trying to separate motorists and pedestrians, we might well look at the alternatives.
In many senses, motorists have been made arrogant by the system and have been encouraged by authority to believe that they do own the roads: after all, they pay the road tax – so the roads are theirs!
The counterargument to this is, of course, that paying road tax doesn’t mean that those roads belong to them anymore than the street lights belong to rate payers.
In terms of managing the risks of mixing people and traffic, that old bugbear ‘Health and Safety’ has, as many of us know, taken over from good old common sense.
One of the main problems with it is that people have become so cocooned by it that in some cases they have stopped thinking for themselves and rather rely on the world being a safe place.
Unfortunately, however, this can have the opposite effect and people become complacent.
Drivers and pedestrians alike feel safe in the knowledge that road signs and signals will allow them a certain amount of ‘autopilot’, and the inevitable consequence is that motorists increase their speeds.
If the autopilot feature was removed or reduced due to lack of signage, then both parties would have to concentrate more keenly and this would slow motorists down and make them more aware and careful drivers.
You may wonder where the good old cyclist features, vilified as he so often is by drivers and pedestrians alike.
In my opinion he/she is a hero of the roads. Many European countries allow cyclists on the pavements – and before all you pedestrians start shouting, it can actually be a good idea.
A collision between a cyclist and a pedestrian is unlikely to end in death.
In fact both or either could be injured. You certainly can’t say the same for a car driver and a cyclist – or worst still a bus or lorry driver and a cyclist.
Yet cyclists are expected to share the same area that pedestrians are cocooned from. One has to wonder where the logic is in that.
Where street furniture – and at the extreme, even pavements – are removed, it’s been proved that everyone behaves more responsibly.
A small but good example of where this works is the North Quay scheme in Douglas – a great case of where we’ve really got it right.
Should we be considering extending this further? It’d be good to hear peoples’ thoughts.
If you’re interested in exploring this idea further, you might like to check out the following links:
And if you’re interested to join a group campaigning for greener, more environmentally friendly transport (among a multiplicity of other things!) please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out our website at www.foe.org.im – and come along to one of our monthly meetings to get involved.
We’d love to see you!