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MAYER HILLMAN: Fitzjohn's Avenue 20mph life will save lives

PUBLISHED: 13:25 24 December 2009 | UPDATED: 16:40 07 September 2010

Camden Council has just issued a consultation paper on its proposals to make Fitzjohn s Avenue safer. The imperative of doing so is justified by the fact that, in the last three years alone, 24 children and adults have been injured in crashes along its ki

Camden Council has just issued a consultation paper on its proposals to make Fitzjohn's Avenue safer. The imperative of doing so is justified by the fact that, in the last three years alone, 24 children and adults have been injured in crashes along its kilometre length.

To some extent, these distressing and avoidable 'accidents' are not surprising: a recent police study commissioned by Camden recorded over a third of drivers on Fitzjohn's exceeding the limit.

As this average figure included rush hour times of day when there is no choice but to drive slowly, the proportion considerably understates the frequency of illegal speeding when the road is relatively clear.

Years ago, the Transport Research Laboratory established that the survival rate of pedestrians is far higher when hit by vehicles travelling at lower speeds. Camden's study of the effectiveness of its 20mph zones shows that they have led to a halving of overall casualties, with children the primary beneficiaries.

Last month, the British Medical Journal published the findings of an analysis of casualty statistics on London roads: pedestrians are eight times as likely to be killed in areas subject to a 30mph than a 20mph limit.

Camden, in common with all local authorities, has a clear responsibility to reduce danger on its roads. It is also determined to implement policies aimed at promoting walking and cycling rather than the use of cars, for instance, to get to the numerous schools located on or accessed from Fitzjohn's Avenue. Logic suggests that the best way of meeting these objectives is by significantly reducing speeds.

It is much to the council's credit that TfL (Transport for London) has agreed to its request that this road should be one of the four pilot projects in London to have a 20mph limit enforced by use of the newly-available average speed cameras. These record the time between vehicles passing the road's entry and exit points. The vehicle's average speed is then calculated to determine when the limit has been exceeded and for a penalty to apply.

What grounds could be cited for objecting? It will only be law-breakers who will be caught. The solitary one that could be put forward is the extra time involved in driving at the lower speed. However, in a Policy Studies Institute's calculation of the actual additional time for a driver on a typical weekday to cover one kilometre on a road subject to a properly-enforced 20mph limit compared with 30mph is less than 30 seconds!

It can be confidently asserted that if this welcome change is implemented, we will look back with incredulity at the fact that we tolerated higher and therefore more dangerous speed limits on our roads, especially those that are predominantly residential.

How much longer must children and old and handicapped people have their freedom to get around in a safe environment be curtailed? Surely, we should not allow some drivers' selfishness and ignorance of the evidence to prevail when all that is called for is a small change in their habits.

One can only hope that those who have received an invitation to comment on Camden's proposal will do so and not let the council interpret a low response rate as reflecting a lack of concern or apathy. In view of the holiday break, Cllr Chris Knight has agreed to extend the council's consultation period to January 15.

Dr Mayer Hillman is Senior Fellow Emeritus at Policy Studies Institute and co-author with Stephen Plowden of the PSI publications Danger on the Road: the needless scourge, and Speed Control and Transport Policy


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