Monday, 28 March 2011

In the Slow Lane

A Guernsey politician has called for the maximum speed limit on the island's roads to be reduced from 35 to 20mph. John Gollop, who is a deputy for St Peter Port North and also chairs the pedestrian safety group Living Streets, said "twenty is plenty." "Accidents do happen but you can reduce the risk of serious damage by driving as slowly as possible." The Environment Department has conducted a review and has promised a public consultation later this month. However a spokesperson said: "No decision has yet been made on any changes that might go further than the States resolution... which directed that a speed limit of 25mph would be applied around island schools." Deputy Gollop was critical of the time taken by the department to carry out the work. "The review is long overdue," he said. "There are quite a few back roads in the suburban parts of St Peter Port where the speed limits are too high."(0)

It started with a slow build up, with John Gollup's comments coming out on the 16th of March, and perhaps stung by the criticism, the transport consultation came out soon afterwards, and perhaps prematurely. On the 22nd March, Guernsey unveiled its transport consultation. Like Jersey, the emphasis is on simplification, but it goes much further, putting the main Island limit to 20 mph, and other speeds on "major roads" as an exception:

DRIVERS could be forced to abide by a 20mph 'island limit' under plans unveiled by an Environment Department-led working group. While some roads would see speed limits increase, new restrictions would almost halve the current 35mph imposed in the island. The draft proposals have been placed in the public domain for consultation and would need to be taken to the States for approval. A handful of 'major roads' could see the limit increased to 40mph, and school children would also be further protected with the introduction of a 20mph 'part-time' limit during set times. (1)
 
Quite why you'd need the 20 mph part time limit for schools if everywhere was 20 mph is another matter. Perhaps this is bad reporting of a series of different options, some of which are mutually exclusive, and some more likely to win favour than others. Certainly I think the 20 mph during set times at schools in Jersey works very well, although it also needs the extra care of a lollipop person to supervise younger children crossing.
 
Of Guernsey press readers who voted in the online poll, 13.54% said Yes and 86.46% said no.
 
Then a horse owner weighed in with her thoughts on 24 March:
 
A HORSE owner is backing plans to reduce the island's speed limit. Tracey Dowinton, 41, keeps her pony, BP, at stables in Route des Delisles Castel. She said when she takes eight-year-old daughter Rhiannon out riding on the roads she finds them treacherous. 'The cars just don't slow down, it really is quite dangerous,' said Mrs Dowinton. She said the speed cars drove at around the stables and the nearby Castel Primary School were 'far too high', not only for horse riders, but also for cyclists and pedestrians. (2)

But the backlash was underway. First from the environment department itself, where four out of the department's five board members were opposed to the review. How could the panel not have consulted with the politicians in its own department? Or did it, and ignored their views anyway?

REDUCING the speed limit to 20mph for most island roads would be ridiculous, an Environment Department board member has said. And four out of the department's five board members have already effectively ruled out the suggestion of a 20mph 'island limit' instead of the current 35mph. An Environment-led working group - made up of two civil servants from the department, two from Public Services and a police inspector - conducted a review of Guernsey speed limits and suggested a variety of changes. These included reducing the general island limit to 20mph and cutting speed limits around schools only during set times. There was some discussion of increasing the limit on a handful of major roads to 40mph but no firm suggestion.(3)

This also showed who was involved in the group making these suggestions, and included a police inspector. He must be currently trying to explain to his colleagues why he didn't consult with them before these recommendations were made, as on the next day, this appeared:

POLICE have said they would struggle to enforce the law if there was a widespread reduction in speed limits.
The comment comes after an Environment Department-led working group, which included a police inspector, suggested Guernsey should adopt a 20mph 'island limit', down from the current 35mph. 'Should there be a widespread reduction of speed limits, there would be an issue about being able to police these effectively with existing resources,' a police spokesman said. But the force also reassured islanders that it takes enforcement of traffic laws very seriously.(4)

Clearly there are issues on some roads - I think the horse owner is right to call attention to areas where drivers are reckless and need limits to their speed. But equally, a police of "one size fits all", especially when it is 20 mph, is unrealistic, as it cannot be policed adequately, and there would also be a political backlash against it.

What this does show, I think, is that the working group did a remarkably poor job of consulting with major stakeholders - the public, the politicians, and the police. Consequently, the web site now has a "clarification" document which precedes the main report, and notes:
 
In particular, there has been a great deal of comment regarding the possibility of introducing a general speed limit of 20 mph across the Island. It does not seem to be widely understood that this option is linked to the idea of "signing up" for speed limits, as opposed to the system of "signing down" that is presently used. Put simply, if all roads were designated as 20 mph apart from those signed to be higher, then it would not be necessary to place signs on the very many small lanes and country routes for which 20 mph might well be a suitable limit; instead signs would appear on the major roads indicating the higher speed that would apply. This avoids street sign clutter in the rural lanes.

There also seems to be a misunderstanding about the possibility of introducing 40 mph limits on some roads. Clause 11.5 in the review mentions a few roads where the results of the survey indicate that such a limit might be appropriate, but is careful to make clear that a full examination of the geometry and layout of the roads would have to be conducted before any recommendations could be put forward.

and in bold print, just in case anyone wants to lob any further criticism, there is:

It must be remembered that these are only suggestions; no decisions have been made on the different matters and the comments received as a result of the public consultation will help inform any changes that might be considered appropriate.

as well as this comment, indicating that the panel is now extremely twitchy about the matter:

Please remember to read the clarification statement at the start of the Review before submitting any comments.

Jersey's road review is coming up in the States soon for debate. One thing I noticed where it differs from a Scrutiny review is that the Scrutiny Panel has transcripts of all hearings, and all the written submissions available to read in their entirely. The Transport and Technical Services reports, by contrast, pick and quote only those bits of the consultation submissions that they choose to do so, and do not, as far as I am aware, list the people who have made submissions.

This means, on the one hand, that one has no idea where the bulk of the submissions are coming from - the general public, the road lobby, environmentalists, etc and secondly, that those submissions quoted - only in part - for the report - don't show their total context, so that any substantive arguments are reduced to sound-bite quotes, which is rather like those people who cite verses from the Bible in isolation, with no details being given on the context, but which is used to support their case.

If we don't see the context - the full submissions on transport policy - which is what Scrutiny is  very good at, but Ministerial "consultations" very poor at - we have no way of judging whether there is a good case being made, with supporting evidence and arguments, or whether phrases are being wrenched from their context and placed in the Transport departments' own presentational structure.

Matters are not helped, of course, by the "one size fits all" kind of online consultation, which asks particular questions, and again atomises the discussion, and fits it into a particular bracket. There is room for more detailed comments, and other comments, but when the report produces what counts as the bulk of statistics for the response, that will invariably focus on the structure of the online consultation.

Will Jersey's transport debate be as problematic as Guernsey? Our major proposal is a reduction to 35 mph in most areas, which is why, no doubt, most of the "leaving speed restriction signs", no longer have a speed limit crossed out, but just a more generic sign. The other feature is the idea that "simplification" is what is required, and this will somehow improve matters.

What really will improve matters, however, is common sense. The tiny twisting back hill, for example, beside St Brelade's Church, is at the end of a 20 mph zone, and the sign cheerfully says the speed limit for the hill is 40 mph, which obviously would only be safe to a lunatic. This is not an isolated example, but the consultation, with its emphasis on "standardisation", seems to think that making it (presumably) 35 mph would be better! The most obvious solution is to continue the 20 mph zone up the hill.

What doesn't seem to have been looked at is the safe speed for narrower roads, and I'd sooner have Roy Taylor, the Advanced Driving Instructor - who seems to be full of common sense in his letters to the JEP-  to give his suggestions than some traffic management guru who hasn't the slightest idea about safe driving.

Wait and see!

Links
(0) http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-guernsey-12758947
(1) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2011/03/22/most-roads-could-have-20mph-limit
(2) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2011/03/24/reduce-speed-to-make-roads-safer-for-all-says-horse-owner
(3) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2011/03/25/go-slow-is-no-go-at-environment
(4) http://www.thisisguernsey.com/2011/03/26/wed-struggle-to-enforce-20-speed-limit-say-police
(5) http://www.gov.gg/ccm/cms-service/download/asset/?asset_id=13695041
 

1 comment:

st-ouennais said...

That would be a whole new meaning to 'twenty means twenty'!