Saturday, 11 June 2011

Get on Your Bike

I remember, living in Gateshead as a boy, playing football and other games in the street with my friends. Every half an hour my mother would pop out of the house and tell us to be careful as the bus was due to arrive any minute. We didn't have to worry about cars though and one of our favourite activities was to get on our bikes and race round the block. I used to lend my little 16" framed bike to one of the boys or girls and I used my mother's huge machine to hurtle round the streets in a race to get round first. We didn't need to worry because, until my mother became a district nurse and needed a car to drive round to expectant mothers, no one in our street had a car. Things are a lot different now and owning one or even two cars is not uncommon. Cars themselves are faster, accelerate more quickly and drivers in their protective enclosure, with air bags and other kinds of safety features, have a lower sense of risk. Driving habits have probably also changed in that cars will hurtle round residential areas to beat traffic lights on main roads and place more emphasis on knocking 30 seconds off their journey times than the risk they pose to those generations of children that have followed my more carefree playmates.

One of the results of this has been an insatiable demand for traffic calming measures which usually boils down to a demand for speed bumps in the road. I could wax lyrical on my views of speed bumps as an addition to street furniture but a major problem is that as the sole method of reducing speed in our residential areas they will never satisfy the need or the demand. The resources available are finite while the demand for safety in our neighbourhoods is rightly infinite.

The policy response in the local transport plan, published by the Integrated Transport Authority, has been to advocate "the introduction of an extensive network of low speed zones, create safer roads,encourage more cycling and walking and therefore improve health." The printed copy of this major strategy affecting people throughout Merseyside landed on my doormat yesterday. How appropriate that as the Cabinet Member for Transport I was able to announce in advance at the Regeneration Select Committee on Thursday that Liverpool City Council intended to move towards 70% of their road network being covered by 20mph limits potentially impacting on all our residential areas.

A recent report by the North West Public Health Observatory concluded that 140 killed or seriously injured child casualties could have been prevented each year between 2004-8 if 20mph traffic speed zones had been introduced in residential areas (other than main roads) across the North West.

Additional evidence from towns such as Portsmouth and Warrington which have extended 20mph limits have convinced me that this is a step worth taking and indeed a step we must take. Perhaps my playmates of nearly 50 years ago will cheer that decision and their grandchilden and great-grandchildren will benefit as councils throughout the country follow suit.

You can download the Local Transport Plan at :

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