Sunday, 7 September 2014

How low should our speed limit go?

Southwark Council’s been getting its knickers in a twist again – this time over its controversial policy to introduce a borough wide speed limit of 20mph for all vehicles.  Having been floated by each of the three main political parties from as far back as 2008, it’s an idea that refuses to lay down and die. 
As we’ve seen over many decades, local councils love expanding their reach, with the aim of controlling every area of our lives (except those that really matter), whether we want them to or not.  It’s also true that they’re often not the best people to know just what is best for us: from waste management to housing, from schools to parking enforcement - many local authorities couldn’t run a successful booze-up in Spa Road’s Kernel Brewery.
Spa Terminus, Spa Road SE16: location of Kernel Brewery
Sadly, and predictably, the council has ignored the views of two key constituents in its rush to launch its speeding policy: the police and the public.  While agreeing that slower speeds are of some benefit, the Metropolitan Police has stated that they do not have the resources to enforce the initiative.  We of course know that if they did, our council tax bills would need to be raised significantly to fund the extra officers.  And, a bog-standard consultation of Bermondsey and Rotherhithe residents is no consultation at all.  What about a referendum instead?

Land Rover parked on Mill Street SE1

Rather like dog fouling, this policy is virtually unenforceable on the vast majority of our roads (something the council itself acknowledges); it relies on the enforcer to be in the right place at the right time.  The truth is, there’s nothing radical about this policy.  It’s an example of a nanny state, where the nanny doesn’t work full-time or in every room in the house, but instead sticks up post-it notes and neon behaviour reminders, leaving the children to manage their own learning and lives.
Should all Rotherhithe roads be subject to the 20mph limit?
The policy has been a shambles from start to finish: one minute it includes cyclists, the next they can cycle as fast as they like.  One day it covers the entire borough, the next it doesn’t apply to roads managed by Transport for London.  A truly serious and coherent policy would encourage responsible road and pavement usage from everyone: motorists, cyclists, motorised wheelchair users, parents pushing buggies and pedestrians.

So, when the brave new 20mph world dawns, what will happen when the accidents continue, even after the introduction of the much vaunted but arbitrary speed limit?  Maybe they'll lower it to 10 or even 5mph?  No doubt Southwark Council will decide that the most effective way to ensure safer roads is to ban cars altogether!

Has the public 'consultation' led to blue-skies thinking at Southwark Council Towers?
A final thought: effective enforcement needs more eyes and ears.  Let’s employ more police and traffic officers from Bermondsey’s unemployed and raise our taxes to pay for them - now that would be a truly radical policy.  Which local politician is going to be brave and honest enough to agree?

More information:

Southwark Council: Borough-wide 20mph speed limit

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