Thursday, 24 January 2008

Traffic pollution

Ken Livngstone has responded to Channel Four’s one-hour hatchet job on him. What leapt out at me in his reply was this Mori poll finding among Londoners: the key environmental issue, as rated by 65%, is traffic pollution.

That statistic might be the reason for this:

A SPEED limit of 20mph could be introduced across Waltham Forest and other London boroughs if Ken Livingstone gets his way. The Mayor of London has unveiled a number of proposals which are designed to make the capital a safer, more green place. Among them is a plan to encourage authorities to make 20mph the default limit on all residential roads.

Waltham Forest already has a number of 20mph zones and last year applied for a total of £1.3m from Transport for London (TfL) to install limits in the Cann Hall area of Leytonstone, Bisterne Avenue, in Walthamstow, Church Hill, in Walthamstow and Cavendish Drive, in Leytonstone.

The Cavendish Drive zone, costing £350,000, proved to be controversial as a request made under the Freedom of Information Act by Guardian reader Phil Robinson revealed there had only been five slight and two serious accidents to pedestrians in the last 10 years. The leader of the Conservative group on the council, Cllr Matt Davis said that 20mph zones should only be put in where accident records show a proven need. He went on to describe the borough's increase in 20mph zones as part of council leader Clyde Loakes' "anti-car agenda".

But the authority's environment cabinet member Bob Belam said: "It is outrageous that we are being attacked for attempting to prevent accidents, protect the public and reduce deaths on our roads."

This story is a useful reminder that no matter how bad things might be for cyclists and pedestrians under a New Labour-Lib Dem administration, they will always be worse under the Tories. The idea that the Loakes administration, which continues to seize pavement space for the benefit of 4X4s, is ‘anti-car’, shows how irrational people like Cllr Davis are. The Tories hate bus lanes, cycle lanes and speed humps. Always have, always will.

Politics aside, the scientific flaw in Cllr Davis’s reasoning is that ‘accident records’ are not a true measure of road danger. Some roads may have a low casualty rate not because they are safe but because they are so terrifyingly dangerous that cyclists and pedestrians avoid using them. And if the Council’s expenditure of £350,000 means that there will never again by a serious accident for a pedestrian on a residential street that is money well spent, and a drop in the ocean compared to the millions lavished on ‘road improvements’ which benefit motorists.