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Sunday, 4 January 2015

Civilising Smithdown Road

The council is borrowing £80m to resurface some of the city's main roads.  As the work progresses, this could be an opportunity to make changes.  Traffic could be tamed; local centres could be brought back to life and made better places to live, work and socialise.
There are some well-established principles that can be applied to make that happen, but the current political leadership of the city council disagrees.  The biggest single change that could be made, at little cost, would be to put a 20mph speed limit on the roads as they pass through local centres.
Unfortunately the council has a special Liverpool policy against a 20mph speed limit on any main road - even the main roads where people live and shop.  Other local authorities have overtaken Liverpool and look at each section of each road on its merits.

So what's special about Smithdown Road for the Green Party?

There are many local centres in Liverpool which are bisected by main roads and we believe that each of them should be looked at to see if slower speeds and design changes can make them better places - like urban villages.  The part of Smithdown Road between Grant Avenue and Gainsborough Road is a very good example.
© OpenStreetMap 
You could make a case for extending the area of this "urban village", but the section between Gainsborough Road and Grant Avenue has the greatest potential for improvement, given some progressive changes to the way the highway is used.
There are a lot of good ideas in the government's guidance "Manual for Streets".

Manual for Streets explains an important way of looking at streets, recognising that they are not just highways.  As well as a "movement" function they also have a "place" function.

The Green Party is trying to get the council to recognise this way of thinking.  We will be paying off the £80m debt for years to come so it is worth getting the maximum value from that investment and seizing any opportunity to make our high streets better places.

Therefore we put a motion to the committee that scrutinises transport - here.  It was not well received - see the bottom section of this post.

Slowing Down, Saving Lives

This section of Smithdown Road is just over half a mile, at 850 metres.  What would be the impact on journey times if we slow traffic to 20mph?  There are three sets of traffic lights involved so most of the traffic is subject to slowing down or stopping and then accelerating again.  A 20mph limit would reduce the emissions and air pollution caused by those accelerations.  Time lost would be small, but the reduction in road danger could be very important.  With a 20mph speed limit there is less pressure on drivers to take risks and speed up.  Cyclists can more easily cross the lanes of traffic, particularly going between Arundel Avenue and Gainsborough Road.

On the rare occasions where all the traffic lights are green it would take 32 seconds longer to travel between Grant Avenue and Gainsborough Road at 20mph compared to a steady 30mph.  Is that too much of a sacrifice?

So let the people decide.

Manual for Streets has a lot to say about the balance between the movement function and the place function of a street.

People who drive along Smithdown Road may not appreciate that they are entering an important "place".  But the people who live in the area, use the local shops and walk to school etc will see it differently.  Slowing traffic will reduce noise as well as road danger and pollution, making this local centre a more valuable place to inhabit.

The Green Party thinks that local people should be asked and the expert guidance would agree with us on that:- 
2.4.11     In many situations it will be possible to determine the place status of existing streets by consulting with the people living there. Such community consultation is encouraged.
Nobody would deny that this part of Smithdown has to provide for the movement of traffic.  A 20mph speed limit is a "quick win" - a painless improvement to the quality of this local centre, but it will not be an easy challenge to find further, achievable design changes that will reduce the dominance of traffic while allowing necessary traffic to pass through. Nevertheless it is a challenge which should be taken up.

_But what does Labour say?_

The councillor in charge of transport is Cabinet Member Malcolm Kennedy.  he has ruled out putting a 20mph speed limit on any 'A' or 'B' road in Liverpool.  That is a view we are seeking to change.  Most of the collisions and casualties on Liverpool's roads occur on these roads and other local authorities are now much more willing to extend the benefit of slower speeds to the main roads that they control.  Liverpool is being left behind.

Malcolm Kennedy's other problem is that his regime doesn't "get" the idea of redesigning streets so they are fit for people.  At the committee meeting he rejected the use of the guidance in "Manual for Streets".  He misdirected the committee by asserting that Manual for Streets is only applicable to lightly-trafficked residential streets and lightly-trafficked lanes in rural areas.  But the guidance itself says the following. (Emphasis added).

MfS focuses on lightly-trafficked residential
streets, but many of its key principles may be
applicable to other types of stree
t, for example
high streets and lightly-trafficked lanes in rural
areas. It is the responsibility of users of MfS
to ensure that its application to the design of
streets not specifically covered is appropriate.
Malcolm left out the mention of "high streets".  And a main road passing through a local centre indeed acts as a high street.

Malcolm also appears to have forgotten, or perhaps never understood, that the applicability of these principles was put beyond doubt by the publication in 2010 of "Manual for Streets 2".
‘Manual for streets 2’ builds on the philosophies set out in ‘Manual for streets’ and demonstrates through guidance and case studies how they can be extended beyond residential streets to encompass both urban and rural situations. It fills the perceived gap in design advice that lies between ‘Manual for streets’ and the design standards for trunk roads as set out in the ‘Design manual for roads and bridges’.

Of course, guidance is only guidance.  Any local authority can disregard this best practice.  The depressing thing is that a scrutiny committee, which is supposed to apply critical thought to the policies of the administration, instead lets itself turn into a celebration of ignorance.

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