The government is also guilty

I was preparing a piece on the recent death of Hichame Bouadimi on St. George’s Road in London, and although Charlie Holland and Freewheeler have already written fine articles about it (and Charlie wrote about the road back in January), I’d like to add my thoughts.

The death took place on a road that I walk or cycle along pretty often. I’d been planning to write about it for some time, in fact, as the whole road is unnecessarily wide with few crossings, no facilities for bikes, and it runs beside three schools and a park. It’s essentially a motorway which has been driven through the heart of a community, and a perfect example of over-provision for motor vehicles. Unless this road is changed there will be more deaths like this.

Photo of the location of Hichame Bouadimi's avoidable death. A police sign appeals for witnesses, a signpost is covered in flowers and balloons in tribute to the young boy.

Where it happened. How have we as a nation become so used to seeing flowers by the road, without demanding change from our government?

The craziest thing about this road is that the traffic levels aren’t that high – there is no reason for it to be this wide. I was there on Friday at rush hour (from about 4.30pm – 6.30pm) and the queues of cars were so short that every green phase cleared the whole junction of vehicles.

This leads me to see a problem endemic in UK street and road design: the default is to make a road as wide and as fast as possible, and any restrictions on driving must be justified, in triplicate, signed and counter-signed and finally buried in soft peat for three months before being reused as firelighters. (Or something like that.) As a result, St. George’s Road is one-way with four wide lanes and a 30mph speed limit which is almost constantly ignored.

But I can’t entirely blame the users of this road for driving too fast. If it was just one driver, sure, throw the book at them – but the fact that almost everyone exceeds the speed limit here tells us that the design is at fault. Let’s take a look at the what the driver of the vehicle which caused the latest fatality must have been seeing as he looked out of his cab window:

Four wide lanes, all one-way, running beside a school. Motorway design running through a community.

Does this look like a 30mph road running through a residential area full of schools?

The road design here invites fast driving. There’s a park on the left which includes play and sports facilities, a school on the right (near where the black car is), and there are two other schools on this road. The photo above was taken at around 5pm on a Friday – if the road needed to be this wide, there would be queues of cars here. As you can see, it’s very quiet. (And where are the crossing points?)

This isn’t right. Hichame’s death was avoidable, yet Boris Johnson and TfL are still focussed on increasing the speed of motor vehicles in the city.

As Freewheeler says,

“…in this particular instance the primary blame for this latest tragedy rests firmly with Transport for London. It was the infrastructure that created the conditions for the violent death of this child. And TfL is resisting all efforts to change direction. It remains firmly committed to the ‘smoother traffic flow’ agenda.”

But I don’t think those in charge give a toss about us normal people. My first post on this blog was about the death of Gary Mason in January 2011, which occurred because a driver took advantage of poor road design. The image accompanying that piece were taken by Google Streetview in 2008, showing the road layout which contributed to the tragedy. Since then, Google has been back in town and updated its images in May 2012, one-and-a-half years since Gary’s death. Surely the council has made some changes to rectify this lethal junction?

Nope, they’ve done nothing at all. This makes me sad and angry. Whoever is responsible for this road should hang their head in shame. It would be so cheap and easy to fix this junction, yet those responsible continue to do nothing. This is an insult to Gary Mason’s family. Will the same inaction occur on St. George’s Road?

It doesn’t have to be this way. There will be more deaths if Boris sticks to his “smoothing traffic flow” (i.e. increasing vehicle speeds) mantra and if central government remains car-focussed. To all who are responsible for the roads and aren’t arguing against this type of mentality, let the next death and all those to follow be upon your conscience.

1 Comment

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One response to “The government is also guilty

  1. Pingback: Nazan Fennell, Me, You, and Everyone’s Future | The Alternative Department for Transport

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