Rising concern over rural traffic
RESEARCH often tells us what we already know, or suspect – although that does not stop it from being useful.
But sometimes it produces unexpected results.
Take this example.
Traffic was the most commonly issue of residents’ concern, according to an analysis of parish plans and market town health checks published in a new book, ‘Glimpses of Rural England’ by Malcolm Moseley (See Chapter 1).
Not affordable housing. Not the lack of public transport or other services. And not even the lack of provision for young people, which often gets a mention in such surveys.
Time to investigate, I decided.
Rural Services Network – November 2009
Take Haskayne, in Lancashire.
It may be rural, but the village sits alongside the busy A5147, which runs from Merseyside to Scarisbrick.
The road has quite a lot of bends and narrow bridges, and as a result there have been quite a lot of accidents and near misses, says David Wotherspoon, who lives beside the main road.
Eighty-two percent of residents said road safety was one of their concerns, according to a recent audit of people’s views.
In addition, 56% said they suffered form the effects of speeding traffic, and 44% complained of noise.
As a result, traffic and road safety were identified as one of the main issues for Downholland’s parish plan, drawn up five years ago.
General maintenance of the pavements has improved since then but influencing decision-makers has been hard, says Mr Wotherspoon.
For example, the speed limit has been reduced, but only from 60mph to 50mph, compared to the 40mph villagers wanted.
“There are very few speed limit signs – many people think the limit is 70mph,” he says. “It’s a question of changing attitudes as much as anything.”
It’s not just changing attitudes, however.
As RSN reported earlier this year, on rural roads there is less scope for making improvements, people drive too fast, and there are more vehicles prone to accidents, such as motorcycles.
“People don’t take any notice of our speed restrictions,” says Geoffrey Sworder, chair of Dunkeswell Parish Council in Devon, another community facing major traffic issues.
Thirty years ago the village had 300 people, but now its population has grown to 1200 – with the associated traffic consequences.
People reduce their speed for a while when the police make a presence, says Mr Sworder, but when they leave people start speeding again.
Even introducing speedwatch scheme did not help, under which villagers use a camera gun to record instances of speeding cars and the police then send warning letters to the registered owners.
“The police got cold feet,” says Mr Sworder. “They have got other things to do and, nationally, it’s not their policy to enforce in 20mph zones.”
The village’s rapid expansion is due to the building of a 500 home housing estate in the late 1980s, under a planning application that had lain dormant since the 1950s, when Dunkeswell was identified as a ‘key settlement’.
An industrial estate has also been developed on a former WWII airfield.
“Nobody thought what the developments would do to the traffic,” says Mr Sworder, who moved to the village 25 years ago.
“The whole place has been transformed from a tiny village to an industrial place,” he says.
As in Downholland, speeding traffic and road safety were identified as one of the top issues facing the parish.
But the parish plan’s vision was for a £3m by-pass seems unlikely.
It wouldn’t be that expensive, says Mr Sworder, but Dunkeswell is not a high enough priority.
Worse, even cheaper alternatives may not happen.
Traditional measures such as sleeping policeman are not popular, says Mr Sworder. And the village’s needs are not great enough for building gateways and other more sophisticated measures that might help slow the traffic down.
“Unless you have a long string of accidents – preferable killing someone – you don’t get any joy with the council,” he adds.
Let’s hope the necessary remedies aren’t quite so dramatic.
Traffic may be one of the most visible issue facing rural communities, but their ability to influence the police and highways departments, unless they qualify for major schemes, is frustratingly small.
Let’s hope there will be some practical and feasible lessons from the national Rural Road Safety Demonstration Project, which will publish its best practice for other rural areas in April 2010.
© Robert Bullard. Not for reproduction without prior permission