Road markings are NOT road safety

Recently, the Mallusk Road has been the target of an aesthetic change. Aesthetic, because it will have zero impact in the behaviour of the road users that utilize it. Walking will still give way at any side street or site entrances, cycling will still need to share either the road with large vehicles or the footways with pedestrians and motorized vehicles will still be kings and princes of the road, due to their physical dimension and the road infrastructure.

So, what was the change?

It was 10 new road markings, in 5 places along the road, with the 40 mi/h limit speed, as the images below show.

What reasons could have led to the implementation of such a feature?

  • Spare funds to spend
  • Speed limit being exceeded frequently, through objective measurements
  • Subjective concerns about speed limit being exceeded
  • Regular maintenance

None of the above suggest that a proper solution to improve conditions for vulnerable users in a dangerous and hostile road to them is to simply paint some road marking with the speed limit and leave the rest untouched. As such, let’s analyse the road and the area.

Area

The Mallusk area was initially an industrial area that has evolved. It has now plenty of residential space, a big playing fields area and two schools (one of them in the vicinities).This means that the industrial space is still relevant, but not as dominant.

 

Overview of Mallusk
Overview of Mallusk. Orange – Residential; Green – Park; Red – Services and Shops; Yellow – Schools; Pink Triangles – New Road Markings

The roads, however, tell a complete different story. Cars and HGVs are completely dominant and the lack of protection towards vulnerable road users, in this case mainly cycling, is less of a concern, even if the road has, for some parts, 12m width for two lanes of motorized vehicles.

Road

The Mallusk Road ranges from 7 to 19m width and 3 to 5 lanes. The largest width and number of lanes is near the intersection with Scullions Road, which can be daunting for cycling and very inconvenient for walking, with large waiting periods to cross the road.

Other common issue with the road is the amount of turn-left slipways in it. It reduces available space for pedestrians to walk (and run, which is common practice in the area) and can put people cycling in between two vehicles, that leads to a subjective dangerous environment.

Accident Rate

From the past 3 years, it seems there is at least one serious accident each year. Two in 2013 and 2014, with 3 injured people and the last one in 2015 with one fatality.

This is not the highest accident road rate, but within residential areas this discourages people to opt through active travel.

Population

Mallusk is one of the areas with the biggest increase in population in Northern Ireland between the 2001 and 2011 Census. From under 2000 people living in the area this number raised to over 8000. With the most recent developments in the Blackrock area and other developments proposed on vacant land, this suggests that the number is likely to increase significantly again in the next Census.

Cycling Usage

As mentioned before, this road is highly used for running and it usage among cycling is also increasing. Taking a look at the snapshot below we can see that the Mallusk Road has seen an increase in usage between 2014 and 2015. It is to expect that this tendency should continue throughout 2016.

Comparison of cycling modal share between 2014 and 2015
Comparison of cycling modal share between 2014 and 2015

Final Comments

The state of the road shows how hostile an environment can be towards vulnerable road users and, unfortunately, most of the issues present in this road are present in most of the road network throughout Northern Ireland.

Speeding is a real issue that costs lives everyday and shouldn’t be tackled so carelessly as adding road markings, which won’t affect the behaviour of drivers of motorized vehicles.

Protecting the most vulnerable users and provide them direct routes is possible and must be priority for road design and re-design.

 

Happy Cycling!

The following questions about the road markings intervention were made to both the Antrim and Newtownabbey council and Transport NI. This will be updated when the responses are received.

 

  1. What was the reason of such intervention?
  2. Is this responsibility of the council or Transport NI?
  3. If there’s an issue with excess of speed in the road, does the council believe this is a real solution that will decrease the amount of cars that exceed the speed limit? Has this been tried and proven elsewhere?
  4. With a growing number of residential facilities and a growing population within Mallusk what are the plans and projects from the council to improve the conditions for the vulnerable road users (walking and cycling)?

 

Council Response: “Your question relates to the Road Service authority. They are currently under Transport NI.”

Transport NI Response: “

1.       Reason for the Markings – Mallusk Road is a busy route through a large industrial area. The road is subject to a speed limit of 40mph. Repeater signs indicating the 40mph speed limit are in place along the length of the route but given the proliferation of various signs associated with the local businesses, the repeater signs are not clearly seen by motorists. The Department  can, where we think there is a need, provide road markings such as the ones that have gone down to help clarify the speed limit in operation. We had received a number of concerns about excess speeds and with the support of the PSNI, we decided on these additional road markings.

2.       Responsibility – TransportNI

3.       Expected Outcome – These markings have been tried on many other sites and have been welcomed by the local communities as a positive road safety measure.  We expect the same here and a number of local councillors have already welcomed them.

Update 10/05/2016: Transport NI response has been added above.

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