The Department of Infrastructure has just released a plan to improve conditions for people cycling and walking. This project, brought to life by NI Greenways, has finally seen the green light by the government.
Other projects that should be near daylight are the Belfast Cycle Network and the increase of 20mph streets. About the latter, Belfast Telegraph run a news piece on which it quotes Chris Hazzard, the current Infrastructure minister, declaring that he intends to provide increased safety by creating self-enforcing engineering measures on the roads.
The principle is correct, but how should it be implemented?
Design leads behaviour
The same Belfast Telegraph’s article quotes the minister of Infrastructure stating
“Successful 20mph zones employ self-enforcing engineering measures such as road humps, central islands and other traffic-calming measures (…)” – Chris Hazzard, Minister of Infrastructure
It’s great that there is an understanding that the roads should be self-enforcing. That is the initial step towards a more safe environment on vulnerable road users. Reducing the motor vehicles speed and volume of traffic is the number one way to reduce the danger of the road towards people wanting to walk and cycle and bring more people out without the need of the protection of a car.
The way to achieve those goals is to invert the current road user hierarchy that exists and is at the heart of the low levels of perceptive safe cycling and walking in the streets.
With this road user priority in place, the next step is to understand the best ways to reduce traffic speed and volume on access and distributor roads. These kind of roads are the ones that would have the major number of vulnerable users travelling in it. As such, improvements in these roads would yield major benefits for those road users.
Returning to the quote above, the minister provides one example of road traffic calming measures that shouldn’t be at the top of the list.
Road humps are not the best option to reduce car speed. They’re not liked by anyone and work as a band-aid instead of having the streets properly transformed so its layout guides people to not speed. It is actually a myth that speed bumps are mandatory in 20mph zones.
Let’s take a look at the area between the Waterworks park and Antrim Road residential area (image below). This is mostly a 20 mph residential area with two-way roads and a lot of speed bumps.
Let’s take a look at Cedar Av. It is a two-way road that connects the Antrim Rd and the Cavehill Rd. In the picture below, from Google Street Maps, you can probably identify that the main deterrent of speeding is not the speed humps, but the narrow width of the road.
Reducing the width of the road will promote safer speeds from all vehicles. This in turn should also provide a safer place for children to play outside in these residential areas and to make it generally less dangerous for vulnerable road users.
The changes occurring in Northern Ireland are heading in the right direction. Schools are the main focus of these new 20mph zones, but they need to be applied correctly. Reducing speed and volume of traffic needs the right measures to be effective and make access areas safer for vulnerable users. Allied with more and better provision towards active travel, this can be the turning point which starts to put people out of their cars.