Power to the Pedestrian

By Wolmar, Christian | The Independent (London, England), June 17, 1996 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Power to the Pedestrian


Wolmar, Christian, The Independent (London, England)


As we prepare ourselves to face the holiday traffic jams, made worse by the sunny weather, an engaging and radical thought comes from the Institute of Policy Studies. The authors of a new book, Speed Control and Transport Policy, suggest it may be faster to go slower.

It is not as illogical as it sounds. Already this idea has been accepted by the Department of Transport in relation to motorways. The busiest part of the M25 has been fitted with devices that can vary the speed limit so that when the road is particularly busy it is reduced from 70mph to 60 or 55. And hey presto, more cars are able to use it, as the stop-start effect of people speeding up and then being forced to brake is dissipated. Other motorways are being similarly fitted with these signs.

The PSI pair, Stephen Plowden and Mayer Hillman, go further by suggesting that the effect could also work in urban areas. Researchers in Vaxjo, Sweden, found that the traffic flowed more smoothly at junctions when the speed limit was reduced because there was less stopping and starting.

Moreover, any time lost by some motorists would be partially made up by pedestrians gaining time as crossing roads became easier and involved fewer detours - in general, one person's lost time is another person's gain. For years, that equation has been weighted in favour of the motorist rather than the pedestrian. Indeed, in the cost-benefit calculations used to assess the value of road schemes, the time saved by motorists is assigned a value of around pounds 7 per hour. But pedestrians' extra time is not counted as a disbenefit. That is why we have those ridiculous bridges over some dual carriageways where pedestrians are supposed to spend five minutes walking up spiral staircases to a height of 30 feet or more, simply to cross a road.

During the long rise and rise of the motor car, society lost its sense of proportion. Rather than being a means to an end - easier travel - cars became the centrepiece of transport policy. The space in towns was turned around to accommodate the motor car rather than the people in them. One- way systems were created to speed it along its way, while other road users, such as pedestrians and cyclists, were designed out of large swathes of urban areas. Barriers were erected to hem pedestrians in; traffic lights were installed to allow them to cross the road only for a few seconds every couple of minutes and high streets were turned into urban clearways as traffic was given priority at every opportunity. Speed became an end in itself. Little thought was given to the downsides, not only the casualties, but the degradation of the environment caused by fast cars.

The PSI book argues that it is time to reconsider this set of priorities. Instead of allowing cars to whizz about unfettered around towns, the authors suggest a speed limit of 20mph or 15mph.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Power to the Pedestrian
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?