John Dales, Director
Like so many of us, I’ve been working from home for well over a month now; and it was on the second day of this period – while enjoying a state-sanctioned stroll around the neighbourhood – that it struck me that I’d also be doing a lot of walking from home in the coming weeks. From that thought to a hashtag was the work (or walk) of a moment; and I put out a tweet to encourage others to use #WalkingFromHome if, like me, they were posting photos of what they encountered as they did the rounds.
John Dales, Director
A couple of months ago, our friends at the London Cycling Campaign asked us to help them prepare a report to identify a package of fully-evidenced actions designed to enable the decarbonisation of the capital’s streets over the next decade. The report – Climate Safe Streets – was published yesterday, and I commend it to you. Before diving in, you might want to read the press release.
The report lays out in detail the specific decisions that the next Mayor of London must take to meet the demands of the Climate Emergency; and it also sets out what London’s boroughs will need to do in response to the Climate Emergencies they have declared. It’s the result of considerable desktop research (section 11 refers to numerous reports and articles to help you explore further) and was informed by conversations with a range of experts and practitioners having different perspectives.
Although the Mayoral and local authority elections have been postponed, the need to reduce carbon emissions remains urgent. My latest article in Local Transport Today is entitled ‘When is an emergency not an emergency?’ and I’m glad to say it doesn’t seem to be behind the usual paywall. The answer, of course, is ‘When it’s a climate emergency’ – an answer, I should clarify, that’s based on observation and experience of what climate emergency declarers have so far done, not on actual need.
LCC’s Climate Safe Streets report focuses on action in eight priority areas where the Mayor of London and Borough Councils must work together to radically change the way Londoners move about the capital, for the better. As I say in my LTT article, there either is a Climate Emergency or there is not. Those who have declared that there is must rise to the challenge, and this report is a menu from which all items need to be chosen.
I’ll close with this from LCC’s press release:
“Right now, we face a global health crisis that risks derailing action to rapidly decarbonise our transport systems, which is an absolute necessity if we’re to avoid an even more terrifying future and even larger global crises. However, the same current pandemic also represents an opportunity to reimagine how London works, shift away from our most unsustainable habits and reshape the capital to be healthier and more sustainable going forward.”
The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are an invaluable kite mark to ensure we get the cities we need, and can reject the development that is killing us.
Hear UM Director of Urban Strategy's thoughts from an Urban Design Group seminar on how, as Urban Designers, we should be using the SDG to shape our collective future.
John Dales, Director.
A friend recently alerted me to the presence of a Freeview channel that I’d not come across before – Talking Pictures TV (Channel 81). I was attracted to it principally because its chief output is old British films that, for some reason, I’m rather partial to. However, as a genuine bonus, it also shows a lot of old documentaries and newsreels that show aspects of British life now long past. The synopsis of one of these particularly caught my eye – “A stunningly prophetic old news feature on the motor car and its place in the world” – so I recorded it.
It’s called ‘The Motor Car’ and is seemingly one episode from a series of ten-minute documentaries that went under the title ‘Echo’. Made in 1972, I’ve been able to find out precious little more about it other than that it’s now distributed Renown Films. I found what it had to say fascinating, and thought others might, too. So, I transcribed it, as follows.
Once upon a time, just one lifespan ago, the motor car was born [ Image 1]
At first, it was a mere toddler in a world full of horses. They even measured its potential in terms of horse-power, confident it could never outpace the quadruped. But it did. And, from that moment, the car was king of the road.
Intrepid men began racing them. Other reshaped them, built more powerful engines, and made them reliable. And the process continues.
Hypnotised by the most universally practical invention since the wheel, men still seek ways of making it go faster; not that it really matters anymore.
The car has already attained a position of importance almost grotesquely out of proportion to its original purpose.
In this issue, Echo examines the monster in our midst: The Motor Car.
[Title sequence – Image 2]
The ownership of a new, fast car is either the summit of a man’s ambition or a contribution to the world’s biggest singe disaster. It’s either a tangible piece of personal luxury or a potential killer. It depends whether you’re at the wheel or reading statistics about road accidents and the even greater menace of air pollution.
The motor car is the great status symbol, tied closely to individual masculinity and social prowess in the imagery of advertising. ‘Own a car like this and move up in the world’.
Or, rather, come to a grinding halt.
The 500 million cars on our roads have long since begun to strangle movement in the cities, to pollute the air, and to cost untold millions in money, time and ruined lives.
But the balance sheet of the motor car’s worth to mankind has always, until now anyway, come out on the profit side. After all, the making of cars is an important part of the national economies of many countries; the ownership of cars is a barometer of national wealth in nearly all nations; and the revenue from motor taxes and petrol duty provides a big percentage of government income in industrialised states.
In short, the motor car has, until now, been too valuable a property to question.
But scenes like these [Image 3] do raise questions. Can we afford a machine which annually kills and maims hundreds of thousands of people? Has the car become a bigger menace than we can handle?
In the face of pictures like this, the answers would, reasonably, be negative. It’s not worth dying prematurely in any circumstances. But the fact remains that the car is here to stay. The advantages of the car, the truck, the bus and other automotive as a method of transport for people and things are enormous. And they’re only as big a menace as the people who drive them.
The tragedy is that, as with so many other human inventions, they can become lethal in the wrong hands. That won’t change until human nature changes.
On the other hand, this [Image 4] is controllable.
The internal combustion engine hasn’t basically altered since it was first invented nearly a century ago. It still works by drawing a mix of air and petrol vapour into a cylinder, igniting it, and harnessing the explosive force. But the fallout from this simple device is this: a gigantic cloud of water vapour, carbon and lead.
If it is allowed to build up, as it does in every city in the world, it’s a killer. Plants die and trees won’t grow; and it’s a sorry reflection on the impact of the motor car on our lives, than the best we appear able to do is plant plastic substitutes for living things; and resort to gas masks in order to live with the automobile.
Now, 70 years after the motor car caught the popular imagination, people are beginning to protest about its effect on our lives. In Stockholm, Sweden, where the United Nations recently held a conference on the environment, pedestrians have taken to the road to draw attention to the pollution hazard.
Popular demonstrations in many countries [Image 5] have put pressure on governments and, in turn, have forced automobile makers to think again about the internal combustion engine.
A clean-up campaign has been launched in many countries, aimed at reducing the volume of poisonous effluent pumped into the atmosphere. Random tests are part of it. But, so far, only the United States has laid down hard and fast regulations about exhaust content, and they won’t be effective until 1975.
Foreseeing the coming of more international regulations, nearly all the world’s major car manufacturers are now engaged in urgent research to find ways of cutting down potentially lethal exhaust emissions.
American authorities have ruled that the toxic content of exhaust gases must be reduced by no less than 90% by the time the new law comes into force in 1975
One of the alternatives to the internal combustion engine is the electric battery. This Japanese bus [Image 6] is powered by electricity and has proved a viable commercial proposition.
But even though science and technology can produce all-electric cars like this, the idea is not popular. We all seem so committed to the petrol-driven automobile that electric cars and computerised robot transport systems like this [Image 7 of a model automated city] seem doomed to extinction before they get into production. This way, you can plug in a computer card and get driven home. But people prefer to take their own risks.
And that’s really the point. Whatever other forms of transport may have been devised by man, no-one has yet come up with a more mobile, convenient, effortless and simple method of getting from A to B than the motor car. And until someone does, the car seems likely to remain what it is: man’s magic carpet.
That being so, it is quite certain that even countries that still look like this [Image 8] will eventually modernise. Modernisation will mean mobility and mobility means the motor car. The question is not if, but how.
That will depend on those who invented a society of wheels finding a way for us all to live with its by-products. When we have controlled it and made it less poisonous, then the motor car will be what it was intended to be: the servant of the genius of man.
Although it aired last July, it was only last week that I came across a short segment from an issue of a weekday evening news programme on 9News in Denver, Colorado. The programme is called ‘Next with Kyle Clark’ and, although I’d not heard of Kyle previously, I’ve seen him described as “a welcome breath of humility, honesty and directness”. This certainly seems to ring true from the segment in question, which I thought worth transcribing for the benefit of others.
You can also watch the segment, if you wish.
Since it almost literally speaks for itself, that’s quite enough from me.
“If we’re going to make Denver’s streets safer for everyone – whether you drive, bike or walk – we need to acknowledge something that is both obvious and uncomfortable.
You don’t own the street in front of your home.
We, the public, own the street in front of your home; and my home.
‘Our Streets’ is more than just a protest cry; that’s a factual statement. Our streets belong to everyone, so that everyone can get from here to there with as little fear of being killed as possible.
I get that people like living on pretty streets. Arguing for aesthetic appeal while bodies are being lifted off the pavement is a bad look. And it’s a worse argument.
I also love Denver’s history. But not more than your life, or mine. The people arguing that making our streets safer ruins our history need to be honest. They’re not really arguing for historical preservation. They’re asking for the preservation of the present.
Because this (see historic photo above) is the history of South Marion Street Parkway. A dirt street; a horse and a carriage; a drainage ditch down the centre. I don’t hear the people fighting the protected bike lanes there calling for cars to be banned, or calling for parking to be eliminated, all in the name of history.
No. They just don’t want any more accommodations for cyclists.
These preservationists of the present want the status quo, not history.
The status quo that makes it all too easy for drivers to kill our neighbours.”
Christopher Martin, Co-Founder + Director of Urban Strategy
At this years' National Urban Design Summit in Birmingham, organised by the Urban Design Group, Christopher Martin presents his ideas for better urban lives - focusing on how we should design to influence behaviour first and foremost - leading with our natural desire for fun.
Amy Priestley, Urban Designer
It’s been a turbulent summer for London’s streets and the people who use them, and people and politics are at the centre of it. In Bow, Tower Hamlets, a trial of modal filters was sadly cancelled after the first day due to the intense reaction of those inconvenienced by the scheme. Neighbouring Newham Council also ‘paused’ a traffic management experiment in the face of opposition from local people. In Kensington and Chelsea, the Council’s decision to withdraw its support for a new cycleway on Holland Park Avenue/Notting Hill Gate was at least partly due to residents and traders vocalising their opposition. These events all illustrate the challenges that politicians experience in delivering real change to our streets and improved environments for walking and cycling.
I recently contributed to the Urban Design Group Journal (Issue 151) themed around politics and urban design. Writing with Cllr Clyde Loakes of LB Waltham Forest, the article is essentially a list of illustrated advice on how to deliver change; how to support and encourage local councillors, politicians, officers and interest groups to deliver ambitious and visionary projects that will make our streets better, healthier and more sustainable places for people and movement.
Of course, ‘politicians’ vary considerably in their views, principles and prejudices. For some, walking and cycling may be part of their individual political identity (whether pro or con); others may have vocal supporters who hold strong views on certain transport issues; others may simply not understand or (more worryingly) appreciate the wider issues around transport, health and sustainability; and still others may understand the issues but fear whether they can gain public support for change. All of them want to get re-elected.
Whatever the starting point, I think there are three key facts that any politician needs to be clear about in considering the changes we need to see in street design and transport. Understanding these facts won’t automatically clear the path to delivery; but (changing the metaphor) grasping them is vital to navigating the choppy waters.
Firstly, streets are a finite resource. Giving more space to walking, cycling and public transport will inevitably take space away from cars, moving or parked. This can’t be avoided.
Secondly, enabling walking and cycling will almost always require a ‘stick’ or two, not just ‘carrots’. People won’t readily shift to walking and cycling if driving remains easy.
Thirdly, the ‘target audience’ for projects that aim to encourage modal shift away from cars is, by definition, people who currently don’t walk, cycle or use public transport much (or at all). It follows that the very people we’re designing for are those most likely to feel the ‘stick’ and be frustrated or angered by our proposals.
As a final word of advice, I think it’s best to avoid using the ‘C-word’ wherever possible. Talking about cycling or cyclists will typically alienate or provoke those who do not currently cycle. Streets are places for people and communities; they’re part of neighbourhoods. Start the conversation from that point, bring in some wider issues (such as public health, climate change, the costs of transport, congestion, air quality and future growth) and the narrative for people-focused design has a better chance of gaining traction.
It’s exciting and pleasing to see and hear about many local authorities and councillors who are starting to think about streets and transport differently, and how they might go about spreading the word, building support and delivering change. But it won’t be an easy ride, and making change happen requires a good amount of grit and determination from all involved. Keep the above in mind, and don’t forget why you started!
John Dales, Co-Founder + Director
Today (September 20th), Urban Movement is participating in the Global Climate Strike, ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit on Monday (23rd). Many of our reasons for doing so are contained in this article by Bill McKibben. Amongst other things, we believe we need urgently to change how we travel, and so we’re also very supportive of World Car Free Day on Sunday (22nd).
With all this in mind, I was pleased to read a piece in the London Evening Standard last Wednesday (18th) entitled “Mayor of London Sadiq Khan backs plan to charge drivers levy for ‘needless trips to shops’”. On the same day, however, there was also a tweet from the Greater London Authority (GLA) Conservatives group which said “Sadiq Khan is planning to charge you to drive to the shops” and claimed that this “could cost you as much as £519 extra a year”.
The tweet featured a graphic with a picture of the Mayor next to a mocked-up ‘driving bill’ which carried the price tag ‘£519 every year’. The background to the graphic was a picture of a supermarket in which, rather hilariously, the prices on display are in Rand. Your driving bills certainly would increase sharply if your shopping trips involved going to South Africa and back. Lol
Gareth Bacon, the GLA Conservatives group leader tweeted his personal view that “what Khan thinks are ‘needless trips’ will be your big family shop, visiting the doctor, and getting to work.” He seems unaware that supermarkets can deliver direct to your front door; while the record suggests he’s entirely unwilling to promote the more environmentally-friendly modes of transport by which people might get to the doctor’s or to work instead of using the car.
Part of his record is ‘Highway robbery: the case against road pricing in London’ which he issued, unbidden, in June this year. It’s here we find that he plucked the £519 figure from a report by “top London economists CEBR” (as they modestly describe themselves) that posits a road user charging scenario that may bear no relation whatsoever to any that the Mayor may consider in due course. But – hey! – it’s a decent-sized number, so why wouldn’t Gareth want to mislead people with it?
Bacon’s ‘case’ also states that “our political opponents have pushed for ‘modal hierarchy’, in which walking and cycling are prioritised over public transport and public transport is prioritised over driving”, whereas “the GLA Conservatives have supported enabling the freedom of people to travel in the way that best suits them”. Putting aside the fact that, by this definition, his ‘political opponents’ include numerous Conservative-run local authorities, nowhere does he offer any ideas at all for changing the transport status quo, or demonstrate even the feeblest grasp of why it would be very good for London and Londoners if walking, cycling and public transport suited them better.
I wonder how many ‘Keep Calm and Let the People Die and the Planet Burn’ mugs he’s sold.
Bacon would also appear to have been sleeping on his job for quite a while. His tweet stated that “the Mayor has finally admitted today that he supports road pricing in London”, yet this is something that Khan wrote plainly in his Mayor’s Transport Strategy, published in March last year. This contains no fewer than three specific proposals to pursue road user charging and adds that “measures such as road user charging (where appropriate)… are essential to delivering an efficient and fair funding system”.
I realise, of course, that neither the GLA Conservatives nor their current leader, nor indeed any folk with a defined party affiliation, may actually believe what they say on occasions like this. Because, y’know, politics. But winning an election on a freedom-to-drive ticket could prove to be the ultimate pyrrhic victory.
To quote Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) working group: “The next few years are probably the most important in our history”.
The Nero Complex is defined as taking the position of ignoring something that should require your immediate attention. Rome, London, [insert where you live here] may be about to burn, and we need to call out those who seem content to fiddle.
John Dales, Director
I was browsing my Twitter timeline the other day, and came across something that I found properly objectionable. It was a statement from a solicitor who specialises in motoring law, and whose Twitter identity emphasises his focus on defending those accused of driving offences. The utterance that caught my eye was this:
“Unhappy client this morning converted to a happy one as he left court with 19 points and still has a driving licence.”
In case you don’t know, you’re liable for a minimum six-month driving ban if you amass 12 or more penalty points (endorsements on your licence) within 3 years. How you might accrue points varies. For example, if caught, exceeding the speed limit will give you 3-6 points, depending on how much over the limit you went; using a mobile phone is also punishable by 3-6 points; driving or attempting to drive with alcohol level above the limit has a 3-11 points tariff; and using a vehicle with defective brakes is worth 3 points. You can explore the huge range of offences and penalties here, if you’re so inclined.
I do, of course, know nothing about the particulars of the case; and I’m not actually taking issue with the solicitor in question (other than about his boasting). As he said later:
“I don’t make the law or the decisions. Laws allow people to argue they shouldn’t be banned. If you don’t like it then tell your MP.”
It is these laws, as they relate to driving, and their application in our courts that I am taking issue with.
Drilling down a little, I found that the solicitor explained that the reason his client didn’t get a driving ban, despite the 19 points, was because the court accepted his plea that a ban would cause “exceptional hardship”. Looking elsewhere, I find that the law doesn’t seem to define what “exceptional hardship” means in any hard and fast way. Issues that might qualify include the loss of employment leading to the loss of accommodation, loss of the ability to travel to work, and the knock-on impact on third parties (e.g. due to a business having to close). Should you wish, you can read an enlightening case study on this topic here. Coincidentally, this case also involves a driver with 19 points on his licence.
Reflecting on this, I think it’s reasonable to accept that a driving ban that might cause “exceptional hardship” should not be imposed lightly. However, I also think that the burden of responsibility for not being disqualified from driving lies – plainly – with the driver. If the driver believes their ability to drive is essential for the avoidance of “exceptional hardship”, then they should drive within the law. A single breach of the law is understandable, if not acceptable, but if a driver has accrued 19 points within three years, they have missed several reminders of the precariousness of their position and it is highly questionable whether they deserve what one might describe as the court’s mercy.
Interestingly, the solicitor I started with later commented, “Got to admit I agree with this” when someone else proposed:
“There should be no hardship (excuse). I’ve never had a single point or even a parking ticket. I drive for the job, and personally. A driving licence is essential to my current role, so I don’t do anything to risk having it taken off me. If you’re on 9 points then obey the law. Easy.”
That said, the person or people likely to experience “extreme hardship” may not necessarily be the driver themselves, and this does indeed introduce other considerations.
One set of considerations I’d like to draw attention to are the facts that, on average, five people are killed, 75 are seriously injured, and 400 are slightly injured UK roads – every single day! For ‘slightly injured’ you can read ‘needing proper medical attention’; for ‘seriously injured’ you can read ‘a few inches the other way and it would have been curtains'; and for ‘killed’ you can read ‘made dead’.
You would not wish a ‘slight’ injury on anyone you care for, including yourself; and it’s entirely reasonable to state that hundreds of people daily begin experiencing “exceptional hardship” because of injuries they personally sustain on our highways. The length of this experience will be considerable in many cases. And hundreds (possibly thousands) more – those who are dependent on people who are killed or seriously injured – also begin experiencing “exceptional hardship” every day.
UK data from 2017 show that 44% of people killed on our roads were in cars, 26% were walking, 19% were motor-cycling, and 6% were cycling. Putting causal factors (and blame) to one side, those killed while walking were almost all hit by something bigger/heavier/faster. The same is likely to apply to most of those killed while cycling. When you then look at fatality rates (deaths per distance travelled) this shows that people walking are around nine times more likely to be killed while travelling than those in motor vehicles with four or more wheels; and people cycling around eight times more likely. (People motorcycling are around 30 times more likely to die per mile travelled than people in vehicles with four wheels or more.)
A study of five years of UK collision data published by the Institute of Advanced Motoring in 2011 found driver/rider error to be the main contributory factor in crashes; it being cited in 67.5% of all collisions in which someone was injured (65% in fatal crashes and 62% in the case of serious injuries).
In other words, huge numbers of people begin to experience “exceptional hardship” every day as a result of bad driving. Even if we put aside the fact that most of these people (including all of the dependents) will be entirely innocent victims, shouldn’t we, as a society, be seeking to do all we can to reduce the likelihood of people experiencing “exceptional hardship” because of traffic violence?
As they stand, however, our laws and their application seem somehow to be in sympathy with the saying often attributed to Stalin that “a single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic”.
The MP Ken Clarke is someone I generally have a lot of time for, but he seemed to reveal the same blindness to what we might call ‘the greater harm’ when, as Justice Minister in 2010, he said the following:
“In the case of ordinary dangerous driving without any serious consequences, although I deplore all dangerous driving, we cannot start imposing heavy prison sentences on everybody who might otherwise be a blameless citizen and then behaves in an absolutely reprehensible way when driving his car.”
(If you want to explore the context, have a look at Column 180 in the December 7th 2010 episode of Hansard.)
In my view, this is very dangerous talk because it sends out the message that, so long as there don’t happen to be any serious consequences from a specific case of ‘absolutely reprehensible’ driving, the law should be lenient. But what about the next incident; or the next? 19-point drivers are essentially serial offenders and in many ways they’re ‘collisions waiting to happen’. Misguided leniency in the case of less serious incidents also completely ignores the fact that many slight injuries are a margin away from being serious, and many serious injuries are a whisker away from being fatalities.
At least Mr Clarke did then say he was open to exploring changes in the sentencing regime relating to driving. But it wasn’t until May 2014 that the Ministry of Justice announced a ”full review of all driving offences and penalties, to ensure people who endanger lives and public safety are properly punished”. It then took another two and a half years (December 2016) before the MoJ finally published consultation on a decidedly partial review of ‘Driving offences and penalties relating to causing death or serious injury’.
The report of that consultation, published in October 2017, said that “the responses to the consultation demonstrate considerable support for the Government’s proposals to create a new offence of causing serious injury by careless driving and to increase the maximum penalties for the offences of causing death by dangerous driving and causing death by careless driving under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years’ imprisonment to life”. But we’re still waiting for any action.
Just as worrying, to me at least, is the following extract from the consultation report, concerning the proposal to increase the minimum period of disqualification for drivers convicted of any causing death by driving offence:
“A number of respondents made the point that disqualification periods were more important as a deterrent in response to less serious driving offences, before a driver went on to commit more serious offences that could lead to death or serious injury.”
Very unhelpfully, this seems to confuse the matters of ‘serious offences’ and ‘serious consequences’. When you’re in charge of a motor vehicle travelling at speed, a relatively minor offence (e.g. travelling a few miles and hour over the limit) can have major consequences (e.g. death rather than injury).
This point is somewhat moot, of course. Because, almost nine years after Ken Clarke said it was worth “having a look” at sentencing changes, and more than five after his successor as Justice Minister (Chris Grayling – heaven help us all) promised a “full review of all driving offences and penalties”, nothing at all has happened.
The longer the law and successive Governments tolerate bad driving, the longer judges and especially members of juries will do likewise. It is an unavoidable conclusion, from numerous relevant court cases, that many members of many juries easily imagine themselves behind the same wheel as the defendant. “I don’t always keep to the speed limit either. I’ve also had problems when the sun angle is low. We’ve all had our sorry-mate-I-didn’t-see-you moments. And who hasn’t had people walking or cycling out in front of them without warning?” This remarkable Twitter thread (by Jon Ormondroyd, I think) is both an extraordinary piece of research and, by turns, a dispiriting and heart-breaking indictment of our current traffic laws, sentencing rules, and related court decisions. Read ‘em and weep.
Historical sources indicate that it was Spiderman’s uncle who said, “With great power comes great responsibility”. As things stand, however, the legal system does not assign great enough responsibility to drivers who, behind the wheel of vehicles weighing upwards of a tonne, clearly have – as the record shows – great power to kill and maim (even if none of them intend to do so).
Since a comprehensive review of traffic laws and sentencing guidelines was promised, in May 2014, nothing has changed. In the same period, around 10,000 people have been killed on the UK’s roads.
Five people dead every day. Seventy-five more seriously injured. Every day. If we’re really worried about cases of “exceptional hardship” in the context of bad driving – and we should be – then this is where we should start.
* * * *
We can all add our voice to the call for urgent reform of the law on traffic offences. One way is to follow the advice of the solicitor I began with and ‘tell your MP’. And you can also support the campaigning work of organisations like Road Peace and Brake; with the latter’s Roads to Justice Campaign specifically calling for the closure of ‘the “exceptional hardship” loophole’. It’s more than high time for change – and you can help make the difference.
This House of Commons Briefing Paper on Serious Driving Offences, published in December 2016, provides useful background up to the launch of the Government’s consultation on a limited review of driving offences and penalties.