There was a very useful and serious meeting tonight at the town hall as the Scrutiny Review for Road Safety in the borough heard evidence on how to improve safety on Camden’streets. The meeting has been prompted by an extremely concerning spate of road deaths in Camden and particular concern around the Kings Cross/York Way junction that recently claimed its second life this year.
The Culture and Environment Scrutiny Committee heard evidence from Camden Cycling Campaign’s Jean Dollimore, the ‘cycling champion’ councillor Paul Braithwaite and Tom Kearney, a resident of Hampstead who had first-hand experience of a serious traffic incident. The councillors present were clearly sincere and keen to address the problems the borough faces; let’s hope the other bodies they will need to work with can step up with the same vigour.
Jean Dollimore’s extremely useful presentation laid out some simple facts. Road speeds kill. Compare the 90% death rate of collisions at 40 mph with the 2.5% rate of those that take place at 20 mph – a direct argument for reducing the speed of traffic in Camden. Jean explicitly talked about rolling out far more 20 mph speed limits to protect cyclists, pedestrians and, yes, drivers.
It’s difficult not to get angry when you hear that Transport for London (TfL) has made commitments to improve the danger spots in Camden since 2004 and yet no action has been taken. Indeed the Kings Cross junction looks set to become more dangerous rather than less unless public pressure can prevent the dangerous proposed changes.
The specific junction at York Way/Gray’s Inn Road has a high average speed and heavy traffic use and yet not only is there no cycle lane the road lay out gives room only for two vehicles side by side and then forces them to merge mid junction – of course it’s dangerous! Simple measures, like forcing the merge well before the junction and the introduction of a cycle lane would cost almost nothing but would immediately make the junction safer for cyclists.
Councillor Linda Chung made an impassioned plea that “one of the problems is the police and how they work” with a very strong statement about how the Metropolitan Police is falling well short when it comes to investigating deaths and serious incidents on Camden’s roads.
Councillor Braithwaite made a number of very useful points in his presentation including the lack of safe pedestrian crossing along Euston Road (which can take an age to cross), the lack of action on the ten most dangerous junctions in London, the cycle super highway (or blue paint on the road to you and me) and also the fact that the Kings Cross area has had a new college, a concrete blocking plant and is building new housing in the area and yet there has been little to no action on road safety despite the fact that they are coming under more and more pressure.
Braithwaite declared he had real sympathy with those who called for TfL executive members to be charged with corporate manslaughter for the “carnage” on the roads.
Finally Tom Kearney made a very moving presentation on the very real personal cost of TfL’s road safety statistics. He powerfully stated that if TfL’s roads were a factory then the death rate would have had them shut down years ago.
He made particular reference to the way the school run for the private schools in the borough created a Grand Prix situation on the roads with parents driving their 4x4s like mad things to drop off the kids making the roads too unsafe for all the kids. He suggested a school run tax to be levied on private schools to force them to deal with the issue. It’s a nice idea – I wonder if it’s possible?
Certainly these parents don’t seem inclined towards walking buses or cycling with their kids to school making the roads more dangerous for everyone – we need new ways to encourage better behaviour. In his words they pay for their 4×4, they pay the school fees, well they can pay for danger they pose on the roads too.
Sadly one negative theme was the difficulties people were having working with the police and TfL. We need to find more leverage where staff can’t or won’t help us improve safety.
The committee meets again on December the 5th and it was very pleasing to see how seriously the councillors concerned took the issue. Let’s hope that we can collectively pressure TfL to help us make our communities safer.