How local democracy works

I presented a petition of 781 signatures at a Brighton & Hove Council committee meeting this week. I was asking the council to carry out a public review of a road junction near my home where there have been 5 serious injury accidents in the last five years, most recently, the horrific crash that happened there this July.

If you like that sort of thing, you can see the webcast of the meeting on the council’s website – the link should go to the relevant bit of the meeting. But in any case, here’s the speech I made:

I won’t read out the wording of the petition – you have it in front of you – but I’d like to give you some more information about the people who’ve signed it and why.

Hundreds of the signatures were collected at local businesses, notably the chemist right on the junction. These are people who use the crossings regularly and know very well what the problems are.

I also spent time talking to passers by outside the doctor’s surgery and online, and I heard many interesting comments from people who took the time to sign.

  • People who regularly cycle through the junction told me they take their lives in their hands every time. One man told me he has stopped cycling altogether because of this junction.
  • People who have to cross with buggies told me it’s really slow and tricky to manoeuvre on the traffic island surrounded by fences.
  • Friends who use wheelchairs told me they simply avoid that junction as much as possible
  • People pointed out the terrible drainage, which causes massive puddles that soak people on the pavement when large vehicles go through them
  • Drivers said it is scary to find cyclists on the left hand side of the stream of traffic, when you want to turn left – this is, of course, exactly where the current road design directs people to cycle
  • But the comment which stuck most in my mind was from a cyclist who didn’t see the need for a redesign. He said “That junction is perfectly safe if you keep your wits about you. You just have to ride as though everyone is trying to kill you.”

Is this really the message we want our streets to give people if they choose to cycle? Everyone is trying to kill you?

The message that everyone is trying to kill you outweighs some croissants from the Mayor on Cycle to Work day.

The message that everyone is trying to kill you will take the shine off our invitation to visitors to hire a bike from our lovely new bike sharing scheme.

The message that everyone is trying to kill you is a louder one than the finding from last year’s Joint Strategic Needs Assessment that increased physical activity could prevent 98 deaths per year in our city.

If our roads give the message that everyone is trying to kill you, then we are undermining the objective of the Local Transport Plan, to “Enable people to feel more safe and secure when travelling in the city, especially when using sustainable forms of transport”.

I know that you already understand this stuff. That’s why you agreed last year to support the Space for Cycling campaign.

Here’s an opportunity to turn that expression of support into practical action. Please make a decision today to listen to the views of local residents and to involve them in a proper rethink of this notorious junction.

Thank you.

If you’ve watched the video, you’ll have seen the response of the committee chair. It was sympathetic, but ultimately disappointing. She said:

Thank you for your petition.

An upgrade of the Elm Grove/Lewes Road junction is currently on the Local Transport Plan Programme that was agreed last Autumn and is due for completion in 2016/17.

The project is in its early stages but it is anticipated that the project will include an upgrade of the traffic signals to improve the efficiency of the junction as well as the introduction of cycle advance signals. As part of the process we will also conduct a safety review to ensure that safety is maximised for all users.

Due to timescale and budget constraints it will not be possible to conduct a full, wide-ranging public engagement on multiple options however we will liaise with all of the important stakeholders and immediate frontagers such as the ones you have suggested as appropriate. And if anyone would like to put forward suggestions then they are very welcome to do so by emailing Travel.Planning@brighton-hove.gov.uk.

I am disappointed in this response, for three main reasons:

  1. I don’t agree that improving the efficiency of the junction is the priority here. I think it’s more important to make the road safer for people on bikes and on foot. In the long run, making roads feel safer for people travelling by bike is the best way to improve the efficiency of the road system. But the changes necessary to do that can’t be made if they have to happen without altering the existing capacity of junctions and roads to accommodate motor traffic.
  2. My petition specifically mentioned a simultaneous green light phase for cyclists as one of a range of options I wanted the council to consider. But it seems that, even though the review is at an early stage, the council has already decided that they will install cycle advance signals. I think this will have a minimal impact on the problems there, and I think they could achieve much more for the same cost if they were open to more imaginative options.
  3. I am fearful that without a thorough and open-minded review, all we will get is an update of the existing traffic lights, and there will be no thought given to reconfiguring the layout of the road to protect pedestrians and bike riders from danger.

Nevertheless, suggestions are being specifically invited, so I emailed the Travel Planning team to ask about the timescale of this limited review, and how people who signed my petition can contribute. I received a response today from Stacey Amey, Principal Transport Planner, who is leading on the project. She said:

  • At the moment we are in the process of scoping out what is possible at the junction and what the cost implications will be. We therefore would welcome any comments or suggestions at this stage.
  • Key stakeholders will generally include local community groups and special interest groups, the Universities, frontages, emergency services, ward councillors and public transport providers however the level of engagement will depend on the nature of the project and the level of disruption anticipated at the construction phase.
  • Please be aware that the budget and timescales are very tight on this project
  • Any comments or suggestions should be sent to travel.planning@brighton-hove.gov.uk
  • It would be useful to receive feedback by 1st November

I intend to put together some suggestions and submit them to Stacey before 1st November. If you are familiar with the junction at the bottom of Elm Grove and have ideas for how it could be made safer, I would urge you to do the same.

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3 Comments on “How local democracy works”

  1. brightonbycycle says:

    Reblogged this on BrightonByCycle.

  2. ianchisnall says:

    Dani, thank you for all of your hard work on this, sadly it feels as though the system and processes are not well suited to allow for the best and most creative solutions. As a result of your actions the process is far more open than would otherwise be the case.

  3. […] I was collecting signatures for my petition about the road crash hotspot at the bottom of Elm Grove, a few people asked how redesigning the road could improve safety. How different could it really […]


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