Earlier this week Brighton’s local rag, the Argus, was working itself into one of its usual small lathers of indignation over the fact that many of the road signs related to the forthcoming introduction of the 20mph speed limit across much of the city were already in place – despite the fact that the new limit does not come into effect until April.
Leaving aside the fact that doing things in good time for deadlines is what efficient councils do – imagine the furore from the same imagination-challenged journalists if the signs were not in place come the big day – the reaction is interesting and typical. In fact, I was out in Hove yesterday afternoon and saw the effect at first hand.
Yes, motorists were seeing the signs and actually slowing down. Pedestrians and cyclists were getting the benefit of the changes weeks before they were due to become mandatory. And there was no mass panic, no chaos, no distress. People were getting on with their lives, traffic continued to move, and the benefit was already noticeable. In a small way, the balance was already shifting from motorist to vulnerable road users, and the quality of life for all in our city just improved that little bit. Is there any real evidence that those motorists who are now driving at 20mph rather than 30mph on our city’s streets are suffering any real disadvantage in doing so? Given the levels of congestion and the number of junctions in our city, are their journeys really getting disastrously longer? And after all there is no resident driving in Brighton and Hove who is not also a pedestrian too. And even the motoring lobby – consumed as ever with paranoia in the face of what are often desultory efforts to get them to obey the law – have to admit that nobody’s going to be the subject of premature enforcement action.
The Argus has a long tradition of backing the car lobby – some cynics have pointed to the vast quantity of advertising it carries for local car dealers – and, to their shame, some local politicians who ought to know better have jumped on the bandwagon. Moreover, the Argus’ hyperbole, its ability to find crisis, shock and fury in mundane events, is legendary. But for this pedestrian and cyclist, the arrival of those signs mean that all of us – including motorists – are getting the benefits of the new 20mph limit early. And how can that be a bad thing?