In this household our local freesheet, the Brighton and Hove Leader, normally makes a rapid and uninterrupted progress from doormat to recycling bin, featuring as it does a small collection of the previous week’s news stories wrapped around pages of adverts for car dealers. But this week a front-page story in the 14 March edition caught my eye, containing as it did a comment from a Brighton and Hove Tory Councillor that made my jaw drop. It’s reproduced below:
It was Tory Cllr Dawn Barnett’s comment that astonished me. To repeat, with my emphasis: ” … with all the 20mph and cycle lane spending they should find some money for the safety of the children.”
So just exactly does Cllr Barnett think the 20mph speed limit being rolled out across the city is for? A way of keeping council officers harmlessly occupied? A cunning plan to really annoy motorists? Cllr Barnett has a history of making comments that with hindsight might have been better considered – witness her advice that those living near a traveller encampment should refrain from paying their council tax in clear breach of the law. But surely even if it is not intuitively obvious that reducing traffic speeds improves conditions for vulnerable road users like children, there is peer-reviewed evidence showing the hugely beneficial effects of 20mph zones. It’s just possible that Cllr Barnett has read the tabloid misreporting that accidents are increasing in 20mph zones – which is caused by the increased number of zones, not by increasing accident rates. But even so, it’s a pretty breathtaking statement and some would say a fairly typical example of how Brighton Tories’ pronouncements on traffic and transport appear to be motivated by passion rather than intellect.
I have no quarrel with the people of Hangleton who are calling for a better crossing of the notoriously busy Hangleton Link Road for their children – their campaign is a powerful example of how traffic speeds are a safety issue as well as one of community severance – that unquantifiable but hugely important effect of busy roads. But it’s worth remembering that Brighton and Hove’s Green administration has, in times of unprecedented cuts, made huge steps in shifting the balance away from cars towards vulnerable road users like pedestrians and cyclists; and that Brighton and Hove’s Tories campaigned at the last council elections on a hugely expensive policy of removing Hove’s extensive and well-used cycle lanes. If the children of Hangleton get their footbridge, it will be all of a piece with the wide range of traffic policies being enacted throughout our city.