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Socially Unacceptable Speeding (March 2002)

Bus and Cycle Lanes on the A6 (June 2001)

Poll Taxes on Wheels (January 2000)

On 6 March 2002, Richard Lyon ( ) wrote:

Re: Socially Unacceptable Speeding

Thanks Peter for a thoughtful site. While I disagree with your premise, I admire the clarity of your method and particularly the generosity with which you include "the other voice".

I used to speed. Now I don't, and find the essay in which you assert that speeding is unlikely to become as socially unacceptable as drunk driving particularly weak.

I don't believe there are many *bad* people around. On the other hand I believe there are a great many uninformed people around, and that this lack of information gives rise both to an insufficient perception of the risk they present to others, and to an unwarranted confidence in their own abilities to manage that risk (I say this as an ex-military pilot who has had an unusual opportunity to explore and be disappointed by his own limitations at speed).

The vast majority of speeders are simply unaware that people just like them brought death and serious injury on UK roads to 21,200 people last year, and incalculable misery to 10 times more parents, relatives and friends. They just don't know that a car travelling at 35mph takes an extra 21 feet to stop than one travelling at 30mph, and in that extra 21 feet the majority of child road deaths occur.

I didn't know, and I speeded. I now do know, and now not only do I avoid speeding, I find it socially unacceptable. The information is not complicated, and it is spreading, thanks to horribly effective advertising from e.g. Think! campaigns, and to a lesser extent the existance of the anti-driving sites to which you so generously link.

So I read your site and I don't think "bad person!". But I do think "I hope my son got back from school OK today" - and if that fear isn't the wellspring of society's move toward the socially unacceptability of speeding, what is?

Best wishes and SLOW DOWN,


* * * * *

Thanks for your comments on the website, and I appreciate the recognition from someone who doesn't agree with many of its arguments that a good deal of thought has been devoted to it.

If you claim not to "speed" you need to think carefully whether that is primarily for reasons of safety or legality. Clearly it is often not safe to drive at or close to a speed limit, but by the same token the mere act of exceeding a speed limit is not inherently unsafe. It is, however, always illegal - but are you so scrupulous about legality in every other aspect of your life? And do you have complete confidence in the wisdom and fairness of legislators, particularly when they freely admit that speed limits are often set for reasons other than safety?

You should also bear in mind that, as excess speed above the speed limit is the primary cause of only about 5% of serious road accidents, you can still be an extremely poor, inconsiderate, unobservant driver who frequently drives at unsafe speeds, while at the same time keeping within all limits. The 5% slowest drivers have the second worst accident rate after the 5% quickest.

As someone who has passed an advanced driving test I know all about adhering to speed limits - and indeed I know some people within the IAM who endeavour to adhere to all limits, yet at the same time believe that many limits are unreasonably low and overzealously enforced.

As long as speed is celebrated in non-road situations, then it will never be unequivocally condemned on the roads.

I see no evidence of an increase in strict adherence to speed limits on the roads. I drive a lot in urban areas around Manchester, and it is sufficiently rare as to be noteworthy to encounter another driver who is adhering to all limits, and yet at the same time displaying skill through good observation, anticipation and positioning.

Many people see "speeding" as something done by boy racers and businessmen in BMWs, not by them. They rationalise "speeding" to themselves as something that isn't quite the same as "exceeding a speed limit by any amount". It's remarkable how often local residents campaign for speed cameras, mobile speed traps and lower speed limits, and then end up being the people caught out.

If you wish to discuss any of these points further can I suggest you consider joining the "Transport Debate" e-mail group - which has contributors on "both sides of the fence" - at:

Drive safely!


PS - forgot to ask: are you a liar or a menace? ;-)

Peter Edwardson: 10 March 2002

Further discussion of the issues raised here can be found on Richard Lyon's website

On 4 June 2001, (whoever s/he might be) wrote:

Re plans for bus and cycle lanes on the A6:

Of course the road is only briefly congested in the morning and evening. That (trying to avoid sounding patronising) is called a *rush hour*. It is when everyone is trying to get to work. Since the road *is* congested at rush hour, that suggests there is a problem of too many vehicles for the available road space. You could try widening the road, but that is rather difficult unless you propose knocking down all the buildings lining the road through Stockport. Failing that, the other strategy is to get the people using that road into fewer vehicles, in other words getting them onto buses. Naturally buses are slower than cars when they are not given priority, because they stop to let people on and off, and people won't readily choose a slower mode of transport, so you have to speed them up. That's why bus lanes exist - to free them from the traffic jam caused by all the solitary car drivers.

To complain that bus lanes shouldn't be introduced because they would be underused is equivalent to saying that there's no point improve a crap service because no-one uses it. Surely that is the impetus for improving it, to get people to use it?

Cycle lane on the A6: personally it could be a life-saver. Unless you can recommend a way of getting from Fallowfield to Stockport station in the mornings without negotiating a three-lane roundabout at a junction with the M60 or trying to work out how to cross two lanes of traffic while going uphill so I can turn right into Station Road? It sometimes seems that obeying the Highway Code and achieving the above are mutually exclusive - though of course, given the fact that both you and the ABD have a fairly cavalier attitude to the Highway Code, you won't mind me breaking it as well.

Anyway, if you're complaining about a few bus lanes, then you'd have an instant heart attack if you were relocated to Amsterdam. All those nasty trams taking up your road space! Funny that over there bicycles and public transport generally has priority over cars, and yet there isn't this school of thought that one sees in the UK: that nothing should get in the way of unrestricted car use, even when breaking the law. You've got it too easy, mate.

PS: This is not "Marxist sociological claptrap" [Peter Edwardson, urbancyclist mailing list, 3/6/2001], by the way; I've read the Communist Manifesto and can't say I agree wholeheartedly with it.


* * * * *

Thanks for your comments - although I always think they come across with more weight if not made anonymously.

The reference to "Marxist sociological claptrap" was not a description of the views of any contributor to urbancyclist but referred to the article by André Gorz entitled The Social Ideology of the Motorcar

A bus lane will only increase the effective capacity of a road if it leads to a significant shift in use from cars to buses. As I explained in the article on the website, I don't believe this will be the case on the A6 as most drivers will not be travelling from locations near the bus route into Central Manchester, and many will not be travelling to destinations on the route either. The vast majority of commuters into the city centre will already be using public transport anyway.

For five years from 1987 to 1992 I commuted by car from Heaton Norris to Blackley and then Chadderton, locations on the other side of Manchester which could only be reached by bus with some difficulty (and by changing bus, possibly with a lengthy walk, in the city centre). I don't think bus lanes would have made me change my mode of travel. One effect they will probably have is to send more traffic along parallel routes like Errwood Road and Broom Lane, which might not be to the liking of residents there.

I would suggest the best way to increase total capacity on the A6 corridor would be to make more use of the railway line, by increasing the service frequency at least to every 10 minutes and reopening closed stations at Heaton Norris, Longsight and Ardwick.

Neither I nor the ABD has "a cavalier attitude" towards the Highway Code. The vast majority of the advice in the Highway Code is entirely sensible and is in any case a summary of road traffic law. As you might expect I am not an uncritical supporter of Rule 103 but I take the attitude "well, they have to say that, don't they." The website is not intended as an encouragement to drivers to break speed limits (or any other traffic law) but I recognise that most drivers do so on occasion without any adverse consequences. It is always illegal to exceed a speed limit, but not always inherently dangerous, just as it is in many circumstances not safe or responsible to travel at a speed within the speed limit (as Rule 104 points out). If Rule 104 was reworded to say "the speed limit is the absolute LEGAL maximum then I would have no problem with that either."

Unfortunately I see too many cyclists who display a somewhat cavalier attitude towards Rules 45-66.

You may be interested in the piece about proposed changes to the Highway Code on the ABD website.

I'm not specifically complaining about cycle lanes unless they reduce the road capacity available to motor vehicles which I don't think they will do in the A6 scheme, the problem being the bus lanes. However, I know that some cycling campaigners, including, I think, Jeremy Parker, oppose the provision of cycle lanes as they have the effect of putting cyclists into a "ghetto" and absolving drivers of the responsibility to take care when near cyclists.

I doubt whether I would have apoplexy if I went to Amsterdam as the Dutch have invested a lot more money than the UK in providing an effective public transport system - I don't claim that cars are the solution to all transport problems. The Dutch also have many more miles of motorway per head of population than the UK, despite being a densely-populated country, and they paint their speed cameras in bright colours to make them clearly visible!

Peter Edwardson: 10 March 2002

On 24 January 2000, Pete Black from Warrington wrote:

I was interested in your comments on plans for Workplace Parking and Road User Charging. While I can see Road User Charging is technically difficult and culturally alien, I think you underestimate the potential of Workplace Parking Charging. It would be simple, easy to understand, and is already part of our culture - everyone is familiar with parking charges.

Your objections are trivial and easily answered by looking at the DETR website (

  • The basis of charge is extremely simple to assess. A firm would obtain a license to park up to a stated limit of employees, suppliers and business customers. The resultant income would provide transport for many groups including shift workers, the disabled, women who have to travel home alone late at night, etc.
  • If employers bore the cost it would not effectively be a headcount tax, it would be a great way of encouraging employers to help their staff to travel by alternative means, as many better employers already do
  • If passed on to employees, the charge would be very low compared to the costs of running a car, and a good incentive to find other ways of getting to work.
  • Every employer would be in the same boat, so it couldn't possibly function as a barrier to recruitment.
  • The licenses would include parking on-street near workplaces, so there would be no reason for roads to be clogged up or local residents irritated.
  • Areas where it applied would have much better public transport, less pollution and less road danger to balance against the small disincentive to drive. In any case, charges are likely to be applied across a large area.

For goodness sake abandon your prejudices. Doing nothing is not an option unless we want to look like America, with over half our urban area (higher in some US cities) devoted to roads and car parks

* * * * *

Thank you for your constructive comments. To take your points one by one:

  • I am well aware that the tax is planned to operate by employers applying for a licence to provide a certain number of parking spaces. However, there would be a lot of scope for disputes where the number of physical parking spaces exceeded the number in the licence. British Aerospace at Woodford, for example, could easily accommodate twenty thousand cars around their airfield, but only have around fifteen hundred actual employees. Enforcement would lead to the creation of a whole new breed of council snoopers.
  • A fundamental problem with this scheme is that it does not discriminate between those who have a public transport alternative, and those who don't. The point about shift workers, the disabled, women who have to travel home alone late at night etc. is that they are in a position where they are either unable or unwilling to use public transport. If a woman travels by car for reasons of safety, and she is expected to pay for the privilege of parking at her workplace, you are effectively taxing safety.
  • An area of particular interest to me is pubs, which will be required to pay the charge to allow their bar staff to park, even if they have huge car parks. Bar staff rarely finish their shifts until 11.30 pm, by which time most public transport has stopped running, even if the individuals concerned felt safe using it in the first place.
  • Among the idiocies that it has been suggested this scheme will involve are that if you work from home, you will be expected to pay to park your own car in your own drive, and if you work as a childminder, you will have to pay if you allow parents to use your drive to drop off and collect their offspring. Clearly it would lead to a whole variety of "hard cases" which would provide local newspapers with a rich vein of stories.
  • In many cases it would effectively be a headcount tax where all or a large majority of employees commuted by car. Outside London, 80% of journeys to work are made by car and public transport is never going to be a realistic alternative for the majority of them.
  • If passed on to employees, the charge might be low, but it would be over and above the existing costs of car ownership.
  • Every employer would not be in the same boat. Since the scheme would be administered by individual local authorities, some would take it up while others wouldn't, thus creating an incentive to development in areas where it didn't apply. Many employers when looking to build a new factory or office complex would start off by eliminating from their list of potential sites any where the local authority taxed workplace parking.
  • It could function as a barrier to recruitment in two ways. Firstly, if you have to confine your recruitment to people who can travel to your workplace by public transport, you greatly reduce the pool you are choosing from. Secondly, a potential employee may decline to take on a job if he is expected to pay the parking levy himself.
  • It is impossible to see how the licence could apply to on-street parking near workplaces. How can an employer be expected to know that his employees are parking on nearby streets? Inevitably there would be some employers who would simply close their car parks and tell their employees to make alternative arrangments.
  • Public transport is only more energy-efficient than private cars when operating at high levels of capacity. To provide a sufficiently good public transport network to cater for shift workers and to serve every remote edge-of-town industrial estate, it would require buses that were running near-empty for much of the time, on the offchance that someone might need them, which would consume more energy and resources than private cars which, by definition, only use energy when it is actually required.
"Doing nothing is not an option" is a phrase often used by people arguing in favour of doing something unpalatable. I don't pretend to have all the answers to our transport problems, but I feel we need to be investing much more both in improved public transport and in new, better, safer roads. Motorists are already taxed to the hilt through fuel duty, and five-sixths of the revenue is not reinvested in transport of any kind. If more money is needed, it should come from that pot rather than from new, unpopular and problematic taxes such as one on workplace parking.

Surely what has to be recognised is that each form of transport has its good and bad points and a truly integrated transport policy will accept that there are many journeys where the private motor car is the most appropriate mode. Public transport clearly is well suited to moving large numbers of people into and out of the centres of cities, but it is not well suited to providing a wide variety of individual journeys to and from dispersed locations. For many people, the typical commuting journey is from an estate on the outskirts of one town, to a business park on the outskirts of another town, the type of journey to which cars are well suited and public transport is never going to provide an acceptable alternative.

While a lot of the US may resemble a giant car park, they do have a considerably higher standard of living than we do!

Peter Edwardson: 25 January 2000

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