Tuesday, 6 November 2007

The demise of the hard shoulder

Incredible as it seems, a genius from New Labour has come up with a brilliant way to get more cars on the motorway, use the hard shoulder as another lane. Clearly someone thinks that for 40 odd years traffic experts have all been doing it wrong. How emergency vehicles will get past jammed traffic to get to the front hasn’t been stated.

Predictably some newspaper headlines are saying that this ‘could cost lives’, see www.guardian.co.uk/transport/Story/0,,1862284,00.html
The national road safety charity Brake said today that rather than being money-saving, the scheme could be life-threatening.

"Measures taken to ease congestion should not put safety at risk," the Brake director, Mary Williams, said. "The hard shoulder serves a vital purpose on a motorway to enable emergency services to quickly reach road crashes and respond as soon as possible to those injured or possibly dying. This scheme could be a potentially life-threatening alternative."

Kevin Clinton, head of road safety at the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), said: "Using the hard shoulder as a running lane may make it more difficult for drivers to find somewhere safe to stop if they break down, as the emergency refuges are only spaced at intervals along the motorway. Emergency service and breakdown vehicles may also find it more difficult to reach breakdowns and accidents, which would delay accident victims receiving help and delay the motorway being cleared."

Douglas Campbell, the chairman of Mobilise, formerly known as the Disabled Drivers Motors Club, said he was concerned the plan would lead people to think it was acceptable to drive on the hard shoulder at any time. Disabled drivers, along with many others, find it difficult to safely get out of their cars when they break down at the moment, it will be far worse in the future.

The scheme will operate along the M42 between junction 3A and 7 around south-east Birmingham. Under the plan, overhead signs will direct drivers to use the hard shoulder when the road is congested and the speed limit in all lanes will be reduced to 50mph. In the pilot scheme they had refuges built at 500 m intervals. Perhaps for there next trick they will sell advertising and parking tickets at these places. If they want to reduce congestion, increase public transport, its quite simple.

While they are looking for new ideas, I have some for them to consider. In France they have cut out silhouettes, apparently they mark a roadside fatality. It certainly makes you think about safety when you see those figures beside the road.

Another idea is to allow some competition with those rip off motorway service stations. I was in one this morning, looking for a bacon sandwich, even a cold one was a fiver. Why don’t they signpost at junctions how far it is to the nearest petrol station/pub/supermarket. In other countries they even offer some tourist information, to persuade people to stop and visit.

Friends of the Earth commented that although it is preferable to full widening (which is much more expensive and requires more land), hard shoulder running was motorway widening by stealth as it still meant more road capacity.

I suppose transport is a safer job for Ruth Kelly than education, where her extreme views on tended to get in the way of policy announcements. She also seems keep not to mention road pricing, which might make voters nervous but would reduce traffic.

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