Yet More Clamour Over a Minor Accident in Chislehurst

It has been reported that a pedestrian was hit by a bus at or near the war memorial junction in Chislehurst on the 8th April at 10.35 pm. This would appear to be an incident that will be classified as a “minor injury”. It has prompted renewed calls for a pedestrian phase at these lights which has been used as part of a political attack on the Bromley Council Conservative administration who recently rejected a petition on this subject.

It would be wrong to jump to conclusions over the cause of this incident until the full facts are known, but it’s worth pointing out that accidents late at night to pedestrians are often the results of alcohol consumption.

But let’s look at this issue rationally rather than emotionally.

Firstly is this location a particularly accident black spot? One can review that by looking at the Crashmap web site ( https://www.crashmap.co.uk/Search ) where you can easily see all the accidents in the area in the last few years. There are hundreds, and the nearby Chislehurst High Street is clearly an even worse problem area despite the fact that it has several pedestrian crossings which unfortunately many pedestrians ignore and choose to cross elsewhere. The same issue also arises at the War Memorial junction if you review details of the incidents at or nearby.

One of the key principles when deciding whether to spend money on road safety measures is to look at the cost/benefit ratio and where the most benefit can be obtained. There are limited funds available for road safety projects so the money needs to be spent where it can be most effectively deployed.

Looking at the past accident data is much better than relying on often ill-informed opinions on where the most danger lies. The number of minor accidents is a good pointer as large numbers indicate there is high risk of more serious injuries or fatalities (KSIs). KSIs have much higher values attached to them however you care to value them, but large numbers of minor accidents can point to where road safety budgets should be spent.

So people concerned with road safety should look at the statistical data on past accidents which they can easily do and you can obtain details of police reports on accidents (STATS19 reports) by using Freedom of Information Act requests. These provide a lot of information on the causes of accidents.

We don’t need to guess at the causes of accidents or where money should best be spent. You can estimate the benefit of introducing a pedestrian crossing for example, as against the cost; and compare it with the benefit of spending the money elsewhere. You can also calculate the possible disbenefit if traffic is delayed by a new crossing, or diverted onto minor roads.

That is what sensible councils like Bromley do. The unwise ones instead react to political clamour for simplistic solutions and as a result waste a lot of money on ineffectual solutions. You can see that in London boroughs such as Lewisham and Croydon where wide area 20 mph speed limits and speed humps everywhere have been installed at enormous cost and where the result has been a worse road safety improvement record than Bromley. Money has been wasted on ineffective solutions.

Bromley used to suffer from the busybody syndrome 20 years ago before I got involved in road safety issues. People who thought they knew best when they knew little about the science and failed to study the data.

We certainly do not want that scenario back again when money was wasted on effective schemes (such as the speed humps on Watts Lane/Manor Park Road).

Ignoring the advice of council officers is another failing of the busybodies. Good ones have both training and experience and should not be ignored unless there are very good reasons.

In summary, road safety decisions should not be made by amateurs, or uneducated grandstanding politicians, who have not looked at the statistical data or the causes of accidents and who are ignoring the wider implications of their decisions.

Roger Lawson

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Petition re Road Safety in Chislehurst

In the London Borough of Bromley a new political party called “Chislehurst Matters” has been formed to fight the council elections in May. A few local activists seem dissatisfied with the efforts of their current Conservative councillors. Specifically they have concerns about actions on road safety and particularly the lack of a pedestrian phase at the Chislehurst War Memorial junction.

Tonight (28/2/2022) the council is considering a petition signed by more than 4,000 people and submitted by a group called “Safe Crossings for Chislehurst”. Who are they? Unlike the leaders of Chislehurst Matters they seem to prefer to remain anonymous although Chris Wells was promoting a previous petition on the same subject.

You can read the latest petition here: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/documents/s50096598/Petitions.pdf and the council’s response which I consider eminently reasonable.  Councillor Huntington-Thresher has previously said this on this issue: ““Road Safety remains an ever present high priority, with this particular junction being carefully considered for a controlled crossing point over the years. The reality is that the installation of a pedestrian phase without a redesign of the junction would undoubtedly increase congestion, not just at the junction itself but also in the surrounding local roads, actually and ironically, causing an even bigger road safety issue”.

My recent comments to Chislehurst Matters were:

To Alison Stammers, et al

I welcome the formation of Chislehurst Matters to fight the forthcoming council elections as it’s always good to have more choices in whom one can vote for. But I have some concerns about some of the content of the platform you are adopting.

For example you highlight road safety and particularly the controversial issue of the War Memorial junction crossing.

You don’t seem to be aware that Bromley has an exemplary record on improving road safety and in general has been following rational policies since the Conservatives took over control of the Council many years ago. I recall what it was like before then and it was certainly greatly improved partly by not wasting money on political dogma but actually looking at the available evidence. I have been involved in road safety issues in many London boroughs, particularly Croydon and Lewisham for example, where the result of their policies has been a worse road safety record than Bromley.

I recently wrote this blog article on this subject which gives more information: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2021/12/13/bromley-road-safety-record-beats-most-others/  

As regards the War Memorial junction, my views on this issue were spelled out in another blog post in 2019 here: https://freedomfordrivers.blog/2019/10/08/is-a-pelican-crossing-justified-at-the-war-memorial-junction-in-chislehurst/ . My views have not changed since, and there is no simple solution.

This is a complex issue but I don’t think Chislehurst councillors or Council staff have been thwarting safety improvements. If anyone is to blame it is the attitude of the Common Trustees who have blocked any changes to improve that junction and the Chislehurst Society has not been helpful either. And there is also the issue of where the required funding for any scheme would come from which is subject to the whims of TfL.

That also applies to the accidents that regularly take place at the white spot roundabout in the centre of Chislehurst Commons (on Centre Common Road) where a restructuring of the roads over the Common is the sole way of fixing the problem. But regrettably there is an attitude of opposition to any changes in the minds of many Chislehurst residents.

It might help to have more active councillors on other topics but when it comes to road safety issues I fear more anger and less science is not the solution.

Please pass my comments on to your colleagues.

Roger Lawson

Summary: It is most disappointing that this small group of activists are persisting with stirring up public concerns about this issue and putting forward simplistic solutions that might make overall road safety worse. They appear to know little about road safety and how best to examine and tackle the issues. In effect they are a bunch of amateurs with a bee in their bonnet about a single issue without looking at the wider environment.

I recommend that they be ignored as I find the Council’s response both rational and reasonable.

Roger Lawson

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Pelican Crossing at the War Memorial Junction in Chislehurst – Council Decision

As mentioned in a previous blog post (see https://tinyurl.com/y56v2rty ) a petition signed by over 3000 people was submitted to Bromley Council for a Pelican crossing to be installed on the War Memorial Junction in Chislehurst. The previous blog post gives a full analysis of why it was not necessarily a good idea.

Tonight the full Council met to consider the petition. Chris Wells who promoted the petition was allowed to speak for 5 minutes but clearly did not convince Councillors to change their minds. He reiterated his past arguments on the need for a pedestrian crossing phase. A resolution was passed by a very large majority of Councillors to let the previous response from the Council stand. In addition a motion from Councillor Dunn to require the Environment Portfolio holder to submit a proposal within 6 months was also defeated.

Councillor Huntington-Thresher who holds that position explained that the junction had been the subject of several studies but most were unable to be progressed due to the restrictions on land usage imposed by the Chislehurst Commons Trustees. However, they will continue to look at the junction but no immediate change is proposed.

He stated they had modelled traffic flows at the junction (which Chris Wells claimed had not been done) and if a pedestrian phase was added the traffic queues could triple in length. [Comment: that would certainly be a major annoyance to many people as they could stretch for much more than a mile and would also generate a lot of “rat-running” down side roads which was a concern for road safety]. Councillor Huntington-Thresher said we need a “holistic” solution.

He also stated that despite the claims of road safety danger, the relevant section of the A222 was actually only the 40th most dangerous in the borough. There was no trend in accidents and there were no injury accidents in 2018. In other words, resources might be better spent elsewhere to improve road safety. He also said it was not necessarily possible to submit a proposal within 6 months so opposed Mr Dunn’s motion.

Councillor Katy Boughey who represents the Chislehurst Ward spoke in support of the aforementioned response and said that they were actively working with all relevant parties to find a solution. Council Leader Colin Smith seconded the motion to make no change to the previous response and referred to regrettable “excitable hysteria” on Twitter on the subject.

The above is a brief summary of the meeting to debate on this subject. Let us hope that those who support Mr Wells actually listen to reason and engage with councillors, council staff and other local stakeholders to develop a good solution to improve this junction. Any solution needs to take into account road safety issues, traffic congestion problems and the interests of both pedestrians and road users. Any criticism of councillors or council staff would be misguided. You don’t solve road safety and traffic management issues by emotive hysteria.

I hope the above is a reasonably accurate note of what happened but anyone else who was there can correct me or add further comments if required.

Roger Lawson

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Is a Pelican Crossing Justified at the War Memorial Junction in Chislehurst?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A petition signed by over 500 people has been submitted to the London Borough of Bromley. It requests a push-button request for pedestrians (a “Pelican” crossing) be installed at the traffic light junction on the A222 – the Chislehurst war memorial junction. The petition is to be discussed at a full council meeting on the 14th October.

Is such a change justified and what would be the impact?

Anyone familiar with the junction will be aware that this is a heavily congested part of the road network in Bromley. It is key route between Sidcup and the A20 into central Bromley and vice versa. During rush hours queues of traffic back up from the existing traffic light controlled junction to the A20 in the mornings, and back down Summer Hill in the evenings. This already causes some vehicles to take routes on narrow roads around the junction, e.g. via Bull Lane/Church Lane/Watts Lane or via Prince Imperial Road/Ashfield Lane. Traffic on the other arms of the junction (the A208) also experiences lengthy queues during busy times of the day.

However, there are common complaints that pedestrians perceive it as unsafe or difficult to cross at the junction, e.g. schoolchildren heading for Coopers School or St. Nicholas Primary School from central Chislehurst, or disabled people. The schools have clearly supported this petition.

It is obvious that the current junction cannot cope with the current volume of traffic but plans to improve it have always been blocked by the Trustees of the Chislehurst Commons who are reluctant to give up land to enable widening of the junction.

The impact of incorporating a pedestrian phase into the existing traffic lights might be very significant and it would presumably need to be installed on all four arms of the junction. Traffic modelling could be undertaken to see the likely impact on traffic delays and vehicle throughput, but that is quite expensive to undertake.

How should one judge the merits of this proposal? Like all allegations of road safety hazards, one should start by looking at the accident record and try to determine the likely cost/benefit. The last time I looked at the detail statistics related to road traffic accidents in Chislehurst, this junction had been the scene of a number of accidents and the A222 is like many of London’s A roads in that it runs through heavily congested areas with pedestrians often present. Thus Perry Street has seen several fatal accidents and there was one at the Memorial junction when the traffic lights had failed in the night. You can see other accident information at the junction by looking at the Crashmap web site (www.crashmap.co.uk).

Many of these accidents are not at the junction itself but some distance away as pedestrians choose to cross elsewhere than at the traffic lights or vehicles collide for other reasons. Clearly a review of the latest police reports of road casualties (the STATS19 records) could be examined for more information, but I do not recollect that there have been any serious accidents involving pedestrians at the junction itself.

I suspect the answer would be, if such an analysis as I suggest be done, that the cost/benefit of spending money on a change to this junction would not be justified, particularly if the value of the additional delays to vehicles was taken into account as they should be. It is also unlikely that pedestrians would change their habit of not crossing at the junction lights.

There is one simple question that can be answered now though. Do pedestrians actually have any difficulty crossing at this junction? This writer has personally walked across the junction at the traffic lights at least once per week for the last 20 years. I do not find any difficulty in doing so. It just requires one to wait until the lights change.

One can argue that improving pedestrian facilities might encourage people to walk rather than use other modes of transport but I doubt that this would have any significant impact in this case. Nobody who can walk would be deterred from using that junction at present. Do the disabled or visually impaired have some difficulty in crossing this junction? Perhaps but that will be the case even if a Pelican Crossing was introduced and the rights of a minority cannot be taken solely into account. The thousands of other people that will be affected by the change have also to be considered. In practice even if a Pelican system was installed at these lights, disabled people would likely have to cross other unsignalized junctions to get to the war memorial crossing.

Readers might wonder who the organisation named Chislehurst Safer Streets are who organised the petition. It is led by Chris Wells who is also a supporter of 20sPlenty and who has campaigned for a wide-area 20 mph signed only speed limit covering Chislehurst. That suggestion has been rebuffed by both Bromley Council and the Chislehurst Society. You can see what Mr Wells had to say about that proposal on the Visit Chislehurst web site. This is what it says about the Atkins study of 20 mph zone published by the Department of Transport (DfT): “In summary, what Atkins found is that 20mph zones that are poorly implemented have little appreciable effect on traffic speed or accidents”. This is grossly misleading. The study was solely focused on signed-only 20 mph schemes and made no comments on how they were implemented – only signs can and are used in such schemes. This kind of special pleading is common among those who are less concerned with the truth than in arguing and winning their case.

Note that Bromley Council had already responded to the petition on the War Memorial junction by Mr Wells. They say that adding a pedestrian phase would “lead to exceedingly long queues at peak times resulting in increased pollution and likely diversion of vehicles into residential areas”. You can read their full response here with details of the Council meeting: https://cds.bromley.gov.uk/ieIssueDetails.aspx?IId=62672&PlanId=0&Opt=3#AI62776 . Clearly diverting traffic onto other narrow roads might be a road safety hazard in itself.

Readers are encouraged to attend the meeting as members of the public, as I shall be doing, or Bromley residents should contact their local councillors. It is important that those who shout loudest do not override a sensible and rational analysis of this issue and the needs and views of the vast majority of the residents of Bromley and its visitors.

Photo above shows long queues of traffic even at lunchtime on a Tuesday.

Roger Lawson

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