A case study
A rural village gains 20mph rewards: improved road safety, an enhanced sense of place and active health and wellbeing
Through the political leadership of the County and Parish Councils, the existing 30mph signs across Oxfordshire are being changed to 20mph speed limit zones.
Though initially there will only be new 20mph signs, the people of Cuxham will subsequently gain the rewards of 20 miles per hour: improved road safety, an enhanced sense of place and active health & wellbeing.
Cuxham is a small compact rural village, midway between Oxford and Henley on Thames. Most of the village is in a conservation area. The church dates back to pre-Norman times. A stream, the Marlbrook runs along side the main road and its Mill, one of the original three mentioned in the 1086 Doomsday Book was given to the Prior of Wallingford and passed to Merton College, Oxford in 1271. The College still has interests in the parish.
Many of the historic buildings and their location illustrate the continuity of the local community through the centuries: the Parish Church, National School, Rectory with its tithe barn, farms, public house and cottages.
The majority of the homes in Cuxham face directly onto the B480 and so residents are very aware of the nature of traffic on the road.
The B480 road links Chalgrove to the west of Cuxham with Watlington and the M40 at junction 6 to the east. Thus the village of Cuxham is on a through route between the building developments taking place at Charlgrove and the M40. A road atlas show clearly where the village lies within the national road network of motorways (blue) A roads (red) and B roads (orange).
Because the village is on a B road between other places on the road network, most drivers on the road are merely passing through, on a longer journey.
Understandably they see the village as nuisance that makes their journey unnecessarily tedius. For residents of the village these drivers are seen as strangers who may have little of no concern for the quality of life in the village.
For more than a couple of decades surveys have shown that there is a measurable reduction in the number as well as severity of accidents where speed is reduced from 30 miles per hour to 20mph.
The average number of fatalities falls from 8% at 30 mph to 1.5% at 20mph. (source: Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents)
The fear of danger
An average speed of about 30mph may seem reasonably safe. But within that average will be, in each hour of a typical day, one vehicle that travels at 40 miles per hour.
These few vehicles would create a fear of danger and be sufficient for local people to consider that traffic speed is too high for them to venture out on a bicycle. And certainly too fast to allow children to cycle on the road. This is another reason to apply a 20mph speed limit.
Oxfordshire County Council, the highway authority for Cuxham, has a county-wide policy to convert existing 30mph speed limits to 20mph zones.
Due to the enthusiasm of the Parish Council, Cuxham village is the first of a tranche of five trial sites across the County.
Councillor Tim Bearder, Cabinet Member for Highways Management said “Oxfordshire people want to revolutionise our residential areas and turn them back into safe and attractive places for people to walk and cycle. Residents of five determined and forward-thinking villages have volunteered to be a test bed for a suite of measures based around the introduction of 20mph speed limits. This important and detailed work will help us develop a plan to really deliver the results people are increasingly telling us they want to see.” – 7 September 2021 Political leadership
Just changing existing 30 miles per hour signs to 20mph will have some immediate effect on traffic speed. Many drivers, once they are aware of new speed limits, will understand the reasons and want to obey the law.
Two possible changes to the law are also likely to support these drivers’ attitudes. First, Intelligent Speed Assistance is likely to be fitted to all new cars from 2022. It will restrict speed to the legal limit unless consciously overriden. If one car in a lane keeps to a speed limit, those following will also. Secondly, possible changes to the Highway Code will require drivers to be more aware and give greater priority to pedestrians and cyclists.
Improved road safety
If the signs alone are not sufficient, more work may be needed. Traffic calming has been common for many years though people often think of it as annoying road humps and ugly traffic signs.
There are other more subtle and elegant ways to encourage drivers to slow and take more care. Research in the last decade or so demonstrates that drivers respond to the look and feel of the place they drive through. This has a direct effect on road safety, as drivers slow and take more care when they see danger.
Enhanced sense of place
Adjusting the local landscape and to enhance the sense of place: place-making, can have the same effect on traffic speed as conventional traffic calming without the need for obtrusive road humps or unsightly traffic signs, etc. If the road needs to be narrowed or corners tightened, this can be done by widening green verges or planting trees and hedges that fit seamlessly into the historic character of a town or village.
This approach is specifically encouraged by existing highway law: The Traffic Calming Regulations of 1999. Rural style structures and local art, as well as chairs, tables and planters outside a local pub, can all be used to enhance the character of a village and at the same time encourage drivers to take more care.
Active health & wellbeing
Much of this local place-making can be carried out by local volunteers. With basic road safety precautions, the tasks of tree and hedge planting, wall building and path laying can be locally organised within guidelines agreed with the highway authority.
Many parish and town councils already have agreements with highway authorities that give them responsibility to employ local firms to cut grass verges, etc. These agreements can be extended to include more elaborate tasks and the use local trades people as well as volunteers.
20mph: a safe, pleasant and healthier place
Now is the time to look again at all the rewards of 20mph. Apart from the proven reduction in road accidents and the reassuring sense of safety, the distinctive quality of a place can be enhanced and there are opportunities for local people to take an active part in looking after their own neighbourhood.
Healthy living, wellbeing, diversity, greening, reduced traffic speed all come together when local people can join in a common endeavour to create a safe, more pleasant and healthy place.
There is more about traffic and road safety, placemaking and health & wellbeing in order to bring ideas together for your own 20mph zone. Also here are some more case-studies and fact sheets, including the design of traffic calming.
Interested? What you think?