One of those diverting summer debates has popped up, this time over a possible reduction in speed limits for traffic in the island. The idea is to have more 25mph roads at the expense of the 35mph routes we currently have. Predictably, a consultation is taking place. Separately the Environment and Infrastructure committee would also like to know about people’s perceptions of road safety.
Important as these things undoubtedly are, you rather feel they don’t quite get to the heart of the matter, namely traffic policy – possibly the one parochial area on which everyone in Guernsey has an opinion. In a spirit appropriate to an always overheated issue, we offer below a list of additional matters for consideration. For novelty, the list comprises ten “Quick Wins” and ten “Harder Tasks.”
Ideas like these are nothing without two critical supports. First, a diagnosis. We have a small finite island with 63,000 people and an estimated 50,000 vehicles. Even if you believe this statistic poses no problem, the technological possibilities available to us offer a chance to make Guernsey a better place to live.
Second, who will pay? The short answer is: all of us, because we owe it to each other. The longer answer is: car owners, who in densely-populated urban areas the world over pay rather more than us for the privilege of using their vehicles. If from the ideas below we can’t find alternative ways of travel for those who can’t or won’t pay more to own a car, maybe we are not trying hard enough.
Some of the suggestions are targeted at congestion, others at safety. Virtually all seek to make the island a more efficient and pleasant place. One concern is that the list has an authoritarian tone. It is certainly controversial enough to cause real angst. But that is the nature of politics in a small place where vested interests are inevitable and markets fail to operate properly.
The devil will be in the detail, especially transitioning to a New Order. But before judging the list, think: if prospective candidates for the next States could signal whether they back some or all of it, we’ll know what we’re voting for and they will have a mandate for action without any further need for consultation.
- Cut the number of road closures. Apart from emergency repairs, some seem like “make work,” most appear inexplicable and they wreak havoc on bus routes.
- Commit to paid parking once and for all, if only to earn a usable return on valuable real estate.
- Introduce a workplace parking levy on office parking spaces: a “fringe benefits tax” for users.
- Give immediate planning permission for the private sector to build, own and operate an architecturally-attractive multi-storey car park in Town.
- Improve the buses. Show next-arrival times in bus shelters. Improve the phone app informing customers when the next bus is due. Allow street-hailing outside Town.
- Allow taxis to display a For Hire sign and pick up customers wherever they like.
- Encourage cyclists, by carrot or stick, not to ride two-abreast on the open road.
- Recognise priority rights for pedestrians. Where they exist, pavements should be for walkers. If ‘pavement surfing’ is to be permitted, maybe here safety trumps mobility and a low speed limit really is required (10mph?).
- Make speeding penalties similar to drink-driving offences. It would be more effective than lowering speed limits.
- Introduce an MOT for all vehicles so that those which belch toxic emissions, lack functioning lights or are unsafe can be taken off the road.
- Consider allowing an uber style taxi business, with fares competitively bid.
- Replace our old (and new) buses with smaller, narrower ones, deploy many more of them and use the competition regulator, not politicians, to ensure the bus monopoly is fair.
- Forget road tax vs fuel tax. Arguably, the island will need both unless we find other ways to improve the public finances.
- Remove parking spaces on narrow roads, or make those roads one-way.
- Apply no-stopping rules along more roadsides (but consider exceptions for hedge-veg and postal vans, save on main roads)
- Promote an island-wide scheme of car-renting-by-the-hour: a Boris-bike for small cars.
- Introduce new filters at dangerous crossings and at mini-roundabouts.
- In the long-term, plan for a shift to electric cars.
- Plan too for a limit on vehicle widths – especially vans – by fiat, not through taxes.
- Put cat’s eyes in the middle and edges of all roads to reduce night-driving dangers.
It is not hard to identify other possibilities. For example, some might foresee a charging scheme for daytime private vehicle access to Town. And we all have pet peeves. How about a noise limit/baffle rule on all vehicles, especially motorcycles and scooters, on public nuisance grounds? There are commercial opportunities too, like a lucrative round-the-island bus service exclusively for summer cruise passengers.
Either way, you don’t need to agree with all or any of these suggestions to see that traffic policy won’t advance very far through a short consultation in August on something as narrow as reducing speed limits.