How the Motoring Grid would have saved Dennis Carbon

Dennis Carbon was killed by a lorry driver on Lisson Grove earlier this month.

Photo courtesy of Evening Standard

At a vigil organised by Living Street, Dennis’ cousin, Christina Daniel described how the junction where he was killed is extremely dangerous, especially for the hundreds of elderly residents of the Lisson Green estate who want to reach the Church Street market.

Christina Daniel, with red flowers, remembers her cousin. Photo by Brenda Puech

Indeed during the 30 minutes of the vigil, we witnessed inappropriate speeds, hostility by drivers and elderly pedestrians unable to cross on time. A few days earlier, Christina says, ““I stopped to drop off flowers at the site with my daughter and a car almost knocked down an elderly woman right there – we were so shocked!”

Where it happened: Lisson Grove is a dangerous barrier between where many elderly people live and where they shop.

In spite of Section 39 of Road Traffic Act, it is unlikely that Westminster Council will study this collision and draw lessons from it. And yet just 30 minutes allow us to understand the key factors that make tragedies like the killing of Dennis inevitable:

  1. Inappropriate speed – Westminster is the only Borough refusing to lower the speed limit from the present 50kph.
  2. Insufficient time to cross – After six seconds, the green man disappears, leaving pedestrians anxiously guessing whether there is time to finish crossing.
  3. Inappropriate amount of motor traffic – Lisson Grove is used as a rat run by residents of St. John’s Wood, South and West Hampstead.

Let’s look at each of the three points from a Vision Zero point of view.

30 kph – We all know that slower speeds mean more reaction time and less devastating impact. There is also an important psychological element: if you are driving, 30kph feels slow. If you need to keep your speed much slower than you think you are able to do, your outlook changes: you no longer get frustrated by a few seconds “wasted” to let a pedestrian cross or driving behind a child riding his bike to school; you stop seeing the car as a vehicle to make you go fast (unless there are other cars in the way). A 30kph street has much more considerate drivers.

6 sec. green man – When you challenge TfL that 6 seconds is too short, their stock answer is “It complies with DfT regs”. Besides being an asinine response, it belies the mindset of traffic engineers, which is that the system is safe, as long as you follow the rules, no matter how inconsiderate they are. The reality is that when rules are inconsiderate, people don’t follow them. Here is the crossing at Lisson Grove:

The green man is probably vanishing now. What should the couple do? Wait in the middle of the island for another 40 seconds, with fast lorries and buses speeding either side of you, or risk it and finish the crossing? What if there were no vehicles stationary at the lights? According to witness reports Dennis Carbon, who was walking with a stick due to a stroke, started crossing with the green man and somehow was run over by a driver who thought he had priority.

Rat run – In the Netherlands, Lisson Grove would not have the level of motor traffic it has. The reason is simple: it is not an arterial road, so it should not be used by through traffic. In reality it is used by residents of other neighbourhoods who instead should be using two perfectly adequate arterial roads, the A5 Edgware Road and the A4 Finchley Road.

The red route (West End Lane, Abbey Road, Lisson Grove) needs to be filtered so that it stops being a rat run. Through traffic is to be limited to the purple roads.

The principle of the Motoring Grid is that cells cannot be crossed by through traffic. It is an essential part of Vision Zero because it removes danger from most of the roads. The Motoring Grid also re-educates drivers in these concepts:

  • not all roads are available when going from A to B,
  • most short journeys are easier by bike
  • when one drives away from an arterial route, one is a guest of that neighbourhood, and as a guest, one should respect local residents, especially the elderly

If the Motoring Grid had been in place, would have the driver who killed Dennis Carbon be driving on Lisson Grove?

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