Asking the right question

Earlier this week, Mark Treasure wrote insightfully how, at the core of many failures in building people-friendly road infrastructure is the propensity to ask the wrong questions.

This failure to ask the right questions, and come up with the right solutions, is epitomised not just by a focus on ‘education’ but also on what I would call ‘trinkets’ – things like helmets, lights, reflectives, clothing, and so on. In much the same way as with ‘education’, the process involves shifting responsibility onto the user, and ignoring basic environmental problems. Instead of examining why Road X is unsafe to walk along in dark clothing, we urge people to wear  reflectives. Instead of examining why pedestrians wearing ordinary clothes can’t negotiate the streets in your urban area safely, we hand out lights to them.

At a Conference in January 2017, TfL’s Leon Daniels will stress what he thinks are the key Sources of Road Danger

The five main sources of road danger in London are:
• Travelling too fast
• Becoming distracted
• Undertaking risky manoeuvres
• Drink or drug use while driving
• Failing to comply with the law

The presentation will explain how, by focusing attention on these five sources of danger, TfL can prioritise the main causes of deaths and serious injuries and take further steps to eradicate the risk of collisions from occurring.

Knowing Daniels’s infamous pedigree in victim blaming, it is difficult not to think that the further steps he is alluding to will be centred on “behaviour change through education”.

This, of course flies in the face of Vision Zero principles, or Safe System thinking as TfL Head of Road Safety Simon Bradbury likes to call it:

safe-system-approach

From a presentation by Simon Bradbury

So here are the right questions that Leon Daniels needs to ask:

What measures can TfL take when designing, building, operating and managing the roads to reduce the incidence of speeding, carelessness, distraction by operators of motor vehicles?

What measures can TfL take when designing, building, operating and managing the roads to reduce the severity of collisions when human beings make errors?

What can TfL learn when errors by road users cause the death or serious injury of human beings?

Of course users have a responsibility to behave in a civilised manner and enforcement has a role in leading people away from anti-social behaviour, but too many people have been killed because TfL builds road with the assumption of perfection in human behaviour.

As Simon Bradbury says, “a fundamental change in approach” is needed.

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