On 20’s Plenty

Duncan Barkes questions whether the objectives of Chichester’s 20’s Plenty campaign are too ambitious (Are 20’s Plenty’s objectives too much to ask? Observer, September 13). The problem with his analysis is that he confuses aims and outcomes. ‘Of course we want our children to be safer on the roads,’ he says, ‘but I have to question if this is the objective’.

It is undeniable that in seeking to attract the public’s attention, the antics of some campaigners eclipse the safety of pedestrians, and start taking on what Mr Barkes curiously terms ‘a slightly zealous anti-car theme’. Not, you will note, a zealous anti-car theme, but a slightly zealous anti-car theme. ‘But,’ I would reply, ‘don’t all popular movements attract their zealots?’

Could the suffragettes have achieved women’s suffrage more quickly if they had prevented Emily Davison from attempting to throw a suffragette banner over the King’s horse at the 1913 Epsom Derby?

Any campaign which is designed to ensure the safety of children, and indeed of Chichester’s older people, is naturally likely to be an emotive one. But it is backed up, as Mr Barkes openly admits, “by some pretty persuasive arguments”.

On the other hand, Mr Barkes cheerfully cites statistical data against the introduction of a 20mph limit, which he alleges are advanced by anonymous critics. Who are these anonymous critics? It is an important question, for the data they deploy are both highly selective and misleading.

Their most frequent piece of statistical sleight-of-hand is to ignore the fact that, in certain cases, the number of people killed and seriously injured (KSIs) has only increased because far more roads than before have been covered by the 20mph speed limit.

This approach was roundly, and quite rightly, trashed as ‘phonus balonus’ by the presenter of the More or Less programme on the (mis)use of numbers, which was broadcast by BBC Radio 4 on 17 August. In Bristol, for instance, which is one of the cities in which Mr Barkes claims the number of KSIs rose within the first year, the number of roads covered by the 20mph speed limit was increased from 50 to 500, the average speed of cars declined, the volume of cycling and pedestrian traffic increased, and there was no change in the reliability or the journey times of buses. Moreover, 82 per cent of the Bristol public were in favour of the new schemes.

At the end of the day, it is the laws of physics which prove that speed kills. For the faster a car travels the greater the impact with which it will hit a pedestrian or a cyclist.

In 1934, when the 30mph speed limit was introduced, there were far fewer cars on the road than there are today. Indeed, there were hardly any at all on our residential streets, which is where West Sussex County Council is proposing to reduce the speed limit to 20mph.

Finally, Mr Barkes disingenuously claims that there is room for a compromise, but he gives no indication, whatsoever, as to where that compromise might be found.

John Field

Summersdale Road

Chichester