Road Safety


On the afternoon after LCC’s The Big Ride, a rally to call for safer streets for all that will enable more cycling I found myself cycling through the Earl’s Court one-way system. Not exactly a great habitat for cycling. I found myself constantly either in the wrong lane, at a high risk of being hit by a door opened by a parked car, filtering through static traffic or being closely passed by traffic holding at or above the 30mph speed limit.

It was not a pleasant, or safe environment. Part-way along, a bus overtook me and showed me the latest road safety campaign being run by Kensington and Chelsea, Roadhug. It was not a pleasant sight.

“Mind you don’t knock them down when they’ve knocked a few back” it said in road safety yellow and black, followed by the message “Watch out for pedestrians on the road 11PM to 3AM”.

I spent a few moments trying to puzzle out what the idea behind all this really was, then realised it was all there in front of me. When asked to come up with a campaign that would mean fewer pedestrians got run over between 11PM and 3AM, the marketing people said “well, let’s just tell people to do that”. Outstanding.

The name was catchy, so when I got home I googled it.

It turns out I had actually seen the launch of this recent phase of Roadhug on twitter.

RBKC never answered that query, but the answer was that in 2013, there were 0 fatal and 17 serious collisions for cyclists in 2013 in Kensington and Chelsea. 2013 brings them closer to target but looks to have been a lower year London wide (a similar thing happened in many boroughs in 2010, about which more later). The intent of the campaign seems to have been to whip up a storm on social media, using twitter and a blog. The outcome wasn’t exactly viral. I mean, they did get some tweets by estate agents:

And an art project:

But #roadhug was rather quiet until I got home later that evening in May.

So, the website, well it was socially enabled and a nice slick design:

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Which meant it was worryingly easy for me and my followers to fill it:

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One of their many blogs concerned the London Assembly report on road safety.

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They then went on to list a number of the headline recommendations of that report:

  • Appointing a senior representative to champion walking
  • Use an assumed walking speed of 0.8 metres per second to calculate minimum crossing times and audit sites where Green Man times have changed
  • To provide monthly data on pedestrian casualties
  • Develop plans to improve 24 collision hotspots by October 2014
  • Publish a timescale for implementing 20mph speed limits on suitable roads
  • Ensure road crime is included in Met crime statistics.

Note that Kensington and Chelsea have set themselves rather firmly against 20mph speed limits. But more amusingly, they don’t seem to have read the following paragraph:

The Committee urges TfL not to over-emphasise educational measures in isolation. Education programmes that target only supposedly risky behaviour by pedestrians will fail to address the wider issues of street design or enforcement that are crucial to ensuring pedestrian safety.

But was Roadhug more than an educational programme? Well, there were beer mats.

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Indeed there was even apparently meant to be tube advertising going by the page on the creative agency involved. However, obviously the most exciting thing was the free t-shirts.

Surely they’d all be gone by May if they only had 50 limited edition t-shirts to give away?

No. So obviously I had to get one:

I wondered to myself, how will they possibly get rid of all their t-shirts?

Just four days later, on June 6th RBKC answered that question by sending out a survey about Roadhug (presumably to complete the campaign) which offered anyone who completed the survey a free t-shirt.

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Quite beautifully circular I think.

Perhaps earlier Roadhug campaigns (this was the third) were more effective. Perhaps I am grumpy because Kensington and Chelsea are blocking Superhighway 9. But I really do think they could put their energies and their money into better things than a campaign that basically tells people to be careful when they’re drunk or driving near drunk people.

There is a place for strong marketing campaigns and involving messages to encourage changes in behaviour. But that place has to be accompanied by changes in the way the roads drive the culture on the roads to be successful. Asking people to behave nicely on crowded and high speed streets where you won’t intervene is like asking people to whisper in a noisy bar. Sure, it might work eventually, but more likely the acoustics are going to beat you. Change the environment, then ask people to be quiet and you might stand a chance.