Road safety in the City – some thoughts of a sight-impaired pedestrian

Road safety is an issue of particular concern to me as a person with a ‘hidden disability’. You wouldn’t know to look at me that I have a sight problem – and, in this, I’m one of many, judging from my fellow outpatients in the Eye Hospital’s waiting areas. But my long-term condition of glaucoma and a recent sudden – and, I hope, temporary – deterioration of vision in my right eye means I have lost some peripheral vision and in consequence don’t always see cyclists fast approaching on my right side. So I get very nervous at those ‘shared space’ crossings, or when negotiating a two-way cycle lane – while to the approaching cyclist I look like any other pedestrian, able to react quickly and get out of the way if necessary.

My point here is not to invoke special pleading for myself, but to try to increase awareness that we all need to take greater care – both of ourselves and of other people – when negotiating our crowded and fast-moving City streets and walkways.

We shouldn’t take risks with our own or others’ safety – by crossing when the lights are on red, whether pedestrian or cyclist, or by ignoring cycle lanes or cyclists’ priority areas if we’re driving a motorised vehicle.  But, equally, in order to lessen risk-taking behaviour, traffic planners need to implement systems that cater to users’ actual needs and behaviour, rather than basing layouts and traffic-light phasing on unrealistic expectations. It is maddening to stand waiting for the pedestrian lights to change to green when you can’t see the reason for them being on red. There’s been a recent trend to remove the kind of traffic lights that enable the pedestrian to see what the drivers and cyclists can see, and this seems to me to be a mistake. It may make a junction look less cluttered, and planners may want pedestrians to stand waiting obediently for no apparent reason, but in real life we like to make our own minds up, using all the available evidence. And people take risks when they’re impatient, when the indications are unclear, or when they don’t believe the ‘stop’ message being given to them.

So traffic planners need to take more account of pedestrian behaviour and cater to it, rather than always trying to dictate it. They need to take account of desire lines; they need to make it possible for pedestrians to get across a whole intersection without having to run; and they need not to tell us we can’t go when we manifestly can.

And all those of us who use the roads and pavements need to look out for one another a bit more, and remember that a minute lost in waiting or in slowing down is better than a life lost through an avoidable accident.

Why vote for me in the Castle Baynard by-election?

VR photo #3

  • I have a track record of achievement from my earlier period as a Councillor in the City (for the Ward of Farringdon Within from 2011 to 2017). Those achievements include:

¨      Working with fellow Common Councilman Henrika Priest (a current member for Castle Baynard) to make life better for residents in Carter Lane and its environs by getting licensed premises to respect the terms of their late-night licences, agreeing MoUs between licensees and residents, and facilitating effective two-way communication.

¨      For several years I chaired and helped organise a Community Police Forum, involving representatives from the Ward policing team and residents and workers from the three adjacent Wards of Castle Baynard, Farringdon Within and Farringdon Without. Although the shape of Ward policing has changed since then, I will, if elected, seek to reinstate regular meetings of this Forum, in order to ensure effective face-to-face communication between the City of London Police and the communities they serve.

¨      As Chairman of the Hampstead Heath Management Committee, getting the City Corporation to listen to local feeling and to reverse its policy on new café leases – see https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2016/apr/10/cafe-serves-another-day-protest-hampstead-heath-benugo – and working with officers to develop a better system of genuine and effective consultation.

¨      Working with residents and business owners to prepare objections, based on solid planning grounds, to mitigate the negative aspects of major developments in the City and improve overall schemes wherever possible.

¨      Being Chair of  Governors of the City Academy Hackney, a school which is achieving some of the best results in Hackney and which is justly proud of the safe and stimulating environment it provides for its students.

¨      Overseeing the successful resettlement of residents at a sheltered housing scheme (Mais House), prior to its redevelopment to provide more units of affordable, general needs, housing.

  • Having been a Common Councilman, including being a Committee Chairman, means that I can start acting effectively on constituents’ behalf as soon as I am elected. I know who to go to within the City of London Corporation to get residents’ and workers’ voices heard and I don’t have to negotiate a steep learning curve; but neither will I make unrealistic promises.
  • I work as Clerk to a Livery Company, the Worshipful Company of Builders’ Merchants, based at College Hill near Cannon Street Station – so I understand what it’s like to work and move around in the City, and am close at hand.
  • I know the Ward of Castle Baynard well from having represented its neighbouring Ward of Farringdon Within for 6 years, and from having worked closely with several existing Castle Baynard Councillors.
  • I’m also a writer and historian (specialising in both Russian and London history) which has given me plenty of experience in public speaking and in presenting an argument succinctly and persuasively. (You may have heard me recently on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives, for instance, talking with Matthew Parris and Barbara Stocking about the life of Catherine the Great.)
  • I’m also a good listener. I believe the best results are achieved through mutual respect and a willingness to understand other points of view, while not being afraid to express, and stand by, one’s own.

The by-election to elect one Common Councilman for the Ward of Castle Baynard will take place on Tuesday 9th October at the Shoe Lane Library, Little Hill House, Little New Street, London EC4A 3JR, from 8am to 8pm.

On the day before the election, Monday 8th October, at 6pm, a Ward Mote will be held, also at the Shoe Lane Library, when electors will be able to ask questions of the candidates.

[Promoted by Virginia Rounding of 4 College Hill, London EC4R 2RB]