In Praise of Street Life

The Green is used by walkers to rest and refresh in the shade of the plum tree.

On Saturday, 1 February, 2020, a tiny cameo of street life was taking place beside The Green. I was talking with a resident of Upper Rissington who was out geocaching with his two daughters, aged around 5 and 6. The father and I were standing a metre or so in from the corner of Cotters Barn, while his girls scampered around us. Before we could react, a wide vehicle shot past down the lane. I’m not one to scare easily – I spend hours dicing with traffic on the roads hereabouts – but it sent a chill down my spine. Its speed was such that, had momentum taken one of his daughters a foot or two further, we would now be having a very grave conversation about road safety. What is particularly worrying is that the vehicle’s speed can’t have been much over 20mph, yet it seemed to come out of nowhere. This wasn’t a case of outlandish driving being a danger – it was a case of normal driving being a danger.

Gray Elkington

The Parish Council know of other near misses so we would like to revisit the conversation on road safety now rather than trust that luck will always be on our side. The purpose must surely be to reduce the chance of injury and allow street life to blossom. Who would guess there are about 80 children living in the village? As we know from school-gate friendships, parents tend to follow where their children lead. So, how about we create a village that is more conducive to children sallying forth and sowing the seeds of community?

Nobody else will do it. It’s up to us to ensure our village is user-friendly. Which means designed to safely accommodate all users, however they are travelling.

Villages that don’t adjust are in danger of being left behind as cities move to encourage street life. Okay, our task is arguably harder than that facing cities because of the importance of vehicles to country folk. But that just means we need to work smarter to devise ways in which vehicles are able to safely co-exist with hoof and foot traffic.

Our desk research suggests there is no sure-fire solution. But common sense suggests that there is a relationship between speed and risk – and we tailor our speed accordingly. Even in the absence of the Highway Code we’d drive more slowly down Bourton High Street than on the Fosseway.

Given vehicle speed through Little Rissington is closer to Fosseway speeds than Bourton High Street speeds, we have been exploring the one system that is known to affect speed: average speed cameras. They are well beyond most parish council budgets, but where there’s a will… At the moment Google maps directs drivers through our village on their way from Witney to Bourton and points west because, although it takes the same time, it’s shorter. We arguably only need to slow traffic down by one minute for Google to divert it towards Stow and then onto the Fosseway.

Even if speed cameras didn’t reduce the amount of traffic by much, they would definitely slow it down. Yet, we would still need to get the message across that 20mph is not the target speed, nor is it always a safe speed. Signs don’t cut it – that much seems to be clear from the forlorn speed limit signs. So, what if we borrowed ideas from the Dutch Woonerfs (“Vone-erf”)? What if the road itself dictated the safe speed as it does in the village of Foscot and, to an extent, through the middle of our own village? Which begs the question, how do we get Rissington Road and Pound Lane to speak for themselves more than they are doing already?

Let’s look at the science. We know intuitively that speed is affected by perception of risk. And we’d probably acknowledge that perception of risk is affected by clutter – as on and beside Bourton High Street. Tourists and shoppers are one kind of clutter. Trees and shrubs are another. Indeed, overgrowth by the side of the road has been found to be scientifically associated with slower mean driving speeds. It is thought that overgrowth influences driving speed by increasing cognitive load due to increased amounts of information in the visual field. This requires increased attentional and processing resources from the driver. Studies using an instrumented car have shown that drivers experiencing increased levels of cognitive load reduce their speed. See here, in particular clause 3.4 on Retinal Streaming.

Pound Lane, Little Rissington, showing children at play.

While a mean speed is valuable to compare to other mean speeds, it can hide dangers lurking within the figures. So, if 99% of vehicles travel at speeds between 5mph and 20mph, the odd speedster is lost in the data.

Yet it is the speedster driving along a road where people have come to expect slow traffic that poses the most risk and therefore it is they especially who must be slowed. If we are to let our children play and our elders wander, can we afford for there to be any exceptions?

With this in mind and given the imperative of implementing a scheme that will lead to people safely sharing the road space however they are travelling, the Parish Council is seeking to implement road safety measures that have been empirically shown to work.

One contender is the scheme adopted by Lower Swell (see image below), where the pavement has been extended on the left side and both pavements have been populated with posts. We have yet to find how well it works. Other schemes can be found here.

The Parish Council will consider proposals from parishioners. If you have any suggestions to make, please send them to The Parish Council will then seek evidence of the efficacy of any proposals.

The posts in Lower Swell