Thursday, 10 March 2011

Driven to despair

Berkshire motorists who suffer from a persecution complex will be feeling vindicated this week after a new survey placed Reading and Slough at the bottom of a national league table for 'car-friendliness'.

The story hit headlines across the media. Watch the ITV news report here.

Many of the more reactionary sources quoted the famous Betjeman line that Slough 'isn't fit for humans,' although it now seems isn't it fit for machines either!

Anyone who commutes through Sonning or along the Shinfield Road knows exactly what they're getting at. And a recent road rage incident on Richfield Avenue shows what effect the pressures can cause.

Reading dropped from 63rd to 65th-out-of-65 since 2010 while Slough fell one place to 61st according to the list compiled by insurer Virgin Money, which takes into account a range of criteria including vehicle crime, petrol prices, the average cost of parking for two hours and the number of speed cameras on main roads.

In the circulated press release Virgin spokesperson Grant Bather noted rises in fuel duty and VAT contributed to petrol price inflation of 20%, while on-going parking problems, speeding tickets and vehicle crime meant some "UK drivers can be forgiven for feeling as though they need to steer clear of urban areas."

He emphasised the role of local officials, saying, "not all towns and cities are the same and many local authorities do their best to ensure driver’s aren’t treated like second-class citizens."

There is hope though, as the West Bromwich's typically yo-yoing example shows what is possible, rising from 34th a year ago to 2nd in the most recent rankings.
 
RBC's Cabinet member for Transport, Cllr Richard Willis, identifies this as a political matter and puts the blame squarely on the previous Labour administration, describing how he is "very conscious that measures that have been taken over many decades have led Reading to be seen as car unfriendly," before pointing to a series of reforms which are already having a positive impact.

These include the removal of several sets of traffic lights across the borough to aid the flow of vehicles.

Tilehurst's Cllr Ricky Duveen explains a review of road management found a number of controlled junctions served 'no useful purpose'. He is clearly relieved, saying of one unpopular set in the Meadway, "they will not be missed."

But this doesn't amount to carte blanche for petrol-heads.

A 'Speedwatch' scheme will be expanded borough-wide after a successful trial by the East Tilehurst NAG. Volunteers are being given access to speed monitoring equipment to help identify registration numbers.

NAG chairperson David Webber offered praise to the efforts of residents, RBC and Thames Valley Police which has seen over 150 educational letters sent to speeding drivers. He said,
"The most impressive aspect was the number of motorists who supported the campaign by stopping and thanking those taking part in the initiative."
And action on rat-running is another a long-term campaigning issue.

Conservative Cllr Wazir Hussain is pleased to have a sympathetic administration to oversee the introduction of 20mph zones in residential roads, but the Green Party's Cllr Rob White attempts to claim personal credit for this policy.

Meanwhile the leader for neighbourhoods and renewal on Slough Borough Council, Labour's Cllr James Swindlehurst, attempted to defend his administration's record against the perceived attack, arguing that road safety and maintenance weren't taken sufficiently into account. He said:
"It is a shame a survey like this concentrates only on issues which involve the expenses incurred by car drivers rather than the whole experience of driving."

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