What Can the Highway Code do for Climate Change?

This is the second article in an occasional series on environmental and green issues by Edward Lamb, a member of the Wirral Climate Action Group  and founder of Rethink Now CIC

Saturday 29 January 2022. Remember the date. This could change everything. No, I’m not talking about Tranmere vs Forest Green, I’m talking about the changes to the Highway Code of course!

You’ll know from my previous article (and from sticking your head out of the window) that emissions from transport are a very big deal. The Wirral Council climate strategy spells it out quite starkly. We need ‘a complete shift to fossil fuel free local travel by around 2030.’

Yes, you read that right. No petrol or diesel cars on our roads in less than 8 years. Yikes.

You’ll also likely be one of those people that would love to cycle more or let your kids walk to school independently much more but, for quite obvious reasons, might be a bit wary thanks to the masses of cars, vans and lorries whizzing around.

Well, from today things will get that little bit safer and pave the way for a sustainable transport revolution. You can read the updates straight from the horse’s mouth here and you certainly should, regardless of your current preferred modes of transport.

I’d prefer you read it there first rather than on a Facebook or Nextdoor thread as things quickly descend into madness online. ‘Cyclists on the Wirral Way are the worst!’, ‘Pedestrians are phone zombies!’, ‘Something something road tax’, etc.

The initial focus is around the ‘hierarchy of road users’ that will see people walking at the very top of the tree. It doesn’t mean that you can just walk around with your eyes closed, but it does require those on two, three or four wheels to take much greater care around them. It kind of formalises what most polite, well-meaning people have been doing for years.

There is some good stuff in there spelling out how cyclists should position themselves (and drivers should expect cyclists to position themselves) which is good. Hopefully, you’ll read this and think about getting back in the saddle for that trip to work, the shops or to visit friends and family.

I want to focus on the real crackerjack change though: pedestrian priority at junctions. As a sustainable transport campaigner this is earth-shattering stuff (I know, rock ‘n roll hey?). 

Here’s how it works: When you are walking along the pavement on a main road you now have priority at every side road you come to. No more waiting for an endless stream of drivers to pass through. The cars should stop and the walkers carry on their way.

I live in Bebington and regularly walk along King’s Road to get to my parents’ house. Roads like the top of Higher Bebington Road and Town Lane can be tricky to get over but, assuming the rules are observed and followed, we can now make much quicker progress.

And don’t just think about me. Think of the kids! There are loads of primary and secondary schools that see hundreds of families and older children walking to and from school. Think how many hours will be saved each day. More importantly, given enough time, think how many more parents will choose to leave their cars at home and let their children walk independently.

There are so many areas across Wirral where the same will be true.

Likewise, I do a lot of work in Birkenhead and Oxton and tend to be coming and going near to the school run time. Chaos. Imagine a future where the power tips back in favour of pedestrians and we see a wider cultural shift where walking rules once again? Safer streets mean healthier citizens, cleaner air and more money in our pockets.

The Highway Code rule changes shouldn’t be viewed in isolation and they are not enough on their own to see a big shift. They are a small part of a bigger puzzle as we try and wrestle back control of our streets.

When you combine it with council projects such as School Streets in Wallasey, Liscard and Birkenhead, the Liveable Neighbourhoods scheme that is getting underway for residents of Bebington and the various consultations on safe, separated cycle routes across our borough then you should start to get excited.

Oh, and there is also change within the car industry itself and new safety technology comes online later this year that will dictate the speed of cars with a bit more force. It will only take a few of these to start to shift the behaviour of every driver within a certain radius.

If you’re driving out of West Kirby on Telegraph Road and find yourself behind a brand new car at the end of 2022, there’s very little chance that you’ll be creeping over the speed limit.

All of these changes add up to safer streets and that means more walking and cycling – the keystones of sustainable transport. Imagine a Wirral transformed into a place with healthier, safer roads. Imagine rows and rows of bicycles parked up at train stations and outside shops, cinemas and shopping centres.

So if you are out in your car today remember to be considerate to people walking and cycling. Remember what Uncle Ben said about great power and great responsibility? 

Better still, instead of driving, why not walk or cycle? The roads were made for all of us and soon they will be safe for all of us as well.

Image: Edward Lamb

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