Ronnie Cohen suggests ways to help those responsible for transport budgets, both local and national, achieve savings targets without extra spending.
There has been a recent agreement between several government departments and the Treasury to make budget cuts of 30% over the life of this Parliament (Source: http://news.sky.com/story/1583973/govt-departments-agree-to-30-percent-spending-cuts). One of the departments that has agreed to make cuts on this scale is the Department for Transport (DfT). Local government faces budget reductions on a similar scale. For cuts of this magnitude, government needs all the help it can get. Here, from the view point of a road user rather than a transport professional, are my suggestions:
1. Put imperial vigilantes out of business by amending the traffic signs regulations (TSRGD) to permit the use of metric units for distance.
There is a group of imperial vigilantes who go around the country to remove and deface metric signs and post reports about their activities on their website. I will not name them here but you can find out who they are by doing a quick web search. They claim that thousands of metric signs have been removed but don’t say how many of these were authorised. They claim, erroneously, that “Metric distance signs on our roads and footpaths are illegal.”. You can read about one of these imperial vigilantes at http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/england/2002118.stm. Although his conviction for theft was later quashed, his conviction for criminal damage was upheld.
The DfT bears some responsibility for their activities. The UK is alone in the world in not allowing metric units for distance on traffic signs. DfT policies have led to the misleading impression that no metric units are allowed on UK roads and footpaths. This is not the case. You can find more information about legitimate metric signs at the following links:
Unfortunately, some local authorities have given in to intimidation from those who threaten to vandalise signs.
This problem can be avoided if the DfT amended the TSRGD to allow metric units on distance signs. Amending the sign regulations in this manner would quickly put the sign vandals out of business.
Metric units are widely used by the private sector with no imperial conversion and they appear in the Highway Code, so drivers must surely be expected to be familiar with them.
2. Use pictograms instead of words
Pictograms normally require smaller signs and do not require translation. Smaller signs are cheaper to install. They are also simpler and clearer. You can find examples of smaller, simpler and clearer signs at http://www.ukma.org.uk/gallery.
3. Use symbols instead of made-up abbreviations and words
Unlike imperial units, metric units have common international symbols (e.g. m for metre, km for kilometre, etc.) and do not require translation. This is especially useful for Welsh road signs where “yards” or “yds” must be translated as “llath”. Also, use arrows instead of words to indicate distances to width and height vehicle dimension signs. These measures will lead to smaller signs and lower installation costs for new and replaced signs. Once again, see http://www.ukma.org.uk/gallery for examples.
4. Avoid unnecessary signs and painted road markings
For small roads in built-up areas where a 20 mph speed limit is the norm, a small 20 mph roundel is sufficient. There is no need for painted road markings as well. There is no need for both. Be consistent.
There are other examples of unnecessary signs such this one by the London Borough of Barnet:
Drivers are expected to know what zigzag markings mean and observe them. It seems that the council lacks faith in drivers’ knowledge of the highway code.
Also, signs saying “Low bridge” that accompany height vehicle dimension signs are superfluous. A height restriction on a public highway implies that there is a bridge or similar ahead. What else could it be?
5. Reduce the number of sign variants and standardise on metric units
One category with a large number of official sign variants is vehicle dimension signs. This has led to many more unofficial ones. One of the consequences of the measurement muddle is the huge proliferation of vehicle dimension sign variants as explained in UKMA’s Vehicle Dimension Signs Report. Some of these signs tend to be large to incorporate text and, in Wales, Welsh translations. The use of imperial and metric vehicle dimension signs alongside each other is especially wasteful and unnecessary. Also, dual signs sometimes need to be larger than usual to incorporate more text.
For vehicle dimension signs, the UK needs one for height, one for width and one for length. Use the roundels like the ones shown here:
There is no need to replace all vehicle dimension signs overnight. Just use these metric signs when installing new signs or replacing existing signs that need to be replaced. Instruct highway authorities that any new and replaced height, width and length vehicle dimension signs and distance signs are in metric units only and that no unnecessary information should be added to them (e.g. “low bridge ahead”, “unsuitable for heavy vehicles”, etc.).
In Ireland, imperial signs, other than speed limits, were replaced by metric ones over a period of 10 years. This meant that no extra costs were incurred over normal replacement.
6. Require local authorities to use the simplest, standard road signs.
Some signs erected by local councils are non-standard, unnecessarily large and verbose. For example, Barnet Council has erected some speed limit signs with the words “WATCH YOUR SPEED 30 M.P.H. LIMIT” in some small roads in Golders Green.
These signs are large, non-standard and wasteful. A small 30 mph roundel would have served the same purpose. Drivers are expected to see and understand them.
Here is an example of a verbose width vehicle dimension sign, just one of several in Golders Green:
See http://www.ukma.org.uk/gallery for a smaller, simpler, cheaper and clearer alternative.
Imperial vehicle dimension signs can be phased out when they are due for replacement. This means that no extra costs would be incurred over normal replacement. Metric signs are already widely used in the private sector, especially for private car parks. The suggestions made here will help the local Councils and the DfT to save on road sign costs. While it will not add up to the required savings, those responsible will need all the help they can get to meet their targets. And will Transport ministers and the DfT rise to the challenge and set aside their dual measures ideology in the face of financial necessity? Only time will tell.