By Andrew Guy - 18th October 2020
A petition set up by residents is calling for South Tyneside Council to install a safer pedestrian crossing on Galsworthy Road, South Shields. It comes after decades of repeated serious and fatal accidents; but why is it taking a petition to push for change?
Galsworthy Road, located in Whiteleas has been the home to 21 road traffic accidents in the past 10 years, five of which involved a child causalty. Although residents are right that a problem exists, there is a bigger issue in the area.
Galsworthy Road, Whiteleas Way and Boldon Lane (South Shields) are a series of roads that connect, not just physically, but also in terms of unusually high accident rates. Data obtained from the Department of Transport indicates that Galsworthy Road and Boldon Lane have had more serious accidents each than the entire stretch of the John Reid Road. In the years 2017 and 2018 these residential streets played host to a worrying 20% of all serious accidents involving a pedestrian in our borough. In the last decade, our borough has had fatal accidents on 11 different roads, one of these is Whiteleas Way.
Last week, South Tyneside Council announced its plans to build a flyover, closing the Tile Sheds and Boldon Lane (Boldon) level crossings. The need for the bridge is down to expected congestion and road safety concerns. The scheme will come in at £15 million.
In the past five years, Galsworthy road has had six serious accidents; in the same period both level crossings have had one serious accident. So how is it two roads which are only half a mile apart get such different treatment?
The £15 million for the proposed flyover is coming from the Transforming Cities Fund. This money could be easily used to transform the multiple accident blackspots in South Tyneside, Galsworthy Road, Whiteleas Way, Boldon Lane (South Shields) and Victoria Road East/West in Hebburn, but instead, it is being used on what appears to be another vanity project in the borough.
South Tyneside Council ran a consultation in May this year. It called for the citizens’ of South Tyneside to have a say on “street spaces”. It was originally aimed at trying to find out where the council should put in a temporary relaxation of traffic orders to trial additional streets. This means that conventional traffic roads could be converted from primarily 'general' traffic favouring cars and vans to being areas where walking and cycling can be done more safely in response to COVID-19. Council officials were surprised that the consultation attracted 100’s of responses, the original aims were forgotten, and residents used it to flag road safety concerns. Tile Shed and Boldon Lane level crossings received no safety concerns but the usual accident hotspots that can be seen in DfT data were heavily complained about.
While it was not intended to be one, this consultation turned into a social experiment with one very clear outcome - residents are very good at identifying road traffic accident-prone areas.
I’ve campaigned for better road safety in South Tyneside for years, it was one of the reasons why I joined the Citizens’ Assembly of South Tyneside. Road traffic accidents have far-reaching impacts, to the individuals involved in the accident, it could mean lifelong debilitating injuries or death. To the family members and friends of the victim, the loss of a mother, husband, son/daughter or best friend, instantly gone in a preventable tragedy. The police officers who have to attend the scene of an accident, witnessing scenes that resemble a horror film, but with the added smell of a mixture of flesh and fuel, with no rolling credits to mark the ending, only a knock on a loved one’s door to break the horrific news.
In the past when I’ve been campaigning for road safety awareness I’ve been told: “prevention doesn’t pay”. The average fatal accident last year cost our country £2.2 million and a serious accident sat at £261,498. You have also probably heard that speeding is the leading cause of RTAs, but this is incorrect. Failure to look and misjudging another drivers path is the leading cause of accidents, and road design and geometry play a key part in this. Drivers do play a pivotable role in reducing the likelihood of an accident, but even the best of us are caught out.
This is why I take an unusual stance amongst over road safety campaigners and look less at "speeding drivers" but more at road design and other psychological factors as the first step. I also scrutinise the accident data, looking for trends and similarities. I highlighted my concerns for these roads a while ago to one of the Whiteleas Councillors, the response perplexed me. I was told “If there is a road safety issue in these areas, then we should know about it”. The DfT data highlights Galsworthy Road is outright dangerous, residents have repeatedly raised concerns and this issue has existed for decades. Surely South Tyneside Council and Northumbria Police should already “know about it”?
South Tyneside Councils stance on the £15 million flyover being road safety led is something I find insulting; the data does not back it up and the money is far better spent on other roads in South Tyneside. The council is not listening to residents and businesses, to the point citizens are using change.org to beg for the council’s attention to install a protected crossing whilst just down the road, a multimillion-pound unwanted scheme is steaming ahead.
To add more fuel to the fire this flyover scheme has the potential to cause more accidents. At the moment a lot of residents choose alternative routes to avoid the crossings. These routes take the form of larger trunk roads that are some of safest roads in our borough. Speeding up the time it takes for drivers to travel through level crossings by removing them altogether is only going to increase the likelihood of drivers using this predominantly residential route. This means a lot more traffic on Whiteleas Way and Galsworthy Road, which in turn will most likely push up the accident rates.
It's not all bad news. A few recent schemes in South Tyneside have dramatically improved road safety on our trunk network. The Arches roundabout was an accident blackspot in South Tyneside, most accidents were small bumps as drivers tried to navigate the undersized busy roundabout but the junction had its fair share of serious collisions as well. Although it is early days, data is showing the £8.1 million major junction improvement has had a positive effect on road safety whilst reducing congestion. We need more schemes like this. After all, prevention does payoff.
I hope the council supports the residents of Whiteleas and respects their wishes for a protected crossing. Link to the petition.
"Cars versus people" by Karl Jilg