20 is the new 30: My tryst with Community RoadWatch

Ever since I started the Battersea Banter journey, I have travelled(literally and figuratively) to places I’ve never been.

One such uncharted territory was the “Community RoadWatch”. I have to admit I have seen a groups of people (mix of cops and civilians in Hi-vis jackets) standing on the roadside before — and my reaction has always been — Let’s get out of here before they stop us. Am I unique in this ?— not sure — maybe. But I’ve always been a “play it safe and put a lot of distance between the enforcement officials and I” type of a person.

Community RoadWatch — Resident Volunteer Sumi in action

When I was asked to do a write-up on “Community Roadwatch” especially from the inside, I was a bit unsure to begin with. But then I thought, this maybe the type of stuff the readers of my blog(it is delusional to think I have readers of this blog — in plural!!) would be interested in. And, yes, it was also that I cannot say “No”.

So here’s the story — almost a year ago, on July 6, 2016 to be precise, Wandsworth council reached a unanimous decision to make all the residential roads in Wandsworth to have 20mph speed limit. To this blanket rule, there’ll be exceptions made for certain A roads, B roads and bus routes. This decision followed the results of the Council’s borough- wide consultation in which 59% of the 3,382 residents were in favour of 20mph speed limit.

The theory is that there’s a significant difference between 20 & 30mph in terms of drivers being able to gauge and assess slow movements in the sidelines, as well as for the children and the elderly to gauge the reaction required for the oncoming vehicle. Fatality risk is said to be 1.5% at 20mph and 8% at 30mph. “Not only the Road safety, this reduces congestion, leads to quieter streets and better air quality by shifting unnecessary vehicles away from the residential areas”, adds Robert Molteno, the co-founder of Wandsworth Living Streets, a charity that envisions safe, attractive and enjoyable streets for people on foot.

So this said morning, after the school drop, I joined the team of PC Frank Howe, PC Jordan Hopkins & community support offices with the volunteers Sumi Tickaram and Robert at the junction of Queenstown Road and St. Phillip Square. Here the volunteers use a hand held speed detection device — Pro Laser 4 — by pointing it at an oncoming vehicle and press on the button which records the distance and the speed. These are then recorded by the officer along with number plate details. Anyone who is found speeding is then issued a warning letter. After 2 warning letters, they get a police visit. Tickets or penalty points are not issued as part of this exercise.

And, I also had a go at the £3000 worth Pro Laser 2 unit. Contrary to my expectation, I did not feel any rush of blood which is expected when you have the position of power, pretending to be an enforcement official and all — instead felt more like I was playing a video Game at the arcade! The unit is quite cool though— but its battery does tend to drain very fast.

So how effective do they think this is? Apparently very. Most drivers who speed tend not to repeat once they’ve received a warning letter. Getting pulled out like this does help in changing the habit. And, the locations are picked primarily based on residents’ request or alerting the police that they see a lot of speeding.

PC Howe clarified that what is required is for people to think that all the residential streets are 20 mph unless they are clearly marked to be 30 mph. So yes — you got it! 20 is the new 30 when it comes to speed limits. And these RoadWatch events are supposed to do just that — increase awareness and engage the community in order to change the driving behaviours.

Engaging with Local Residents — Education and Building Awareness

And as if on cue, a local resident stopped by us and asked what all this was about and had a good chit chat about the reasoning for the new speed limit and enforcement etc. Robert also regaled us with how previously in one such RoadWatch on a particularly hot day, an elderly resident brought out cold water for them to drink. For our part, it was wonderful to see such open conversations — and I went away feeling —maybe they have got this right! And, next time you see them in your neighbourhood, do stop by and have a chat.

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