Scarecrows join speed limits in villagers’ armoury against speeding drivers

Written by Tony Millett.

While Wiltshire waits for a programme of mobile speed cameras to replace the fixed speed cameras which were withdrawn last year, and for the results of the county’s 20MPH pilot schemes for village centres, parishes are working to reclaim their streets and make them safer.  In the second of our articles on how villages are tackling the problems of speeding traffic, Marlborough News Online visits a parish with two very different problems to solve.

No two parishes have quite the same problems with traffic and speeding drivers. But the parish of Fyfield and West Overton has more than its fair share of those problems: it includes Fyfield which has a straight stretch of the A4 running through it, and Lockeridge which has something of a rat-run as its main street.

In the area of this parish council, only West Overton, with no through traffic, is spared the blight of speeding drivers.

Before the M4 was built, the A4 was the main artery between London and Bristol.  When it was widened to cope with increased traffic, Fyfield lost some houses and was in effect split into three parts. There are Upper and Lower Fyfield and the part of Fyfield across the A4 on its north side.  Importantly, this part includes the villages’ only village shop.

Indeed if you add to the village shop, the petrol station, two turnings onto the main road and the lack of a stopping place for the school buses, Fyfield and the A4 do not mix well at all. In recent years this stretch of the A4 has seen several serious accidents and fatalities.

The parish council’s traffic committee have won approval for a 50MPH speed limit along the stretch of the A4 that includes Fyfield.  This won’t come into force until November 2012.

Although this should make a real difference for villagers, some think 40MPH would be more appropriate.  Changes to speed limits come at a cost: in 2009 Wiltshire Council identified 116 changes to speed limits and estimated they would cost between £900,000 and £1M.

However, one solution brings another problem. Once the 50MPH limit is in force, you will turn off the A4 towards Lockeridge and have a 500 metre stretch of 60MPH speed limit before you meet (in some cases ‘hit’ would be the better word) Lockeridge’s 30MPH sign.

Ruth Scriven, who chairs the parish council’s traffic committee, wants the 30MPH limit pushed northwards, out from the village, past the houses of Upper Fyfield, to meet the A4.

But Wiltshire Council have offered a 40MPH limit between the village's 30MPH sign and the A4.  However, Whitehall rules say you cannot have a different speed limit that runs for less than 600 metres – so can the limit between the village and the trunk road be set at 40MPH?  Are you following this so far?  Rules are, after all, rules and have to be followed.

Lockeridge have put up village gates to show drivers they’re entering a village.  But the start of the 30MPH limit is at a very tricky bend and it’s become something of an accident black spot with several accidents – and smashed village gates – in a year.

When you get into Lockeridge the problem changes radically.  The main street is narrow and in places very twisty.  It has a busy pub, lots of driveways and a newly enlarged school all emptying directly onto the village’s main street. 

The road through the village is too narrow and used by too many large agricultural vehicles to install chicanes.  Anyway, though they’re supposed to calm traffic, they’re often taken as a Top Gear challenge.  Though it must be said that parking along Lockeridge’s main street sometimes presents a chicane-type of obstacle course – not, it should be said, an obstacle race.

Several years ago the villages became really fed up with speeding drivers taking short cuts from the A4 towards Salisbury and Devizes – a problem made much worse with the introduction of ‘satnavs’. So they called in an internationally recognised traffic management expert, Ben Hamilton-Baillie.   Based in Bristol, he puts forward unorthodox ways to calm traffic and share spaces between cars and people.

In some places, he’s even proposed doing away with markings in the middle of the road. As Ruth Scriven told me: “Instead of providing information so a driver knows where to go, you take the information away so a driver has to think what he’s doing and realise where he is.”

Hamilton-Baillie came up with solutions that avoided sprinkling flashing signs and lights around the village.  He wanted the villagers to show drivers that they were entering a living village and not driving along some kind of ring road. 

He proposed ‘mental speed bumps’ – ways to encourage drivers to slow down as they passed through the village. In the words of parish councillor Judith Woodget, they had to “make the village look inhabited.”

One scheme that attracted a great deal of comment was the scarecrow competition.  Two years running villagers were asked to make scarecrows that would sit about the village  inviting drivers to slow down and notice them. The competitions – apart from revealing some striking hidden skills among the villagers – were deemed a success.

But even the scarecrows and a number of very visible village events held beside the road – Christmas drinks, an Easter bunny show and art hung on the school railings - did not do enough to solve the problems.

The flow of traffic – even with frequent examples of inappropriate or illegal speeding – was not deemed large enough for a community speed watch scheme to be launched in conjunction with Wiltshire police.

Ruth Scriven would like a 20MPH speed limit through the village. This has become more urgent with the increased number attending the school after the closure of its East Kennet branch – more children walking to school, more being dropped off in the narrow road and more buses.

There was some dismay that Lockeridge was not chosen to be one of the county’s five pilot schemes for 20MPH village limits.  Of those chosen, three were in the west and north-west of the county (Biddestone, Limpley Stoke and Westwood.) The other two were Great Cheverell (on the edge of the Plain) and Great Bedwyn (the only one in the east of the county.)

Twelve villages put themselves forward for the pilot, but Wiltshire Council says Lockeridge was not one of them.  The pilot schemes will last at least until April 2012.