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Is this the end of the road for the speed bump?

By Danielle Demetriou

27 March 2004

It is one of the few subjects guaranteed to ignite a passionate response among school-run mothers and long-distance lorry drivers alike. Long perceived as the scourge of motorists, the speed hump has created more debate and rage than it can claim to have suppressed.

But it appears that, in some parts of Britain at least, the speed hump's days could be numbered. A nationwide backlash against them has gathered momentum, with councils ordering the removal of hundreds of the humps from roads across the country.

Whereas the battle of the hump has previously been confined to bar-room debates, a growing number of councils have now changed their policy. Officials in Derby have flattened 146 humps after persistent complaints from residents. Birmingham and Westminster city councils no longer plan to install speed humps. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea has removed four. For the majority of councils, the main reasons cited for the reversal of policy is the noise, pollution and efficacy in reducing the speed of cars.

One of the most high-profile critics of the estimated 100,000 speed humps across the country is the London Ambulance Service, whose chairman, Sigurd Reinton, says the lives of 500 cardiac arrest patients are put at risk by them each year.

Councillor Colin Barrow, the executive member for transport at Westminster City Council, said: "Speed bumps have proliferated on our streets in recent years. They have, in many cases, slowed the traffic so successfully that they are now causing delays for essential vehicles such as ambulances and fire appliances."

Another leading figure in the anti-hump movement is Brian Coleman, the executive member for the environment at Barnet council in north London. His electoral success in May 2002 was widely attributed to his "no hump" policy, which has led to the removal of more than 125 of the authority's 500 examples. "Everyone has worked out that speed humps per se do not work," he said. "They cause noise, pollution and they fail to achieve speed reduction. There are very few councils who are still putting them in."

Mr Coleman has also arranged for the removal of bus and cycle lanes in an attempt to reduce congestion. The move is in direct conflict with the London Mayor Ken Livingstone's policy of discouraging cars in the capital, yet it shows signs of spreading. Kensington and Chelsea has followed Barnet's lead and has started to remove its share of the capital's 76 miles of bus lanes.

The move has provoked an angry response from Mr Livingstone and Transport for London, which has suspended 370,000 of funding to Barnet. "The mayor's view is that we all moan about how inconvenient road humps are but we cannot rip them out without any alternative in place," a spokesman for Mr Livingstone said. "Transport for London will not fund schemes which jeopardise road safety."

A study by the Transport Research Laboratory calculated that 1,400 deaths and injuries could be prevented each year in London if new 20mph speed limits were imposed on 60 per cent of London's roads, enforced by humps.

The change of stance of the councils may be linked to the increasingly militant mood of those traditionally opposed to speed humps, but there is an equally staunch camp in favour of speed humps.

Many councils remain as passionately convinced that speed humps are essential in cutting road casualties as other authorities are opposed to them. Camden in north London has reiterated its intention to retain its borough-wide humps.

"Studies clearly show that the use of physical enforcement measures results in a reduction in the number of casualties on the road," a spokesman said. "They may not be popular, but until new methods come forward to help reduce the number of casualties, we will not be removing them."

Similarly in Edinburgh, the council has already prioritised about 440 of the city's streets for speed humps, based on the number of accidents occurring each year.

Main roads will be exempt from the programme, for which 2m will be set aside for the first phase to be finished by April 2006. Ultimately up to 14m will be spent on the project, which hopes to halve the annual accident rate from the current average of 52.

However, the growing opposition to speed humps among councils has been welcomed by the majority of residents and motorists. Patrick Allen, 53, a solicitor from Camden, said he had repeatedly protested against the borough's plans to implement speed humps. "There has been a lot of residents' opposition to the new road humps and we made it clear that we were very unhappy with their plans," Mr Allen said. "If you have a beautiful listed street of terraced houses and place a crude piece of tarmac over concrete, you are destroying the architectural heritage of the borough.

"They went ahead with them in most areas and now there is a large hump every 10 feet and it makes driving a complete misery," he added. "They're ripping them out in Barnet and I think that may be the only answer."


There are three basic speed hump designs: the original sleeping policeman, known as a 'round top'; the 'speed cushion', a raised square in the middle of a lane; and the 'speed table', the wider, flat-topped hump that usually straddles junctions.

Residents of Boulton in Derby elected Ron Allen to the city council on an anti-speed hump ticket after dozens of the devices were installed near their homes.

Hundreds of speed humps had to be lowered in Liverpool after hearses became marooned on them.

There are an estimated 100,000 speed bumps in Britain. Department for Transport guidelines say an individual speed hump should not be more than 100mm high and cannot be less than 900mm long.

Last September an Oxford builder, Ian Beesley, was fined 763 for ripping up a road hump outside his house because traffic going over it kept him awake at night.


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