Clear the clutter?

The good announcements just keep pouring out from Eric Pickles and the local government department. Yesterday he said Councils should look again at the rash of signs that have appeared all over our streets warning, advising and requiring motorists to perform in certain ways.

As a convinced localist, or course, all Eric can do is to suggest they think again. Let’s hope they do. Many Councils have fallen prey to the yellow line, red tarmac, bollard, aggressive kerb and sign salesmen. Our roads are in a constant state of flux, with endless niggling works to shift kerbs, erect bollards, insert refuges, add traffic lights, narrow lanes, construct artifical chicanes, remove lanes from operation, direct cycles to the front of traffic light queues, put traffic lights into all red sequences for traffic and re route traffic, turning two way into one way and one way into no way. Removing on street parking places adds to the numbers circulating looking for a spare place.

Much of this work fails to make the roads safer, but adds to congestion. It can make the roads less safe, leaving drivers lost as to the full meaning of the complex instructions, or forced into long detours to get back to where they wish to go. The road works themselves are especially good at adding to congestion, frustration and cases of bad driving as people foolishly try to make up for the time lost in the Council inspired traffic jam.

It would be good if Councils who claim to be short of money at least took a year or two off from all new schemes like these, whilst taking a good hard look at what they had done in the past. Then they might like to find money for reversing some of the more foolish schemes which have reduced road capacity without improving road safety.


  1. Iain Gill
    August 26, 2010

    lots of the incentives to do this tie back to govt grant and european grants, and the fashions prevelant in the local govt sector and their suppliers

    the engineering consultancies which sell into the local govt space have helped develop these fashions and it would be very hard for one council to swim against the tide

    what we need is for one civil engineer responsible for designing an unsafe road junction to be up in court for causing death through negligence, then and only then will the balance start to be restored from the current persecution of motorists

    there are a few folk in the engineeing consultancies (could name them but i wont) who have designed into their road scheme accident black spot after accident black spot, stuff that would be obvious to an advanced driver from day one, these folk need sorting out

    and signs and speed limits and so on should be decided by teams of advanced drivers NOT the current mixed bag of nutty local politicians, local govt officers, and the engineering consultancies and their fashions

  2. Alan Wheatley
    August 26, 2010


    Additionally, I would get rid of all the "Think" signs, often placed at the approach to a bend where you should be looking at the road ahead and not reading a pointless sign. Better still, scrap the Think Campaign.

    I would also get rid of all SLOW signs. Can anyone tell my by how much they "slow" when they see these signs, and how they know it is sufficient?

  3. English Pensioner
    August 26, 2010

    We've just returned from a holiday in the Lake District and Southern Scotland, and one thing we noticed is that the signs don't often "follow through". You follow a sign on a road to a particular destination, but before you get there, the next sign mentions somewhere else, and you start to wonder if you've missed a turning. Around towns they were the worse, you could spot a "i" (information) sign on the outskirts, but we usually had great difficulty in actually finding it! Thank goodness for my Tom Tom.

    Also why do road workers always seem to manage to leave one of their signs behind? It was a month ago that the electricity company finished with their hole in the A40 near home, but one of the "road works" signs is still there!

  4. Alfred T Mahan
    August 26, 2010

    Is it a surprise that if you employ a department to put up road signs that's what they do? It's a classic example of an unintended ratchet effect.

    Westbury Council have just "improved" the town's old market square by converting parking spaces into ultra-wide pavements. In so doing they have reduced the number of spaces from 30-odd to about 10, which are now much more rigorously controlled by wardens. The result has been to destroy retail businesses and drive away offices – the square now has pretty pavements but is a ghost town.

    1. Simon
      August 28, 2010

      I was staying in a medium sized town in Germany recently. There were no parking restrictions, no cameras, no spy cars and I didn't see one Policeman or traffic warden while I was there. The town centre was thriving with ample free parking for all comers. They had got it spot on. No wasted money on daubing paint and signs everywhere, no wardens, no spy car and camera operators to be paid for. You got the impression that whoever was in charge was working for the community.

      Unlike here where Tory and Labour councils alike waste vast sums of money on petty restrictions and spiteful enforcement. Germany felt like visiting a free country compared to the overbearing, bullying treatment we have to suffer from local and central government regardless of party.

      We live under the most authoritarian, repressive regime in Europe and there is no sign of any let up in that. The Tories are going to keep us under the cosh for the forseeable future and a few empty words about road signs do not impress me. Look at the reality. Medway's Tory council has just been awarded the dubious accolade of “most overbearing council in Britain” by BigBrotherWatch, taking the title from Labour led Sandwell Council which was said to be “the most bullying, hectoring and punitive of local authorities in the country”. This hardly fits in with the promises we were given after the recent election that we would see the end of the bloated, bullying state. We are getting the exact opposite.

      Look at the endless reports about spy cars, fines for everything, nothing has changed, in Medway it has got worse. All the fine words about "an end to the war on the motorist", "a smaller state" etc etc are just so much hot air. The reality is very different. We are just getting more of the same, if not worse than under Labour.

      1. Alan Jutson
        August 29, 2010


        Couple of weeks driving in Germany, Belgium, France two years ago, so agree with your statement.

        10 days in France this year, same experience,
        Local shops welcomed cars and CUSTOMERS.
        Covered 2,000 miles, did not pay to park the car once.

        Sad to see the French are now getting forward facing speed Cameras, but they give sign warning and are located on Sat Nav. They even gave roadside temporary sign warning of mobile speed camera locations. unlike our lot who seem to try to hide.

  5. Mike Stallard
    August 26, 2010

    In our village, we have just had the roads done. There are no road markings at the moment. What this means is that we have to be careful and considerate. I noticed the same thing on a major road to a huge hospital. The bossy light-up 30 mph sign though, is usually seen as a challenge!
    Good old Eric!

  6. Mick Anderson
    August 26, 2010

    The local Tory Councillor seemed surprised when I objected to the scheme that he was to impose on my area. He was under the delusion that everybody wanted more restrictions, and was amazed whan I explained exactly why I didn't want a speed camera, extra speed limits, narrowed roads or lumps in the road to destroy the cars.

    He had not noticed that the gratings in the road had been stolen until I pointed out the traffic cones over the resulting holes in the road. The Councillor can't have walked past less than half a dozen while out canvassing, obviously without being sufficiently interested to wonder why they were there. It took a couple of months for them to be replaced.

  7. Mick Anderson
    August 26, 2010

    The "local" MP thought that closing the old A3 after the new tunnel is opened was a good idea because of reports he had read. His constituency office is less than a minutes walk from where the closure will apply (I wonder if he is aware of this), so you would have hoped that he could have come to a conclusion based on his own alleged local knowledge. Apparently it's not convenient to live outside Westminster, even though it's only 50 minutes away by train. He said that he was too busy running Country, although as he was a shadow minister at the time, this seemed to be rather over-stating his remit. The reports seemed to have been written entirely by the National Trust and are rather less than balanced. I suggested that he spoke to the local Councillor, who at least admitted that the decision to close the road was a bad one that they had apparently worked to prevent.

  8. Mick Anderson
    August 26, 2010

    Politicians seem to assume that the noisy minority represent the silent (put-upon) majority. They don't. Unfortunately when somebody claims that if their pet absurd scheme is "worth it if it saves a single life" is a bit difficult to counter, even though there has been neither death or injury on the afflicted road in the 15 years I've been living here.

    1. Andrew
      August 27, 2010

      Politicians (any party or none) need to take into account and seek out (by doing surveys, door knocking, drop in sessions, etc) the views of a wide range of their consituents.

      It is easy though for politicians to fall into the trap of listening to the "noisy minority" such persons are perceived to be most conscientious voters !

  9. startledcod
    August 26, 2010

    As i have said before, every item of expenditure should be categorised as either being desirable, necessary or essential. In these days when money is very tight only 'essential' expendiure should be countenaced, when things are a bit better we can look to the 'necessary' and only when the country is truly back on its feet (no deficit, debt back to 2006 levels) can we think about the 'desirable'. Almost all the things you mention in your post would fall using this measure.

  10. StrongholdBarricades
    August 26, 2010

    If you also removed the massive grant from central government and raised the tax raising to local governments they would also become much more accountable for the money that they spent.

  11. Demetrius
    August 26, 2010

    Most of us could do a lot more walking.

  12. Mark
    August 26, 2010

    Perhaps councils should be encouraged to do some fuller reckoning. For example, it has been shown that speed humps cause a dramatic increase in fuel consumption and consequent pollution, as do even 20mph limits. Slowing traffic down so drastically is not green. London Ambulance Service has reported that speed humps actually cause an additional 500 deaths a year due to delays in reaching heart attack victims – perhaps these numbers should really be added to the road accident statistics, so that we get a balanced view of optimal policy.

    1. Mick Anderson
      August 27, 2010

      If the deaths caused by delaying ambulances are added to those caused by road accidents, it'll only add to the clarion screech for more restrictions.

      To have a balanced view, the deaths need to be credited to the correct cause – 500 death by absurd traffic schemes should be reported exactly so.

  13. rose
    August 26, 2010

    Just return the roads to motorists and the pavements to pedestrians, with bike lanes in between. How? By not allowing parking in the streets or on the pavements. Builders' lorries etc. which wish to unload must be of a regulation size, and all other vehicles must be parked in private car parks. Charges would be a matter for the providers, and nothing to do with the council. You would very soon get rid of congestion and increase the nation's fitness at the same time. Naturally everyone would be furious to begin with but eventually they would reap the benefits and see the point. No more tinkering about with ugly street furniture; no more bureaucracy; and above all no more out of control motoring dominating our cities. Balance and harmony would be restored. And let's have only quiet tarmac and electric engines while we are about it.

    1. Mark
      August 26, 2010

      You really want to be run over? They are having to make the Toyota Prius more noisy because of the accident record it has knocking over pedestrians who don't hear it coming.

      1. rose
        August 28, 2010

        I have the same problem on my bike – people nearly walk under my wheels while on their telephones. Should I therefore make an artificial noise to annoy everyone else, or should these people look before they cross the road? I am appalled at the thought of the EU compelling artificial noise to be incorporated into all electric cars in the future. How do you feel about automatically beeping lorries and vans? Or don't you live near a cul de sac?

        1. Alan Jutson
          August 29, 2010


          Thought a bell on a bike was manditory.

          1. rose
            August 31, 2010

            Alan, you are right, and I have a bell and a small horn. But do you sound your horn continuously as you drive along, just in case someone suddenly dashes out from the pavement without looking? Would you even flash your lights continuously, to warn people on the pavement you are driving along, and not to run out under your wheels? When cars were first invented they had to be preceded by a man waving a red flag.

            Or do you just expect them to look first – right, then left, then right again? We aren't just becoming infantilised, as infants used to know this rule.

  14. rose
    August 26, 2010

    I should add: the main clutter comes from parked and parking cars + all the "parking services" paraphernalia. Clear them, and you could really get somewhere.

  15. rose
    August 26, 2010

    Another thing the excellent Eric might consider is whether businesses really need to have huge polluting lorries coming half a dozen times a day to pick up their rubbish. The rest of us manage with once a week collections of recyclables, and once a fortnight of the residue. Restaurants are obviously in a different class. But offices presumably set their superfluous collections against tax, and therefore have no incentive to stop clogging up the roads and deafening us all in this way. What happened to the paperless revolution?

  16. Brian Tomkinson
    August 26, 2010

    Councils have much to answer for in the way they have squandered taxpayers' money on schemes which have added to congestion rather than reducing it. There often seems to be more paint on the continually shrinking road space than on the neighbouring houses. So-called traffic calming measures – or obstructions to you and me – have further added to increasing congestion. There is a virtual continuous process of road works with little if any benefit and often a worsening of the traffic flow. Some people will have profited from this waste of taxpayers' money but it certainly isn't the taxpayer or motorist.

  17. Javelin
    August 26, 2010

    There are obviously signs with more or less importance. I've often wondered whether I should be concentrating on the street signs or the road.

    Of course this parallels New Labours nanny state philosophy – they wish we should be led by the nose by the state and not take responsibility for ourselves.

  18. Rob
    August 26, 2010

    I always find that driving on a recently resurfaced road, with no markings, to be much less stressful. There is a calmer feel to the road and I'm certain that road users are more courteous as a result.

    Am I alone in this?

    1. Simon
      August 28, 2010

      No, you are not. We have just had a road resurfaced and left free of markings for a week. People were definately more careful, considerate and polite. As usual some pointless, overpaid jobsworth had to put an end to that by daubing paint all over it and things are back to normal now. We are so over-regulated that no amount of protest would have persuaded said jobsworth and his thousands of colleagues not to put their many petty restrictions down on the road surface in paint.

  19. Ruth
    August 26, 2010

    A road near me was recently resurfaced and was free of road markings for some time. Gradually they are creeping back. Why do we need big boxes marked "Bus"? What purpose do they serve apart from costing us money? On the road in question no-one ever parks, and there is a clear bus stop so plenty of room for the bus. Where roads are busy with parking, everyone ignores the Bus Box anyway, the bus stops in the road for the minute it takes to load/offload, holding up the traffic for a few seconds is not the worst thing in the world.

    Rob – I'm with you on the lack of markings, though the Council feels the need to put up a sign to warn us there are no road markings, like we wouldn't notice…

  20. Kevin Laws
    August 26, 2010

    Everything about street clutter screams New Labour – never trust the common sense of ordinary citizens; squander millions on entirely ineffective control freakery.

  21. nemesis
    August 26, 2010

    You are exactly right John. Councils have engineered congestion. All the additional 'zoning' has added to peoples frustrations – much in evidence by letters to the local press. It tends to make people feel very territorial and unco-operative about space. Complaints aplenty about cyclists on pavements, cars in bus lanes, loading bays etc etc. I think we would be alot more tolerant and considerate if we shared all the space.

  22. Neil
    August 26, 2010

    One problem in London seems to be the interplay between Borough Council and TfL. My Borough gets most (all?) of its funding for road projects such as you describe from TfL and they argue that if they didn't bid for these schemes, the cash would go to someone else and the Borough's council tax payers would be paying into the London 'pot' to some other Borough's benefit. ie: it's there, it's going to be spent, so we must try to spend our share.

    Pointing out that unwanted, unnecessary works are not a benefit and spending/doing nothing would be preferable falls on deaf ears, since obviously spending = doing = good.

    I imagine that somewhere in TfL is a manager who's tirelessly pointing out the overwhelming demand from Boroughs for this sort of thing, based on all the applications for funding, and arguing funding couldn't therefore be cut.

    It's an example of how extra layers of government work against the taxpayer's interest. If the Borough had to justify the spending on its own account, it'd be a lot easier to argue against and defeat.

  23. Matt
    August 27, 2010

    The de clutter idea was put forward by CPRE a month or so back. It was very gracious of EP to acknowledge this. It was a repeat of a similar call to declutter a few years ago. It got nowhere. Most of the signs and lines on the road are there because the government insists on them. If you would like councils to flagrantly breach these laws then say so. Eric Pickles and his government have the power to address this issue but choose not to. Why?
    all local authority highway schemes are consulted on before being implemented. However most people can't be bothered thinking about these things an so don't respond. Of the big society concept is to work then someone needs to work out how to make people start to take responsibility and stop blaming their council for the world's ills. You included John.

  24. Andrew
    August 27, 2010

    JR -when you say "red pavements " are you referring to so called "tactile" paving, which helps alert blind or partially sighted people so hazards, crossings, etc ?

    I think most people would agree that while the necessity for new (and even some of the existing) road / pavement infrastructure is challengable in the present (or any)financial climate, –few would argue against measures that assist blind/partially sighted persons

    Reply: No I am not attacking aids to help the blind

  25. Shiney
    August 27, 2010

    "But it shifts the emphasis away from the Government taking the risk, to the driver being responsible for his or her own risk."

    If only Hans was still alive…

  26. Shiney
    August 27, 2010

    Another quote from Mondermann (no citation – can't find where its from, sorry)

    "We're losing our capacity for socially responsible behaviour, …The greater the number of prescriptions, the more people's sense of personal responsibility dwindles."

    Which has, perhaps, wider implications.

    Big Society anyone? ;-D

  27. Electro-Kevin
    August 27, 2010

    Speed kills ?

    Delays kill too.

  28. guy herbert
    August 28, 2010

    Mr Pickles, Mr Redwood and the commentators above are both rather missing the public choice problem. If highways departments confined themselves to maintaining the roads and improving traffic flow, with no constant changes to signage, "traffic calming", pavement widening, gyratory schems, junction modifictions, new sets of lights, and so forth, they might have to shrink. They would have less use for senior planning staff and project managers. And officers would enjoy less constant, less rewarding, relationships with contractors and suppliers. Purported "safety" and "sustainability" will be the means of resistance, just they have been the pretexts for so much activity. The safety of cozy jobs and sustainability of business as usual are really what's at stake.

  29. Alan Jutson
    August 28, 2010

    Pleased Eric has made the point.

    I have mentioned this before on this blog, but some parts of our town (Wokingham) look like Toytown. Coloured tarmac (green, red and beige, with some blue in car park areas.), Official kiddies drawings on road signs near to schools, zig zag lines, yellow lines, both single and double, broken white lines, solid white lines, cross hatching white lines, not to mention traffic obstruction systems.

    John have you been caught up in the recent chaos and confusion caused by the new installation of traffic lights on all exits and entrances of the mini roundabouts at Winnersh Triangle, there is only room for two cars waiting at the lights on the roundabout at a time, and its a feeder to the M4 for gods sake.
    How many hundreds of thousands of pounds must this have cost, and what idiot thought of this system,
    John if you have not been here for a few months do have a drive out, and see if you nearly go through a red light..

    1. Andrew
      August 28, 2010

      Surely the Local Authority must have done– some– consultation before laying the coloured tarmac ?) Although as some commentators here have noted , much such statutory consultation simply passes below the "public radar " (yet another leaflet through the door, circular for the recycling bin,. etc).

      However I would have hoped that Local Councillors would have had some oversight of, and therefore opportunity to stop, –this sort of thing.

      1. Alan Jutson
        August 29, 2010

        Andrew no consultation at all.

        Just had bright green coloured tarmac put down (before the end of the financial year) along the cycle lane outside of my house. Appears highways think that solid white line seperation from the road with drawings of cycles on the actual cycle lane is not enough.
        We also have street signs which say its a cycle lane.

        From experience it would seem that a possible cause of a number of accidents could be that some cyclists being wired in for sound (earplugs inserted in both ears) prefer listening to their own music, rather than normal road sounds. Some joggers seem to have a similar death wish.

        PS: The green tarmac is already crumbling, so it has increased the maintainance costs as well.

  30. Andrew
    August 28, 2010

    Thank you for the clarification re tactile paving.

  31. John
    August 30, 2010

    Our towns and cities are for everyone, not just motorists, and many of the measures people are complaining about were installed (usually after extensive public consultation) to help make walking and cycling more pleasant, and to assist road safety.

    For example, Mr Redwood complains about all-red traffic light sequences at junctions but they are installed to give a phase in which pedestrians can cross the road free of traffic. Someone else complained about bus stop markings. They are there so that the bus can pull into the kerb without being obstructed by vehicles parked at the bus stop. If you have a buggy or are in a wheelchair, you need the bus to be flush with the kerb in order to board easily.

    As Rose correctly pointed out earlier, a lot of the 'clutter' comes from parked cars and all the associated signage that goes with it.

    Reply: I am more often a pedestrian than a motorist. I do not see why we need red lights in every direction and green lights in every pedestrian direction to cross a road. Normally you only need to cross in one direction.

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