MAG invited to work with County Council in South Wales, to address road safety concerns

MAG’s involvement at all levels of National and Local Government policy creation, was clearly demonstrated last night in Shirenewton, Monmouthshire.

MAG member Greg Harrison attended a meeting originally arranged by Monmouthshire County Council to discuss motorcycle fatalities on the B4235 between Chepstow and Usk, in the county.

The meeting was well attended, with a good mix of Councillors, local residents, the Police (including their Road Safety Officer), and various employees of Monmouth Council including their Traffic and Network Manager Paul Keeble, Highways Engineer, and two members of the Road Safety Team, one of whom is a biker and MAG member.

The concerns from the local residents and Councillors were two-fold, concerning bikers – safety, and nuisance or anti-social behaviour.

Stats were delivered first to enable everyone present gain an insight into specific areas of concern.  Accident figures on the B4235 for the last 10 years are as follows: –

Total incidents – 141
Fatals – 6 (4 bikers, 66.6% of total)
Serious – 34 (11 bikers, 32.3% of total)
Slight – 101 – (12 bikers, 11.9% of total)

These figures are higher than the National average and worthy of note.

Monmouthshire County Council (MCC) has conducted three speed reviews following on from resident complaints.  All were conducted on stretches of road where the national speed limit (NSL) was in force, and in a non-intrusive fashion so that accurate figures could be obtained.  At the first site, cars returned an average of 36mph and motorcycles 39mph, both well within the NSL.  At the second site cars returned an average of 32mph and bike speeds ranged from 20 to 39mph, again all well inside the NSL.

Clearly, reducing the speed limit would have no real effect at all.

Figures were also given for the number of bikes using the road on weekdays (49), Saturdays (168), and Sundays (303).  Whilst there is a significant increase at weekends, and particularly Sundays, there is no significant increase in average speed.  Although there are a couple of sections where high speed would be possible, including one long straight, the data would seem to support the idea that high speed is not responsible for accidents, fatal or otherwise.

Gwent Police have been involved in a number of initiatives including high visibility patrols, engaging the motorcycling community at places like Abergavenny bus station cafe (a very busy meeting point for bikers at weekends) and running Bikesafe events.  Gwent Police ran a total of ten Bikesafe events during 2010, and it is hoped that they will run more in 2011, but funding now seems to be a serious concern.

AFter complaints from residents about anti-social and unlawful use of motorcycles, Gwent Police ran an operation that stopped 41 motorcycles.
As a result five riders were issued with Section 59 notices, two were issued with speeding tickets, and two were issued with verbal warnings for the manner of riding.  A useful statistic to set against these figures is that 437 speeding tickets were issued on Sunday the 17th of October in Gwent – only 5 were issued to motorcycles, representing 1.1% of the total.  This is in line with the number of bikes on the road compared to other vehicles, i.e. bikes representing approx 1% of traffic.

As the meeting developed it became clear that the issues from local residents were more to do with what they perceived to be anti-social behaviour by bikers rather than speeding, although speeding was still a concern, in particular through the village of Mynydd-bach which has no footpaths for pedestrians.  A Gatso camera was mentioned as a possible solution, as was an illuminating speed register sign.

Further discussion and exploration revealed that much of what was called ‘anti-social behaviour’, actually centered around concerns of inappropriate speed and noise. The police officers present eloquently made the point that traffic noise is subjective – it can appear louder in the country where there is far less backgrond noise than in the city, for example.  They also made the point that bikers pay road tax and insurance and have no less right to use the road than anyone else.

Enviromental Health were also involved, and have recorded noise levels in the house of one concerned resident – this does not appear to have recorded any illegal noise levels by any road user.

One of the residents present also complained that she had been surrounded by “18” bikers all itching to overtake her whilst she was travelling at an appropriate speed, but it was explained that ‘appropriate’ speed, within limits, often varies by vehicle type and that anti-social behaviour on the roads is by no means restricted to bikers and any examples of it by any road user should be reported to the Police.

Mr Harrison, who had recently ridden th eroute in question, gave the meeting a mile by mile account of the route from the rider’s perspective and identified what he perceived to be the danger areas and possible solutions.

MCC in particular were very receptive to what he had to say, and have invited him to do a drive-through of the route with them to highlight problem areas, and discuss what signage / road markings, etc., could be introduced.  This is a real demonstration of how MAG and local councils can work together to achieve change with real user group input instead of knee jerk over-reaction.

The Highways Engineer at the meeting was also very keen to work with MAG on a number of issues, not least the campaign to stop diesel spills on the highway. Talks will hopefully begin soon to see Monmouthshire County Council follow the lead of the Public Services in the North East, who have been fitting MAG’s “Diesel Spills Kill” stickers to all their vehicles.

Additionally, both the local Council at Shirenewton and the MCC Road Safety Team have asked if MAG will work with them on road safety initiatives involving bikers in the area.

As MAG continues to grow in strength and respect in South Wales, these are welcome developments indeed.