Monday, 25 June 2012

New 40 Zone

Making maps has made me look at my surroundings much more carefully. I have found things close to home that I didn't know existed and it has focussed my attention for detail. A couple of weeks ago we saw a speed limit sign which displayed the usual circular 40 speed limit, except it had the word zone written below it. We saw some more the other day and it seemed unusual, so I investigated some more. Finally I got an email from someone in the Highways department at East Riding of Yorkshire council. In it she stated

"Draft guidance from the Department for Transport on setting speed limits supports the introduction of lower limits on routes in rural areas where high speeds are inappropriate and there are significant numbers of leisure users such as cyclists, horse riders and walkers."

She goes on to explain,

"The implementation of a 40 zone requires less signage than a conventional 40mph speed limit, therefore is less intrusive on the rural environment.  Special authorisation for the signs was sought from the Department for Transport.  A Traffic Regulation Order is in place for the 40 zone, which means it is enforceable by the Police.

The routes selected for the zones are pilot schemes and are being closely monitored."

I find this both interesting and a little puzzling. Firstly I'm in favour of reducing traffic speeds on some rural roads. Fatal accident rates for both vehicles and cyclists is higher on some types of rural roads and one way to try to reduce this is slow down traffic. Speed limits alone won't help much unless they are enforced which seems highly unlikely on quiet rural roads, but it may help a little. Today I was driving along one of the newly changed roads at 40 mph being tail-gated by an impatient driver from behind and almost forced off the road by a Mercedes-moron coming the opposite way doing much, much more than 40 mph.

The signs are subtly different. The initial 40 sign is the same size as normal but has the word ZONE below it. This is in upper case, which I think breaks the usual use of mixed case. 40 mph limits normally have small repeaters every few hundred metres to remind the drivers they are in a speed limit. This does not. It does have reminders every mile or so. To me this is too far apart. The sign carries a 40 mph circular sign at the same size as the beginning of the limit with 'ZONE reminder' below.

The road itself can have extra markings. Some parts have 40 roundels painted on the road occasionally and some parts have broken white lines painted down both sides of the road, but not at sharp corners.

The end of the zone can either be the national speed limit or a lower limit such as 30 mph when the road enters a village, say.  Where there used to be a simple 30 mph sign there now has to be a new sign with a plaque saying the 40 zone ends.

The only other zones I have come across are 20 mph zones such as ones outside schools. Some 20 mph areas are not zones, they are simply a 20 mph speed limit. I do wonder what kind of bureaucratic mind dreams up these subtleties in the Department for Transport and imposes the hapless motorist with these distractingly different signs? 

One other point is that the guidance from the DfT is draft, so what happens if the final guidance does not include this kind of road or if the signage is different?

4 comments:

Sander said...

I've seen 30-zones, 50-zones and 70-zones in Belgium.

Ilya Zverev said...

Speed limit signs should be places after every intersection, while zone signs are installed only at the zone borders. When there's a lot of intersections, zone signs are indeed a better solution.

Chris Hill said...

@Sander,
Thanks. Do 'zones' mean something special, or is that just a way of describing an area with a speed restriction? Are there restrictions that are not 'zones'?

@Ilya,
Thanks for commenting.

In the UK when you enter a speed restriction it applies until there is a sign to say it has ended. These rural roads have very few junctions, but when you turn at a junction the restriction still applies unless there is a sign otherwise. All speed limits in the UK are like that. The fact that these are 'zones' seems to change the way the repeater signs are needed and possibly some road markings, but not the way the limits work.

Spokes East Kent Cycle Campaign said...

The objective of allowing these kinds of zone signing is to the reduce the overall cost of the scheme and therefore allow it to happen where it may have otherwise been considered too expensive. It's the same sort of reasoning that allows 20mph signs on just one side of the road now and for repeater roundels to be painted on the road instead of using signs on posts.

Unfortunately there always seem to be people that don't seem to want to obey the speed limits, whatever they're set at and however they're marked. They don't seem to understand that the highways are supposed to be shared with other users.