England has roads that are built to be safe with good surfaces, consistent lane widths and good visibility at junctions, but that is where it ends. Forests of metal poles supposedly warning the driver of death-risk hazards have sprung up everywhere. Signs that direct you to the right destination are fine but in other respects our streetscape has become a disgusting expression of bureaucratic excess. Alan Duncan, MP for Rutland & Melton, published a Private Member’s Bill in December 2006 which he had hoped would give local authorities duties to reduce the visual impact of street signs and traffic calming measures and to publish policies on ensuring that highways developments are in keeping with local surroundings. In his forthcoming book he estimates that there are well over one million unnecessary road signs in Britain.
He goes on to say: “These signs are the result of the worst examples of official inertia. Highways departments take the rules, and then over implement them. A guideline or regulation that says that a sign ‘might’ be required is usually put before a committee, which decides that it ‘must be used. ‘Oh dear,’ the committee members fret, ‘We might be sued if we don’t put the sign in.’ Even the tiniest bend in the road is assumed to need a warning sign to avoid the risk of the local council being taken to court if someone drives into a hedge.
So, here is the start of a list of signs that could safely be removed without any detrimental effect on the nation. On any main road, roundabouts are announced by large green directional signs that provide route information. You can tell the sign relates to a roundabout because, not surprisingly, the image looks like a roundabout. So why do we need, in front of it, a red-edged triangular sign warning drivers they are approaching a roundabout? Take all the triangular signs away.
When nearing a set of traffic lights, whose coloured bulbs glaringly inform you that there are traffic lights ahead, why must we have a series of red-edged triangular signs with a picture of traffic lights on them? The whole point about traffic lights is that they are designed to be seen.
Perhaps the greatest explosion of useless metalwork is caused by the number of blue roundels marking a cycle path. Keep the cycle paths but get rid of those ghastly signs. There is no need for them. If it is a shared pavement, just a stencil on the ground can mark it out.
Arguably the worst signs are those that say ‘New Road Layout Ahead’, or any such supposedly temporary red signs that, under current regulations, should remain in place for a maximum of three months, most stay for much longer, some even for years. Only a few councils have a proper system for removing them after their ‘temporary’ life span and such a widespread display of neglect and incompetence is a sad reflection on local authorities’ attention to the standards we all deserve.
Our roads into the capital are shaming. The Finchley and Holloway Roads are a national embarrassment. Such was the lunacy of Transport for London under Ken Livingstone that red route signs have been fastened to a post or lamppost every few yards for mile after mile on the roads into our capital city.
New signs come in; yet old ones remain. One layer of signs is planted in front of another, creating obscurity and confusion. A lack of initiative at Government level, over-design by highways engineers and contractors, and the fear of litigation all combine to make our streets ugly and confusing.
Get rid of this street clutter. Uproot it all now.”
Thanks to Alan Duncan MP for permission to reproduce this article.