Monday, 3 November 2008

Old British Street Signs


Some time ago while looking through an old set of encyclopaedias when I found some pictures of road signs.

Two of the interesting signs are shown above.

I've never in my life seen a "play street" sign in the UK, and these days the country seems to have great difficulty in putting up 20 mph speed limit signs, let alone 15 mph signs. However, both of these things were apparently possible in when my old encyclopaedia was printed back in 1959.

The same encyclopaedia also includes the following passage:

"Road Safety
A motor-car, motor-cycle or any other mechnically-propelled vehicle is a lethal instrument ... A great deal of fun has been made of the man with the red flag who walked in front of the early cars ; yet the authorities of those days had the common sense to foresee, however dimly, the consequences of letting mechnically-propelled vehicles loose on the public highway."
...
"The general mixture of cars, motor-cycles, pedal cycles, and pedestrians has resulted in a toll of death, bereavement, and maiming that is horrible to contemplate and that constitutes a shame and a disgrace to 20th-century civilisation. It is a disgrace because most accidents are avoidable. Mechanical causes (like the failure of the steering gear) are nowadays rare. Bad weather, especially fog and icy roads, can at any time be dangerous. But the great majority of accidents occur because someone has forgotten the basic fact with which this article began - that a mechnically -propelled vehicle is a lethal weapon."
...
Growing accident rate
There were, of course, accidents in the days when all or most vehicles were horse-drawn, but the real slaughter did not begin until 1919, with the great development of motor transport after the First World War. No road-accident figures were published until 1909 ; and it was not until 1930 that the reporting to the police of such accidents became compulsory. For the ten years from 1929 to 1938 the casualties on the roads of England and Wales were:

Killed: 68,548
Injured: 2,107,964
Pedestrians Killed: 33,319
Pedestrians Injured: 760,472


And here ?

Of course, over here you quite commonly find the equivalent of both of the signs above, in the form of the woonerf sign which is very common in housing developments and the 30 km/h (18 mph) sign which is to be seen at the edge of all residential areas.

The blue sign shown here is that which you find in a woonerf, or in English "living street". This is the modern equivalent of a play street, and the sign shows kids playing as being larger, and more important, than cars. There is a video showing streets built along these lines.

Update: Anneke in her response to this item tells me that the speed limit in a woonerf is "walking pace." i.e. about 5 km/h

2011 update: In 2010 there was some confusion about this in the comments (below), and for a while I edited this page to say that "play street" was just a place-holder and that real play-streets had never really existed. However, then TH posted some very compelling evidence that the post was correct in the first place. Click on the photo for more information:


The road sign pictures at the top are taken from "The Book of Knowledge" sixth edition printed in 1959. The photo of children on a play street came from the londonplay website. While play street signs are not easy to find in the UK now, woonerf signs are very easy to find. The woonerf sign came from a signpost just around the corner. There are many of them all around the Netherlands.

21 comments:

Karl McCracken said...

Now there's a coincidence. I was out the other weekend photographing street signs (just don't even ask). The streets behind my house are a 20mph zone, and just a couple of hundred yards away, there are play streets.

All is not quite lost here, it seems!

David Hembrow said...

Karl, I've seen 20 mph signs before (though not nearly enough of them) but thanks very much for sending the link to the play street sign. That's the first evidence I've ever seen that these are actually more common than rocking horse droppings in the UK.

More importantly it's proof that it's still possible to have such a sign. It's a terrible shame that they're not widespread. They should be ! Their equivalent over here is seen all over the place.

Adrian said...

Thanks for the post. These signs are very important to me as they show how our culture has forgoton that it didn't always give the road to the motorcar. Would love to know if they ever existed in Australia.

Nick said...

The Book of Knowledge! It's a long time since I heard of that! I had all 8 volumes as a kid, but that means, I think, that it might have been the edition before yours. I learned more out of that set of books than from anything (or anyone) else before or since.

Anneke said...

I just like to point out that a car is only allowed to drive "stapvoets" (at the pace of feet, so basically 5 km/h) in play streets. But what I remember most about my car training was that my instructor kept pointing to pedestrians and saying "What is he/she going to do? Cross? Run over? Follow someone else? Anticipate!"

David Hembrow said...

I'm glad you liked it Adrian. I also covered loss of cycling culture previously. I know you saw it before, but others perhaps didn't.

David Hembrow said...

Nick, there is another post with a picture from the "Book of knowledge".

My parents bought a few different sets of encyclopaedias, and I spent hours reading stuff in them. They had different views on the world. This set was very British, while another set was very American and a third set that we had was very science and engineering oriented. I used to look things up in all three.

Kevin Love said...

Here in Toronto, we call them "playground zones."

Playground zones, school zones and many residential areas are limited to 30 km/hr.

coco said...

I've seen a play street in Salford: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=53.498194,-2.277839&spn=0.006484,0.019226&z=16

workbike said...

We have a lot of play streets here in Germany too- By coincidence I was going to write a post about them soon

Kevin Steinhardt said...

I always thought Play Street (as it appears in the TSRGD, et al.) was like Anytown: a placeholder for a street's name.

Kevin Steinhardt said...

Yeah: Play Street is a placeholder for a street's name in the Traffic Signs Regulations and General Directions SI 2002. The quotes in the caption of diagram 618 (see http://bit.ly/fWZPVP) give the game away.

David Hembrow said...

Kevin, thanks for letting me know. I certainly got that wrong. It's a shame they hadn't invented the concept earlier...

Kevin Steinhardt said...

There are Home Zones back here in the UK, but they're pretty much just a designation of shared space and "dead slow" speeds. Sustrans are pushing for more of their Liveable Neighbourhoods but because it's a Sustrans project, ... *coughs* they're almost as useless as the London Cycling Campaign. Then again, the National Cycle Network's getting quite big nowadays.

TH said...

I'm afraid Kevin's comment is wrong and Karl and coco are right.

Play Streets are an authorised sign, but are very little used.

Play streets timeline in London.

David Hembrow said...

TH: Thank you very much for your comment. I'm very happy to hear that Play Streets were for real. Shame there are so few of them now.

The photos are excellent to see. I've added one photo and a link to the blog post to avoid further confusion.

Kevin Steinhardt said...

My many apologies; I was thrown by the quote marks present in the TSRGD. The image on page 3 of the PDF citation is certainly something I'd like to see returning to British streets: "[no motor vehicles] unless calling at the premises in the street" rather than the current ambiguous "except for access".

David Hembrow said...

Kevin: Thanks, but there's no need to apologise. It's very difficult to tell what has gone on sometimes. I should have thought clearer myself and referred back to Karl's response, the first on the post, which points to a photo of a play street which still exists.

Lovelo Bicycles said...

David, cycling to work this morning I noticed a Play Street and thought of you, Kirk Road, Litherland, Liverpool http://flic.kr/p/bqo9FG

Also, a home zone, Dundonald St, Birkenhead http://flic.kr/p/bqoefo

David Hembrow said...

Lovelo: Thanks for the photos.

random al said...

hi there is a play street in Westbourne Grove London it is on Lonsdale Road, W11 2DE. you can find the Photo of it on Google maps.