Monday, 3 November 2008
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:
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:
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.