Matt Jones

An open letter to Newcastle City Council about the 'Ghost Street' road safety campaign

I’m writing with regard to your Ghost Street road safety campaign website, specifically the pages about pedestrians and cycling.

My question is how are we supposed to encourage more people to cycle or walk if campaigns like this scare them away from it? A safer environment for cyclists and pedestrians is one in which fewer people commute by car, and more people choose to cycle or walk instead. The problem is that people choose not to cycle or walk BECAUSE of the dangers presented by the number of cars on the road and lack of adequate infrastructure (especially for cyclists who often have to share the road with motorists). This is a vicious circle that won’t be broken by this sort of ill-conceived campaign that only perpetuates the idea that cycling (or being a pedestrian) is a dangerous activity.

Furthermore, this is a classic case of a campaign addressing the symptom and not the cause. A recent study in Australia has shown that in the majority of accidents involving cyclists and motorists, it is the driver who is at fault. In the scenarios depicted in your campaign, the onus is on the young people to protect themselves from cars, rather than on the motorist to drive with due care and attention for other road users (whether that is cyclists, or pedestrians crossing the road).

Also, I recognise that the use of shock tactics works in getting people to change their behaviour, for example, drink-driving campaigns have been successful in making drinking and driving a socially unacceptable activity, but with this campaign it seems out of place and only serves to discourage people from cycling or walking.

I’m concerned about the negative effect this campaign may have on other campaigns that are trying encourage people to cycle or walk. Surely public money would be better spent on improving Newcastle’s cycling infrastructure and on campaigns that emphasise the positive benefits of cycling and walking.

Matt Jones

Update: Thanks to Tom for providing me with a link the council’s press release about the campaign.