I owe my life to a Silver Cross pram.

Illustration purposes only


Guest post by Rob Greenland

It was March 1973, and my mum was walking to the shops in Liverpool with 10 week old me in one of those big prams that people had before you worried about whether it would fit in the back of a car. Largely because you didn’t have a car. She waited at a zebra crossing. Cars in the line of traffic closest to her came to a halt. She stepped out to cross. Then in the outside lane a man came speeding round the corner in his car, just as we got half way across. She was flung to the ground. Me and the pram hurtled down the road.

Those big Silver Cross wheels took the full force of the car. A passer-by ran down the road, picked me out of the pram and ran with me to a nearby hospital.I was fine. A fractured skull – but when you’re a baby and you’re still soft in the head that’s not too serious. The pram was a write off. My mum was OK, beyond the shock.

The case eventually went to court. The driver was ordered to pay compensation of £100 – and buy me a new pram.

I think that goes some way to explaining why this road safety stuff is personal to me. I can’t think of anything I feel more strongly about – because it’s something that I live with every day. Every day that I walk with my son to school. Every day that I cycle to work. We have a road culture in Leeds where, far too often, the behaviour a significant minority of other road users either puts my life at risk, or at the very least makes journeys around my city far less enjoyable than they should be.

So what are we doing about it? I’d suggest that as a city we’re not doing enough. One the one hand we want to be “Best City”, a “Child-Friendly City”. But day in, day out, on our roads, it really doesn’t feel like we’re anywhere near achieving either of those ambitions. And it’s not just the Council’s fault of course. We need to question the Police – and the Police and Crime Commissioner – about things like enforcement of speed limits on Leeds roads. When did you last see a police officer on a Leeds street stopping people for speeding?

Then, nationally, politicians love to court the motorist vote. Witness for example Labour’s shadow transport spokesman – promising that if Labour get in power “there will be no new war on the motorist.

I don’t know about you, but as far as I’m concerned, if there’s a war on our roads, it’s a war on the pedestrian, the cyclist and the child. And that’s not just the rant of a man who sold his car three years ago to try and live a bit differently in Leeds. I’m backed up by statistics, shared in a Leeds City Council Scrutiny Panel this week.

In the period January – September 2014 the number of people killed or seriously injured on Leeds roads went up by 11% from 217 to 240, compared to the same period in 2013. The report says:

Child, cyclist and notably pedestrian casualties are all higher than in 2013. (Agenda Item 7, point 3.9)

The report states that over half of pedestrian casualties in Leeds in 2014 were children.   So not only are more people being killed and seriously injured on our roads – the impact is being felt in particular by the most vulnerable people on our roads, including our children. It’s no surprise that this year’s Children’s Mayor talked in her manifesto about the need to protect children in Leeds from the “danger of cars on our roads”.

These statistics had been shared because the Council’s Scrutiny Board for Sustainable Economy and Culture had asked for more data – in the context of scrutinizing Leeds’ current approach to the roll-out of 20mph speed limits.

That’s a whole other blogpost – but to summarise Leeds is currently keen on a 20mph Zone approach. They focus on implementing 20mph limits in specific areas, usually with measures such as speed bumps, concentrating on areas around schools, and where there are clusters of road collisions. Whilst such measures may help in specific areas, they do little to influence a wider culture where speeding is common.

Meanwhile, plenty of other big cities in the UK and around the world favour what many would suggest is a more ambitious approach – with default 20mph limits across many of their city’s roads. Witness what Edinburgh are doing  for example – or what was announced in London last week.

I went along to the Scrutiny Panel discussion this week – after having had some good discussions on the topic on Twitter in the last few days. I’m sold on the idea of Default 20 because I don’t understand why 30mph is OK in one place (on our suburban residential street for example) and not on other streets. I was heartened by much of what I heard. Councillors know this is a big issue – particularly those that represent inner-city wards, where more people walk, and where children are perhaps more likely to play out in the street. One councillor stated that:

“After dog poo, speeding is agenda item number 2 in every community meeting I go too.”

On the other hand, the Highways representative and the Councillor with responsibility for Highways who were called to the Panel made it pretty clear that they were happy with the current approach.

They were pretty sceptical about the Default 20 approach that a number of other cities are adopting. They were confident that whilst other cities may be taking different approaches, they were developing something that was appropriate – and achievable – in Leeds. Following the discussion, the Panel agreed to set up a working group – which, amongst other things, will look in more detail at what other cities are doing – and the impact they’re having particularly in relation to Default 20mph limits.

For me, all of this goes beyond whether a speed limit is 20mph or 30mph. It’s about the kind of city we want to live in. The Best City? A Child-Friendly City? I’m not sure we’re on the road to being either of those at the moment.


  1. These statistics are bad, but there is a bigger story too. Increased death rates from air pollution generated in a large part by transport are shocking, yet rarely discussed and the effect that busy road have on parents’ willingness to let children play outdoors is concerning too.

    Children who only ever play outdoors in supervised spaces and situations, with vigilant parents always looking on are really losing out on the freedom that I and all of the other children I knew experienced growing up in the late 70s and early 80s. “Playing out” in the street or in places accessed by crossing a road is just too risky and our behaviour is modified in response to these risks . Our children lose out on independent play, learning how to take risks, leading their own imaginative play, how to negotiate friendships and squabbles without adult interference as well as the well measured benefits to physical health and wellbeing. Parents’ time is taken up ferrying children to organised outdoor activities, ironically increasing car usage, and the stress on everyone shows.

  2. I don’t think it’s just about speeding either. I live near a crossroads where motorists often have a complete disregard for the pedestrian crossings. At busy times you can’t see the other side of the road to cross and on a number of occasions I have almost been hit by traffic turning where I cannot see the road clearly and at other times I have been unable to cross the road at all when the green man is lit. School kids will just cross when this occurs because the green man says it’s ok.

  3. Generally I’m fine about all the argument put forward here – speed limits should be cut and air pollution is a definite issue which demands renewed attention – I could go on at some length about the latter.

    I fear however that at some points the blog tips over into self parody – yes I was nearly killed too by a car but then it was because I chose aged 5 or 6 to run into the road when there wasn’t a gap. Fortunately the managed to stop and I was not mentally scared for life.

    Likewise I personally feel Rob does his readers a disservice by claiming he is a better man by giving up his car. I have commented on another thread that this approach of guilty tripping mobility impaired people who need a car does no one any favours.

    Nevertheless “inspired” as they say by the blog above I have imagined Rob’s next 4 blogs along the lines of

    (a ) The no kids family is eco- perfect for me says Rob Greenland

    What is the single most environmentally damaging thing couples in developed western nations can do – that’s right have children. In the west one child will consume and pollute far more than their peer in a developing country and if we reproduce above replacement level of two children then the problem will only get worse generation by generation.
    That’s why my partner and I have decided we will go down the no kids route. We have discovered that not only is our spiritual and physical relationship enhanced but we have more time to care for relatives and our neighbours but also we have more time to promoting our values in the wider community and help save the planet too.

    Why not do as we do.

    (b ) Give bears a chance says Rob Greenland

    From the Pyrenees to the Tatra mountains across Europe communities are coming together to re-wild their open spaces with species which have become extinct due to man’s cruelty and lack of inter-species sensitivity such as wolves and bears. Even more excitingly some have introduced animals never actually native to the region such as alpaca and bison.
    Of course Leeds has always been in the forefront of introducing its citizens to nature through initiaves such as Meanwood urban farm, Lotherton Bird Garden, Temple Newsom Home farm and of course Tropical World.

    Let’s take this a stage further and introduce brown bears (Ursus Arctos) to Roundhay Park. Such a move would achieve three socially and environmentally valuable outcomes. It would

    – Open up wilder and under used areas of the park to visitors seeking to locate our guests.

    – Complement Tropical World with a new visitor attraction “Temperate World”

    – Enhance Roundhay’s growing reputation (see recent recommendation in the Sunday Times ) as a centre for eco-excellence with its farmers market, edible beds, artisan beer bars – the missing link is surely species re-habilitation.

    (C ) Move ‘ em on or make’ em pay says Rob Greenland

    Following scrutiny of the evidence from Leeds Datamill, Leeds Empties is proud to announce the formation of a new citizen led housing based social enterprise “Leeds Half Empties”. This organisation is committed to synergizing the twin problems of the paucity of bed space in Leeds with the horror of owner occupier pensioner households over occupying large houses in some of our leafier suburbs.

    This new and exciting social enterprise will:-

    First, through equity release funding, support pensioners into self- build communal eco accommodation of a modest nature see Liliac as a younger person’s example. This programme has the added advantage of introducing the elderly to new skills in construction, encouraging physical activity so important to health in old age and disperse he problems of social isolation.
    Second, strongly advocate that Leeds City Council seek powers from Westminster to be able to add to the Council tax bill of these Pensioner Owner Over -occupiers (POO) a Spare Room Supplement for each room under occupied as a means not only to raise revenue for affordable social housing but also to demonstrate the community’s contempt for this self-indulgence.

    (d) Is it time to re-introduce the invalid tricycle? – asks Rob Greenland.

    After John Sour’s intervention highlighting the consequences for the mobility impaired of the exciting development towards idea of the walkable city for Leeds I have been pondering the way forward.

    Clearly the current option of the Motability scheme is unsustainable as it not only incentivizes car use and all that entails but is too costly as the Coalition have shown.

    Sadly my preferred option of the non-polluting low speed mobility scooter is also out as it clogs up shared space cycle/ pedestrian lanes not least because it is a single person vehicle and is clearly out for any long journeys the person needs to make.

    So what is the solution? I think it is time we went back to the past, to that golden era of support for disabled people when they were offered an invalid tricycle. It had all the features we need today low power, low speed, low fuel use yet relatively weather proof, capable longer journeys and unlikely to harm pedestrians or cyclists if it runs out of control.

    Yes once again it is the greed and selfishness of our modern age which means that we are blind to the benefits of the past.



  4. I hope your re-wilding scheme doesn’t extend to malaria-bearing mosquitoes, Sour

    As someone who has spent his life car-free and childless (relying on the generosity of others for the benefits and pleasures to be derived from having these whilst remaining complacently untroubled by the drawbacks), my solution to the 20-minute neighbourhood (if you’ll permit a complete non sequitur) is to get rid of cars and buses entirely and replace them with seven-lane moving pedestrianised paths – you choose the lane that suits your velocity quotient – thus the near left lane – otherwise the “PPP (ponderous pedestrian and pensioner) lane comes equipped with sofas and absorbs the crawlers whilst the outside “GOOMFWYT” lane is for busy commuters, vibrant shoppers and the generally impatient. Each strip would be wide enough to allow for overtaking, safe lane-changing opportunities and trouble-free egress.

  5. Thought you might appreciate the satire Grumpius.

    Your multi-speed highway has been tried at Meadowhall with a browser lane for shoppers and an outside lane for those who just wanted to get out as fast a possible. Sadly although this was marked out they didn’t get round to installing the moving conveyors.

    Otherwise airports are another working example where “travelators” and walking lanes get people to the gates. Personally when I use one I usually end up in a heap with my luggage not noticing I had come to the end of the ride.

    I’ll go for the sofa lane when they install one.

    Kind regards


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