Letters pages in newspapers are strange and alien worlds, dominated by “facts that everybody knows” and answers to questions no-one has asked. In short, they are political places, and I feel uneasy in them.
I occasionally cross their borders, but I know in my heart that it’s a waste of time. My opinions are not of the “everybody knows” kind, and I always attract swift retorts from people who do know, know exactly what they know, and know that what anyone else knows is not worth knowing.
Recently I wrote again on the subject of speed limits, which I happen to think are often dangerously low. I left the country immediately afterwards – not to avoid gangs of marauding tortoises, but because I had a holiday booked. So I may have missed some responses, but I did see two, both of which were typical in different ways.
One came from a resident of the Newmarket Road area in Norwich, who objected to my suggestion that 30mph was too slow a limit for a wide open road with excellent visibility and houses set back.
She said residents had asked for the limit, which I don’t doubt at all. They always do. But why had they wanted it? Because “pedestrians have to take their life in their hands to cross three lanes of traffic via the new refuge there because of the newly installed bus lane. Cars joining the main road from the slip road are required to perform a dangerous manoeuvre crossing the new bus lane…” and so on.
Clearly there is a problem, but it’s not a speeding problem: it’s a bus lane problem. If a bus lane makes it dangerous for pedestrians to cross, why have a bus lane? To save buses a few seconds? Why is there not a footbridge, or a pelican crossing?
I suggest that when traffic has been travelling at 30mph along there for a while, she will find it even more difficult to cross the road, because she will have a continuous slow-moving stream of metal to contend with.
She mentions cars illegally turning right across the bus lane: this is not a speed problem; again it is a bus lane problem. Why is it even possible to perform this manoeuvre anyway? What is the highways authority playing at?
Another letter started: “Mr Lenton suggests we should be concentrating on enforcing existing speed limits”, which I didn’t say and do not support.
Ideally I would like to see speed limits functioning in an advisory capacity, because speed itself is not a problem. On any given road it may sometimes be safe to go at 40mph, and at other times 20mph will be too fast.
Prosecution should be for dangerous driving, not exceeding an arbitrary, ill-chosen limit. This does of course mean having traffic police about, and that I do support.
Nevertheless casual newspaper readers are left with the impression that (a) I am in favour of strict enforcement of speed limits and (b) I don’t care if residents are knocked down as long as I can drive fast.
See what I mean by an alien world?