Motcombe residents have taken their campaign to reduce speeding into their own hands. Literally. ThisIsAlfred’s Keri Jones visited the village to meet locals who have been promoting safe driving with homemade ‘lollipop’ patrol signs and speed guns.
It’s 8.30am on a chilly, November day and half a dozen parents are marshalling a few dozen primary school pupils into a line. The kids will stride on to school in what’s known as a ‘walking bus’. Their hi-viz tabards stand out against the grey skies and orange leaves on this dark autumnal day. The children are disciplined and orderly. They’re used to this daily drill from the Memorial Hall to the school. “Every day, rain or shine,” said parent Fran Bridgewater.
Inconsiderate parking is a problem. The Council has marked off a 3ft width of tarmac nearest the edge of the roadway with a single white line. They’ve painted on the icon of a walking figure to create a virtual pavement, but vehicles park over this painted line. And when cars and vans block the walkway it forces children into the road. The parents now cone off a section of this painted pavement.
“We put these temporary cones out every day outside the church. They are the length of an emergency vehicle so, for example, a fire engine can pull in but it also gives enough of a gap along the road to make sure that there’s space for cars to pass, with some give-and-take,” said Fran.
As I followed the children on their school route, Reverend Pam Rink was leaving the church. Pam frequently witnesses inconsiderate parking. “All the time,” confirmed Pam. “This time of day is so dangerous for children. To have to come out into the road with pushchairs and little children and toddlers with cars dashing up and down. We’ve had a few incidents,” Pam said. “We’ve had wing mirrors scraped,” interjected Fran.
Locals have been asked to avoid driving at times when the children are travelling to and from school. And Reverend Pam has heeded this request when arranging services. “I’ve got a funeral next week, which they wanted to hold at 2.30pm. I asked them if they could hold it at 1.30pm so it doesn’t clash with the school. The parking situation for the funeral and the parents, combined with everybody walking to school, would be horrendous. We try to work things around it as much as we can.”
The white line paintwork doesn’t seem to be that effective. Fran does leave stickers on the windscreens of the vehicles that are parked most inconsiderately. As we chatted, the driver of a white van, which had parked across the white pavement line, returned to his vehicle and prepared to drive off. I asked Fran whether she was going to have a word. “No. Because he was pretty near. The ones that are right over are the problem.” But Fran said she would put a door hanger marker on a vehicle that was parked well over the line.
“One of the most difficult things is that this white line here doesn’t have much legal jurisdiction. Years ago in Motcombe, they trialled this with different coloured tarmac, which was really useful. It was a golden colour,” Fran said. “Just a difference in colour would help show people.”
I asked Fran why she wasn’t pushing for a proper raised pavement. “There are funding issues,” Fran replied. “The Parish Council say they can do white paint so that’s what we’re encouraging them to do in the first instance. White paint is all we can work with,” said Fran.
So would enforceable yellow lines be more effective? “Residents don’t like the idea of double yellows. We’re not urban and we shouldn’t have to resort to urban measures like that,” Fran said.
As the walking bus continued, 6-year-old Charlie stepped out into the road, with adults keeping a watching eye over the traffic. He was clutching a child-sized, home-made, lollipop patrol sign. Today it was his turn to help his classmates cross the road. “I have to stop the cars,” said Charlie, adding that it was an important job because otherwise ‘someone might get hurt’.
I’d hope that speeding drivers would think about their driving style when they saw the Year 2 pupil holding up his tiny lollipop patrol sign. Fran would love the county to fund a fully grown lollipop person. “We have had a lot of support from the Parish Council. If we could appeal for funding for a lollipop person at county level it would make life a little bit easier,” said Fran.
School headteacher Matthew Barge was waiting outside the primary as the pupils arrived. He’s asked Dorset County Council about a lollipop patrol but was told that there’s no room to pay someone within their budget. “If there was a volunteer locally who could do it, before and after school, there is training and equipment available,” he said.
Ensuring a safe passage for pupils to the primary could become a bigger problem in future years. Motcombe is expanding, which might mean more cars and more pupils. “This school has grown massively in recent years. It’s now very, very popular. This is something that we have not had to address before, which is why, as parents, we are volunteering to do this. It’s not easy,” said Fran.
The mums and dads have a genuine reason for concern. Many of them witnessed a terrifying accident near the school recently. “One of the mums was parked on the road a few weeks ago. It was at school pick-up time, when a car literally drove straight into her vehicle, lost control and flipped over onto its roof. She sustained huge injuries to her leg including a big blood clot. She was pinned to the fence. Hopefully that is a one-off but it shows how dangerous even the wider bit of road, coming out of the 60-mile-an-hour limit, can be. It is still not a safe road and it’s worrying for us walking the children,” said Fran.
Villagers are concerned about general driving speeds around the village. At the other end of Motcombe, heading through the deep hollow that runs toward Shaftesbury, there’s a tendency for drivers to speed. “To anybody with a motorsport inclination, this looks like a very exciting motorway leading to an exciting hill climb. Even though it is a 30-mile-an-hour limit, because it is wide and it is straight, people will overtake you when you are driving at 30-miles-an-hour. It is very difficult,” said Fran.
Residents have decided to effect change through a campaign of speed awareness, designed to encourage responsible driving. I walked with Fran to the roadside near the village shop where three members of the twenty-strong Speedwatch group were monitoring traffic speeds. They didn’t want to be named because, as I discovered, their speed recording does carry some weight.
‘B’ was holding a grey plastic implement that looked a little like a hairdryer. “It’s the speed gun. It’s very accurate,” B said, as he held the gadget towards an approaching white car. The LED displayed the number 21mph and that figure quickly rose up to 24mph. “Sometimes they like to push their luck and give me a little wave as they go by,” B said. “Once they see the speed gun, it is very effective at slowing people down. Word seems to get round.”
We waited a minute or two and a Land Rover approached. The driver recognised the speed gun and clearly stepped on her brakes. She was under the 30-mile-per-hour limit when she passed the monitors. “It seems to work. We don’t really want to catch people. We don’t want to get people into trouble. We just want them to be aware of their speed when they come through this village,” said B.
But the group can and do take action if they detect drivers who are going far too fast. “Some teams have caught people speeding at 45-miles-an-hour,” group member ‘G’ offered. “We make a note of anyone who is 36-miles-an-hour or over,” added B. “The police will then check all the details about them. The driver gets a letter to say that they have been spotted doing that speed and all of their details, such as their MOT and insurance, are checked too. It’s a double whammy. Most people here are law-abiding and the thought of getting a letter is quite upsetting for them.”
And that explains why the group members wish to remain incognito. Speedwatch volunteer ‘H’ told me that they aimed to deter fast drivers, rather than catch them. She assured me that they are not vindictive.
As I spoke with the volunteers, temperatures were hovering just above freezing. I asked them what motivated them to stand on the roadside in the 2-degree chill. “I think just to make people aware of the speed they are going at. If we catch people, they will know about it,” said G. Their efforts make drivers aware of the dangers of speeding in the village.
They’re also keen to dissuade drivers from using the village’s lanes as ‘rat runs’ between major A-roads. “One of the policemen from Blandford who attended one of the accidents in ‘the hollow’ two summers ago made a valid point. If people are short-cutting between any of the three A-roads around Motcombe, then the only way the shortcut works is to speed. That’s the lot that we are trying to discourage and that’s why the physical (sight) of the walking bus crocodile in the morning is really useful. People need to know that you will get snarled if you try to cut through Motcombe,” said Fran.
Without a budget to tackle speed reduction and problem parking, Motcombe’s residents hope that by volunteering their time, their safe speed message will slowly get through.