The proposed capital cost of £4.3 million [total net cost could be over £8 million according to some calculations] for widening the main road past Levenwick will not significantly reduce road danger and is a huge opportunity lost.
The most effective way to reduce road danger is by implementing 20mph speed limits in residential areas and around schools. We also need serious investment in cycle lane infrastructure in order to allow more people to commute by bike and to realise Shetland’s potential as a cycle tourism destination.
Speed is the most critical factor in road traffic collisions. The energy involved in a collision increases at the square of the speed of colliding objects: Hit a pedestrian travelling at 20mph and your chances of killing them is 2.5 per cent. At 30mph the chance of a fatality is 30 per cent, this rises to 50 per cent at 35mph and 90 per cent at 40mph.
For high speed vehicle-vehicle collisions, there have been improvements with safety technology in modern vehicles but these can only go so far – you can’t argue with physics.
It’s important to look into the historical context of the A970. Prior to the upgrade work, which was completed in the early 1990s, there were relatively few serious collisions, as speeds were much slower.
Widening and straightening the A970 has brought economic benefits to Shetland, with significantly reduced journey times – but we traded these benefits with an increased probability of road traffic collisions.
Since 2000, according to Department of Transport data, 28 people have been involved in serious collisions and there have been five fatal accidents on the A970 south of Lerwick.
The proposed redesign of the A970 at Levenwick could have the unintended consequence of putting more people at risk by encouraging drivers to increase their speeds further.
In contrast, speed reduction measures would cost a few thousand pounds and reduce danger at the price of only a few extra seconds to people’s journey times.
We need to have a different perspective on reducing road danger. Infrastructure to reduce speed at danger spots and in residential areas must be the priority.