How to get teens off the streets [UPDATED]

Scare them silly. Shoot a horror movie that’s meant to shock them into being safer on bikes (wear a magic hat, bike helmets protect your head when you’re hit by a speeding car) and how not to cross the road (listen to an iPod, get squashed, it’s your own stupid fault).

This is the gist of the Ghost Street campaign. I’m sorry to say this web campaign, and the DVD for schools that goes with it, is from my neck of the woods. What were they thinking? ‘They’ being Newcastle City Council. Why create a website riddled with victim-blaming material backed up with no evidence?


UPDATE [10th March 2011]: Newcastle City Council has now taken down the badly-researched material on the Ghost Streets website and replaced it with…nothing. The site is now password protected, and the links in this piece no longer work.

I now have the Freedom of Information request info so can report the video cost £12,000 to produce, with 100 DVDs sent out to schools.

Dene Films got the cash. This outfit is top-notch and would probably normally charge much more than this for a film of this quality. The editing, the graphics, everything about the film, was high-quality but the website was awful. The thrust of the campaign might have been to shock kids into paying more attention on the roads, but the most likely outcome would be that kids would want to get behind the “protection” afforded by cars as soon as possible.

Newcastle City Council said the film’s genre and plot was suggested by kids. This appears not to be the case. According to a promo video by Dene Films, the horror scenario was suggested by Dene Films. Chris Chapman, writer and producer at Dene Films said: “It wasn’t going to be horror it was going to be a talking heads documentary… We knew we wanted to pitch a drama. We knew we wanted to tell a story that was gruesome.”

Vlog 01 – Ghost Street Revisited from Dene Films on Vimeo.


“Traffic is the biggest cause of accidental death of 12 to 16-year-olds.”
No, traffic is not a killer, it’s speeding, inattentive motorists that do the killing. And let’s get rid of this word: “accidental”. Instead of “accident”, use “incident” or “crash”. 99 per cent of road deaths are avoidable. It’s not an “accident” when motorists speed along urban roads at many MPH above posted limits. It’s not an “accident” when motorists overtake in stupid places or miscalculate gaps.

“Research has found that teenagers are easily distracted on the roads.”
Sure they are. And they need to be made more aware of the potential danger of such inattention. But the Ghost Street campaign will have one major result: it will make teens want to drive, to be “protected”.

The imagery for the campaign is illuminating. The markings for the dead body image – above – are on a pavement. Motorists don’t just kill kids on the roads, they kill them on pavements, too. No amount of pedestrians “paying attention” and wearing light-coloured clothing will prevent drivers from mounting kerbs and killing people.

Newcastle City Council ought to be spending money on restraining drivers, not scaring pre-drivers into getting drivers’ licences as soon as they possibly can.

Teens want to drive for a whole load of reasons, similar to the reasons most people want to drive, but why give them such a strong and gory reason to withdraw from the streets?

While the campaign is aimed at 11-16 year olds, there is a driving section but on here there’s nothing urging motorists to pay attention to the road ahead and not use mobile phones when driving.

Teenage motorists text and drive too fast. The motoring section of the Ghost Streets campaign is extremely weak.

I’ve put in a Freedom of Information request to get answers to the following questions:

1. What is the budget for the Ghost Streets campaign?

2. How much money did Dene Films get for the Ghost Streets video?

3. How many DVDs were produced for the campaign?

4. How much did it cost to produce these DVDs?

5. How many DVDs are expected to be sold?

6. What research was carried out to ascertain whether this campaign would be effective at changing the behaviour of the intended audience?

7. Are there any plans for follow-up monitoring of this campaign?

I should hear back within 20 days and will reveal the answers here. [In the meantime, Newcastle City Council’s Head of Highway Network and Traffic Management has given a lengthy rebuttal of the points above – see below the press release).

The campaign’s press release is quite the horror story:

Welcome to Ghost Street

A spooky new film is about to give teenagers in Newcastle a supernatural lesson on road safety.

The film aimed at 12 – 16 year olds, will be shown around schools in Newcastle to raise awareness of road safety and influence teenagers behaviour to use safety advice as part of their everyday life. 

The film follows Tabby, your average and seriously distracted teenager. Living in a world of mp3 players, gossip and mobile phones until her distraction costs her dearly. Tabby finds herself trapped in an other-worldly place, a deathly-silent street until the ghosts come out to play.

Each gory character has met their end on the same street throughout the decades and each has a lesson to learn from the road.

Skater-boy – should have looked before he skated onto the road.

Olivia – an 80s throwback who wished she wore a helmet the first time she rode her new bike.

Rebecca – a pregnant teenager who should have worn a seatbelt.

Commissioned by Safe Newcastle and the City Council’s Road Safety Department, Ghost Street is to be used in schools across Newcastle as part of a lesson plans.

Cheryl Ford, Newcastle City Council’s road safety services officer, said: “Teenagers naturally expect independence. They travel on their own or with friends more than they used to and are confident that they know what to do around roads and traffic. In fact, they over-estimate their road skills.

“We targeted teenagers for our film as research shows that around 14 years-of-age is the best chance to influence young people’s future behaviour.

“Teenagers love a good scary film and Ghost Street has plenty of creepy characters and plenty of gore to keep them hooked.”

Safe Newcastle asked the Youth Parliament to be involved in the commissioning of the film.

Cllr Anita Lower, Chair of Safe Newcastle, said “Who better to decide on what type of film we produce than the target audience themselves.

The Youth Parliament discussed the issues that affect them as pedestrians and this formed the basis of the messages in the film. They were very excited by the idea of Ghost Street and felt that a thrilling fictional story would engage them more.

“Previous road safety films have raised the bar in what’s expected from this type of educational film and I think Ghost Street meets this level.”

Chris Chapman, of Dene Films, wrote and produced Ghost Street, said: “We had tremendous fun making the film but always had a focus on the serious nature behind the film. The young cast worked tirelessly in some testing conditions and the make-up team brought each character to life in wonderful grisly detail. We wanted to create a fictional drama that young people would enjoy watching and were going to remember for a long time.”

Ghost Street – Response from Newcastle City Council.

Newcastle City Council places great value on feedback from the cycling community and other partners working hard to improve road safety and, as a listening council, we welcome your input.

Ghost Street is a multi-award winning educational resource designed by school children for school children. It is intended to provoke discussion around road safety and raise awareness of all aspects of road safety.

Since its launch in 2009, the film has been welcomed by every secondary school in the North East region, each of whom has demonstrated its support for the project by purchasing a copy for their lesson plans. Many of them have commented on how well their classes have responded to the discussion part of the lesson.

The film is designed to be seen in totality and we feel that judgments made on very short clips – some as short as a few seconds – taken out of context can be unrepresentative and misleading.

Do you feel it is fair to condemn a film after watching 12 seconds of it?

We would also like to stress that Newcastle is the most active council in the North East in respect of actively supporting and promoting cycling – last year, for example, we trained 3,500 school children in cycle proficiency as part of out ongoing commitment. But we are doing much more than that.

Here are some further points you might wish to take into consideration when coming to a conclusion about the film.

Key points

Ghost Street is based on an idea by the Local Youth Parliament who decided that a fictional story with a ‘supernatural’ theme would engage them more than a standard ‘safety’ film would.
Ghost Street is not intended to be viewed as a standalone film. That is why it is only available to schools delivering road safety lesson plans.

The film is part of wider road safety package, which includes a discussion session afterwards. To aid the discussion, teachers have the full support and guidance from their local Road Safety Officer.
Ghost Street carefully covers most scenarios of road safety including speeding, seatbelts, walking and cycling.

All facts and figures were provided by THINK! Road Safety.

Road Safety GB has endorsed Ghost Street and have supported the national roll out of the package.
Ghost Street has received several awards/award nomination:

IVCA Awards 2010 (Bronze medal for best original music, sound design, script)
Royal Television Society 2010 (Best drama, director, newcomer)
New York Festival Award 2011 (Nominated for best short film)

Newcastle City Council’s commitment to sustainable transport

We fully advocate safer walking and cycling in Newcastle and this enthusiasm is reflected in Newcastle City Council’s Sustainable Transport Programme Strategy and part of our ethos for School Travel Plans which has 100% approval from the Department for Education and Skills.

We have welcomed the constructive comments around making our website clearer so that readers can get a sense of the wider context and we will certainly make efforts to put this right.

We value you contribution as part of the debate and welcome any future comments you have to make about road safety.

David Embleton
Head of Highway Network and Traffic Management
Newcastle City Council.

Which is greenest? England’s forest estate or an electric estate car?

Autumn Ellie

If you can afford to spend £28,000 on an electric car, our Government will give you a big fat cheque for £5000 as part of a £400m package to subsidise the nascent electric car market.

Selling off 15 percent of England’s forest estate will raise a paltry £100m.

Electric cars – which are, in fact, coal-powered – shift emissions away from source but don’t solve congestion. Millions of electric cars will take up the same space as millions of cars powered by petrol. Millions more cars on the road will only have freedom of movement if more roads are built. The Department for Transport predicts congestion to increase by at least 54 percent within 23 years.

Roads destroy countyside. You know, like woodlands.

Best to get woods out of public ownership, then. And this is what the Government is trying to do, although the bigger-than-expected protests against the sell-off have caused Cameron and chums to have second thoughts.

Last week the Government temporarily suspended its plans to take 15 percent of the public forest estate out of state control which would have generated up to £100m. And a consultation paper from the “greenest Government ever” that was seeking “a range of ownership and management options for the remaining 85 percent of the estate” will be scrapped, believes the BBC.

Do you think the Government might have had its priorities wrong over all this? Yes? How about signing 38 Degrees’ petition to ‘save our forests’. Despite Cameron’s climb-down, our forests are not saved yet.

ecar ebike spot the difference

Partition is not a panacea

HGV and woman cyclist

I’d love to see a whole bunch of Dutch-style segregated cycle paths in the UK. Real ones, done to standard, not yer usual fob-offs.

But I’m not holding my breath. In the meantime, I’d love to see more cycling. Many advocates believe this won’t happen without protected, segregated cycle paths. If that’s the case, then we should just give up on cycling right now because even if the UK Government was an overnight convert to the sense of cycling, it would still take many years for the perfect infrastructure to be designed and built (and for the objections from motorists to be quelled).

It’s also worthwhile pointing out that the Netherlands – a wonderful cycling country because of its sustained efforts at encouraging two wheels over four – doesn’t have segregated cycle paths that go absolutely everywhere. Dutch cyclists still have to mix it with motorised vehicles at times. As this video shows, Dutch cyclists can also be knocked from their bikes by reckless, dangerous motorists:

The motorist who knocked the cyclists off their bikes on a road where cars and bicycles have to travel together was rightly villified. Sadly, that wouldn’t happen here.

Segregated bike lanes would have protected those Dutch cyclists from the monster pick-up but no Government is going to build as many bike paths as there are roads. Roads are highways we must not be shunted from.

Just because I don’t think UK politicians are ready to champion protected bicycle lanes, doesn’t mean I think mixing it with motorised traffic is pleasurable or desirable. I’d be mad not to want safe cycle routes. And such routes can be built.

In Seville, Spain, a 120km network of segregated bike lanes were recently built over a period of three years and by the end of those three years cycle trips went from 6000 to 60,000 trips per day. The segregated lanes were brought into fruition by the Infrastructures for Sustainability department, a part of the Seville City Council. The template for the new segregated infrastructure was developed from Seville’s Steering Plan for Bicycles (2007-2010).

Today, in Seville, 7 percent of all journeys are made by bicycle, a rise from 2 percent before infrastructure investment was made. 30 percent of those attracted to start cycling switched from driving cars.

Seville also created a bike share program, SEVici, provided by JC Decaux as per in other cities. These Velib-style rental bikes get a lot of use because of the protected bicycle lanes.

Because of the success of its segregated bicycle network, Seville was selected as the venue for the cycle advocacy conference, Velo-city, this year staged March 23-25th.

“In a very short time, we have combined our economic efforts with a firm, decisive policy aimed at developing road interventions, sectional programmes and strong policies to foster the use of bicycles as a healthy and sustainable means of transport with a positive impact on both the individuals involved and on society in general. There is no going back.We proved that it is possible to prioritize in favour of sustainable transport and make a significant contribution to the necessary battle against climate change.”
José Antonio García Cebrián, member of the City Council of Seville and director of Velo-city 2011

Top marks to Seville for showing it can be done. But segregation alone is not enough. Seville’s Bicycle Plan also contains many ‘softer’, pro-cycling measures. These measures should not be sidelined by those believing UK politicians will be converted to the cycling cause by the power of logic and common sense (and templates from other cities).

Dreaming of a brighter future is necessary but pushing for segregation as the number one solution to getting more people cycling is not something that helps us right this second in time. I want to see more people cycling now and – until all the magical bike paths are built – work on getting a whole variety of ‘go by bike’ messages out there.

I’ve created smartphone apps (iPhone and Android) which direct newbie cyclists on to less busy roads, and oftentime imperfect cyclepaths.

I’ve helped make funding decisions on which cycling projects should get Bike Hub levy cash (the Beauty and the Bike project for young women on Dutch bikes in Darlington one of them). I’ve travelled with MPs and Lords on the All Party Parliamentary Cycling group to work out how to get more people cycling.

I’ve created ‘how to’ videos for new cyclists, including the one below.

In the 1990s I published a quarterly magazine called On Your Bike which was specifically targeted at new and returning cyclists; more recently I wrote a book to get new people to consider cycling to work. The online Bike to Work Book has had nearly 300,000 reads and downloads. I expect many of the readers are new to cycling, and I hope some of them were encouraged to cycle to work from reading the book.

An article from a proof of the expanded and revised 2011 version of the book is embedded below. Click on the ‘expand’ option to read it in full-screen and hit the right-hand arrow to flip the page. The article is a shortened and edited version of a article which gets some cycle advocates hot under the collar, partly because I say I want to keep riding on the road as an absolute right.

It’s a case of ‘be careful what you wish for.’ The addition of cycle lanes in the UK can sometimes make conditions worse for cyclists. Drivers both love and hate cycle lanes. They love them because such lanes are perceived to be a way of shunting cyclists out of the way; they hate them because (a) they think they pay for them with “their road tax” ( is another one of my little projects) and (b) because cyclists don’t always use them (for the obvious reasons we’re all familiar with).

In a Department for Transport research document full of stand-out quotes, this is worth highlighting:

“In practice, cycling infrastructure may not be designed to tackle problems of road sharing at all, but as part of efforts to promote cycling. Since one of the major barriers to cycling is the behaviour of [motorists], one natural response is to focus on providing ways for cyclists to avoid traffic – in line with this avoiding cyclist logic. However, as we have seen, this may run the risk of delegitimising the presence of cyclists on the road in the eyes of [motorists]. It is at least theoretically possible, that is, that one could end up making the barrier to cycling – the behaviour of [motorists] – worse.”

Bicycle Anatomy for Beginners from carltonreid on Vimeo.

Five minute video which lovingly zooms into bike parts, and names them. “Watch this guide and you’ll be talking bike in 5 minutes.” The ‘bespoke’ soundtrack was made using bike parts (spokes, gear shifting, disc brake rotor twanging), recorded in my garage and then made into music by Greg Johnston. It’s bike tech techno: I’ve called it ‘Bong. Psst. Twang. Whirr. Psst.’