Tree planting scheme sparks debate

12.29 | 16 August 2010 | | 17 comments


A tree planting scheme designed to slow down drivers by challenging their perceptions has sparked sharp debate among road safety professionals.

Provisional results from a pilot scheme carried out in four Norfolk villages appears to show that strategic positioning of trees led to an average speed reduction of 2mph.

However, the scheme has raised concerns about the potential dangers that the trees could pose, particularly to motorcyclists (see comments below).

Norfolk County Council planted 200 trees in four villages – Martham, Horstead, Mundesley and Overstrand – in an effort to reduce average speeds by two to three miles per hour and cut accidents by 20%. There had been 20 crashes in the rural spots over a five-year period.

The top photo shows one of the roads prior to the planting of the trees, while the bottom photo shows the same road after the trees were planted.


If the DfT considers the £70,000 scheme a success, it could be offered to other local authorities.

Stuart Hallett, Norfolk casualty reduction manager, said: “It’s a good result for what is a very cheap method.

“If you are staying at a constant speed, your peripheral vision (which takes in the trees) is giving you the impression you are going faster than you actually are. People hit the brakes before they hit the village.

"What we tried to do in some locations was get over this idea of the village dominating the road environment, not the road dominating the village, so the driver’s perspective is ‘I am travelling through a community, I need to respect that and slow down’."

Click here to read the full Independent news report.


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    Accidents happen, hitting a tree, telegraph post, wall, building is going to be bad. Yes trees cast shade, yes they lose their leaves, yes they cause micro-climates; but drivers can change their speed to suit conditions, you dont have to drive at 60 just because you are allowed to. The people against seem to want to have any and every hard thing that is next to a road with a higher than 30 limit removed. Have they really thought it through, field walls in the dales, every roadside tree, every unfortunately positioned house etc etc. The trees are not magnets for cars,if you drive inappropriately or hit ice or if you have a blowout at speed you may leave the road, you may hit a tree, or a pedestrian..or veer the other way and collide with an oncoming car. The most dangerous things on the road are the drivers. Leave the trees alone.

    John, Lincolnshire
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    Planting trees along the roadside is only going to add to the death toll on our roads. A car colliding with a tree is going to be fatal. Just take a look at the stats where roads are built through woodlands. Many fatalities have occured with cars colliding with trees. Why spend the money on something that will make matters worse when it could be spent on a speed camera that works well.

    Clare Brixey – Somerset
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    As someone who has spent the last twenty or so years driving along French roads there are trees lining the majority of them. Put there in the Napoleonic Wars to shelter marching troops from the sun. 200 years later these have grown to such a size that the roots and trunks are protruding into the carriageway, many are also overhanging at obtuse angles. Have these had any impact on reducing french road casualties? I don’t think so. And they also have no impact in reducing the speed of motorists especially “les jeune conducteurs”.

    Chris, South Yorkshire
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    I am sure Norfolk CC have not taken the decision to plant trees on this section of carriageway lightly – the DfT were rather stringent in what they would and would not accept for inclusion in the Rural Demonstration Project. Plus, as Stuart Hallett rightly points out, these trees have been planted on a relatively low risk section of carriageway (or what appears to be from the photos) which is straight in alignment and within a section of 30mph speed limit.

    It’s possible that too many people are too quick to judge. We all know that traditional methods of Road Safety Engineering are becoming less and less effective and problem sites are becoming increasingly difficult to treat. If we do not trial these more innovative methods how on earth will we know that they work? I am sure before and after data will be robustly investigated and, if for whatever reason the treatment is unsuccessful, I’m sure Norfolk CC will take steps to remove the trees.

    I would also like to point out that it is very rare the same tree is hit twice – I believe some research was undertaken by another authority taking part in the Rural Demonstration Project, looking at street furniture and its involvement in PICs which found that in most instances where a road side object was hit in a PIC i.e. a tree, there were other contributory factors that required treatment such as defective carriageway surface before removal of the street furniture.

    Naomi – Nottingham
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    It would also have been useful if both photographs had been taken with the same lens. Looking at the relative positions of the signs and church you can see that the first one has used a much wider angle, causing the road to appear longer than it does in the second. This gives the impression of a “faster” road, regardless of the trees and longer grass in the second image.

    Brian Baker – Sussex
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    With reference to Stuart Hallett. I am pleased to hear that it’s only on trial. I suppose with being given the monies one has to find something to do with it, and improving the environment is a good idea.

    Only selected areas are being selected, such as those with a 30mph limit in villages, but also on the approach to such villages so it could be up to 60mph on single carriageway roads. And then if there are trees that appear to be in danger of being destroyed by vehicles hitting them, then further protection of the trees would be required.

    And on And on.

    Bob Craven – Lancs
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    It ‘wood’ appear that the tree planting trial has caused a lot of comment over recent days which is a good thing. Norfolk County Council planted trees as one element of the DfT funded Rural Road Safety Demonstration Project. The project involved the trialling of new or innovative measures with the aim of improving road safety in rural areas.

    Commentators are quite right that roadside trees often present a hazard on high speed roads. This is why the trees have been planted only within villages with 30mph speed limits and on the immediate approaches and not on the outside of bends. We believe the potential benefits that the trees provide in terms of speed reduction, improved driver behaviour and environmental enhancement outweighs the potential risk in these locations and has also been subject to a risk assessment process. Another issue we needed to consider was the environmental impact on the Norfolk countryside of traditional traffic calming measures.

    Although the monitoring period is quite short at present, initial results are promising with mean speeds reducing by 1mph and those vehicles exceeding 50mph reducing by 20%. The schemes also have a high degree of public acceptance and have contributed to quality of life improvements in the treated villages.

    Another part of the project has been to improve roadside forgiveness on high speed A roads, and we have gone to great lengths to remove roadside vegetation and self seeded trees in these locations to improve sightlines and reduce the likely severity of an incident should a vehicle leave the carriageway. We have also trialled innovative Vehicle Restraint Systems (Treefend, Naturerail) to protect roadside trees in high conflict locations on high speed A roads. At the moment, however, the monitoring period is too short to establish whether there has been any affect on the number or severity of accidents on these roads.

    All of the work that has been completed as part of the rural Demonstration project will be subject to scrutiny once we have completed our evaluation documentation and passed this to the DfT.

    Stuart Hallett
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    As with everything in road safety – you can’t please everyone! It does look pretty though! Pretty slippery in winter too no doubt!

    Joe – Sefton
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    Dave/Vince – I posted my comment from the perspective of a keen cyclist and motorcyclist, as well as a car driver. Interesting point about the potential risk of a localised micro-climate and I had considered the issue of leaves covering the road at certain seasons of the year and causing an additional hazard from skidding. There are easier and safer ways to reduce vehicle speeds if you ask me.

    Mike Woof
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    I love the comment in the extract from the Gainsborough Standard – “If that tree wasn’t there, she would have lived – it really should have been chopped down.”

    Had their relative been a passenger in a car that was being driven sensibly and with regard to road conditions, she would likewise still be alive. Why go around ‘punishing’ trees for being in the wrong place at the wrong time?

    David, Suffolk
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    I must put my argument with this soundly with the other respondents. I think that this is a ludicrous idea. The road surface not planting trees could have been used to re-surface it. That would make the road a lot safer.
    Why trees? however nice they look they are a danger, roots can bury under tarmac, and in the autumn they lose leaves which becomes a further hazards to any vehicle never mind two wheeled vehicles.
    To my mind its the stupidist idea yet. Have they got money to burn. Why not have a proper headgerow instead or line the bank with several depths of old tyres as they do round racing circuits then anything hitting them then the tyres would absorbe the impact and reduce deaths and injuries.

    Bob Craven – Lancs
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    Surely each case should be looked at on its merits. There is evidence that some trees are in positions where a collision can reasonably be anticipated e.g. into/out of a bend; on the apex; on a route where bikers often ride or drivers travel at higher speeds; where visibility is impaired as trees reach larger size. There are other places where they are on a straight length with no junctions and low usage where they may present a hazard only in the most bizarre of ciscumstances. And everything in between. We should be making sensible judgements in each place on its merits and if you are using a Road Safety Audit methodology, the local circumstances and usage will be considered within the assessment. Let’s not be demanding the felling of every roadside tree “just in case” nor planting them without due regard.

    Honor Byford, North Yorkshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Why has this been done in the face of experience elsewhere?
    From the Gainsborough Standard:

    Death crash trees to be chopped
    17 December 2009
    By Tom Glover
    A DECISION to chop down a tree in Waddington after a crash claimed the life of a Kexby woman has prompted anger from the woman’s family.
    Donna Wells, 31, was a passenger in the car that hit the tree on Friday 4th December, before passing away from fatal injuries in hospital.

    This week, a decision was made to remove the tree and two of its neighbours from the site of her accident –
    another man, Jason Ward, died after hitting one of the other trees at the spot in February.

    But Carol Wells, mother of 31-year-old Donna Wells, says she is outraged it has taken until now for the county council to cut it down.

    “It seems just a little too late,” she said.

    “If that tree wasn’t there, she would have lived – it really should have been chopped down.”

    “I’m really quite angry it’s taken this long to cut down the tree.”

    “I’m pleased it has been removed, as it has already taken two lives, but I hope they listen to people from now on.”

    “We’re just really angry it hadn’t been removed before.”

    Her comments follow concern raised from a Lincolnshire police inspector who, while supportive of the highways department, believed the trees should have come down following Mr Ward’s crash in February.

    Her concerns follow a story in a Lincoln newspaper which questioned why the tree had not been cut down sooner.

    But Lincolnshire Police Inspector for north Kesteven, who featured prominently in the article, says he was misrepresented in the piece, and has thrown his full backing behind the council.

    “I am fully supportive of the county council and fully supportive of their actions,” he told the Standard.

    “When I rang the county council to ask about this, they had already taken steps to remove it.”

    But area highways manger for Lincolnshire County Council Alan Brown maintained the decision to cut down the trees was not prompted by the accidents, but instead came after someone had tried to cut one down without authorisation.

    “Lincolnshire County Council contractors removed three trees on Friday within the highway verge in the vicinity of the Somerton Gate Lane fatal accident site,” he said.

    “These actions followed on from a need to remove the remains of one of the trees which had been felled without the County Council’s involvement and left on the roadside verge.”

    “The opportunity to remove the three sycamore trees was taken whilst the specialist contractor was on site dealing with the felled tree and did not arise from any recommendations associated with formal enquiries into either of the two tragic fatal accidents.”

    Steve Callaghan, Kendal.
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Dave, Vince and Mike make very valid and well reasoned comments.

    Mark – Wiltshire
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    Given that a lot of local authorities have spent huge amounts of time and money setting street furniture back from the road and removing trees this does seem to fly in the face of current good practice. A cyclist or motorcyclist who hits a tree, even a small one, could be very seriously injured. By focusing on speed rather than other causation factors there is the potential to make a road more dangerous not less. On the other hand if it works it’s a cheaper and greener method of reducing casualties which has to be a good thing.
    The IHIE Guidelines and the NMS are still there, but they are just that, guidance not policy so there’s no obligation for highways authorities to take any notice of them. There hasn’t been any real communication from the new government regarding the NMS either so powered two wheelers still remain the poor relation in transport policy and planning. Perhaps this is partly why they feature so strongly in our casualty stats?

    Dave, Leeds
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    Interesting one this. At first glance the ‘treated’ road looks more enclosed and therefore a natural instinct would be to slow down. But looking at it in more detail, it’s not the trees that give this effect, as they are quite spindly and well spaced, but the grass (or whatever it is) on the left hand side.

    Looking again, the trees on the right hand side are in leaf in the bottom photo but bare in the top one, suggesting that they have been taken at different times of the year; how much effect will the new trees have in winter? How many years will it take for them to get established?

    My next observation comes from the viewpoint of a motorcyclist. Although the new trees are still fairly small, they are still casting shadows across the road. This can cause a micro climate which is a potential hazard for 2 wheelers, although I appreciate that the road here looks quite straight. However, the road surface does not look great and that could exacerbate the problem, especially as there is a 30mph limit coming up and motorcycles might be braking from a much higher speed.

    Lastly, as the trees get bigger the potential for a strobing effect to happen will increase, which again is a potential hazard.

    I fear that once again this has been looked at from the viewpoint of car drivers, with scant regard for motorcyclists (but please correct me if I am wrong). What happened to the governments’ motorcycling policy and the IHIE initiative of ‘Motorcycling: reducing casualties, improving the road’?

    Vince Morley – Milton Keynes
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Given the statistics on single vehicle accidents with roadside obstacles, I do wonder how carefully this proposal was thought out. Coming European regulations would probably require all the trees to feature either a crash cushion or a continuous steel barrier to protect road users. These safety measures would then have to be serviced and maintained continuously and the total cost would be enormous. Without crash protection being installed, the trees would pose a significantly greater safety hazard than had they not been grown in the first place. Overall, this is either a costly way to reduce vehicle speeds or a substantial safety hazard in the making.

    Mike Woof, editor, World Highways
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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