The Twitter bots catching speeders in West London in controversial dispute over LTNs

Twitter might get a lot of stick for being a whacky and unforgiving place at times, but it certainly has its uses.

Speeding campaigners are making the most of it by creating so-called ‘speedbots’, to draw attention to the ongoing problems of speeding on the capital’s roads.

In Hanwell, a Twitter speedbot has appeared which has reignited the debate over traffic calming and whether Low Traffic Neighbourhoods (LTNs) actually work.

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One of the areas covered by the speedbot includes most of the former LTN21 area, which stretched between Hanwell Broadway, Boston Manor and Northfields.

How it works

If you have a Google Account or an Android smartphone, chances are your data is being used by Google Maps to show realtime traffic information. As your device travels along a certain road, Google calculates how fast you must be going, and therefore if the road is busy with traffic or not.

You can see the result of this by selecting the ‘traffic’ filter on Google Maps, the red/amber/green lines which appear above the roads are actually populated by the data your smartphone records.

A digital-expert-turned-speeding-campaigner managed to take this open, publicly available data and convert it into a workflow which effectively tweets every time someone excessively speeds through the area.

A 20mph speed limit is in place all over the zone even though the LTN is no longer in operation.

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The busy Northfield Avenue is popular due to its independent shops, meaning side streets such as Leighton Road see rat-running to avoid traffic

The effects

So far, the bot has recorded over 650 incidents of speeding, with reports of up to 68mph, so it certainly has raised attention to speeding in the area.

As implied, this could amount to around £65,000 in three weeks alone if fines were given to the offenders (note that not all of the 650 are over the 45mph threshold, but some are another 20mph over, so would attract a higher fine of up to £1,000).

MyLondon spoke with residents in the affected area and reaction to the speedbot is mixed.

A Midhurst Road resident told MyLondon: “The LTNs were too much but I agree there really is a speeding problem, and something has to be done about it.

“Just the other day I was standing here on the pavement, talking to someone and a car came down the road so fast, we could actually feel the wind – the breeze – knock us as it came down.

“It’s probably good, I think. It’s safer for the children. Someone has to do something.”

Midhurst and Coldershaw Roads in the centre of the area are littered with pro- and anti-LTN literature as well as 20mph signage. There seems to be a mixed reaction to various restrictions used to improve traffic flow.

Another resident said: “There is no mix[ed reaction]. The LTNs are bloody useless. It was a load of nonsense and that’s why they changed their mind. And there ain’t no speeding around here. Look at the roads, it’s quiet!”

A local business owner in the Northfields area told MyLondon that frustrations over the LTN were so high recently that a group of children ‘not older than about 14’ physically removed the traffic obstacles on Midhurst Road before they were ultimately removed by the council.

Intended and unintended consequences

The speedbot has certainly helped bring attention to the speeding issue. However, a similar experiment in the New Forest actually ended up enticing speeders to go faster in the hope that they could make the bot tweet the highest speed.

Councillor Deirdre Costigan, deputy leader and cabinet member for climate emergency said: “Vehicles triggering the data may well include emergency service vehicles in action.

“Ealing Council has taken action to address speeding by making the whole of the borough a 20mph zone on all adopted roads. We have ensured there is signage on all roads and on the carriageway itself to remind drivers that they must not speed.

“Local councils do not have powers to take enforcement action against drivers who refuse to follow the rules and we rely on the police to do this, along with their other duties. We regularly engage with the local police on enforcement action and will raise this with them.

“I personally believe that the government should change the law so that councils can take enforcement action against speeding drivers and we don’t have to rely on the police, relieving pressure on an emergency service who already have a lot to do.”

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The Metropolitan Police and National Police Chiefs Council who enforce speeding rules did not comment on the matter as whether or not the speedbots could be used as permissible evidence is a matter for the courts. They did not confirm if police resources are being used to watch over the Twitter speedbots.

MyLondon reached out to the campaigners who set up both the original Twitter speedbots and the Hanwell one but did not receive a response.

Do you think the Twitter speedbots are a good idea? Do you believe there is a speeding problem in the Hanwell area? Let us know in the comments below.

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