Should all towns and cities adopt a 20mph speed limit?


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Should all towns and cities adopt a 20mph speed limit?

Posted 20 September 2010 10:32 by martin

Many years ago, when passing a primary school, I cycled straight into a kid who ran out into the road from between two parked cars.  He went flying and I went flying.  I was badly shaken and bruised, and he was bloodied and crying.  But ultimately we were both OK.  (I was then marched to the headmistress's office, but that's another story…).

As I had previously used one of those little speedometer things that you can clip to the handlebars of a bike, I know that I was doing about 12-15 mph, tops.  Ever since, I've always wondered what would have happened to the kid that day if I'd been in a car.

There seem to be so many compelling reasons for reducing the speed limit in town to 20mph:
  • reduced risk of death or serious injury (+ related reduction in economic burden on health services)
  • a safer environment for walking and cycling, with associated health benefits from increased 'active travel'
  • reduced noise pollution
  • just making streets more pleasant places to be (whether walking, cycling, chatting, playing, sitting, drinking, eating etc.)
  • less aggressive acceleration/deceleration, with related benefits in terms of reduced air/noise pollution and carbon emissions
  • economic benefits for local businesses, as their neighbourhoods become more pleasant areas to visit
You can maybe make an exception for some ring/arterial roads, but in somewhere like London's congestion charge zone, with such a dense pedestrian presence, letting vehicles travel legally at 30mph seems insane.

Of course 20mph zones are springing up all over the country, but they are still the exception rather than the rule.  Shouldn't this be turned on its head, with the presumption that every road in a built-up area has a 20mph speed limit unless a very good case can be made for a higher one?

Yes, some of the Top Gear brigade will no doubt whinge away about the nanny state, and infringement of civil liberties, but hey, shouldn't they take a chill pill, sit back, relax, and accept that in urban areas things need to be a bit different?

Maybe the quid pro quo is that we need a network of 'Speed Parks' around the country, where all that pent-up fury at the injustice of having to drive so slowly in cities can be released in an orgy of speed – 'anything goes' circuits where people can drive their Ford Fiestas / Range Rover Sports round and round and round in circles as fast as they like.

But in town, surely twenty's plenty?

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  1. JamieB says:

    October 2nd, 2010 at 8:50 am (#)

    The network of speed parks already exists – many motor racing circuits around the country hold track days where you can go and rag your car around the circuit.

    But yes, twenty is most definitely plenty in all towns and cities and I can't wait until it's universal!

  2. Clare says:

    October 28th, 2010 at 3:49 pm (#)

    I completely agree with you but I despair of that ever becoming a reality in Cambridge where I live. The recent introduction of 20mph limits in some of the streets in the centre of the city was accompanied by an admission by the police that they were not going to enforce it. This came as no surprise since they do very little to enforce the existing 30mph limits.

    I live on a busy part of the ring road which has a 30 mph limit. Most drivers seem to think that 30 is the minimum speed; taxis, buses, lorries and private cars thunder along this narrow road without regard for cyclists and pedestrians, other drivers attempting to exit from side roads, or for the care homes, nursery schools etc which line the route. If you do drive along at 30 or slightly below, you get headlights flashed at you, tailgating and hair-raising attempts to overtake you. The residents campaigned for safety measures but were told that as no one had died, this road was not a priority! So we have no cameras, no speed indication devices and no monitoring.

    In this context I have no hope whatsoever that we will ever experience the benefits you describe so well: a quieter, more pleasant neighbourhood where you could talk to a neighbour without having to shout over the roar of the traffic, where you could cross the road easily and safely and where you could lie in bed at night undisturbed by the house shaking as the lorries roar past in defiance of both the speed limit and the traffic order banning their use of the road between 10pm and 7am.

    Does anyone have any suggestions for effective campaigning on these issues? We have been trying for over 10 years in this road and have got nowhere.

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