Why we need 20mph limits where people live - driving faster is socially unacceptable
Campaigner Robert Lindsay, a Green county councillor, wants a 20mph speed limit in residential areas across Suffolk – and says it could make our communities safer, quieter, cleaner and more prosperous. Here he explains why.
Have you ever been walking along the pavement in your town or village and had to shrink away from an oncoming lorry or car as its wing mirrors brush past you?
The noise, intimidation and regular close misses are common to very many people in Suffolk who are trying to walk around their own neighbourhoods, especially people walking their children to school or manoeuvring a wheelchair or buggy.
As a county councillor, perhaps the biggest daily complaint I get from residents is the speed of traffic where they live. Often the real problem is not that drivers are speeding: it is that the 30mph speed limit itself is too high.
A default 20mph limit across all residential areas would make neighbourhoods quieter, cleaner, safer and help them to thrive.
In the four years to 2019 there was more than one person killed or injured every day on Suffolk’s roads. The majority of these incidents were clustered around towns and villages where 30mph limits are in place.
That is an enormous toll of lives shattered and hearts broken.
Speed kills. As a pedestrian, your chances of being killed or seriously injured if hit by a car are 45% if the car is going at 30mph and just 5% if it is going at 20mph.
Despite what people say, people do largely obey the lower limits. We know from the Department of Transport that three out of four drivers slow to within the enforceable speed of 24mph in a 20mph area.
In the Suffolk village of Occold, since the 20mph limit was introduced, average speeds are 7mph slower than all other Suffolk villages with 30mph limits.
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Within area-wide 20mph areas, noise, pollution and congestion are reduced because traffic flow is smoother. With less accelerating to try to beat the lights and less slamming on the brakes at junctions, there are less exhaust emissions and particulates from the tyres and brake pads.
A default 20mph also ends up with more people leaving their car at home and cycling or walking because they no longer feel intimidated by the speed of the traffic. Bristol found that after installing area-wide 20mph limits, there were nearly one in four more people walking and one in five more people cycling.
So a default 20mph limit will help drive a permanent shift to walking and cycling that is so essential if Suffolk is to meet its zero carbon by 2030 commitment, which almost every county councillor has voted for.
Last but not least, we want our high streets and local independent shops to thrive. One of the reasons they are in trouble is because people would rather shop online or drive to an out-of-town superstore than negotiate the noise and acceleration of traffic in their own neighbourhood.
That is why I and my colleague, councillor Penny Otton, brought a motion for default 20mph limits across Suffolk to the County Council on October 22.
Our proposal was turned down. The argument against it was that unless expensive engineering works were carried out to build obstacles in the road to slow traffic, drivers wouldn’t slow down.
In drawing up our proposal, our group spent some time researching the evidence, looking at councils like Portsmouth, Lancashire, Kent, Bristol, Brighton and others, and the facts suggest that, if 20mph limits are done on a default basis, across all communities, engineering works are not necessary.
That means that the cost would be around £4million, an amount that spread over perhaps three years would hardly be noticed in the council’s annual £500m budget.
The council’s current piecemeal approach, with communities being allowed 20mph limits only when they can jump certain hurdles, is more expensive per mile of 20mph road than a wholesale change, because more signs and more individual consultation and survey work is required.
By making 20mph the default, Suffolk as a highways authority would be changing the culture of the county and making a firm statement; that driving at more than 20mph where people live is socially unacceptable: because it kills people!
Someone once said “you can kill a man, but you can’t kill an idea”. On October 27, five days after our proposal for default 20mph was voted down, the Dutch parliament approved a 30kmh (18.6mph) default limit for all built up areas in the country. This follows the Welsh government doing the same thing earlier this summer.
The idea is not only still very much alive, its time has come.
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