It’s great to see momentum building for campaigns to eliminate deaths and serious injuries on the roads, such as 20’s Plenty For Us, PACTS, the Road Danger Reduction Forum and, locally, Vision Zero and the Louis Thorold Foundation.
We know speed is the biggest factor in whether someone survives a collision with a motor vehicle. Public information campaigns have shown us the awful violence a vehicle can do to a person. Many have witnessed or experienced it first-hand. There is plenty of evidence that 20mph zones reduce deaths and serious injuries significantly. Oslo’s policies to reduce the speed and volume of motor traffic have resulted in no road deaths in the city in 2019.
Yet, still we resist reducing speed limits.
The Welsh Government has taken a lead on making 20mph the default speed on all residential roads, starting with a pilot in eight locations this summer before a national roll-out in 2023. We should lobby our MPs to adopt this policy in England.
Not only will reduced speeds make city, town and village roads safer, it will encourage more people to walk and cycle. Cycles, e-scooters and pedestrians don’t mix safely. So, where there isn’t room to give cycles and e-scooters their own space, we have to make the road a safer environment for them to share with motor vehicles. Reducing traffic speeds to 20mph helps achieve that.
“But police don’t enforce 20mph limits,” I hear you say. The police’s position is that roads must first be designed to the desired speed. It’s about making them look less like speedways. The first step is to make them narrower, which opens up opportunities to widen pavements, and add trees, benches and cycle parking. Together these make people drive more cautiously, and enhance the streetscape.
To many, reducing speed limits seems perverse. But it’s about resetting an arbitrary norm. Some car journeys will take a minute or two longer than now. So what? We’ll just adapt and think no more about it. The reduced grief and pain, and the increased freedom for our children, is more than worth it.
This article was first published in the Cambridge Independent on 19 May 2021.