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Does York need a city-wide 20mph limit?
York is about to begin the process of becoming a 20mph city. STEPHEN LEWIS reports.
FROM next month, York will begin the process of becoming a 20mph city.
South Bank will be the first area to get the new 20mph speed limit, midway through September. But council officers are already working on proposals for the west side of the city to adopt a 20mph limit. The north, then south and east areas of York will follow.
By the end of 2014, much of the city will have a 20mph speed limit in place, says Dave Merrett , the council’s cabinet member for transport, planning and sustainability. Only some of the major roads leading into York, and some of the outlying villages, will remain 30mph.
Labour is going ahead with its manifesto commitment despite figures released by the Department for Transport earlier this year which seemed to show that nationwide, accidents in 20mph areas increased by a quarter last year, while they fell on virtually all other roads (see panel).
Supporters of 20mph limits quickly pointed out that this was almost certainly because there were far more sections of 20mph road last year than ever before: an interpretation supported by the Department for Transport itself when contacted by The Press.
A spokesperson said the department had no figures for the length of road that now carried 20mph limits. “But what we have is anecdotal evidence that the number of 20mph areas has increased, and we think that that is the reason for the figures.”
The same figures demonstrate that even with the increase, there were still far fewer accidents in 20mph areas than on other roads – though again there were no figures for the number of accidents per mile of road in each speed limit.
Coun Merrett says attitudes have changed over the past ten to 20 years. The 20mph speed limit is close to the 30kph limit adopted in German and Dutch towns, where there are lower accident rates than in the UK – particularly in terms of child casualties.
There will be no new speed humps or other physical measures in York to force motorists to slow down, he says. Instead, the new 20mph limits will be enforced in the same way 30mph limits are now.
The ultimate aim is to reduce accidents and make York a more pleasant place.
“It may also make it more conducive to people walking and cycling, which will be important for tackling the city’s transport difficulties,” he says.
Not everyone is in favour of the new speed limits, however.
Here, a former police accident investigator opposed to widespread 20mph limits, and a city councillor who has long campaigned for them, go head to head…
Are we right to be bringing in a city-wide 20mph speed limit for streets in York?
Yes... says Anna Semlyen, a city councillor who writes here in her role as a 20’s Plenty For Us Campaigner.
Many of Britain’s iconic cities have rejected the national speed limit. York, Oxford, Cambridge and Liverpool all say 30mph is not fit for purpose for up to 95 per cent of roads. Nearly 8.5m people live in UK authorities supporting 20mph, including all of Lancashire.
20’s Plenty if you want a quality of life that allows walkers, cyclists, children, the elderly and disabled people to be able to safely cross, and jointly use, roads alongside motor traffic.
There are many reasons why a 20mph limit is right for York. It is easier to react to a potential hazard and avoid it when a car is travelling at 20mph or slower. The impact energy of a crash is less.
The BBC’s More or Less statistics programme found conclusive evidence that 20mph is safer than 30mph. For every one mph less, casualties reduce by five per cent. That is why 20mph limits are a road danger reduction policy promoted by the Department for Transport, NHS and EU.
An 18.6mph (30km/ph) limit is normal in Northern Europe. There was some recent publicity given to Department for Transport figures where total casualty numbers (not casualty rates) rose on 20mph roads last year. But this was because there were increased areas of road with a 20mph limit.
The same statistics demonstrate conclusively that there are far fewer casualties on roads with 20mph limits than on roads with higher speed limits.
20mph also cuts pollution and jams. There is a 12 per cent reduction in fuel use. Some people choose to leave their car behind for local journeys. Travelling at 20mph is also up to 40 per cent quieter.
Property prices rise by up to 11 per cent as speeds decrease by five to ten mph. And in urban conditions 20mph limits do not affect journey times. Everyone benefits. That’s why you’d be hard pressed to find anyone on a 20mph street who wants it at 30mph.
York will be 20mph. City of York Council agreed to roll out 20mph limits for residential streets inside the outer ring road over three years. South Bank will be among the first areas to benefit from broad 20mph limits from around September 13. Other areas of the city will follow. Certain roads will be exempted. Limits will be mandatory and enforceable with light-touch policing.
A 20mph limit is proven to improve quality of life. It is a new way of thinking. It switches the emphasis from motor vehicle dominance. Imagine instead the egalitarian citizen’s right to movement space – however they get about.
20mph limits offer universal rights:
• To choose to walk or cycle on residential streets without fear
• To respect from those choosing to move “heavy steel boxes” around our streets
• To enjoy reduced pollution
• For vulnerable road users to cross roads with ease
Residents support 20mph limits. Along Bishopthorpe Road, for example, 75 per cent of respondents favoured a 20mph limit.
Like pedestrianisation, wide 20mph limits will be a turning point in the public and economic health of York. It will raise quality of life, reduce casualties, help people reach local amenities and save society money.
No... says Mike Natt, former police accident investigator, now an independent collisions investigator.
I AM not against 20mph zones per se. But I don’t think there should be a blanket 20mph speed limit across the city centre.
Coun Dave Merrett said in a recent letter to The Press that 20mph zones in York “have a proven track record of casualty reduction”.
But, for 20mph areas where the council says there have been no accidents, I’d like to know how many accidents there were before the 20mph speed limit was introduced.
Recent research published by the Department for Transport indicated that, last year, there was a rise in both death and serious injury in 20mph zones. The DfT suggests that this is because there were more 20mph zones last year than ever before.
But what it really needs is figures for the number of accidents per mile of road in 20mph zones as compared to 30mph zones. It does not have these figures.
What the data it published do suggest is that the idea that “20’s plenty” and that pedestrians are safer in 20mph zones is not quite as clear as expected. There is a real danger that in 20mph zones, you are encouraging pedestrians to take less care. Pedestrians need to be alert.
I spend most of my time now working for insurance companies on cases where pedestrians were knocked down. It is extraordinary, the number of people who walk in front of buses while looking the other way.
And while it is true that you are statistically less likely to be killed if you are hit by a car traveling at 20mph than by one at 30mph, this does not tell the whole story.
Pedestrian-car impacts are classified into basic types.
At speeds above 40mph, the pedestrian passes onto or over the roof of the vehicle.
At lower speeds, in the 20-30mph range, the pedestrian is rolled onto the bonnet, then is knocked forwards and away as the vehicle brakes.
At speeds of 12 mph or less, however, the pedestrian is pushed forwards down onto the road ahead of the vehicle, which then runs over them, causing serious injury or even death.
Children, due to their height, are even more at risk.
So this is not a simple issue. We need to look not just at the statistics – which can be made to prove anything – but at the actual events and causes of each collision.
So much depends on factors such as where an accident took place, whether adults or children were involved, even how tall the victim was.
Perhaps if the DfT research published had identified those factors we would have a better idea whether 20 mph is actually safe or not. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.
In the meantime, rather than a city-wide 20mph zone – which will, incidentally, increase pollution from slow-moving vehicles – I would like to see more measures such as railings to stop pedestrians getting onto roads.
Motorways have a 70mph speed limit, but you don’t see many pedestrians being killed, because pedestrians are not allowed on motorways.
I’d also like to see pedestrians sticking to the Green Cross Code. That would save more lives than ‘20’s Plenty’.