A Slower Pace makes a Better Place

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Vincent Walsh is sent to Coventry to report on the Fourth annual 20mph Conference…

A year ago 8 million people in the UK lived in areas committed to 20 mph limits, now the figure is 12 million. The change is happening much faster in cities than the countryside,  Lancashire being  the only county to take the plunge. This conference held in Coventry Transport Museum was more a forum for council officers (three from Manchester, one from Trafford) rather than a gathering of converted campaigners.

Reducing casualties remains the key justification but public health, now  the responsibility of local authorities, is emerging as a central driver for change. The spiralling costs of our national obesity epidemic can best be reduced by more people walking and cycling.

20 mph limits used to involve zones with expensive traffic calming but the last government eased the rules, enabling councils to implement  the change  over wider areas, with just  minimum  signage. It is much cheaper than expected.   20’s Plenty campaign director Anna Semlyen says” Lancashire spent £6 million rather than the budgeted £9 million.  In Middlesbrough it was £1.80 a head – a bargain.”

20’s Plenty for Us carefully steers a neutral political course, defining itself not as a Westminster-focused lobby group but as a national voluntary organisation supporting communities who want lower traffic speeds.  This approach seems to be paying dividends, opening doors to local authorities of all political colours.

In (Green-led) Brighton and Hove public support for  lower limits introduced in April 2013 was 55% with 45% against but has secured cross-party backing.” Sussex police have not been  keen on  active enforcement .”In Brighton we are seeking compliance through education and social marketing. We should remember  behaviour change can take time.” said council officer Emma  Sheridan.

Rod King agrees the pressure for lower traffic speeds has to come from community involvement. Occasional enforcement by police is necessary, but only as part of the mix,  “‘This is about everybody playing their part.”  20’s Plenty for Us now has 197 local campaigns, 70 more than a year ago. Rod concluded the day with a rallying call, ” We are reaching a tipping point. Now that  75% of the public  is in favour of 20 mph limits the government will have to adjust its benevolent but laissez-faire policy  towards local implementation. ‘We are in transition towards 20 mph being the norm. How can we have a credible national limit of 30 mph when so many of our cities have rejected it as only being suitable for a small minority of their roads?”


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