Sunday, 30 June 2013

20mph limit for the City of London. Next step, borough-wide 20mph for Westminster. Step after that, 20mph limit for London

A 20mph borough-wide limit on all roads in the City of London has almost passed all the councils it needs to in order to become law. (Quite exciting and something long campaigned for by blogs like Cyclists in the City).

The new normal for the City of London. Photo courtesy of The Londonist.
You can read a rather excellent report by Philip Everett (Director of the Built Environment) and Craig Stansfield (Team Leader, Transportation Strategy and Programmes) here. Much of the report deserves quoting, but I've selected the best bits to make your life easier:
There has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and with the advent of Crossrail increasing the number of pedestrians and the encouragement of cycling generally, these numbers can only increase. Compared with the rest of London, in the City these groups are disproportionately highly represented in the casualty statistics. The situation can therefore only get worse unless we do something different. (p.1)
In response to this the City predicts that a borough-wide 20mph limit would lead to,
predicted casualty savings of between 8–9%, i.e., around 30–40 casualties per annum. (p.1)
 The City then notes that:
The often-quoted low average speeds within the City mask both streets where average speeds are over 20mph and also peak traffic speeds at various times such as evenings and weekends. Secondary benefits such as reduced pollution and health improvements through modal shift to cycling are likely to occur. (p.2)
There is little or no disbenefit to introducing a 20mph speed limit and in particular journey-time increases would be minimal given the size of the City. (p.2)
They also supply this interesting local example of a 20mph limit leading casualties to drop from nine to nil:
Several years ago, Transport for London introduced a 20mph limit on Upper Thames Street between Swan Lane and Queen Street to facilitate the refurbishment of Walbrook Wharf. There was a dramatic reduction in casualties. The three-year casualty total before the speed-limit reduction was nine and the total for the three years of the 20mph limit was nil. (p.5)
Finally, the City notes a 20mph limit would be in line with national and international best practice since:
All boroughs surrounding the City, with the exception of the City of Westminster, have adopted 20mph for all, or most, of their area. (p.7)
Internationally, New York, Paris and Tokyo have, or plan to, introduce substantial speed-reduction initiatives in at least part of those cities. (p.7)
This really is fantastic news for all those cycling in through the City and follows hot on the heels of Islington becoming the first borough to officially go 20mph!

Photo courtesy of BolgarB on Twitter.
There's more good news too: Boris Johnson's Environment Advisor, Isabel Dedring, has come out as a strong supporter of a London-wide 20mph limit. She said in June 2013 that:
[A London-wide 20mph limit] could be realistic by 2020. It could be one of these things like smoking (in public places) where suddenly we get to the stage where we can’t believe it would ever have been OK to drive above 20mph.
20mph borough-wide limits brings a whole series of advantages to a neighbourhood:
Obviously what we really want is proper cycle infrastructure, including wide, continuous, segregated cycle lanes on busy roads. However, 20mph limits shouldn't be sniffed at by cycle campaigners.

20mph zones can bring real benefits, particularly during off-peak times when motorists on empty streets will regularly pass you at 30, 40, or even 50mph. Moreover, they transform a dangerous pass at 30mph from something almost 'expected' or even 'required' of a motorist (since it's easily possible to fail a driving test for going too slowly or not 'driving to the limit') into something illegal (even if enforcement is often difficult). This means if a motorist recklessly hits a cyclist or pedestrian at 30mph and kills them it's much easier to prosecute the driver for their (now) illegal actions. This in turn will lead to safer and more responsible driving by motorists.

30mph 'shopping' streets: dangerous, polluted, and uninviting. Bad for business too.
A 20mph limit also sends out a wider message to those using cars which is that the safety of cyclists and pedestrians is being prioritised over and above that of journey times for motorists. Ultimately, this message needs to sink in and be accepted by the wider non-cycling majority in order to for politicians to feel there are 'votes' in giving over more road-space to cycle-only lanes.

A 20mph borough-wide limit is not a bad place to start. It tells everyone this is a borough where pedestrian safety and cycle safety is the number one priority. From here, it is surely easier to start reallocating parking spaces or traffic lanes into segregated cycle tracks.

However, it is disappointing that many councils still oppose borough-wide 20mph limits. As the City of London document notes, Westminster Council is the only council bordering the City that continues to do so. This is especially disappointing given that the City's remarks on Crossrail, long-term increase in cyclists, and comparatively high casualty rates, apply even more firmly to Westminster than they do to the Square Mile:
There has been a dramatic rise in the numbers of cyclists and pedestrians, and with the advent of Crossrail increasing the number of pedestrians and the encouragement of cycling generally, these numbers can only increase. Compared with the rest of London, in the City these groups are disproportionately highly represented in the casualty statistics. The situation can therefore only get worse unless we do something different. [Westminster is the London Council with the highest number of pedestrian and cyclist casualties.]
Furthermore, in March 2013 Westminster Council itself released data showing that two thirds of crashes (68%) between cyclists and motorists were the fault of the driver. Yet, disappointingly Westminster Council is still opposing a borough-wide 20mph limit even on boundary streets with Camden!

This is very sad, especially given that since so many roads in London are single-lane, 20mph limits are by and large self-enforcing, because it only takes one driver to drive at 20mph to slow the whole traffic flow down.

Councils, like Westminster, which claim 20mph limits are a waste of money because they cannot be enforced are using the line as a false, weasel argument to conceal their real reason for opposition. They just want to be able to drive at 30mph whether or not this leads to tragically high numbers of road casualties.

The simple fact is that every part of UK that has seen 20mph limits installed has also seen a significant drop in casualties and significant drop in maximum speeds (here's an example from DfT of un-enforced limits leading to a reduction in casulties in Portsmouth), which puts paid to the fatuous idea, still ignorantly propagated by Councils like Westminster and Kensington & Chelsea, that 20mph limits are somehow 'useless'. Though 20mph zones are always more effective when accompanied by strict enforcement and traffic calming measures (which don't -  as many do - create dangerous pinch points between cyclists and motorised traffic), a 20mph limit unaccompanied by these measures is still a significant improvement for everyone using that street.

Moreover, as the City of London's report highlights, areas like Westminster are in real danger of falling behing their international competition in New York and Tokyo by refusing to humanise and tame their dangerous roads through the creation of a borough-wide 20mph limit. Westminster has even refused to make Oxford Street 20mph, despite the fact it receives over-200 million annual pedestrian visitors. Shocking...

When is it ever safe to drive down Oxford Street at 30mph? So why is it still legal to do that?
If we want London to become a 20mph city we need to make our voices heard in support this policy; the best place to start is with your local borough. Bit by bit we can do it.

And, if you do get in touch with your local politicians, make sure you don't accept any of this crap about un-enforced or lightly enforced limits being 'useless' or 'a waste of money'!


  1. Hasn't quite made it all the way to Outer-London. We have a quite a few zones, but we suffer from random political decisions - I had developer funding for one in a residential area and a councillor suggested it a waste of money because traffic couldn't speed in the area concerned because of all the parked cars. Let the Mayor run all of London's roads!

  2. @The Ranty Highwayman

    That's so frustrating to hear! I'd argue the parked cars would be exactly what would make a 20mph zone *necessary*. So annoying to hear politicians twist things the other way...