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Let’s slow it down – why it’s time for 20mph zones for all

Would you like vehicles to drive more slowly down your street? I don’t think I’ve spoken to a single person for whom the answer is ‘no’. And if traffic should travel slower on your street, why not on everyone’s street?

Amanda Yorwerth, co-ordinator of St Albans Friends of the Earth speaks out for 20’s Plenty in St Albans

Safer for all

Some of the benefits of traffic traveling at 20 mph rather than 30 mph are obvious. Accidents are less likely at 20mph  – vehicles can stop in half the distance at 20mph compared to 30mph . And when accidents do happen, they are less likely to be fatal. There are 7 times fewer fatalities for those hit at 20mph compared to 30mph  – 10 times fewer for those over 60. For this reason global organisations like the World Health Organization say that a 20mph limit is the only safe speed limit where pedestrians and cyclists mix with motor vehicles.

Good for the Planet

When roads feel safer, we’re more likely to choose to cycle or walk rather than to drive, and we know that reducing emissions from vehicles is key to meeting our climate change targets.

Good for Us

But it’s not only the planet that’s healthier – we are too. Emissions from vehicles don’t just cause climate change, but affect our health too. Around St.Albans 100 people annually die prematurely because of the effects of air pollution.

Then there’s the benefits the 20mph limits have in encouraging us to travel actively. Research shows that keeping physically active can reduce the risk of heart and circulatory disease by as much as 35% and risk of early death by as much as 30%. We need a recommended 2.5 hours of exercise a week, which equates nicely to 5 half hour journey on foot or by bike. We’re more likely to stick to an exercise regime that is incorporated in our day to day living, and walking or cycling is accessible to all income brackets – given access to safer roads to do this.

Lower speed limits don’t just benefit our bodies, but our minds too. NICE says that data from a series of long-running studies showed that active travel improved mental wellbeing in a number of areas such as concentration, the ability to make decisions and enjoy normal daily activities, and that it reduced the feeling of being constantly under strain. A number of studies have even shown that walking or cycling to school boosts academic performance.

Hear the difference

In addition, roads with 20mph speed limits are quieter than those with faster traffic. The Hearing Health Foundation says that noise, such as traffic noise, causes stress which has been implicated in the development of disorders of the cardiovascular system, sleep, learning, memory, motivation, problem-solving, aggression, and annoyance.

Greater independence for young and old

Not only are adults more likely to walk or cycle if roads are slower and quieter, we’re more likely to allow our kids to walk or cycle too. Some of my best memories from lockdown are seeing kids out cycling with huge smiles on their faces. I remember Sustrans asking my son’s class whether they’d like to be able to cycle to school and their enthusiasm was universal. Kids love the independence that being able to cycle to school and other places gives them, and parents, particularly those from lower income families, love the fact that they don’t have to pay for bus fares or be a taxi service.

Speed reduction in residential areas and shopping streets was recommended as a measure to benefit older pedestrians by the OECD (1986).

A Memorandum by Transport 2000 highlighted that the dominance of speeding traffic deters people from walking or cycling for short trips, and leads to loss of independence for the most vulnerable in society, particularly older people, disabled people and children.

Road traffic injury is also strongly associated with poverty. Child pedestrian deaths in deprived neighbourhoods are over four times those in affluent neighbourhoods.

 In addition, making walking and cycling easier increases social inclusion as 48% of households in the lowest income quintile in England do not have a car. 

So with lower speeds there’s more equality, lower air and noise pollution, kids have the myriad benefits that reduced reliance on Mum’s taxi brings and the exercise that we get by choosing active travel makes us healthier, happier and reduces costs to our beleaguered NHS.

The economy benefits

Less obviously, lower speed limits help boost the local economy. Shops in areas where cycling is made more attractive see higher takings – pedal powered shoppers might spend less per visit, but they pop in more frequently. And which local shops would turn down that opportunity, especially now?

Admittedly, it would be even better to have a comprehensive network of traffic free cycle paths and pavements, but there are good reasons why that is unlikely to happen around our District any time soon. In the meantime, why aren’t town/village wide 20mph speed limits a no brainer?

Why wouldn’t you?

Let’s take a quick look at the commonly quoted reasons given for sticking to higher speed limits:

  • It’s not fair on cars – The 20’s plenty proposal only applies to the roads where people live and work, not the majority of the road system.
  • 20mph zones need speed bumps to workNot necessarily. Signs, lines, community engagement and driver education can be effective instead.
  • Our towns/cities will grind to a halt and no one will be able to get anywhere – Quite the opposite. Traffic has been shown to flow more freely at 20mph. Junctions work more efficiently and some drivers choose to leave their cars at home.

Tried and tested

And it’s not like large scale 20mph zones are an untried idea.

Already, over 20m people live local authorities in the UK which are adopting or have adopted 20mph as a default speed limit for residential roads – places like Bath, Chichester and Waltham Forest.

Let’s do it

So if you’d like to support the campaign for lower speed limits in the roads where people live, work, and shop in St.Albans District there are a number of things you can do…


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