Alastair Dalton: Opponents of 20mph limits living in the past

Edinburgh city council's move to extend 20mph limits has hit yet another raw nerve with drivers. Picture: Cate Gillon

Edinburgh city council's move to extend 20mph limits has hit yet another raw nerve with drivers. Picture: Cate Gillon

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THE extraordinary outpouring of indignation by motorists at plans to slow traffic across Edinburgh might make you think it involved bringing back a man with a red flag walking in front of their vehicles.

The city council’s move to extend 20mph limits – which are already in force over 25 miles of streets on the south side – has hit yet another raw nerve with drivers.

An opposition group has been formed, which is staging a protest march in the city centre tomorrow.

Drivers have been an angry bunch in the capital, what with proposed road tolls to pay for the congestion they cause, the road restrictions imposed to make way for trams and increases in city-centre parking charges.

It seems as if certain motorists feel that, once they are behind the wheel of their vehicle, they have an inalienable right to get from A to B as fast as possible and without impediment; that to sit in the car without it moving is completely unacceptable.

There still appears to be the remnants of a past “Car is King” era, when it was acceptable to demolish parts of city centres to make way for motorways and when car-free shopping streets were unheard of.

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Since then, attitudes have changed significantly. Drink-driving is now largely socially unacceptable, seat belts have near universal acceptance and – as transport minister Derek Mackay claimed this week – even average speed cameras to enforce limits have won public support.

All drivers are pedestrians, although some choose to forget that when it suits them. And roads are not just for motor vehicles – even though some drivers may think they should still take precedence.

So now it’s perhaps time for another big step in changing perceptions of how drivers behave on the road.

I’ve heard far-fetched arguments against 20mph limits, such as drivers losing concentration at that speed, or that slower traffic will increase journey times so much that delivery costs will rise.

Such attitudes appear to completely fail to see the bigger picture: that what Edinburgh is seeking to do is transform its streets for the benefit of everyone.

And don’t think these are the actions of a maverick council – it’s being done with the encouragement of ministers.

Scottish Government guidance to local authorities published last month said it was “keen to see a transformation of our towns and cities to ensure people are prioritised over motor vehicles and increasingly choose to walk or cycle when they make short journeys”. So it’s not just Edinburgh.

It’s maybe time for a national debate on how we want roads in our towns and cities to look.

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