Drive to make roads safer means reducing speed limit

Transport minister Keith Brown. Picture: Johnston PressTransport minister Keith Brown. Picture: Johnston Press
Transport minister Keith Brown. Picture: Johnston Press
The recent publication of Scotland’s road casualty figures for 2012 was met with widespread concern from road safety groups – with the transport minister, Keith Brown, conceding that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable road users.

Increasing the coverage of urban 20mph zones is one of the solutions he has endorsed and, as local authorities are responsible for the speed limits of around 94 per cent of Scotland’s roads, they are clearly best placed to lead on this. Last month Edinburgh City Council published plans to convert all residential and city centre streets to 20mph zones following a wide-scale pilot project.

Edinburgh is the first city in Scotland to do this but the real pioneers of 20mph zones have been progressive English cities like Portsmouth, Oxford and York and the primary motive was road safety.

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The 30mph limit is simply too high for many residential streets making walking and cycling feel unsafe. Importantly, our pilot scheme was found to have a disproportionately positive effect on the higher speed urban driving which can undermine efforts to encourage walking and cycling.

It is, perhaps, not a coincidence that all of these English cities have, like Edinburgh, rates of car usage which are low by UK standards. This can make introducing 20mph easier, as many more residents use “active travel” or public transport. According to the 2011 census, around 40 per cent of journeys to work in Edinburgh are by car compared to 47 per cent for Glasgow but 58 per cent for Aberdeen and 60 per cent for Dundee.

Edinburgh’s initiative has created a lot of interest from other authorities and they may also wish to consider following the pilot scheme route. Certainly ours proved to be wildly popular among local residents. And once local residents are interested and aware then they become the cheerleaders, often via supportive community councils.

As a family-friendly road safety measure, 20mph zones play a significant role making our streets safer for everyone – especially children, the elderly and those with disabilities. It will be interesting to see whether urban 20 mph zones become the norm.

• Jim Orr is an independent councillor on City of Edinburgh Council