Edinburgh is a safer and more pleasant place to live thanks to the policy of traffic speed reduction, writes Adam McVey.
It’s good to be back. Last week I returned to City Chambers after being on six weeks of adoption leave. My first week back was jam packed speaking at community events, meetings to deal with dozens of issues, answering hundreds of emails and even “subbing” on the Transport and Environment Committee.
On the committee agenda was the review of the 20mph rollout amongst a range of other issues. It was personally encouraging, as one of the two principle politicians who delivered this policy, to see the positive impacts of the policy on our Capital.
Post-implementation we’ve seen more people cycling and walking, significant reduction of accidents and more support for the policy in our communities.
On the impacts on speeds, we have seen a big reduction (almost half) of those travelling at more than 35mph in urban areas, a huge increase in those travelling under 20mph and a marked shift in all speeds across the Capital towards lower speed levels.
Compliance of 20mph in the city is also up. All this just a few years after the policy’s introduction. The committee heard clearly from the expert that the change will amplify as time moves forward.
New drivers passing their tests now are embracing the new rules and treating them as the norm, which means we’ll see further improved compliance in the coming years.
There is more to do to encourage compliance through enforcement and culture change. However, while there will unfortunately always be people flouting speed limits (whether 20, 30, 40, 50, 60 or 70) the speeds travelled are just the mechanism of this policy’s success and we should focus on the direct benefits to all our lives.
One area of disappointment with the debate and wider debate in the city is the continued misinformation around the policy. This week again I’ve read comments claiming many will still think the cost of the project should have been spent on other road safety measures that could have been delivered.
While I understand why some people might think that way, I’m afraid it ignores the facts. The vast majority of the money invested in the 20mph rollout was specifically allocated to the council in national funding for this project.
Most of this funding is not available for local safety improvements and therefore it’s not accurate to claim that this funding would be available for other projects.
As well as this rather tired, inaccurate argument, we heard some opposition clambering for an excuse to justify their previous opposition. From trying to suggest, without foundation, that the policy caused traffic displacement to attacking the average speed reduction of 1.3mph as a failure (despite the academic expert confirming to the committee this was what success looked like and council officers confirming this was within the expected speed reduction) they showed they still don’t understand transport policy in the slightest.
The Tories in particular would have done better to apologise instead. Apologise for the misleading claims they’ve made about the policy over the years. Apologise for the loss of more than £2m of additional funding for Edinburgh had their position succeeded. And apologise to our communities who would have lost the benefits of the policy had their misleading campaign worked.
This policy is a stark example of the difference in the judgments political parties took. This wasn’t an easy decision at the time, but we called it right and our city is safer and a more pleasant place to live in as a result.
You can rest assured that as well as 20mph, our progressive transport policies prioritising cycling, public transport and expanding space for pedestrians will continue. We won’t allow others’ poor judgment to derail our City’s progress.
Adam McVey is the leader of Edinburgh City Council