Comment: Council must think again on 20mph plans

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Since the council announced its latest proposals for turning Edinburgh into a 20mph city the Evening News has been inundated by readers raising concerns.

We have grown used to contentious civic plans in the Capital but few have prompted such deep and widespread reservations. In fact, the response compares to only two others schemes in recent years – the two Ts, trams and road tolls.

Let us be clear, nobody is arguing that 20mph zones are a bad idea. In fact, there is widespread support for them in certain areas, such as outside school and residential side streets. There is support too, although slightly less, for the lower limit within local shopping centres.

The concerns centre on the number of busy arterial routes included in the council proposals. The 20mph limit is being imposed on a large number of them, for their entire length, without a convincing case being put forward that it will improve road safety.

This blanket approach is ill thought out and potentially dangerous.

The research shows that motorists drive to the conditions around them and where they feel it is safe to do so their default in an urban area is 30mph.

The likelihood under the current council scheme, which will not be backed up with traffic calming measures, is that most drivers will revert to 30mph on many stretches of road. When some cars stick to 20mph, there is a clear risk that some frustrated motorists stuck behind them will drive dangerously.

The council had been confident that its plans enjoyed public support, based on the positive response of almost half of the 2585 residents who took part in their consultation exercise.

Our opinion poll answered by more than 500 readers is hardly scientific. The same is true of the many letters, emails and online posts we have received.

But, as the first test of public opinion since the new city-wide plans were pulled together, the overwhelmingly negative response does cast serious doubt on any claim for public backing. And it would be wrong for such fundamental changes to go-ahead without public support.

The council must now go back to the drawing board. The assumption for arterial routes should be that the limit will be 30mph unless there is a clear, evidence-based case for cutting it for particular main roads or individual stretches of those roads. Then, there is every chance the proposals will win the support they need to work successfully.