Gordon Henderson: Blanket 20mph zones road to ruin

There are areas that would benefit from 20mph zones but some would not. Picture: Greg Macvean
There are areas that would benefit from 20mph zones but some would not. Picture: Greg Macvean
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Hidden amongst the tide of referendum news and debate in the media at the moment is a public consultation that will affect everyone in, and visiting, Edinburgh. The plan to reduce the city’s traffic speed limits to 20mph on nearly all roads.

The council consulted on its transport policy at the end of last year and the Federation of Small Businesses responded to say that we supported a speed reduction on residential, main shopping, and city-centre streets but not on the main arterial routes into the city.

Reducing speeds to make streets safer around schools is of course very sensible. Making our high streets safer and easier for pedestrians to cross to spend money with our members is good news. But the main arterial routes are vital to allow people who are not office-based to effectively run their businesses and for ­employees to get to work in a timely manner, whatever method of transportation they use.

The transport strategy suggests that “the city’s strategic road network will remain at 30mph” whilst also stating “the council now proposes to proceed with a city-wide roll out of 20mph”.

This begs the question of what makes a road strategic and how was that decision made? If you look at the map that goes along with the consultation (http://edinburghcouncilmaps.info/transport/20mphconsultation.htm) you’ll see that just about everywhere will be 20mph and there are very few strategic roads at all. It would be useful for the council to show us the evidence it has used to support such a blanket restriction of movement in the city. What will the cost be to the city’s businesses? Will businesses be put off starting up in Edinburgh and take their jobs elsewhere?

I’d also like reassurances that this is a genuine consultation and the views expressed will have an impact on the decisions made. If you ask people for their views you have to be seen to act on what you hear. I’ve asked our members for their views and one ­mentions the “constant interference” with the city’s roads leading to him considering an office move.

Another suggests the city’s empty bus lanes are a cause of congestion and that better management of arterial routes with more crossing points would be a better move. And one says “the council is doing whatever it can to make the city centre as inaccessible and un-user friendly as possible. Competing with major edge of city retail parks, and online retailers, is hard enough already”.

Many businesses owners have no alternative to using a car. If you need to visit many customers in a day you need a vehicle to do this. It would be great if we could all get about between meetings by bus but it is just far too slow. Many people cycle into Edinburgh for work which is great (and something I’d like to do myself) but it just isn’t practical for all and it is also worth noting than most cycle commuters will be restricted by the 20mph speed limits too, any adult on a bike travelling downhill will have to slow down to stay within the law.

We all want safer streets for our kids, shoppers and pedestrians but if you make it too difficult to do ­business in Edinburgh people will go elsewhere and we all lose in the end. The ­consultation is open to all views until October 17.

Gordon Henderson is senior development manager at the Federation of Small Businesses.