20mph limit plans ‘targeting the wrong roads’

Politicians have called for transport chiefs to reconsider the 20mph plans. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
Politicians have called for transport chiefs to reconsider the 20mph plans. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
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CONTROVERSIAL plans to introduce a blanket 20mph speed limit across most of Edinburgh have been challenged amid claims the city is targeting the wrong roads.

Critics say the projects needs to go back to the drawing board after it emerged roads with the most serious accidents will remain at 30mph while those being cut tend to be the safer ones.

Official figures reveal that a string of main roads earmarked to become “20’s plenty” appear less accident prone than many retaining the upper speed limit.

Under the plans, main carriageways like Queensferry Road, Corstorphine Road and Ferry Road will retain existing speed limits despite experiencing a combined 101 serious accidents in eight years – while other roads with relatively few major collisions will be restricted to 20mph.

The roads where 30mph speed limits will remain have seen twice as many fatalities in the eight years to 2013.

Today, politicians called for transport chiefs to reconsider their plans.

Alex Johnstone MSP, transport spokesman for the Scottish Conservatives, said the traffic study by the Evening News suggested the city’s methodology for selecting 20mph roads was flawed.

This research shows a rethink is clearly needed,” he said.

“It also highlights the problem of reducing speed limits on a blanket basis.

“It would appear not only have the wrong roads been chosen, but increasing the 20mph zones will reduce the importance of driving cautiously in the places where it’s needed most, like accident blackspots or near schools.”

The research is based on figures verified by the National Statistics Agency and the UK Department for Transport.

Accident figures for ten main roads remaining 30mph zones – including Portobello Road and Liberton Road – show there were ten fatal accidents and a further 215 serious accidents where at least one pedestrian, cyclist or motorbike casualty was recorded.

In contrast, ten roads which are having their speed limits slashed to 20mph were the scene of only five fatal accidents over the same period. There were 141 serious accidents, with Leith Walk, Bruntsfield Place and Morningside Road contributing more than half.

The roads were selected at random from different areas around the city.

But the study poses question marks over the council’s choice of “slow” roads.

David Spaven, a transport consultant who heads up the Edinburgh branch of Living Streets Scotland, said greater attention should be paid to enforcing speed limits on the city’s busiest and most dangerous roads. “Some of the roads that are being kept at 30mph are busy main roads, so it’s no surprise that you would get a lot of casualties,” he said.

“It’s a concern to us locally but there’s got to be a balance struck.

“30mph needs to mean 30mph, and there needs to be the right level of enforcement of existing restrictions in conjunction with this very bold and welcome move.”

The contentious proposal to make Edinburgh Scotland’s first 20mph city – a move that could apply to 80 per cent of the Capital’s streets – has been lauded in many quarters as a bold move to boost road safety.

Virtually the entire city centre will be put in the slow lane, with just a few arterial routes such as the West Approach Road remaining 30mph zones.

Just a handful of other UK local authorities – including Bristol and Portsmouth – have experimented with lower speed limits on such a massive scale.

An online map has been produced that allows residents to search for their own address and see how close their street is to a 30mph corridor.

The scheme follows a pilot launched in 2012 in which residential areas were designated 20mph zones, with traffic calming measures introduced.

Many streets exempted from the trial – following appeals from residents and firms like Lothian Buses which warned of disrupted timetables – will now become 20mph zones, such as Kilgraston Road in Marchmont.

Safety campaigners have hailed the proposals as “bold and welcome”. While many support the move for residential and shopping districts, plans to lower speed limits on arterial roads have sparked concerns.

Some drivers’ groups, businesses and traders have warned against what they see as a “war on motorists”.

Councillor Cameron Rose, who represents Southside-Newington, expressed concern that the new speed limits were being applied “too broadly” but stressed they should be introduced where appropriate.

“I think it’s important to keep traffic moving, particularly on the arterial routes,” he said.

“While there’s a lot of 
support for 20mph zones, I know there are also many people who are concerned that this is a step too far.”

Roads were selected for inclusion in the 20mph regime based on prioritising shopping streets, streets in the city centre, and those that have high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists using them.

City transport officials said that streets targeted for reduced speed limits would be expected to see a reduction in accidents of between four and six per cent for every 1mph cut, according to studies carried out by the UK Department for Transport.

Transport convener Lesley Hinds defended the way the map of 20mph roads was devised. She said: “This map is the product of extensive research and consultation.

“Criteria for selecting potential 20mph streets were agreed in outline by the council’s Transport and Environment Committee and then fine-tuned by a sub-group of its Transport Forum, including representatives from a range of interested groups.

“We’ve made changes to the proposed map based on feedback from individuals, community groups and organisations like Lothian Buses to make sure we get the balance right.”

The plans will be voted on by councillors on the transport committee at its next meeting on Tuesday.