Talks rage on despite 20mph zones approval

A 20mph road at Duddingston Village. Picture: Greg Macvean
A 20mph road at Duddingston Village. Picture: Greg Macvean
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TALKS over which streets should change to 20mph zones under Capital plans to become Scotland’s slowest city are set to rage on – despite the policy getting the green light at City Chambers.

A map charting the new 20mph routes – set to cover 80 per cent of city roads – has yet to be rubber-stamped and transport leader Councillor Lesley Hinds signalled there was “scope for discussion” on the final choice of streets involved.

It comes as the transport committee voted overwhelmingly – by 11 to three – in favour of reducing speed limits across a swathe of the city in a bid to improve safety.

Opposition to the project has mounted amid concerns the speed restrictions would put the brakes on traffic travelling along main roads – like Leith Walk and Dalry Road – sparking congestion and lengthening car journeys.

Today, Cllr Hinds said tweaks could still be made if a compelling case was argued to include new streets or exclude others.

She said: “Detailed implementation plans for the 20mph roll-out will come before committee for approval in March, including costings.

“The proposed network is the result of extensive consultation with a wide range of stakeholders, however there may still be some scope for discussion around some of the finer detail of the plan approved by committee.”

In a fierce debate at City Chambers, Cllr Hinds launched a passionate defence of the plans, insisting they would help to slash fatalities on the road.

“For goodness’ sake, surely what we want to do as elected members is reduce casualties and deaths on the roads in our city,” she said.

“Surely that has to be at the heart of our decision-making as elected members.”

She insisted that the changes enjoyed public support despite a poll of more than 500 Evening News readers suggesting 80 per cent were against the current scheme.

“This scheme is something that the majority of the public, through the (council’s) consultation process, support,” she said.

“We have looked at other cities, and we’ve come up with a compromise – a middle way which says that we want our residential and shopping streets to be safer, but we want our arterial routes at 30 and 40 so that traffic can flow.

“I believe we’ve got that balance spot on today.”

A volley of opposition was fired by the Edinburgh Conservatives, whose amendment to exempt 20mph limits from city centre main roads was defeated, amid concerns the proposals were uncosted and too many arterial routes were included.

Councillor Joanna Mowat, Tory transport spokeswoman, argued the project should be scaled back with greater investment made on the city’s existing road network.

She said that the city’s transport department was facing an overspend in excess of £5m and the 20mph plans failed to provide value for money.

“If we’re going to take the whole city with us, it is very easy to sell a scheme where people who face the dis-benefit of the lower speed also reap the [safety] benefits on their own streets,” she said.

“Across the whole city, you are asking people to drive at lower speeds who aren’t necessarily going to see the benefit in their neighbourhoods.“We don’t know how this is going to be paid for, and we don’t know how much it is going to cost.

“You are asking us today to agree to a significant change where there is a substantial body of opposition and for which there is no cost.

“That is not prudent.”

A report setting out costs and identifying which streets will see speed limits reduced will be published in March.

It is thought the plans may take “several financial years” to fully roll out with the bill to implement the scheme estimated at around 
£2.5 million.

Approval for the 20mph plans was welcomed by environmental charity Friends of the Earth, which said the scheme would encourage more people to travel on foot or by cycle.

Air pollution campaigner Emilia Hanna said: “We welcome Edinburgh council’s decision to introduce 20mph zones across the city.

“20mph zones will create safer, more attractive and more enjoyable streets for everyone.

“They will encourage more cycling and walking and help to fight dangerous air pollution.

“One of the biggest barriers to walking and cycling is fear of speeding traffic so 20mph zones, if accompanied by greater investment in active travel infrastructure, could transform how people move around the city.”

Following questions from councillors about the environmental impact of 20mph speed limits, transport officials insisted that the impact of motors running less efficiently in lower gear would be cancelled out by reduced acceleration.

However, critics said the argument in favour of 20mph zones remained to be won.

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said the claim that 20mph limits would improve road safety has “not been proved beyond all doubt”.

He said: “It’s no surprise that councillors have voted for the 20mph plan but disappointing that they could not have waited until the first phase has had more time to provide totally conclusive results.

“[The council] must now work hard to ensure that their flagship policy delivers all the benefits that they have claimed for it.

“So far the safety benefits have not been proved beyond all doubt and their recent suggestions that cameras be used to enforce the lower limits will worry many drivers in the city.”

Lothians MSP Cameron Buchanan, local government spokesman for the 
Scottish Conservatives, said the new 20mph limits would prove a “nuisance” and “counter-productive”.

He said: “The councillors’ decision to approve these swingeing limits is bad news for Edinburgh.

“As I and many others pointed out before the vote was taken, the plans will impose 20mph limits on vast areas of the city whether they are needed or not.

“There is a strong case for having stricter limits in particularly high-risk areas, such as near schools, but I am struggling to see why the 20mph limit should be extended to 80 per cent of our roads.

“This will not only be a nuisance but may also be counter-productive in terms of safety – having this lowered norm throughout our city may mean that drivers take no extra caution when entering higher-risk areas.

“I do think that we should help cyclists to feel safer on the roads – but this should be done by investing in cycling infrastructure rather than by pulling other road users down.

“A council that is facing significant financial difficulties should put its resources into vital services, like repairing potholes, rather than uncosted and intrusive schemes.”

And he said: “To add insult to injury, these plans are not even costed yet.”

Following a plea from Meadows/Morningside councillor Melanie Main that the 30mph roads of Cluny Drive and Greenbank Crescent be reduced to 20mph, Cllr Hinds indicated that the plans could still be changed based on complaints about specific 
sites.

25-mile test ground in southside

AROUND 25 miles of streets in the Southside became the test ground for the Capital’s first 20mph zones in 2012.

Initial results showed there were fewer accidents in the trial area and enhanced conditions for walkers and cyclists.

Within months of the pilot launch, studies suggested motorists were defying the new speed limit with as many as one in two flouting the restrictions.

It was argued the trial scheme had failed to lower overall speed limits because there were no traffic calming measures other than warning signs.

Edinburgh is set to roll out the 20mph scheme across 80 per cent of its roads – the first local authority in Scotland to do so.

Transport Scotland, the government’s transport agency, previously said if the trial was successful it would advise other councils on how to replicate it.