Jim Orr: We’re weaning drivers off need for speed

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Edinburgh can start to lay claim to being the first city in Scotland to make a genuine effort to put people before traffic, thanks to the publication of its proposed map of revised maximum road speeds.

Plans are in place for speed in the vast majority of streets across the whole city to be reduced from 30mph to 20mph, with the former being the exception rather than the rule, especially in residential streets. In making this change, Edinburgh is following the lead of a handful of forward-thinking English cities, particularly Portsmouth which was first to do it back in 2008.

Around 50 per cent of residential streets in Edinburgh have 20mph limits and, as has been widely reported, the council-funded Community Police Service has made a commitment to enforce this lower limit as part of a formal agreement with the local authority regarding what duties these officers will carry out. Enforcement of 20mph limits has long been a concern for residents, as the police concentrate their limited resources on the main arterial routes where the highest proportion of collisions take place.

So, we now have good reason to be optimistic about proper enforcement which is vital to the plan. Measures such as speed bumps can no longer be financially sustained and other speed reduction features such as vehicle activated speed signs are now more commonly used.

These traffic-calming policies have had broad support from all five political parties in the council, but much credit must go to the former Liberal Democrat transport convener Gordon Mackenzie, who initiated the pilot scheme in south Edinburgh. That was overwhelmingly welcomed by residents so expansion was always highly likely.

In south Edinburgh, 94 per cent of respondents from households with children were supportive, while backing from those without children was also high at 77 per cent.

The appeal of such policies to the elderly and those with visual or other disabilities is obvious, too.

During the pilot, the average speed of vehicles on streets provided with the new 20mph speed limit dropped by 2mph, from 23mph to 21mph. This is a reasonable result – nine per cent – and better than Portsmouth.

But as well as the slower speeds residents just seemed to like the idea of living in 20mph zones, hopeful that compliance would gradually improve, as happened with the compulsory wearing of seatbelts. And for the streets in the pilot scheme where average speeds were above 24mph, these average speeds fell by more (3.3mph), indicating that the pilot scheme had a disproportionate effect on higher speed drivers who can pose the greatest danger to the public.

One reason why Portsmouth introduced 20mph residential zones was to make urban speeding as socially unacceptable as drink-driving and many Edinburgh residents feel the same way.

Public consultation is the next step, with neighbourhood partnerships taking a key role. With 20mph the new default for residential streets, the key decisions will centre around the extent of the planned 30mph network. Representatives of local interest groups such as community councils and citizens will all be looking keenly at the new map. It will be interesting to see whether this network shrinks or expands by the time of the final proposals are published.

• Jim Orr is Independent councillor for Southside/Newington