Out canvassing in Willowbrae, no sooner had I said I was calling about the council election in May and a broad grin swept across the gentleman’s face. He cut straight to the chase. “Just tell me what you think about this 20mph thing.”
“I think there are some streets where it is appropriate but the blanket ban is too much,” I said. “We want the roll-out halted and the whole thing reviewed.”
“Right, you’ve got my vote,” he replied, and he’s not alone.
Yes, I’ve come across one or two people who support the Labour-SNP scheme, but the number of voters who regard it as dogmatic, ill-conceived and impractical is overwhelming.
Of course it’s the oldest trick in the book to say a policy will save lives; who is going to argue against something which keeps people alive? So the test is not whether the principle is laudable but whether it will actually work. So far, the evidence is at best scant.
First of all, few people die on Edinburgh’s roads anyway; only two pedestrians out of three deaths in 2015. There were 148 serious accidents in 2015, one for every seven million miles driven in the city, and even though that’s 148 too many, the evidence is that it’s unlikely to make much difference. When it was introduced in Islington, average speed dropped from 28mph to 27mph because rigorous enforcement was impossible, as it almost certainly will be here unless the police do nothing else.
What about cutting pollution? A study by Imperial College London showed that petrol cars actually produced more carbon dioxide and nitrous oxides at the slower speed. Diesel cars did perform better, but they are becoming increasingly unpopular.
Resident after resident is complaining; watching the speedometer more than the road, revving the engine because the correct gear is hard to judge, misjudging the speed of other cars, not knowing what the limit is, driving along wide, non-residential roads at night slower than a dead monarch on a gun carriage.
Then there is total bemusement at the expense of erecting the wee signs on narrow, traffic-calmed streets where it was impossible to do more than 20 in the first place.
And as a cyclist this is supposed to be for my benefit, but wouldn’t the £2.2m have been better spent repairing the cratered moonscape which passes for Edinburgh’s roads? Hundreds of voters can give their verdict in May.
John McLellan is standing as a Conservative candidate in the Craigentinny/Duddingston ward at this year’s council elections. He is a former editor of the Evening News