CITY leaders have been urged to learn lessons from Manchester’s 20mph initiative after the English city announced the £1.7 million rollout of its programme is to be halted.
The Manchester scheme – which, like Edinburgh’s, targeted large swathes of residential streets – has “not had the impact that the council anticipated”, resulting in only a “marginal” change in drivers’ speed and no obvious impact on safety. The number of accidents involving pedestrians and cyclists in Manchester’s 20mph streets in fact dropped at a slower rate than across the city as a whole.
Edinburgh is being urged to study the Manchester experience as it presses ahead with plans to introduce 20mph limits to more than three-quarters of the Capital’s streets.
The city council brushed aside calls to rethink its plans, insisting it was still “fully committed” to 20mph, and arguing the zones would create a “safer, more welcoming environment”.
Manchester announced its plans in 2012 to roll out the lower limit on all minor residential roads at a total cost of £1.7 million. It has found, however, that overall speeds dropped by just 0.7mph and actually rose on some roads. Casualties of cyclists on the city’s roads fell by more than 40 per cent between 2012 and 2016 but the drop in the 20mph zones was generally far lower – as little as 12 per cent in some neighbourhoods.
The Labour-controlled council in Manchester is now looking at whether the money it was going to spend on further 20mph zones would be better spent on other road safety measures.
However, the former Manchester Withington MP John Leech, who is now a Liberal Democrat councillor in the city, believes the scheme has been dropped before it had a chance to change drivers’ behaviour.
“Hopefully Edinburgh will actually see it through rather than finding an excuse not to continue with the rollout,” he said. “They [Manchester City Council] were never enthusiastic supporters of the 20mph limit and they were effectively arm-twisted into doing it because we put a lot of political pressure on them while I was an MP.”
The police in Manchester had not committed enough resources to enforcing the lower limit, Cllr Leech argued. “They tend to go for very high impact areas where they catch lots of people speeding but not in the most dangerous places.
“They don’t really enforce the speed limits in residential areas which I would argue is more of a priority because it’s potentially far more dangerous for pedestrians and other road users.”
Manchester’s roll-out was set to cover around 46 per cent of the city, compared to the 80 per cent in the Capital.
Neil Greig, head of policy for Scotland at the Institute of Advanced Motorists (IAM), said it would be wise for Edinburgh to consider the Manchester experience as part of its ongoing reviews.
He said evidence from other schemes suggested a more targeted “road by road” approach – for example near schools – was generally more effective when it came to 20mph limits. He said: “Most of the schemes haven’t delivered huge changes in terms of accidents or speeds but it’s the first time I’ve heard of somebody taking this on board and saying we’ll try something else.
“I would hope that Manchester won’t stop looking at road safety altogether, but perhaps what they’ll do is target the worst roads rather than going for the blanket approach.
“Edinburgh council have been very open so far with the information they have given out and the statistics they have published. They need to review this all the time so the thing happening in Manchester is something they should consider as part of the review of the process.”
Following evaluation of the Manchester scheme, council officers suggested city leaders use remaining transport funds for alternative road safety measures, rather than 20mph.
Edinburgh’s scheme is costing a total of £2.2m to implement and will be fully rolled out by January next year.
Drivers caught flouting the limit face the threat of £100 fines and three penalty points, with Police Scotland saying it would carry out “proactive” checks to ensure it is obeyed.
But driving instructor Marouf Mansour, who has been teaching students to drive in the Capital for 30 years, said simply upping enforcement was not the answer.
He said: “It’s not getting police out there, they need to scrap the project. I agree entirely with the reduction in busy areas like shopping streets but not the outskirts of the city centre. I drive at 20mph and I’m being dangerously overtaken by cars. The council have got it completely wrong – it has got nothing to do with safety.
“They should take note of what’s happening in Manchester and they should listen to their residents as well. Follow Manchester city and scrap the project.”
The city-wide initiative was approved in February 2015, with its first phase in the city centre coming into force on July 31 last year. Phase two came into force last month, covering roads in areas including Morningside, Duddingston and Leith.
Transport and environment leader Lesley Hinds said the council was “fully committed” to the 20mph roll-out, pointing out that it was supported and funded by the Scottish Government.
She said: “We are confident the changes will increase road safety based on our own findings, which draw from national research demonstrating that fewer accidents happen the lower the speed limit. We also looked to the experience of cities like Portsmouth and Warrington, where the number of collisions have been seen to drop, and the positive impact of our own 20mph pilot held in South Edinburgh.”
Cllr Hinds said she recognised 20mph was part of a “long-term plan” and admitted it would take time to change drivers’ attitude and behaviour.
But she added: “By working closely with the police, fellow agencies like NHS Lothian, Sustrans and Living Streets and engaging with communities across the city, we aim to make 20mph the norm, creating a safer, more attractive city for everyone.”
Ian Maxwell, of cycling campaign group Spokes, said what appeared to be a minimal reduction in accidents in Manchester’s first phase stemmed from the city taking a “cautious approach”, converting roads to 20mph which already had “relatively low casualty rates”.
He said: “Even with this limitation, the first phase 20mph areas have shown a drop in traffic casualties. It is therefore not valid to compare a small drop in an area that was already safer than average with the citywide change in casualty rates.
“Edinburgh has already had a successful trial of 20mph in the south of the city and has significantly more cycling and better facilities than Manchester.
“There is already plenty of evidence of the success of 20mph in other parts of the UK and Edinburgh should complete our scheme with the expectation of similar success.”