Ireland Transport and infrastructure

30km/h speed limits in urban streets


Photo Credit: garryknight Flickr via Compfight cc

The 20’s Plenty movement (or Love 30 in countries using metric units) has been going for some 10 years now and has been involved in campaigns around the world from its base in Warrington, England. But few know that it has a strong connection with Ireland which is where I made my first presentation on the benefits of 20mph limits at the Velo-City 2005 conference in Dublin. After campaigning as an individual for lower speeds in the UK, there was so much interest from communities that in 2007 I formed 20’s Plenty for Us to support communities who wanted 20mph (equivalent to 30km/h) limits. 20’s Plenty/Love 30 now has 400 local campaigns mainly in the UK but also in Ireland, Canada and the United States. In the UK, 25% of the population now live in local authorities where most urban streets have a 20mph limit. This is done without physical calming but signs on the carriageway and lamp posts to remind drivers of the limit.

And its not just the UK local authorities doing this but also many of our European neighbours. In fact 85% of roads in Dutch towns and villages have a 30km/h limit. And organisations such as the World Health Organisation, European Transport Safety Council, The EU Transport and Tourism Committee, iRAP and many more say that where pedestrians and cyclists mix with motor vehicles then the speed limit should be 30km/h.

There is increasing recognition within communities that with so many vehicles on the roads going faster than 30km/h between congestion points rarely shortens your journey times and merely gets you to those points a few seconds earlier so you can wait a few seconds longer. Speed may “ease frustration” but it is momentary and has little benefit. And there is a moral issue when speed becomes theft as the fear of fast traffic deprives our children and adults of the choice to walk or cycle.

The physics are simple. The energy required to get to 50km/h is 2.8 times more than that to get to 30km/h and each time we do so we use fuel to get to that 50km/h and then waste it as we brake at the next hazard or congestion point. And in the distance a 30km/h vehicle can stop, a 50km/h vehicle is still doing 38km/h. And for children their cognitive and visual acuity development is such that before their teen years they cannot be relied upon to either detect the speed of vehicles above 30km/h or make reliable decisions. They are unable to protect themselves and must rely upon a road environment and drivers that behave in a way that can tolerate their predictable mistakes.

It is not a silver bullet but does represent a new reference for speeds in areas where motor vehicles mix with pedestrians and cyclists. The support is not only because of the road safety gains, with an estimated 10-20% reduction in casualties, but also to create a better environment for walking and cycling, particularly for the young, elderly and disabled.

20’s Plenty continues to have an involvement in Ireland and in 2015 I was invited to present at the Road Safety Authority’s International conference on Children’s road safety, and recently for its 2017 Annual Academic Lecture. But it is the work of local campaigners which has always been the strength of the Love 30 and 20’s Plenty campaigns. These are the people and councillors who are working within the community to make their places better places to be. It is pleasing to see wide area 30km/h limits being adopted in Dublin, Kilkenny, Sligo and other Irish communities.

In all of this we must never forget the human cost of mistakes on our roads either where we have created a road environment that does not cope with the mistakes of road users. Where we get it wrong at national, local or individual level then people pay the price with blood, injury and death when what could be merely “incidents” are turned into “crashes”. As we all remember those victims in the annual “World Day of Remembrance for Road Victims” on Nov 19th, I am inspired and humbled by the work of the Irish Road Victims Association who have invited me to Mullingar for their ceremony and to receive the IRVA Global ‘Light of Hope’ Award for the work of 20’s Plenty in bringing about change in communities for slower speeds and limits.

30km/h limits are being adopted as the global standard for making those “public spaces between buildings” that we call streets better places for all to use whether they are in cars, walking, cycling or simply standing and talking. If in the 20th century we endorsed driving at 50km/h and only slowed down in some places, in the 21st century we are realising the benefits of sticking to 30km/h and only going faster where is safe and appropriate to do so. It’s good to see Ireland adopting this life changing initiative and being part of that global trend.