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20mph conference: just an echo chamber for supporters

Paul Biggs, Tamworth, Staffordshire B77
09 March 2015

20mph conference: just an echo chamber for supporters

The forthcoming Landor Links-organised annual ‘20’s Plenty’ conference in Cambridge on 12 March exemplifies many of the things that are wrong with current road safety policy: vested interests, profit motivation, a speed-obsessed ideological anti-driver lobby, and dubious claims made in an echo chamber devoid of alternative views.  

No surprises then that the event is sponsored by a speed camera manufacturer who stands to profit from the enforcement of lowered speed limits, with presentations from the left of the political spectrum (including a former adviser to Gordon Brown and the risible John Prescott); a celebrity bike salesman; lobbyists of undisclosed or non-existent driving/road safety expertise; local councils; private company profiteers; and ivory tower academics. 

There isn’t a single independent speaker without vested financial or political interests or an axe to grind. Of course, conflicts of interests aren’t illegal but they detract from those who may be genuinely well-meaning. 

The 20mph agenda appears to be little more than a malicious attack on the UK’s 32 million drivers in the apparent belief that they are some sort of evil minority group rather than the normal, essential majority. 

The universally-positive claims for 20mph zones or limits are becoming increasingly absurd and defy logic. In fact, 20mph is still five times faster than walking pace and simply keeps drivers in their cars for longer. 

At a time of supposed austerity, debt, deficit and an NHS in a state of emergency, 20mph limits aren’t free. Birmingham is spending £5m and Oxford spent £300,000, which achieved just a 0.85mph reduction in speed. In Bristol, where the statistically incompetent claims for the benefits of 20mph limits have previously been highlighted in LTT, £2.3m is being spent on 13,000 20mph speed limit signs prompting one councillor to suggest that money could be better spent by keeping public toilets open; another councillor who supports 20mph limits cited the DfT’s £1.83m ‘cost’ of a fatal collision, which confuses actual costs and extreme theoretical values.

Emissions with 20mph limits are more likely to increase than decrease (see the AA report, 2008: http://www.theaa.com/public_affairs/news/

20mph-roads-emissions.html). The two Bristol air quality monitoring sites that exceeded EU limits in 2014 (Blackboy Hill and Whiteladies Road) became 20mph roads in 2013. 

Nor should Portsmouth’s 20mph policy be used as an example to others. At the 2009 LTT speed management conference, the presentation from Portsmouth City Council made clear that Portsmouth is “unique outside of London” for housing density, and, with the exception of one road, 20mph limits were only implemented where existing speeds were 24mph or less. Indeed, when Portsmouth was asked how much money 20mph policy had saved the city, the answer was “none.”

As a pedestrian, dog walker and driver, I can tell you that the speed limit has no effect on my choice of transport mode, nor do I see cycling as the best or safest form of exercise. The immediate potential rising cost to the NHS for cycling injuries is also ignored by 20mph supporters in favour of an assumed benefit decades into the future: in 2012 there were 248 cycling killed or serious injuries with no another vehicles involved. 

Blanket 20mph limits (which are distinct from those based on the ‘85th Percentile’) belong in the 1920s, along with the Ford Model T, not in the 21st Century where we are so economically and socially dependent on drivers. 


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Essex County Council
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