The Welsh Government has advised local authorities to consider potential, as well as current, active travel on individual streets when deciding which sections of road to exempt from the 20mph default speed limit, which will apply across Wales from 17 September.
The government’s new guidance on the exceptions process says it may be appropriate to retain the 30mph limit if significant numbers of pedestrians and cyclists do not travel along or across the road, or if there is no potential of significant numbers doing so if traffic speeds were reduced. The government expects the 20mph default limit to encourage people to make more walking and cycling trips.
The advice marks a change in the Welsh Government’s attitude to active travel. The government refused to include footways or cycleways alongside the Caernarfon and Bontnewydd bypass, which opened this year. Its decision was upheld by the scheme’s planning inspector on the grounds that the bypass, constructed through fields, “does not follow an active travel route”. Sustrans had argued at the public inquiry that there was potential demand for active travel to places along the route, including an industrial estate.
The new 20mph guidance also says: “The fact that a section of road is on a bus route is not in itself a justification for making an exception.” Some bus operators have concerns that the 20mph default limit could increase bus journey times sufficiently to require the use of additional vehicles and drivers or reductions in service frequency.
The government expects most exceptions to be made on A and B roads, and says C and unclassified roads (in built up areas) are usually important active travel routes where walkers and cyclists share the carriageway with motor vehicles. It acknowledges that local authorities may choose to except some C and unclassified roads, based on the guidance and local factors.
The guidance includes four “Place criteria” to help highway authorities to determine, in a consistent way across Wales, which sections of road may have significant active travel demand. They are roads within a 100-metre walk of any educational setting, community centre or hospital, and roads where the number of residential and/or retail premises fronting the road exceeds 20 per kilometre.
The speed limits should be 20mph at sections of roads which meet any of these criteria, but “highway authorities continue to have the flexibility to set local speed limits that are right for individual roads, reflecting local needs and considerations”. Where their decisions deviate from this guidance, the authorities “should have a clear and reasoned case”.
Relevant local factors can include the existence of alternative routes which pedestrians and cyclists use to reach schools, hospitals or community centres, such as underpasses or service roads. If there are shops, houses and other facilities on one side of the road and open land on the other, there could be little need for people to cross the road there. However, where these factors apply, the needs of cyclists travelling along the road should be taken into account.
Local authorities have a substantial workload on setting speed limits in the coming months. The government advises them to consider only 30mph restricted roads at this stage, along with roads which have been made 30mph by Order if they consider this appropriate. “Speed limits of 40mph and above should not generally be changed at this stage, but their limits may need to be reviewed after 17 September 2023,” it says.
All existing 20mph limits or zones should retain the 20mph limit. Those which are lit should have their 20mph Orders revoked, except in areas where speed limits generally are set by Order.
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