Saturday, November 10, 2012

20s Plenty

This week, the Labour-run Birmingham City Council took a decision to develop a policy on creating 20mph zones in residential areas and around schools - building on the work being done by the Parliamentary Cycling Group and the Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview & Scrutiny Committee. I spoke in favour of the Labour amendment to the motion and here's the original speech. 

Lord Mayor, I surprise myself today by speaking largely in support of a motion from the Liberal Democrats. Still, I suppose even a stopped clock is right twice a day – it is just a shame that they didn’t push this policy forward during the eight years that they were almost in power in Birmingham. This is actually a cross-party issue – 20mph zones were first introduced under a Conservative government no less, simplified by Labour in 1999 and have been expanded by councils of all political colours since.  This was discussed at a recent meeting of the Transport, Connectivity and Sustainability Overview and Scrutiny Committee and I would urge that the cabinet wait to take that final report into consideration.

The arguments in favour of 20mph zones in residential areas are clear. Slower speeds mean more time to spot hazards and more time to stop safely. At 20mph, the risk of a fatal injury is just 2.5%, compared to 20% at 30mph. And we know that these zones work – the 1996 Transport Research Laboratory report saw a reduction of 60% in injury accidents and child injury accidents were cut by two thirds. Hull introduced these zones widely in the mid 1990s and saw fatal and serious injuries fall by 90%, with pedestrian casualties halving and child pedestrian injuries dropping by three quarters. The BMJ conducted a review over twenty years and showed a 40% cut in casualties and a halving of serious or fatal injuries to children – outstripping the reductions shown on other roads. This isn’t just about the emotional cost to the victims and families. Bear in mind that fatal accidents have a financial cost too  - a fatal accident is assessed at £1.7 million and even a minor crash is costed at £21,000. Warrington saw an 800% return on the investment in 20mph zones based on casualties avoided.

Again and again, the evidence shows that 20mph zones and limits work to reduce injuries and costs.

There are other powerful arguments in their favour too.

Reducing the dominance of the car in our neighbourhoods makes them better places to live – quieter and more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians. In Bristol, they found in these zones, walking increased by almost a quarter and cycling by a fifth. Again, this brings broader, measurable health benefits – every pound spent on these zones brought a return of £24 for walking and £7 for cycling. Road danger actually increases the number of car journeys and by making our roads safer, more people are prepared to walk, cycle and use public transport. By further reducing car journeys like this, our roads become safer still – creating a virtuous spiral.  This evidence has seen Liverpool PCT invest £665,000 in establishing 20 mph limits and Bristol PCT was also supportive in that city.

Some claim that these zones increase fuel consumption and while it is true that car engines are not as efficient at 20mph as they are at 30mph, I don’t see much enthusiasm for increasing the speed limit to 60mph to achieve maximum efficiency. In fact, the German experience is that 20mph zones – or their equivalent – are more efficient because they cut out hard acceleration that uses fuel and hard braking that wastes that energy. Indeed, they lead to a 12% fuel saving, which means a saving in carbon and particulate emissions.
However, Lord Mayor, my experience in trying to change behaviour in the field of energy efficiency and transport has shown that we need to carry the people with us. People have to want to change. We cannot just impose these measures across the city, but we need to consult fully with other stakeholders and – most importantly – with our residents, perhaps even united across party divide. I feel confident that if we put the hard evidence before the people of Birmingham, they will support these measures that will improve their neighbourhoods and protect lives. I urge the Council to support the Labour amendment to this motion.
Thank you, Lord Mayor. 

EDIT 14/11/12: Elsewhere on the net, somebody suggested out that I didn't understand the difference between 20mph zones and 20mph limits. I do - my phrasing may have been wrong (shoot me for trying to avoid being too technical - this isn't a legally binding document and zone is a convenient word). There is a clear difference. 20 mph zones have additional measures to calm traffic - speed humps and the like, while limits are just that. When the policy is finally formulated, both may be on offer, but funding is likely to preclude 20mph zones except in very rare cases. In any case, consultation will take place and residents' support will be vital to establishing the limit area/zone. 

This is also not "anti-car" as some would have it - I'm a car driver, as well as a pedestrian, a cyclist and a user of public transport. I probably use the car too much and I'm trying to use it less. People will always have to call on a mix of transport modes - we need to accept that, but that doesn't stop us trying to create a permissive environment that encourages them to use less carbon-intensive transport.

This isn't about being anti-car, but pro-people.

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