Thursday, April 02, 2009

20’s Plenty For Us: Cutting speeds with no speed bumps

Large groups of us used to kick a ball around or race our bikes around the block in 1960’s and 70’s Knowle. Kids playing in the street is a much rarer sight now, not least because our roads are much busier. The current default speed limit of 30mph in areas where people live was set in 1934 when there were 1.5 million motor vehicles. Now there are a massive 33 million!!

Road traffic in the UK is the single biggest cause of premature deaths for boys and the second biggest cause for girls age 5-15. Every year in Bristol 500 people are killed or seriously injured on the roads, the burden falling hardest on the poorest, with 24 of every 100 child pedestrian casualties being in the most deprived neighbourhoods compared to 1 in 100 in the least deprived. At 20mph a pedestrian knocked over stands a 90% chance of surviving. At 40mph they stand a 90% chance of dying. 20mph in residential areas is clearly fast enough, and the new "20's Plenty For Us" initiative in the area is aiming to make this a reality.

Compare our residential street speed limit of 30mph with the speed limit in Northern European towns. Our limit is 60% higher than the 18.5 mph (30 kph) limits that they have for streets where people live. No wonder perhaps that 92% of pedestrian deaths are on urban roads in the UK and at 21% we have a higher proportion of pedestrian deaths on the roads than any of our European neighbours.

In Hilden, Germany, the setting of their 18.5 mph (30 kph) limit in the early 90's was the foundation of them encouraging cycling and walking. In fact now 23% of in-town trips are made by children and adults using bikes instead of cars.

Something has to change to bring us into the 21st century. Adults lead more sedentary lives in part because they spend more time in their cars. Children lead less active lives in part because we worry about the dangers posed by road traffic. The growth of physically inactive lifestyles in industrialised countries has led to what many are calling a major public health crisis. Preventable illnesses associated with inactivity and obesity include stroke, heart attack, certain cancers, diabetes, and depression.

Around 40% of people in the UK report being bothered by noise from traffic, nearly double the figure from the 1970’s. Children living near busy roads suffer significantly higher rates of asthma and West of England Partnership figures show that over 100,000 Bristolians live in areas where air quality is considered to be potentially damaging to health.

Cars travelling too fast in residential areas have helped to create social degradation. Neighbours across the road from each other don't talk to each as often as they used when I was kicking a ball about with mates, because a gulf is created by cars speeding past. As far back as 1969 Prof David Appleyard found that community was eroded on San Francisco streets with busier traffic.

A study by Kevin Leyden in 2003 found that people ‘living in walkable, mixed use neighbourhoods were more likely to know their neighbours, participate politically, trust others and be socially engaged, compared with those living in car-oriented suburbs’. Research on Bristol’s streets by Josh Hart at UWE showed that motor vehicle traffic is responsible for a considerable deterioration in residential community, measured by average number of social contacts, extent of perceived ‘home territory’, and reported street-based social activity. Several studies show that people whose homes had windows facing busy streets were more often depressed.

20's Plenty For Us was formed in order to work for the implementation of 20 mph as the default speed limit on residential roads in the UK, in place of 30mph. The balance is shifting towards roads and streets as public spaces for people rather than just motors – safer, cleaner, healthier and more civil. Quality of life would be better, with less noise, lower pollution, greater child mobility, walking, cycling and talking encouraged, better general wellbeing.

The Bristol 20’s Plenty group was recently launched to help build improved quality of life in local communities. 40 neighbourhood champions are already in place, including myself in Knowle. The target is 100 champions so if you want to be involved either as a champion yourself or as part of a team then phone us or send an email ( or check out the national and local websites for up to date news, reports, articles, action packs, support and resources (

20mph is an idea whose time has come, with growing numbers of cities doing it, including Portsmouth, Oxford, Norwich, Leicester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Islington has just decided to become the first London Borough to implement an authority-wide 20mph limit where people live and Hackney look set to follow. Transport for London is making funds available for all London Boroughs to set a 20mph default. Bristol will be piloting 20mph in some residential streets in the south and east of the city soon and so getting the council to go the whole way is deliverable – which is why 20’s Plenty are working in communities, urging people to talk to their councillors!
Research has shown that the vast majority of the public, over 80% in polls, would like 20 mph on residential roads. After all its where people live!! The Parliamentary Advisory Council on Transport Safety found that 70% of drivers want it too. Recent changes in Dept of Transport guidelines have relaxed the recommendations and in many residential areas 20 mph limits may be set without any physical measures at all – which means the cost of the change is small.

Portsmouth City Council has now created 1200 streets with 20 mph – and they did it with only 6 traffic orders, in just nine months without any speed bumps at a cost of £475,000, the cost of about two sets of traffic lights. Speeds have already reduced by an average of 3mph and the whole community has a collective commitment to sharing the roads better. The cost of 20mph in Bristol is likely to be approx £1.5 million as we are bigger than Portsmouth but this is a tiny amount considering that if a person is unfortunate enough to be hit by a car at 30mph they are likely to die whereas at 20mph they are likely to live! Further information:

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Contact: Steve Kinsella 01934 838624 The Old Forge Kingston Bridge, Clevedon, BS21 6TX