There was some good news from the council earlier this week, as Birmingham City Council passed a resolution calling the for the implementation of  20mph as the default speed limit on residential roads across the city.

The decision, taken at a council meeting on 6 November, means Birmingham joins the growing ranks of thirty-four local authorities in the UK who have already committed to 20 mph as the default speed limit for residential streets. The lower limits will be introduced in a phased programme in consultation with local communities.

Birmingham Friends of the Earth have long campaigned for a reduction to the speed limit in residential areas. The Council decision also comes after the recent report by the Campaign for Better Transport named Birmingham as one of the worst cities for cycling and pedestrian provision, ranking it 25 out of the 26 cities surveyed in it’s car dependancy scorecard.

Implementing this policy will make it safer for children and other vulnerable road users, mean roads are less daunting for cyclists and stop residential roads being used as rat runs during rush hour. 

The statistics make it clear that lower speeds are much safer. Last year there were 28 fatal car accidents in Birmingham and a further 395 leading to serious injury. Excessive speed is estimated to be behind a third of road collisions, half of those hit by a car travelling at 30mph will die compared to one in ten at 20mph!

As well as the safety benefits of speed reduction there are clear environmental and health gains. Domestic transport accounted for 20% of total UK Green House Gas (GHG) emissions in 2009 with road transport emissions rising by 10% between 1990 and 2007.

Alongside this the UK has seen a reduction in alternatives modes of transport such as walking and cycling. Less than half of school children currently walk to school and cycling fares even worse; only 0.4 per cent of Birmingham school children cycle to school, against an already poor English average of one per cent. Improving road safety encourages walking and cycling among school children with huge benefits to their health.

The wider environmental benefits in reducing car use include lower GHG emissions and noise pollution while for those who continue to drive, a lower speed limit can smooth traffic-flow, reducing fuel-intensive stop-start driving.

 This decision by the Council to support reduced speed limits reflects a wider cultural change under way amongst drivers themselves. A 2005 report by the National Centre for Social Research found 72 per cent of drivers questioned supported 20mph speed restrictions in residential areas while the 2012 report indicated 60% of drivers would be prepared to reduce their motorway speed in order to reduce CO2 emissions.

Involving local communities in deciding the speed limits in their area and raising awareness through publicity is likely to further improve compliance and assist in self-enforcement. A default 20mph limit in residential areas as opposed to intermittent 20mph zones reduces the need for expensive physical changes to road infrastructure.

It’s certainly a very positive and exciting beginning, and let’s make sure that the council continue to say that 20’s Plenty for Us!