Birmingham Friends of the Earth is calling for the default limit on all residential roads in Birmingham to be set at 20 mph to make them safer for cyclists, pedestrians all road users and residents.

You may well have heard about this scheme as there has been a lot of press about it, with the government even looking at suggesting it as the advisory speed country-wide, although so far there is only a consultation on it. This shift in the debate has come about as a result of successful implementations of the limits in Portsmouth, Hull, areas of London and other cities across the UK, where it has clearly made a huge difference to people’s lives.




Why are Birmingham Friends of the Earth getting involved in a road safety campaign?

This is not just about road safety, but encouraging greener forms of transport, such as cycling and walking and reducing carbon emissions from driving. The fear of being hit by a car is one of the major reasons for people not using healthy and carbon neutral forms of transport. If cyclists and pedestrians consider the streets as dangerous, they are much more likely to use cars instead.

Britain’s roads are considered to be among the safest in Europe, but a child pedestrian is three times more likely to die here than in Italy and twice as likely as in France. The school run contributes a huge number of cars to our streets, as anyone who travels on the roads in and out of term-time will testify. Safer roads will encourage parents to let their children walk or cycle to school and 20 mph is a safe speed, as the stopping distance is far smaller and the risk of death or serious injury greatly reduced.

Can it really reduce carbon emissions?

Apart from the shift away from driving which could be anticipated, cars actually use less fuel when driven at 20 mph than 30 mph. Research has shown that less braking, less changing gear and less fuel consumption are all results of driving slower. Motoring organisations claim the opposite, but their assertions are based on being able to drive at a constant speed of 30 mph over a journey, which in a city with junctions, roundabouts traffic lights and other cars is, of course, impossible. Therefore, yes it can and we should push any measure we can to ensure the council is on course to cut emissions by the 60% that they are aiming for.

Won’t it be unpopular?

On the contrary, even when the government’s plan for a consultation on this was announced in The Sun newspaper recently, the comments online were overwhelmingly in favour. A British Social Attitudes Survey carried out in 2006 showed that three quarters of the population were in favour of blanket 20 mph limits for residential areas and they have been widely welcomed where they have been introduced.

People’s fears about increased journey times are unfounded, as the reduction in congestion and improvement in traffic flow will mean there is hardly any difference and could actually cut journey times for some. Even if it adds two or three minutes (as calculated by some London boroughs) onto some journeys, isn’t it worth it for the number of lives that could be saved?


What about the cost in these recession-hit times?

A default speed limit would be far cheaper than introducing lots of isolated zones and would actually save money, too. Road deaths and injuries cost the NHS £470 million

and the UK economy £18 billion every year, so reducing the numbers of these would have a beneficial economic impact that would far outweigh any initial cost. We do not want speed bumps and cameras everywhere, just a shift to universal slower speeds on the roads.

Changing Birmingham for the better.

If we want to change this city from being “a noisy, polluted place into a vibrant, people-centred environment” (UK Commission for Integrated Transport report on the effects of 20 mph default limits), then this must be a large part of the solution. With more people out on foot and cycling, community cohesion will be better with more people talking to their neighbours and maybe even crossing the street to say hello without fear. We still need a better and more integrated public transport system too, to enable people to make longer journeys and avoid the worst of the weather, but this would be a great and easily achievable start.


We are looking to get people from all communities involved in this campaign and become 20 mph champions for their areas. If you would like to become involved, please contact us at or by using the contact details on this website.

Please get involved and let’s all encourage the council to make a real difference to Birmingham now.