Go Slow in the Capital

Go Slow in the Capital

Edinburgh Council is pushing forward with plans to introduce a 20mph speed limit across 80% of the capital’s roads.

On 3rd June 2014, the Transport and Environment Committee approved a draft speed limit network for consultation. The consultation was closed in mid-October after almost 3000 responses. The committee analysed the responses used them to create a revised 20mph-network.

The proposed network can be viewed here.

The proposals

The council’s proposals affect more than 80% of Edinburgh’s roads, including the entire city centre. The lower speed limit would supplement an existing 25-mile stretch of road between Arthur’s Seat and Blackford Hill that is already restricted.

The Portsmouth problem

The council’s proposals have already attracted stark a warning from Portsmouth, a “20’s Plenty” city. Portsmouth, which attempted to apply a city-wide 20mph limit, is often held up as an example of the failure of 20mph limits.

Portsmouth was the first city in the UK to reduce all its 30mph residential roads to 20mph. However, the council did not adequately enforce these limits. The real problem lies in the distinction between a 20mph limit and a 20mph zone. The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents helpfully outlines the distinction:

“20 mph limits are areas where the speed limit has been reduced to 20 mph but there are no physical measures to reduce vehicle speeds within the areas.”

“20 mph zones use traffic calming measures to reduce the adverse impact of motor vehicles on built up areas.”

In Portsmouth, studies found that areas with physical traffic calming measures saw average speeds fall by 10mph. Areas with only signage saw average speeds fall by a paltry 2mph. Speed limits on their own apply no effective restriction to a motorist’s speed.

Edinburgh is proposing speed limits.

Partial conformity

One of the problems unenforced limits is partial conformity amongst a population. This problem is already seen in various residential zones across Edinburgh where 20mph limits have been applied. Motorists who conform to these limits find they often experience aggressive driving by those who feel they are being held up.

Waning support

“It’s undoubtedly a culture change for the whole city but we’re very encouraged by the overwhelmingly positive response we’ve seen to the pilot project in South Edinburgh,” said Lesley Hinds, Edinburgh City Council’s transport convener.

“Support for 20mph limits was already high before the pilot began but it increased even more once people tried out the slower speeds in practice.”

Contrary to Hinds’ claims, public opinion of the limits has actually soured. While support for specific residential limits remains high, an online poll conducted by the Evening Times found 83% of people opposed the proposals as a whole.

Edinburgh does not want a blanket limit.

A fine tooth comb

Much of the opposition stems from the lack of finesse with which the proposals are to be implemented: the council’s blanket approach applies the same speed limit to all roads regardless of context.

A narrow road outside a school and a vital commuting artery are treated identically. This, many will agree, is farcical.

“What we would advise Edinburgh and other cities looking at 20mph limits is to target them where they really are needed,” said Edmund King, president of the AA.

“The busiest shopping streets, the road outside the school, the residential areas, rather than just introducing blanket limits, which generally aren’t supported by motorists and therefore it’s very difficult to enforce.”

Update – 13th January

Despite vocal opposition to the limits, councillors have passed the proposals.

Details of the projects cost, signage and practical enforcement have yet to be released. Work is expected to start later this year and will be continue over the next three financial years.


What do you think about Edinburgh’s proposed limit? Tell us your opinion on Twitter using the hashtag #GoSlowEdinburgh.