Road Safety News

Edinburgh’s 20mph scheme challenged by IAM RoadSmart on eve of go-live

Friday 29th July 2016

With Edinburgh’s first 20mph zone set to come into force on Sunday (31 July), IAM RoadSmart says it is ‘unconvinced’ by the scheme’s ‘blanket approach’.

The first zone is phase one of the City of Edinburgh Council’s planned rollout of a 20mph speed limit on all residential, shopping and city centre streets which when complete will cover more than 80% of the city’s roads.

Approved in January 2015 after public consultation with local communities, businesses and other stakeholders, the multi-million pound scheme is the first of its kind in Scotland.

The council says the new limits are aimed at increasing safety for all road users as well as creating a calmer, more people-friendly environment in shopping and residential streets.

In preparation for the 'go live', large 20mph signs have been erected over the past few weeks, marking the entrance and exit of a 20mph area where the speed limit is changing. These are supplemented by smaller repeater signs and road markings.

Councillor Lesley Hinds, Edinburgh’s transport convener, said: "Slower speeds bring many benefits to the urban environment, making streets more people-friendly, promoting active travel (and thereby improving public health) and reducing the risk and severity of road collisions.

“The majority of Edinburgh residents support our 20mph scheme and we know that other local authorities in the rest of Scotland are closely monitoring our experience.

"We've been working towards this rollout for a number of years and I'm delighted to see the first phase going live.”

However, IAM RoadSmart says it is ‘unconvinced’ of the value of the council’s decision because the proposals amount to a city-wide limit that doesn’t address ‘specific problematic roads’.

Neil Greig, IAM RoadSmart policy and research director, said: “It’s a blanket approach. On some streets, 20mph is a speed that you might aspire to rather than need to limit yourself to. But there are others where it looks and feels safer to go over 20, and that’s potentially confusing because drivers take their cue from the environment.

“If you look at the evidence, what seems to work is measures like speed bumps and narrower roads. Covering whole areas in one 20mph limit and putting up some signs is a cheap way to do it.

“We’d rather see investment made in dealing with the streets where there will be the most benefit.”


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If we are to learn anything from our history is that... 20 mph streets or rather blanket areas do not work. We just have to look at the 1920's/30's to know that. It's just history repeating itself about one century later and no doubt it will all end up with massive costs but with little or no return.
R.Craven Blackpool

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)

The DfT has commissioned a major study into the effectiveness of 20mph limits in terms of speed and casualty reduction and in enabling more walking and cycling in metropolitan areas and in smaller towns. We await their findings with interest and hope this will provide the evidence base we all need.

The installation of speed limit signs is a legal requirement not an “LA culture”.
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (4) | Disagree (1)

Honor, thanks for the link, but that webpage loses credibility when the second sentence attempts to conflate lower speed limits and lower speeds - as if there is a direct causal link. We all know that appropriate speeds (which may not necessarily be slower speeds) are desirable. The problem is how to reduce speeds where they are currently inappropriate - and there is no compelling evidence amongst the documents referred to on the website that speed limits can do that. However, we have seen measures (shared space amongst them) that more or less guarantee appropriate speeds - even before the token speed limit signs are added to satisfy the LA culture.
Charles, England

Agree (6) | Disagree (4)


If you are referring to my use of the phrase "elite drivers club" then I am simply using expressions used by IAM themselves:

"Do you want to join a driving elite and be one of the most skilled drivers on Britain’s roads?"

"Our members. When you pass your advanced course, you’ll be invited to become a full member of the IAM. Or, if you hold a recognised driving or riding qualification you may qualify for membership by invitation. Our membership of around 100,000 includes like-minded people from across the UK. Whether you want to improve your driving and riding skills, enjoy the fun of our local groups, or take a road trip with our rider clubs"

Which word or words would you like me to not use "elite, "driver" or "club"?


I agree "under" would be better.
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (11) | Disagree (10)

Insulting people or groups who express a different opinion is not a helpful approach to debating important issues.
David Davies, London

Agree (14) | Disagree (3)

Rod: It's not the 'saving lives' bit that bothers me obviously, it was the 'driving at' (any stated speed), that should be avoided in any road safety slogan. Driving 'under' (20) would have been a better, less ambiguous way of getting a slow speed message across.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (6) | Disagree (3)

According to the article on the link to the Edinburgh council website and the South Edinburgh pilot evaluation report itself, there are already many areas of Edinburgh with a 20mph speed limit. Those previously selected EXISTING 28 areas now have an average speed of 20.9mph whereas before the 20 limit the average speed was 22.8mph. A drop of 1.9mph is in the range expected. This average includes some areas where speeds have fallen less, some where the speeds have fallen more and some areas where speeds have risen since the 20mph speed limit was introduced. Full credit to the clarity of the full evaluation report on this point.

The pre-scheme speeds of the previous trial areas were much less than 30mph. One would suppose that the first areas to be put under the initial 20mph wide area scheme were those likely to produce the best returns. Can we assume that the areas that have just gone live for 20 have higher pre-scheme speeds? If so, it will be interesting to see the likely levels of non-compliance on these next areas without engineering features to slow vehicles – which the report says the Council are looking to retro-fit to the previous areas that have proven to be non-compliant.

We look on with interest.
Pat, Wales

Agree (12) | Disagree (2)

So the "elite drivers club" is still whinging about residential and city-centre 20mph limits on the basis that "its blanket".

"It's a blanket approach" makes a good headline and is constantly used by those opposing the selective use of 20mph limits in our towns and cities across the country. But in every case where such an objection has been made the traffic authority points out that arterial roads have been excepted unless there are specific reasons why they should be included.

In Edinburgh's case such objections and response are on public record as follows:

"Opposition to a blanket approach

3.8 There were 20 comments regarding the belief that the citywide 20mph network has wrongly adopted a blanket approach. These comments stated their opposition to 20mph on arterial routes that they suggested would affect the flow of traffic throughout the city. They stated that 20mph should be limited to outside schools and residential areas.

3.9 The proposals are for a network of 20mph streets, chiefly in residential and shopping areas, complemented by a network of 30mph and 40mph roads on key arterial routes in the city suburbs. Those main roads, where a 20mph limit is proposed, have the greatest mix of pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles, and/or have a high incidence of collisions.

3.10 The network was developed through extensive partnership working and stakeholder engagement throughout 2014. There are a number of streets where it is proposed to retain a 30mph limit, due to the commitment made to retain a coherent network of 30mph routes across the city, despite there being significant local support for a 20mph limit."

Councils have a responsibility to consider far more than whether roads "look and feels safer to go over 20" to some drivers. They may take cues from the environment, but surely this must include the direct and indirect effect on people both seen and unseen. That's why the setting of speed limits rests with the council rather than any driver's club.

One could understand IAM's enthusiasm for narrowing streets and speed bumps if this included detail on where they should be implemented. Instead this "buttocks and spines" approach to behaviour change is only suggested as a way to denigrate wide-area speed limits which actually are far more cost-effective at reducing speed than expensive physical calming.

Hugh. To be fair, City of Edinburgh Council do show the many wide benefits of 20mph limits on their website and have stressed that these go far beyond "saving lives".
Rod King, Cheshire, 20's Plenty for Us

Agree (8) | Disagree (15)

Councils don't help themselves when, looking at their webpage, the first thing that catches your eye is a slogan which says: "Driving at 20mph saves lives". It won't save lives if, at a particular moment in time, a speed nearer 10 mph would have better allowed time and space to stop, for a child running out. They need to remind themselves that the '20' is an upper limit and not a command or a request to drive at the stated speed. Some motorists do interpret speed limit signs that way, but the Highway/Traffic authorities should know better and give more thought to their slogans.
Hugh Jones, Cheshire

Agree (12) | Disagree (6)

The council papers and information are all publicly available online:
Honor Byford, Chair, Road Safety GB

Agree (10) | Disagree (0)

I'd be interested to see the consultation, and the information and evidence that the public was given regarding the likely effects of introducing the signs on posts and road markings. I wonder if the council gave a balanced view and presented only scientifically and statistically sound evidence to support their recommendations.
Charles, England

Agree (21) | Disagree (8)