Why Sustrans supports 20mph limits

By John Lauder,
Image of people standing int he street supporting 20 mph

Sustrans Scotland's National Director, John Lauder, with City of Edinburgh Council 20mph mascot, The Reducer.

As an organisation which supports and promotes cycling and walking, Sustrans Scotland welcomes Edinburgh City Council’s introduction of 20mph speed limits to areas of the capital.

There is no doubt, and ample evidence worldwide, that 20mph streets are a vital step to keep towns and cities thriving. Lower speeds on roads help reduce the risk and severity of collisions and make local neighbourhoods more pleasant environments in which to live, shop, walk and cycle.

There are well established safety benefits to 20mph limits. Recent Department for Transport road casualty data shows significantly lower casualty rates on 20mph roads, and a 2009 study of London speed limits found that the introduction of 20mph zones was associated with a 42% reduction in road casualties. Evidence from the South Edinburgh pilot area also points to a reduction in casualties of 20%. These kinds of numbers cannot be ignored.  

Aside from safety, walkable street locations have also been proven to increase shop footfall by between 20% - 40% and the scheme in Edinburgh has already resulted in improvements to residents’ perceptions about the ‘liveability’ of their streets. In other words, all the evidence shows that where 20mph has been already introduced and bedded-in, people like it and want more.

People feel safer walking and cycling, and more children are allowed to play outside. 20mph areas help to increase social interactions and physical activity levels, they make it easier for people, particularly children and older people, to cross roads and reduce traffic noise levels. Anecdotally, drivers tell me that they notice more happening on the road at 20mph and, rather like the introduction of safety equipment on building sites, people can see accidents being avoided because traffic is moving more slowly and predictably.  

And, whilst we are aware that some people are worried that 20mph will increase congestion, make journey times longer or even increase pollution, in actual fact, the opposite effect is more likely. The City of Edinburgh Council have published a very well-evidenced ‘myth-busting guide’ based on their research and findings from the roll-out so far which helps to address some of the concerns which have been raised.  

Our vision is for active travel to become the default option in cities and communities throughout the UK.   

By reducing speed limits, building good quality cycling and walking networks and improving the layout of streets, even more people will choose to cycle and walk for more of their everyday journeys, benefitting themselves and the environment in which they live. All the evidence from cities across Northern Europe, the same cities that Edinburgh competes against as a place to live, invest and visit, is that making the place better for people is a winner.