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Welcome to 20mph London: Speed limit cut on over half of all roads

Debate revs up as the speed of more London streets drops to 20mph (Evening Standard)
Debate revs up as the speed of more London streets drops to 20mph (Evening Standard)

The speed limit on more than half of London’s roads has been cut to 20mph in a bid to tackle speeding and improve safety, it can be revealed.

The landmark figure has been achieved by Transport for London curtailing the limit on its Red Routes over the last decade, alongside restrictions introduced by borough councils in residential areas.

But it has sparked a debate about whether traffic on the capital’s main thoroughfares is being unnecessarily slowed. Drivers are also increasingly at risk of being caught speeding.

Almost 125,000 speeding fines were issued in April and May and TfL wants the Metropolitan police to have the capacity to issue a million tickets a year from next April. TfL’s safety committee was told today that 51 per cent of all roads in the capital now have a 20mph limit. This includes 16 per cent of TfL roads — more than 88 miles of Red Routes — and 52 per cent of borough roads.

Will Norman, London’s walking and cycling commissioner, said: “This helps save lives.”

He said Government surveys had found 78 per cent support for 20mph limits. “For pedestrians just crossing the road, we have seen falls of up to 60 per cent of people hit while they are walking,” he told LBC. “This makes the city safer for absolutely everyone — not just people walking or people cycling, but people in the cars themselves.”

Latest figures show that the number of people being killed or seriously injured (KSI) on London roads has fallen — but not by enough to hit Mayor Sadiq Khan’s targets.

He wants a 70 per cent reduction in so-called KSIs by 2030 and zero road deaths by 2041. A further 50 miles of Red Routes will become 20mph over the next two years as TfL accelerates efforts to eradicate fatalities.

These include parts of the A205 South Circular Road in Greenwich and Woolwich, the A4 on Cromwell Road and Brompton Road and the A20 in Lewisham. Average speeds on A roads across Greater London fell to 14.4mph last year, according to Department for Transport data.

There were 23 road deaths and 919 serious injuries in London between April and June this year. This was down on 983 in the same three-month period last year but well short of TfL’s target of 865 KSIs. Since the start of this year there have been at least 72 road deaths, according to TfL draft data and Met police appeals. The fatalities include 37 pedestrians and 19 car drivers or passengers.

Speeding is the biggest cause of road deaths. In 48 of the 99 fatal collisions in London last year, police reported it as a contributory factor. It is not yet known how many of this year’s fatalities involved speeding.

TfL said lowering speeds was a “crucial part” of its Vision Zero approach to eradicating road deaths. It says that every year 1,000 people were injured or killed by drivers exceeding the speed limit. TfL is giving outer London boroughs £2.45 million this year to introduce more 20mph roads.

Eleven of the capital’s 33 boroughs have already limited all local roads to 20mph — Camden, City of London, Hackney, Islington, Kensington and Chelsea, Lambeth, Lewisham, Richmond, Southwark, Tower Hamlets and Westminster.

Islington will have nearly all local and TfL roads limited to 20mph by the end of next year. By comparison, Barnet and Bromley have the lowest proportion of 20mph roads — 4.6 per cent and 4.8 per cent respectively.

Nicholas Bennett, Bromley’s cabinet member for transport, said the Tory council was “unashamedly pro-car”. He said: “We don’t go in for low traffic neighbourhoods, we don’t go in for humps, we don’t go in for 20mph zones, except in high streets and outside schools.

“We have resisted all the things which inner London is doing, and I think you will find transport speeds in Bromley are a damn sight quicker than they are in Lambeth or Lewisham.”

TfL insists that it is “unlikely” that lowering speed limits from 30mph to 20mph will increase journey times during the day — because average speeds are already so low. But it admits that at off-peak periods, including overnight, there may be a “slight increase” in journey times. It says that “smoother” journeys, even at lower speeds, are less polluting than “stop-start” journeys.

A report to TfL’s safety committee states: “Research into the impacts of 20mph… suggests that introducing 20mph speed limits has a negligible impact on journey times, given that overall journey times are largely dictated by junction delays and not vehicle speeds.”

Susan Hall, the Tory mayoral candidate, has vowed to axe 20mph limits on TfL roads such as Finchley Road if she is elected next May, although she would retain them in residential areas and near schools and hospitals.

She told the Standard: “While Sadiq Khan interferes with our roads and slows vital routes like Finchley Road to a crawl, he is failing to deliver for Londoners on the bread-and-butter issues that matter to them — making our streets safer and putting more money back in people’s pockets.”

TfL commissioner Andy Lord regards 20mph limits as a “game changer” but recently admitted the roll-out is contentious. He said: “If there’s one topic that is brought up when I’m out with friends, it’s: ‘Why on earth are you doing 20mph in my part of London?’ People do not understand the safety benefits.”

Enforcement of limits can only be done by the police. Wandsworth’s trial of civil speed cameras on 20mph roads — in response to complaints about speeding motorists — was deemed unlawful by the Department for Transport.