Council drives forward on plans to introduce new 20mph zones

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HIGHWAYS bosses are this week to push ahead with a plan to introduce a series of 20mph speed limits in residential areas as part of a scheme they hope will reduce road deaths and injuries.

Almost exactly a year ago, Sheffield Council agreed to bring forward plans for “city-wide 20mph limits on residential roads” and since then officers have been working on the detail of the project.

At a meeting on Thursday, the strategy is set to be unveiled, and members of each of the city’s seven community assemblies are to be asked to nominate roads in their area for new restrictions.

If agreed the 20mph zones will be introduced in the 2012/13 and 2013/14 financial years and it is hoped to extend the lower limit as the “default” speed in all residential areas in subsequent years.

The strategy has been written by Simon Green, the executive director responsible for highways, and includes figures from both Portsmouth and Newcastle, which have implemented “blanket” 20mph limits in residential areas.

In his report to Thursday’s cabinet highways committee, Mr Green says: “Reducing the average speed of drivers in residential area would, over time bring about a reduction in traffic accidents.

“Implementing the strategy, including an ongoing programme of publicity and driver education, would contribute to the creation of a safer residential environment and the council’s aim to make Sheffield a great place to live.”

Mr Green’s report says that recent changes to Department for Transport guidance have made it easier to introduce 20mph limits, because road humps, chicanes and speed cushions are no longer mandatory.

Instead, council’s can simply advertise and make what is called a traffic regulation order (TRO) and then put up signs and paint road markings which make the speed restriction clear to motorists.

The first seven 20mph limits will be introduced in areas around schools, and Mr Green says that three estates in Sheffield have already been “retro-fitted” with 20mph signs and road markings.

However, highways officers admit that simply putting up signs does not immediately alter the behaviour of drivers and say the strategy must also include “driver education”.

Mr Green’s report continues: “If Sheffield is to stand a realistic chance of significantly reducing average speeds in residential areas, it is vital that traffic signs and road markings are backed up with long-term investment in both driver and community education.

“It may be possible to realise short-term, marginal adjustment in behaviour among some drivers simply by erecting the ‘20’ signs, but it will be a much lengthier project, perhaps 10 or 15 year, to achieve the goal of a fundamental change in driver behaviour.”

The council has made it clear that main roads would not be subject to 20mph limits, but cash is being set aside for “accident saving schemes” and road safety education to help reduce accidents.

The report says: “The roll-out of 20mph speed limits would be limited to residential areas. A and B class roads, major bus routes and roads with an existing speed limit of 40mph or more would not be made subject to a 20mph limit.

“There would be a presumption against including C-class roads within new 20mph speed limit areas, although the relevant community assembly would be consulted to enable decisions to be made.”

It is thought each 20mph area introduced would cost around £40,000 to implement, with funding identified for the first seven, but not for any further projects.

Figures to be presented to the meeting show the restrictions in Portsmouth achieved a 21 per cent reduction in injuries caused in traffic collisions, while in Newcastle figures showed only a slight reduction in speed has been achieved.

The project is expected to be endorsed by members of the council’s committee, with work starting on the zones in a few months.