EVERYONE – adults and children – should be able to walk and cycle in their own communities, without fear of being knocked down by fast moving traffic. It’s a basic right. And yet, it is a right that is all too frequently denied to many people living in cities, towns and villages in Yorkshire and across Britain.
Every day, five children and 20 adults are killed or seriously injured while walking or cycling on UK roads. Every one of these deaths and injuries is devastating for families and communities, and every one is entirely preventable.
Beyond the human cost, and the associated economic cost – every road death in the UK is estimated to cost us £1.7m – there is a cost to the nature of the places we live and the way we live there. People are scared to move about outside of the relative safety of their cars; to walk or cycle to work, to the shops, or simply for their own exercise and enjoyment, and they are scared to let their children do so too.
As a result, our streets become choked with congestion and pollution. People become less active and less healthy. Our overstretched NHS creaks under the burden of illnesses like heart disease and diabetes. People have less chance to interact socially with people on the streets when they live, which become soulless thoroughfares for traffic.
That’s not the kind of society I want to live in, and it’s not the kind of society the vast majority of people in this country want to live in either. But there is another way; a way to reclaim our streets as places where people live.
That, in a nutshell, is what the GO 20 campaign is all about: putting people first. We can do this by changing the default urban speed limit to 20mph; around homes, schools and shops, and in village, town and city centres.
We know 20mph is much safer for everyone. Drivers have more time to react in an emergency and avoid hitting someone: your stopping distance at 20mph is half that at 30mph. Where 20mph limits have already replaced 30mph limits, there have been significant reductions in casualties. Children benefit especially, since they struggle to judge the speed of vehicles over 20mph.
Making people feel safer empowers them, encouraging more walking and cycling. Seven in 10 people say roads in their town or village need to be made safer for walking and cycling, eight in 10 say people would walk and cycle more if they were safer, and six in 10 believe 20mph limits are the way to achieve this. Where widespread 20mph limits have been introduced, walking and cycling has increased.
As walking and cycling increase, we all get healthier. Physical activity reduces premature death by 20 per cent. This puts less strain on our NHS so that ultimately, introducing 20mph limits pays for itself many times over.
These aren’t the only benefits. Lower traffic speeds (and traffic volumes) have been shown to improve the “sociability” of streets: people get out more and are more likely to know their neighbours. Less traffic, travelling at a more consistent speed, means less pollution too.
Drivers may worry that they will get frustrated, that their journeys will take longer. But, in reality, because of the stop-start nature of town driving, journey times increase by a couple of minutes at most. That’s a price worth paying to save lives and make our communities better places to live.
But will people really obey a 20mph limit? Some people don’t even stick to 30mph in a 30mph area. The answer is yes: the majority of drivers do take notice. Where 20mph limits have been introduced, average speeds have reduced, as have casualties.
Momentum is with the GO 20 campaign. Eight in 10 people back 20mph limits where people live, and thanks to progressive local authorities, 12.5 million people are already seeing the benefits. In Yorkshire, the City of York has led the way in showing how 20mph limits create a better place to live, work and visit.
I accept 20mph limits are not a magic bullet that will instantly solve every problem in our communities.
But they are an awfully good start, and it’s time national government ended the postcode lottery and allowed us all to benefit by making 20mph the urban default.
Brake is urging members of the public to write to their MP to support the GO 20 campaign and pledge to GO 20 themselves at www.brake.org.uk/go20. Tweet your support: @Brakecharity, hashtag #GO20.
Ed Morrow is campaigns officer for Brake, the road safety charity.