This was the first conference focussed solely on 20mph speed limits and attracted delegates from a wide range of local authorities, charity organisations, health and a strong presence from 20’s Plenty for Us campaigners. The conference was really significant in that other conferences that had included, but not focussed on, 20mph limits had been looking at Portsmouth which was the only 20mph city at the time. With Oxford, Islington, Bristol, Warrington, Lancashire, Hartlepool and Edinburgh all now implementing and in various stages of rolling out Total 20 , this was the first “post Portsmouth” discussion of 20mph limits.
The conference first heard from Mark Tune on the 197 road pilot that Warrington Borough Council concluded last year. Mark related how he had been “genuinely surprised” at the reduction in speeds and casualties. This had changed the council’s perception of the opportunity presented for a town-wide roll-out. As a result the “experimental” 20mph limits were replaced by permanent ones on all but two of the piloted roads. The Borough Council’s Executive Board decided it wanted these same advantages for Warrington citizens and this is now to be rolled out to all areas.
I then presented on the way that the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign is succeeding and included an update on implementations around the country. I also pointed out the great “value for money” of Total 20 with it being 6.5 times more cost-effective than speed bumps and other physical 20mph zones. I highlighted the way current “isolated” 20mph zones actually maintain high speeds on the rest of the urban and residential road network.
Duncan Price of DfT related the government’s current position on its Road Safety Framework for 2011-2020. There was not much on 20mph in this and he said that a new “speed limit review” is expected in 9-12 months. Hence the current Dec 2009 guidance still applies encouraging 20mph for all residential roads.
Alan Tapp of University of West of England then looked at how Total 20 could be socially marketed. Pointing out the importance of simple clear messages and empathy with people who may want to change their behaviour. Key stages in social marketing are :-
He also emphasised the need to enable people to understand that their views are shared by others. With social attitudes consistently showing that people support 20mph limits for residential roads, we need to remind people that their lower speed aspirations are widely held.
Lunch was a great opportunity meet with many campaigners and other delegates. After lunch, delegates heard Anna reciting our 20’s Plenty for Us rap poem before more presentations. Alistair Smith (Assistant Director Transport and Engineering) and Councillor Stephen Thomas from Hartlepool Borough Council talked us through the process they had followed with a scrutiny committee to debate and gather evidence on Total 20. Alistair also remembered and related how I had placed chocolate on each of Councillors’ places at the meeting I had presented at. Ending my presentation I asked them to look at the wrappers where they found that the chocolates were “Quality Streets”. Hartlepool are rolling-out 20mph for most of their residential roads shortly.
John Whitelegg of Liverpool John Moores University is a former Councillor in Lancashire. Having also worked in Europe on road danger reduction he gave us a very informed view of how to win political support.
He talked about the need to express with stark clarity the costs of not changing the road environment for the better for vulnerable road users. The cost is death and injury to local people. There is probably no other area of local politics where Councillors can wield such power for good or where inaction will cost so much. In our communities we have the choice between delivering safe streets or nasty dangerous streets which kill and injure. Sweden has a “Vison Zero” policy of aiming for no road deaths.
Dominic Harrison is the joint Director of Public Health for Blackburn with Darwen and Blackburn. He looked at 20mph limits from a health perspective, particularly with regard to the benefits and also “Large Scale Change Methods”. I felt that a particular slide was relevant which said :-
Evidence suggests that LSC (Large Scale Change) is an emergent process that involves:
• Articulating a vision of something much better than status quo
• Focusing on some key themes
• Tapping into and mobilising the imagination, will, and energy of a large number of diverse stakeholders
• Creating concrete, mutually reinforcing change in multiple processes and systems
• Continually refreshing the story and attracting new, active supporters
• Monitoring progress and adapting as you go
• Bringing about such deep changes in attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that sustainability becomes largely inherent
– Paul Plsek, Director, Academy for Large-Scale Change
This resonates with the 20’s Plenty for Us campaign. The widening body of professional support for lower speeds on residential roads is very much creating the moral and financial imperative for change in how we share our streets.
Professor Danny Dorling of Sheffield University approaches 20 mph limits from a completely practical perspective as a geographer. His work on morbidity was one of the first to highlight the role which the roads play in early death. Being a pedestrian hit by a motor vehicle is the biggest cause of death for children from 3 to 16. Something which if it had been a disease would be seen as the greatest challenge for the medical profession. He compared our attitudes to road casualties as being similar to the way that streets were used as open sewers till the mid 19th century. Deaths caused were seen as inevitable and it was not until this was recognised that the sewers, that today we take for granted, were built. And the 20th century had smoking which was thought to be cool, warming and even able to help soothe respiratory conditions. Yet now we all know it to be the cause of so much harm.
And he looked to the future and pondered as to how future academics will look back on the 21st century and not the dates that we finally realised that we need to change our priorities to put people above cars. His historical perspective reminds us that the large scale change is possible and that we should never give up just because the initial establishment responses are negative.
Najeed Neky from Living Streets (formerly the Pedestrians Association) talked on how 20mph limits are foundations for a more pedestrian oriented street environment. That once vehicle speeds are limited to 20mph then so much more becomes possible. Whilst he showed places where engineering had been used to create a different streetscape, it is the wide area benefits of 20mph limits which really offer a great opportunity to transform our streets.Feedback from delegates was excellent and we felt that the conference marked an important step in our campaign.