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No Need for Speed: 20′s Plenty for Us

Earlier this month, the New York City Department of Transportation announced plans to experiment with 20 mph zones -- replacing the city's default 30 mph speed limit in one pilot neighborhood. Whoever gets the first 20 mph treatment will see benefits that residents of British cities and towns have become increasingly familiar with in recent years.

In the UK, some 3 million people live in areas with 20 mph speed limits. The experience there shows that not only do slower speeds save lives, but lowering the limit to 20 mph improves the way local streets function in more ways than one. According to the 20's Plenty for Us campaign, the change has produced wide-ranging benefits, including less traffic, increased walking and biking, greater independence for children, the elderly and infirm, better health, and calmer driving conditions for motorists.

The mission of 20's Plenty For Us is to establish 20 mph as the default speed limit on all residential roads in the UK. I recently met up with the campaign's founder, Rod King, as well as other advocates in the towns of Warrington and York, to understand how the idea of slowing down traffic has spread so fast throughout the country.


[music]

Rod King: [00:02] How do we share the spaces which we have on our streets equitably amongst pedestrians, cyclists and motorists?


Anna Semlyen: [00:10] 20’s Plenty where people live, safer, greener, cheaper, it will increase the value of our homes, it will increase the number of people walking and cycling. It’s safer, it’s better quality of life. It doesn’t have major affects on anybody’s journey times.


[music]

Rod King: [00:27] 20’s Plenty For Us, it’s a language we chose quite specifically. It’s about really saying that within towns and streets where people live that 20 mile an hour is plenty if there are any motor vehicles.


[music]

Rod King: [00:43] People tell me that they go fast but they haven’t hurt anybody. But speed really becomes greed when it stops people from walking or cycling on the streets where they call home.


[music]

Rod King: [00:58] What we’ve been campaigning for is the idea of rather than having isolated speed limits which really benefit very few people, what we should do is make the 20 mile an hour speed limit for all residential roads.


Clir. Andy D’Agorne: [01:10] Instead of someone driving into a next street which says 20, they think well, this looks like my street, why are these people any different from me? If it’s a common policy within a whole city, then everyone knows the benefits and their own perception of their own street being a lower speed limit.


Rod King: [01:30] Because you live in a 20 mile an hour street yourself now, you’re getting the advantage of lower noise, lower speeds of traffic. You’re getting the advantage of your child being able to walk to school or cycle to school. So suddenly this becomes a big and good idea for us all. We’ve changed the mindset.


[music]

Rod King: [01:51] When it comes to reducing speeds, we have to engage with the community, because it’s them who have to modify their behaviour.


John Perry: [01:59] Over the past number of weeks there’s been a trial run of the 20 miles an hour in our particular street, and myself and many of the residents have noticed a dramatic reduction in the speed of cars travelling. As a result of that obviously we’re feeling a lot safer on the streets.


Speaker: [02:13] And it’s really fun to ride our bike because a lot of cars don’t come past.


Rod King: [02:19] What we’ve found when we were talking to people was around about 80 odd percent are in favour of it.


Anna Semlyen: [02:25] There have been many petitions put in now to the Council for 20 mile an hour streets, I’m talking like 70/80 petitions, and it’s the single most petitioned issue in my town.


Chris Mayes: [02:35] Warrington Cycle Campaign is about trying to get everybody to use their bikes when they want to do it. And the way that you’ve got to do that is to remove the fear. If you talk to all the kids, an awful lot of them are driven into school and we’ve realised that cycle campaign, it’s not just about cycling, this is about how we’re living our lives, and that’s where going on to a 20’s Plenty For Us campaign just gets the whole thing together.


Rod King: [03:01] There are some good adverts which will actually show the differences in your ability to slow down and then stop, right, and also the severity of impact if you’re driving at, say, 20 mile an hour and sort of 40 miles an hour. In fact at 40 miles an hour you hit somebody, there’s an 85% chance of killing them. Whereas if you hit somebody at 20 miles an hour, then there’s a 5% chance of that happening. So there’s a huge trade-off there between the motor vehicle speed and the risk.


[music]

Rod King: [03:36] Currently we have about three million people who are living in Local Authorities, have either adopted a 20 mile an hour policy for all their residential streets, or in the process. And that really is growing all the time and we’d expect it to accelerate with the new government guidelines and encouragement for such an initiatives.


Clir. Andy D’Agorne: [03:55] The government guidance on the 20 mile an hour zones in the country changed. They could only be introduced specifically if there were humps, chicanes and other physical measures, which obviously are very expensive to do. In 2006 that guidance was relaxed a little bit, so Local Authorities were able where they felt it appropriate to go for what’s called the 20 mile an hour area.


Rod King: [04:21] And 20’s Plenty For Us, we know it works, it reduces traffic speeds and it reduces collisions. It results in a better quality of life. It’s an argument which we’re winning and also, it’s something which is actually coming up with really great results in our towns and cities.

[music]

Transcript Divas Transcription Canada

Elizabeth Press is a Filmmaker for Streetfilms. She joined Streetfilms in 2007 to focus her video work on advocating for better biking, walking and mass transit.

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  • Steve Hoyt-McBeth

    I would love to see this in my hometown.

    Right now, my understanding is that local authorities (in Oregon) don't have the right to change the speed limits on local streets below the designated 25 mph, unless it's a school zone. I know that our mayor has been considering adding this to the city's legislative agenda.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    Hooray!

    It's interesting that the campaign does not prominently mention earlier campaigns and implementation of (slightly lower than) 20mph speed zones in cities in the Netherlands and Germany, amongst other places. I wonder if it because those are actually 30kph (!) limits (i.e. the number imagery would be confusing), or indeed to show that this is more British! (In other words, smartly avoiding "oh, those people are different and we cannot do that here" reactions).

    Campaigners, activists and slow-oriented (rather than flow-oriented) city officials who want to make this happen in NYC (and beyond) ought to take heed of this last point, and give this a very New York-sounding spin and imagery.

    To continue, the focus on equitable application of 20mph zones is great, but what really defines a "residential street"? I live on a 30-ish mph (50kph) traffic sewer in Berlin, and buildings and their residents are similar to those on the 30kph or slower side streets. Really, only our street is wider. So there is very much still a "speed class divide".

    I hope that NYC's experimental 20mph streets include the possibility of legal contraflow cycling - playing off of Bike Snob's name for it, let's call this "farmed bike salmoning"

    Finally, "20's Plenty" new Campaign Manager Anna Semlyen - featured in the video - is a rock star and I am sure they are proud to have her on board.

  • Andy

    Wish it happened here too. I've been told by the traffic engineers that 30mph is the base limit, and they can make it lower for certain zones (schools or bad intersections) but they can't just change the city limit to 20. 20 would be a dream come true though. As someone that often drives with the "pace car" mentality (going 0-5mph under the speed limit all the time) I can attest to the many benefits of driving slower in these areas.

  • lee

    Does that mean that a 20mph zone is effectively a 30mph zone, since presently a 30mph zone is effectively a 40mph zone?

    everyone knows the unwritten rule of the 10mph of leeway before getting pulled over.

    Prominent b.s. objections to the 20mph speed limit will be:
    1. Increased congestion
    2. increased pollution
    3. noise pollution from honking
    4. risk of road rage from impatient drivers
    5. Arggh! I should be able to drive however I want!

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/urbanplanner45 Mike Lydon

    If we are to achieve a successful 20 is plenty campaign in the US, a street's design speed, not just its posted speed, must reinforce the desired speed limit. Many of the examples in the video show just that. 

  • gecko

    Absolutely! 20 mph will be a major step improving safety and lots more.

    And, 20 mph zones should stay effective 20 mph zones.

  • ChrisC

    20 MPH is plenty for an urban street.

    New York City is not like Vancouver or many European cities where there are no freeways cutting through the city. Every borough in New York City has freeways - even Manhattan up and down the East River. If you want to drive a longer distance and don't want to take forever to get there, you can take a highway for part or your route. There is no need to drive fast on city streets.

  • Bicycle Sheik

    20 mph is plenty!  It sounds so great, just rolls of the tongue.

  • Supp Suppinger

    @ Lee point 5:
    driving a car is not a human right!!!
    to be able to life safe and healthy (no noise, no pollution, no speeding, nature, silence, etc) is one !!!
    As we reduce cars, we should invest in public transportation! Some numbers: there used to be about 400.000 kilometres of railway tracks in the US, until they have been destroyed.
    About 1 million people gets killed in car accidents each year worldwide. That´s more than any terrorism. So let´s start the war gainst this!

  • http://bikecarson.com Jeff Moser

    Now that school is back in session, the morning route is full of speeding parents, running late, accelerating hard, and railing the corners. What's sad is that these same people probably don't feel comfortable letting their kids walk or ride to school...because the roads are unsafe! Bike lanes just aren't enough for the kids when they have to ride alongside 35mph traffic.

  • poncho

    so why exactly can't cities make the speed limits slower than 30 mph? presumably there is some archaic high up rule that says this, could anyone point me to it? this point about much much lower pedestrian fatality at 20 mph would certainly be the key point to emphasize. then again our country values motorist convenience and entitlement to high speed travel over pedestrians and cyclists lives. so i'm doubtful it'll happen anytime soon.

    i agree mike, if you have wide unobstructed streets but a 20 mph speed limit sign you know damn right it will be ignored. a road diet is essential in that situation or some other form of traffic calming.

    the key is enforcing this. people in england are more polite and caring of others than here. in the US people get outraged if they have to apply their brakes or if they cant go 60 mph through a neighborhood. theyll just continue zipping through knowing they'll never get caught.

  • MJS

    @poncho

    "presumably there is some archaic high up rule that says this, could anyone point me to it?"

    There is, and it's called the American Automobile Association and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety -- corporate lobby groups who seek to perpetuate car-culture and car-use at all costs.

  • poncho

    so youre saying theres not a rule on the books, just powerful lobbying groups behind it?

    and if so dont forget the trucking lobby.

  • gecko

    @MJS,

    At the beginning Kodak gave away free cameras to sell its film. Same would exist with oil except that automobiles are a little too expensive for that so the finance and insurance industries have part of the action.

    If personal transport vehicles cost less than downpayments on cars finance would not be needed and currently $850 billion in credit is outstanding for the purchase of cars. Insurance would not be needed if transportation systems based on cars were safe.

    Media and advertising also have a heavy dependency.

    The oil industry is well set up do a lot better if it were to reinvent itself to address the dramatic changes that must happen if there is to be a future with its huge cash reserves and technologies as strategic advantages. And, the value of oil will likely go up for a long time in any case.

  • http://www.carfreebaltimore.com Mark

    Lowering the posted speed will only do so much. The design speed also has to change, and until engineers stop designing roads for worse-case, end of the world, mass exodus from nuclear war scenarios, 35 will "feel" comfortable for drivers on residential/local streets.

  • Jim Weaver

    Great video Rod. It makes a lot of sense. Environmentally it's a "no brainer" they say.
    Best wishes, keep up the good work.
    Jim

  • http://onlinetranscriptionservices.org/company.php Transcription Company

    It's a good idea, but I just can't see this will happen.

  • http://crankmychain.com CrankMyChain!

    Remove all the traffic flow devices, eg. stop signs and stop lights, and everybody will have to travel <17mph just so they can yield right of way.

  • http://crankmychain.com CrankMyChain!

    oh, and great video! Thanks for producing it.

  • http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk Rod King

    Hi

    I would really like to thank you for all your comments. I thought it may be useful to enter a dialogue and perhaps explain a few additional points which may be of interest.

    Democratic comunity debate

    One of the most important aspects of 20mph limits is that they cannot be implemented in the UK with local city administration support. Hence there has to be a local democratic debate about whether to implement them. It becomes "community driven, but establishment endorsed".

    This community debate on "how we share our roads" is an important factor in making comliance a lifestyle decision rather than simply a reaction to a road sign.

    Driver benefits

    Another important factor is the size of the area over which it is implemented. Drivers who live on a 20mph street themselves get the benefit for their children and family. An important "buy-in" when they drive through other peoples streets. This idea that where people are we slow down, is a vital paradigm shift in the way we relate to the roads. We are really debating whether our speed should be geared far more to the "presence of people" rather than the road width.

    Research in the UK has shown that when implemented over a complete town then speeds on roads where previously the average was between 24 and 29 mph dropped by an average of 7mph. All of this being done by a "collective community commitment" to sharing our roads more equitably and a recognition that journey times are not influenced by "how fast you travel" but far more likely "how long you're stopped".

    When speaking in towns throughout the UK at public meetings, I am always told that "our town is different". I usually reply by pointing out all the things which are similar rather than different.

    If anyone has any specific questions to ask on the campaign in the UK then please do so, or email me directly at rod.k@20splentyforus.org.uk

    My best regards and thanks to Streetfilms for all their work.

    Rod King
    20's Plenty for Us

  • http://www.ville30.org Patrice

    Hello 
    We are also promoting 20 mph Cities (Ville 30 in french).
    You'll find arguments and information about french cities experiences at http://www.ville30.org 

    Patrice 

  • gecko

    Patrice, re: http://www.ville30.org

    Really nice website of 20 mph / 30 kph cities.

    Very encouraging!

    Thanks.

  • http://www.livablestreets.com/people/dornbiker Paul Dorn

    Very inspiring. I really appreciated the commentator about how speed diminishes the quality of life for the non-driver, who doesn't believe he/she is having an impact.

  • Chris

    I can see how this would be *really* nice if your neighborhood has it and others don't:  You're likely to shift traffic over.  I wonder what the effect feels like when huge areas have the limit, so you're still seeing as much traffic but it's slower.

  • http://www.greenidea.eu Todd Edelman

    @Chris: If a whole huge area had it, there would be a mixture of slowing motorized traffic diverted to major roads and some mode shift from cars to other modes. Perhaps fewer trips in general. Delivery etc. vehicles would just go slower without additional measures.

    It seems that anything with about a 20-25 mph or higher limit is a "road" as this makes motorized vehicles much faster than bikes and deadly in collisions to cyclists and pedestrians. Lower than 20-25 makes it a "street" as the space is safer but still primarily for vehicle movement (including bikes). If speeds go lower than 10 to 15 these spaces between buildings become places for all sorts of activities and not just movement.

    But I think I a real or ultimate street is not just carfree, but one in which a baby can crawl across safely, and unsupervised. If you set this as the new standard it becomes really clear how much we have lost.

  • Albin Zatko

    I wish to have 20 in Plymouth, UK too

  • Chris N

    We need to learn from Germany, where residential areas are 30kmh by law, despite various states, different laws and greater communication problems than in the UK. Radical bicycle rider/protesters have seriously damaged campaigns to further improve this system. As such a perfect balance needs to be found to keep everybody happy. About 70% of drivers in Germany do not keep to the 30 limit, so there is still a lot of work to do. The most effective measures against speeders is to introduce measures which damage their cars, such as sleeping policemen and chicanes. Sadly cars appear to be more important than safety. I am a car driver, not a bike rider and I believe in keeping to the speed limits, as I could not live with knocking a child down, or anyone come to that.

  • http://www.facebook.com/rpvitiello Ryan Vitiello

    Do you actually drive in Manhattan? The capacity of those roads are nowhere near what they need to be to get faster traffic off the avenues. Also the more you drive cars off of one road, the more you overload another.

    The part I don't like about this study is they are talking about the "reduced traffic" on those roads, but that just means most of that traffic is not taking another road, thus making it more congested. You can't look at the individual roads, or even the residential roads in isolation from the rest of the city. That traffic is probably just going a different way now, and you may have simply moved the problem, or maybe even made it worse overall  in the city.

    This also completely ignores design speed and the "relaxing" of the requirement to have speed humps etc... is a bad idea. A posted speed limit is NOT a regulation device to restrict the speed of traffic, it is a guide sign to tell you what speed the road is designed to handle. Countless studies have showed if the posted speed limit does not match the design speed, Most people simply ignore it and drive the design speed anyway.A SMALL minority will drive the posted speed limit. You wind up with a great speed discrepancy then, and accident rates can actually go UP, form setting the speed limit too LOW! The average speed on highways in the US are about the same as in europe, even though the posted speed limits are lower, the design speeds are about the same. 

    When you have a place like say manhattan, you don't have room to have feeder roads, and main roads. The whole point of the street grid is to balance traffic load across the city. That is the reason some parts of the US have started banning cul-de-sacs, it overloads a few streets, and makes them dangerous, for the benefit of people on a dead end street. The worst bit of safety in manhattan is all the major tunnels and bridge crossings that come from highways, and just dump into surface streets across manhattan, and then go back to highways. You want to get cars off the surface streets, you need to build SOME kind fo highway route away from pedestrians to get across town. Many vehicles are not even trying to go to anything in manhattan, but are trying to get across it. their is only ONE highway that goes across manhattan. All the other proposed cross town roads were never built. 

  • http://transcriptionplace.com/ Transcription Services

    Very nice video.