Making the case for 20mph speed limits in Bristol - Councillor Mark Bradshaw

Cllr Mark Bradshaw is Labour Co-op member for Bedminster, Bristol and served as Cabinet Member for Transport under Mayor Marvin Rees until April 2017, and as Deputy Mayor for Place under Mayor George Ferguson from 2013 to 2015.

Cllr Mark Bradshaw is Labour Co-op member for Bedminster, Bristol and served as Cabinet Member for Transport under Mayor Marvin Rees until April 2017, and as Deputy Mayor for Place under Mayor George Ferguson from 2013 to 2015. He also served as Cabinet Member responsible for Transport between 2007-2009. In this blog, originally published by Sustrans, he shares why he originally supported the implementation of 20mph limits, and why he still believes in the programme.

The publication of research into the impact of 20mph limits in Bristol has prompted the most recent wave of comments about the scheme. In Bristol, successive council administrations have pressed ahead with phased 20mph implementation, starting with the Liberal Democrats in 2011. They had a fair measure of cross-party support for this, including support from Labour.

I was convinced by two factors in particular during my time in Cabinet:

  1. Evidence that people, especially children, in disadvantaged communities, were up to six times more likely to suffer injury (or worse) by being hit by a speeding vehicle than those from more affluent areas.
  2. Also, that people involved in a collision at 20mph are more likely to survive without serious injury or death, despite the trauma and potential for some injury compared with 30mph and above.

So, it was both an issue of equality and survivability. There is a similarity here with air pollution and the greater exposure to toxic air experienced by populations in poorer areas.

Naturally, not everyone is in love with 20mph and some say that traffic doesn’t actually move any faster. We know that isn’t true. Speeding cars and vans are commonplace on neighbourhood streets, not just arterial roads. Sadly, this is often close to schools and on narrow residential roads and that is why the early pilots (phased implementation was a good policy) focused on school localities.

As with any new scheme on this scale, not everything gets sorted first time round and the government’s insistence of installing large numbers of expensive 20mph signs (main and repeater) gave ready ammunition to those opposed to the policy. When in office, I asked officers to invest in vehicle activated signs, better road markings (both showing 20mph and different colours near schools) and, with my then cabinet colleague, Brenda Massey, we introduced the popular pencil bollards for primary schools.

I have some sympathy with those who argue that 20mph is less impactful without significant physical adjustments to the highway, such as narrowing, speed tables, build-outs etc, but these are not entirely effective as some drivers will slow down to navigate or speed up to gain priority. Also, at a time of austerity in public spending biting away at key services, such interventions are costly and require significant maintenance. They can become the focus for local campaigns (for removal) as opposed to positive campaigning to reduce speeding.

The latest research (however much the current trend is to dispel so-called ‘experts’) shows that people have been made safer by 20mph; deaths and serious injuries have been prevented and that some communities have become less dominated by speeding vehicles, but there is still much more to get done on this.

We also moved to a Safe System approach which helped to underpin 20mph and other measures – putting people first and taking the view that all road ‘accidents’ are preventable. This involved developing and publishing a ten-year plan in 2014 to help inform future policy making and investment priorities. Working within George Ferguson’s cross-party cabinet, I sought agreement for this new approach, supported by transport professionals and, critically, the public health consultant advising the transport officers and myself. I think this made the difference in widening the scope of research and information available to us beyond transport and across public health.

With more recent proliferation of reviews and pauses, I’m not entirely sure whether the Safe System policy and plan remains in force (it hardly ever gets a mention). The transport team bought into the approach and it has the potential to enhance lives and communities if given the top-level political backing it requires. Hopefully the latest research will act as a brake on any attempt to reverse 20mph or diminish its scope.

Comment by Jon Usher, Sustrans Head of Partnerships, England South:

Sustrans fully supports the 20mph limits in Bristol, and believes that 20mph should be the default speed limit in all built up areas. The report by the University of the West of England found that 20mph limits in Bristol brought £15 million benefit to the city each year as a result of reduced number of casualties, four lives have been saved as a result of the city-wide measures, walking and cycling has increased and crucially, speeds have reduced. The report found that the majority of people (62 per cent) favoured 20mph limits in residential streets, and an even higher proportion (72 per cent) favoured 20mph limits on busy high streets. Previous reports have argued that compliance with 20mph limits will take time and a concerted effort to change behaviour. For example, the government backed ‘clunk click every trip’ campaign ran for 12 years before the mandatory seat belt law was brought in in 1983.

Now is not the time to undermine Bristol’s successful 20mph limits. Instead, the Mayor should be proud of the achievements, and should be using the outcomes to advise other towns and cities on how to create happier, healthier more liveable neighbourhoods up and down the country.