But I fear that things are about to change. The easing of lockdown will unleash two conflicting trends as people start to commute and travel more. The first will be the inevitable need to commute to workplaces re-opening as lockdown eases. This will bring traffic back onto our roads. But this will not be “as before”. The second will be that those who are cycling and walking will be looking for distance separation between themselves and fellow travellers. Pavements will become more difficult to walk along without either being closer to people than optimal or stepping into the roads. The need to social distance will both distract and require more walking room.
In addition, where people feel the need to avoid the close proximity of public transport, many will choose to walk, cycle or drive instead. All will bring greater numbers of vulnerable and protected users onto our streets.
This is recognised by the government and they are making attempts to encourage local authorities to establish pop-up cycleways and wider pavements, together with filtered permeability to reduce rat-runs and banning motor vehicles from some roads. There is also support for lower speed limits.
We welcome these, but fear that the implementations will be too patchy and never reach the full extent of roads needed. For most urban and village roads they are also against a backdrop of a 30mph limit which endorses speeds which mean that vulnerable road users are likely to die or be seriously injured when things go wrong, which they inevitably will.
As we come out of lockdown, it is vital that the below are fully considered:
- How many pedestrians will be making the wrong choices when keeping social distance and inadvertently step into the path of motors?
- How many children will overlook the dangers as they cross the road to see friends not met for eight weeks?
- How many new cyclists will be uncertain at junctions and risk injury?
- How many mistakes will continue to be made and result in crashes between people and motor vehicles?
These are real issues that, along with many more, will risk casualties which will inevitably rise - and rise above the 75,000 casualties per annum that happen on urban and village roads with a 30mph limit. And that is also a rise above the 35,000 annual admissions to hospital (averaging four nights) which will inevitably increase and re-establish a huge road-crash load on the NHS.
Now, more than ever, we need the government to take action that can be applied universally across the whole country to reduce the national urban speed limit from 30mph to 20mph. National speed limit changes can be made at government level and this was done as an emergency measure for rural roads in the 1974 fuel crisis to save petrol. Now we need to do so for urban/village roads in 2020 to both save lives and ease ourselves through the COVID-19 crisis. And we need to persuade national politicians to make that change.
At 20’s Plenty we have been working hard to support our campaigners as we work through these unprecedented times. We have supported the NHS doctors in their call for an emergency national 20mph default urban limit to lower the baseline load from traffic casualties on the NHS, a call which is also supported by our friends at Brake (among others). I urge readers to watch our voxpops, produced by campaigners.
We invite everyone who supports our call for emergency 20mph to use our new Email a decision maker page. Your action will both bring 20mph limits to the attention of MPs and move us all a step nearer to the day when the whole country recognises that 20’s Plenty where people live, work, shop, play and learn.
Founder of 20's Plenty for Us