Lowering the speed limit is always a contentious issue. It’s also an issue that is really only a problem for people in cars but a solution for everyone else.
Why the lower speed limit? Safety. That’s the primary concern, anyway. Shall we look at the numbers?
If a vehicle hits a pedestrian at 40mph (64kph), the odds of the pedestrian being killed are 83-85%. If that speed drops to 30mph (48kph), the odds drop to 37-45%. If the driver of the vehicle is traveling at 20mph (32kph), then the pedestrian that is hit only has a 5% chance of dying.
Which of these scenarios is the best option? I should point out before we get too far that the scope of my discussion here is limited to urban roads, as freeways/motorways have a different set of variables to consider.
Aside from reducing deaths and injuries in collisions, there are other benefits. You’ll have significantly fewer accidents with other cars, which means less personal loss, time off work, lower insurance costs, and all the other costs involved in an accident. There will be less noise pollution and fewer emissions, less start-stop traffic and improved travel efficiency. Stress will drop – for all road users. Driving slower is easy, and I know that when I leave a few extra minutes earlier for work and don’t have to rush, I don’t ride as fast and I have a totally different mentality than when I am in a hurry. It’s not a race. I don’t have the mindset where I have to beat that car or person to the intersection (not that you ever should). I am relaxed. I enjoy the ride. I’m happy.
Lets look at an Australian study: the Final Report to the Federal Office of Road Safety. The results? The overall speed difference was much less than the actual difference in the posted speed limit, suggesting greater efficiency. “Delays measured relative to the free flow travel time as determined using the specific speed limit were least for the 40 km/h speed limit.” That’s about it, really. It touches on a few other aspects briefly, but it’s a study for the Office of Road Safety, not a study about road safety, so it really only looked at congestion, etc. At any rate, it’s good news for drivers, as it’s clear that lower speeds don’t really mean slower travel times, if that’s all you are concerned about (as many seem to be). I like the final recommendation, though:
Strategies for increasing public acceptance of and support for lower speed limits could use a combination of the safety benefits, an explanation of the actual differences in door-to-door travel times under different speed limits, and the likelihood of smoother, less-stressful driving possible due to reduced delays (measured as a proportion of stopped time for a journey).
This Australian study concurs, but addresses further issues related to speed, adding that, aside from a minimal change in travel time, pedestrians and cyclists were safer. More generally, it “will bring about considerable reductions in road trauma”, increased energy efficiency, lower noise pollution, lower emissions, and “should lead to a more attractive and livable environment”.
How about New York City and their recently lowered speed limit? Same again. Read the Time’s report about it here. California? Sounds familiar. London? Many streets have dropped to 20mph. Urban speeds are dropping all over the place, because it makes sense.
Adelaide has a few areas that are already a 40kph zone which doesn’t seem to be newsworthy anymore, suggesting that people don’t really care about it once they’ve gotten used to the idea and realized that they haven’t lost a noticeable amount of time from their day. That, or for another reason that we’ll get into tomorrow.
Now, however, a rather large section of the city, “Norwood, Payneham & St Peters voted last week to become only the second council in Adelaide to introduce a 40km/h limit across its entire council area”, which does seem to be getting rather a lot of backlash from residents, despite the drastically increased safety and insignificant travel times that a lower speed limit would bring. Last year part of the CBD trialed a lower speed limit, which was quickly repealed due to a loud outcry from what was likely a noisy minority – however, it was poorly conceived and caused quite a lot of confusion due to constantly changing speed limits within a few city blocks. A poor effort.
The problem we are up against, though, is the mentality of a large enough group of people who are vocal enough that the city council is afraid to effect any real change. This article about the 40kph limit that was trialed last year provides a good example of the kind of mentality that some people in Adelaide approach these kind of issues with.
The concerns were primarily around Hutt St, which is one of the more significant thru-roads in the CBD. All 1100 metres of it. Yep, people are upset about the speed limit going from 50-40kph on a 1km stretch of road that you can’t go fast on anyway. It’s full of stop-lights, sketchy angle-parking, and is lined with small shops, cafes, and restaurants. It could be perfect for a pedestrian friendly zone. From the article above:
“It hasn’t worked out because if (police) sat here with a speed camera they would make a fortune.” Come again? It hasn’t worked (what, by the way, hasn’t worked?) because of something that never happened? That’s right, lets not do something that evidence shows to be beneficial because of something that hasn’t happened, and likely never would.
The same guy, follows that up with this: “Mr Kokotis said a zebra crossing in the stretch between Halifax and Angas streets would be more effective. “We watch a lot of grannies come across and it takes them a long time. If one takes a tumble they are going to be history.” So, the problem is elderly people crossing the street, which can be dangerous, but he thinks lowering the speed limit is a bad idea. A crossing here would be a good idea, but if you want to introduce yet another place to stop aside from the 6 sets of lights within the 1km stretch, lowering the speed limit hardly seems like it would even factor, not to mention that if granny does get hit, she’s got twice the odds of surviving.
There is concern from traders that people are avoiding using Hutt St or even avoiding the city entirely because of the 10kph lower limit on the 1km stretch of road that has 6 sets of lights which aren’t synched at all. That’s all it takes for some people, apparently. One commenter added, “60 KPH in town should be the minimum. What’s the point in having a fast car with all these restrictions in place”? Sigh. That’s what we’re up against.
There is really no reason that people don’t like it other than that they don’t like it. Maybe they just don’t like being told what to do. Like saying to a child, “don’t lick the floor”, and they do it, not because it will benefit them in any way, but because, well, you’re not the boss of me.
So where are we at? Lower speed limits are safer (keep in mind we are limiting this discussion to urban environments), more efficient, and great news for communities and businesses on the whole, but many people still don’t like them. People don’t really like facts that get in the way of opinion.
On the other hand… can you really blame them? I mean, sure, they are legally adults and should be able to follow the road rules, whatever they are, but if the speed limit doesn’t reflect the built environment… do they have a point?
Tune in tomorrow for the rest, when we ask, “are there better ways of attaining a lower speed limit?”
Header image: source