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The Call for Lower Speed Limits

Posted in Research by Devin Maeztri on December 10th, 2008

The section below is republished with permission from the Going Solar Transport Newsletter #87, 25 November 2008, compiled by Stephen Ingrouille. Going Solar newsletter provides an excellent commentary on local sustainable transport issues in Melbourne.

“Roads Minister Tim Pallas has dismissed calls to cut car speeds across Melbourne that proponents say will improve road safety for pedestrians and cyclists. Research released yesterday by the Safe Speed Interest Group, a coalition of councils and the Heart Foundation, found that dropping speed limits to 30km/h on suburban streets would cut pedestrian injuries. And it would improve community health by encouraging more to walk and cycle, the research found. ‘The evidence is incontrovertible: lowering speed limits increases safety, said Yarra councillor and the coalition’s spokeswoman, Jackie Fristacky.

“But Mr Pallas said he would not consider dropping speed limits because it would ‘lose the community in a debate that has to be had about road safety. Although there was a 17% drop in pedestrian casualties at 19 Melbourne shopping strips where VicRoads had dropped speed limits to 40km/h, the approach would not work across the city, he said. ‘You get the best outcome if you make specific treatments to specific areas rather than put a wholesale blanket reduction in. But international transport expert John Whitelegg, in Melbourne to help launch the research, said Mr Pallas was wrong. ‘If you only target certain areas, you end up with a badly mixed message that just confuses drivers, said Professor Whitelegg, who has advised governments in Britain, Sweden, China and India. ‘If you want to make streets safer, you reduce speeds across entire areas. … There have been 51 pedestrians killed on Victoria’s roads this year, up from 37 at the same time last year. Over the past five years, the average number of pedestrians killed on Victoria’s roads each year has been 41. …

“International experience shows that lowering speed limits reduces deaths and injuries for all road users but particularly pedestrians. Sweden’s ‘Vision Zero policy, which enforced speed limits of 32km/h in urban areas, aims to reduce fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2020. London has a speed limit of 30 miles an hour (48km/h) and will reduce its speed limit to 20 miles an hour (32 km/h) next year.”

Ref: Clay Lucas, The Age, 15/11/08

Comment: Although it is counter intuitive there are in fact some very good reasons for reducing the speed limit. Done correctly, overall, very little time is lost though reducing speeds. In some cases, slowing speeds will actually speed up travel times. For example: slowing cars to 30kph = more liveable communities = more walking, cycling and public transport = less cars = less congestion = less road trauma = lower costs = lower taxes.

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