Are we ready for lower speeds?
24 May 2021 | Policy & planning
While significant changes to our speed limits are often considered a ‘bridge too far’ for our political leaders, changes to speed limits do work without any major negatives even though there are lots of myths and misinformation!
To wrap up National Road Safety Week for 2021, WeRide has prepared a discussion paper that references the latest data and information on creating safe streets for all.
Discussion Paper May 2021
Area-wide safe speeds in residential neighbourhoods are a fast, low-cost intervention that can be implemented in response to community concerns and make Australian streets better for everyone.
This discussion paper considers the needs of communities who use their local streets in different ways and appreciate the freedom to move around safely, whether by walking, scooting/skating, riding a bike or driving.
Safer speeds result in calmer streets – which are better for everyone.
The case for lower speeds
A 2021 survey by the Heart Foundation found the majority of Australians support lower speed limits in neighbourhoods. [i]
The evidence is clear: reducing speeds reduces the number of crashes, reducing speeds saves lives and slower speeds in communities improves quality of life. [ii] The most serious injuries and the most deaths occur on roads with 50-60 km/h speed limits. [iii]
Recognition of the benefits communities derive when they have calmer streets can help build support for safer speeds in neighbourhoods in turn allowing for the creation of more active, healthier and pleasant neighbourhoods for all residents. Children and families, elderly people and people living with disabilities in particular benefit most from a calmer and friendlier street environment.
30 km/h speed limits on local residential streets have the potential to reduce Australian road transport casualties by 7% saving $1.6 billion every year. [iv] It is important to note that the greatest benefit arises from reduction in injuries. [v] It is also worth recognising that secondary benefits include lower crime levels, more active citizens, greater social connectedness, increased spending in local businesses and less pollution. [vi]
As well as a lower risk of death or serious injury at lower speeds, the likelihood of avoiding any collision is much greater at lower speeds due to the much shorter stopping distances at 30 km/h compared with 50 km/h.The following graphic from the German Automobile Club report illustrates the significant increases in stopping distance due to both reaction time (‘thinking distance’) and braking distance as speed increases[viii].
Research and evidence from around the world show that the effect of 30km/h speed limits on travel time is minimal but often overestimated. The following graphic shows data for travel time on local streets as the speed limit increases. Of note is that above 20-30 kilometres per hour posted speed limits have progressively less impact on actual travel time.30kph zones have been repeatedly shown to improve road safety outcomes for all road users, especially vulnerable road users. They have been widely adopted across the OECD.
Global leaders in broad adoption of 30 km/h speeds the Netherlands have comprehensive reporting and facts on the performance of these roads. The Netherlands Institute for Road Safety Research[x] (SWOV) points out that despite the safety benefits of the low speed limits, there are relatively many crashes in these zones, due to the fact that motorised traffic often drives faster than the limit.
Information ensuring actual speeds driven in low speed signed zones are close to the posted limit emphasise importance of layout, clear feedback and enforcement. A UK study on 20mph zones (30 km/h) pointed out where improvements could be made to increase the effectiveness and success of the 30 km/h zones[xi]:
- clear strategic case, objectives and outcomes
- integration with complementary transport, health, environment and community policies and interventions
- considering and including local circumstances
- signage and speed enforcement requirements
- effective community consultation and engagement
- complementary traffic calming and road safety engineering solutions (if need be)
- monitoring and evaluation programs.
Perhaps the most stunning result has been the recently reported success of the Finnish and Norwegian capitals, Helsinki and Oslo, in achieving the lowest mortality rate in Europe. Oslo achieved zero pedestrian and bicycle fatalities in 2019 and only a single driver fatality after a concerted campaign to reduce car traffic and prioritise the safety of pedestrians and cyclists[xii].
Both Helsinki and Oslo achieved zero pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in 2019[xiii].
Many countries are adopting safe speeds in urban and residential areas. The photo below[xiv] from Granada in Spain is just one example.
Car-oriented countries like Germany have proven the safety benefits of area-wide 30km/h limits[xv] in neighbourhoods while allowing higher speed limits on arterial roads and main roads where pedestrian and bicycle traffic is separated.
The investment in cycle lanes and pedestrian priority crossings is focussed on the higher speed environments. In cities like Munich around 20% of the total residential street network are these arterial or main roads.[xvi] In low-speed environments, mixing traffic is possible.
A road hierarchy that considers all road users
Cars & micromobility users: Separation on main streets and sharing on low-speed streets
In built-up areas drivers spend most of their time on main streets. It is appropriate in these situations to separate different road users: footpaths for pedestrians and separated bike lanes for cyclists and other micro mobility users (disability trikes, mobility devices and scooters). When separation is in place and safe crossings are provided for all road users, speed limits higher than 30km/h can be appropriate without compromising the safety of people outside cars.
On local side streets, creating a mixed low speed environment where cars go no faster than 30km/h and watch out for other road users creates a calm and safer environment for all people. Creating a calm shared street can reduce our reliance on private cars and reduces impact on parking and the requirement for significant investment in infrastructure for the separation of vulnerable road users. The introduction of safer speeds in local residential streets is relatively low cost and simple to roll out.
Shared streets also work well for ‘last mile’ delivery as part of the logistics industry: e-cargo bike riders are safe to deploy for deliveries and parking for delivery vans is facilitated in shared streets.
Pedestrians need their own space
The road user group that should continue to have their own separated space from cars (and micromobilty users and bicycle riders) are pedestrians. Footpaths in low-speed environments can be created at much lower costs when speed limits are low – paint on the road is often sufficient.
In February 2020, the Third Global Ministerial Conference on Road Safety issued the ‘Stockholm Declaration’ that resolved to ‘mandate a maximum road travel speed of 30 km/h in areas where vulnerable road users and vehicles mix in a frequent and planned manner’.[xvii] The United Nations 6th Global Road Safety Week is also focused on safe speeds to protect children and vulnerable road users.[xviii]
Nationally, Australia is some way off fulsome support for the Stockholm Declaration, but state, territory and Council safe speed initiatives are being trialled and the federal Government is in the final stages of developing the latest National Road Safety Strategy 2021 – 2030, which is due for release in mid-2021.
Stakeholder interest is high after the poor performance of the last 10-year strategy and extensive consultations have been conducted. WeRide has been involved as part of the national stakeholder Ministerial reference group.
Australian experience with previous reductions in speed limits is, however, a positive one. When default speed limits were reduced from 60km/h to 50km/h in Australia, research indicated ‘only minimal impact on individual travel times and large benefits to society as a result of the reduction in crash trauma’, and the measure was seen as largely successful and was well supported by the community.[xix]
Some excellent studies and examinations addressing the myths surrounding the benefits of lower speed limits along with the pros and cons have recently been published.
The discussion paper from VicWalks[xx] proposed a series of recommendations that would make our communities safer for those that choose to walk locally and addresses a stagnating safety record for pedestrians.
In the article[xxi] ‘Busted: 5 myths about 30km/h speed limits in Australia’ published for the 6th UN Global Road Safety Week and Australian National Road Safety Week, Matthew Mclaughlin and his co-authors provide a forensic overview of the five more prevalent misconceptions about 30 km/h speed limits.
Many jurisdictions across Australia are now implementing 30km/h trials in high pedestrian areas and local, residential streets. In Greater Sydney, Manly and Parramatta have implemented 30km/h zones in their centres. Central Hobart and the Yarra Council in Melbourne also. Many Councils are adopting 30 or 40km/h zones to create ‘Safe Streets’ or ‘Streets for People’.
Reduction of road trauma is just part of the picture. Many of the locations for safer speeds show, wider benefits accrue to those locations and include economic, equity and environmental factors. The George Institute for Global Health cites physical activity, air quality, connectivity and access, equity and economic benefits in addition to road safety.[xxii]
The COVID effect
The COVID lockdowns have re-connected people with their local communities and driven a new appreciation for safe, low speed environments where families, older Australians and those with mobility issues can conveniently and safely move about their local streets. Research is continuing to identify the benefits low speed environments provide to all members of the community.[xxiii]
A strategic approach is needed
A strategic approach to creating calmer, more liveable neighbourhoods through slower speeds enhances walking and riding without the need for expensive infrastructure and would contribute significantly to community amenity for Australian cities and regional centres.
Connected networks can be vastly greater in scope if local streets across an entire residential precinct adopt speeds that are low enough to increase amenity and safety for pedestrians, people who ride bikes and other mobility challenged groups.
Calm local street environments are also perceived as safer and create the conditions to increase participation in walking and bike riding – especially to local schools and shops – and recognise people’s desire to undertake many of their short, daily trips more actively.
Are we ready for lower speeds?
While significant changes are often considered a ‘bridge too far’ for our political leaders, changes to speed limits do seem to be the subject of significant myth and misinformation!
The recent excellent article cited above by Matthew Mclaughlin, Dr Ben Beck, Associate Professor Julie Brown and Megan Sharkey busts key myths about 30km/h speed limits in Australia[xxiv].
Specifically, that i) 30kph limits don’t make a difference, ii) aren’t supported, iii) increase journey times, iv) are anti-motorist and v) are just about revenue raising are all comprehensively dealt with. The George Institute article and other papers cited also outline the wider benefits.
When local streets are shared by all, everyone reaps the significant community and health benefits, the contribution to easing congestion and the reduction in noise and air pollution.
Sharing our streets more effectively is a sensible way forward, especially when considering the additional benefits for placemaking, stronger communities, noise and the crash and trauma reductions associated with safer streets.
We Ride Australia supports safer speeds which result in calmer streets – and they are better for everyone.
We Ride Australia
We Ride Australia is the national independent voice for cycling.
For more than 20 years WeRide has advocated, educated and conducted research for people who ride bikes – nearly 4 million Australian’s every week. We actively pursue strategic initiatives to make Australia a better place for everyone who wants to ride a bike.
We Ride Australia is a signatory to the UN Streets for Life #Love30 Open Letter at www.unroadsafetyweek.org/en/home
[ii] Bornioli, A., Bray, I., Pilkington, P., & Parkin, J. (2020). Effects of city-wide 20 mph (30km/hour) speed limits on road injuries in Bristol, UK. Injury prevention, 26(1), 85-88.
[iii] Data quoted from NSW Transport Metropolitan Roads 2019 quoted in https://theconversation.com/busted-5-myths-about-30km-h-speed-limits-in-australia-160547
[iv] Van den Dool et al, Safe-Street Neighbourhoods: the role of lower speed limits – 2019 Update WA & NSW. 2019. Accessed on 21 May 2021 at https://30please.org/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/ACRS-Safe-Street-Neighbourhoods-2019-Update-vs2.1-WA-NSW.pdf
[vi] Paul Cozens Environmental Criminologist Curtin University
[vii] Photo from PDF ‘Local street speed limit in Queensland’. 2003. TMR QLD, accessed on 21 May 21, 2021 at https://www.tmr.qld.gov.au/~/media/safety/driver-guide/speeding/speed-limits/pdf_rs_50k_brochure.pdf
[ix] http://thanksfor30.com.au/why-30kmh, source https://www.wri.org/publication/cities-safer-design
[x] Source: https://www.swov.nl/en/facts-figures/factsheet/30-kmh-zones, accessed on 24 May 24, 2021.
[xi] Study cited by Hafez Alavi in personal communication, refers to study (accessed on 24 May 24), 2021: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/757302/20mph-technical-report.pdf
[xii] ‘How Oslo achieved zero pedestrian and bicycle fatalities, and how others can apply what worked’. Article in The City Fix, accessed on 24 May 24, 2021 here https://thecityfix.com/blog/how-oslo-achieved-zero-pedestrian-and-bicycle-fatalities-and-how-others-can-apply-what-worked/
[xiii] ‘Zero cyclist and pedestrian deaths in Helsinki and Oslo last year’. European Transport Safety Council, accessed on 24 May 24, 2021 at https://etsc.eu/zero-cyclist-and-pedestrian-deaths-in-helsinki-and-oslo-last-year/
[xiv] Abad Linan, J-M, In bid to reduce road deaths, Spain rolls out 30km/h speed limit on most urban streets. El Pais, 11 May 2021. Accessed at https://english.elpais.com/spanish_news/2021-05-11/in-bid-to-reduce-road-deaths-spain-rolls-out-30kmh-speed-limit-on-most-urban-streets.html
[xv] German trendsetter cities for 30kph, accessed on 21 May 21, 2021 at https://en.30kmh.eu/why-30kmh-20-mph/trendsetter-cities-for-30-kmh-20mph/de-germany-trendsetter-cities-for-30-kmh/
[xvi] Limbourg, Maria (2012): Tempo 30 in allen Städten und Gemeinden. Online at: https://duepublico2.uni-due.de/receive/duepublico_mods_00000405.
[xvii] 2020 Stockholm Declaration, mandate #11. Accessed on 21 May 2021 at https://www.roadsafetysweden.com/contentassets/b37f0951c837443eb9661668d5be439e/stockholm-declaration-english.pdf
[xix] Archer, J et al (2008) The impact of lowered speed limits in urban and metropolitan areas. MUARC, accessed 21 May 2021 at https://www.monash.edu/__data/assets/pdf_file/0007/216736/The-impact-of-lowered-speed-limits-in-urban-and-metropolitan-areas.pdf
[xx] Safer Urban Speed Limits discussion paper, accessed on 21 May 24, 2021 at https://www.victoriawalks.org.au/position_statements/#safe-speed
[xxi] https://theconversation.com/busted-5-myths-about-30km-h-speed-limits-in-australia-160547, accessed on 21 May 2021.
[xxii] The George Institute for Global Health, Six reasons why: Compelling co-benefits of lowering speed on our streets. 2020. Accessed on 21 May 2021 at https://cdn.georgeinstitute.org/sites/default/files/2021-05/ungrsw-policy-brief-final.pdf
[xxiii] Timperio A and Giles-Corti, B. Streets for People – Lessons from a return to local living. VicHealth 2020. Accessed on 21 May 21, 2021 at https://www.vichealth.vic.gov.au/-/media/ResourceCentre/Life-and-Health-Re-imagined—Streets-for-people.pdf?la=en&hash=3F37BA41CD5F4A19603A5D62A0D7541DC92C9F86
[xxiv] Mclaughlin, M et al. Busted: 5 myths about 30km/h speed limits in Australia. The Conversation, 20 May 2021, accessed on 21 May 2021 at https://theconversation.com/busted-5-myths-about-30km-h-speed-limits-in-australia-160547
Additional sources of information on road safety:
- Australian Government – road safety
- Australian Government – Office of Road Safety
- National Road Safety Strategy 2011-2020 (NRSS 2021-30 due for release mid-2021)
- Australasian College of Road Safety
- Australian Road Research Board
- NSW Centre for Road Safety
- Transport Accident Commission VIC
- Dept of Transport and Main Roads QLD – road safety
- WA Road Safety Council
- Centre for Accident Research & Road Safety – Queensland
- Monash University Accident Research Centre
- Australasian Road Safety Conference
- Australian Road Safety Foundation
- Amy Gillett Foundation
- Thanks for 30km/h website
- 30please.org website