Safe or sorry? What it’s like living in a York 20mph area

26 Feb 2014 @ 12.10 pm
| Environment, Transport
Slow down… a 20mph sign on Fishergate in York
Slow down… a 20mph sign on Fishergate in York. Photographs: Grace Edwards

grace-edwards-headshotGrace Edwards looks at why the speed limit policy is causing a hoo-ha – and asks residents who know what it’s like what they think

Much of York is talking about an issue to do with cars and travel, and for once the argument is not about Lendal Bridge.

The council’s policy to limit traffic to 20mph on all residential roads is rolling out across the city – and prompting controversy in its wake.

South Bank is already a 20mph limit area and by the end of the year a lot more of the city’s suburbs could be governed by 20mph, rather than 30mph, signs.

It is a scheme that has caused heated debate, to the point where the York Press has closed the topic to readers’ comments. So what’s all the fuss about?

Where and when

The 20mph roll out is due in four phases.

Phase 1: Acomb, Bishopthorpe, Copmanthorpe, Dringhouses, Foxwood, Holgate, Leeman Road, Poppleton, Woodthorpe. According to the original timetable this was due to happen in 2012/13 but in fact the signs are only going up now.

Phase 2: Includes Clifton, Rawcliffe, Huntington, Skelton, Wigginton, Haxby, Earswick and Strensall.

Phase 3: Includes Fulford, Heslington, Badger Hill, Tang Hall, Heworth, Osbaldwick.

And according to the council’s York 20mph website, the “city core” will be “considered separately”.

How many miles of road will be limited to 20mph when the roll out finishes? We don’t yet know. A Freedom Of Information request to find out has yet to be answered.

Why 20mph?

Proponents of the blanket 20mph speed limit say it has a number of benefits. The main one is safety:

Towns that have implemented widespread 20mph limits in residential areas found that child pedestrian casualties dropped by 74 per cent (Hull City Council)”

[Source: 20’s Plenty For Us]

According to a council report from May 2012 other advantages to 20mph speed limits are “more difficult to quantify” but can include:

  • increased numbers of pedestrians and cyclists
  • improved air quality and health
  • quieter neighbourhoods and more community interaction.

The controversy

Opponents have four main criticisms.

1. Conflict of interest claim

The policy in York is championed by Labour councillor Anna Semlyen. She is also the paid campaign manager for the 20’s Plenty For Us organisation which promotes the 20mph policy nationally.

This has led critics to suggest there is a conflict of interest between her paid work to campaign for this policy and her work as a councillor to represent the views of people in her ward.

Cllr Semlyen denies this:

2. Consultation

The Press reported a survey which was sent to 13,000 residents of west York about the 20mph scheme.

Only 97 people responded, 87 opposing the reduced speed limits on their streets and three who were neutral on the issue.

Critics pounced on this to say it showed only seven in 13,000 were in favour. But the council said the “consultation referred to specifically asked for objections, not support” and the lack of explicit opposition suggested most were happy with the plan.

The Press also reported Cllr Semlyen’s comments, in a briefing for the 20’s Plenty For Us campaign, questioning whether public funds should be spent consulting residents about 20mph restrictions “when surveys consistently show more than 70 per cent support it”.

Lib Dem and Tory councillors argued that local people should be given a say.

The Labour group does have an electoral mandate for the policy. Their manifesto before they won the 2011 election included a commitment to bring in 20mph limits in residential areas.

3. Cost

The proposed sign-only 20mph areas exclude constructing new speed humps or chicanes to lower the expense, but the price is still set at £500,000. At a time when the council plans to cut 240 jobs as part of a bid to save £23 million by 2016, some argue it is an unnecessary expense.

4. Enforcement

Who will ensure that drivers don’t ignore these new 20mph limits? Critics say its unenforceable, proponents say it’s “self-enforcing”.

The Fishergate experience

People in and around Fishergate have been living with the 20mph speed limit since 2009.

Grange Street, Grange Garth, Rosedale Street, Levisham Street, Hartoft Street, Farndale Street and Lastingham Terrace are covered by the restriction.

Labour councillors say “the average speed of traffic was effectively reduced (by 3 miles per hour) and that residents reported that they felt it was now a safer and healthier environment for walking and cycling”.

That figure comes from a report by the director for city and environmental services in May 2012.

The same report stated that “the existing 20mph scheme on Fishergate has had mixed results since its introduction”. Speeds did reduce within the 20mph area by 2-4mph.

It went on to say: “Compliance with the speed limit has shifted dramatically

“Prior to the introduction of the 20mph speed limit 7.9% of vehicles exceeded the speed limit southbound outside Fishergate Primary School. This figure now stands at 66.7%.”

What residents think

The faded 20mph markings on Fishergate
The faded 20mph markings on Fishergate

We headed down to Fishergate to ask residents what their experience was like living in a 20mph zone.

Waiting outside Fishergate Primary School to pick up her children, Mrs Gonsalves said: “It’s a good policy; it makes my area safer for children – especially near schools. I don’t drive but I feel safer.”

Another Fishergate resident Jane Collinson agreed. “As a parent I feel my children are safer, although I don’t drive.”

But Kevin Suter felt there were challenges. “The 20mph speed limit? You mean the one they don’t stick to?” he said.

“Not every car… but I’d say 90 per cent of them. £500,000 is too much to spend on this waste of time. More crossing patrols would be of more use.”

Joyce Donkin is the children’s crossing patrol officer outside the school.

“It made it worse if anything – I saw a council van ignore the rules!” she said.

“When I challenged him he said he only saw the 30 sign, so I think the council should make the times clearer on the signs and repaint the road as you can’t read it now.

“It might also be a good idea if they spoke to people like me who work in the environment and asked us what we need to make it safer instead of hiding in their meeting rooms.”

Mrs Bailey, who works in Fishergate News, General Store and Off Licence, said “The signs that are there are not much use. My heart is in my mouth when I see young children racing around next to the road.”

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below.