Wednesday, October 7, 2009

20’s Plenty Where People Live in Portsmouth

In the firm belief that you cannot get too much of a slow thing, here is a second piece in a row on how they are slowing things down in Portsmouth and Britain more generally. We present it as a step toward building your own tool kit for slowing things down in your city. Look at Portsmouth and build on their example to do better yet on your streets. As Newton reminded us, real progress occurs only by standing on the shoulders of giants

Twenty’s Plenty Where People Live in Portsmouth

- Rod King, 20’s Plenty for Us , UK

On 14th May 2008 in a United Kingdom House of Commons Transport Committee evidence session the respected head of the Netherlands Road Safety Institute, Fred Wegman, commented :-

“Until 2000 we were always looking to the United Kingdom when it came to road safety. You were the inventors of many good activities and polices. All of a sudden, somewhere in 2000, you stopped doing things and we continued with our efforts. A simple figure to illustrate that is that, compared to 2000, in 2006 you had 7% fewer fatalities in this country. We have one third fewer.”

The resultant critical review of road safety in the UK by the Transport Select Committee was tellingly entitled “Ending the Scandal of Complacency: Road Safety beyond 2010”

Experts will debate the reasons for the slow down in better safety on UK roads. Some will put it down to an over-reliance on engineering measures which may well simply keep prevailing vehicle speeds higher and inevitably make it more dangerous for our vulnerable road users. Indeed whilst the number of total road fatalities has dropped from 3,221 in 2004 to 2,538 in 2008, the percentage of these which were pedestrians has been steadily rising from 20.83% in 2004 to 22.54% in 2008. In fact UK’s skewing of road fatalities towards pedestrians is one of the highest in Europe where the average across the EU14 countries in 2005 was just 14%. In 2005 in the Netherlands it was just 9.4%.

However, things are changing. In 2006 the Department of Transport issued some new guidelines to Local Authorities for setting speed limits. One city, Portsmouth, seized upon a slight change in the guidelines for 20 mph limits without traffic calming and decided to embark upon a new initiative based upon the premise that 20’s plenty where people live.

And last week at a special conference “Portsmouth – Britain’s First 20 mph City” the presentations in the Guild Hall in Portsmouth may well have created a pivotal point in road danger reduction in the UK.



Until now, speed management has mainly been implemented by means of localised interventions on streets to make the driver slow down. Whether they are speed cameras, or speed bumps the essential engagement has been with the driver on the road whilst he or she is driving.

At the conference, Portsmouth City Council and the Department for Transport reported on the results from the completely different approach taken by Portsmouth when in March 2008 they completed their setting of all residential roads, bar arterial routes, with a speed limit of 20 mph. 1,200 streets were set to 20 mph over a 9 month period. No bumps or humps, but most importantly a decision not just made by Traffic Officers but by the whole community as they sought a way to deliver lower speeds and a better quality of life for their residents. Quite simply, Portsmouth people decided to slow down wherever people live!

Of course, setting lower speeds with traffic calming is so expensive that one only usually does it where you have excessive speed problems. But when you make the decision as a community to slow down wherever people live then it is inevitable that many streets will already have speeds below 20 mph. In fact in Portsmouth they monitored 159 sites. 102 already had mean speeds of 20 mph or less. 36 were between 20 mph and 24 mph, whilst on a further 21 the mean speed was above 24 mph.

And because of that mix it was found that overall the mean speed for all the roads did not change very much. In fact it reduced by just 1%. But what was very significant was the fact that in those streets where speeds previously were 24 mph or above then a huge 7mph reduction in mean speed was recorded.

Whilst casualties also fell by 15% and total accidents by 13%, more time will be needed to establish statistically significant collision figures. However, the presenter noted the changes in child and elderly casualties in before and after numbers :


Portsmouth’s success is as a community that has debated how the streets should be shared more equitably and has gone through the due political, democratic and administrative process to take that community commitment and turn it into a framework within which everyone can take their part in making their city a better place to live. One where casualties reduce and people have quieter streets with more opportunities for cycling and walking.

The spaces between our houses, which we call streets, will never be the same in this country. Portsmouth has shown that communities can change their behaviour and sensibly embark on a 20’s Plenty Where People Live initiative that delivers real benefits to every road user. More and more towns, cities and villages are following this trend to put citizenship back into the way we drive and share our roads. The same plan is proposed in Oxford, Leicester, Newcastle, Norwich and Islington, with widespread trials being conducted in Bristol and Warrington.

But people in Portsmouth are perhaps no different from us all. But what they have found is a way to enable them to turn an aspiration for safer and more pleasant streets into a reality. I suspect there will be plenty more similar communities saying 20’s plenty for them as well. And that may well put the United Kingdom back on track in improving the safety of vulnerable road users and bringing a little more calmness to our urban and residential streets.



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Rod King is Founder of 20’s Plenty for Us, a national voluntary organisation formed in 2007 to support local communities who want lower vehicle speeds on residential and urban roads. 20’s Plenty for Us works with local groups around the country as well as lobbying central and local government. He can be reached at 20’s Plenty for Us - http://www.20splentyforus.org.uk Tel +44 07973 639781 . E: rodk@20splentyforus.org.uk

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