Speed limit of 20mph does not encourage drivers to do ‘more cycling and walking’

·3 min read
20mph zone - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire
20mph zone - Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire

A 20mph speed limit zone did not encourage people to ditch their cars, a council report has found.

Kent County Council imposed the 20mph zones in Faversham and Tonbridge as a trial in September 2020 in an effort to encourage more cycling and walking in the market towns.

But an independent report into the impact of the zones found that “overall, car usage remained virtually unchanged following the introduction of the 20mph limits”.

Some residents even reported increasing the amount of driving they did, whilst others stated it had reduced.

The limits were introduced to create a 20mph zone across much of Tonbridge town centre. The local authority was able to impose the speed reductions without prior public consultation under an Experimental Traffic Regulation Order.

But an interim consultation of 1,123 residents found that 74 per cent objected to the idea of a town-wide scheme and four roads were reverted back to 30mph zones.

Other parts of the trial were made permanent on February 11 after a vote by the county council’s transport committee was rubber-stamped by the council’s cabinet member for transport.

‘More aggressive driving’

The report from transport consultants Agilysys also found that a “willingness to exceed 20mph limits/zones increased slightly in Faversham and greatly in Tonbridge” (from 17 per cent to 30 per cent).

“Despite this, a large majority in both towns stated that they would be willing to always drive to the set limit and this actually increased in Tonbridge.

“There was a mixed picture on whether respondents felt that there was more consideration for other road users because of the 20mph limits, and a quarter of Faversham and half of Tonbridge residents said that there was more aggressive driving.”

On Monday, Matt Boughton, the Tory leader of Tonbridge & Malling Borough Council, said the decision to make some of the 20mph limits permanent was pushed through by Green Party councillors at the county council’s transport committee last November.

Cllr Boughton told The Telegraph: “I think the frustration was that Green councillors were elected when they knew the consultation results but they wanted to keep all the roads on 20mph anyway.

“I would not say it was undemocratic as such, people have got ideological positions on it and people have got practical positions on it. In my view, it has gone a little bit too far.”

Reduce the risk of collisions

Cllr Boughton said the speed limits were unnecessary on larger roads and had failed to give drivers an “incentive” to stick to them.

It comes as speed limits on some country roads in Surrey could be cut from 60mph to 20mph under a pilot scheme by Surrey County Council to tackle dangerous driving in rural areas.

Supporters have said lanes with a legal limit of 60mph would reduce the risk of collisions.

But the AA has questioned this, warning any 20mph restriction “only makes sense where there is a specific danger”.

Kent County Council has been approached for comment by The Telegraph.