Recently, a good part of Belfast city centre came under a new 20mph speed limit. Predictably the local meedja jumped on this as WAR ON THE MOTORIST and a SCAM and equally predictably it turned into an anti cycling rant. 20 mph limits are nothing new and indeed the average speed of traffic in the vast majority of the streets the new limit applies to, would be well under 20mph, at peak times the average speed is less than a brisk walk, so why indeed do we have these speed limits?
In a totally unscientific test, I took to May Street on the first day the new limit applied, it was a Sunday so May St was pretty deserted. Obviously I used the car for this as there's not a chance in hell of Yours Truly sustaining 20mph on a bicycle unless gravity was assisting. So with the OH monitoring the speed on the GPS, I pointed the car down May St and accelerated up to a true 20mph according to the GPS. The first thing I noticed was that I was immediately overtaken in the Bus Lane to my left by a Black Taxi, then a bus. On my right, I was being overtaken by a Value Cab and an elderly gent in a Nissan Almera. At the 20mph indicated by the GPS, my speedo was reading about 22-23, presumably the speedo in the overtaking vehicles were reading more than that again, especially the bus as I believe that they have calibrated speedos.
Now what really is funny, is that people are using the 20 mph limits as a scapegoat for increased traffic, certainly there have been a few days when the traffic was diabolical, but a quick scan of the Trafficwatch NI reveals that on the days of the near gridlocks, there has been a crash on a main arterial route far outside the 20mph limited area and indeed the worst gridlock was caused by a multi commercial vehicle crash at 4am on a 50 mph dual carriageway. The local Federation Of Small Businesses has also joined in with the naysaying, claiming that Belfast was a hostile place for cars. This is clearly untrue. Belfast city centre is awash with car parking spaces, vast swathes of empty ground have been converted to car parking, within 150 metres of where I'm sitting typing this, there are no fewer than 5 surface car parks, one of which is exclusively for the use of Belfast City Council, not only that, any vacant piece of ground, such as the corner of the Lucas Building site, is parked on by freeloading commuters who simply do not want to pay parking charges. As part owner of a small business in central Belfast, I have had no customer complain about the 20mph speed limit, I have had several complain of lack of money in the present economic climate, but to be honest, speed limits really aren't that high on peoples agenda.
Another agrument that has been trotted out is that since people aren't being massacred on the streets by cars, what is the point? That's the sort of argument that I want to answer with "Why have any speed limit then?" My car is capable of cruising at over 100mph, should I be allowed to cruise along the A1 at 100? Of course not, most people would say. So certain speed limits are ok then? What makes this one different? Central Belfast in the area the limit applies to, has a road layout dating back to the 1700's, usually the traffic is such that 20 mph is a dream, but when the roads are that bit clearer, 30 mph is madness. People talk about the "Nighttime economy" in Belfast. In this night time economy, a lot of people have a few bevvies, or they're just so busy having a good time that they're not really following the Green Cross Code as it where, hence 20mph is much safer for everyone using the road.
So, in short, my opinion is that the 20 limit is a good thing, it's certainly NOT a bad thing, I fail to see the problem? Do You?