Living Streets' Communications & Media Manager, Tanya Braun, talks about why they're campaigning for 'Walking Cities' and what speeding means for school children.

We all want our streets to be safe. And the most effective way of reducing road danger on our streets is by slowing vehicle speeds. Lower speed limits, backed by good street design, are essential to improving safety for those of us on foot.

When the 30mph speed limit was set in the 1950’s (something we campaigned for!), it suited the time – there were fewer cars on the road and so it was easier to navigate crossing the road between them. Today, we campaign for 20mph speed limits across the UK because of the impact we know it can have in saving lives and making our streets more attractive places to walk. It’s a no-brainer, who wouldn’t want to act to save lives?

At Living Streets, we believe that residential streets and main roads with lots of people walking should have 20mph speed limits. We have a campaign to create Walking Cities – cities designed around people, not cars. In our seven steps towards creating walking cities, we recommend that city leaders make walking safe and this includes implementing area-wide default 20mph speed limits. We need to stop thinking about streets as places for vehicles and instead prioritise pedestrians. This way the whole street will feel like a nicer place to be. We want people to feel safe walking in their local areas; whether they’re on the way to work, taking their kids to school or just popping to the shops. This way more people will walk, improving health, improving the local environment and improving the local economy.

We know that a barrier to walking for a number of us is feeling unsafe because of bad pavements, a lack of crossings or speeding cars. And the majority of the public support 20mph speed limits. In 2005 the National Centre of Social Research found that 74% of people wanted 20mph in their area, including 72% of drivers.

When it comes to the walk to school it’s important to remember that children are the most vulnerable type of pedestrian, and they stand to benefit greatly from lowering speeds to 20 mph. We’d like to see speed limits outside school gates lowered to 20mph, backed by street design that encourages slower driving.

Lowering speed limits not only reduces road danger, in encourages more people to walk and use their streets. In Portsmouth the 20mph scheme has shown that 25% of people walked and cycled more after the speed limits were reduced to 20mph, and pupils walking to school increased by 5%. Research from Basel in Switzerland has shown that the sociability of streets increases as street traffic speeds decrease. For example, the number of people saying they ‘linger’ in their street increases from 24% in a 50 kph (31 mph) street to 37% in a 30 kph (19 mph) street. [1]

This year we’ve been asking people to rate their everyday walks. Why don’t you rate yours? How does it score in terms of speed limits and pavements? The score should tell you something about the streets around you and we expect that those with lower speed limits will score higher!

Living Streets backs Road Safety Week as a way to improve our streets for people. The safer they are, the more people feel safer walking. Brake’s Speed Down Save Lives campaign is an important way of highlighting the issues of fast speeding vehicles.

[1] Daniel Sauter & Marco Hüttenmoser (2006) . The contribution of good public spaces to social integration in urban neighbourhoods.