Corn Street, Witney, with a 20 mph sign.
Corn Street, Witney, with a 20 mph sign.

Here’s the case for the 20 mph speed limit in Witney.

It’s Democratic

Nationally, the approval rating for 20 mph schemes is over 70 %. There is an excellent democratic mandate for it. Indeed, in 2019, before the county council changed leadership, all councillors voted in agreement that 20 mph was a good idea. They just disagreed about finding money for it. 

Nationally all parties support this especially the safety angle.  Transport for London report 25% reduction in collisions and death and serious injuries following introduction of 20mph zones. Gloucestershire Conservatives believe the evidence. What’s different with West Oxfordshire Conservatives apart from denying involvement and evidence being the centre piece of their 2023 campaign?

Cllr Ruth Smith writes: “I have been a Town Councillor for 4 years and on the District council for Witney East since May. I have been in all the meetings about Witney getting 20 mph. My campaign made it very clear that I supported the 20 mph proposals and I was elected on that basis. I took care to mention it on the doorstep and gauge reaction and residents were very much in favour, even on ‘main’ roads. I had residents asking for the 40 mph limit on Jubilee Way without me having to say that that was the advice from County Highways planners.”

“This response was not unexpected – as councillors, we had been receiving requests for 20 mph on people’s own streets all the time, which gave us the mandate to explore the idea when OCC got serious about funding it. These requests increased when word got around about plans for 20 mph and people wanted to ensure their roads were included.”

It’s Good Value for Money

The £8m figure refers to the whole of Oxfordshire, paying for 20 mph road signs for each town and village that approves it. Witney has its share of that from OCC. If there were more funds, the communication and campaign could be a lot more effective. That’s one thing that could certainly have been done better with better funding of local authorities. The country council expects the scheme to pay for itself – with fewer accidents and more people choosing active modes of travel, the burden on the health service and emergency services will be less, saving money. Wales has already reported this.

20 mph is a public health move. 

It’s Making Whole Journeys Safer

Everyone seems to want it on their street. But every street is someone’s street. Every street has road users who are not in cars – pedestrians crossing, people cycling; people with varying mobility, confidence and respiratory health. Some people like the idea for purely residential streets and outside, say, schools, but still object to the Witney-wide scheme. To that, with the backing of the WHO, the UN, the Welsh government and many other English counties, the reply is that people who are not in cars have to make their way from their homes to their schools, shops, sportsgrounds, workplaces and friends and family all the way. Making the routes people use 20 mph makes those journeys safer for everyone travelling without a car – those who walk, cycle, use mobility scooters and wheelchairs. 20 mph gives road users outside of cars longer to cross roads, less pressure if cycling, better air quality, less traffic noise. 

But what does it give to motorists?

Drivers can exit side roads more safely, with more time. As more people leave the car at home for local journeys, traffic will thin out, which is also good for drivers.

There are some misconceptions around. It’s the acceleration up to 30 mph from constrictions or 20 mph limits that causes most of the emissions. You will use less fuel at a constant 20 mph than ramping up to 30 mph whenever you get the chance around town. You will feel that in your pocket as well as your carbon footprint. When 20 mph limits are sustained and stuck to, diving is smooth and emissions are genuinely lower than driving at 30 mph. This is important for asthma and other health problems as well as for the climate. The Witney scheme is beautifully simple – there are only a few roads exempted – expect to drive at 20 mph in Witney. Hopefully we can all start to feel good about its purpose when we drive, and to enjoy the safer, cleaner roads when we walk or cycle.

Hopefully we can all start to feel good about its purpose when we drive, and to enjoy the safer, cleaner roads when we walk or cycle. Cllr Ruth Smith wrote this piece about 20 mph.
Cllr Ruth Smith wrote this piece about 20 mph.
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