When Birmingham City Council called out to local road users this week to help them draw up new road safety measures, it made me stop and think about the initiatives that are already underway – and what impact they’re likely to have on our city.
In a joint effort with the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA), the council wants anyone who uses the city’s roads to help them come up with a new road safety strategy for Birmingham.
Are Birmingham’s Roads Already Getting Safer?
Commenting on the launch of the consultation, city council leaders pointed to the fact that there has been a reduction in serious accidents on the city’s streets over recent years. According to official government statistics, there were 10 fatal road traffic accidents on Birmingham roads in 2014, compared with almost three times more (29) the previous year.
Council chiefs said that, despite this reduction, they don’t want to be “lulled into a false sense of security” and want to ensure they keep up the momentum and provide safer roads for all road users in the future. They’re right to take this approach – the same accident statistics show that, despite the reduction in fatalities, the number of people seriously injured on Birmingham’s roads has remained more or less constant since 2010 and the total number of casualties remains high – at over 3,500 per year.
It won’t be until late October when we get a full picture of how the people of Birmingham feel about road safety in the city, but we can, for now, assess the impact so far of another road safety initiative – that 90% of Birmingham's residential streets will become 20 mph zones.
Birmingham’s 20 mph Zones
The plans were approved by the city council last year, with Central South Birmingham being the first part of the city to have 20mph limits imposed on its residential streets.
Central South is divided into nine areas as part of the 20 mph scheme and I live on one of the proposed 20 mph streets in Area 7. There are mixed opinions locally.
Along with most people, I wholeheartedly agree that the speed limit should be reduced to 20 mph on roads near schools – especially at the beginning and end of the school day. Anything that makes the roads safer for our children is to be welcomed.
Have Birmingham City Council Got it Right?
I’m concerned that the blanket 20mph speed limit might put additional pressure on the already busy main shopping areas and the designated A and B roads that will retain the 30 or 40 mph speed limit.
There are some B roads in Area 7 lined with terraced houses that open straight out onto a very narrow pavement, but they will retain the 30 mph speed limit. These roads are quite high risk for residents and road users alike.
Conversely, the 20 mph speed limit applies to some fairly substantial roads where the houses and pavements are set well back from the road, and are separated by a grass verge. These roads seem to pose much less of a risk to road users, but drivers will perhaps be less likely to use them in future because they fall within the 20 mph speed limit area.
Working for a law firm that champions road safety, I welcome any scheme that improves safety for all road users, but I’m not sure whether Birmingham City Council have got it 100% right in this case. It’s not entirely clear how the council intends to enforce such a widespread low speed limit without the possibility of more accidents occurring on roads that will remain 30mph but already carry a higher risk than other residential streets.
Jayne Campbell is a Personal Injury Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Birmingham.
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If you’re a resident of Birmingham, what are your thoughts on the plans? If not, have similar plans been put in place where you live? Share with us in the comment section below.