So You Want …Social Distance?

Keeping 2m from others reduces COVID-19 spread. 20mph limits help. Lower speeds provide greater safety when passing cyclists and pedestrians and enables ‘pop up’ pavement or cycle lane widenings to work better. 20mph limits raise cycling and walking rates and reduce car use very cost effectively, population-wide across an urban network.

Far fewer people are about during lockdown. Yet, even now people step into roads to be apart. When travel restrictions lift most people will find social distancing very challenging when more people are about. Why? 61% are not comfortable to return to public transport[1]. Unless politicians reduce speeds and reallocate road space to non-motor transport modes, then cities will become far more dangerous for cyclists and pedestrians and will jam up with increased congestion.  There will be growing pollution from standing traffic and driving to find limited parking.

How much width? We must plan for an adult and child walking side by side since parents cannot safely hold the hand of a child in front or behind.  Most pavements are too narrow to provide social distancing when pedestrians pass. Hence they will naturally move into the road. Whilst many cities and towns will build pop-up pavement extensions and cycleways, the vast majority of urban roads will have no such protection for pedestrians keeping to government social distancing rules.

Even on roads with pop-up cycleways to cope with increased cycling the inevitable conflict at junctions will require lower speed limits if increased collisions and road risk are to be avoided.

Traffic reduction tactics should prioritise increasing safety. The most common reason not to walk or cycle is fear of car injury. Cars are the danger. Walking or cycling are safe if not mixed with motor traffic. A 20mph speed limit for all roads that were previously 30mph is a huge boost to vulnerable user safety. It reduces the number and severity of injuries by about 20%. In 20mph areas we know cycling and walking increases and car use falls.  It also helps with issues of the weakest link in any journey for safety – eg. Narrow pinch points where ‘pop up’ green transport solutions like wider pavements or cycling lanes aren’t feasible.

Changing the national 30mph limit to 20mph is the simplest, widest applicable, most cost effective method of ensuring room to social distance and mitigating expected rises in car use – to prevent damage to the economy from jams and health due to pollution, inactivity and injuries. An emergency 20mph limit cost is minimal, can be applied at population level on all streets in built up areas in a very short timescale.  It is already the expectation in urban environments and UK recently signed the Stockholm Declaration[2] with 130 nations resolving to set a default 20mph limit wherever cyclists and pedestrians mix with motors.

UK Doctors also recently started a “lower the baseline load”[3] campaign to set an emergency 20mph urban speed limit to reduce the road casualty load on the NHS during the COVID-19 Crisis.

Rod King MBE, Founder and Campaign Director for 20’s Plenty commented:

“We urge MPs and Government to “grasp the nettle” and set an emergency default 20mph limit for towns and villages. Wales has agreed a national 20mph limit. Doctors are demanding it for the UK. The Government agrees with other nations that 20’s Plenty where people mix with motors. As we progress through the COVID-19 Crisis we need this change now, not in 2024 or 2023.  The Government has the power to change limits with easy to agree legislation.  It’s time for default 20mph limits now to aid a safe transport recovery from Covid-19.”

[1] BBC commissioned Ipsos Mori poll



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  • Rod King
    published this page in News 2020-05-09 12:00:42 +0100