Debate over whether 20mph speed limit has made Portsmouth streets safer

Supporters of the 20's Plenty campaign
Supporters of the 20's Plenty campaign
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Portsmouth was a pioneer when it became the first city to have 20mph limits on all residential roads.

It was hailed as a scheme to save lives and make the streets safer for children, cyclists and pedestrians.

But, eight years on, has it worked?

Well, there are differing views.

Some residents will agree that many motorists are no longer zooming down their street like Formula One drivers.

But some of the statistics paint a grim picture.

Figures released last year by insurance company Axa and the Road Safety Analysis group showed the city had the highest proportion of road casualties within 500 metres of a school.

Between 2011 and 2013, 1,520 people of all ages were involved in road incidents in Portsmouth, said the study.

The city was also the fifth highest for the number of child road casualties within 500 metres of schools with 214.

But other statistics show the changes may have had a positive impact.

Last year road safety charity Brake reported a 22 per cent dip in casualties in 20mph areas in Portsmouth.

But anecdotal evidence on the street points towards blatant disregard for the 20mph limits in some areas.

Kim Kingston, a mum-of-two, says Henderson Road in Eastney where she lives has been abused ever since the 20mph limits were introduced.

She says she has seen motorbikes and vehicles pushing 60mph.

‘It’s horrendous,’ she says.

‘Our road is particularly bad because it’s such a straight road and drivers think they can floor it.

‘I have been overtaken, had lights flashed at me and received abuse after doing 20mph.

‘When I get into a taxi I always point out that is actually a 20mph zone.

‘My next-door neighbour’s cat got hit and killed.

‘I have never seen a cat so mangled.

‘There was a child hit down the other end by the roundabout a year or 18 months ago.’

Kim said the problem had been very frustrating for residents.

‘We have had police out with cameras pulling people over,’ she says.

‘I don’t know what it’s going to take.

‘A cat has been run over, kids have been run over.

‘It’s the law and it should be adhered to.’

But Portsmouth City Council has acted on residents’ concerns and last month remodelled the junction by Bransbury Park to make it more pedestrian and cycle friendly.

A large flat hump was installed along the road.

Kim says she has seen dozens of drivers get caught out, some of them having been zooming along at 40mph, blissfully unaware that they were about to hit a raised section.

The consensus seems to be that 20mph signs alone are not enough to slow people down, but when combined with speed humps, however unpopular, drivers will then think twice about pressing down harder on the gas pedal.

Speed humps and 20mph signs have been very successful in slowing down traffic in places like Fawcett Road, in Southsea, and further afield across Leigh Park.

‘I think generally people will try to break the speed limit if they can get away with it,’ says Julie Woollacott, a driving instructor and advanced driver from Hayling Island.

‘When there are speed bumps, that’s the most effective thing to reduce someone’s speed.

‘Most people will slow down because they don’t want to damage their cars.’

Julie believes the single biggest factor in making drivers slow down is education.

‘People don’t really understand the implications of hitting someone at speed,’ says Julie.

‘One of my friends had to go on a speed awareness course and I have heard the course is very effective and makes people better drivers.

‘A lot of people are quite impatient.

‘They are intolerant.

‘The time of the day also affects people’s driving.

‘When it’s 8am to 9am, everyone is in a rush to get to work and they take more risks.

‘At the end of the day, people are tired or it’s a Friday afternoon and they want to get home.’

Julie says flashing signs that tell drivers of their speed are very effective on residential roads.

‘There should be more of them,’ she says.

John Holland, vice-chairman of Portsmouth Cycle Forum, says cyclists are generally happy with the 20mph scheme, but more enforcement is needed.

‘I don’t think any of us are unhappy with it,’ he says.

‘Having 20mph on the minor streets in Portsmouth is a great idea.

‘There are problems on some roads and that’s probably down to lack of enforcement.

‘Unfortunately, with the government cuts, the chances of getting more enforcement are not that great.

‘Sometimes the 20mph signs are put on the road where cars are parked.’

John admitted driving at 20mph was sometimes difficult.

With modern, powerful cars, just a gentle press on the accelerator and cars can reach 30mph in seconds.

‘I drive, I cycle and I walk,’ says John.

‘When you come off a fast road and you have been doing 60mph and to go down to 20mph, it seems like a huge drop.’

John believes a big campaign – not just centred in Portsmouth – would help make more people stick to the 20mph.

‘It’s about awareness,’ he says. ‘A national campaign would help.’

Officials at Portsmouth City Council say the responsibility of enforcing the 20mph limits lies on the police’s shoulders.

Hampshire Constabulary officers do not have the time or resources to regularly enforce the speed limits on residential roads and are urging community-minded residents to help them.

Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Simon Hayes has pledged £135,000 over two years to encourage the expansion of the Community SpeedWatch programme.

The funding has been allocated to help with the cost of setting up around 70 new schemes.

It comes off the back of success in places like Rowlands Castle and Horndean where residents took action to stop dangerous speeding drivers.

Julie Knight, a police spokeswoman, says: ‘Community speedwatch is a Hampshire Constabulary initiative to increase the awareness of the dangers of speeding. You can join up with other people in your community and apply to the council for funding for community speedwatch .

‘You will be given police training and provided with a “speed gun” and are able to go out and check the speed that people are travelling at. If it is recorded as over the limit, the registered keepers will be advised of the speed and why it’s a community concern.’

To find more about the scheme and how to become a volunteer email speedwatch@hampshire.pnn.police.uk.