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Calls for lower urban speed limits

Published Aug 7, 2014


Cape Town - Calls have sounded for a reduction in the urban speed limit – to 30km/h or 40km/h – on roads at potentially vulnerable sites, such as schools, hospitals and bus stops, and in densely-populated residential areas.

And residents have the right to apply to the City of Cape Town to have the speed limit reduced in their neighbourhoods.

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The lower speed limits in such areas are common in many European countries, with the bulk of residential streets in Berlin now at or below the 40km/h mark, for example, while 95 percent of states in the US legislate top speeds of 30mph (48km/h) in residential areas.

On Wednesday the Cape Argus spoke to senior leaders in the sphere – including mayoral committee member for transport Brett Herron, mayoral committee member for safety and security JP Smith, chief director of road safety co-ordination in the department of transport and public works Hector Eliott, head of the Bicycle Empowerment Network Andrew Wheeldon, and head of the Justice Project SA Howard Dembovsky – who were all in support of such a move.

Herron said: “I would support the proactive reduction of speed limits, especially in urban and residential areas.”

Wheeldon said he would “completely support” such reductions, and that research showed pedestrians had a “high possibility of death” if struck by a car travelling at 50km/h or faster, and a far higher chance of survival if hit by a vehicle travelling at 30km/h.

This was backed up by Dembovsky, who “strongly supported” a reduction in residential areas, and added: “If you hit a pedestrian at 60km/h you have an 80 percent chance of killing them.”

While the debate is likely to continue around reduced speed limits near schools and such sites, Herron disclosed that Cape Town residents were already permitted, by the National Road Traffic Act, to apply to have the speed limits in their streets lower than 60km/h.

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He explained: “Upon receipt of a request that appears to have merit, the relevant road authority undertakes a review of the speed limit using the Guidelines for Setting Speed Limits and Advisory Speeds. The recommendations of the speed limit review are then considered by a panel of professionals working in the field of road traffic management who then make the final decision.

“The city has reviewed a number of speed limits in recent years. Some examples of reductions in speed limit are: High Level Road, Green Point, 60km/h to 50km/h; Victoria Road, Bakoven to Bantry Bay, 60km/h to 40km/h, with one section at 50km/h; Beach Road, Mouille Point, 60km/h to 50km/h; Main Road, Muizenberg to Kalk Bay, 60km/h to 50km/h.

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“To date, speed limit reviews have largely been at the request of communities and road safety practitioners and have almost entirely considered arterial roads.

“It would be a mammoth task to review residential road speed limits individually upon request given the number of such roads within the municipal area.”

“Nevertheless, residents and communities still had the right to make the applications.”

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“Given this situation, the city whole-heartedly supports the initiative by the Western Cape government to educate road users on the facts of speed and the roles that speed plays in road accidents. It is hoped that an understanding of these facts will lead drivers to reduce their speeds in the interest of safety and eventually support lower speed limits nationally.

“If drivers don’t change their conduct, we will not make our roads safer,” Herron said.

In the Australian newspaper on Wednesday, Adelaide University cycling expert Dr Jennifer Bonham argued that “tackling speed limits and the proximity of cyclists to cars’’ were the keys to improving cycling safety.

“In places such as the Netherlands you can’t do more than 30km/h in residential areas because they regard this as the safest speed, and they have been doing this for 40 years,” she said.

“I think we should try 40km/h and if at some future point – especially as we get more intense housing development in suburban areas – we may want to travel at no more than 30km/h.’’

Smith said he would support speed reduction at key sites such as schools.

“I had several discussions with former transport MEC Robin Carlisle about this.

“However, it is only meaningful to do it if we can enforce speed limits, which needs enforcement resources and very significant resource improvements at Municipal Traffic Courts,” Smith said.

In a recent essay in the Cape Argus, Professor Marion Sinclair, associate professor of transportation engineering and road safety, University of Stellenbosch, and Eliott, warned: “Children are particularly at risk. In the Western Cape, 118 children were run over and killed in 2013. Fifty-seven of these children were under the age of five. Without attempting to apportion blame for these tragedies, the evidence is overwhelming that, had the motorists who struck these children chosen to drive even a little bit slower that day, many of those children might still be alive.”

Cape Argus

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