Back in 2017, the speed limit on most of Wandsworth’s roads was cut to 20mph. Driving much faster than that on narrow side streets full of parked cars, small children and cats wasn’t very safe in any case – which meant it wasn’t especially controversial and saw general support when the Council ran a consultation. But back then most of the more ‘major’ A and B roads, including Lavender Hill, were kept out of the 20mph proposals and retained their previous 30mph limit.
Lambeth Council next door wend down a slightly different track and applied a 20mph limit across every road they controlled, which is why the speed limit reduced from 30mph to 20mph on the Wandsworth Road as you crossed the Borough boundary. Westminster, the City of London, and others have made similar moves over the last few years – in an attempt to reduce the number of deaths and life-changing serious injuries on inner London roads.
This summer, Wandsworth – maybe reflecting on the general success of the 20mph limit, and the slightly curious way speed limits were now jumping between 20 and 30 on otherwise rather similar roads – extended the 20mph limit to two dozen more of the remaining roads. This means it becomes more like Lambeth, where every road under the Council’s control (which means everything except TfL red routes) is at 20mph. As part of this Lavender Hill and Queenstown Road gained 20mph signs (pictured above & right).
Despite popular belief that speeding fines go to the Town Hall, these actually go to Treasury (which is a shame in a way – it would be quite handy to have speeding out-of-towners funding our schools and libraries). And no-one’s under any illusion that everyone will drive under 20mph, despite the new limits. But there is growing evidence that where the new limits have been brought in, overall speeds have reduced.
And the statistics on what lower speed could do are quite striking: the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents estimates that pedestrians are five times more likely to be killed in crashes with cars going at 30mph, as at 20mph (pdf with the details), and a study in Bristol found a city-wide 20mph limit reduced injuries by over 60%.
It should also have some effect on noise levels and air pollution – although it’s a bit too early to get hard data – and the major traffic changes due to Covid and the traffic chaos due to Vauxhall bridge repair works probably mean we won’t be able to make a fair before-and-after local comparison for some time. As anyone who’s lived near one of our main roads can attest that there’s still a lot of particulate matter in the air (usually as black soot that settles on almost any outside surface – which can be quite hard to clean off) – the less of that we breathe in, the better.
The 20mph limit on the side roads is permanent, but the change on these main roads is only a trial, for around six months. Whether you love it and think it’s a long-overdue move to make our main shopping streets safer, or a step too far in slowing down essential journeys – you can have your say because the Council’s consulting on whether to keep these changes. A few more details of what is going on, and the consultation itself, are on the Wandsworth Council 20mph consultation page here. It’s a long-running consultation, running up to the end of May 2021. There are campaigns running at a national level from groups like the Alliance of British Drivers who are very, very unhappy indeed about 20mph zones – so it can expect a lot of responses!
We think the 20mph limit on Lavender Hill seems to be working so far, with seemingly lower speeds and no recent accidents as far as we know (albeit again the main reason everything’s working now is that – after delays caused by the discovery fo unexpected old tram tracks in the carriageway – Vauxhall bridge has finally reopened!) – but we’re interested in your thoughts. This is the latest in a series of interesting traffic experiments in the Borough – some of which have been pretty successful, and some of which have needed refinement or (down towards Tooting) been abandoned completely.
It’s probably fair to say we’ve seen a more mature approach to traffic management in the Lavender Hill area than the furious and divisive arguments elsewhere in London. We suspect even those of us who don’t like this latest change, will recognise that our roads still have far too many accidents (your author’s witnessed half a dozen nasty accidents on Lavender Hill over the years, one of them fatal – some of which probably could have been avoided by a slower speed limit and others of which probably wouldn’t), and the way we use them is changing – and support Wandsworth’s efforts to try out different approaches.