Cambridge Cycling Campaign Hustings – Blanket 20 MPH Limit for Residential Streets

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010. 5:25pm

The Cambridge Cycling Campaign ran a parliamentary hustings event on the 6th of April 2010. One of key points discussed was 20 MPH speed limits in residential areas. Within Cambridge this is a matter which results in lots of passionate debate on both sides. Many members of ruling Liberal Democrat group on the City Council have a passionate anti-car zeal; they see the fact the City of Cambridge still has a few sections of 40 MPH limit roads as a serious problem which needs to be tackled and would like to see ever more 20 MPH limits introduced.

A questioner asked the candidates on the panel:

Would you support a 20 MPH speed limit in all urban and rural residential streets?

Green Tony Juniper said that a blanket 20 MPH speed limit for all rural and urban residential areas would be in his party’s manifesto. He was quite open and explicit about his desire to take us “back in time” – to a world before traffic on residential streets – and was the only one of the panel to stick to his extreme view once he had stated it. All the others to some degree hedged their bets.

Conservative Nick Hillman said he had no “moral objection” to 20 MPH speed limits, but wouldn’t support a blanket law imposing them on all residential streets. He said he wanted them to be judged on an evidence based case by case basis and brought in where there was local community demand. He later said if evidence was presented to him showing that “every single street” would gain a material improvement from being given a 20 MPH limit then he wouldn’t be opposed to it.

Liberal Democrat Julian Huppert said the short answer was “Yes” – he would support a blanket 20 MPH limit in all residential streets across the country. He then, in typical Liberal Democrat fashion, backtracked saying you have to have “interconnecting routes otherwise it simply wouldn’t work”.

Labour’s Daniel Zeichner initially made a very clear statement of: “I would support the blanket 20 MPH zone I think it is the right thing to do”. However he too gave himself a get-out clause, and tried to sit on the fence by saying he thought there was a need to be careful about how residential streets were defined and suggested bus routes ought be exempt.

Zeichner on Speed Cameras

Labour’s Daniel Zeichner said the issue was primarily enforcement, saying people often don’t abide by speed limits. He said the technology, in the form of cameras, is now available to do more enforcement. Zeichner prompted some of the sharpest intakes of breath and murmurs of disapproval I’ve seen so far at any of the hustings events when he said that the fact some people find it hard to keep their speed down to 20 MPH and admitted he has trouble sticking to even to 30 never mind 20. Zeichner admitted to having been caught by the “Victoria Park” speed cameras a couple of times (I suspect he means the camera on Victoria Avenue between Jesus Green and Midsummer Common?). Zeichner wound up the cycling campaign audience as he said:

If the traffic is moving, almost inevitably in a modern car you find yourself doing 31 – 32 miles per hour.


Julian Huppert criticised the Conservative County Council’s rules on implementing 20 MPH Zones; they only allow them where average speeds are already around 20 MPH or if traffic calming measures expected to reduce speeds to 20 MPH are to be introduced along with the new speed limit.

I’m torn here between my passion for democracy, which leads me to think that the elected representatives of the city of Cambridge ought be the ones deciding traffic matters in the city and the fact that if we didn’t have the moderating common sense of the County Council cabinet the Lib Dems would be doing even more damage than they are to the practically of life in the city and the city’s economy.

My view is that taking a position essentially saying that speed limits, especially new 20 MPH limits, ought be self regulating is very sensible. I would like to see both speeding and congestion in the city dealt with not by big-brother cameras and oppressive policing as candidates from all the main parties appear to desire but though changes to road design. There are many areas of the city where we can see what has been done already working such as the Grafton Street area, Grantchester Street Area of Newnham and the Thompson’s Lane area where traffic is light and speeds are generally low as there is no through traffic. While I prefer one way streets, and simple dead ends and don’t particularly like the narrow pinch points as a way to deter through traffic that is the kind of approach I thinks strikes the right balance between freedom and making streets safe and attractive to pedestrians and cyclists. The fact that, by car, it’s a couple of miles from the front door of the Guildhall to the back is an example of the way we use our city’s streets and design traffic restrictions can organically deter traffic. Liberal Democrat councillors have been urging more police effort to go into enforcing their existing 20 MPH limits while looking to expand them. I think they’re taking the wrong approach and this isn’t generally a good use of police resources, and disagree with the emphasis the candidates put on enforcement.

We do need to tackle speeding buses and taxis differently though; we, rightly, give them sole access to uncontested streets and cut-throughs and we need to ensure that privilege must not be abused. In my experience it is taxi and bus drivers who pose the biggest risk to cyclists in the city. One area where I think police enforcement would be appropriate would be against speeding taxis on Friday and Saturday nights, however that’s a busy time for the police and they are reluctant to divert manpower to tackle speeding then.

I’m personally appalled at how rapidly the Liberal Democrats throw away their beliefs in civil liberties and justice when it comes to tackling problems raised by residents, we’ve seen Lib Dems in the city support dispersal zones which criminalise those who’ve done nothing but disobey a PCSO, in the North of the City Lib Dems have supported the police’s seizure of vehicles, without due process, from those speeding on Fen Road. During the cycling campaign hustings despite first speaking against an increase in traffic monitoring cameras Liberal Democrat Huppert then appeared to say they would be acceptable given proper safeguards.

Huppert spoke in favour of a unitary authority for Cambridge; and noted that currently traffic and highways decisions are made ultimately by the County Council cabinet which doesn’t include a single elected representative from the City of Cambridge. I too think a Greater Cambridge unitary authority is needed. We’re going to see massive upheaval in the Local Government sector in the upcoming years, as local authorities try and save money, as we’re going to see drastic changes anyway, primarily closer working together where it makes economic sense to do so it might well be a good time to restructure so that our democratic institutions reflect reality.

I don’t think that if our Local Lib Dems actually had the power to put some of their anti-car policies into practice they would stay in power in the city for long, I think we would elect a more moderate and more passionate group of councillors who would consider the interests of a wider group of people who have an interest in Cambridge than the Lib Dems do at the moment.

A member of the cycling campaign suggested everywhere within the city boundary ought become a 20 MPH zone, with enforcement by cameras. The suggestion was that Cambridge should become a “20 MPH city” making the position very clear and easily understood. Daniel Zeichner asked what would happen to the busses and the questioner suggested they ought go at 20 MPH too. While I don’t think Cambridge ought be a “20 MPH city” I would like to see better signage at the entrances to the city saying something like: “Cambridge City of Cyclists” and urging drivers to take particular care. Generally I find that drivers here are much better at dealing with cyclists than they are elsewhere in the country.

19 comments/updates on “Cambridge Cycling Campaign Hustings – Blanket 20 MPH Limit for Residential Streets

  1. Francis Irving

    I saw a presentation in Liverpool at the end of last year by somebody from the 20s plenty campaign

    The most surprising and interesting thing, is that the scheme only works if implemented in *every street*. This is because people are prepared to accept a slower speed limit when they drive, if in return they *definitely* get it on their own street. It also means you can get rid of speed bumps. See this page about Portsmouth:

    I do not think 20 mph speed limits are “anti-car”. They are pro-Children, pro-local community. The removal of traffic calming is very much pro-car. Everyone who lives somewhere, which is to say everyone, benefits.

  2. Martin

    Richard, I think you’ve fundamentally misunderstood what is meant by “Residential street” in this context. I don’t think Zeichner or Huppert were backtracking at all.

    The questioners were clear that what was meant by “residential street” is a street off a main interconnecting road. This is also the position taken by 20′s Plenty campaigns around the country.

    To take the example of Hills Road, for instance. In that instance, Hills Road itself would be 30mph, and the residential areas off it would be 20mph.

    Effectively the algorithm for a city-wide 20mph zone for residential streets is:

    1. Draw a line round the city
    2. Make everything within it 20mph, but:
    3. Then set as 30mph all of the main, interconnecting roads that form more than a residential function (like the inner ring road, Hills Road, Huntingdon Road, Milton Road, etc.).

    (Mill Road seems to have an anomalous status, probably because it is narrow, is far more residential and is predominantly a shopping street much more so than any other.)

    The point was well made by several speakers that a 20mph zone doesn’t really affect journey times significantly – because the ‘local’ portion of the journey is quite small in respect of the total journey. Thus 20mph zones in residential areas would benefit residents while not really making journeys much longer at all.

  3. Oliver Stanton

    Crikey, we can’t even get a uniform or consistent 30mph in the city, with its mix of 20, 30 and 40mph. Not sure why we think 20mph is a good idea – will it improve traffic flow, will it increase cyclist safety, will it increase road safety, it certainly won’t reduce the number of cars. If Cromwell Road is an example of what 20mph will do you can keep it – all it does is anger drivers stuck behind cyclists doing just below 20mph. Can I do 20mph on a bike?

  4. Richard Taylor Article author

    Martin, Francis, Oliver – Thanks for your comments.

    The video I have placed at the top of this article allows readers to come to their own conclusions about what was said.

    As I understood it what was primarily being debated was a simple change in the law which would have dramatic nationwide effects; I thought that only Conservative Nick Hillman was initially proposing any local, road by road, consideration of speed limits. My impression was that Hillman’s position was significantly at odds with the others.

    Having read Portsmouth Council’s FAQ on the 20 MPH limits there what they have done is sign streets which already had average speeds of 24 MPH or less as 20 MPH zones. That’s why they’ve been able to do it without introducing speed humps. The effects expected are two fold, one is reducing speeds by 3-4 MPH and the other is allowing stiffer penalties for those who are speeding, as going at 40 MPH in a 20 limit is a much more serious offence than 40 in a 30 limit.

    Enforcement in Portsmouth comes down to police conducting spot checks in problem areas. If there are occasional people driving dangerously fast in residential streets, despite them not being though routes, then some level of police enforcement may be appropriate. In Cambridge we have local police priorities set democratically by local councillors. In the East of the City councillors have requested such action on designated roads, I think that’s reasonable, right and democratic. One big problem is that PCSOs can’t do anything about speeding; I would scrap PCSOs and in their place more real police officers, who would be able to charge people with motoring offences. I would also like to see the police more willing to bring prosecutions on the basis of evidence collected by members of the public, something which might arise more as people are now increasingly likely to be carrying devices capable of recording photos and video.

    If the purpose of the 20 limit is mainly to make residential roads safer by ensuring tougher penalties for those driving inappropriately we could skip the 20 limit and move straight to increasing the penalties, and likelihood of being charged.

    My concern is not at all about journey times; I entirely agree that if only truly residential roads, and not through routes, were reduced to 20 MPH then that would have a negligible effect on travel times.

    Already we have too many people getting speeding tickets for travelling at 32 MPH in a 30 limit or similar, and funding a ludicrous industry in speed awareness courses. I’ve not met anyone who’s had a ticket for doing thirty something in a thirty limit who’s felt they’ve really done anything wrong or dangerous and deserved the ticket. I really don’t like moves by the state which criminalise increasing numbers of people. I’m very concerned that people risk losing their livelihoods, their independence as a result of increasingly oppressive, and mis-targeted clampdowns on speeding. We already have a very oppressive state, I see this potentially as another arm of oppression.

    Already we have almost no democratic oversight and clear safeguards surrounding the use of the national network of ACPO run ANPR cameras on the nation’s trunk roads. I do not want to live in a country which has state run traffic cameras on every residential street; I do not want the state knowing where I am all the time, who I am visiting and who is visiting me. I do not believe that cameras will only be used for speed enforcement (and think such deployment of cameras to enforce speed limits on residential roads would be grossly disproportionate). I had hoped and expected that a Liberal Democrat might use language like that but Julian Huppert appears happy to see traffic monitoring cameras in every residential street as long as there are appropriate safeguards.

    I think that local decisions on 20 MPH limits, and Home Zones, in Cambridge have been carefully made in consultation with local residents. I have closely followed the recent debates over the Canterbury Street area, Gilbert Road, Luard Road – Sedley Taylor Road and streets off Mill Road and many more areas of Cambridge. I’ve also participated in a very local debate on if speed humps ought be installed on the street between my house and the main road. I think the local knowledge and local input into decisions has been critical in avoiding mistakes and it would be wrong to impose blanket national policies.

    Where there are problems in a particular area, and where there is a demand for “something to be done” I think we need better local councillors able to respond and attempt to find the most appropriate responses having heard from all those with a view. One problem I’ve seen in Cambridge is too often the question comes down to a yes or no on a particular scheme and because no one has really explored the details of what is causing a problem, and found out where there are areas of agreement among residents, the proposals are inappropriate and rejected but the problems remain.

  5. Andrew Mobbs

    “strikes the right balance between freedom and making streets safe and attractive to pedestrians and cyclists.”

    It’s not just a matter of safety. You’ve a skewed view of freedom there, you’re viewing regulation of cars purely in the freedoms lost by the motorist, and failing to account for the freedoms gained by other road users. (A legal right to use the road isn’t a freedom unless it’s practicable, I could legally cycle down the outside lane of the A14.)

    I don’t see Cambridge City Council as objectively anti-car, it’s only that the default assumption in modern British society is that the car is the primary road user, and that is being challenged. I accept that isn’t without consequence, as many people and business are structured around an assumption of convenient car use.

    I both drive and cycle around Cambridge. In both modes, the number of cars attempting to use the limited road capacity is usually the major problem.

  6. Richard Taylor Article author


    There is a significant difference between the way the state interacts with drivers, compared with cyclists or pedestrians. Drivers have licences the state can take away and number plates which can be tracked. Where I wrote about “freedom” in the article I was also talking about congestion, and the congestion charge specifically would have taken freedom (and privacy) away from those who drive.

    I don’t think I have failed to account for what you call “freedoms” gained by other road users – that’s what I’m talking about when saying making streets attractive to pedestrians and cyclists.

  7. Frugal Dougal

    One ofthe best speeding campaigns I ever saw was a collaboration between the police and the teachers and children of a primary school. The police would flag down speeding cars, and the children would hand drivers literature about the effects of a speeding car hitting a child.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    Today the Cambridge News, and BBC Local Radio are reporting that Cambridge MP Julian Huppert is calling for a blanket 20MPH limit for Cambridge. He is being reported as saying this will make the streets safer, and reduce sign clutter.

    The Cambridge-News article is at:

    It is being reported that the blanket 20MPH policy is also that of the Liberal Democrats.

    This is a change as previously the policy has been, as noted in the article above, to apply the 20 limit to residential streets only.

    I have asked Julian Huppert via Twitter if the reports are accurate and if he really wants a blanket speed limit for Cambridge, or if he is talking about roads which are primarily residential.

    Update 14.21 26/11/11: Huppert has replied to say:

    @RTaylorUK I’m in favour of one for residential streets; there is an argument that blanket is easier to sign, but not yet persuaded.

    Mr Huppert has not changed his mind, and the Cambridge News article which starts:

    Cambridge’s MP is calling for a blanket 20mph speed limit across the whole of the city.

    is wrong.

  9. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have written more recent articles about 20MPH limits at:

    I have also reported, and commented on many other occasions when particular limits have been discussed.

    My view is I remain concerned about disproportionate penalties for those driving perfectly safely and reasonably. I want to make Cambridge a safer place, especially for cyclists, and think do do this we need to focus on the reckless and dangerous behaviour seen by both drivers and cyclists rather than focusing on the limits.

    The police are a thin blue line. I think it is neither desirable nor practical to enforce 20MPH limits across the city. As I’ve expanded on above I want to see changes to the road environment (eg. park roads) and network to be the primary tool for reducing speeds and making the city’s roads safer.

    I think opportunities to keep traffic out of the city centre are being missed, by not requiring improvements to the M11/A14 junctions alongside developments in the North and West of the City.

  10. Phil Rodgers

    There’s a copy of the letter and leaflet being distributed by the Lib Dems here. While it doesn’t quite say that they are supporting a blanket 20mph limit, it seems to me that it’s certainly trying to push opinion in that direction.

  11. Richard Taylor Article author

    That leaflet certainly gives the impression that the Lib Dems are supporting a blanket 20 MPH limit for the entire city.

    Perhaps they’re proposing an extreme in a hope to get make the policy they actually appear to want, 20 MPH limits on primarily residential streets, appear more moderate.

  12. Wire Donkey

    You can either generate TRO’s for hundreds of residential roads limiting speeds to 20 MPH and grow a forest of thousands of 20 MPH signs OR you declare a blanket 20 MPH (clean, clear, simple) and have seperate TRO’s and 30 MPH signs for the few arterial roads and the ring road (which are the roads that make the difference to the overall travel time).

    You can see it in practise in Southampton.

  13. Alex Skene

    Idlington is well on the road to going to 20mph on all* its roads

    It seems to have cross-party support, including the Lib Dems

    *well, nearly all – it will exclude the TfL-controlled main roads…

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