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.