Wales' 20mph speed limit: Will it work for everyone in Wales?

Campaigners' calls for new roads are building up, while new speed limits aim to slow us down, as Mike Griffiths reports

Back in July, Senedd members passed the legislation to change the National Default Speed Limit in Wales from 30mph to 20mph.

It has been touted as the answer to climate change targets, while increasing safety on our roads.

But will anyone be left behind by the decrease in speed? ITV's Sharp End found out.

Concerns over bus operations

Paul Dyer, Managing Director at Cardiff Bus, is "concerned" that the 20mph will add to the challenges already faced by the industry, which struggles to recruit drivers.

Cardiff Bus Managing Director Paul Dyer hopes there can be exceptions to the speed limit on key routes. Credit: Sharp End

He said: "We are concerned that bus speeds and bus journey times are going to slow down and that’s going to have a knock-on effect for the affordability and convenience of buses. 

"You’ve got to look at journey time in a car and journey time in a bus. We’re trying to at least make it comparable. The best practise is to have separate bus lanes so they can move at a good speed which is comparable to cars. Cardiff is challenged because of some of the roadway space here. 

"Our concern is our own journey speeds getting to a level where we have to put more buses and more people into our networks at a greater cost to maintain the frequency and consistency that we have. 

"My request would be - to the local authority and the Welsh Government - to look at some exceptions on key bus routes so that we can maintain good journey speeds and we’ll obviously work with the local authority to make sure that the safety dynamic is still absolutely paramount so we protect vulnerable road users."

'A big cultural change'

Councillor Dan De'Ath, Cabinet Member for Transport and Strategic Planning at Cardiff Council, says a bus strategy will be published in the new year to "make life easier" for buses.

He said: "The new bus station is opening next year as part of that package. I don’t think the 20mph will have too much of an impact on buses. 

"It’s important to remember that there are many roads in Cardiff that have been the default for years in places like Riverside and Roath.

20mph speed limits will be a big cultural change, says Cardiff Council's transport lead. Credit: Sharp End

"Residents who raise it with me often say they want it more aggressively policed. So I think it’ll make a positive difference to the city and communities. I recognise it’s a big cultural change and will take a while for people to get used to but the benefits absolutely outweigh the inconvenience of it. 

"We understand the average bus travels at 20mph anyway and once people become used to the practise it shouldn’t be too much of an impediment. We’re also working to improve public transport so there are better and easier, more convenient and less polluting alternatives for people to use instead of cars."

100 lives saved over a decade

Climate Change Minister Lee Waters MS called Cardiff Bus' view "remarkably narrow-sighted" - as he claims, "if people are more likely to walk, they're more likely to catch the bus".

He told ITV's Sharp End: "The 20mph is about a broader package of change which is about making the environment more pleasant to walk and to cycle.

"Bus companies always say the biggest barriers to bus use is congestion and delays.

"What we hope will happen is that (20mph) will smooth out traffic flow - not having so much braking, starting and stopping - because people are speeding up to a set of lights and stopping again. We've all seen it happening in our own journeys to work."

Climate Change Minister Lee Waters MS said: "If people are more likely to walk, they're more likely to catch the bus." Credit: Sharp End

Research conducted by the Transport Research Institute (TRI) at Edinburgh Napier University, in conjunction with Public Health Wales, estimates a new default 20mph speed limit on residential roads across Wales will save around £100m in the first year alone.

The new 20mph default speed limit is estimated to save more than 100 lives over a decade and 14,000 casualties in total could be avoided, according to the research.

Cleaner air and reduced emissions

Cardiff University academic Dr Georgina Santos says "there's no doubt" that the 20mph speed limit is a good idea.

She said: "It will definitely reduce the number of collisions - it means more time to react, more time to brake, because the braking distance will be shorter. 

"We know very well that the higher the speed, the more severe the injury sustained by those involved in a collision. So not only will the number of collisions be lower - most importantly, life will be saved."

Dr Georgina Santos says "there's no doubt" that the 20mph speed limit is a good idea. Credit: Sharp End

However Dr Santos said evidence on the environmental impacts is mixed and not so clear cut - although particular matter is reduced in areas of the UK where the speed limit has been reduced.

"Particular matter is a very important matter in premature death caused by respiratory episodes.

"20mph zones are more attractive to cyclists and pedestrians so the number of people walking and cycling may increase. 

"The downsides is time savings - when we reduce speed the time to complete a trip will obviously be longer and that also has an economic impact."

  • For more on this story, you can catch up on the latest episode of Sharp End here. The show airs on Monday nights, 10.45pm, on ITV Cymru Wales.