Speed limit of Irish roads to be reduced – Copenhagen as a teaser

Justin Fung

Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan TD and Minister of State Jack Chambers TD published the Speed Limit Review Report on 14 Sep, in a bid to unify the inconsistent speed limit on Irish roads and to improve road safety.

The Report includes a few key proposals, including reducing default speed limit on national secondary roads to from 100km/h to 80km/h; default speed limit on national secondary roads to reduce from 100km/h to 80km/h; and default speed limit on urban roads, which include built up areas as well as housing estates and town centres, to reduce to 30km/h.

“This report is being published at a critical time, when fatalities on Irish roads are increasing at an unacceptable rate and after a particularly painful period of time when we have lost too many young people and families who all set out on their journeys expecting to arrive safely,” said Minister Ryan.

“We committed in the Programme for Government to review and, where appropriate, reduce speed limits to address road safety issues and ensure greater compliance. The implementation of the recommendations in this report will contribute to making Irish roads safer for all road users.”

In Copenhagen, similar policies have been rolled out recently. From 29 Aug, Copenhagen Municipality has reduced the speed limit from 50 kilometers per hour to 40 kilometers per hour in the Copenhagen districts of Valby and Vanløse with new signs being put up. Brønshøj-Husum, Bispebjerg, Amager, inner bridge districts and Indre by are districts in the pipeline where the speed limit is to be lowered to 30km/h.

Line Barfod, mayor of technology and environment in Copenhagen, welcomes the new policy.

“I am happy that we will now be able to lower the speeds in the first places. This will make traffic safer and reduce the number of serious accidents. It will especially benefit pedestrians and cyclists, who are the most vulnerable in traffic. At the same time, it also leads to less noise, air pollution and less CO2 when more people choose an alternative to the car,” said Barford.

However, Jeppe Rich, professor of policy analysis and transportation science at the Technical University of Denmark, questions whether the new policy would lead to effects as advertised by the authorities.

“What the municipality has said was due to environmental concerns which doesn’t really make sense because there are no real environmental effects by lowering the speed (limit). It is very, very tiny if anything. Partly because the true savings in the inner central city are so low. The CO2 problem is not in the traffic in the cities but is on the long-distance trips outside the city, between the cities, long haul flights and so on. So, there is tiny CO2 incurred to urban traffic basically,” Rich stated.

Rich also added that combustion engines are most efficient over a certain speed. Going at speeds too low reduces the efficiency of traditional engines, meaning that contrary to how Barford claims, it would bring little to no benefits to the environment.

Such policy also may not be as deterring as the municipality expects, as motorists are still planning to drive even at a slower speed.

Sally Madani, whose preferred mode of transportation being driving, explains her preference.

“I like cycling, but it is so much easier with the car because I have kids. So, it is just both of my kids inside and then I can go wherever I want. I don’t think it is going to make people less likely to drive because of the limit. I think it’s going to be the same, just maybe we would have less traffic accidents and all these kinds of things. I don’t think people would stop driving. I would not stop driving because this is my life. I don’t need it when I’m just walking around the city here in my neighborhood because everything is near me. But when I’m driving to work, it is so much easier with the car. So, I will just go out earlier if I know it’s going to take a little bit more time.”

Rich agrees that the perceived safety will be improved but wishes there were more transparency.

“I am not for or against such (policy). I just want them to put out the numbers. If they can prove it is a good policy when you (take into) account all the negative things and positive things in a welfare perspective, then I don’t have a problem with that. But they needed to put down the numbers for me, and they didn’t do that.”

Reporting By Justin Fung and Jozi Harty.

This story is for an audience in urban Ireland and could be published on www.irishtimes.com.