Why pedestrians will thank you for 30km/h limits

In my recent article “Why drivers will thank you for 30km/h” , I argued that current road rules and speed limits in Australia make it hard to understand where drivers should go slowly and share the street and where drivers should go fast to not hold up the traffic. This results in some drivers outright rejecting the idea that they should share the road with people on bikes or people walking.

80% of streets in Munich (and most other German cities) have 30km/h speed limits where cars have to share— how come this widely accepted by drivers? 

Given drivers only spend a small percentage of their journey on these streets, the impact on their travel time is minimal. However, these are streets where other road users spend most of their time so it makes sense that cars should watch out for people in these areas.

The Pareto principle states that 80% of outcomes result from 20% of all causes

On the remaining 20% of streets, we need separation: for people walking we need footpaths and priority crossings. Drivers then would know where exactly they are expected to watch out for pedestrians – for example at zebra crossings and traffic lights.

Why 30km/h limits on neighbourhood streets and separation on main roads is good for people walking is another side of the same coin:

It is obvious why on a streets without sidewalks, 30km/h limits will be much better for people walking on the street.

How about cities where we already have sidewalks on all streets in Australia?

For pedestrians the advantages of 30km/h streets come in many forms:

Crossing the street

They can cross the road wherever they want. Even most children are able to judge gaps in traffic at this speed. Most drivers will recognise that in shared environment with a 30km/h limit, most of the responsibility lies on them to watch out for vulnerable road users. 

An Australian road safety expert who helped me when I first started 30please.org uses the below diagram as a general philosophy for road management. Basically it says prioritise the road user expending the most amount of their own energy.

Shared environments save pedestrians energy and time as they don’t have to find the nearest crossing to safely cross the street.

Less crowded footpaths

In a 30km/h environment, people on bikes and people on other micro mobility devices will prefer to share the street with cars. Footpaths (if present) will almost be to the exclusive use of pedestrians.

Noise reduction & placemaking

Noise reduction will make these streets more attractive. 30km/h has very positive effective on placemaking in general. That is probably one of the reasons why the Minister of Planning and Public Spaces awarded 30km/h limits on non arterial roads a price for the Best Low Cost public space idea.

Safety considerations

Austroad recently said the most effective measure to increase pedestrians safety are lower urban speed limits.

Does a neighbourhood without footpaths becomes safer for pedestrians by adding a footpaths on one side of the road (but no crossings) or reducing the speed limit to 30km/h (no footpaths)? The majority of road safety experts we asked said the reduced speed limit would be preferable.

My 6-year old nephew, walking to school on a 30km/h school in Bad Toelz, Germany.

Better infrastructure for people walking does not always come with a high price tag. Lower area-wide speed limits, good signage and a clear instruction to drivers to share with vulnerable road users in these areas can have a massive impact on perceived and actual safety.

In the recently announced NSW Public Space Charter (Draft) streets are included in the public space definition: places that are publicly owned or of public use, accessible and enjoyable by all for free. The first principle is that roads and streets are designed for people of all mobilities to navigate.

Why not start to live up to this principle with streets that are not very important for drivers, but are important for people walking? 30km/h as a default speed limit in neighbourhoods will be good for people walking and people driving a car if we combine it with a a sensible road hierarchy. Most of us are walking and driving anyways, a friendlier road system that works for everyone is in everyone’s interest.