MM#15 – Why All Neighbourhoods Should Be 30km/h

Monday Motivation: Every year in Australia an average of 200 pedestrians are killed by cars. UK 2011, 453. Singapore 2012, 44. In the US in 2010 it was 4,280. If these people were cut down in one hit by a gunman it would be world news… but these tragic losses are by stealth and written off as our price for the freedom of the automobile…?

I’m a big fan of finding the root cause of things before wasting time trying to design solutions, and the issue of our road speed limits is one of those root causes. We could design the world’s most beautiful suburban streetscape but if motorists can still drive through at pedestrian-killing speeds then the street will still be devoid of people.

So why don’t we lower our suburban speed limits to 30km/h? [which seems to be the sweet spot when pedestrian deaths taper right down to almost zero].


Talk about a taboo topic!

‘It will slow us down’ I hear people say. ‘It will cause congestion’ they say. Well, evidence (supported by good design and signal programming) shows otherwise. In fact, most of the data suggests that by decreasing the limit by 10km/h our travel time may increase by only 5%. Check out this Monash Uni research for some great data on the impacts of lowering the speed limit. Also check out the Heart Foundation’s research here… very quick to read but full of facts about travel times, congestion, safety, emissions etc.


To tackle this challenge we need urban designers, architects & landscape architects, traffic planners and local Councils and communities to collaborate. Cross-agency and outside-our-scope cooperation.

Here are some benefits of making all of our local streets a 30km/hr speed zone;

  • Far less, even zero pedestrian deaths. Obviously good for the pedestrians but also their families and children and friends;
  • Neighbourhoods become more walkable, reducing car dependence and increasing our health (we need 30 minutes of walking a day);
  • Vehicle emissions are reduced through less usage, and through driving at more efficient speeds (yes the lower speeds can actually conserve fuel)
  • Our streets become more activated, increasing passive security and safety, and increasing neighbourhood vibrancy;
  • Quieter [oh yes please!]

This week take a bit of time to focus on how you’re feeling when you’re forced to slow down in traffic [congestion, school zones, low limits etc.]. Are you getting frustrated at being held up? I catch myself feeling this way from time to time, but as soon as you ponder whether getting home a few minutes late is more valuable than someone’s kids or parent not getting home at all, it’s easy to cool it.

And when we weigh up the cost to society of sick neighbourhoods and high road fatalities and injuries, maybe the economic ‘cost’ of reducing our suburban speed limits is one of the best investments we can make.


Imagine – what would your neighbourhood be like with a 30km/hr limit?


2 responses to “MM#15 – Why All Neighbourhoods Should Be 30km/h

  1. If we are to succeed in transforming our world to being greener we must first appeal to the skeptics by making the change beneficial. Pushing the lowing of speed limits will only create polarization which, when not enough people are on board yet, ensures opposition to becoming green. Lets grab the low hanging fruit first and swing more people into believing rather than making going green a choice of compromise.

    There are new suburbs being planned and built everyday. If efforts went into lobbying for these to being green and efficient with financial and social benefits then the movement shows it is of value. Not only does this create better living but it will swing the public who need to be swung and the examples will set the new benchmark. That means walkable suburbs not the car suburbs the Lego land developers are creating. Better car design should also be lobbied for rather than lower speed limits. Most importantly if we are to convince ma and pa in the suburbs going green is good it first needs to make living cheaper.

    • Hi Chris, and thanks for your comments. I wholeheartedly agree that we need to be leading by setting the example, and by demonstrating the value in greener suburbs. I guess my concern is, having been in this game for 20 years now that leading by example, whilst effective, is too slow – I believe we also need some changes imposed on us in order to make us pay attention as a society. The carbon price in Oz has been a good example – everyone moaned about it, but facts show minimal cost impact on any of us, and as a nation we’ve started to reduce our energy consumption. And yes I’m very wary of the perils of forcing change on people – I think the trick is to inform the process, e.g. drop the speed limits in local streets (which enables a raft of other good things to take place simultaneously) and at the same time activate the range of opportunities for residents, direct Council funding to green upgrades and programs, improve streetscaping etc. etc.

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