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Twenty is plenty!

I've had quite a few messages expressing disappointment over the Roads Committee's decision last month to impose a blanket 20mph speed limit on most of St Helier's roads, having already done this on the roads within the Ring Road. Recently the matter has been raised in the States Assembly, with the Minister for Infrastructure, Deputy Kevin Lewis, refusing to be drawn when I asked him if he believes ‘twenty is plenty’ in densely populated residential areas.

There was some confusion created by talk of a 20mph on the Inner Road (St Aubin's Road) as the new limit will not apply to the whole road, only to the section leading up to the King George V Cottage Homes, travelling into town, nor will it apply to the main roads like Queen's Road, the Esplanade, Commercial Buildings or the Ring Road itself. Even so, some people clearly believe that this is going to make their journeys unacceptably slow especially at times when traffic is light and there are few people about.

In making its decision the Roads Committee decided to put road safety first as there is no doubt that a lower speed limit, if enforced, will mean that collisions with other road users when collisions occur, will have less serious results, especially in crashes involving cyclists and pedestrians. There is precedent for this across most European towns where built-up areas have 20mph limits as standard, and in our own Island we find them in most parish or village centres. If the Committee was to refuse to introduce the 20mph limit in town streets which almost invariably have far more people living on and around them than is the case, for example, in St Peter's Village, St Helier residents could rightly claim they were being treated unfairly.

Others have commented on the apparent futility of the recent consultation exercise, given that the new limits were imposed even though a majority of those who responded to the consultation was against the lower speeds. But consultation is not the same thing as a referendum: the Parish of St John recently ran an online poll to decide on a new Parish slogan (a good idea), and the one that got the most support was duly adopted by the Constable. But are we really going to base the decision whether to lower a particular speed limit on how many people respond to a poll? The Roads Committee has to consider not only the quantity of responses on a particular matter but also the quality of responses, i.e., the reasoning for supporting the change or otherwise. For example, particular weight has to be given to the arguments of a headteacher of a town primary school who wrote in about the proposed changes, explaining how the lower speed would benefit the many children who make their way to school each day. We also have to bear in mind the entreaties we receive from residents on town roads outside the Ring Road whose problems with speeding include the difficulty in accessing their homes, loss of domestic animals, and a general reduction in their quality of life.

'Twenty is plenty' is a slogan which has been used by many communities arguing for lower speed limits. Like many drivers I enjoy going a bit faster but I have to accept the fact that I can't do that in Val Plaisant, for example, or along Havre des Pas, as doing so would cause unacceptable prejudice and danger to the hundreds of people and their families who live in the area. If I am in a hurry to get somewhere in town I need to leave a bit more time to make the journey, though the extra time required following the introduction of the new speed limits will be measured in a minute or two, I expect.

Simon Crowcroft, Constable of St Helier