It’s really the limit!

Yesterday afternoon I was driving in Dublin city centre for the first time since the new 30 km/h speed limit was imposed. You couldn’t help being aware of it, as electronic billboards had been shouting at us about the new city centre limits for a while. So as I entered Dame Street (my first 30 km/h location), I put my foot gently on the brake, and settled down for a quiet ride.

A quiet ride? Like hell! The elderly lady ahead of me was working on the principle that if 30 km/h is good, 20 is probably better, and as she was crawling along she was clearly annoying other drivers to the point of fury, and so all around we had a clanking of car horns, and one idiot behind the wheel of a 10-year-old BMW overtook her (and me) with oncoming traffic, doing 60 or 70 I reckoned. As for the law, I could see no Garda (police) presence anywhere, and I felt vaguely cheated that nobody officially noted my heroic serenity in the face of all that excitement. And my law-abiding nature.

I could not credibly complain about the 30 km/h speed limit. After all, one of my early acts as President of DCU was to impose a campus-wide speed limit of 20 mph (i.e. 30 km/h), and every so often if I am feeling really officious I’ll make a point of stopping a boy racer going at 60 and telling him he’ll be barred from the campus if he does it again. It’s always a ‘he’, by the way. And yet, as I travelled along Dame Street I couldn’t help wondering whether this new speed limit was doing any good. Before I reached the end of the street I had also seen a car stall, with the driver clearly not practiced at combining the correct gear and acceleration with the new speed limit. And there was all that ongoing aggression.

Also, if that’s supposed to be a genuine speed limit (as distinct from a policy stroke), you had better police it rigorously. There was no sign of that yesterday. And we could, as a nation, probably do with some compulsory remedial tuition, learning for example thad a steady speed of 30 km/h in city traffic actually gets you there faster. Though to be fair, I’m not sure I believe that, but I think we should pass it round as dogma anyway.

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16 Comments on “It’s really the limit!”

  1. Aoife Citizen Says:

    Two important points:

    1) for pedestrians hit by cars the difference between 30 kph and 40 kph is huge. This is the range over which outcomes go from generally positive to generally negative.

    2) This change, unless the usual grim crew of anti-urban agitators ruin it, removes the goal of a 40 kph from street design, suddenly it becomes possible to imagine unlocking the value of the quays, the make Pearse St two way again, a street for people. Once speed is removed as a design goal, the city streets can be designed for people.

    • Aoife, I’m afraid I don’t go with your last point. Cars are not naturally 20 mph vehicles and are not driven well at such speeds; or rather, they won’t in the end by driven at such speeds anyway. Removing them completely is much better.

      • Aoife Citizen Says:

        That’s a problem with cars, not cities; now many cities have 30kph speed limits I am sure car design will follow.

        The “they won’t be driven at that speed anyway” argument isn’t supported by the academic literature either, cars are driven slower when the speed limit is lower from 40 to 30 kph and the accident rate goes down.

        This particular piece of extra speed, 40 rather than 30 kph is very poor value, because of the road plan of a typical European city, it doesn’t decrease journey times by much, by a tiny amount. The cost of that tiny amount is vast when measured in accidents, unfriendly road design, the huge vandalism created by road schemes and the vast health and quality of life cost the fear of injury has in terms of decreased walking and cycling.

        There is a large literature on this, a lot of thought gone into it: I beg you to base your opinion on evidence, not on your own subjective experience and unconsidered bias!

  2. Vincent Says:

    They put roundabouts at the ends of high speed motorways. They put tolls on BRIDGES, then roundabouts with traffic-lights and a Tee junction on what was supposed to be a relieving ring-motorway.
    The whole point of a motorway is that if it goes through or around the City, and that there is absolutely nothing to interrupt the flow of traffic, nothing.
    If School opening times were staggered from 7.30 to 9.30, advancing 15min each week with each school in an area given a different slot each week.

    In the past ?, if one traveled between France and Spain by train you were halted while they changed the bogies, different track gauges you see. There is that feel nowadays when one enters any of the States cities.
    On this 30km thing, I cannot get over the feeling that you lot are being softened up to the point where you will throw hands in the air and say ‘F*** it, close the area off ta traffic entirely’.
    But lordy it must be a mithering journey all the same :).

    • Jilly Says:

      And in my view, there’s a lot to be said for closing most of Dublin city centre off to traffic entirely. It’s a compact area, and its streets are often narrow, as are its pavements. It is eminently walkable: or would be, if it weren’t choked by cars which are usually going dangerously fast, often within centimetres of pedestrians trying to navigate extremely busy pavements. The pedestrian crossings are mainly positioned to accommodate the route of cars rather than people trying to walk from A to B, and set on timers which privilege drivers rather than those growing old waiting for a green man (try walking from Tara Street Station to Henry Street, for example. Between the bizarre route necessary to actually get from crossing to crossing, and the waiting time for green pedestrian lights, it takes more than twice as long as it should).

      And that’s before you factor in the appauling behaviour of many car drivers in the city centre, who don’t even adhere to the rules of the road which privilege them so much. Many of them don’t use indicators, regard red lights as being for the driver behind them, and constantly break the speed limits (by which I mean the 50kmph limit!). The combined effect of the noise, fumes and speed makes walking through Dublin a dangerous and stressful activity.

      When Irish people go on holiday to continental Europe, they typically come back raving about the quality of life in cities there. Yet they still expect to be able to drive their SUV through the heart of Dublin, despite the obvious fact that the large pedestrian-only areas of many European cities are what make them quiet, civilised and clean.

      • Vincent Says:

        Yes, that and the fact that you are not rushing to work or bringing the sprogs to school. While being hummed from all the CabSav/Chianti/Rioja or ‘rough as’ local Tuscan crap that George&Sue -ex Wantage and Jesus- crushed personally helps immeasurably. And it is also a sight easier to hoof it around with the Sun warming rather that horizontal rain slicing your skin.
        But I really do agree with you, the centre of Dublin should be closed to all traffic and some sort of hop on/hop off free transport provided instead.

      • Jilly, the idea of people coming back raving about European cities is, I believe, a bit of a myth. Paris is absolutely deadly car-wise, much worse than Dublin, as are Rome, Berlin and almost any other place I can think of. Maybe Scandinavia is different, but I’ve never been there.

  3. I agree with everyone (I think) about Dublin city centre. If I were in charge, I would completely cordon off the centre from the Four Courts to the west to the Custom House in the east, from Parnell Square to the North and Stephen’s Green in the south, and close it off to all traffic other than light rail, which (as Vincent suggests) should be frequent and cheap. That would change the atmosphere of Dublin fundamentally, and for the better.

    I might even stop cyclists there, because notwithstanding some romantic images of cyclists that we sometimes have, on the whole they behave more lethally in Dublin than car drivers, evidently feeling that rules of the road don’t apply to them under any circumstances.

    But what does not work is allowing car traffic to continue but restricting its movement. Doing that creates angry drivers who become much more dangerous as a result. Much better to have completely car-free zones.

    • Jilly Says:

      I was thinking of European cities with centres of comparable(ish) size to Dublin. Nantes, Nice and Bordeaux, for example, all have impressive car-free areas.

      Rome is indeed a nightmare for pedestrians, fantastic city though it is in other respects. But even Rome has car-free piazzas, which Dublin doesn’t.

      • Aoife Citizen Says:

        Your opinion of cyclist is, firstly, untrue; the number of accidents caused by cyclists is tiny compared to cars and this truism so oft trotted out is derived from a bias and a poor understanding of the rules of the road that apply to cycling and the recourse forced on cyclists by the state of cycle paths and the aggression of drivers.

        Secondly; even if it were true, this mythical lawlessness of cyclists, it would have been observed only on that small fraction of potential cyclist who cycle in Dublin, as it is: in Holland children cycle in cities, people in suits, people with dogs on leashes, people with umbrellas: here only the half mad and foolishly brave do, the quick or the dead.

  4. Vincent Says:

    Well what I was actually thinking of was a version of the old Routemaster but single story open at the rear on both sides and traveling a little more than walking pace, stopping about every 100 or so yards. You could put guide spots on the street so that you would not need drivers. And provided that there was a Garda every so often along the route, scamps could be kept under control. But have enough of them that you are looking at the next one 200 yards away.

    • Vincent Says:

      And Free, they could easily be paid for by having them in livery of the shops. And think of the extra selling space in all of the city centre shops as all the stock they have is display product only.

  5. Aoife, I wrote on cyclists before:

    And it’s not a myth at all. A survey was done recently on Dublin cyclists (I’ll try to dig out the reference), and the level of lawlessness was found, if anything, to be greater than I have described. In fact, all you have to do is to stand at a traffic light on any of Dublin’s streets and then wait to see how many cyclists stop at red.

    I agree they don’t cause as many fatal accidents – but the number of less lethal accidents they cause or experience is actually also quite significant- that was another finding in that survey, based on A&E reports.

    I’m not at all hostile to cyclists, the opposite in fact. But it is time that they were also brought within the law and within conduct that respects traffic regulations and other road users.

  6. Aoife Citizen Says:

    As is clear when cycling, and allowed for in my statement above, the examples mentioned are predominantly responses to situations where the road layout or driver behaviour makes dangerous or inpractical to follow traffic regulations.

  7. […] new 30kph speed limit in Dublin city centre is causing quite a stir. This post by Ferdinand von Prondzynski is a good round-up, the comments reflect the public feeling. Gerard […]

  8. barratree Says:

    Perhaps you may be interested in reading the following study from the British Medical Journal (


    Objective To quantify the effect of the introduction of 20 mph (32 km an hour) traffic speed zones on road collisions, injuries, and fatalities in London.

    Design Observational study based on analysis of geographically coded police data on road casualties, 1986-2006. Analyses were made of longitudinal changes in counts of road injuries within each of 119 029 road segments with at least one casualty with conditional fixed effects Poisson models. Estimates of the effect of introducing 20 mph zones on casualties within those zones and in adjacent areas were adjusted for the underlying downward trend in traffic casualties.

    Setting London.

    Main outcome measures All casualties from road collisions; those killed and seriously injured (KSI).

    Results The introduction of 20 mph zones was associated with a 41.9% (95% confidence interval 36.0% to 47.8%) reduction in road casualties, after adjustment for underlying time trends. The percentage reduction was greatest in younger children and greater for the category of killed or seriously injured casualties than for minor injuries. There was no evidence of casualty migration to areas adjacent to 20 mph zones, where casualties also fell slightly by an average of 8.0% (4.4% to 11.5%).
    Conclusions 20 mph zones are effective measures for reducing road injuries and deaths.

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