Putting a 30km/h Speed Limit on More Roads Is One Thing, But What Makes Drivers Follow It?

An officer with An Garda Síochána listed fines doled out for speeding in the past two years, in a recent presentation to the council’s walking and cycling subcommittee.

Inspector Peter Woods gave figures for fines on 50km/h, 60km/h and 80km/h roads, but didn’t mention fines for 30km/h roads.

The Garda Press Office hasn’t responded to a query sent last Thursday about whether it issues fines for speeding on roads set to 30km/h and collects data on that.

Over the last 15 years, Dublin City Council has gradually rolled out a lower speed limit of 30km/h across the city, from a trial in Marino in 2005, to all the roads in between the canals in 2017, to make roads safer.

At the moment, councillors and officials are debating a further extension of the 30km/h limit to arterial routes, and to make 30km/h, rather than 50km/h, the default speed limit in the city.

If 30km becomes the norm in law, how much would it change on the ground?

Some councillors say that it needs to be properly enforced by Gardaí to have impact, while others say it smooths the way for key infrastructure changes that would prompt traffic to travel at safer speeds.

Enforced or Not?

In July 2020, officials at Dublin City Council sent a “traffic wish list” to Transport Minister Eamon Ryan, a Green Party TD, ahead of a meeting with him.

One request was to ask An Garda Síochána (AGS) to enforce fines for speeding on 30km/h routes.

“Amend the regulations regarding speed limits and the advice concerning the 30km/h speed limit, which is meant to be self-enforcing,” says the wish list, released under FOI to Feljin Jose of the Dublin Commuter Coalition.

“AGS are not enforcing the current 30km/h speed limit,” it says.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to queries sent Friday as to whether it is still the council’s position that the speed limit on 30km/h roads is not being enforced by Gardaí.

“Members of An Garda Síochána enforce the law at all times when performing their duties,” said Margaret Flanagan, a sergeant at the Garda Press Office, in an email.

The overriding idea in the current guidelines from the Department of Transport for setting and managing speed limits is that they are “self-regulating” or “self-explaining”.

The aim of a “self-explaining road” is that the driver can interpret the safest speed to travel working that out from the road layout and environment, with speed limits enforced by engineering, signs, and markings, it says.

On the Roads

When Dublin City Council lowered speed limits on 40 streets to 30km/h in December 2016 and March 2017, it did before-and-after surveys of the effects.

It pinpointed the “V85” speed, in other words, the speed at which 85 percent of traffic travels at or below – and so the speed at which 15 percent of traffic violates on average.

Of the 40 spots looked at, 31 saw a fall in these “V85” speeds, while eight saw increases, and one saw no change, says a council evaluation report from November 2020.

But only for two roads, did at least 85 percent of vehicles meet the new speed limit of 30km/h. For the rest of the roads, more than 15 percent of vehicles still broke the new speed limits.

While compliance is relatively low, the drop in traffic speeds across most sites has improved road safety, says the report.

Dublin City Council didn’t respond to a query as to whether it had done more up-to-date speed surveys.

Among the roads surveyed in 2017 was Herberton Road, where the “V85” had fallen from 59km/h to 46km/h when the speed limit was dropped to 30km/h.

On Herberton Road on Monday, Lisa Malone, a local resident, said the speed limit of 30km/h on her road is generally followed when there’s loads of traffic. When the road is clear, “punters do fly past’’, she says.

Drivers speed along the road, particularly at night, says Richard O’Sullivan who also lives on Herberton Road.

On Enforcement

“To continue with traffic speed improvements, traffic calming measures in conjunction with speed enforcement by Gardaí should be considered,” says the council’s report from November 2020.

Feljin Jose, spokesperson for Dublin Commuter Coalition, says enforcement should come first. “Infrastructure takes time, and we need to wait around for that.”

Paddy McCartan, a Fine Gael councillor, says Garda enforcement is the only way to ensure lower speed limits will be followed. “If it’s not being enforced, then it brings the whole process into disrepute.”

McCartan says he was originally in favour of more 30km/h roads, but now he thinks bringing in slower speed limits on arterial routes will cause people to disregard the principle of lowering the speed limit.

“On Strand Road, the speed limit is not being observed, because it’s almost impossible on a road like that, with a lot of traffic,” says McCartan.

Says Keith Connolly, a Fianna Fáil councillor, of the idea of expanding 30km/h to more arterial routes: “The reality of it is, will it be enforced? I don’t think so.”

Gardaí are busy, and there are other issues, like crime, in the city, he says. “I don’t think the guards sitting there with a speed gun getting someone going 33 km/h in a 30 km/h zone will be a benefit to the safety of our city.”

Speeding is a matter for Gardaí, says Larry O’Toole, a Sinn Féin councillor. There wouldn’t be a point bringing it in without enforcement, he says, as “the council can’t send out traffic police”.

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, says that “speed limit changes need to be met with enforcement for them to be in any way meaningful”.

But there are other ways to get drivers to slow down, such as infrastructure and awareness-raising, she says.

On Infrastructure

“Police enforcement isn’t the way to go,” says Brian Deegan, a principal design engineer who specialises in road infrastructure for walkers and cyclists for the urban-design consultancy Urban Movement.

A road that looks like it’s been designed to prioritise cars going fast sends a mixed message to police enforcement, he says, who then might not think it important to enforce speeds.

He says that bringing in lower speed limits paves the way for “self-enforcing” measures to be brought in too.

If the speed limits are low, you can make road changes, he says. “I can make it tighter, more pleasant, pull the footpath out, calm the traffic down, all these things suddenly become on the table.”

On Herberton Road, Malone, the local resident, says she thinks the signage is currently misleading.

Entering onto Herberton Road from a side road, Herberton Drive, there is a 50km/h sign. “Where is the 30km/h sign? How are people supposed to know?”

O’Sullivan, another resident, says the lack of signs would make enforcement tricky. “You get somebody who’s brought to court for speeding and they’re going to say well, there’s no signs.”

Deegan, the engineer, while working on a road in London, implemented a speed camera that would initiate a red light further down the road if the driver went over 20m/h.

Infrastructure measures aren’t as possible when cars are going faster, he says.

More routes in the city at 30 km/h makes a difference, he says. “The next time anybody designs that street, they can start making it look a lot better and prioritise people walking and cycling. I think it’s a step in the right direction.”

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Claudia Dalby: Claudia Dalby is a city reporter for Dublin Inquirer. She's especially interested in stories about the southside, transport, and kids in the city. Get in touch at [email protected]

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