Foiled Last Year, Council Officials Want to Take Another Crack at Reducing City Speed Limits

Dublin City Council is eager to revisit the idea of a default speed limit of 30km/h within its council area, rather than the current 50km/h, said Brendan O’Brien, the city’s transport chief, at a recent meeting of the council’s transport committee.

In May 2021, councillors failed to agree on making 30km/h effectively the default in the city bylaws – which are within their powers to set – after a public consultation provoked a split response.

Now, council staff have prepared a list of recommended changes to the national guidelines on speed limits laid down by the Department of Transport. The current ones aren’t suited to urban areas such as Dublin, he said.

Right now, for the council to change the speed limit on roads, each 30km/h road has to be listed as an exception to the default speed limit of 50km/h.

“Which kind of, seems a little bit wrong, particularly in a built-up urban area such as Dublin city,” said O’Brien, at the meeting.

Instead, the council wants revised guidelines to flip that around, and have the default be 30km/h, with any roads with a speed limit over that listed by the council as exceptions.

At the transport committee meeting, some councillors said they hope that new guidelines would push the default speed limit over the line, while also addressing concerns that 30km/h does not suit some roads. Other councillors said they were still concerned that a lower speed limit wouldn’t be enforceable.

Members of the transport committee agreed for the recommendations on the guidelines to go to the Department of Transport.

A Review

Earlier this year, the council set up a working group, with members from the council executive, the transport committee, An Garda Síochána, and a retired garda chief superintendent, says the report on the proposed recommendations.

The working group’s aim was to review central government guidance on setting 30km/h speed limits, it says, and looking particularly at “the difficulties that have been faced while applying them in a dense urban environment”.

The working group came up with five recommendations for amending the guidelines for setting speed limits, which it brought to the transport committee for councillors to agree, ahead of going to the Department of Transport with them.

The Department of Transport has invited the council to take part in its own working group on setting speed limits, said O’Brien. So it’s important that they’ve written up their own recommendations beforehand, he said.

It should be easier for the council to change the city’s default speed limit from 50km/h to 30km/h, he said.

Right now, the council has to go through a particular process to change a road’s speed limit to 30km/h, he says. Each road that is changed to 30km/h has to be listed out, he said.

When drivers are unsure of the speed limit, they drive at 50km/h, because it’s the default, he said, but bringing the default down to 30km/h would mean drivers should go slower more of the time.

O’Brien said roads categorised as “distributor” roads are an anomaly, as a 30km/h speed limit can’t be applied to them. “Its function is to move people from one place to another place.”

But in a city, distributor roads aren’t necessarily only for traffic, he said. Take Botanic Avenue, a winding residential road in Drumcondra which has access to Griffith Park, housing estates and schools.

Speed surveys show that on average, drivers drive at 30km/h on Botanic Avenue, said O’Brien. “But oddly enough, because of this rule, we couldn’t actually set it to be 30.”

Conversely, traffic on the Cabra Road is very high, and very fast, said O’Brien.

“You’ve got a large population on either side,” he said. “And quite a lot of vulnerable road users who need to cross it on a daily basis going to shops, schools, etcetera.”

If Cabra Road was by itself in the middle of nowhere, a distributor road rule might make sense, he said. “There’s clearly a speed issue on it, and we need to be looking at how, on those roads, we actually start to reduce the speed.”

Speed limits are set based on the 85th percentile, he said, or the speed at which 85 percent of drivers are going along the road, determined by speed surveys.

“But that may not be the speed limit you’d like to see set in these kind of areas, and so we’d like that guideline, again, to change,” he said.

O’Brien said, too, that the speed limit guidelines don’t have a clear position on how to consider vulnerable road users, like pedestrians, cyclists, children or elderly people.

The guidelines should move away from always looking at road infrastructure from a road engineering point of view, he said. “And actually move into a more human aspect, which says, well actually, what is the impact on vulnerable road users if we have a higher speed limit?”

The Last Time

Councillors could not agree on making 30km/h the default speed limit in the city, when it was discussed in May 2021, said Carolyn Moore, the Green Party councillor.

Last year, the council ran a Love 30 campaign, where it recommended that people drive at 30km/h for safety, and ran a public consultation to get people’s views on changing the default speed limit.

The consultation report found that 46 percent of roughly 4,600 respondents were against the principle of expanding the 30 km/h speed limit, while 41 percent were in support, and 9 percent were in support with some exceptions.

The results did not show a clear consensus from the public on the merits of extending the 30 km/h to the arterial roads in the city, the report says.

Those against the 30km/h expansion said the speed wasn’t practical, there was a need for better enforcement, that it would add to journey time, that concentration would be lost constantly looking at the speedometer, and that cars cannot operate efficiently at that speed, the report says

Those in favour, said there were benefits to vulnerable road users, and that more pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, traffic calming, and lower speed limits were needed.

According to the Love 30 Campaign, one in ten people survive a hit by a car driving at 60km/h, while nine in ten people survive a car driving at 30km/h.

Moore says that while many councillors were in favour, many too had similar concerns that some roads were better left at 50km/h, and so the default speed limit proposal was dropped.

“They didn’t think it was clear enough that that would continue to be an option,” she says, “and there was the idea raised that maybe 40km/h is a better default than 30, that maybe 30 is just that little bit too slow for a default speed limit.”

The new guidelines can hopefully make it clear that not all roads will have to be at 30km/h, she said, and roads can be easily changed to be 40km/h or 50km/h.

Dermot Lacey, a Labour Party councillor, says he thinks there will be 90 percent agreement across the city that 30km/h works in most of the city. “Where there will be disagreement is on some of the major roads.”

Janet Horner, a Green Party councillor, said there will be exemptions. “It will be argued that a 40kph or a 50kph may be more appropriate, and in those cases, then that will be the speed limit.”

Anne Feeney, a Fine Gael councillor, said 40km/h should be considered on some roads. “Partly because, you know, the 30km will be unenforceable, or it’ll just slow everything down to a ridiculous level. But in general, I’m very supportive of it.”

Mannix Flynn, an independent councillor, said there’s a need for greater enforcement.

“There’s no doubt about it that the city is very hostile, in terms of traffic, and particularly hostile in terms of the speed of individuals,” he said.

“Constantly, during the daytime, cars speed up from Mercer’s Hill, right up into Cuffe Street, without any regard to the children playing,” he said. There should be more CCTV cameras to catch speeding, said Flynn.

O’Brien, the council’s transport chief, said he agreed that more enforcement is needed. “There’s an awful lot of disobeying of rules, so it is something we are looking at ourselves, and the Gardaí have had some discussions on that.”

The council is looking to plan a Christmas campaign to tell drivers to follow the legal speed limit, he said.

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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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