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Videos

The Grassroots Campaign to Slow Down Traffic in the U.K.

The push for 20 mph speed limits has reached millions of residents.

Screenshot via Vimeo / Streetfilms

More than 15 million people in the United Kingdom are now living in communities where the speed limit is 20 miles per hour. That’s out of a total population of just about 64 million.

We’re not just talking about quaint country villages here (although some of those have gone for 20 mph limits, too). Those numbers come from the nation’s major cities. Three million people live in 20 mph zones in London alone. Neighborhoods with 20 mph limits are home to tens of thousands more in Birmingham, Manchester, and Liverpool, just to name a few of the places where the lower limit has caught on.

This didn’t happen overnight. The 20’s Plenty for Us movement was launched in 2007 by Rod King, and it now encompasses 263 local campaigns around the U.K. These grassroots groups have built support for the idea of slower traffic speeds, with the aim of making streets that are safer for people of all ages and more pleasant to live in.

“Most people want to have a calm street where they live and where they work,” says King in this new Streetfilm about the 20’s Plenty movement. “So there’s a tremendous latent support for it.”

The organization’s campaign director, Anna Semlyen, says each community goes about campaigning for lower speed limits in its own way, with some relying heavily on social media and others focusing on more traditional measures, such as window placards, to show support.

The key, she says, is that the initiative for change comes from the ground up. “Those people make good advocates for 20 miles per hour because they’re the electors, the residents, of the cities and towns where they’re working on their councilors,” says Semlyen in the film. Many of the new speed limit signs show the same grassroots flair, with reproductions of children’s artwork providing a human touch.

In a companion video, Streetfilms takes a look at how traffic speeds have been reduced in the core of London, talking with Iain Simmons, assistant director of city transportation. He shows off a variety of design features, such as wider sidewalks and protected pedestrian crossings, which have been deployed in the area to create a pleasant, safe atmosphere for the vast majority of those who use the area—people on foot.

“We’re providing for them,” says Simmons in the video.  “And after that, everything works so much better—if we focus on the needs of people, rather than the needs of vehicles.”

About the Author

  • Sarah Goodyear
    Sarah Goodyear is a Brooklyn-based contributing writer to CityLab. She's written about cities for a variety of publications, including Grist and Streetsblog.