A Guide to the New 20 mph Road Network in Edinburgh

Road showing 20mph speed limit

As a motorist living in Edinburgh, driving in the city requires a lot of patience. 

As the mother of two children, I have to drive around Edinburgh to and from school, sports clubs, swimming lessons and friends' houses several times a week. Let’s face it, I am a glorified taxi driver. Usually, the hope is that I will get from A to B and back again as quickly as possible.

But this might no longer be possible...

Why? The new 20 mph speed limit in Edinburgh

The City of Edinburgh Council has approved a new 20 mph speed limit network for Edinburgh which is in the process of being introduced throughout the city.

When is the 20 mph speed limit being introduced in Edinburgh?

The network is being rolled out in six phases. The first phase, covering the city centre and rural west, came into effect on 31 July 2016.

The second phase will be completed by the 28th February 2017 and covers the north and south (central/east) with the final phase due to be implemented by 31st January 2018.

You can find an interactive map showing where the 20mph limit is next being introduced in Edinburgh and when.

Where is the 20mph speed limit being introduced?

The new network introduces a 20 mph speed limit on residential and shopping roads, which according to the Council are used by the most people and which have the greatest mix of pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles.

A network of 30 and 40 mph routes will be retained throughout key arterial routes through the city.

More regulation of motorists?

I have to admit, my initial reaction to the new proposed network was rather negative. “It’s too slow.” I thought. “I'm going to take ages to get anywhere.” I thought, “I'm going to have to give myself more time to get from A to B.” I thought.

In reality however, I think it should be recognised that the new 20 mph network is not an attack on motorists but is a genuine attempt to increase safety on Edinburgh’s roads.

You see, I’m not just a motorist and the mother of two children, I'm also a personal injury solicitor.

If the introduction of a 20 mph network in Edinburgh helps reduce the risk of injury to road users, then in my view, that can only be a positive thing. Setting aside my initial reaction to the speed reduction as a motorist, I started thinking about the benefits that the new network might bring to road users Edinburgh:

Benefits of new 20mph speed limit for children

A child is much less likely to be seriously injured or killed if hit by a car at 20 mph.

During school holidays and longer days many children can be found playing in and around residential streets, spilling out from front gardens into the pavement and beyond on scooters and bikes. Many residential streets are used as a “rat run” to allow motorists quicker access from A to B without getting slowed down on main arterial routes.

Many such streets in Edinburgh are already subject to a 20mph limit sometimes accompanied by other speed reducing measures such as speed humps. I live on such a street and I am astonished by the speed of some cars travelling through these streets which are often narrowed by parked cars.

A 20mph limit is to be welcomed on such streets, if for no other reason than to avoid the risk of injury to a child who might inadvertently stray into the road whilst playing.

Benefits of new 20mph speed limit for pedestrians

2010 publication by the Department for Transport looked at the relationship between speed and the risk of fatal injury.

  • The risk of fatal injury to pedestrians rose from under 1% at an impact speed of 20 mph, to 5.5% (or 1 in 20) at an impact speed of 30 mph.
  • The risk is increased to over 30% at an impact speed of 40 mph.
  • Research undertaken by the Transport Research Laboratory shows that every 1 mph reduction in average urban speeds can result in a 6% fall in casualties.

Survival rates are 7 times higher when a pedestrian is hit by a car driven at 20 mph compared to 30 mph.

Benefits of new 20mph speed limit for cyclists

Edinburgh has a network of cycle paths and cycle lanes but the city’s main streets remain busy and congested.

The Council has an advisory body - the Active Travel Forum - whose objectives include improving the quality and accessibility of the cycling environment in the city and to deliver a mutual understanding of the needs of those travelling by bike, and the relationships to other modes of travel in the city.

I would hope that a 20 mph limit would be welcomed by cyclists on Edinburgh’s busy roads to help reduce the risk of collisions and injury.

Benefits of new 20mph speed limit for motorists

There is an argument by motorists that congestion will be increased by the new 20 mph network and traffic flow will be slower. However, the reality is that certainly during the day, driving on Edinburgh’s roads is not going to be affected too much by the speed reduction due to the sheer volume of traffic on Edinburgh’s roads in any event.

Is the new 20mph speed limit in Edinburgh a success?

The new 20 mph network has not long been introduced and it is therefore too early to measure its success. But the network is here and here to stay. I think that the potential increase in the safety of Edinburgh’s roads outweighs any negative aspects of the speed reduction and that can only be a good thing for all Edinburgh’s road users. I will just have to be a bit more patient from now on.

Find out how Digby Brown can help if you have been a pedestrian, cyclist or motorist who has been injured in an accident on the road.

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Mairi Day

Mairi Day
Associate & Personal Injury Solicitor,
Digby Brown Edinburgh