Cutting speed limits in urban areas to 30 km/h (20 mph) reduces the number of road accidents and the severity of injuries, according to the Institute of Public Health in Ireland (IPHI).
A conference in Belfast yesterday, attended by more than 300 participants from all over Ireland, heard that children, older people and those living in deprived communities would be the main beneficiaries of lower speed limits.
The IPHI’s Teresa Keating cited recent research from Edinburgh showing that the proportion of older primary school children allowed to play unsupervised on the street outside their home rose from 31 per cent to 66 per cent after the introduction of 20 mph speed limits.
Streets also became “more conducive to community and neighbour interactio” and more appealing to pedestrians and cyclists, with knock-on health benefits. Bristol, for example, saw walking and cycling rates rise by over 20 per cent after the introduction of 20 mph speed limits.
Dr Elaine Mullan, of Waterford Institute of Technology, said the the promotion of more active travel modes such as walking or cycling would need local authirrities to appoint "active travel officers" and significant changes to the design and layout of neighbourhood streets.
She told the conference that all schools, colleges and workplaces should be mandated to “develop and implement active travel plans that include enforcement measures and penalties” and provide training in cycling skills to improve people’s confidence in bicycles.
Dr Mullan called for private car travel to be made “less convenient” by imposing and enforcing lower speed limurts, reducing traffic volumes in urban areas, improving junctions to favour cyclists and pedestrians and generally providing more cycle lanes and wider footpaths. Â