Rolling into the Future at 30 kph

Paris is planning a speed limit within the city – and many other metropolises want to follow suit. Traffic-calmed cities are expected to improve quality of life and reduce accidents and emissions.

In the urban area of Paris, 30 kph speed limits are to apply from autumn 2021. Photo: shutterstock - C. Nass / DEKRA

In Paris, 30 kph speed limits are to apply from autumn 2021. Photo: shutterstock – C. Nass / DEKRA

In the fall of 2021, Paris will switch to 30 kph speed limits throughout the city. The idea for speed reduction comes from the Citizens’ Convention for Climate (Convention citoyenne pour le climat). While there are no results yet from the population survey conducted in the fall, politicians want the deceleration. Mayor Anne Hidalgo promised the 30 kph speed limit before her re-election in June 2020. “This will calm public spaces, make streets safer, and reduce traffic noise,” Hidalgo explains. Politicians also expect fewer accidents and lower emissions. Other European cities are also putting on the brakes. In Madrid, a speed limit of 30 kph applies on 80 percent of all roads. The Netherlands want to introduce it in all residential areas and Great Britain is joining with 20 miles per hour (about 32 kph). Almost the entire Brussels region is also following suit. Even in the USA, cities such as New York and Portland are currently implementing our 30-zone principle.

The 30 kph speed limit saves lives

Helsinki and Oslo already have good experience with the speed limit. In 2019, there wasn’t a single traffic fatality among pedestrians and cyclists, according to the relevant authorities. Key factors have included a reduction in maximum speeds, says Helsinki’s deputy mayor Anni Sinnemäki in February 2020.

In Germany, Berlin shines as a pioneer for 30 kph – with success. Not only have accident rates dropped by around ten percent since its introductionin 2017, but nitrogen monoxide levels have also fallen by up to 29 percent from 2017 to 2020, according to the Federal Environment Agency. There have also been positive experiences in Switzerland: In 2019, the lowest level was reported since the beginning of data capture, according to the Swiss Federal Statistical Office. A total of 187 people died in road traffic accidents in Switzerland this year. By contrast, there were 1,302 road traffic deaths in 1977. Measures such as the expansion of 30 kph speed zones and the introduction of 20 kph speed zones in Swiss city centers helped to reduce the number of accidents despite the increase in traffic volume.

Traffic rolls more slowly

In Albania, an almost completely car-free zone until 1991, the speed limit has always been 40 kph in cities. It’s almost impossible to drive faster in today’s traffic, anyway. This has long been a global problem. Almost everywhere, traffic in large cities isn’t only getting denser, it’s also getting slower and slower. This is the conclusion of a study conducted by the German Logistics Association (BVL) and Here Technologies in October 2019, which found that the people of Düsseldorf drive the slowest in Germany at an average of 35.6 kph per day. Cars in Bremen and Dresden move somewhat faster at 42 and 41 kph, respectively. Between 2015 and 2018, the speed in Germany decreased by an average of 1.2 percent per year. According to a Statista study from 2008, the situation is no different in other European countries. The average speed in London was already 19 kph at that time, while in Paris it was 31 kph.

Saving 100 million tons of CO2

With actual average speeds so low, the introduction of 30 kph is an obvious choice. Especially since the limit only results in a maximum loss of four seconds over 100 meters compared to 50 kph, as studies by the German Federal Environment Agency from 2016 show. Much more important, however, is the fact that lowering the speed limit outside towns and cities alone will save up to 100 million tons of CO2 by 2034, according to German Environmental Relief. Zero emissions, no accidents – that doesn’t have to remain a pipe dream. The northwestern Spanish city of Pontevedra completely banned most vehicles from the city more than 20 years ago. The last traffic fatality there was in 2007.


Three questions for DEKRA expert Markus Egelhaaf

Markus Egelhaaf, DEKRA Accident Researcher. Photo: DEKRA

Markus Egelhaaf, DEKRA Accident Researcher. Photo: DEKRA

What are the benefits of 30 kph in the city?

A 30 kph speed limit leads to a steadier traffic flow, which makes traffic more predictable. Exhaust and noise emissions are reduced. If a collision does occur, the resulting personal injury and property damage are lower.

What are arguments against a 30 kph speed limit?

A 30 kph speed limit in inner-city areas might slow down traffic on well-developed main- and through roads. Therefore, a mixed form is preferable, in which a general speed limit of 30 kph may be raised in justifiable cases. But only while creating a safe infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists.

How do you see the city of the future?

I expect more and more areas in larger cities to become car-free. The coexistence of all forms of mobility will be supported by redesigning the infrastructure and arranging low maximum speeds.

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