Speed of Travel

Previously Published on Copenhagenize.com


Photo: Alex Banck-Petersen - http://alexbp.dk/

Personally I think speed limits are too high, too dangerous, for me to drive a car. I have recently chosen not to drive a car before the city lowers the speed limits to 30 km/h, and have cut up my drivers license into many very small pieces.

The decision came after a Copenhagen driver in a moment of misreading traffic, while doing 60, where he should have done 50, hit a mother and her 10 year old daughter, the daughter died and the badly injured mother had to attend her funeral on a stretcher. I think the driver was in a situation, most drivers have experienced many times, except a mother and her daughter walking in a pedestrian crossing coincided with his path.  I will not risk being that driver.

No matter our choice of transportation, the average speed from door to door is of some importance, often of the utmost importance. So is the economy, yet few people balance the cost and time of travel. Thus when we contemplate a congestion charge in Copenhagen motorists become somewhat agitated. Lowering speed limits to a general 30 km/h attracts the same strong feelings.

Some find this natural, but I find it very strange. The average speed in Copenhagen for cars is below 30 km/h, though the general speed limit is 50 km/h. Congestion and traffic lights define most of the delta. Even though it serves no purpose, we do still have 60 km/h roads paved through residential neighbourhoods, school streets even.

Now Copenhagen isn´t a large city, if you cross town it is a 6 – 10 km ride. If you lower speeds to 30 km/h, crossing the city would take 5-8 minutes longer, unless you are not driving at four o´clock in the morning, and unless lower speeds equals a better traffic flow, less traffic lights, better synchronisation between bikes and cars. In reality we are talking maybe 2-3 minutes delay, if any.

Lower speeds does also mean less noise pollution, less air pollution and in case of an accident survival chances of soft victims, increases from 40 to 80%. Safer traffic is a primary motivator of people driving a bike, and more importantly of people letting their children ride a bike.

Curiously on all US military bases, the speed limit is 16 km/h, no matter the vehicle in question, the organisation in the world, with the most risk assessment experience.

If you then add the finance dimension to the equation, I am sure you will choose to cross town on your bike.

I think few people do the math, adding all the expenses of owning a  car, depreciation of the value, interest on the loan, petrol, insurance, small repairs, service charges, oil, bridge toll , green owner taxes, parking, parking tickets, speed tickets etc.

Owning a Opel (Vauxhall) Meriva  1.4, a modest car, and driving 10.000 km a year, it will cost you about 3.5 months of work if you are a nurse, a police officer or in an equal pay grade. Then the average speed in the city of less than 30 km/h will be reduced to  about 10 km/h, on average., I think most people do travel faster on a bike or in public transportation. The car should only be your option, when you need to bring heavy goods and have no alternative, or you accept and respect yourself as a lazy person with a huge surplus of time on your schedule.

In all of this I have not even included time to find a parking spot, and walk the final leg of your journey

One final curiosity about speed is the Copenhagen Police. They blocked the wishes of the city council to reduce speed limits, citing motorists will not respect the new lower limits. I never heard such an argument before. but in all their decisions, the Copenhagen Police have a clear track record of prioritizing the mobility of motorists over safety of all other commuters. This is in particular strange, as the majority of commuters in Copenhagen do NOT travel by car. Of course the Police do mostly use cars, they have less bikes than they have horses I believe, even less officers patrol on foot.

Ask your politicians to lower the maximum speed limit in your city to 30 km/h and 20 km/h in residential neighbourhoods and school streets.  It is not just safer, its faster!

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