At 30 kilometres per hour there is more life. This is the motto chosen by the United Nations for the VI World Road Safety Week, which was celebrated between May 17 and 23, and which has practically coincided with the entry into force, in Spain, of the new speed limits for towns and cities.

Along these lines, the Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, during the inauguration of a conference on the impact of 30 kilometre per hour limit in the General Directorate of Traffic, has assured that, with this decision, Spain has It has become part of that small group of avant-garde countries that have chosen to reduce the maximum speeds of their cities.

In addition to recalling that at 30 kilometres per hour the risk of dying in an accident significantly decreases, the Interior Minister stressed that this is a measure that goes beyond road safety because the objective is to “build calmer, healthier, more sustainable cities”. In short, he said, “streets to live in, in which the public space serves to interact and exercise citizenship with freedom.”

Grande-Marlaska has also pointed out that this was a demand from many municipalities, expressed through the Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) and also international organisations such as the United Nations, the WHO (World Health Organization) or the European Union.

In addition to recalling that the accident rate in urban areas increased 6% in 2019 (in interurban it was 6% less), 80% were vulnerable users, he has said that the 30 kilometre per hour speed limit has affected 70% of Spanish streets.

A necessary regulatory umbrella

Alfonso Gil, president of the Mobility Commission of the FEMP, has pointed out that the reform of article 50 of the Traffic Regulations that was approved in November 2020 and that came into force on May 11, is “a regulatory umbrella that cities needed”.

He spoke of a “historic” decision because “it leads us to a city without smoke, without noise and without deaths.” In his opinion, it will change the appearance of cities and, also, the pattern of mobility for society as a whole.

However, Gil has pointed out that there is a question to be solved before 2040, before it becomes a problem: ensuring that the distribution of goods – the pandemic has boosted in a remarkable way – must be “effective and efficient”.

Tactical urban planning with a paint pot

As Iñaqui Carnicero, general director of Agenda Urbana y Arquitectura, has pointed out, the new speed limits in cities have a “great relationship” with the sustainable city model that we want. He added that sustainable mobility involves designing “proximity cities” (with a mix of uses, the city of 15 minutes) and achieving “sustainable transport” (in which the private vehicle loses ground).

Carnicero has also spoken of the so-called “tactical urbanism”, a flexible and low-cost strategy, in which “a simple paint job can make it possible to recover public space for walking.” He has ensured that the 30 kilometre per hour limit “is perfectly aligned” with the Urban Agenda of Spain for the future because we will achieve better cities (less pollution and better coexistence), safer (less accidents), healthier and more dynamic from an economic view.

The high cost of transportation

Pedro Prieto, director of Energy Saving and Efficiency at IDAE (Institute for Energy Diversification and Saving), has put the accent on energy consumption. As he explained, we use the same energy to move as to maintain our homes. For this reason, the new modes of transport must seek, above all, energy savings, in addition to reducing our great dependence on petroleum products.

In this regard, he has left on the table some alternatives such as: new ways in which we move around the city (for example, through urban planning and the promotion of low-emission zones, LEZs, which limit the use of private vehicles), more efficient use of means of transport (efficient driving courses), renewal of the Spanish car fleet (very old, over 12 years on average) and promotion of the electric vehicle. He ended by assuring that, without a doubt, the reduction of speed in urban areas will help to “promote the change of model”.

Within the 2030 Agenda

As explained by Gabriel Castañares, general director of Palanca Policies for the Sustainable Development Goals (ODS), speed 30 is “a coherent measure” that will serve to promote the mobility policies of the 2030 Agenda. On the one hand, he added, mortality and the severity of injuries caused by road accidents will be reduced, deaths due to pollution will decrease and “safe public spaces will be achieved, especially for the most vulnerable road users.”

And the distribution of goods?

Jaime Moreno, general director of Terrestrial Transport, has affirmed that 30 kilometres per hour is “a safe speed” that puts the pedestrian in the centre. As he added, this change perfectly allows the development of autonomous driving.

He has pointed out, however, that we must not forget the distribution of goods in cities and on the table, he has launched the proposal to create fords or loading and unloading areas in the streets, places specifically designed for that task.

The example of cities: Malaga and Valladolid

The councillors of Mobility of Malaga and Valladolid, José del Río and Luis Ángel Vélez, respectively, have contributed to the conference the experience of cities with speed 30. Del Río has said that this change is not a minor measure, but that it will save lives because, with a higher speed, the number of fatalities increases. He has given as an example, what has been achieved in Malaga, on the Paseo de la Alameda, where now 70% of the space belongs to pedestrians. According to the councillor, “with road safety there is no play and there should be no political conflict.”

On behalf of the Valladolid City Council, Luis Ángel Vélez stressed that speed 30 is “a very important decision for the life of the municipalities”, although, he admitted, it was not an easy measure to carry out from a regulatory point of view. As explained, it will allow cities to move towards more sustainable mobility, while reducing accidents, environmental noise, and pollution. The aim is to promote journeys on foot and by bicycle to the detriment of those made by private vehicle (70% of them are less than 3 kilometres).

More than ten years

At the close of the day, Pere Navarro, General Director of Traffic, recalled that the idea of ​​boosting speed 30 arose more than 10 years ago, although it has only been approved now. He stressed that the objective is not to increase the number of fines that are issued, but to convince drivers that they should slow down when traveling in town.

He has also highlighted the influence that this decision can have on Ibero-American countries (in fact, Costa Rica has already approved a similar measure). Finally, he pointed out that 30 as a generic speed in the city will allow removing many obstacles from the sidewalk (traffic signs, for example).