The MWS Podcast 60: Rod King on 20’s Plenty For Us

We are joined today by Rod King, the founder and campaign director of 20’s Plenty for Us a movement set up to campaign for a default 20 mile speed limit in the UK. He’s going to talk about its rationale, the effect that it has had, the challenges it faces, how he sees it progressing and how this all might relate to the Middle Way.


MWS Podcast 60: Rod King as audio only:
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About Barry Daniel

I live in the Lake District in the UK where I run a guesthouse with my partner Kate and my cat Manuel. I enjoy painting, hillwalking, reading, visiting and entertaining friends, T’ai Chi and playing the guitar. I’m engaged to a certain degree in the local community, as a volunteer with Samaritans and I’m a fairly active member of the local Green party. I’ve had a relatively intuitive sense of the Middle Way most of my adult life but it found a greater articulation and a practical direction through joining the society. It’s also been interesting and great fun engaging with other people with a similar outlook. My main contribution to the society is conducting the podcast interviews, something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and that I’ve learnt a lot from.

4 thoughts on “The MWS Podcast 60: Rod King on 20’s Plenty For Us

  1. At first I thought this might be a bit of a pedestrian (forgive the pun) topic, but actually found it interesting and inspiring. It’s a great example of a very practical application of the Middle Way, and it was good how precise Rod’s own account of the Middle Way was, obviously honed by experience.

    As with many practical ethics issues, though, there is another side of the case. There is another movement in relation to traffic regulation that you could see as moving in the opposite direction – that of ‘shared space’. It began with a town in Holland that got rid of all the signs in a bid to get people to take more responsibility for themselves. The village of Poynton in Cheshire did something similar, see http://www.citylab.com/commute/2013/04/lots-cars-and-trucks-no-traffic-signs-or-lights-chaos-or-calm/5152/ , as has the city of Gloucester near where I live.

    Rod’s emphasis seems to be communitarian – the 20 mile an hour limits are helpful because they bring the community together and benefit the majority. However, they do involve rules. People can be stimulated towards greater awareness by rules, to move out of too much left-brain focus (getting there, in this case) into more right brain focus. However, rules can also become repressive and legalistic, and in other cases removing the rules can help people become more right-brain focused. The advantage of getting that right-brain focus by removing rules is that it’s also an autonomous way of doing it, which strikes me as a better way of doing it in the end. If people can be stimulated into awareness of pedestrians in the street directly, rather than into awareness of 20mph signs, then it strikes me that the reasons for the rules that Rod wants to emphasise might come across in a more sustainable way.

    I wonder if at least some of the success of the 20mph limits is due to their novelty, and whether the design solution – of actually removing limits but making drivers feel less secure about ‘their’ space on the road – might not be a better long-term one. It may depend on how positively people respond to it (removing rules is always risky), but if it does work, it actually helps them to become more integrated in ways that rules do not. I do have a bit of an antinomian streak, so perhaps this is a matter of temperament. Rules are inflexible as well as potentially repressive. For example, we still needlessly have to follow speed limits, and stop at traffic lights, in the middle of the night when roads are totally deserted. The roads are also not short of rules already, and many of them are widely not observed. The more excessive rules we have, the more the power and purpose of those rules is potentially undermined.

    Maybe Rod’s approach is more realistic, nevertheless. And I really do appreciate his goals and their huge advantages in improving our urban spaces. Politically, it’s also a question of what you can get support for. Nevertheless, I also think we should be aware of the alternatives, and not assume from this example that the Middle Way is always necessarily communitarian (though, of course, it often can be).

    1. I would like to thank Robert for his observations and comment. Perhaps in a very “Middle Way” manner I can provide some context to the particular examples that he has highlighted and see how they fit into the movement for the setting of 20mph speed limits.

      Robert mentions “shared space” and then references the town in Holland (Drachten) that blurred the whole infrastructure with regard to separating vulnerable road users and motor vehicles. Its something which has evolved there gradually over time, particularly because of the cost of implementation. Pavements, railings, traffic lights are all removed in order to create a “negotiation” between the various road users. But there are several factors which should be take into account when considering this.

      The first is the legal and “rule” framework in which such schemes exist in Holland. In the Netherlands, (including Drachten) 70% of urban streets have 30km/h limits or lower. Most of such “shared spaces” therefore exist within a community where there is social and legal acceptance that speed should be limited. In addition, in the Netherlands, there is presumed legal liability for drivers of motor vehicles if in a collision with a vulnerable road users (a pedestrian or cyclist). Whilst not implying any guilt this makes the driver liable in civil for the consequences of his/her actions unless he/she can prove otherwise. Together these fundamentally change the context within which such sharing takes place. Indeed one could say that rather than shared space being an alternative to regulation it perhaps best implemented within a framework of appropriate laws and legal responsibilities.

      The second is that such an engineering is both “micro” in its effect and also very expensive. The Poynton scheme which primarily covers one junction and about 400m of a shopping street cost £3.5m. Yet it is surrounded by residential streets where 30mph speeds are endorsed. One must ask whether there has been any change in the social consensus on appropriateness of speeds outside the physically engineered junction. To make a comparison, a town of some 200,000 inhabitants could have a 20mph limit set on all of its residential streets and town centre for about £500,000 or even less if approached on a national basis with less signage. Personally, I really do like the work done in Poynton. But this should be viewed as an engineering solution to correct a problem at one particular junction and shopping street rather than a model that could be economically replicated for most roads.

      Robert points out that “rules” involve “left” brain focus, but in the case of 20mph speed limits the engagement and decision is not so much about complicated “rules” as an acknowledgment of the “right” brain values associated with the benefits to such a wide range of people within the community. Indeed the signage regulations have recently been modified to enable many road warning signs to be removed entirely if they are within a 20mph area. Hence in many ways an acceptance that “20’s Plenty” enables some of those rules to be removed. Couple this with the higher level of engagement between driver and pedestrian at lower speeds then it could be argued that a “lower speed rule” will enable far more “right brain focus”.

      Of course rules are inflexible. But often the “need” or otherwise of rules is dependent upon whether viewed at individual or societal level. The person perceiving a deserted road at 2am may also not be perceiving the late night reveller about to step into the road or the sleeping person being woken by the “roar” of a car doing 40mph. And where 20mph limits are being rolled out across authorities this is accompanied by programmes of community engagement to ensure that those society values can be transformed into tangible benefits for the individuals whose behaviour change is sought.

      It is also interesting to understand how the 20’s Plenty movement and adoption by so many local authorities is being viewed from abroad. From my experience with such observers its perceived as “progressive”, “pragmatic” and a very “British” way of doing things. And perhaps in 10 years time we will be looking back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

      1. Thanks, Rod. I take your point that the apparent patch of anarchy in the Drachten scheme can only exist within a wider context of legal controls. That would fit with a wider point that rules are necessary for socialisation. However, I think we should beware of idealising the reasons why people follow rules. Doubtless some people follow 20mph limits due to awareness of the wider community, but for many others the rule will also be irksome, and following it will involve a degree of repression and conflict. If I consult my own experience here when driving, it sometimes feels that way to me, and I practice meditation and other integrative practices intended to soften such inner conflicts – so it seems likely that many other people (especially those who don’t engage in such practices at all) will often feel repressed by speed limits. That doesn’t mean that, on balance, they’re not justified, but it’s due to a combination of conditions : one’s own narrow goal orientation and (to some extent) the contribution made to such conflicts by excessive regulation in our society.

        I can suggest two ways of dealing with this (neither of which need to be read as undermining your work at all). One is driving with wider awareness of the context, as a personal practice that could be supported both by meditation and by reflection and discussion. Another is a clear context of pragmatism around rules: that is, taking every opportunity to point out that they are there for a purpose that is only justified by certain limited conditions, and could be removed if those conditions change. It sounds as if your approach already involves much of the latter, but the boom in mindfulness currently going on may provide an opportunity to promote the former.

        1. Robert

          Yes, the idea of meditation, reflection and discussion is very much aligned to the transtheoretical model of behaviour change.

          We use a variation of this within the community debate and democratic process to make the decision to set lower speeds.

          1) A realisation that something is wrong with the way roads are shared.
          2) A contemplation about how we all need to play a part in reducing speeds
          3) A community discussion around how that can be achieved, the guidance, benefits etc,
          4) A democratic community decision at local government level to make that change
          5) A continuation of the discussion, as engagement and education ensures that the whole community understand the benefits
          6) Action as the community responds to the change in limit
          7) Maintenance of the behaviour change through enforcement and benefit appreciation

          Of course, it isn’t perfect, but maybe an acceptance of those imperfections is an important factor in the “middle way” approach.

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