SDLP Foyle MLA Pat Ramsey has succeeded in moving proposed new road traffic legislation one step closer to reality after winning the unanimous support of the Assembly.
Mr. Ramsey’s proposed Road Traffic Speed Reduction Bill has now moved to the next stage of the legislative process at Stormont.
The Bill aims to see traffic speed decreased from 30mph to 20mph in residential areas across Northern Ireland.
Speaking in the Assembly chamber after introducing the Bill, Mr Ramsey insisted his proposals will save lives.
The Foyle MLA also highlighted the various “safety, health and societal benefits” to introducing an optional 20mph limit to residential areas.
He said: “This Bill is not simply about reducing speeds on local roads, it offers an opportunity for neighbourhoods to reclaim their streets, an opportunity for kids to play safely, and it is a fresh opportunity for us to build better communities at minimum cost for maximum return.
“In earlier consultations, many of the key stakeholders baulked at the thought of a blanket reduction. This is something I have taken on board. This effort will not be successful if new limits are imposed. Rather, we are seeking not a blanket ban, but a phased in, community requested, community led approach.
“Having undertaken a considerable amount of consultation, I can report that the reaction to and support of this bill has been incredibly encouraging. District Councils across Northern Ireland, the PSNI and countless children’s charities and transport organisations have all voiced their support.
“This bill offers us a chance to improve safety, health, environmental factors and community benefits. This bill also has the potential to tackle obesity rates and improve community health due to increased rates of walking and cycling. If that doesn’t carry it past the threshold of worthwhile legislation, then I wonder how high we’ve set the bar?”
He pointed to the example of Hull Council in England which recorded a growth of six times the incidence of cycling after introducing 20mph zones.
Edinburgh, meanewhile, reports that their 20mph zones have the best air quality in Scotland - bucking national and European trends.
He added: “In 2014, a total of 79 prematurely bereaved families were forced to deal with the consequences of a fatal road collision. Road fatalities irrevocably change lives. There is no shying away from that. It is also true to say that they have financial implications to the economy. Department for Transport figures suggest this is as high as £1.95 million per fatal collision.
“Traffic is the biggest cause of death following medical illness in children. Chief among the supporters of this bill is the NI charity, PlayBoard. There is no higher value than life and I am in no doubt that the new lower limits will save lives. If we save one life with the passing of this bill, then surely that is good legislation.”