Top Gear and Grand Tour’s James May: ‘20mph speed limits make perfect sense’

Hammersmith resident James May told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme he backs 20mph speed limits.

As speed limits on more London roads are being lowered, Top Gear and The Grand Tour presenter James May has said that “20mph is plenty”.

TfL and London’s borough’s are continuing to lower the speed limit on many of their roads and limits are being lowered in Wales and Scotland.

The Times yesterday reported 20mph could be the default speed limit in England’s urban areas, although this has been denied by the Department for Transport (DfT).

Hammersmith resident May told BBC Radio 4’s Today that he supports 20mph limits.

“It will probably make me quite unpopular but I’m too old to worry about that sort of thing now,” he said.

“I would agree that a blanket 20mph would probably be a bit knuckleheaded, but in a lot of urban places - cities centres, towns and villages - actually 20mph makes perfect sense.

“I live in Hammersmith in west London, which is an area where people seem particularly fond of just sort of running out into the street without looking - which is their prerogative because they’re people, not machines. 20mph is plenty fast enough and 30mph does feel to fast.

“To be honest if you could go around somewhere like London or Manchester or Birmingham at a constant 20mph you’d be absolutely delighted.”

Neil Greig, director of policy and research at the Insititute of Advanced Motorists, told the programme that a blanket change in speed limit should not be introduced without changes to the streets themselves, and the environmental cues.

He told Today: “The problem with just simply changing [the limit to] 20mph and not changing the road is that drivers continue to drive on at the previous speeds. And that means you don’t have the safety benefits and you don’t have the active travel benefits of changing the environment to make it easer to walk and cycle.”

May said: “He has a point to an extent but I do a lot of cycling as well, around London and I think we can become over obsessed with things like rules, street furniture, signage, traffic lights and so on.

“They’ve been doing this with a bike lane near me, which I think is actually not particularly well thought out because you have a two-way road running alongside a two-way bicycle lane, with lots of junctions on there. The attempts to control it with lights and signs and warnings - they’ve proliferated to the point where it’s becoming baffling.

“I think all these things, ultimately, are cured by a change in attitude, not a change in signage or infrastructure or colours or anything like that. And that might be a stepping stone to ending road sectarianism and making towns and cities nicer for everybody to travel around in.

“I think, ultimately it is about, well, a mindful attitude. I hate to sound very right on, but it is.”

A DfT spokesperson said: “There are no plans to introduce default or national 20mph speed limits in urban environments.

“We have always encouraged road designs that enable low speeds to prioritise safety. It is for local authorities to consider setting 20mph speed limits on streets where people and traffic mix.”