News / Road Safety

Lower speed limits come into force across Brunswick

Traffic on all but a handful of major roads will soon be capped at 40kmh

Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford says he is open to a 30kmh trial, but it should wait until drivers have adjusted to the new 40kmh rules.

Mark Phillips

CYCLING and walking organisations are urging Merri-bek Council to trial even lower speed limits in residential streets in Brunswick as the council begins to cap dozens of roads at 40kmh. 

They have the backing of new Merri-bek Mayor Adam Pulford, although he says it is unlikely to happen in his 12-month term in office. 

Pulford, who has identified road safety as his top priority during his year as Mayor, said there was a strong case to reduce the speed limit further to 30kmh but it would require state government support. 

The council has begun introducing mandatory 40kmh speed limits on all “local” roads throughout the municipality. By the middle of next month, 170 streets in Brunswick will have speed limits of 40kmh ahead of reduced traffic speeds across the rest of the city next year. The changes will ensure there is a consistent speed limit across all of Merri-bek as opposed to the current mix of limits in different parts of the city.

The council began installing new signage in local roads south of Moreland Road on Monday, November 20, and expects to complete the project by December 15. 

It will then begin the second stage in Coburg and Pascoe Vale South in the middle of January. By the time all six stages have been completed by the middle of next year, 94% of Merri-bek’s road network – or 1061 roads in total – will have speed limits of 40kmh. 

Currently, the default speed limit on Brunswick’s roads is 50kmh, although most roads east of Sydney Road and south of Albion Street already have a 40kmh limit, including sections of Lygon Street and Sydney Road itself. 

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The changes will only apply to local roads controlled by the council, with other roads classified as collector, major or arterial which fall under the remit of the state government left unchanged. 

But the council is hoping that permanently reducing speeds in back roads will make them safer for all users as research shows that lower speeds significantly reduce the chances of serious injury or death in a collision. 

“Our streets should be safe for everyone using them to get around, whether they’re walking, riding, rolling or driving,” Pulford said.  

“Reducing the speed limit on our local roads is one way we are improving safety, and it could save lives.” 

A study by the Curtin-Monash Accident Research Centre showed that speed contributed to the severity of road crashes and resulting injuries, especially for vulnerable road users such as pedestrians or cyclists. The study found that by reducing the speed limit from 50 kmh to 40 kmh, the chance of a fatal injury is reduced by more than half (from 80% to 26%) 

During the five-year period between January 2018 and December 2022 there were 677 crashes on Merri-bek-controlled roads. Almost 40% of these crashes involved a vulnerable road user, pedestrian, or cyclist, with 210 resulting in significant injury and two fatalities.           

The 40kmh speed limit was first included in the council’s transport strategy in 2010 and again in 2019 but has taken several years to implement during negotiations with the state government. 

Roads that will continue to have higher speed limits include major east-west links like Dawson Street/Glenlyon Road, Victoria Street, Albion Street, Moreland Road, and Hope Street, a collector road where residents have been campaigning this year to reduce its speed limit from 50kmh to 40kmh. 

North-south routes like Melville Road, Pearson Street, Nicholson Street and Holmes Road will also be unaffected as they are designated as either major or arterial roads. 

Pulford said changes to these roads would only be considered by the state government on a case-by-case basis, but he agreed that in some of them there was a strong argument for lower speed limits.  

“I think it’s great that residents are speaking up about their concerns and safety of their streets,” Pulford said. 

“We regularly advocate to state government for changes to our streets to make them safer. That can be the speed limit reductions, it can be in separate protected bike lanes, it can be pedestrian crossings.  

“One of the things I’m keen to do [as Mayor] is to keep the pressure on the state government to make the roads they’re responsible for safer for our community as well.” 

Map showing streets where 40kmh is already the speed limit and streets where it is being introduced (click on image to see it full size).

The reduced speed limits have been welcomed by cycling and walking groups, but they want the council to go further to a 30kmh limit on residential streets. 

In the neighbouring City of Yarra, the council has just voted to expand a 30kmh trial to all streets in Fitzroy and Collingwood, apart from major roads. 

“[The 40kmh limit] is proactive and it will make a big difference,” said Faith Hunter of the Merri-bek Bicycle User Group. 

“It makes it safer for pedestrians and riders by reducing the likelihood of death or serious injury if they are hit by a car and also creates an environment where people feel safer and more confident if they make the choice to ride or walk. It creates a much more pleasant environment, and all of those things make for better street life.” 

Hunter said the city of Amsterdam was about to reduce the speed limit on the majority of its road network to 30kmh, and Merri-bek should do the same. 

Andrea Bunting from Walk On Merri-bek said 30kmh should be the standard on all residential streets, but speed limits also needed to be reduced around shopping strips, particularly Melville Road, where a pedestrian was killed earlier this year

“This is a good thing but it’s certainly not enough because we need 30kmh where people are living and walking and kids are playing, but we need lower limits on these collector roads and other streets as well,” Bunting said. 

Pulford said he would support a 30kmh trial but would be reluctant to do it in the short-term until drivers had adjusted to the new 40kmh limits. 

“The stats show that reducing speed limit make the streets safer so I’m open to 30 kilometres,” he said. 

“So now that we’ve got 40 Ks, I think that’s great, let’s roll that out. But we are still talking to the Department [of Transport] about trial of 30 kilometre zones.  

“I suspect, we would start maybe in the areas that have been 40 kilometres for a while because you don’t want to change to 40 then change it to 30 straightaway, it’s a bit too confusing.” 

While not commenting directly on the changes in Merri-bek, motorists organisation RACV is in favour of 40kmh zones around schools where possible.

“When setting speed limits, governments should consider the road standard, roadside conditions, adjacent land use, and traffic volumes so that the speed limit is appropriate for the people who use the road,” said RACV Policy Lead – Safety, Sam Lynch.

“Importantly, any speed limit reduction should be supported by strong community engagement, campaigns and done in conjunction with awareness campaigns to warn road users of road safety risks.”

Merri-bek businesses and residents that live in and around the areas which will have lower speed limits will receive further information in the mail as and when each stage of the project commences. Various signs and posters will also be displayed in and around affected areas between November 2023 – June 2024. 

The speed reduction rollout is due to be completed in June 2024, with new limits enforced by Victoria Police. 

This story was updated on November 28 with comments from the RACV.

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