Should Prague introduce a 30km speed limit?
If you live in Prague, you may have found yourself stuck in traffic in recent weeks due to a series of ongoing protests campaigning for a 30 km/h speed limit in the city. The protesters say it would have numerous benefits for health, safety, and the environment, but the idea is facing opposition from motorists.
There have been more than 10 protests in Prague since the beginning of March campaigning for a 30km speed limit inside the city. The protests take the form of marches accompanied by a police escort along busy arterial roads, considerably slowing down traffic.
But the protesters say that the city has prioritised cars for too long, at the expense of other, more sustainable modes of transport.
“Prague is overcrowded with cars and they are making the life of people in Prague significantly worse. They are way too fast, and there are way too many of them.”
“The Prague city council has done literally nothing to improve bike and pedestrian safety in Prague – in fact, they’ve done the opposite. Cars are basically just expanding into sidewalks, and they are getting used to doing whatever they like.”
And safety is not the only issue. Ondřej Mirovský, a Prague local politician from the Green Party, says that safety is the primary concern, but there are other benefits too.
“The problem nowadays is that we have more pedestrian accidents in comparison to previous years, and the number is rising. Another benefit is that the cars drive more slowly in the city, so we have less noise. The numbers from Brussels, for example, where they introduced a 30 km/h zone two years ago, confirmed that they really have less noise.”
The protesters point out that many other European cities, such as Paris, Brussels, and Helsinki, have already introduced a 30 limit. But Petr Macinka, chairman of the pro-drivers ‘Motoristé sobě’ party, disagrees with the idea that a comparison can be drawn with Brussels, or indeed any other city.
“Every big city is different. It has its own specificities, it is unique, and therefore we cannot make a universal judgement that what is suitable for one, must be suitable for all. These people who want to bring the 30 km/h speed limit to Prague, they often use Paris as an example. But Paris has its own city circuit – in fact, two of them, and the third is being finished at the moment. Prague hasn’t even got the inner circuit finished. Until we have these infrastructure projects finished, it is complete nonsense to introduce a 30 km/h speed limit inside Prague.”
But increased safety and less noise are not the only benefits that the proponents of the speed limit see. There is also an environmental argument. Prague, like many other Czech cities, has long struggled with air pollution and poor air quality is one of the biggest environmental problems affecting the city, which this young protester sees as the biggest issue.
“This change would result in many positive things for everyone. One is of course safety in the city, but the other one, which I personally find even more important, is the environment and the quality of the air.”
Reducing the speed limit, the protesters argue, would reduce emissions, which would improve the city’s air quality and would help Prague move towards meeting EU climate goals, which, according to another protester, the city is lagging hopelessly behind in.
“We are way behind in doing anything about climate change – we are doing less than nothing. We don’t think that 30 in Prague is going to solve climate change, but it is going to allow people to travel on bicycles, on foot, on scooters.”
But Petr Macinka sees this as a form of eco-terrorism, with a small minority imposing their views on the majority and creating havoc in the city.
“These blockades are organised by Last Generation and Extinction Rebellion, which were founded here by the same guy, Arne Springorum. This is the same guy who was sentenced to jail in London for exactly the same things he is trying to do here in Prague. These people are extremists. In different Western countries they stand in front of the court, but in the Czech Republic, they are partners for discussion. I don’t understand how this is possible.”
What’s more, Macinka says that the denizens of Prague already gave a firm no to the idea of a 30 km/h limit in Prague in the municipal elections a few months ago. Macinka sees the protesters as trying to violate the democratic process, by continuing to protest after not succeeding in the local elections.
“The only political party – or rather, a coalition of four parties – who had the 30 km/h limit in their programme, didn’t succeed. They didn’t even enter the city council. That means the citizens of Prague refused this idea. And yet the same people from that political coalition that didn’t succeed in the elections, they now don’t respect the result of the democratic elections, and they try to violate the city and to blackmail society by doing these blockades, and it’s absolutely unacceptable.”
But Ondřej Mirovský defends the method of protest, saying it has proven to be successful in other European cities in the past.
“For example, in Amsterdam, they also started with this type of protest 40 years ago, and now they live in a very safe and very nice city. So sometimes even this means of protest makes sense. I understand that some people might be fed up that they are stuck in a traffic jam, but 99% of these traffic jams are caused by cars. The problem of Prague is that we have too many cars on the streets.”
He also believes that the majority of Prague residents support the idea of the 30 km/h speed limit, but that they are not heard as often as people who oppose it because the opposition is very loud and vocal.
“I’m quite sure that there is quite strong support for this, but the voice of the majority is not that strongly felt because the minority of people who use cars in Prague are quite noisy. But if you see the numbers of the modal split in Prague, most people commute by public transport, they walk, they use bikes. Only 30% of journeys per day are done by car.”
It is too early to say yet whether the protesters will get their way, but with several more marches planned until at least the end of June, the proponents of 30 for Prague certainly show no signs of giving up any time soon.