Around 80 per cent of Edinburgh’s roads are set to be affected by the scheme, which won backing from councillors last year.
City chiefs have revealed phase one of the project – which will cover the city centre from Queen Street to the Meadows – will be brought into play from July.
The initial proposals were met with a groundswell of opposition when they were announced last year, with more than 6000 people liking the Say No to 20mph page on Facebook and upwards of 2700 signing a petition calling for the decision to be reversed.
But despite this early backlash, the council’s citywide consultation on the issue, made public yesterday, received only 86 responses. Of these, 54 were objections – with only 27 indicating they supported the plans.
Councillor Lesley Hinds, the city’s transport leader, said: “Introducing 20mph in residential streets, shopping areas and the city centre will undoubtedly improve safety and that a relatively low number of people objected during the formal consultation demonstrates the public’s acceptance of and, indeed, support for, 20mph limits.
“What’s more, we want to strike a balance between all road users and for this reason a number of key, arterial routes will be maintained at 30 and 40mph.
“We are now ready to take a bold step towards becoming a 20mph city, a change that is set to improve safety and enhance the environment in streets all over Edinburgh.”
Edinburgh’s 20mph roll-out is the first of its kind in Scotland and will be implemented in six phases over 24 months, with the entire city set to be covered by February 2018.
But key arterial routes in the suburbs – including Ferry Road, St John’s Road and Telford Road – will retain their 30 and 40mph limits.
Residents objecting to the scheme, which will cost £2.22 million, raised concerns about increased congestion, road safety and longer journey times.
Neil Greig, of the Institute of Advanced Motorists, said the low number of objections could be the result of residents’ conflicting views over the proposals.
He said: “It’s not uncommon for people to like the idea of 20mph zones outside their own homes, but to actually object to it across the whole of Edinburgh.
“I always felt it was inevitable [the council] would go ahead with this. They have made it such a cornerstone of their policy, and they’ve spent so much money on it.”
Mr Greig also raised concerns over the council’s approach to enforcing the ban – insisting it presented a “key weakness”.
A council spokeswoman said the authority aimed to change driver behaviour through “education, awareness raising and prevention activities”, including signs.
And while most speed cameras are stationed on roads that will remain at 30 or 40mph, the local authority is in discussion with police about what will happen to those devices affected by the change.
The Evening News revealed last year that some of the city’s older cameras would be unable to enforce the new limit.
Mr Greig said: “It’s only enforced by signs. Ultimately the police are never going to have the resources to enforce this. It’s just not practical.
“I’ve just felt all along that this will make no difference to safety. If you really want to make people feel safe, you should be looking to change the nature of the roads. That could include traffic calming measures, shared spaces or narrowing the roads. It’s about actually spending more money on infrastructure.
“Ultimately most of the roads in Edinburgh are so congested you can’t do more than 20mph on them anyway.”
Alex Johnstone, Scottish Tory transport spokesman, insisted introducing “a blanket 20mph limit” would be a mistake.
He said: “This is Scotland’s capital city, and when people arrive they expect to see things moving. What’s worse is that blanket speed zones actually dilute focus away from those areas, like schools, which genuinely benefit from a 20mph limit.”
But Rod King, founder and campaign director of 20’s Plenty for Us, said the Capital was joining a growing number of forward-thinking cities slamming on the brakes to boost road safety.
He said: “It’s really something that makes a city much more liveable. And it makes hardly any difference to people in cars.
“In our cities today, it’s not how fast you go between the traffic lights and the congestion points that makes a difference to your journey time.
“But [going at 20mph] makes a huge difference to how everyone else experiences the city.”
[Source: Alistair Grant, Edinburgh Evening News]