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Focusing on safety

One of the big reasons for making improvements to our streets is simply for safety. Safety for pedestrians, safety for cyclists and safety for drivers. We’ve been talking about safety a lot over the last month or so and despite the great news that 2013 has the lowest road toll in New Zealand for over 60 years, it’s still way too high.

One of the lessons New York has learned as a result of its roll out of bike lanes is that not only does it make the streets safer for cyclists but for all users of a street. The reason for this is often quite simple, far too many of our streets have been designed with only the movement of cars in mind. This often means roads with wide traffic lanes, big intersections to try and cater for all movements and as few pieces of pedestrian/cycling infrastructure as possible.

Cities like New York are striving to improve safety and despite the impressive gains that they’ve made so far it clearly isn’t enough and last year 286 people were killed on traffic crashes – or as some are now calling it “Traffic Violence”. Bill De Blasio, the new mayor of New York has just announced what he calls “Vision Zero” which is a vision to reduce that traffic violence to zero.

Just two weeks after his inauguration, New York mayor Bill de Blasio did something safe street advocates have been demanding for years. The mayor outlined comprehensive changes in the city’s approach to traffic fatalities, treating the issue as “a public health problem” and ordering city government branches to pull together to reduce those deaths to zero.

and

In his remarks on Wednesday, de Blasio put traffic safety in the spotlight. “I said on Inauguration Day that we were here to make changes, and I meant it,” he said. “This is an example of where we will act immediately.”

The mayor pointed out that last year, the city hit a record low of 333 homicides, but that nearly as many people – 286, by last count – died in traffic. “It is shocking to see how those two numbers correspond,” he said. He noted that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death among New Yorkers younger than 14, and the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths among New York’s seniors.

The mayor’s approach calls for an unprecedented coordination among the NYPD, the city’s Department of Transportation, its Department of Health, and the Taxi Commission. De Blasio said he wants to see detailed plans from the leaders of those agencies by February 15.

As a comparison, Auckland had 48 deaths on the road in 2013 which on a per capita rate is about the same as New York (and for those interested the murder rate in Auckland to 30 June 2013 was 41)

Perhaps it’s time for Len Brown and the council to announce something similar.

One change that De Blasio singled out is that on many streets the speed limit was simply too high and that reducing them to 20 mph (30kph) would be more appropriate. In Auckland the only streets I can think of off the top of my head that have lower speed limits than 50 km/h are Queen St (30 km/h) and Ponsonby Rd (40km/h) and the shared spaces. To me expanding the number of streets that have lower speed limits is something that could be done fairly quickly and cheaply if there was the political will to do so.

Closer to home Wellington has just announced it is looking at extending the area covered by its 30km’h speed limit in the CBD

A central-city slowdown is looming for Wellington motorists as a 30kmh speed limit is considered for a further 64 streets.

Public feedback will be sought next month on a proposal to extend the 30kmh speed limit from the Golden Mile to the rest of the central business district, where the limit is now 50kmh.

The change would cost about $250,000, and include parts of The Terrace and Taranaki, Tory, Willis, Featherston, Ghuznee and Dixon streets. The harbour quays and Vivian St would not be included.

Extending the 30kmh limit recognised that pedestrian safety problems were not caused only by buses, and were not restricted to the Golden Mile, Wellington City Council transport and urban development committee chairman Andy Foster said.

Most drivers were probably driving at about 30kmh already, but officially reducing the speed would help bring the top speeds down. “That, obviously, is something that is highly desirable.”

Cutting the speed was also about improving the chance of surviving crashes. People would always make mistakes, but the consequences for pedestrians at 30kmh were a lot less serious than at 50kmh, he said.

The plan has gained tentative support from other road users. NZ Bus general manager strategy Scott Thorne said the company supported moves to improve safety, and the change was unlikely to have much impact on travel times.

While in Christchurch the plan is also to have 30km/h speed limits through the central city. It’s something that raised the ire of some including TVNZ’s seven sharp reporter however the results of a time test weren’t quite what they expected.

Seven Sharp christchurch speed

Is Auckland Transport planning on doing anything like this? Evidence so far suggests it is not.

16 comments to Focusing on safety

  • Logan

    “Traffic Violence” is not a helpful term; it sounds more like something PETA would disseminate if their calculated hysteria were about traffic instead of animals. There is a difference between unintended collisions and intended violence.

  • Let’s talk about evidence.

    Auckland Transport’s website claims “We strive to provide reliable public transport, walking and cycling as alternatives to one person travelling in a car.”

    By definition, “strive: v. 1. To exert much effort or energy; endeavor. 2. To struggle or fight forcefully.”

    - Adding barely 7km of “cycle lanes and shared paths” in a year does not show much evidence of striving.
    - Dumping a strategically cherry-picked study of red-light running as a response to being called out for being slower than a hippo in progressing cycle lanes; that is not very “strive-y”
    - Having your Media Manager declare in NZ’s biggest newspaper that Auckland’s level of cycling will never approach Copenhagen’s because his mate once worked there and he says their streets and footpaths are wide; that has to be categorically un-strivey (as well as pretty damned arrogant and a lot ignorant).

    I could go on, but on evidence, I guess they just use a different dictionary to the one I have in my world. In their dictionary, “strive” appears to mean “know it’s important to have these words on our website”.

    And: to your average management consultant this would provide evidence of a pretty major disconnect inside such an agency in terms of staff engagement, mission, values and so on.

    I had thought (hoped, dreamed) that Lester Levy and Len Brown would be all over this, leading and demanding positive change, with David Warburton effecting it. Evidence, as you say, suggests otherwise.

    Yes I am angry, as well as disappointed.

    • Greg N

      “Striving” is PR speak for something which is aspirational, AT doesn’t really expect to achieve this goal
      (like we all don’t expect expect to “retire” – even though we’d all like to).

      On evidence AT does do a lot of striving as in “effort,, energy and endeavour”- mostly telling people what they’re gonna do.

      But they also seem to struggle and fight forcefully when it comes to actually doing it.
      Its more like they misread the second definition as “struggle or force fitfully” and thats exactly what they’re doing – “struggling”, and “forcing it in a fitful (and pitiful) fashion”.

      Unfortunately AT doesn’t actually answer to Auckland Council – its board is mostly government controlled appointees. So they like the status quo very much thank you.
      And it shows with the AT double-speak.

      • Steve D

        AT’s board is still mostly full of the original government-appointed members, but that’s because Auckland Council has chosen to keep them. The council does now have the power to appoint whoever it likes. The government probably does have more influence on AT than the actual council, but that’s due to the strings-attached nature of NZTA funding, the close relationship NZTA and AT need to have, and council dysfunction.

  • Well there is an opportunity for someone to break out of the group-think here by showing real leadership on this issue. They will be the one who is remembered in the way these other mayors and transportation heads overseas are…. who will it be?

  • A Murder total of 41 in Auckland sounds a little high.

    According to the URL below, “Homicide and related offenses” ( Murder, attempted murder, manslaughter *and* Dangerous driving causing death) was just 18 in Waitamata, Auckland City and Counties Manakau in the year to June 2013 (page9 of pdf, page 7 of document). See also the first diagram in the document.

    Rules of thumb:

    Person killed on road: 1 per day
    Cyclist killed on road: 1 per month
    Pedestrian killed on road: Every 10 days
    Motorcyclist killed on road: 1 per week
    Person Murdered: 1 per week

    http://www.police.govt.nz/sites/default/files/publications/crime-stats-national-20130630.pdf
    http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/road-deaths/toll.html

  • NIck

    I’m not convinced about lowering speed limits too much. Have you ever really tried to drive at 20kmh or 30kmh in a normal street? It’s very hard. It seems really really weirdly slow. It seems much better to go for shared spaces or traffic-calming measures that enforce a lower speed limit naturally, than imposing an arbitrary low limit

    • Greg N

      Thats because the street is too wide for your speed, so your brain wants you to speed up but know you shouldn’t but it feels like you’re going really slowly as a result.

      Shared spaces, make the road/area seem much busier – so the brain is kept busy looking around and so whatever the speed you’re going seems much faster than it is, so you slow down to compensate.

      Its a visual/cognitive trick but it works.

      And its why they paint white lines on the sides of wide roads to make them narrower (and its partly why people speed up in passing lanes as the road feel much wider so you speed up a bit even when in the non-passing lane – of course another reason is that some people are just pricks and speed up anyway)

      • Nick R

        The passing lane this is a purely natural and expected outcome. On narrow winding roads people drive slower. When the road straightens out and widens with a whole other lane people drive faster. It’s just natural driving to the conditions. I don’t know why anyone would expect people not to speed up when they leave a narrow winding section.

        • Greg N

          You are right, of course they will.

          Its that some passing lanes are on winding hilly roads, and people still speed up when they come to them as the road feels wider and so they speed up.

          Secondly many passing lanes are on the end /middle of a long straight road, so many drivers will putter along at 80-90ks on that straight, then when they hit the passing lane they immediately speed up to 100ks or more, then drop back to their previous speed once the passing lane ends.

          So its as much psychological for how the driver perceives the road as it is physical road.

  • Konrad Kurta

    Re. safety, people in this hemisphere understanding that cyclists are actually commuters as well as recreationers would be a great start. http://www.theage.com.au/business/regulate-bicycles-off-the-road-20140117-30ytz.html

  • John Polkinghorne

    Matt – you can also add Hamilton to your list of cities which have reduced their speed limits in many areas (possibly to a greater extent than any other NZ city). 30 km/hr now applies through much of the CBD, and 40 km/hr in many residential areas – but it differs by suburb, I think because some suburbs didn’t want to change and others did. See http://www.hamilton.co.nz/our-council/policies-bylaws/bylaws/Documents/Hamilton%20City%20Speed%20Limit%20Bylaw%202013%20Map.pdf

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