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