Guest Post: Hamilton Trumps Wellington?

*This is a guest post by regular reader, Mr Plod, who may or may not have worked for Fonterra in Hamilton.

Hamilton now has a reason to be.

Wellington has suffered hugely at the hands of the Kaikoura earthquake. An earthquake that wasn’t even centred on one of the massive fault lines that run through Wellington. “While the precise scope of damages and their ongoing effects are still being assessed, currently it is believed that 16 buildings comprising 11 per cent or 167,300 sq m of Wellington CBD’s total office building stock, have been closed to occupiers – 47 percent of this space is classified by CBRE as prime quality stock,” A report from CBRE said

Using a generous 20 sqm per person (link) this amounts maybe 8,300 workers and some number of residents requiring temporary or permanently rehousing.

And this wasn’t the big one. Just imagine the carnage if it was.

What strategy should we adopt to manage the risk this imposes on New Zealand?

For the most part, Risk Management strategies adopt the following approach:

Once risks have been identified and assessed, all techniques to manage the risk fall into one or more of these four major categories:

  • Avoidance (eliminate, withdraw from or not become involved)
  • Reduction (optimize – mitigate)
  • Sharing (transfer – outsource or insure)
  • Retention (accept and budget)

(source)

All the current approaches are based around RETENTION, SHARING and REDUCTION with all of New Zealand collective underwriting the potential cost directly through our EQC levies and/or our willingness to do whatever is required in the event. I think it is time to move into AVOIDANCE mode.

The time is right to reconsider the role Wellington plays in New Zealand’s future as a centre of Government, Commerce and a place for investment. Don’t get me wrong, I love the place. My parents grew up there and I harbour many fond memories of long holidays there as a child and popping in and out for work since and passing through on my way to & from the South Island. On a good day Wellington sits majestically at the edge of a wonderful harbour and there’s nowhere better.

However, I’m not thinking of good days, I’m thinking of dark catastrophic days when ‘the big one’ renders large chunks of Wellington to rubble with significant loss of life and with mammoth cost and disruption to the country.

Our civic bodies, engineers and institutions are doing the right thing in forcing property owners to prepare by strengthening their buildings and building new ones to higher standards. This a great strategy but pales compared to the avoidance startegy. This is where Hamilton comes in.

It’s time to move our seat of government out of Wellington and to Hamilton. And do it now before another small fortune gets spent on ‘finishing’ the current Parliament Building complex.

And why Hamilton? Well, it’s not Auckland for starters and don’t underestimate the importance of that to the rest of NZ. It is probably at or soon to be at the population epi-centre of New Zealand. It has a good airport nearby, unlike Dunedin. It is doughnut shaped with an underperforming city centre just ripe to host an exciting new parliamentary precinct to house all our civil servants. It is nearby the residence of the Maori King. It already has an underground rail station (sort of) and this move would provide the impetus for a high speed rail service to Auckland & Tauranga. Its by-passing motorways are nearly complete so for those of us who wish to avoid central government we can cheerily drive on by to Taupo, Ruapehu or points further south. It is within the ‘golden triangle’ of Auckland, Tauranga and Hamilton, that Robert Jones of Fulton Hogan calls on to invest more capital into.  And government moving there would really turn the fortunes of the long floundering central city around.

I think it’s time to act absolutely positively on this as Wellington is going to wither anyway, and Hamilton is city of the future. I am sure the corporates and those who employ those large numbers of people already displaced will be seriously considering their options. The Directors of those companies are duty bound to do so. I’m equally sure that many will take the easy option and just move to Auckland adding to the housing and infrastructure problems here. Or even skip that option and go straight to the solid rock of Sydney. If those organisations already see a benefit in being close to the seat of power in Wellington won’t Hamilton be just as attractive? So let’s exploit that attraction, avoid the inevitable and keep them out of Auckland by moving our central government to central Hamilton. NOW!

Giving the Expressway a Run for its Money – Tilt Trains?

image-1

For a long time I have been fascinated with Tilt trains, I have now decided to write a post about them. For those that don’t know a tilting train is a train that is designed to tilt with the curve as banking around it. Think of it this way, when you are riding a bike as you move into a corner you tilt inwards which allows you to take the corner better at a higher speed. By tilting the train combats the centripetal force which causes inertia e.g. when standing you losing balance as you come around a curve. So when the curve goes to the right, the train tilts right, making a more comfortable ride as well as allowing faster speeds.

In Queensland there are two regional lines that run tilt trains, an Electric tilt train entering service 1998 built by Walkers, who are now owned by Downer (Tilt Train) service between Brisbane to Rockhampton covering 638km in in 7h45min, & a Diesel tilt train entering service 2003 built by Downer (Spirit of Queensland) between Brisbane and Cairns covering 1680km in 12h20min. They both have revenue top speed of 160km/h, however the Electric Tilt train holds the Australian record in a speed run hitting nearly 210 km/h just north of Bundaberg. The yellow boxes in the first attached timetable are the tilt train times, while the blue is the standard diesel, notice the 1h5m-1h50m difference in times.

image-2

image-3You are asking why does this matter, Australia has completely different infrastructure to New Zealand, we could never make those speeds. What if I told you these run on Queensland’s rail network, which is 1067mm Cape Gauge (Narrow Gauge) the exact same as us, as well as for the Electric Tilt Train using 25 kV AC Overhead lines the same used on Auckland Electrification, and the NIMT Te Rapa-Palmerston North Electrification.

So could tilt trains be used here, Britomart to Hamilton is over 138.7km, at current there is a 87.1 km electrification gap from Papakura to Te Rapa & 60km gap if electrification to Puke goes ahead. An estimate of the cost of electrifying the former was $433m, however this was 2008 and the actual report is hard to track down. There is also a single track section between Te Kauwhata & Amokura that should also realistically be duplicated.

Interestingly I looked into CAF, who built our Class AM EMU’s, they offer tilt train technology which they call SIBI, recently they have provided 8 Diesel tilt trains to Sardinia for $88m NZD, so they have experience in designing and building using this technology.

http://www.caf.net/en/innovacion-tecnologia/productos-tecnologicos/sibi.php

http://www.railjournal.com/index.php/rolling-stock/new-sardinian-dmus-to-enter-service-in-december.html

So we have a few options depending on the level of works you want to do, however I will simplify to two as examples

  1. Go all out, finish the electrification, upgrade a few stations Huntly, Te Rapa, Hamilton (There is a underground station that exists however is closed at current, double track Te Kauwhata & Amokura, complete the 3rd main (At the very least to Westfield), plus complete any other signal/track upgrades needed. These upgrades minus the stations would benefit freight speed/capacity as well, and many would argue are needed eventually regardless of intercity passenger services being introduced. This would be a quick, clean, modern comfortable service, if built with good windows (Because everyone loves a view), in train wifi, USB charging in the seats, as well as passenger trays for a laptop to watch a movie/catch up on emails, this service could be very competitive with driving.
  2. Start Small, procure from CAF, or another company some DMU tilt trains, upgrade a few Waikato stations, double track Te Kauwhata & Amokura while completing any track/signal upgrades necessary. Over time add upgrades depending on success.

So what do you think, have something like the below running to/from Hamilton, could technology like this give the Expressway a run for its money?

Midweek reading: Road pricing and safety, urban-rural, the history of California, and trees

Starting this week I’m trying out a new feature: a midweek post rounding up some new articles on transport and urbanism. (Time for writing more substantive posts has been a bit tight lately.) The themes will be familiar to regular readers.

Let’s start with congestion pricing – a perennial topic of fascination for economists. Congestion pricing is mainly seen as a policy to improve the efficiency of road networks by “pricing in” the cost of delay that motorists impose on each other. But, based on London’s experience with a cordon charge, it may also improve road safety for all users. Charles Komanoff at Streetsblog NYC reports on some new data:

Evidence keeps mounting that congestion pricing can catalyze major reductions in traffic crashes. A year ago I reported on research that vehicle crashes in central London fell as much as 40 percent since the 2003 startup of London’s congestion charge. The same researchers are now expressing the safety dividend in terms of falling per-mile crash rates, and the figures are even more impressive.

The researchers — economists associated with the Management School at Lancaster University in northern England — compared crashes within and near the London charging zone against 20 other U.K. cities, before and after 2003. Their conclusion: Since the onset of congestion charging, crashes in central London fell at a faster rate than the decrease in traffic volumes. As important as the reduction in traffic has been for safety, at least as much improvement is due to the lower crash frequency per mile driven.

In short, driving in the London charging zone isn’t just smoother and more predictable, it’s safer. And safer for cyclists as well as drivers, with the number of people on bikes expanding considerably as car volumes have fallen.

And on that note, a reminder that the best way to improve the safety of cycling is to increase the number of cyclists on the road (or better yet, cycleway):

But that’s the big smoke. It couldn’t happen here, in small, rural New Zealand, could it?

Maybe not. “Town Proper”, an urban design and transport blog, points out that we often get it wrong when thinking about the rural-urban balance in our society. (Riffing off a post I wrote a while back.) We tend to “mistake want as demand“:

Purportedly New Zealanders value open space, ball games and big houses. That does not hold up to our litmus test though. As reported above, most of New Zealanders have chosen to forgo big houses, large and open (private) spaces in exchange for the vitality of a denser area.

It is not like there is a critical shortage of open land in New Zealand – you can easily buy a dozen or so hectares with a big house for below Auckland’s average house price. Rather, people do not want to live there.

When you have multiple wants, you must make a choice as to the prioritization of your wants. It seems that while New Zealanders might want the rural lifestyle they have decided to choose the urban lifestyle over it. This is where so many commentators make a mistake, they confuse wants for demand. Demand is when you not only have the want for something, but also the ability (and the willingness to expend that ability) to obtain it.

There is little demand to live in rural areas (only 20% of Kiwis live in rural areas, and most of them in “rural centers”), why? I propose that generally Kiwis value the advantages of an urban area above the disadvantages.

Indeed. When planning cities, it’s important to take into account people’s needs and the real choices that they face, not just a hypothetical idealised notion of how people should live.

Which brings us to California. The land of technological disruption is steadfastly refusing to allow its housing market to change. And so demand for urban space – particularly the dense, connected urban space of San Francisco – is colliding with scarcity. TechCrunch’s Kim-Mai Cutler puts the issue in historical perspective: “A Long Game“:

I believe we’re hitting another major juncture, although I don’t know when it will deteriorate to the point that it forces real reform. California’s fragmented, post-war suburban model, which was created for a more even wage distribution in a mass industrial economy, is clearly becoming more dysfunctional by the year for a knowledge-and-services economy with a wider level of income stratification.

Not only are we not building enough housing overall, we have scarce sources of funding for supporting those on the lower-earning ends of a rapidly widening income spectrum. So we end up politicizing and extracting funds out of new construction even though we are 40 years deep into a largely self-imposed housing shortage.

There are a couple of disturbing trends showing up in the data. If you look across the state’s workforce, Californians born in 1990 are on average spending 50 percent of their income on housing. That’s way above the 30-percent-of-income level that is generally considered to be the threshold of whether housing is affordable or not in public policy conversations.

income-spending-housing

Then, if you look at working-class segments, commutes are rapidly rising for the lower-income workers in the region:

This is troubling because commute time is one of the strongest predictive factors in determining a child’s chances of climbing from the lowest income quintile to the highest-earning one. That morning and evening time between parents and children that is taken up by commuting is invaluable for bonding and child development.

The data on the length of commutes is incredibly important. As I found when I looked at Auckland’s commuting patterns, lower-income households can access lower rents by living further out, but the gains tend to be erased by added commuting costs. If there are also additional social costs from long commutes, it reinforces the importance of giving people the option to live closer in.

Back in New Zealand, and on a very different note, Peter H from Hamilton Urban Blog takes a look at street trees in Frankton Central, Hamilton. This kind of micro-scale analysis of urban places can be incredibly valuable in illuminating what’s good about a place and what can get better.

The following map shows existing street trees in Frankton Central. Viewed in terms of ecological function, Frankton Central’s street trees represent an incomplete system with gaps. Although the mapping of street trees points towards a substantial number of trees in the Frankton, these have only limited impact on the experience of green in the wider area.

Frankton central TreesThere are a number of streets with sporadic tree canopies as seen in the map above. The green network created by street trees varies widely in quality. Both ends of Commerce St have thriving street tree corridors that give those areas a distinct character. The interesting trees contribute an artistic flair to the retail part of Commerce St.

There are new plantings throughout the town, particularly in south-eastern streets, but the ecological, architectural, and urban quality benefits of these trees are not yet evident. The current town green network has gaps and there are sections of the Frankton that do not have any real trees.

It would be interesting to see some similar maps for different parts of Auckland. I wonder if Auckland Transport maintains a database of street trees in its road reserves?

Hamilton Bypass to be Bypassed

The NZTA yesterday announced they’ve awarded a $1 billion contract to build another bypass of Hamilton and comes after they spent $200 million on the existing bypass at Te Rapa which opened three years ago. Construction won’t begin till next spring as the contract includes the detailed design work which will take place first.

A consortium of contractors and designers has been awarded a contract to build the biggest roading project to be undertaken in the Waikato, the NZ Transport Agency says.

The 21 kilometre long Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway will be constructed by a group made up of Fletcher, Beca, Higgins and Coffey (FBHC), in an alliance with the Transport Agency.

The proposed design for the section includes five interchanges, 17 bridges and new connecting roads at Ruakura Road and Resolution Drive.

Waikato Expressway - Hamilton Bypass

As usual with these things there seems to be a fair amount of artistic licence that goes into the press releases. For example

The project is one of seven sections of the Waikato Expressway, a Road of National Significance (RoNS)identified by the Government as key to unlocking New Zealand’s potential for economic growth.

Once all seven sections are complete, the expressway is expected to cut travel times between Auckland and Tirau by up to 35 minutes and significantly improving safety.

So how much of that claimed 35 minute savings comes from this project and how much from the other sections that have already been completed or are under way? Including the time savings of other projects was one of the key criticisms of the NZTA by the board of inquiry that rejected the Basin Reserve Flyover in Wellington.

and

“The expressway connects inter-regional traffic with local destinations which is vital for the economy and for our vibrant communities. We have to get these things right and we can only do that if we partner up,” she says.

Hamilton Mayor Julie Hardaker says the project is important to growth and development in Hamilton and the wider Waikato region.

“We have been waiting in anticipation for completion of the Hamilton section of the expressway and it’s great to have this work now locked in,” she says.

“It is a fantastic project that will deliver considerable value to Hamilton’s economy and lifestyle.”

I’m not quite sure how a rural motorway out past the edge of town is going to do anything to make communities in Hamilton more vibrant and isn’t the point to allow traffic to bypass the city and get to or from Auckland faster. The project also isn’t likely to do much to the economy either. Even by 2041 some sections are still expected to have fewer than 10,000 vehicles per day using them – and that’s likely using the NZTAs often over-optimistic assumptions. Another way of putting that is it’s on par with what the old Kopu bridge carried back when it was a single lane bridge.

hamilton-2041volumes

I suspect that if this section was assessed on it’s own it might be lucky to scrape above a BCR of 0.2

I wonder how liveable and vibrant Hamilton would be if $1 billion was spent on projects that more directly benefited locals?

The SH1/SH26 roundabout – what is going on?

In this recent post Matt asked why we were still building dangerous intersections. One part of his post caught my eye, specifically proposed changes to the intersection of SH1 and SH26 in the Waikato. The location of this intersection is shown below.

SH1 and SH26a

 

You can see that the intersection exists firmly within the Hamilton urban area. Moreover,  I understand the area to the east is planned for residential growth in the future. I.e. there will be more and more residential development to the east.

The reason this caught my eye is because the proposed changes, in my opinion, seem likely to result in a horrific clusterfuck of an intersection that will, at a minimum, destroy urban amenity and, potentially, result in pedestrian carnage. In my opinion, this roundabout design is completely inappropriate for an urban area. And unlike NZTA I don’t agree t hat potential delays to vehicles are sufficient reason to provide wholly unsatisfactory facilities for pedestrians. Facilities that are so lacking that they seem likely to increase the risk of injuries to pedestrians who need to cross at this intersection.

The proposed changes are illustrated below.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

 

Now I should mention that the NZTA press release for the changes mentions an additional pedestrian crossing is to be located on SH26 to the east, which I presume (although can’t be sure) is beyond the extent of works shown above. The press release also noted the presence of a pedestrian underpass on SH1 to the south, which is being retained in the new design.

What NZTA are proposing for the southern and eastern approaches to the roundabout is relatively poor practice and ill-suited to an urban area such as this.

But perhaps most importantly, the proposed pedestrian facilities don’t seem to address what happens on the western approach to the roundabout. As anyone can easily see from StreetView below, NZTA’s beautiful junkspace landscaping is *already* being severely trampled beneath the feet of hapless pedestrians as they scamper across the existing road. QED there’s an existing problem that needs to be resolved, not ignored as the proposed design has done.

Crossing

Anyway, I was sufficiently motivated by this proposal to start digging for more information.

The background study for these intersection changes was completed in 2008. Given that it’s now almost 8 years since the study was completed, I thought I’d go and look at traffic volumes since that time. In the figure below I’ve totalled the AADT on the two closest counts on SH1 and SH26 over time (NB: This will double-count many vehicles, which is why the total AADT shown here is significantly higher than the figure of 37,000 vehicles per day using the intersection that is quoted in the NZTA in their press release. Nonetheless it’s likely to be broadly indicative of general trends in AADT).

AADT

 

The volumes bobble around a bit, although current AADT is about 3% below the level achieved in 2008, i.e. the time that the report supporting the proposed changes was developed. Is it reasonable to assume that vehicle volumes will increase or decrease from here?

Well, there’s some growth out this way so it’s plausible to suggest there may be more demand. On the other hand, there’s one major question that I’m not confident is addressed by the studies associated with this upgrade: The Waikato Expressway, specifically the Hamilton section.

For those who aren’t familiar with this project, it’s part of the RoNS programme.

While I’m no fan of the RoNS programme per se, if these projects are to go ahead then I would at least expect NZTA to maximise their potential benefits, especially with regards to re-configuring parallel routes to support more livable urban places. In this context, the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway is  high-speed, high-capacity route that seems likely to shift vehicles away from the existing SH1 and away from this roundabout. Construction of the Hamilton section is expected to start in 2016 with a target opening date of 2019.

I note that the NZTA website states that the Hamilton section of the expressway will:

  • Connect the Ngaruawahia section of the Expressway, completed in late 2013, to the Cambridge section, due for completion in late 2016.
  • Reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on Hamilton’s local road network by significantly reducing through traffic.”

And yet NZTA’s proposed changes to the SH1 and SH26 intersection (which appear to have been formulated prior to the RoN being confirmed) are designed to increase capacity.

One has to wonder why the NZ Transport Agency is spending $2 million to create a situation that is more dangerous for pedestrians than the present one, while at the same time spending the best part of half a billion dollars building a high-speed bypass around the same intersection.

Call me a simpleton if you will but I would have thought the more logical sequence of actions would be:

  1. Complete the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway in the next 3 years as planned; and
  2. Monitor changes to vehicle volumes in response to growth (which apparently is quite low at the moment) and expressway; and
  3. Develop options for the intersection which respond to these changes, but which are also appropriate for an urban area.

In terms of #3, this really brings us full circle. I cannot understand why NZTA would think the proposed design is appropriate for an urban area. I can tell you that in my opinion it’s most certainly not. While I’ll reserve my full and final judgment until I have more detailed information to consider, the proposed intersection seems to compromise pedestrian safety to a level bordering on negligence.

I know that’s a big call so let me present some reasons why:

  1. The design does not seem to meet the present need for a pedestrian crossing on the westbound SH1 approach, e.g. to access the adjacent school. There is already demand for this pedestrian movement, as we can see from StreetView. This demand will only increase as the area develops in the future.
  2. The approaches are wider than the current facility. The western approach on SH1 , for example, is three lanes wide. This will increase the distance pedestrians will have to cross before they reach the landscaped sliver of land in the middle of the road.
  3. The design incorporates features that seem likely to increase vehicle speeds. The western approach on SH1, for example, now includes what is effectively a “slip lane” for vehicles travelling through. This features will enable/encourage vehicles to maintain their speed on their approach to (and exit from) the intersection. This will increase risks to pedestrians who (legitimately) need to cross the western approach, and the severity of accidents.

I draw two *preliminary* conclusions from all this. First, the proposed changes to the intersection is unacceptably dangerous for pedestrians and should not proceed as designed. Second, the proposed intersection has been designed without consideration of the Waikato Expressway and thus are likely to represent poor value for money and low strategic fit.

I’d really like to know what others think: Am I mis-reading the situation here? Or is it as bad as it looks? An outdated and seemingly dangerous design being imposed on what is very much an urban area, just prior to a major expressway bypass opens? What is going on?

Why are we building dangerous intersections?

Two stories have recently caught my attention for the appalling treatment of people using roads who are not in cars.

The first was a few days ago from the local paper that covers the Hibiscus Coast and details the issues with a relatively new intersection that people keep running red lights at. It’s so bad parents are making kids waive silly flags as they cross the road.

It is only a matter of time before a child is killed at a dangerous Auckland intersection where up to 14 drivers a morning run red lights, concerned parents say.

There are four schools and a preschool near the four-way intersection at Millwater Parkway and Bankside Road, and near misses are a daily occurrence, the mums and dads say.

Silverdale School parents are so worried they have been doing surveys of the intersection, counting up to 14 red light runners a morning.

The group mans the site each school day for 30 minutes wearing high-visibility vests and handing out orange flags to children crossing the road in an effort to keep them safe.

The situation came to a head in the week before the school holidays when two cars crashed in the middle of the intersection, coordinator Penny Howard says.

“It was at 8.20 am when one car obviously ran a red and hit an oncoming car. Shrapnel was sent flying across the road. Thankfully a pedestrian wasn’t hit by it.”

Yes there are bad drivers out there but 14 red light runners a morning it suggests that perhaps there’s also a design issue with the intersection and surrounding area. I suspect one of the issues is the large empty fields on two of the corners plus having the school effectively set back behind a row of trees and a large berm are contributing to giving drivers visual cues that this is an area they can travel faster. I’d be interested to know from readers what options they think would help make the area safer and more kid friendly.

Millwater Dangerious intersection

On a related note, why the hell are we still allowing roads like this to be built without dedicated cycling facilities. It wouldn’t have taken much to add them when the road was being constructed but now it’s likely to be an expensive and difficult retrofit job.

The second example is from Hamilton where the NZTA yesterday announced plans to spend $2 million upgrading the intersection of SH1 and SH26. Despite the state highway designations the area is thoroughly in a residential area with houses, shops and a school all nearby.

The Hillcrest roundabout will be replaced with a new, larger roundabout which will have three entry lanes for city bound State Highway 1 traffic and a slip lane for vehicles heading onto State Highway 26 (Morrinsville Road).

The Transport Agency’s Waikato Highways Manager, Kaye Clark says the new roundabout will improve safety and help to ease congestion at the intersection.

“The Hillcrest roundabout is the city’s busiest with 37,000 vehicles using it every day,” she says.

“At peak times it is a major pinch point which we know causes a lot of frustration for people travelling through.

“The new, larger roundabout will make a difference to traffic flow.”

Mrs Clark says the Transport Agency investigated all possible improvements for the intersection, including traffic lights.

“We looked at installing traffic lights with a pedestrian crossing however our modelling showed this would have added to the congestion issues and caused more delays,” she says.

“More lanes would have been required to get traffic through as well as the larger roundabout will and having a signalised pedestrian crossing on a section of SH1 with such a heavy traffic flow would have caused significantly more congestion.

“We are confident that expanding the roundabout is the most balanced and effective solution possible here.”

As part of the project the Transport Agency plans to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists by building new paths and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26, so people can cross the road safely.

“With high traffic areas like this pedestrians and cyclists are safer on separated facilities,” Ms Clark says.

“We plan to build new paths on both sides of the entrance to the shopping centre and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26 (Morrinsville Road). The pedestrian crossing will have a raised refuge, so pedestrian can safely cross one lane and wait in the middle of the road before crossing the next lane.

“An existing underpass that takes pedestrians under SH1 will remain in place and a cycle lane will be formed from SH1 into SH26 giving both pedestrians and cyclists safe options to get around.”

Despite what they say it’s pretty clear the only thing the NZTA engineers cared about was the movement of cars and the intersection gives a giant middle finger to anyone not in a car. On the SH26 branch pedestrians have to either cross multiple lanes of traffic to reach the ‘refuge’. That’s may be fine for many people but what about those who can’t run such as the elderly or those with disabilities and would the designers let their children cross there? On the southern side of the SH1 branch the option is a likely dingy underpass that most people will probably ignore – like they clearly do now giving the number of desire lines through the planted median that are visible.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

I wonder how many parents let their children walk let alone cycle to that school.

Below is an example of one of the existing desire lines through the planted median and angled to just avoid the pedestrian barrier. I expect pedestrians will continue to prefer this more risky crossing than the pedestrian underpass a few meters away.

Hamilton SH1 desireline

To make matters traffic volumes through this intersection will likely drop in the near future as early next year the NZTA expect work to start on the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway which will see SH1 diverted to the east of Hamilton and away from this intersection. That is expected to be completed in 2019 and is shown below (and even by 2041 is expected to have remarkably low traffic volumes.

hamilton-2041volumes

What they’re proposing is obscene in an urban environment and will almost certainly have to be redone again in a few years time into a form that isn’t so hostile to people.

Hamilton Slow Streets hits some bumps

Hamilton has been a bit of a trail blazer in New Zealand with pushing ahead on reducing speed limits in residential areas in a bit to improve safety.

Road safety experts recognise that a 50km/h speed limit is generally too high for residential neighbourhoods, town and city centres where there are many people using the road for different purposes.

It is the intention of the Hamilton City Council to reduce the number and severity of crashes occurring on our local urban roads. Managing speed is crucial to achieving this because the outcome of all crashes is strongly influenced by the impact speed.

This graph shows the severity of pedestrian/vehicle crashes, and their relationship to the speed of the vehicle.

This is an initiative I fully support and hope to see rolled out to not just more suburbs in Hamilton but also in other cities around the country. So I was interested to see a press release from the AA today that initially appeared against the initiative.

Public want brakes put on Hamilton speed limit changes

Hamilton AA Members have voiced serious concerns over the speed limit changes taking place in the city.

To inform the AA’s submission on the latest proposed speed limit changes under Hamilton City Council’s Safer Speeds Areas project, the AA surveyed our Members in the city for their views.

The survey came back with an unprecedented level of comments from residents of the city.

Out of 1555 respondents, 855 took the opportunity to write additional comments at the end of the survey, showing there are extremely strong feelings in the community about changing speed limits.

The survey results showed that:

• 67% of AA Members opposed most streets in Hamilton becoming 40kph, with only 28% supporting this idea.
• 64% of AA Members say they have been more confused by speed limits since the last changes in March
• 78% of AA Members want Hamilton City Council to either delay or stop making any further speed limit changes, or put things back the way they were.

The comments from AA Members showed many people have been completely unaware of the changes and that there is a lot of confusion among drivers about what the speed limits now are on different streets. Many people also do not see any need for lower speed limits apart from around schools.

When I was reading this section of the release I was honestly quite shocked, particularly the last line. But this press release almost seemed like has two different personalities. I feel the second part is quite different and I have highlighted what I think the key point in the debate is.

“The AA supports making our roads safer and lower speed limits may well be appropriate in some areas,” says AA Vice President Trevor Follows.

“But it is clear from our survey that a huge number of Hamilton people don’t understand or agree with what has been done so far.

“We have never had this level of comments to any other survey. We had numerous replies from people saying the first they had heard about the changes was from the AA survey and they often lived on streets that had had their speed limits lowered.”

The AA is urging Hamilton City Council to listen to its residents and not roll out any further speed limit changes in the current form.

“It is time to pause, fully evaluate how the earlier changes have worked or not worked, and to rethink the wider roll out of lower limits,” says Mr Follows.

“People are not happy with the way these speed limits have been implemented. The council needs to improve the signage and other methods of letting drivers know what the speed limit is on the roads they are driving on. They also need to better inform the public about what they are doing and why.”

The AA wants to see more work done to change the look and feel of roads, so there are obvious differences between roads with limits of 40kph or 30kph compared to 50kph or higher speed roads.

Research has shown that drivers notice only a small proportion of road signs, particularly if it is on routes they regularly travel, and best-practice modern road design aims to achieve ‘self-explaining roads’ that allow people to understand at a glance what speed is appropriate.

“Merely adding some signs on the side of the road will do very little to reduce people’s speeds unless the public know what the speed limit is and understand and support the changes.

“The huge number of tickets issued within a few hours on Dinsdale Road recently showed what happens when the roading environment does not match the speed limit, people will be caught out and see it as a speed trap.

“That doesn’t mean drivers were deliberately ignoring the lower speed limit on Dinsdale Road. Many will have been travelling at what they think is the legal speed completely unaware that the limit had been reduced.”

The real issue is that many of our streets have been designed for higher speed limits and so as the AA note, just chucking up a new sign isn’t going to solve anything and is really an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff type solution. What is needed is for the council to really put some effort into changing the road environment. Changes to the road environment don’t necessarily need to be expensive and in many cases could just involve the use some paint in specific locations (like the example below) while other more costly improvements could be the installation of more physical infrastructure like speed tables or even narrowing down the road but the important thing is that these changes are made.

An example of using some paint to encourage drivers to slow down from Philadelphia