Sunday reading 5 June 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading this long weekend.

We start this week with a borrowed slide explaining the way that the quality of your city’s Transit system controls the quality of your driving commute:

DOWNS-THOMPSON PARADOX

This explains what’s wrong with current expansion of SH16 and the completion of the Western Ring Route. The Transit part of this project is woefully inadequate: Intermittent bus lanes on the shoulder of the motorway are unlikely to lead to sufficiently fast or reliable bus travel times, this means the choice of taking the bus will probably not be attractive enough to tempt enough people away from driving on the newly widened motorway. This will lead to more induced driving and an increase in traffic congestion [which ironically will further slow those buses, because they are not on their own RoW]. Perhaps not immediately on the new parts of motorway itself, but certainly on local feeder roads and especially in the city and CMJ where the State Highways 1 and 16 and city exits all meet.

The biggest beneficiaries of high quality Rapid Transit are those who need or choose to drive. The better the alternative; the better your drive.

Staying with the value of Rapid Transit let’s head to Montréal where plans for a new layer of Rapid Transit has just been announced [in Lime Green below, with existing networks], which raises important issues around driverless technology:

reseau-electrique-metropolitan-montreal-metro-subway-map-connections

Similar to Vancouver’s Canada Line, a system that CPDQ also has a financial stake in, trains will run every three to six minutes along the mainline and every six to 12 minutes on the three branch routes, including the train service from the airport to downtown. In contrast, the Deux-Montagnes commuter rail line is limited to every 20 to 30 minutes during rush hour and every hour outside of rush hour on weekdays.

But these high frequencies are only possible due to the nature of automation, which makes frequent train services significantly more economically feasible to operate. If there is a surge in demand, operators can easily and quickly increase frequency by deploying more trains by switching the controls at the operations centre.

With driverless technology, the operating costs are markedly lower than systems that require drivers and it has the potential to attract more ridership given that frequent services and superior reliability increase the utility of a transit system. Knowing that a train or bus will come soon, a transit service with a high frequency means transit users do not have to worry about service schedules. This reduces waiting times and connection times between transit services.

We really need to have a Transport Minister and Ministry just as excited about the opportunities for these technologies in the PT space as they are about them for private vehicles, the value is huge and the technology proven. SkyTrain in Vancouver has been driverless since 1985, carries 117m pax pa, and has run at an operating surplus every year since 2001.

Staying in Canada, here is how Montréal can have such ambitious city-building plans, central government is chipping in:

The new Canadian government is shifting investment to sustainable and social assets, away from Carbon intensive assets likely to become a burden on future citizens, and away from the failed ideology of austerity:

Investing in infrastructure creates good, well-paying jobs that can help the middle class grow and prosper today. And by making it easier to move people and products, well-planned infrastructure can deliver sustained economic growth for years to come.

At the same time, new challenges have emerged that make the need for investment more acute: things like the rapid growth of Canada’s cities, climate change, and threats to our water and land.

Congestion in Canadian communities makes life more difficult for busy families, and has a negative effect on our economy—when businesses can’t get their goods to market, it undermines growth.

A changing climate is also hard on communities. From floodways to power grids, investments are needed to make sure Canada’s communities remain safe and resilient places to live.

Investing in infrastructure is not just about creating good jobs and economic growth. It’s also about building communities that Canadians are proud to call home.

With historic investments in public transit, green infrastructure and social infrastructure, Budget 2016 will take advantage of historically low interest rates to renew Canada’s infrastructure and improve the quality of life for all Canadians.

In Budget 2016, the Government will implement an historic plan to invest more than $120 billion in infrastructure over 10 years, to better meet the needs of Canadians and better position Canada’s economy for the future.

2.2-en

Frankly I expect this kind of approach to become orthodox this century. That is once we can shake the stultifying grip of last century’s habits and world view, and properly start to address the issues in front of us.

More on vehicle speed and safety, this time from Nate Silver’s 538:

Given the social and economic toll of speeding, one might assume that we set speed limits with careful calculations aimed at maximizing safety. But that’s not exactly how it works, and a history of questionable applications of data is partly to blame.

Roads are planned according to a concept known as design speed, basically the speed vehicles are expected to travel.3 Engineers often apply the 85th percentile rule to a similar road to arrive at the design speed for the proposed road. It might make sense, then, that the design speed would become the speed limit. However, in practice, the design speed is often used to determine the minimum speed of safe travel on a road.

Confused? So was I. Norman Garrick, a professor of engineering at the University of Connecticut, explained how this works using the example of a commercial office building.

“It’s completely unacceptable for someone to die in a plane crash or an elevator,” he said. “We should expect the same of cars.”

And for some local flavour via Stuff: Drivers not coping with Christchurch’s new central city 30kph limit:

Acting Senior Sergeant John Hamilton said police spent 90 minutes on Friday to see if drivers were abiding by the new limits. Stuff witnessed about 10 drivers being pulled over for speeding on the corner of Montreal and Cashel streets within 30 minutes, including two Christchurch City Council staff. 

Hamilton said most of the drivers ticketed were driving between 50kmh and 60kmh, with one motorist spotted driving 65kmh.

Now I have some sympathy with these drivers for the simple reason that the both street [see above] and vehicle design mean that to stay below 30kph in anything other than congested traffic takes a huge amount of attention and control. You might argue that we should be attentive and ‘in control’ whenever we are driving, and of course that’s true, but the fact is that most operation of the vehicle for anyone but learner drivers is a subconscious act, and in fact needs to be as we should be focussing on the environment and not constantly checking the speedo. But of course, in truth, half our minds are really elsewhere, on other things when we drive; we do it on a kind of human autopilot. So if we want drivers to keep to safer slow speeds in cities, or around schools, or wherever, we really need to change the physical environment to forcibly slow the ‘natural’ speed of those places.

As for the cars themselves, well that’s a lost cause, even the simplest little car is way overpowered and torquey for these environments: they just want to get up to highway speed and stay there. Perhaps these slow streets won’t really work until those law abiding pendants the bot-cars are ponderously pootling us around…? Note these drivers weren’t just breaking the 30kph limit they were all also breaking the old 50kph one!

CHCH slow streets

Christchurch 30kph network

Related: we do like this more creative communication from some Transport Department:

Below a very interesting chart showing population change in London. I like that it has a name, and a good one, for the cycle we are clearly in now: City Renaissance and that it dates its beginning unambiguously to the early 1990s:

London Population changes

Note also that London’s population growth in this City Renaissance period has decidedly been both up and out, not just up. The rest of the paper, City VillagesPDF, from the Institute for Public Policy Research is very interesting too and relevant to Auckland’s situation. Basically the housing supply problem can be pretty clearly matched to the abandonment of public housing construction under neoliberalism, same as in NZ. Despite population growth, State and Council dwelling numbers have been falling not growing in recent decades:

London Housing supply

And lastly, something from the energy transition department. Luís de Souza is a scientist from Portugal who is always worth reading on energy supply, especially for anyone interested in the longer term trends than the noise of the trader market as reported in the MSM. Here he is calling 2015 as the year of Peak Oil:

Titling the last press review of 2015 I asked if that had been the year petroleum peaked. The question mark was not just a precaution, the uncertainty was really there. Five months later the reported world petroleum extraction rate is pretty much still were it was then. This is not a surprise, but the impact of two years of depressed prices is over due. 

Nevertheless, during these five months of lethargy the information I gathered brings me considerably closer to remove the question mark from the sentence and acknowledge that a long term decline is settling in. Understanding the present petroleum market as a feature of the supply destruction – demand destruction cycle makes this case clear.

So happy Birthday Queen Victoria [yes it’s actually her birthday], and happy reading…

 

“The accident is not the major problem”

A few weeks ago, I wrote about some misguided commentary on road safety that implied that “distracted walking” was a serious problem. It isn’t by any reasonable measure, but many of our other transport practices are unsafe.

On average, around 300 people die as a result of road crashes. Around 15 percent of the deaths are pedestrians and cyclists, who would have been perfectly fine if a motor vehicle hadn’t run into them. Another 1500 people suffer serious injuries in road crashes. And while road deaths are on a downward trend, the number of serious injuries has hardly changed over the last decade.

Some of these people chose to take on the risk of death or serious injury when they got behind the wheel. But others had the decision made for them – by someone else’s recklessness or by bad street design. So it’s worth asking: are there things that we could do to reduce these risks?

A few years back, Citylab published an excellent interview with Swedish traffic safety expert Matts-Åke Belin, who helped design Sweden’s “Vision Zero” approach to road safety:

Since approved by the Swedish parliament in October 1997, Vision Zero has permeated the nation’s approach to transportation, dictating that the government manage the nation’s streets and roads with the ultimate goal of preventing fatalities and serious injuries.

It’s a radical vision that has made Sweden an international leader in the area of road safety. When Vision Zero first launched, Sweden recorded seven traffic fatalities per 100,000 people; today, despite a significant increase in traffic volume, that number is fewer than three. To compare, the number of road fatalities in the United States is 11.6 per 100,000.

As of 2014, New Zealand had 6.5 road deaths per 100,000 people. So it’s roughly where Sweden was 20 years ago.

In the interview, Belin made one comment that particularly stuck with me:

In Vision Zero, the accident is not the major problem. The problem is that people get killed or seriously injured. And the reason that people get serious injuries is mainly because people have a certain threshold where we can tolerate external violence, kinetic energy. And we know quite well now how much violence we can tolerate.

One of the major things with Vision Zero now is to put that more explicitly on the table. It’s like if we’re talking about the environment, and you know you have a certain threshold when it comes to poison, or whatever. You can tolerate up to a certain level. So it’s not just to stop the traffic. You can actually allow traffic. But if you have places in your system where you have unprotected road users and protected road users, according to Vision Zero you can’t allow a higher speed than 30 kilometers per hour [18.6 mph].

Because if you have, as we did in Sweden before, 50 kph [31 mph] as the default speed in an urban area — if you get hit by a car at 50 the risk for a fatal accident is more than 80 percent. But it is less than 10 percent when you have 30 kilometers per hour.

Clearly we have seen it is not enough to, for example, change the speed limit. You maybe have to put in speed bumps. You have to think through all the conflict spots that you have in your traffic system. And do things about it.

Speed, in short, is a fundamental determinant of whether people die in crashes or walk away. We can’t eliminate accidents entirely, because humans aren’t perfect (and neither are machines), but we can reduce the consequences of making a mistake.

The role of speed was highlighted by the Cycling Safety Panel convened by the government in the wake of a 2013 coroner’s inquest into cycle fatalities. They published the following graph to illustrate: The risk of death or serious injury for pedestrians hit by cars is four times higher at 50km/hr than at 30km/hr:

Cycle Safety Panel speed and death chart

However, as Belin observes, speed isn’t just a function of posted sign limits – it’s also about the design of roads. Road geometry must encourage people to keep to safe speed limits.

Unfortunately, it’s likely that road design standards encourage speeding. That’s illustrated in this chart from a Ministry of Transport review of speeding-related crashes, which found that the average free-flow speed on urban roads was higher than the posted speed limit. 15% of cars travel more than 5km/hr over the speed limit.

MoT urban road speeds chart

In short, our default urban speed limits are too high for pedestrians and cyclists to be safe in the event that they’re hit by a car… and road designs encourage people to drive even faster.

This has a number of direct and indirect consequences. The direct consequence is that people die, needlessly. The indirect consequence is that many people choose not to walk or cycle at all – a rational response to a dangerous road environment. That in turn leads to health problems and premature deaths down the track as a result of physical inactivity.

So what could be done?

The good news is that safety is a major priority for the NZ Transport Agency. They recognise that speed is a big part of that, but I’m not aware of any concerted effort to reduce urban speed limits, or make it easier for local road controlling authorities to do so.

The bad news is that there isn’t a major public conversation about safe speeds. But it’s starting to come up on the political radar. For example, the Green Party made lowering speed limits near schools a key part of the “safe to school” policy they released in March:

Safety is the number one concern that stops parents from sending their child to school on foot or by bike.

When parents wave goodbye to their child in the morning they should know they’re going to be safe when riding their bike or walking with their friends to school. […]

We will:

  1. Reduce the speed limit outside urban schools to a much safer 30 km/h
  2. Reduce the speed limit outside rural schools to 80 km/h, with the option of a 30km/h limit during drop-off or pick-up times
  3. Allocate $50m a year for four years to build modern, convenient walking and cycling infrastructure around schools: separating kids and other users from road traffic, giving a safe choice for families
  4. Get half of kids walking or cycling to school by 2022: reducing congestion; improving health and learning; saving families time and money

The devil’s always in the details with proposals like this. For example, how far around schools would the 30km/hr zone apply? But if we were looking to trial lower speed limits in urban areas, it would be really sensible to start with the roads around schools. The benefits are likely to be higher, as kids are especially vulnerable when walking by the road.

What do you think we should do about urban speed limits?

Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

This week, the Herald on Sunday published an article calling out a dangerous new practice: walking under the influence of a smartphone. According to them, careless walking causes literally dozens of injuries a year and should possibly be criminalised:

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement – so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

Incidentally, I have to admit some guilt here. While I don’t usually walk under the influence of a smartphone, I will often walk around reading a book – a habit I picked up during university. In over a decade of distracted walking, I’ve never fallen over, walked into anything, walked in front of a car, or walked into anybody else.

Anyway.

Let’s take the Herald’s suggestions seriously, and ask whether there is a case to ban other activities that risk injury to participants. Their threshold for “enough harm to consider regulation” appears to be around 27 injuries a year costing ACC at least $15,000.

What else fails that test?

I went to ACC’s injury statistics tool to get a sense. Helpfully, they break out injury claims (and the cost thereof) by cause, activity, and a range of other characteristics.

Here’s a table summarising some of the sports that should be considered for a ban. Rugby and league are obvious candidates, of course, as they result in tens of thousands of claims every year and a total cost in the tens of millions. But would you have suspected that humble, harmless lawn bowls was so hazardous? The sport of septuagenarians injures over 1,000 people a year and costs ACC $1m. Likewise with dancing, golf, and fishing. They’re all too dangerous to be allowed. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long with all of this harmful physical activity occurring.

Sport Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Rugby union 56,842 $65.4m
Rugby league 12,556 $15.3m
Lawn bowls 1,134 $1.0m
Dancing 6,972 $5.1m
Golf 5,797 $4.5m
Fishing 2,431 $3.2m

But it doesn’t stop with sports. Your home is full of seemingly innocuous items that are eager to kill or maim you. Your stove, for example. Boiling liquids cause almost 5,000 injuries a year, costing ACC $1.9 million. We should definitely ban home cooking. Leave it to the professionals, for pity’s sake! Lifting and carrying objects at home is even more dangerous – over 100,000 claims a year. So don’t pick up that tea-tray or box of knick-knacks: call in someone who’s suitably qualified for handling such dangerous objects.

And let’s not even mention the toll taken by falls, except to strenuously argue for a ban on showers, bathroom tiles, and private ownership of ladders.

Cause of accident Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Boiling liquids (at home) 4,680 $1.9m
Lifting / carrying objects (at home) 103,798 $95.1m
Falls (at home) 310,292 $323.4m
Driving-related accidents (on roads/streets) 13,322 $173.2m

Finally, it’s important to remember an important bit of context that the Herald doesn’t mention: Distracted walking is a far, far lesser danger than driving cars (distracted or not). In the average year, ACC receives 13,300 claims for driving-related accidents and pays out a total of $173 million for people who have been injured or killed. That far, far exceeds the injury toll associated with texting while walking.

On the whole, you’re more likely to be killed or injured while in a car than you are while walking. This chart, taken from a Ministry of Transport report on “risk on the road”, shows deaths or injuries in motor vehicle crashes per million hours spent travelling. Drivers experience 8 deaths/injuries per million hours. The two safest modes are walking (4.6 deaths/injuries per million hours) and public transport (0.7).

Because different travel modes are substitutes, measures to discourage walking – i.e. by penalising people who combine walking with smartphone use – may have the unintended consequence of killing or injuring more people.

MoT risk on the road chart

[As an aside, this chart presents a somewhat misleading picture of cycle safety. People on bicycles experience 31 deaths or injuries per million hours – considerably higher than driving. However, drivers, not cyclists, are at fault in the majority of cycle crashes. According to another recent MoT report, cyclists were primarily responsible for only 22% of crashes. Drivers were partially or fully at fault in the remaining 78% of crashes.

MoT cycle crash fault chart

Consequently, if we provided safe cycle infrastructure that kept people on bikes away from people in cars, cycling would get a lot safer. If we could completely eliminate the risk of people on bikes being hit by cars, cycling would be about as safe as driving.]

To conclude, there are two things that the statistics teach us.

The first is that although injuries and ACC claims are bad, it’s essential to put risks in perspective. And the relevant perspective is this: Walking is a safe mode of travel. It’s remained safe in spite of the invention of the smartphone and the existence of hoons like me who walk around with their nose in a book.

It’s always worth looking for effective ways to improve safety. That’s why Transportblog’s advocated for safe, separated cycleways, and also why it’s taken a positive view on cost-effective investments to improve road safety, like the recent announcement of safety improvements to SH2. But it’s also important to remember that the best way to improve safety is to make it easier to travel in comparatively safe ways. Like walking and public transport.

The second lesson is that there are many activities that can injure us, from rugby to lawn bowls to cooking. Walking while texting is a recent invention, so it may seem newsworthy. But it’s only one of the many hazards that people choose to expose themselves to. If you’re not living in a padded room, you’re probably risking your life in some way or another.

As humans, we’re very prone to focus on risks from new activities while ignoring the effects of things that are already common. Status quo bias is a very real thing – and it doesn’t just apply to transport reporting. It’s the reason why people can, say, oppose new three-storey apartment buildings while being perfectly comfortable with the three-storey houses next door to them.

What risks do you think we should pay more (or less) attention to?

Time for Vision Zero

Sadly there has been increasing carnage on our roads in recent times which has kept the road toll steadily rising. As of yesterday morning, for the year to date we’ve had 35 more deaths compared to the same time last year. With the road toll up currently by over 16% then if the current trend continues then 2015 will be the worst year for 5 years.

The carnage continued yesterday with two serious incidents, one in which a schoolboy was killed after his motorcycle collided with a car and in the second a 14 year old girl was hit and is in a serious condition after a “distracted driver” appears to have mounted a kerb while she was waiting to cross the road.

The increasing road toll and events particularly like the second one raise the question of whether we’re doing enough to keep people safe. There is no other area in society where we would consistently allow for so many people to be killed or injured and then do so little about it. Perhaps we need to implement Vision Zero.

So what is Vision Zero, Wikipedia gives a good succinct definition.

Vision Zero is a multi-national road traffic safety project which aims to achieve a highway system with no fatalities or serious injuries in road traffic. It started in Sweden and was approved by their parliament in October 1997. A core principle of the vision is that ‘Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society’ rather than the more conventional comparison between costs and benefits, where a monetary value is placed on life and health, and then that value is used to decide how much money to spend on a road network towards the benefit of decreasing how much risk

Vision Zero is based on four principles:

  • Ethics: Human life and health are paramount and take priority over mobility and other objectives of the road traffic system
  • Responsibility: providers and regulators of the road traffic system share responsibility with users;
  • Safety: road traffic systems should take account of human fallibility and minimize both the opportunities for errors and the harm done when they occur; and
  • Mechanisms for change: providers and regulators must do their utmost to guarantee the safety of all citizens; they must cooperate with road users; and all three must be ready to change to achieve safety.

We are very much still in the more conventional mode of assessing safety based on costs and benefits rather than doing everything it takes to get deaths and injuries down while spending the vast majority of road our money on mega motorway projects – although yes they can be safer than the roads they replace.

In response to these incidents the NZTA’s Road Safety Director Ernst Zollner says

“One of the most tragic aspects of serious road crashes is that nearly all of them are preventable.

“The Transport Agency will continue working with police, the Automobile Association and many others to create a safe system for all New Zealanders. That means making our roads and roadsides safer by removing trees and power poles, encouraging people to buy the safest car they can afford, encouraging safer speeds and it means stamping out dangerous behaviour like drink-driving,” Mr Zollner said.

There are of course different solutions needed for different environments. On rural roads widening shoulders, improving curves and sightlines as well as removing objects from the roadsides are often key however in an urban environment those measures would make the issue worse as it would encourage drivers to travel at faster speeds.

In urban areas we often need to slow traffic down and make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to use the roads. Yesterday’s incident with the schoolgirl highlights a great example of the types of things we should be aiming to improve. St Lukes Rd is a busy four lane road and for people wanting to cross the road the only option is to wait for a gap in traffic then dash to the narrow median – what is often called a “pedestrian refuge” – where you then have to wait while cars and trucks wizz by in close proximity and at speed while you wait for another gap in traffic to rush to the other side. This makes it difficult to cross especially for anyone not able bodied. Of course as mentioned a refuge isn’t much good if a driver mounts it which raises other questions such as why the refuge has such easily mountable kerbs.

St Lukes Rd - Taylors Rd crossing

Of course another issue is that if you complained to AT/Local Board for long enough and managed to get an engineer our to assess the site they’d probably come back and say that because not many people use a crossing that there’s no value in upgrading it – ignoring the fact that people don’t use something because they don’t find it safe.

One thing that constantly frustrates me is that despite the solutions being known for some time, that we still seem to design roads with the same flaws. Some planners and engineers seem to be locked in a time warp and seem to wilfully ignore that best practice has changed. I almost wonder if transport professionals need an equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath to make roads safe for all users.

Ultimately though any improvement needs to be driven by politicians (with the support of the people of course). They are the ones who need to push aspirational goals like Vision Zero. For local politicians they’re the ones who need to be asking at every opportunity about how projects will make roads safer and whether what’s proposed is safe enough for an 8 year old or an 80 year old to be and feel safe.

So time for Vision Zero?

Slip Lanes be gone

The council is hailing the fact that just over one quarter of the slip lanes in the city centre have been removed over the last few years. This is excellent news for pedestrians as it will make many intersections much safer.

Pedestrian safety and access in the city centre has taken another step forward with the removal of three ‘free left turns’ at intersections as part of the upgrade of Beach Road.

More than a quarter of the turns (11 out of 40) have now been removed from the city centre since 2012, when the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) advocated their removal. A free left turn is one where traffic is regulated by lights when going straight or turning right, but vehicles can turn left without a signal.

Local Board chair Shale Chambers says: “These turns can make crossing a road unsafe and unpleasant for people on foot, especially for younger or vulnerable pedestrians, so it’s great to see this progress in such a short space of time.

“The city centre is rapidly becoming a much more pleasant place to walk, with these improvements adding to the creation of a laneway circuit. This helps the centre buzz, which in turn attracts people and – crucially – business investment. “

The completion of stage 2 of the Beach Road project removed the free left turns at the intersections with Britomart Place and Tangihua Street. The first stage of the Beach Road upgrade removed two others, while more have been removed along Mayoral Drive and at the bottom of Albert Street.

Council design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid says “Free left turns tend to create over-sized intersections that encourage vehicles to travel too fast, compromising pedestrian safety. Instead, the focus needs to be on creating a vibrant and pleasant walking, shopping or browsing environment, where people can walk with confidence.

“Rather than being anti-car, removing these slip lanes can be a win for everyone. If people can cross more quickly, this can also reduce waiting times for cars.”

The remaining 29 include four along Symonds Street, eight along the Grafton Gully and five surrounding Victoria Park.

Here’s a map of the status of all slip lanes in Auckland. It’s worth noting that this only includes ones where there is a free left turn, so situations like the intersection on Nelson St and Fanshawe St where the slip lanes are signalised are not counted.

City Centre Free Left Turns 2015

Here’s one example of slip lanes that have been removed. This is the intersection of Beach Rd and Tangihua St, and with the slip lanes traffic would travel at speed through the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes

And now that the Beach Rd project has removed the slip lanes.

Beach - Tangihua St slip lanes gone

One of the reasons slip lanes are so dangerous is that they can shift drivers’ focus away from what’s in front of them, and instead they focus on what traffic may be coming from the right to see if they can get through the lane without stopping. Depending on the situation, that could result in them speeding up to get ahead of approaching traffic or braking sharply to avoid a crash, but almost always the last thing on their mind will be the person on the left who may be trying to cross the road. This isn’t surprising, as if you’re in a metal box you’re much more at risk from other metal boxes than you are from squishy humans.

There are a few questions from this, including how long until we can get the rest of the slip lanes removed, why aren’t we removing them from suburbs all across Auckland, and why are we still letting engineers design them into projects?

Ponsonby Rd Public Realm

Ponsonby Rd has pretty serious pretensions to being Auckland’s premier shopping and cafe strip, and it sure does attract very high volumes of people. However the amenity for these people is very poor. Both in terms of its form but also in terms of its upkeep. Overall I think its fair to say that like many places in Auckland pedestrians are clearly low on the radar for those who have been charged with forming and maintaining this street. Certainly compared to the constant and loving attention AT gives the roadway the footpaths are in a shocking state [see below]. At many times of any day there are as many or more people on the footpaths than in vehicles, yet both the quantity and quality of the public realm that is afforded to people not in cars is more than suboptimal.

PONSONBY ROAD_9128

Yet there’s lots that’s great here and with just a few well executed tweaks and it could be really fantastic. The street is among the best forms of public realm there is; and it is clear the goods and services on offer here and the opportunity for a good old fashioned paseo or passeggiata along this natural sunny ridge attracts all sorts, young and old, and at all times of the day and night. Ponsonby Rd has such great natural attributes and a near constant activation; the dull moments like the bank and fire station or parking lots aren’t too bad or too long. And anyway are likely to be improved. The length of it is worth walking; from K and Gt North all the way to Jervois and College Hill.

But despite these attractors the pedestrian realm is fractured and perilous. Any attempt to use the footpath, and let’s not forget that is the only way to access the shops and cafes, involves a constant yielding to fellow citizens in vehicles. And not just at the crossings of the narrow side streets but also on the many moments where the footpath itself is also a vehicle crossings. Frankly it is outrageous that the previous Council ever allowed a fast food business to run a drive-in facility that crosses the pavement twice across such a busy pedestrian place. And don’t start me on the terrible informal extra road they’ve allowed opposite the top of Franklin.

Ponsonby Rd- lot 3

The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

Above: The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

And a great city walk is a powerful thing, commercially, socially: as an attractor for local business, it is the ‘public playroom’ for residents and visitors alike. I’m not advocating for more land here, just for the quality of what’s already available to be better connected, defined, and available for people doing that most valuable thing: walking.

The prime opportunity is for this public realm to be stitched together across the various interuptions. Firstly for each of the minor cross streets to have their priority reversed and become extensions of the Ponsonby Rd footpath by raising the surface up to footpath level in a continuous line. This would clearly communicate to drivers the need to proceed with great care when turning, and to yield, as some already do, to the more vulnerable pedestrian. Some of the wider cross streets like Vermont are already narrowed and planted with good trees, but continuous blacktop invites fast and careless driving by some impatient or inobservant drivers. This can be fixed, as can the crossings at the major intersections.

So a group of us have got together to outline a number of improvements we would like AT and AC properly investigate along this well trod path.

1. Raised pedestrian tables on the minor side streets inline with the footpath.

2. Reinstating the Barnes Dance at the Richmond/Picton intersection with Ponsonby Rd

3. Ped crossings at the existing refuges at the mid blocks.

4. Enforce the existing 40kph speed limit.

5. Ban U turns.

6. Implement the Ponsonby Rd plan

There’s a petition here: http://www.actionstation.org.nz/ponsonby-for-people

And I would like to add; complete the return of the London Plane trees along the length of the street so we will get fully a joined up architecture of these great street trees along the route.

Add your thoughts on these or other possible improvements and feel free to nominate other streets that you think would benefit from this sort of upgrade. And note this post is deliberately focussed on the pedestrian realm as the cycling, traffic lane, and PT issues are covered in the masterplan, but also so the pedestrian realm can be discussed in its own right.

Oi!

Auckland Transport have launched their newest safety video and it’s aimed at the stupidly high number of people that still use a phone when driving – something you notice even more when walking or on a bike. The ad has fairly typical ending for a road safety video but what stands out to me in this video is the reaction of the people using the phones when strangers call them out. How realistic is it that after yelling Oi that the person will be all cheerful and just put their phone down. Seems far more likely that you’ll get back at the least a hand gesture and possibly some verbal abuse.

Here’s the press release

The friendly message is “Oi! Mind on the road, not the phone” – the reason drivers on phones cause accidents.

Auckland Transport has launched a new campaign highlighting the high numbers driving while using their phones. In Auckland between 2009 and 2013, there were 5 fatalities as a result of drivers being distracted.

Karen Hay, Manager Community and Road Safety says, “The numbers are probably under-reported, this could be a much bigger problem.”

She says 60% of the crashes are rear-end collisions, “This is obviously drivers taking their eyes off the road.”

The “Oi! Mind on the road, not the phone” campaign targets 16 to 39 year olds and includes a cinema ad plus radio and digital advertising.

Rob Pitney, Auckland Transport’s Manager Campaigns and Customer Insights, says people of all ages are using their phones behind the wheel and a third of all distraction-related crashes involve drivers in their twenties.

“We’ve discovered two-thirds of people in this group are texting, using apps and social media, doing emails and making calls while driving. They’re the target of the ‘Oi!’ campaign; we want to raise awareness of the very real dangers of using mobile phones while driving and to introduce a gentle ‘nudge’ that will enable passengers to encourage drivers to leave their phone alone.”

Research by Auckland Transport shows 30% of those who make calls have their phone up to their ear and 70% of those who make calls do it when the car is actually moving. It was also found that 70% use apps for travel information while driving.

Mr Pitney says, “Our focus is on driving smartly, sensibly – focussing on the driving and not the smart phone.”

Senior Sergeant Mark Chivers of Counties Manukau Road Policing Unit says it’s an offence to use a mobile phone while driving. The penalty is $80 and 20 demerit points.

“Driver distractions come under high risk driving in our “Fatal Five” – the five things that contribute to crashes and trauma on our roads. We have a continued focus on these things in our on-going effort to reduce road trauma.”

He says the campaign with Auckland Transport is an opportunity for Police to demonstrate that any dangerous activity on our roads will not be tolerated.

Guest Post: Orange Smoothy II

This is part two of a two part guest post by highly visible e-cyclist and regular reader Greg Nikoloff

This post is about my (continuing) experiences with my Pedego (http://pedego.co.nz) electric bike (e-bike).

In part 1, I covered the basic of my e-bike experience which I’ve owned and used for over 2 years. In this second part I’ll cover in detail my daily commute, and show a bit how the e-bike fares on this route and how it enables me to manage Aucklands hills and traffic and makes it fun as I do my part to alleviate Auckland traffic congestion on a personal and daily level.

My daily commute

I use my e-bike for my daily work commute, mostly during summer months (Oct-Mar). For this, I cycle along the Remuera road “ridge” – during the morning peak traffic, anytime from 7am to 8am – as I don’t get held up by traffic, exactly when I leave home is not critical – unlike if I take the car, when it is. As half of the length of Remuera Road I cycle on has a peak direction bus lane, I use that for most of the trip. Because the cruising speed on the e-bike is about 35km/hr on the flat, and about 24km/hr on the hills, I find I can easily keep up with most of the traffic using that lane and therefore don’t get too many buses passing me. The one or two tight places where I go slow, where buses and cars can’t easily pass, so they have no choice but to wait behind me for about 30-40 seconds at most. With few buses going past me – which are always a bugger and a danger – it definitely makes for a more enjoyable ride, even though you’re in traffic still.

Here’s a Google Maps ride profile of the route, the distance & the amount of altitude I cover:

StJohns_Newmarket_RemRoadRoute

 

The map shows the usual sort of route I take from my home to work (there are extra distances at each end which I’ve left out as they don’t particularly matter). And the above route is pretty much what I cycle daily. The Google maps cycling profile shows a 49 metres climb over 6.5km, with 66m of descent. The descent is mostly in the first half of the ride going to work, so the ride to work is a steady uphill for most of the second half.

Because the start and end points are about the same altitude (some 70m or so above sea level) the ups and downs are mainly due to the topography of the intervening roads between the start/end points. Google Maps suggests 24 minutes to cycle that distance. On my e-bike at about 30-35 km/hr most of the way, its 12-15 minutes. Exactly how long, mainly depends on the number of red lights I hit (as I stop at red lights). When I cycle this I do it my normal work clothes of dress pants, shoes and an open neck business shirt and arrive “warm” from the exercise, but not sweaty or needing a shower. In spring and Autumn, I ride with gloves on as the chill factor on your hands can be noticeable.

This particular stretch of Auckland roads has some 13! (count ‘em all) traffic light controlled intersections and 2 light controlled pedestrian crossing on it. Which collectively must be a record of some sort for number of red lights over this distance in Auckland, outside of the CBD. Some lights do work as linked pairs (Ladies Mile/Greenlane East & Victoria Ave/Clonbern Road), but the rest do not and these lights change independently. If I can get green lights all the way, I can manage about 12 minutes door to door in steady/medium traffic. If I hit 3-5 red lights or heavy traffic, it can take up to 18+ minutes to go the same distance. If I crossed with the pedestrians at the red lights most of the time I’d make it probably 14 or so minutes.

If I was to drive, then I can, at best, manage about the same time, maybe slightly better – as I can drive at 50 km/hr the whole way, door to door, in the best case. Worst case, when the bus lane is in full operation, it can be over 40 minutes in stop/start traffic crawling along. So yeah, e-bike matches or beats the car just about every day – especially during Feb/March madness period.

In fact I have some co-workers who routinely see me go past them – me, legally in the “bus lane”, as they sit (fuming) in the “SOV vehicle lane” as I cycle past them on my way to work. I’ve usually having left home long after they left theirs and will beat them to the office by a good long chalk as well. And I’ll be relaxing at my desk with a coffee (reading TB, or emails), while they come in all hassled and more tired than I feel – yet I did most of the exercise!

Going home, the reverse route is basically the fastest and shortest, but it’s also the “vanilla” option. But having the e-bike means I have alternative options I can use as I desire/need i.e. when I’m sick of vanilla. As seen from this alternative route:

Newmarket_StJohns_OrakeiBasinRoute

I can divert down either Victoria Ave, or Orakei Road (shown) and then use the Orakei Boardwalk(s) if I want a nicer ride, with a lot less traffic. Although going that way is 2 km longer and also means I do have to climb from near sea-level at Orakei basin back up to 70+ metres in height. It does give me a great downhill from the Remuera Ridge down to the water at Orakei first. And that few minutes as you cycle across the boardwalk(s) with the water lapping underneath as you cycle over it – you can’t put a price on that. You’d not normally contemplate such an activity as a normal cyclist as the resultant need to climb “back up” to the ridge afterwards would make you think twice unless you were in training. With an e-bike, it’s no problem to do so. And just adds some variety to what can be a bit of a drag race going the normal way.

E-bike power means you can enjoy the many downhills, and yet you don’t have to worry about the inevitable uphills too much. It will take me at most, all of 10 minutes longer to go home this way. But I know I will arrive at home feeling 10 times more refreshed/energised than if I had to jostle with traffic down Remuera Road and usually get stuck at the many lights along the way. And if by some chance I also see an EMU or two passing as I cycle along beside the rails on the Orakei boardwalk, well that’s quite uplifting as well.

When the Meadowbank Station to St Johns Road part of the GI to Tamaki Drive cycleway opens (hopefully towards the end of this year) then I’ll be able to use that to get “back up to the ridge” at St Johns hill. I‘m sure that will be a really interesting, smooth and invigorating ride with less of the really steep gradients on it than what I face now when I use the back streets with their patchwork of road surfaces. So I’m pretty sure, once opened I’m going to add it to my daily cycle route – even if only on Fridays. And once the Orakei Point development is built, I’m sure that too will provide even more of a reason to go that way if I need to go shopping or simply savour the delights of a summer in Auckland.

Last year I told my doctor what I’d bought, he was happy to see the results in my blood tests, but also was very keen for this for his other patients as he could see, like me, that with an e-bike you can’t ever get in to too much trouble if you cycle too far, and the e-bike will get you home again if you do. So at my last doctor check up – I spent more time telling him in response to his many questions, about the e-bike and how easy it was to ride, what it cost, and how great it is to be mobile again than we did on my check-up. So I’m sure a lot of his patients will be e-biking sooner than later.

The future

The big question with these things is always the future – and would you buy one again/replace your e-bike if it was lost/wrecked/stolen etc?

And what about the rest of us?

“Sure I would get a new one” – and I would get the same brand too, just the newest model. Probably get the same colour too. I do miss not having a regular cycle on the days I don’t ride. I really miss it when Daylight Savings ends and its dark by 6 o’clock at night. While that extra hour in the morning makes cycling to work easier, getting home from work for me before its dark is harder/less enjoyable – those inattentive car drivers the main issue. On separated cycle ways and lanes it wouldn’t matter what time I went to work or home. And while the Tamaki drive to GI cycleway won’t really assist my daily ride that much, directly, using it will make at least part of the ride more enjoyable as I’m out of traffic for some of the way.

This year, I’ll probably keep cycling daily until mid April – post Easter anyway, weather permitting. Then I hang up my cycling spurs for a bit, and mainly cycle on the best days during winter – and Fridays – Friding, after all, is the best antidote to winter, or work.

Looking forward, I’d have to say that e-bikes and Auckland are a good match. And e-bikes and our EMUs (and eventually LRT) are also very good matches. It’s so easy to cycle 3 or even 6 km without breaking a sweat – even over the sort of hills you get in some parts of Auckland, if you were to overlay a map of Auckland PT stations with 5km or so wide circles, you’d cover a fair chunk of Auckland. And that’s easily and realistically the sort of distances you can cover on an e-bike to get to the nearest LRT or train station. And with the e-bike you can replace the walking or driving trip to the shops with a cycle too. The poor state of the cycle racks (if they have any at all) at most local shopping places near me testifies to how far down the scale of transport modes, that cycling has gone. But it is slowly getting better.

If I lived on the North Shore, and with Skypath coming down the path, I think I’d seriously consider getting and using an e-bike to commute to work – either directly if I lived close enough, or via a cycle to the local NEX station otherwise. I’ve told this to my co-workers, as many of them they could easily get to Britomart by cycle then use the trains to get up the hill to Newmarket to avoid that 70m height climb. In journey time, they’d be way quicker than they can get on the motorway in the morning. Even I’d admit that while I could cycle from Britomart to Newmarket easily on my e-bike – I couldn’t beat the train for speed up the hills.

So roll on e-bikes for everyone. If ever there was a 21st century take on an older technology that is truly relevant for Auckland today, and in the decades to come – it would be an e-bike on the personal level and LRT on the mass transit level.

If you don’t believe me, on the e-bikes – don’t take my word for it – head on out to your nearest e-bike dealer and take a test ride on one. Then decide for yourself. Just don’t blame me if you end up wanting to buy one as a result.

Lastly

In part 1, I introduced a tinkly bit and said that I’d explain this in part 2.

Well this comes from all those Star Trek “The Original Series” episodes, which always ended with what we call “a tinkly bit” in our house. Don’t know what I mean or never noticed it before? Well watch the end of an original series Star Trek episode, just before the credits, the last scene is designed to provide an uplifting scene or amusing little vignette, right before the credits – the actors indicate this visually and music tells you this audibly. Visually usually either via Spocks raised eyebrow, or more usually, the smirk on Kirk’s face as he says “Set course, Mr Sulu!” or some such command. And because it usually has some tinkly background music to it, is why we call it “a tinkly bit”. So, here is a slightly uplifting, Star Trek & e-bike related “tinkly bit” to end this post on.

Some of you may recall a recent post about how the recently departed Leonard Nimoy (aka Spock), told how he cycled to get his lunch each day at the studio commissary while at the on the set filming the original Star Trek series episodes – it being entirely “Logical to cycle” in his words. Naturally enough it saved Nimoy time and no doubt, got him at the front of the lunch queue – so he could have some lunch and get back to set, in time to have his make-up and fake ears and such repaired/adjusted if needed. Meaning, he’d be ready to go on set as required. Shatner on the other hand, I’m sure, just had to tighten (or loosen) his corset, and dial down his smirk a bit after lunch, so he didn’t need “time in make-up” after lunch like Spock probably did.

See how, times change, even Captain Kirk himself (William Shatner), and Mrs Shatner both ride a (Pedego) e-bike these days, see this picture of them riding one each – this is from 2012.

Shatners_on_their_Pedegos_2012

The full article is here: http://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com/william-shatner-picks-up-pedego-interceptors/

And on that note, lets hop on our collective (e-)bikes and ride “into the future” creating “Auckland Cycling: The Next Generation” as we go …

Speed Tolerance gone

For a few years the police have been reducing the tolerance for people travelling over the speed limit during public holiday periods from 10km/h to 4km/h in a bid to reduce crashes. Now they plan to go further and remove the tolerance all together.

Motorists driving anywhere over the posted speed limit could land themselves a fine, as police do away with the notion of a “speed tolerance” for the summer period – a move that could be made permanent.

Police announced their “Reach the Beach” summer road safety campaign yesterday, the first to come without a 4km/h tolerance since Queen’s Birthday weekend in 2010.

Commissioner Mike Bush said drivers needed to forget the old message of a tolerance for driving less than 5km/h above the speed limit. “Do not drive at anything over the limit. That is a focus for us.”

He said it would be up to individual officers to decide whether to issue tickets for drivers caught driving only a small amount above the limit.

“It will depend upon the circumstances and our officers have always had discretion.”

Mr Bush said drivers often set their cruise control to what they believed the tolerance was, for example 110 km/h.

He advised drivers to set their cruise control to the limit, or just below, as any speed above the posted limit would warrant an infringement.

The zero tolerance could be a permanent part of road policing, Mr Bush said.

“We’ll assess that at the end of the campaign, but I can’t see us changing our approach on that.”

Although police would not be following a 4km/h tolerance this summer, speed cameras will have a threshold of 4km/h during December and January.

Last year’s Safer Summer campaign introduced a speed tolerance of 4km/h above the speed limit for all of December and January, rather than just over the Christmas and New Year period. Police reported a 36 per cent decrease in drivers exceeding the speed limit by 1-10km/h and a 45 per cent decrease for speeding in excess of 10km/h.

Fatal crashes decreased by 22 per cent over the summer campaign. Serious injury crashes decreased by 8 per cent.

Whether it will work and how hard it’s enforced is obviously yet to be seen however regardless it’s a move that is bound to generate plenty of letters to editors of papers all around the country.

What’s interesting from that article is also that Police minister and former Associate Transport Minister says he believes New Zealand could soon be realistic in setting a goal of zero road deaths. That’s definitely a worthy ambition but to get to that point there’s still a lot to do. So far this year 266 people have died on our roads which compares with 228 this time last year. In fact NZ’s total 2013 road toll was a record low 254 so we’ve already surpassed that.

Perhaps one thing that the police should do is crack down on cellphone use with 20% admitting they still text and drive.

The Drivers Index survey asked 1000 regular Kiwi drivers aged 18 and older to rate 12 distractions and found that while 84 per cent of respondents regarded texting and reading distracting, one in five Kiwis still send text messages while driving – with almost 50 per cent of younger drivers (18-24 years) flouting the law.

“Despite being illegal, texting remains the top driver distraction for the fourth consecutive year, while reading has risen from second position since last year,” said Amelia Macandrew of AA Insurance.

“Distractions are a major cause of accidents, with 10 per cent of drivers surveyed admitting they’d crashed because they were distracted.”

National Manager Road Policing, Superintendent Carey Griffiths said that between 2010-2012, driver distraction or “diverted attention” was a factor in around 11 per cent of fatal crashes, and 10 per cent of serious crashes.

“That represents 99 people killed and almost 5000 people injured over the three-year period.”

Mr Griffiths said it was disappointing that despite legislation banning drivers from using cellphones being in place since 2009, too many people are still choosing to put themselves and other innocent road users at risk.

“Given that we are now several years down the track, we don’t see any excuses for people still failing to comply with this legislation, and police will continue to target driver distraction and other forms of risky behaviour as appropriate.”

I’m constantly both amazed and scared at the number of people I see using their phone while driving, especially through intersections and I’m sure most people have some pretty bad examples that they’ve seen.

Pop Art

Should we charge tourists extra for driving on NZ roads?

There have been a few suggestions recently that international tourists should be paying more to drive in New Zealand, or have to pass a driving test, or things along those lines. Winston Aldworth, the Travel Editor at the Herald, wrote a column last week suggesting that we should charge a fee for tourists who want to drive on our roads, along the lines of a new scheme in Germany (which was also described in the Herald last week, although the article doesn’t seem to be online).

Would this scheme be fair in New Zealand?

Winston writes: “many tourists on these shores rely on (and clog up) the roads from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It seems fair they should chip in for maintenance and improvements”. It does indeed seem fair, but tourists already do pay for these things. It’s built into the cost of the petrol they use, or the Road User Charges if they hire a diesel vehicle. That money goes straight to the National Land Transport Fund, where it pays for all state highway costs and around half of local road costs (the rest comes from rates). So I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that international tourists aren’t paying their way.

Based on data from the Retail Trade Survey and Tourism Satellite Account, it seems that international tourists account for around 5-6% of sales in petrol stations. Clearly, most of the long-distance trips around the country are being done by Kiwis, not overseas visitors. It’s also likely that most of the trips taken by international tourists are on roads which aren’t particularly congested, and not really in need of upgrades. Most of these visitors don’t make it up to Cape Reinga or down to Bluff. International tourist spending is fairly heavily concentrated in just a few parts of the country, including Auckland, Queenstown, Rotorua and so on.

How much would this scheme raise?

Winston suggests that international visitors buy a $50 permit, which lets them drive for up to a year. “The money raised could go into a protected fund, ring-fenced from other spending… [and used] to kickstart funding on our most important roads”.

2.8 million visitors arrive in New Zealand each year, and when you take out those who won’t be driving and those who visit several times in the same year, you might be left with around half that number (just a guess). So, 1.4 million visitors times $50 gives $70 million – and I think I’m being generous with the figure, with not taking GST out of it, and not allowing for administration and compliance costs. Even so, it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of transport funding.

The Cook Islands

Winston points out that, for many years, the Cook Islands charged tourists $20 for a driver’s license, although they have recently gotten rid of the system. The situation in the Cooks is a bit different from NZ. They’ve got an economy which is almost entirely dependent on tourism. Their system was a way to get that little bit extra out of the tourists and into state coffers, and encourage tourists to visit the Avarua town centre (the police station is centrally located, and visitors will hopefully spend some money in the shops while they’re at it). It also gives the tourists a nice souvenir, which was a big part of not making them grumpy about the charge. Although, it seems, plenty got grumpy anyway – especially when they had a long wait for the license – and this seems to have been a big reason for dropping the system.

SAM_2433 smaller

The other interesting thing about the Cook Islands is that it clearly doesn’t raise enough tax revenue to maintain its roads, or its other infrastructure for that matter. It relies on international aid to make up the difference. But every time a New Zealander drives around Rarotonga, they’re being subsidised courtesy of that system.

Now, if we’re really wanting to earn more money from overseas visitors, we can either invest in our tourism offering (and we do), or ramp up our marketing (and we’re doing that too), or we can raise money for the government in a cheap-to-administer scheme like a departure tax or similar. But let’s not stick the poor buggers with some kind of overpriced driving permit.