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.

Safer driving will lead to cheaper insurance

Warning, this post may sound a bit like an advertisement.

Last week I got invited to find out a new product from Tower insurance that’s launching today that they hope will not only lower car insurance costs but also help make driving safer. In a nutshell the product is a smartphone app that measures driving behaviour using GPS and the sensors in the phone. From that it works out if you’re good driver or not and if you are, can give you discounts off your car insurance of up to 20%.

For the first time in New Zealand, safe drivers can benefit from lower insurance premiums based on their individual driving performance – thanks to an innovative free smartphone app offered by TOWER.

SmartDriver’ monitors and assesses an individual’s driving behaviour based on 250 kilometres of travel.  Drivers who score well can then gain a discount on motor premiums of up to 20 per cent.

TOWER Chief Executive Officer David Hancock says TOWER’s strategy of innovating for the benefit of its customers is evidenced by the launch of SmartDriver. TOWER is always looking for ways to improve its risk profile, while lowering costs and providing enhanced value for customers.

“The insurance industry does not have a reputation for innovation, but TOWER is committed to delivering relevant products and better value to customers to help them protect the things they care about. This app is the first of its kind to be launched in Australasia.

“We’re really excited about SmartDriver’s potential to help customers in two ways – saving safe drivers money on premiums and encouraging safer driving for all New Zealanders.”

It’s all part of a move towards risk based pricing where those that present less risk pay less.

TOWER General Manager – Customer Proposition Mark Savage says the app means motor vehicle insurance premiums can now be determined using an individual’s driving behaviour, rather than solely relying on averaged claims risk and demographic data such as age and location.

“This kind of user-based-insurance – or UBI – has the potential to dramatically change the motor insurance market. TOWER has been monitoring the overseas experience for some time and we felt as a nation of drivers it made perfect sense to introduce it here.

“UBI provides fairer pricing to customers based on their driving, not just that of the population at large.  And there is the huge advantage of making those using the app more conscious of their behaviour on the road.”

Mr Savage says telematics, the technology behind UBI, enables driving data to be gathered and transmitted directly from a vehicle on the road to the insurer. The insurer can monitor, analyse, score and then adjust premiums accordingly.

“By collecting basic driving information such as trip duration, distance travelled, location, braking and acceleration, we can build an understanding of driving behaviour and individual risk and adjust premiums accordingly. The app also allows customers to see their score versus the average score calculated from all the SmartDriver users who have completed 250 kilometres using the app.”

Tower have said that this is just a first step on the road to greater risk based pricing and they said giving discounts for those that have a car but who might be using PT, walking or cycling during the week might be considered in the future. I certainly hope it’s something that happens.

While the insurance aspect is obviously the key point of the app, it’s the potential impacts on driver safety that interest me the most. Tower said that amongst staff who helped trial the app, they found driving behaviour improved the more they used it through a combination of driving at slower speeds as well as smoother accelerating and braking. One of the key ways Tower have managed to achieve this is through the gameification in the app that gives points for better driving, achievements and leaderboards. That means that even if someone does the same trip every day there can be an incentive to constantly improve. I’ve been trialling the app and certainly noticed myself trying harder to be a better driver.

I also think there are some potentially interesting implications from this kind of technology. For example as the app keeps a record including a map of the trip taken, parents concerned about their kids driving (if they’re driving at all ;-)) could require them to use the app and show them the results. Of course if that were to happen it would probably just push even more young people to simply not bother getting a licence, using other modes to get around.

So here are some images of what the app looks like.

Opening the app you simply push start for it to start recording your journey and stop again to end it. Only journeys of more than 2km count towards getting a score.

Tower Smartdriver app 1

At the end of each valid trip you get marked. Also notice the gameification elements (most of mine are like the one on the left)

Tower Smartdriver app 3

Delving into a trip gives more details. As you can see I went to Warkworth on Friday afternoon. Despite moderate traffic it flowed smoothly except for one part around Schedewys Hill where I got marked down for braking due to a truck crawling up the hill (fixing that part of the route is one of the few things that need doing to the P2W route). Note these aren’t the same trips as the images above.

Tower Smartdriver app 2

And here are the gameification elements which comprise of leaderboards and achievements. I would love to see something similar for HOP card users to encourage more PT trips. You have to register through the app to get these results and the official score after completion of 250km but it isn’t required to monitor individual trips.

Tower Smartdriver app 4

The app generally seems to work well but there are a few improvements I’d like to see e.g while the app is running it prevents the screen from turning off which is a pain, on Android the back button seems buggy and often backs out of the app rather than going back to the previous screen. It would also be great for them to tie in the app to a mapping app and surely it would be worthwhile measuring if someone is using a phone at the same time as driving.

Overall I think this is a good move by tower and the use of technology to improve driver safety is something I definitely support, a view obviously shared by Ernst Zollner who is also the NZTA’s new regional director for Auckland and Northland/

Ernst Zӧllner, Road Safety Director at the NZ Transport Agency, says any technology that has the potential to contribute to making New Zealand roads safer for users is positive.

“Creating a safe road system depends on safer vehicles, users, roads and roadsides, and safer speeds. It’s really good to see a private insurer sharing responsibility for improving road safety by using technology and incentivising smart choices. This is consistent with Safer Journeys, the Government’s road safety strategy to 2020.”

Stopping the “blame game” – Improving road safety in NZ

Greetings,

Trust 2014 is treating everyone well thus far. For my part I‘ve spent the last month or so travelling through the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, and now Austria. Tomorrow I begin the long (28 hour) journey back to Auckland, where I hope the best part of summer will be ready to greet me. 

While I’m looking forward to getting home (as always), travelling through northern and western Europe has helped to highlight some unfortunate aspects of road safety in NZ. And the difference is not only associated with infrastructure. On my travels I’ve cycled in several countries and been impressed by the empathy demonstrated by drivers towards other road users in general, and pedestrians and cyclists in particular.

In the recent debates in NZ over cycle safety I’ve noticed many people looking to “blame” cyclists for the injuries they sustain. In the following post I will outline why I think this “blame game” is disingenuous and unhelpful. 

Two common arguments are advanced to heap blame on cyclists and in the process make people who identify as drivers feel better about themselves.

The first argument attempts to depict cyclists as reckless “law-breakers” whose carelessness is the primary cause of their injuries. In this recent post, however, Matt analysed traffic infringements and found that cyclists receive fewer infringement notices per kilometre than drivers. Meanwhile, the MoT has found that in the vast majority (64%) of accidents involving cyclists, the latter are not at fault. From these two statistics alone it seems clear that cyclists are not an especially reckless bunch of people.

The second argument portrays cyclists as dependent “bludgers” who do not contribute to the upkeep of the transport facilities they use and/or demand, because they do not pay registration and/or fuel excise duties. As Matt notes in his post, however, approximately 50% of transport funding is sourced from local property rates, some of which will – of course – be collected from cyclists. The latter will also tend to be fitter and healthier, and thereby impose a smaller fiscal burden on the health system (which is by far the largest area of government expenditure). For these two reasons the net contribution of cyclists to government coffers is unclear – it may well be that cyclists kick in more than is spent on them.

The absence of supporting evidence belies this for the psychological trick that it really is: People are trying to shift the blame for road safety outcomes from themselves (as a group) and onto another. The (usually unstated) thought-pattern seems to go something like this: “If only cyclists would 1) follow the road rules and 2) contribute to transport funding, then they would deserve to be safe from injury. But until they do, I’m not going to consider how changes to the way I drive could contribute to improved road safety outcomes.”

Not only are the above two arguments unsupported by evidence, but they are also not particularly helpful – the following personal experience may help illustrate why blame itself is a largely unhelpful emotion in discussions of road safety.

In 1990 my dad was involved in a serious road accident caused by intoxicated driver who came around a corner on the wrong side of the road. My father was not to blame at all. Dad was helicoptered to hospital with a punctured lung, a ruptured aorta, and a leg that was broken in three places. While his heart stopped briefly in hospital, the staff at Middlemore Hospital worked some medical magic and managed to bring him back.

While my father managed to survive his accident, he would never recover fully from the injuries he sustained.

He could work no more than 20 hours per week, which in turn required that my mother returned to work – rather than stay home with her four children as she had planned. As for us, we were too young to really understand what had happened. All we knew was that 1) Dad could no longer play cricket with us so much; 2) Mum was more tired and stressed; and 3) our new house took 20 years to finish rather than 2.

Here’s the key point: The fact my father was not to blame for his car accident was of absolutely no comfort my family. We did not sit there happy and self-righteous because he was not to blame. No, we sat there and mulled how we could get on with our lives as best we could.

A culture of blame does not help those affected by road accidents one jot. And it has the very undesirable effect of dulling our collective responsibility for improving road safety, because it makes easier for people to persist with their current driving habits. 

When it comes to road accidents, our first emotional response should be one of empathy for all those affected, regardless of who is at fault. Incidentally, that is why I like this road safety advertisement so much: Both drivers have clearly erred, with tragic consequences. Indeed, the magnitude of the consequences seem disproportionate to the errors involved. Small, all-too-human errors can have major consequences.

The primary point of this advertisement is worth keeping in mind: We all make mistakes and these mistakes have repercussions that extend well beyond the drivers involved. In this video, for example, the boy sitting in the back of the car is the innocent bystander who bears no blame for the accident – yet will obviously experience the physical and emotional trauma that flows from the accident, if he survives.

To sum up: I’d like to see us abandon the “culture of blame” that characterises road safety discussions in NZ. Statistically and anecdotally, it seems fairly clear to me that NZ has a widespread road safety problem, i.e. we are dying and being hurt on our roads in numbers that are high compared to many other countries.

The Netherlands, for example, has a road death rate that is approximately half that of NZ’s. Think of it this way: Families in the Netherlands are half as likely to experience the life-long trauma and suffering that comes from losing a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly. Even Norway – which has roads that are steep and often icy and treacherous – has a per capita road death rate that is one-third lower than that found in NZ.

Sometimes I wish that improved road safety could become a “national sport” of sorts, whereby each and every year NZers strive to reduce the death/injury toll compared to the previous year. And when we do, we pat ourselves on the back and resolve to doing even better next year.

Even so-called “perfect drivers” still have a social role to play in improving road safety outcomes. Whether by preventing friends and family from driving when tired, or encouraging others to slow down and drive safely around cyclists – we can all make a positive contribution to roads safety in NZ.

While there’s much to be positive about insofar as NZ’s recent road safety trends are concerned, some aspects of the underlying discourse concerns me. Rather than investing all our energy into debating out exactly who is to blame in every individual accident, let’s instead take some time to step back and reflect on our collective responsibility for keeping each other safe.

*** This post is dedicated to all those whose loved ones have been killed or injured on NZ’s roads ***

Focusing on safety

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

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

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

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

and

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seven Sharp christchurch speed

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

Traffic infringements in NZ

Along with the article about red light running yesterday the Herald also ran a story yesterday with the headline of 10,000 fined for no helmet, some get speeding tickets. With the two articles combined its almost as if they were trying to paint all cyclists in a bad light as law breakers. 10,000 fines issued for not wearing a helmet might seem like a lot. Just to put things in perspective the Ministry of Transport say that helmet use is at 93% nationwide – that’s similar to the number of people that wear seatbelts. Today there are more cycling articles in the paper and in one the bus union leader peddling another perennial favourite in this debate – that cyclists should be registered. But motor vehicles are registered, surely that must surely mean they all obey the rules?

I’m not here to argue about the use of helmets or to defend those that don’t wear them. What the helmet article did though was get me thinking about how many infringements were issued to other road users. Thankfully this is a question that had been asked last year by one of our readers and the data he obtained shows the number of all traffic offences issued for the year 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. All up (including the 10,000 for not wearing a helmet) there were a massive 1,615,741 infringements issued. So what were they all for?

Here are some of the common offences infringements are issued for.

  • Parking offences – 7,000 (note this is only parking offences issued by the police).
  • Driving while using a mobile phone – 11,700
  • Alcohol or Drugs related – 30,500
  • Intersection issues (i.e. failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light) – 44,800
  • Not wearing a seatbelt or not having a child correctly restrained – 58,000
  • Car Registration issues – 122,600
  • Warrant of Fitness issues – 125,300
  • Driver licencing issues – 196,400
  • And the biggest one of them all …… Speeding – 918,400

There are some big numbers in there, especially the speeding number. I guess vehicle registration really helped stop people breaking the road rules.

Some might try to argue that the lower number of overall cycling offences recorded is just a reflection that fewer people cycle. A quick analysis using the MoTs data about vehicle km’s travelled and cycle km’s travelled suggests that on a per km basis, cyclists travel further between infringements that other drivers do – one infringement every 28,000 km’s for cycling and every 25,000 km’s for driving. Another way to look at it is that cycling makes up 1.4% of all transport trip legs but only 0.7% of all issued traffic infringements. Suggestions by some that we should only look to improve cycling infrastructure once cyclists start obeying the law perhaps need to take a look at the full picture first. No one group is perfect and mistakes will be made. As I said yesterday the only thing we can do is to try and build our city so that if a mistake is made then they don’t have to pay for it with their life.

I also think that the comments made by Michael Barnett of the Chamber of Commerce were very good in this regard – even though he was also using the incident to push for the motorway to be extended to the port.

Chamber chief Michael Barnett says an Auckland Transport survey showing many cyclists running red lights does not excuse a lack of action on projects to protect them and other road users – especially large trucks – from each other.

Lastly the reader who obtained the traffic incident data above grouped it and compared it with the number of accidents that caused an injury. There were 9545 injuries in total and here are the results he came up with.

Injuries vs Infringments

No one should pay for a mistake with their life

No one should pay for a mistake with their life.

That’s the key message being pushed by the NZTA ad that’s gone viral and now has over 5.6 million views (up from 440k when I posted about it last Wednesday). It’s a key part of the way we design many roads, for example it’s why we have barriers between motorway lanes, light poles that are designed to shear off at the base if someone accidentally hits them. It’s also why we spend money to improve our roads through the likes of easing corners and why transport agencies run advertising campaigns.

The sad event last week where a cyclist died after apparently running a red light and crashing into a truck is obviously a horrific situation but instead of asking what can be done to make things better so it doesn’t happen again, most seem to only be focusing on who was at fault. Now just so everyone is clear on my thoughts, I think there is no excuse for anyone using any mode of transport to be barrelling straight through an intersection on a red light – it’s a recipe for disaster.

The reality is people make mistakes or poor judgement calls all of the time yet when a cyclist makes one it seems to bring out an absolute hatred towards them from some in the community. Just like for cars and trucks, the only way to effectively minimise the risk of cycling is through improved infrastructure that reduces the risks. It’s an area that many people think AT have very poor at despite what they have said they are doing. Now this isn’t completely AT’s fault, the government policy statement that spells out the funding bands for each mode and only allows for very small amounts of the total transport budget to be used for cycling and walking projects – despite many projects performing substantially better under standard economic analysis than many of the massive roading projects currently on the agenda.

However in what appears to be a bid to draw attention away from questions of what can be done to improve conditions for everyone using roads, Auckland Transport appear to wanting to play the blame game by suggesting that not just this one cyclist made a mistake but by implying that it is something endemic among all cyclists and therefore implying that cyclists deserve the consequences of whatever happens to them. I think this is an extremely sad development in what is already a sad situation. To do this they released the results of a survey on red light running however the numbers actually raise far more questions than answers.

The headlines were that of the intersections surveyed there were 116 cars, 4 trucks, 3 buses, 1 motorcycle and 217 cyclists that ran red lights – although it appears there are a few counting errors but they don’t fundamentally change the result. Now the results sound really bad but here’s the thing, the survey was only done at four intersections across all of Auckland and three of them (the three that saw the most cyclists running red lights) were along the waterfront (not that this excuses it). When we look at the results by intersection this is what we get.

AT Cycling Survey

A couple of quick thoughts spring to mind about these intersections, on Quay St/Lower Albert is it cyclists travelling through the intersection while the pedestrian phase is running? On Tamaki Dr are the numbers high due to pack cycling? At Tamaki Dr/Paterson Ave there was clear trend of cyclists running red lights towards the city in the mornings and away from the city in the afternoons. On both the Quay St/Lower Albert and Tamaki Dr/Solent St intersections the red light running by cyclists was almost exclusively by those going westbound. Why are westbound cyclists more likely to run reds at the intersections (perhaps at the Solent St intersection it is to do with the cycle lane on the footpath being clogged up with traffic signals?

Solent Ave Intersection

However as I said, there were really just four intersections that were studied and I doubt they give a fair representation about how most cyclists at intersections behave. By releasing the information as it has I wonder if AT have done more harm than just letting the issue blow over. The information and how it has been reported in the Herald and other sites is only helping to create an us vs them attitude between different modes which is exactly the opposite of what needs to be happening.

In saying all of this it’s also useful to understand why cyclists may run red lights. This research from Daniel Newcombe at AT helps to shed some light on the issue. The learnings were that

  • Cyclists make choices about their behaviour on an intersection-by-intersection basis
  • Overall, cyclists’ red light running is a relatively infrequent and safe behaviour
  • Levels of red light running vary but (if use of Barnes Dance phases excluded) it’s the same as jaywalking (3.9%)
  • Higher numbers of vehicles ran red lights than cyclists but the proportion was lower (1.2%)
  • Cyclists want to clear the intersection ahead of other vehicles for safety reasons – not impatience
  • Commonly cyclists run red lights to turn left

And what can be done?

  • Sensor loops in the right place
  • More cycle lanes and boxes
  • Use technology to give cyclists head start
  • Legalise low risk red light running (Barnes Dance, left turn) – make cyclists give way
  • Stop slagging off cyclists for running red lights. Pedestrians are just as bad and neither group kills people like the alarming number of cars running reds

It seems AT need to heed their own advice on all of the recommendations that were made.

Note: Here is Cycle Action Auckland’s response to the survey results and things that  can be done to improve safety.

Lastly let’s stop pretending that only cyclists are the ones breaking road rules. There must be 10’s of thousands of speeding tickets issued each year along with thousands of other traffic offences. This study from the Ministry of Transport suggests that in Auckland 5% of the people they checked were either holding a cellphone to their ear or probably texting while driving

Once again we need to stop blaming people and start building our roads so that they are safe if people make mistakes because people don’t deserve to die because they make them.