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

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

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

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

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

Public want brakes put on Hamilton speed limit changes

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

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

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

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

The survey results showed that:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

An example of using some paint to encourage drivers to slow down from Philadelphia
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  1. The AA are right on one count, new signs on there own are a silly idea, the right approach is to go back into the history book and paint the speeds on the roads. The good news is, from my last trip up north, it seems they have started to doing this again already. It’s easier to read/notice bits on the road, than the signs.

  2. Hamiltron, City of the Future, eh?

    Seriously, though, people must not be very attentive. The ‘Safer Speed Areas’ are clearly marked; the Council generally installs extra speed limit signs on roads that get this treatment, all with a big blue background and the words SAFER SPEED AREA emblazoned on them. There is also often a raised speed table, and/or red paving or paint at the start of these zones, in addition to the painted 40 in a circle on the road. I wonder if people really don’t notice the signs, or are just pleading innocence. I commonly observe buses speeding down these streets, and I’m sure they know the speed limits.

    Speaking of buses, HCC has done some shocking work in actually slowing down buses lately, as part of these safer speed areas; the Number 2 bus route had a roundabout installed at an intersection that makes it very hard for the bus to turn, as well as a bunch of speed tables. On the other hand, a bunch of intersections, including the important Victoria/Bridge St intersection recently got Bus priority lights (the little white B’s), however I was on a bus the other day where the driver ignored the B and waited until the signal went green to go. Was very frustrating.

  3. I don’t think paint or signs are the right things – its as the AA says – the road should tell you what the speed should be. People travel at a speed in their vehicles according to their perception of risk. We need to increase the perception of risk in these non arterial streets by taking away the footpaths, taking away the cycle lanes, extending planting out into the centre, narrowing streets by having diagonal parking etc. The idea is that on non arterial roads it should be like people feel they are driving on the footpath, through a pedestrian area. There needs to be clear demarkation at the junction between these 30km roads and the 60km/hr arterials – eg rumble crossing across road, trees constricting the entrance. Removing the footpaths, perhaps paving the streets, moving trees out into the streets creates uncertainty in drivers minds as to who has the right of way and they slow down. In Nelson we have these raised crossings that are like the footpath paving joining up across the roads: They aren’t pedestrian crossings and they work really well as there is doubt as to who has the right of way – the drivers have to look and check as do pedestrians.

    And the way you sell this to AA members is that a) you make it very clear what the speed limit is by the feel of the roads cape and b) you allow 60km/hr speeds on the arterials.
    With this scheme you never have on road cycle lanes. In the 30kmhr zones is safe to cycle on the road, in the 60kmhr zones you have off road cycle paths physically separated from the traffic (ideally going it the same direction but away from not just the danger of vehicles, but also their pollution).

    1. Shared spaces can work in a very narrow space, when there are lots of pedestrians and very few cars, but as traffic increases, cars quickly bully pedestrians out of the way. Try walking down the new shared space they’re finishing off at the west end of Fort Street for example. Getting rid of footpaths in itself doesn’t slow down cars, it makes the street more dangerous for the blind, and more unpleasant for everyone on foot.

      Drivers only slow down for obstacles that they can’t win a fight with and can’t scare out of the way – kerbs, streetlights, trees, bollards, parked cars and so on. I’d much rather try to slow down cars by moving the kerbs out (especially at intersections), turning traffic lanes into on-street parking, and other traditional traffic calming measures.

  4. Is it possible for us to post images on this? I have some of livable streets that I’d like to share, but can I do that and if so how?Cheers

  5. I went down to Hamilton for the first time in thirty odd years last year and was shocked at how totally the city had been sublimated to the car and how deleterious this obsession has been to the quality of its urban fabric. What had once been a pleasant, albeit provincial, leafy, conurbation had become a hollow shell of a place; a tacky casino surrounded by car parks. Its existing road grid had effectively been re-designed to marginalise pedestrians: minimal pedestrian crossings at signalised intersections; roundabouts approached by flaring ‘speed-up’ roads with no provision for pedestrians crossing; footpaths ripped up to widen roads, etc. All very depressing. So the response of Hamilton AA members hardly comes as a surprise. But I don’t think their concerns are necessarily altruistic; to the contrary I suspect they think these somewhat limited measures proposed by Council will detract from the sense of entitlement that many motorists have: that they should be able to go wherever they want at the fastest possible speed. I suspect this attitude reflects the successful embodiment of the aims and aspirations of a whole generation of New Zealand traffic engineers: more cars, faster.

  6. On local streets like the ones in Hamilton with the 40km/h zones, I think I’d be more interested in the RESIDENTS’ opinions than those of motorists who may wish to drive through. And lo and behold, there on Hamilton’s Safer Speed Area website is a summary of what the communities actually think about the concept. “Safer Speed Areas help prevent people being injured or killed on local roads” – 65% agree. “Safer Speed Areas are good for the local community” – 70% agree. “I try to stay at 40km/h when I drive in a Safer Speed Area” – 80% agree. Personally I give more credence to this kind of feedback…

    Essentially this has been a trial of the power of speed limits and marketing alone. Hamilton didn’t have a lot of money for extensive traffic calming so they tried to see what they could do without that. Historically in NZ you’ve had to have observed speeds within 5km/h of any new posted speed limit, which makes it hard to encourage places to introduce lower speed limits without spending on calming as well. Sure, the evidence here and overseas suggests that a 10km/h drop in posted speed alone typically only reduces observed speeds by ~2-3km/h. But that’s still quite a few percentage points reduction in the numbers of fatal and seriously injured. Now I wholly endorse the concept of trying to create self-explaining roads by making the streets fit the bill physically, but we need to understand how effective are all the different tools at our disposal. Posted speed limits shouldn’t be seen as something special – in my view they’re just another speed management tool like narrow roads, speed humps, or islands in the middle.

    I agree though that some treatments could be relatively inexpensive. For example, I noticed that a number of the streets being treated still had centre-lines marked. The evidence elsewhere shows that removing those markings help to lower speeds, mainly because both directions of traffic have to think a bit more about what is “their space”.

    (BTW, I wish Hamilton City and other well-meaning organisations would stop using outdated research regarding the effect of impact speed on fatalities. You will not get 80% of pedestrians dying if hit by a car at 50km/h; the latest research shows the figure is more like 10%. Not as alarming when you’re trying to promote lower speeds, but still twice that if hit at 40 km/h and five times that at 30 km/h…)

  7. Peter Olorenshaw and GlenK are bang on with their comments in my view.

    This is a video showing changes made to a 1960s auto oriented development in Utrecht. The changes made were so simple and cheap but had a great outcome. All it trajes is for motorists to accept that the y will be slowed for the first/last 5-10% of their journey. Is that really an issue?

    And I will post this excellent video by David Hembrow from the great blog View from the Cycle Path (http://www.aviewfromthecyclepath.com/2009/01/visit-to-nijmegen.html) about how the Dutch got their cycle paths. It seems in NZ we are happy to accept children dying on our roads if it means we can drive faster:

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