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?

Share this

80 comments

  1. Fine to lower them on local roads provided they are raised on the open road/motorways and on certain arterial roads. Where a separated cycle lane exists they should also not be reduced.

    1. That’s illogical.

      The question of whether local road speeds should be reduced is separate from the question of whether motorway speeds should be increased.

      Yes the underlying methods of analysis can be the same, but concluding that local road speeds should be changed in no way implies what should happen to motorway speeds, and vice versa.

        1. If local roads are in effect being handed over to cyclists then main roads should conversely be allowed to have a faster speed limit to balance out the trip time. I know this is not a popular notion in this Copenhagen cycling paradise blog (which again I am not opposed to as cycling has many many benefits including health, pollution, capacity, noise) but isn’t much use for most people if it is longer than 10km etc. If there are cycle lanes that are separate from a main road then there is really no reason why that main road can’t have a faster limit since there isn’t that conflict anymore.

          1. What about pedestrians? If pedestrians are being killed injured crossing arterial roads with a 50km limit won’t raiding this limit make that problem worse? Also the point of the article is that perhaps the lives and safety of all road users should take precedence over trip times. So it takes you an extra couple of minutes to get to work isn’t that a small price to pay if it dramatically reduces the number of people dying and getting injured on our roads?

          2. Why must the trip time be “balanced out”? This is about how we benefit the most people in terms of 1) safety and 2) efficient movement from A to B. Public transport and cycling demonstrably achieve both of these objectives. If, as a result, a person that chooses to drive instead of using these modes has a longer journey time, so what?

          3. How many pedestrians are getting killed on main arterial roads? Most main arterial roads have plenty of traffic lights for people to safely cross at and typically have a median strip or pedestrian refuge if further from lights. All good people wandering all over local roads but they really shouldn’t be doing that on main roads (besides it being illegal if they are near a suitable crossing or otherwise impeding vehicles – which by the way includes buses and eventually LR. You don’t see people walking all over train tracks very often).

          4. Some things have a very simple and obvious explanation. People don’t wander over train tracks because town centres are usually centred around arterial roads, not around train tracks.

            On these arterial roads, traffic lights are usually not phased to let pedestrians cross in any reasonable amount of time. If you think a 2-minute wait in your car is long, remember that 2 a minutes wait is the best case scenario for pedestrians. Traffic lights are also often a long distance apart

            And yes there are “pedestrian refuges”. So what? Those are mountable so if someone is texting behind the wheel and veers to the right, he will kill you just the same.

          5. That’s a lot of what ifs. There was an article in Australia recently where they questioned this whole shame speed is evil mentality. People will always die from various reasons and while it is good to minimise this, the only way to reduce speed related deaths is to get rid of cars, buses, trucks completely. While you’re at it no bicycles, no horses… No jogging since 2 people running head on can also kill from head trauma. So basically we end up in a pre-industrial feudal society where pretty much everyone loves a subsistence lifestyle and has a life expectancy of about 35-40 years (as was the case until 200 years ago). You might say that is taking things a bit far. However without the productivity of motorised transport people won’t be able to travel far. It would be an end to manufactured goods since you would pretty much only be able to buy things from your local area as there would be no way to transport them further.
            No thanks, I’ll stick to the 21st century where there is less than 1% chance of dying in a vehicle related accident and where the chance of being a pedestrian/cyclist fatality is about 1/10th of that ie 0.1% more likely to die falling down the stairs!

          6. You are so right, the manufacturing industry will collapse overnight if urban speed limits are reduced to 30kph. We will all starve and die. Because it’s neigh on impossible to get to work with such low speed limits. May as well take a tent and camp overnight at work.

          7. “People will always die from various reasons and while it is good to minimise this, the only way to reduce speed related deaths is to get rid of cars, buses, trucks completely.”

            Bruce, fifty years ago you probably would have been using similar logic to argue against seatbelts, airbags, and unleaded gasoline.

          8. How many pedestrians are getting killed on main arterial roads?
            A lot more than are being killed or injured on quiet suburban streets:

            “In New Zealand, the vast majority of our pedestrian injury crashes occur on the relatively busy urban roads that bisect our suburbs and communities. More than half occur on ‘arterial roads’, and a quarter on ‘distributors/collectors’. Only one in five occur on streets designated as ‘local roads’ by territorial authorities.” – http://www.nzta.govt.nz/resources/nz-pedestrian-profile/6.html#63

          9. Peter, how do seat belts, airbags or unleaded gasoline have anything to do with productivity and improving safety?
            Seat belts are safer and don’t slow things down. They reduce the severity of accidents so that people can often walk away and the site can be cleared up rather than a serious accident where the police have to close the road and create chaos for everyone.
            Likewise airbags don’t slow things down for anyone at all but do improve safety. Unleaded gasoline… positive impact making the air safer for pedestrians – not sure your point on that one.
            Dropping speeds on all roads around the country to 30km/h except main arterials, highways and motorways is just ridiculous! It will *maybe* save what 10 lives if lucky? In the mean time there are probably (conservatively) 2.5 million people in NZ that drive during the day for one reason or other. Say on average they drive 20km (again conservative number) per day and half of their journey is on a non-arterial/motorway road then you are adding 6 minutes per person per day. 6 mins x 365 days x 2.5million people = 5,475,000,000 minutes per annum or 91,250,000 hours wasted. To put a dollar value on that (it is supposed to be around $20something per hour but that is a bit generous I think so even saying $15ph that comes to $1,368,750,000 ($1.36B in other words or $136 million per life saved….I’m sorry but just not worth it. That is of course all money that would otherwise go towards things like taxes (even if it was just the GST only that would be $20.5 million per life saved… I think $20.5 million would save a fair few more lives if it was spent on healthcare, police, or even improving PT affordability).

          10. Completely getting rid of cars, etc. is one extreme end. Few people will argue that’s a good idea. The other extreme is just allowing people to drive 70 or 90 or whatever silly speed they like, even in town centres (and as a consequence, getting a lot of people killed). There’s a whole range of options in between.

            It’s a compromise between allowing people in cars to get around as quickly as possible, versus having as few dead people as possible and giving other people a chance to get around in a reasonable and safe way too.

            What people here are arguing is that we are leaning too much towards the latter option. And that with some minor interventions (lower speed limits and a bit more pedestrian priority) we can make it a lot easier for people to get around without a car, while the inconvenience and time loss for drivers would still be marginal at best.

            There’s no “right” answer. Different people will find different options more desirable, depending on their preferences, eg. how fast they would like to drive, how much they object to getting people killed. And on how they see a city, is there a place for people on streets, or should people be enclosed in cars at all times, except for designated areas like malls and backyards. Or do we give kids—who cannot drive—the freedom to go somewhere without 24/7 supervision.

          11. And that’s also a lot of what-ifs.

            There is this thing called congestion. If you’re commuting you’ll be lucky if you actually drive 30.

            There’s no way you’ll spend half of the distance in a zone-30. Longer journeys will often have a larger motorway part. The part on local roads will not be 100% school zones, town centres and “quiet local streets”. In my experience the largest part will be “arterial outside a town centre” and I would argue in those parts the speed limit should remain 50.

          12. Bruce, The social cost of crashes in New Zealand is $3.5b dollars, and I would be very surprised if anyone except a courier driver is driving 10km a day on roads that aren’t at least collector roads. Also, most vehicles are already travelling less than 50 km/h on these roads already, the idea is to drag down the top speeds a lot more. You are also ignoring the reduction in pedestrian delay and the increase in cycling/walking that will occur as a result. Please show more working before making wild claims next time.

          13. Airbags have costs. Seatbelts have costs. Unleaded gasoline also costs. At the time, there were people saying that those costs aren’t worth it.

            Seatbelts are a great example. Carmakers took several decades to include them on *any* model of cars; they fought compulsory seatbelt laws until the 1960s; and even after that people resisted using them based on some probably fallacious arguments. http://blog.esurance.com/seat-belt-history/#.V04Xp9fbo_Q

            Nice try on cost-benefit analysis, incidentally, but I think it’s wrong for several reasons.

            First, the evidence from Sweden is that a consistent focus on safety (including but not limited to safe speeds) has halved road death rates over the last 20 years. In the NZ context, that would equate to more like ~150 lives saved each year, and a much larger number of injury accidents reduced in severity. (You ignore injury crashes entirely.) So the benefits of the policy are considerably larger than you assume.

            Second, you erroneously assume that people would be travelling at 50km/hr (or more) all the time. This isn’t true. A significant fraction of travel is during peak time, or on roads with intersections and traffic lights that prevent people from driving at the speed limit. So you’ve overstated the costs in terms of increased travel times.

            Third, you don’t consider the potential for behavioural responses to changing road environments. This could include changing travel mode, destinations, or route choice. Again, failing to consider these results in overstated costs.

            Lastly, notice that the post raised the question of whether we needed lower speed limits (almost definitely, at least on some streets) but didn’t recommend limiting speeds to 30km/hr everywhere.

          14. “the only way to reduce speed related deaths is to get rid of cars, buses, trucks completely.”

            An absurd and irrational statement. Kinetic energy dissipated in collisions is closely correlated with death and serious injury. Kinetic energy is proportional to the square of the velocity, ergo a small decrease in velocity results in a greater than proportional decrease in deaths and serious injuries.

  2. Really important issue there Peter, and note that the MoT document you link to also shows that speeding is much less common on open roads (100 km/hr speed limit). There the median is 95 and the 85th percentile is just a touch over 100 – and the tests are deliberately carried out on roads which don’t have any real impediments to speeding.
    The change to 30 km/hr in urban areas could prevent a large number of deaths and serious injuries.

    1. That’s probably a sign that we’ve screwed up design speeds for our roads. We’ve over-engineered urban roads (including wholly residential roads) in a way that encourages people to speed, and cut corners on rural roads that could safely accommodate higher speeds.

      Possibly a sign that road-builders have taken a one-size-fits-all approach to design – i.e. if a road has XX vehicles per day, it gets a curve straightening; if not, it doesn’t.

      1. Indeed, we have completely lost the art of urban street design (and that does include roads that are not considered to be high speed arterials or expressways). Our urban environments are predominately designed using link road theory and as a result have lost the emphasis that gives the urban realm its context; poor road design effectively changes the design domain from one of complementing and responding to land use to one of bullying it in to a new shape that land use is slow to adapt to.

      2. What does the design manual actually say? Yesterday the Ponsonby Road improvements consultation report came, and it had a note about why we can’t make the pedestrian refuges larger:

        This is not possible with the constrained road widths. The widths of the traffic
        lanes are already minimum required for an arterial road.

        Curious as to how wide that required width is.

        1. Would depend if their using ATCoP or Austroads… ATCoP allows a range between 3.0 and 3.5m where as Austroads will indicate that 3.5m is better; that is of course assuming their using ATs own draft guidance document… They could of course have picked what ever numbers suited their own requirements/thinking etc.

          Personally, they should be looking at somewhere between 3.0m and 3.25m for this urban road in my opinion and certainly shouldn’t be looking at any form of link road theory design rules!

          1. Austroads is really aimed at highways rather than streets. 3.5m is wider than you need provided you have some other way of providing for cyclists. Normally if you try to go narrow on Auckland streets you get push back from the bus end of AT. Their urban designers on the other hand love lanes that are too narrow to work properly. The trick is to get them all involved at the same time or they will happily waste your time and have you going in circles widening and narrowing.

  3. Get half of kids cycling to school? It ain’t going to happen. Current rates are under 2%. There are dreams, and there is reality. Lowering suburban street speed limits further, again, stupidity. Around schools yes, anywhere else counterproductive. Stop looking at Holland and look at cities with big populations that are spread out, like Australian cities. PT accounts for around 10% of trips, suburban roads are 60, 70 and even 80km/hr. They know how to make city traffic flow. And as for pedestrians always being the victim, try running a courier company and see how many near misses there are from fools who just walk out into the road often looking at their mobiles and with headphones on. Don’t blame vehicles for all pedestrian injuries. Cyclists injure pedestrians too, oh no, surely not! But true. Trains kill pedestrians too…..so who is at fault there? Can’t legislate against stupidity. Everyone (vehicle, cycle, pedestrian) needs to be aware and responsible for what they do. Articles such as this make a mockery of commonsense and people’s intelligence.

    1. Have to agree with your comment on cyclists. I run the shared cycle/walk ways and bikes doing near or beyond the normal 50 k limit on downhill sections as they do with little room for error is lethal all round!

    2. “Get half of kids cycling to school? It ain’t going to happen. Current rates are under 2%.”

      25 years ago, around 60% of kids walked or cycled to school. Today it’s 30%. I see no reason why that ratio can’t shift back given appropriate policies.

      “Stop looking at Holland and look at cities with big populations that are spread out, like Australian cities.”

      Here’s a list of Sweden’s urban areas. Stockholm is a bit smaller than Auckland, Gothenburg is a bit larger than Wellington, Malmo is a bit smaller than Christchurch, and then they have a tail of smaller cities around the size of Hamilton, Tauranga, and Dunedin. It’s actually very comparable to New Zealand in that respect. The Swedes have plenty of experience managing transport challenges in small to medium size cities.

      “Can’t legislate against stupidity. Everyone (vehicle, cycle, pedestrian) needs to be aware and responsible for what they do.”

      Apparently you missed the entire point of the article. We can’t legislate against stupidity, but we *can* ensure that the consequences of mistakes aren’t fatal. A key part of that is limiting speed limits in areas where cars mix with people. The mortality statistics don’t lie. If you’re hit by a large bit of metal, it’s much better if it’s moving more slowly.

    3. Ain’t going to happen? I guess you are either quite young, or didn’t grow up in new zealand if you don’t remember cycling to school being common.

    4. ‘Don’t blame vehicles for all pedestrian injuries’

      No-one is blaming anyone for anything. It’s not about blame, it’s about problem solving. IF you reduce urban speed limits, THEN there will be fewer pedestrian [and motorist, of course] deaths and injuries. That’s a quite neutral, value-free statement. How you respond to that information is up to you.

      Note that if there was a 30kph limit on local access streets, probably no-one would be more than 500m from a higher speed arterial road and no trip would be more than one minute longer.

      1. “No-one is blaming anyone for anything. It’s not about blame, it’s about problem solving.”

        This is a really great way of putting it. Thanks John. Deserves repeating all the time.

      2. We also don’t generally apply that logic to other issues. Do we “blame” smokers for causing their own deaths, and so do nothing about lung cancer? Or even more directly, do we “blame” suicides for their own deaths?

        The question of blame is irrelevant, unless (and until) we’ve decided that the solution to the problem is punishment. The first tasks are to decide that it’s a problem, that we want to tackle it, and how.

    5. Yes do look at Holland. Place Hamilton in list with Medium size Dutch cities, we get a very comparable average population density.
      http://hamiltonurbanblog.co.nz/2014/06/hamilton-as-medium-sized-city-in-netherlands./
      Also have been looking at medium size Germany cities I am finding the same similar spread.
      Now look back to the 1970s and you will find NL & NZ approach to transport/parking very similar. Difference is we choice to take a different approach.

    6. Ah Ricardo, my daily dose of nonsense and foam flecked ranting, interlaced with made up figures and gratuitous insults flung at anyone who dare proffer an opposing view. Transportblog’s answer to Edward Lear; just nowhere near as funny.

      1. It would be great to ask Ricardo to do a guest post for the blog. Purely in the interests of balance and hearing the other side of the argument of course, rather than a source of fun. It could be called “All the things that make me angry” or “Why we all must bow down to THE FLOW”

    7. Quote: “Can’t legislate against stupidity”

      Exactly right and why we should have lower speed limits and that would go for bikes around pedestrians, high speed transport should be confined to motorways, try living on a road without footpaths or cycleways with heavy vehicles traveling at 70kph to 100kph as we do in country villages with no dedicated crossing because that would impede the traffic and we can’t have that.

      Around the corner a young girl was killed cycling to school, the road has open ditches and no footpath and at the time was 100 kph since her death it’s 60 kph still a killer speed though. in a civilized society that valued human life we should not need to have this discussion, separate or slow down there is no other way and where we can’t separate 30 kph urban and rural, why should urban give life more value than rural.

  4. The problem is much wider than the very good points you have gathered.
    The way we have redesigned our communities has changed immeasurably and the facilities we all choose to be engaged in are spread far and wide. Our attitudes to the way we live need to change with an emphasis on living locally.

  5. Car manufacturers also should be asked to consider their manual shift gearbox design to allow easier slow speed running. Sometimes the ratios are such that it is easier to drive faster than constantly shifting up and down.

  6. I think a lot more emphasis should be put into subway paths under roads where schools are located on main or semi main roads because at least then crossing a road would be 100% safe (and an absolute must for rail as I see another person hit on one of those mega lethal level crossings at GI). Seeing little guys taking their lives into their hands with little orange flags is cheap but high risk. There is just far too much reliance on everyone doing the lawful thing of observing that yellow or red light or even seeing the vehicle stopped in front of you. It would also remove the temptation to jay walk.

    Agreed the 40 km/hr limit around schools is an excellent idea.

    1. It’s 30km/hr, not 40km/hr.

      Palmerston North has recently installed rather small school zones at 40km/hr. It has changed traffic behaviour a little, but most are still going over 40km/hr. Not sure why they didn’t go with 30km/hr: One presumes because they didn’t have the guts to do it properly?

      They also didn’t define the areas very well. For example, between two schools (College St Normal, Girls High) there is a school zone at each end of a small side street but it reverts to 50km/hr for middle of the street (some 80m or so). Pointless. Similarly, the school zone is gone for the major intersections on either side of Girls High, where there are large, fast, slip lanes with no pedestrian crossings. Idiocy!

      /rant off 😉

      1. I think you’ll find that the council were only allowed to drop the speed limit as far as 40km/h by the relevant legislation even if they thought 30km/h was more appropriate.

    2. subways are typically unsafe, rarely used, ugly, and expensive.

      I think they’re a terrible way of trying to resolve issues that could be resolved on the surface, through for example signalised crossings.

      1. What utter rubbish! Subways are rarely used because they rarely exist. How many people have been killed or maimed using the western end of the Morningside Railway platform subway versus the signalised crossing at the other end? None versus far too many! How many using the Glen Innes subway have been killed or injured versus the current pedestrian level crossings? All I know is I have lost count how many people have been injured or killed at GI! And damned if those ringing bells and flashing red lights did anything for the person hit there this morning!

        The only thing protecting a pedestrian on a crossing is a red beam of light. What is unsafe about a subway, a highly unlikely rat bite or Jack the Ripper? How many people have met their maker in Britomart using those subways and did they not win some design award?

        I dont know what your fear is of subways but they do not have to resemble Victorian coal mines or medieval dungeons!

        1. A rail line is quite different to a road and using today’s unfortunate incident is not a good example.

          When you’re already at road level they’re a nuisance to use, and with over bridges. Even when they exist people prefer not to use them so they just get ignored. Take the one under Symonds St at the university for example, people still prefer to cross at the street level. At Britomart the recently closed one was barely used on comparison to the number who walked out the front door and crossed the road dodging buses. For a motorway or railway yes, for local roads they are not a solution

          1. I think the Britomart underpass would have seen more foot traffic if it had gone somewhere other than a lift or a staircase leading to the open air.

            If it had instead gone straight through into the shopping mall, undercover all the way and with escalators directly up to the shops then I think it would have been much busier.

            I’m thinking of Toronto where you can walk practically off the subway trains and into the shops at a number of stations.

        2. I beg to differ.

          The limited usefulness of pedestrian subways as an alternative to surface crossings is fairly widely-accepted in professional transport planning and urban design circles.

          “Tanaboriboon and Jing (1994) reported the attitudes of pedestrians in Beijing, China, towards the sufficiency of crossing facilities and the willingness of pedestrians to use them. The study compared signalized intersection pedestrian crossings to overpass and underpass counterparts and concluded that users preferred the signalized crossings to the overpass or underpass crossings.” Source: ww.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S136984780300041X

          This makes sense to me. By the time you get in and out of a subway you’ve usually used so much additional time that most people instead choose to skip across the road. General rule: Creating barriers to pedestrian movements to expedite high-speed car travel tends to make it more dangerous for pedestrians, which is exactly what Peter’s post is arguing against.

          Moreover, many of the subways that have been installed have been underutilized to the point where they are ultimately signalised or even removed. Auckland has a recent example of this: The Engineering Building on Symonds Street, where they subsequently installed a signalised crossings on top of the underpass. This mirrors a global trend away from subways and/or overpasses.

          Note that I’m not saying underpasses are always bad, and indeed sometimes they are the best solution, e.g. due to topograhy. In general, however, they’re not a particular effective solution, especially when you consider their high cost.

          Much better to design appropriate crossing solutions on the surface.

          Finally, rail lines are a separate issue; we’re talking about road safety here. But I do note that most rail subways are also relatively unpleasant, IMO.

  7. Speeding is one problem that driverless-car technology can and will solve – even if driverless cars as such never happen. Electronic speed limitation (to 100kph) is already a reality in some commercial vehicles; the same technology plus a GPS can ensure compliance with all local speed limits, plus reduced speeds through major intersections and on tight corners. It isn’t even necessary for all vehicles to be fitted with the technology: once a few are, they will determine the speed the traffic flows at.

  8. Be careful what you wish for. If you lower speeds then the Economic Analysis methods will give motorways a higher level of benefits as they will provide a greater reduction in travel time. More motorways will then be built.

      1. Yes of course there is. Economists can put a price on anything. A fatality is valued at $4.1million for a pedestrian crash rising up to $5.4million if two cars crash head on see table A6.3(b) http://www.nzta.govt.nz/assets/resources/economic-evaluation-manual/economic-evaluation-manual/docs/eem-manual-2016.pdf
        A serious crash is priced starting at $440,000 for pedestrians. But each crash you can prevent comes at the cost of slowing drivers by $23.40 per hour x the number you slowed per day x days per year. It is the calculus of misery versus inconvenience. Another victory for the dismal science.

        1. “The calculus of misery versus inconvenience” is an excellent phrase. Somebody needs to tell the NZTA that giving people a few extra minutes to sit on their chuff and read Facebook, or watch Mike Hosking or Paul Henry isn’t worth $23.40 per hour.

    1. A lot of talk to date, but very little actual outcome. Safer Speeds was one of the four planks of the 2010-20 Safer Journeys Strategy, and six years in we still have very little to show for it (I note too that the recently released 2016-20 Strategy Implementation Plan has absolutely nothing in it new regarding speed either). Everyone seems to be afraid of the possible political backlash if motorists can’t all get from A to B as fast as possible (never mind the people who occupy the spaces on the way…).

        1. It’s being trialled there, with the emphasis on the rural network (which is good to see, but does little to address the urban problem). Meanwhile, no-one else is meant to do anything to their speed limits for ~18 months while all this trialling is going on…

          1. Pretty much every suburban street is 40km/h in Hamilton, the city was done before the rural roads. I’ll see if I can get a public link at work tomorrow and share.

            Unfortunately the political will isn’t yet there to use speed change to reduce traffic.

          2. That is a great example of why politicians and not traffic engineers are the problem :/

  9. The Christchurch experience is going to be interesting to observe – they recently changed most of the central part of town into a 30k zone. Lambton Quay has been a 30k zone for a while, but I have to say while I was living there it never *felt* like a 30k zone – perhaps illustrating the problems of lowering speed limits without reshaping roads in tandem. A lot of the roads in Christchurch are very wide compared to their Auckland equivalents.

    1. The whole central city in Chch is slowly being reconstructed (“Accessible City” project) so, while there is currently a bit of incongruity between speed limits and road environment, that’s not likely to remain e.g. Victoria St currently proposed for extreme makeover. In the absence of positive encouragement from central Govt, Chch City have also got on with introducing lower speed limits in various suburban shopping areas that are also being reconstructed, e.g. 30km/h limits proposed for Sumner Village and Woolston Village.

  10. I would support lowering the local urban road speed limit from 50 to 40 or even 30. I think a blanket change would send a clear message, avoid inconsistencies and be less confusing than having similar roads at different speed limits depending on which part of the city it is in or whether or not it has a school nearby.
    Those roads that are designed and used as major arterials could be given a higher 50k speed limit on a case by case basis.
    Of course I wouldn’t expect that this change alone would be sufficient but should also be utilised in conjunction with road design. However changing existing roads will take time.

  11. Once a town gets bypassed (like huntly or paekakariki) by one of these flash rons I think the old route should be calmed to 30km/h but I bet they arent.

  12. “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”

    That’s the very point that seems to elude you. If they hadn’t put themselves into the path of the motor vehicle they would be perfectly fine. Thus, the campaign to get people to stop walking into traffic while distracted.

    Remember, about 50% of pedestrian vs vehicle accidents are the fault of the pedestrian.

    All road users, be they in cars, on bikes, or on foot, must do their bit to stay safe on the roads.

    1. Well, I first want to see how they decide when a pedestrian is to blame for an accident. Keeping that 50% statistic up is probably one of the reasons why the council is so reluctant to build zebra crossings.

      And the thing is, if you’re shopping around in a town centre, what are you supposed to do if you need to cross the street? Don’t do it? Park on one side, and then move your car when you go to a shop on the other side? There’s a lot of town centres where you just can’t cross in any legitimate way, or where the legitimate way will mean it will take 10 minutes to reach the other side of the street.

      All road users? Currently it’s more like we have to allow cars to drive as unimpeded as possible, no matter how much other people are inconvenienced by that, while it is the sole responsibility of people on foot to stay out of the way.

    2. Missing the point of the post again. Yes, pedestrians and cyclists are human and make silly mistakes and decisions; so do motorists. For all the effort you put into education and enforcement for them all to be better road users, these problems aren’t all going to go away. But if we can slow down the speed of passing traffic, then any collisions that happen will be less severe. Guess what – those benefits also apply to motor veh vs motor veh crashes too…

      1. Does that also apply to trains at crossings ? should we slow a train down to say walking pace to reduce harm just in case someone decides to cross when a train passes ?

        I can see Geoff’s point that many people these days are so distracted by phones / music that regardless of what measures are put in place such as speed reduction ( I agree with 30km suburban speed limit) there will still be issues if pedestrians do not take their safety seriously while crossing roads after all the laws of physics will not be broken – the pedestrian will always come off worse. At 30km/hr you still will be seriously harmed.

        As someone who works on roads sometimes in controlled 30km/hr speed zones I can assure you you will have idiots regularly who will speed through these zones. If I was to not keep a good awareness of my surroundings I would be asking for problems. I have learnt from a number of near misses over the years you cannot trust anyone and you have to be on the lookout all the time. Stepping back to the general public on roads they have to realize that they are in a dangerous environment and ultimately its their life on the line. They can control their actions they cannot control others. I cannot accept that people crossing roads with headphones in looking down or on the phone which seems to be prevalent these days is taking this risk seriously.

    3. As Glen said, you completely missed the point of the post. Accidents happen. Sometimes you can assign fault, sometimes you can’t. Individual people are fallible… but the transport system as a whole should be designed to ensure that people have the best odds of walking away.

      This is a design issue. We build cars to ensure that their users survive crashes – crumple zones, airbags, steel frames, etc. We should build streets (and assign speed limits) to do the same.

      If you disagree, I’d like to put your misanthropy to the test. I’ll go and track down the names of a dozen or so children or adults who were killed while walking on the road, and look up their next-of-kin in the phone book. Then you can go and ring their parents, spouses, or children and explain to them that their loved ones deserved to die because they were careless. So: Are you up for it?

    4. Geoff responsibility may be shared, but it is not equal, the heavy faster road user can and should take more care, should a human make a mistake, it is the stronger road user that controls the level of harm to weaker road users.

      1. Peter H, nobody has said motorists do not have responsibilities. Indeed, there are untold safety campaigns targeting them.

        But it seems to me as soon as a safety campaign pops up for pedestrians, this blog jumps in and complains. It would appear some folk hate motorists so much that in their twisted minds they will blame the motorist when a pedestrian walks in front of their vehicle without looking, and gets hurt or killed.

        There are people who walk into traffic, heads down, eyes fixed on their phone, and ears listening to music. There is a strong need for safety campaigns targeting these people. These people are 100% responsible for their actions.

          1. Peter he doesn’t need to talk to the accident victim’s family, I can ask my wife who still breaks down and cries 60 years after her brother was killed by the local doctor, they were told by the hospital on no account open the coffin, my wife has never got over it he was only 7 or 8, I don’t like to ask her about it.

            People think my attitude is stupid when I suggest low speed on all roads that share space with pedestrians and cyclists but I have seen the impact on a family that suffered a child’s death. Before we came here a 5 year old was killed coming across to this house when he followed his elder brother, no one walks away at 70 kph.

        1. Blame is rarely assigned 100% to one party. And you don’t seem to be reading (or understanding) people’s responses: this is not about blame but instead minimizing harm. Hell, drivers are also pedestrians and vice versa.

        2. Also I don’t think anyone would argue that walking out on the roadway while being immersed in your phone is a good idea.

          I do sometimes object to safety campaigns because they get the order wrong. In case of “the red man at traffic lights”, I’d say the right order is:
          (1) a minimal amount of thought about the level of service for pedestrians
          (2) safety campaign

        3. Geoff it is not about motorist, it about road user interaction. The controller of weight and speed is the critical component that sets the level of risk.

  13. http://www.transport.govt.nz/research/roadcrashstatistics/thesocialcostofroadcrashesandinjurie

    copied from the report.

    The Social Cost of Road Crashes and Injuries 2015 update was released in March 2016.

    The report finds that the total social cost of motor vehicle injury crashes in 2014 is estimated at approximately $3.47 billion (up by 5.8 percent from $3.28 billion in 2013), at June 2015 prices. This estimate covers all injuries recorded by NZ Police, hospitals and Accident Compensation Corporation.

  14. The cost of everything and the value of nothing, more than life! especially if it’s yours or someone you love.

    Should we be starting the conversation differently?
    Start by asking how many lives it is acceptable to lose per year?
    What number of severe injuries we should say are acceptable?
    What do we do when that number is reached?
    Shut off all vehicles from the road and not use them again till the year is over?
    Maybe we should allow the public transport to continue?
    Although it may be better if we used the shutoff time as one of National Mourning.
    Could we ask for volunteers to be the next death?
    Maybe some of the posters here could volunteer their children or loved ones?

    There are so many alternatives.

Leave a Reply