Dr Matts-Åke Belin who is speaking at a Women in Urbanism event tonight and at Auckland Conversations on Wednesday was interviewed on The Nation on Saturday.

It’s great that this was picked up by The Nation, our increasing road toll is a disgrace.

The comment I found most interesting was the cost of different options for improving safety in rural areas (from 6:50). In Sweden upgrading roads to a motorway standard cost 1 billion per life saved (about $173m). However, upgrading to 2+1 roads with barrier separation cost just $30 million per life saved (about $5.2m). That’s notable because whilst not the only reason for building them, the previous government often referred to the Roads of National Significance when questioned on what they were doing to improve safety.

The 2+1 road concept is something I see fitting in very well across much of New Zealand’s state highway network. This includes all of the roads National singled out for their next batch of RoNS during the election campaign. They are essentially two-lane roads separated by a median barrier and with regular, alternating passing lanes. Even better, it’s not even like they’re new to NZ as we’ve even got some already, or at least we did. The section of SH1 between Longswamp and Rangiriri is currently being upgraded to full expressway standard but it was previous upgraded to a 2+1 road to improve safety.

The timing of Dr Belin’s visit perhaps couldn’t be better. We’ve got a new government at the wheel and one that pledged during the election to support Vision Zero. Our transport agencies, who have repeatedly claimed there was nothing wrong with our safety strategies, appear to have had a sudden change of heart. Tweets out of the Trafinz conference last week suggest change is on the way. Here are a few of them.

This is obviously an issue we’ll follow closely.

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65 comments

  1. 2+1 is a terrible idea. When it gets busy the constant merging at the ends of passing lanes makes it slower than just 1+1. Surely there is somewhere between 2+1 and motorway – expressway for example.

    1. I agree that is an issue, however it can be solved relatively easily by closing off one of the lanes on the approach to major urban areas on the last day of a holiday weekend. I believe they do this with passing lanes north of Wellington.

        1. Not as far as I am aware. The passing lanes are for everyday capacity, the problem is they don’t handle heavy traffic very well as vehicles merge from two lanes to one at the end of the passing lane. The simple solution is to block off the passing lane when it is busy so that there is a continuous stream of single lane traffic.

    2. By your argument, should immediately close & remove all passing lanes …

      More realistically, where roads are only occasionally very busy (e.g. holiday weekends) just close the passing lane with a row of cones. Was standard on SH1 passing lanes round Kapiti before the expressway.

    1. 2+1 gives the same level of safety with the added advantage of improved flow. However, there would be many parts of the country that this would be overkill, however would still benefit from a median barrier.

    2. Mix of 2+1 and 1+1 depending on traffic volume, terrain constraints, etc would probably do. 2+1 section on Haywards SH58 has made a difference, the cable barrier has caught a few …

      1. Agreed. 2+1 is a philosophy and can include section of 1+1, 2+1, and 2+2. It’s the + that is important. Central and side barriers are what saves lives, not the passing lanes.

        1. Wonder about starting with some sections of road that are already wide (already have passing lanes or are new-ish). Could roll out some relatively quickly before moving on to more difficult ones.
          A few examples off the top of my head:
          – SH2 Mangatawhiri bypass
          – SH1 near Karapiro
          – SH1 on & off the central plateau (long passing lanes near Rangipo & Taihape)
          – SH1 north of Otaki (in Forest Lakes area)

          More difficult and perhaps suitable for 1+1 could be SH1 on the desert road where it winds in and out of gullies and is very prone to ice. Would help keep vehicles contained in their lane (but I don’t know if that’d work for big trucks though).

  2. From the figures I have seen for the road toll in 2016, 39 percent of drivers, and 42 percent of passengers who died, were not wearing seatbelts.

    Should this be the first item looked at in reducing the road toll of occupants of cars ?

    1. How? IQ test on driver licenses? Surely everyone knows they are meant to wear a seatbelt.
      This is my issue with Vision Zero – it implies the driver can never be at fault. Yes you shouldn’t pay with your life for a simple error of judgement – but a lot of these accidents are not a simple error of judgement (no seatbelt, excessive speeds, drink driving).

      1. No, Vision Zero assumes drivers will always mistakes and designs as much as possible road environments to consider that fact.

        90%+ of crashes are due to human error.
        Regarding seatbelts we need cars that wont start unless the seatbelts are done up even if the seat is empty.
        Alternatively there is camera technology now that can tell if a seatbelt is being worn (not sure it its just the driver or not)

        1. Yes kiwi overseas your idea makes way more sense than spending huge amounts that may or may not be effective. A central barrier is of no effect whatsoever if the driver drives off the side of the road. And lets have cars that won’t start if you are affected by drug or alcohol consumption. Surely there has to be some sort of personal responsibility in this?

          1. Surely personal responsibility and safe design aren’t mutually exclusive. Bit hard to take responsibility if you’re dead.

      2. I think a cheap safety barrier to protect the family of 10 people in a van from an unwarranted speeding car driven by an unlicensed tired drunk drugged driver not wearing a seatbelt crossing the lane is a good idea.

    2. To look at your figures another way:

      More than 50% of the people who died last year WERE wearing a seat belt and/or some form of restraint – and yet they died.

      Thats a more telling issue than you blithely saying “no seatbelt? – well theres your problem right there”, when clearly, while it is a part of the issue – it is not the full story or the only issue you need to deal with.

      Because, what those figures the cops run around spouting off, and the papers pick up and regurgitate without any thought, do not tell you, is how many of the unrestrained deaths (as the Police call them) were caused by drivers or occupants of vehicles (or those outside the vehicle who were hit by said vehicles and then died), were actually multiple factor deaths, e.g. also involving tired, drunk, drugged, inattentive/distracted, driving/walking/cycling, or went under a truck with no side skirts or generally were victims of poor road (or crossing) design etc.

      Blaming the victim for not wearing a seatbelt, as the root of many of the road deaths is a big part of the cultural problem that Vision Zero seeks to change. And if you don’t change the culture of victim blaming – nothing much will change.

      As for kiwi_overseas idea to have interlocks in the car on seatbelts – that won’t happen.
      And is simply more blame shifting. They don’t do that in Scandinavia – for a reason, as it doesn’t actually fix the underlying causes/problems. If it did every car out there in Europe would have them. They don’t – and that tells you something.

      If we really wanted to cut the road toll that way, and tackle Vision Zero properly we’d have interlocks on the cars alright – that would stop them working,

      But they’d be ones for drunk, tired or drugged and/or inattentive drivers, not whether you have every seatbelt done up or not.

      In any case, the sheer age [with fleet average age over 13+ years and getting older] of the private vehicles on the road here mean that being in a crash in a older car, even with seat belts and air bags and such will not ensure survival or the occupants, that is of course, if the vehicle is properly maintained, and assume the airbags haven’t been disconnected [ala the Takata airbag recall] or turned off [such as people do on the passenger side when they have an infant in the front seat].

      Far better to focus [as the Swedes and others do] on ensuring most crashes simply don’t happen in the first place , and are mostly low energy ones when they do, by a implementing raft of road safety and design features and ensuring you do have a more modern vehicle fleet.

      Rather than the: cheap and cheerful safety mantra we get of “reduce speeds, wear seat belts & buy a car with ABS, ESC & airbags – that will save ya” approach.

      Which up to now has been the NZ take on Vision Zero.

      1. But the point is that you will never get 0 fatalities on our roads no matter how much you spend on them. Even if you put a divider on every state highway in the country, even if you lower the speed limits and encourage slower speed through road design, you would be lucky to drop fatalities by 50%. Not saying that isn’t a great idea and not saying it shouldn’t be done. But to imply that we can somehow build roads that the drunkest idiot can drive on at 200 kmh with no seatbelt on and expect to live is just stupid. At some point there has to be a level of personal responsibility (which is different to blame by the way). And there has to be some form of economic assessment when deciding whether it is worth spending money to make roads safer. A policy that implies the country should chuck every last cent at safety improvements so people can drive as recklessly as they like without dying is nuts.

        1. What about in Auckland, Jimbo? Do you think we could ever have zero fatalities in Auckland? (Btw Vision Zero is not recommending raising speeds.)

          1. Only if cars don’t exist or they drive themselves.
            All I’m trying to say is that in the foreseeable future we will continue to have a trade off between economics and efficiency and safety. To focus entirely on one aspect won’t work no matter how good the intentions. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with the current BCR approach, it’s just maybe some of the calculations and interference are wrong.

          2. Jimbo, I would prefer Auckland had Stockholm’s figures for road fatalities; it’s 0.4 per 100,000. To get there, they had to accept that there was something fundamentally wrong with their current approach. Let’s accept the challenge. We don’t need to trade off economics, efficiency and safety. Stockholm’s economy didn’t fall apart. Indeed, it was investment in public infrastructure that established Sweden’s economy. Auckland’s economy won’t fall apart either. Any business that requires us to accept a goal of more than zero fatalities has no business being in our city.

            In fact I’d go so far as to say that to say we can’t accept Vision Zero is being a Merchant of Death. 🙂

        2. “But the point is that you will never get 0 fatalities on our roads no matter how much you spend on them.”

          That’s a false assertation. It will be bloody difficult, but its a worthy and not impossible goal.

          And most of all, its a goal that says “You aren’t allowed to weasel out of THIS particular decision on safety with the argument that there’s always some who will die”.

          THAT is the important thing. Weakening the people who want to “balance” road safety for things like car parking. Right up to the highest levels of our transport organisations, who I have personally had water down the safety on my projects because their golf mates told them to.

        3. For those who look at the 300-odd fatalities in NZ and think that zero is too hard, I suggest that you break it down to chunks that seem more realistic. In 2016, only five people died while cycling – so why not zero? In 2016, only 2 people died on the roads in Wellington City – so why not zero? Five kids under 5 yrs old died – can we get to zero? There were 46 deaths in Auckland, but what about just (say) Te Atatu or Mangere or Birkenhead? Focusing on a smaller group of fatalities, allows you to concentrate on what might be needed to reduce that particular cohort.

        4. I think the best way of putting it is asking what is an acceptable level of road deaths? 50? 100? 200? 400?. Vision Zero is effectively saying that no road deaths are acceptable. Yes despite our best efforts some people may still die… but that doesn’t mean we ever get complacent. A target of zero means that as long as people are still dying we are always looking for ways to improve road safety. History is littered with examples of people who have achieved tremendous things because they never gave up, even though plenty at time claimed “it is impossible”

  3. Not trying to undermine the case, but to understand why this could be done so very cheaply in Sweden you have to know the type of road common there.
    “In Sweden, many 13-metre-wide (43 ft) roads have been built, especially in the period 1955–1980. These have two 3.5 metres (11 ft) wide lanes, and two 3 metres (9.8 ft) wide shoulders, in the beginning planned as emergency strip, due to the relative unreliability of autos of that period.”
    (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2%2B1_road)

  4. For the first time in a long-time there is some common sense. The current rationale is blame the driver, therefore target the driver, therefore don’t do much to change things.

    These guys know humans are imperfect and humans get it wrong so they take a holistic approach to the problem.

    But in our conservative wonderland the only thing that will change human behaviour is a good old bit of stiff medicine, death if you like. Fuck fixing the dangerous road, aka Dome Valley, to hell with barriers, leave poorly cambered curves and bad surfaces just the way they are and, blame the driver. And while we are this failed pastime, keep counting the toll of deaths, the injuries, the maiming.

    Good to see realism here and I hope it’s adopted!

  5. We could try these concepts in New Zealand. Just thinking off the top of my head we could call it the ‘Safe System Approach’.

  6. my concern seeing some of these upgrades going in on SH27 (1+1 on an existing road) is that now there is no safe place to pull over. Median barriers i support but the side barriers really narrow the road. if there is a breakdown or need to check something it is impractical for someone to have to drive 5+kms to find somewhere suitable to stop.

    1. I would be incredibly surprised if the length between stopping bays were anything like 5km and where barriers are continuous over long stretches, there are almost always 2m shoulders (the minimum for a car to safely stop).

      1. U-turns.

        The swedes accept detours of up to 5km each direction for remote property access. It’s seen to be a reasonable trade off for a system that kills far fewer people.

        1. Let’s not forget other road users, for whom 5km deviations would be totally impracticable, users such as pedestrians, bus passengers (especially school bus users). There are too many roads that are well-nigh uncrossable: to make them completely uncrossable is the ultimate in car centricity.

    1. Yes. It’s exciting that this is the way we are now moving. Thanks for the link, Bryan. One of the questions asked at the VZ conversation tonight was about roundabouts, and I note in the link that roundabouts are only recommended in some driving cultures. I suspect that the driving culture in Auckland might need to be changed before roundabouts have the desired safety outcomes.

      1. I find drivers go to fast at roundabouts and unless you are familiar with a particular roundabout they can be very confusing they don’t seem to be consistent.

        I like this one (Car occupants should not be exposed to other vehicles at speeds over 50 km/h (31.07 mph) in 90° crossings)

        1. Drivers can only go too fast at roundabouts if they are designed that way. Unfortunately at the moment in NZ we tend to focus more on “tangential” geometric design to allow motorists to swoop through a roundabout, rather than a “radial” that truly slows traffic down to safer speeds.

          1. I’d not realized that until you mentioned it but tangential would favor the trucks and commerce over safety is what matters to the planners with the current system.

            We have a bad roundabout near the airport in Nelson, the speed is reduced to 70km/h form the motorway as it enters the roundabout to merge with 50km/h from the airport and the 70km/h has a very leisurely swoop as if to encouraged drivers to traverse it at maximum speed, only the other-day there was a crash that closed it for a time.

        2. Another part that’s quite interesting is pedestrian refuges – there is an assumption in the text that they are associated with pedestrian crossings and signals, whereas we have them by themselves. Importantly, they seem to be another item that is useful in some contexts, not in others. For example, inclement weather reduces pedestrian use of the refuges. That image of pedestrians in Auckland trying to cross in the rain, but the cars keep coming, and there’s no pedestrian crossing nearby where it is clear for the cars to stop. Just a tiny refuge halfway across so you get sprayed by both lines of traffic if you stop, and you can’t even see through your rain smattered glasses… Don’t try to do it with a tired child whose hand is slipping through yours from the rain. God I’m looking forward to some changes.

          1. I have often thought pedestrian refuges (the way we use them) aren’t a very good way of improving safety. It seems to be Oops! we designed and built a road that is very dangerous to cross for a pedestrian… its ok we will just put a small island in the middle and it will be alright. Seeing a pedestrian refuge on a road I want to cross makes me feel a little uneasy, because if the road was safe to cross the refuge wouldn’t be there!

          2. Yes, I agree. I saw a near fatality on Sunday crossing Fanshawe St when a family out for a bike ride was crossing the road to Victoria Park. Pedestrian refuges with separate signals for each half of the road are a tragedy waiting to happen wrt kids on bikes. You can’t hold their hands when they’re on a bike.

  7. I would like us to approach Vision Zero from behaviour change as well as reality change. A road fixing program will always find favour with politicians and bureaucrats who have a preference to try to change reality (add median and roadside barriers etc on a dead straight piece of road) rather than change people’s behaviour when in reality poor driving behaviour would have to be the cause of a very high proportion of all the accidents on said dead straight piece of road.
    I’ve had my drivers licence for over forty years and in that time cars, roads, road rules, traffic volumes and my mental and physical capabilities have all changed dramatically and not once since my initial drivers’ test have my capability and my driving behaviours been tested other than by my ability to get home alive each day which is a pretty unforgiving test.
    I think we should all have our driving and driving knowledge tested on a a regular basis and modern VR technologies must provide for all sorts of opportunities to do this cheaply and effectively.

    1. “in reality poor driving behaviour would have to be the cause of a very high proportion of all the accidents on said dead straight piece of road.”

      In reality, a barrier would stop them killing or seriously injuring themselves or others.

  8. I don’t really understand this sort of policy stuff but I think it works like this:
    1/ Set a target everyone knows you will never achieve.
    2/ Fail to meet your stated target for the next 20 years.
    3/ Claim success.
    4/ Don’t ever measure your results against your own stated target.
    5/ Measure your success against what everyone else is doing- but only if you get a better result.
    6 Otherwise don’t measure your results against your target or other people, claim things would have been much worse if you hadn’t done things the way you did.

    1. Why the negativity, mfwic? Consider a boy who aims to practise his violin every day because he enjoys it and wants to see the improvement that daily practice brings. He doesn’t always achieve it, and he notices the impact of that. When he manages the daily practice, he feels good about his effort and the ease with which he makes music. If he only aimed at practising 3 times a week, there’d be no satisfaction or feedback mechanism. He might then start to use a pseudo-satisfier of comparing his playing with someone else, whose musical journey is different.

      Sweden is proud of its achievement, not because it is comparing with other places, but because they have saved many families from the pain and trauma of road fatalities and serious injuries.

      Yes the Safe System Approach might do the same thing or have big overlaps, and it’s a lack of implementation that means we’re not seeing the results. But even if that’s so, harness this momentum, mfwic. The results speak for themselves.

      If we had been using Vision Zero since 1997 like Sweden has, and had the same results, there would be 52 Aucklanders who were alive this time last year, still alive, and a whole swathe fewer serious injuries. Think of the families and friends. If that doesn’t make you positive about VZ, I don’t know what can inspire you! Might have to get you gardening on a traffic island. 🙂

      1. If it increases the safety budget then the ends justify the means. My problem is the dishonesty of the target. But then I would never had written ‘Finger Lickin Good’ either I would have come up with ‘Warm Dead Bird’.

        1. No one every actually wrote Finger Lickin Good. A store manager was caught on TV licking his fingers while eating and someone came up with the term on the spot to excuse the poor manners. True story.

  9. Lowering the open road speed limit on all roads without a median barrier from 100 to 80 will probably save something like 50+ lives a year? at a very small cost compared to building an expressway. Surely this has to be one of the cheapest and most effective things that could be done relatively quickly.
    There would be perhaps some economic impact from the longer journey times, but I don’t think it would be anything close to what some people may claim. Trucks shouldn’t be doing any more than 90 currently. For most people/trips it would probably only add a couple of minutes to the trip.

  10. Most of you don’t understand this issue. As this is my area of expertise stop typing and read so you can learn.

    To comprehend the issue you first need to understand the issue. What has caused the increase in road deaths this year versus the previous five or so years? Our roads have not got worse overnight and New Zealand drivers haven’t got worse overnight. We have only changed two things. One is placing other road users at the head of the queue. The second is the police taking a minimal tolerance to speed limits.

    There is an old saying that cars and pedestrians don’t mix. Historical wisdom is such for a reason. Yet we’ve been overtaken by the new age who have decided that the best transport outcomes are achieved by mixing all road users. The result has been carnage yet this blog continues with it’s crusade to further solutions that are resulting in killing and maiming of people.

    The police approach has resulted in some drivers becoming fixated on their speedos. You don’t drive from your dashboard, you drive 50-100 metres in front of your car on the open road. The result is some drivers aren’t giving themselves enough time to deal with what’s in front of themselves because they are glued to the speedo trying to avoid a police ticket. We take totally the wrong approach to road safety. Speed tolerance should be 20-25%. It’s driving skills the police should be enforcing.

    With the rise of high quality dashboard camera’s the police have an army of civilians to assist them. Yet they ignore the deaths, ignore the solutions and move forward with failed policies.

    1. Here’s a handy hint for avoiding all that mental anguish, injury and death, Matthew; make your own tolerance! Yes, by the power of mathematical calculation you and both the other 2 persons suffering from Speedometer Tolerance Disorder (STD) can calculate a speed to drive at and allow a 25% tolerance!!!!….but just in case that calculation is too difficult allow me to reveal it to you: 80 km/h. Yes, in areas with a 100 km/h speed limit just aim to drive at 80 and you will be able to gaze off into the distance revealing all of those life-limiting hazards. If you still find that your driving skills are insufficient to prevent your speed increasing to more than 100 km/h pull over in a safe place, pop the hood and disconnect one of the spark plug leads. This will reduce the acceleration of your vehicle and increase the time between checks of the speedometer. Repeat until satisfied that you are no longer a menace.

      No need to thank me.

    2. Matthew, what caused the road deaths before the last few years? I’m not just focused on the recent changes. 372 is too high, but so is 72. We do need to make sure the vulnerable road users aren’t dying because of the ones in heavy metal moving at speed. I agree separating them is a good idea, but I don’t think you’re open to blocking vehicles from all the places where people are walking – so please, we’re open to all positive ideas. Please tell us yours, just make sure they cater to the 8-year-olds and the 80-year-olds who don’t drive, and help in reducing carbon emissions as much as active modes do.

    3. Matthew, a good driver should know what his speed is at all times. How? By glancing down to check his speedo for no more than 1 second at periodic intervals. This is very different from your allegation about people being “glued to the speedo”. No-one is advocating that.

      If you refuse to use your speedo in this way, if you insist on driving by ‘feel’ and demanding a huge speed-tolerance to accommodate your likely mis-judgement, then you are not a good driver. You are a hazard.

    4. If this is your ‘area of expertise’ then I’d hate to think how poor your understanding of other areas is!

      You appear to be suggesting the main driver of the increased road toll is vehicles/pedestrians etc mixing. I’m reasonably sure that shared spaces are not accounting for the significant increase in road deaths in the last few years.

    5. You are right that driving skills are a big part of the problem and issuing speeding tickets to people doing a few kms over the speed limit doesn’t appear to be doing a lot to increase driving skills.
      A 20-25% tolerance? You nailed it right there. People think there is a 20-25% tolerance on our speed limits meaning they can exceed the speed limit by 20-25% without any significant increase in the risk of a crash. While new roads like the Waikato expressway may have been engineered with this much tolerance, quite simply that level of tolerance doesn’t exist on our roads. That is why the police are enforcing the speed limit. What we need to do is lower the speed limit on most of our roads by 20-25% so that we will have the tolerance you desire.

    6. Of course Mr Matthew is full of shit, a casual glance at NZTAs crash statistics will show that 91% of crash deaths are car drivers or car occupants. While the 9% of deaths being pedestrians and cyclists is awful, it proves car drivers are perfectly capable of killing each other and themselves on normal roads nationwide.

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