This is a guest post by Pippa Coom, Chair, Waitematā Local Board. Pippa recently attended and presented at the the Local Government Road Safety Summit called by Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter.
It has been a sad week on Auckland roads. Three pedestrians have been killed using local streets going about every day activities. At the same time that NZ is experiencing increasing numbers of road deaths and serious injuries (37% increase in fatalities since 2013) Auckland is facing an even greater road safety crisis. Tragically in the past three years, Auckland’s deaths and serious injuries (DSI) have increased at almost triple the rate of the rest of NZ and around five times the growth of travel. Of 29 world cities, Auckland has the second highest pedestrian fatality rate.
The Local Government Road Safety Summit in Wellington on 9 April was called by Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter to respond to the rising number of people dying on NZ roads. The Summit provided the opportunity for Councils to put forward and discuss what actions they could take that would have the greatest enduring effect on road safety and influence the Government’s planning for road safety. The delegation from Auckland was made up of Mark Gilbert, AT board director, Andrew Allen, Chief Transport Operations Manager, Randhir Karma, Group Manager Network Management & Safety, Kathryn King, Walking & Cycling & Safety Manager and Andrew Bell, Strategy & Performance Team Leader from Auckland Transport and Councillor Chris Darby and myself.
In November I reported on the positive signs from the Trafinz conference in Nelson. It aligned with the incoming government strongly signalled fresh vision on transport policy including prioritising safety. The Summit provided Local Government with the first direct steer that the current level of road fatalities is unacceptable that we must all work together on a new approach to road safety to make a difference.
In opening the Summit, the Minister declared that going forward there would be no more reference to a “road toll” as it suggests society is required to pay a tithe for supposedly inevitable consequences of the transport system. Through the draft GPS the government has made safety a priority. This means that local roads, where the majority of road trips take place and where half of DSI occur, will no longer be starved of funding.
The Minister announced that a new national road safety strategy will be reviewed by September 2019 for implementation from 2020 with clear deliverables and targets. For the first time the Government will look at adopting Vision Zero. This announcement was greeted with applause from the packed conference room. Vision Zero is the highly successful Swedish road safety system based on the ethical principle that no loss of life is acceptable. It requires a design approach that recognises everyone makes mistakes.
Local Government was challenged to be brave and not allow opposition to every new road treatment to slow action on safety. The need to bring the community along through robust engagement was also acknowledged at the Summit.
Caroline Perry from Brake, the Road safety charity was invited to make opening comments to the conference about the terrible trauma confronting NZ families due to the sudden, violent and needless deaths of loved ones in road crashes. In calling on Local Government to take action on road safety and in support of NZ adopting Vision Zero, Caroline quoted Martin Luther King “The time is always right to do what is right”
Dr Paul Graham NZTA’s Principal Scientist presented New Zealand’s current road safety performance – why is our casualty rate so high? He built on a presentation he gave at Trafinz looking at the complex reasons why NZ’s road safety performance is declining. Some of his key findings:
- 55% increase in DSI in last 5 years well above increase in population, vehicles on road and kilometres travelled
- In users there has been no great change eg overseas drivers, motorcycles (+11% licensed drivers) are slowly rising; older drivers are steady
- There has been a 100,000 increase in the heavy vehicle fleet 2013-17
- Open road speeds are going up annually by 1%. For every 1% increase in speed there is a 4% increase in fatalities (corridors make up 4% of the network but 30% of fatalities and serious injuries)
- Vehicle safety is another factor. Half of all occupant fatalities are in vehicles more than 15 years old (used car fleet getting bigger. 40% of vehicles have only a 1 or 2 star rating).
- 2/3 of cars driven by young people only have a 1 star rating
- There has been a doubling in the number killed not using a seat belt in last 3 years.
After the presentations, including a panel discussion on Local Government’s view about what more can be done to improve road safety (as part of the panel I gave a presentation on Auckland’s road safety crisis), participants workshopped how to make faster progress, what the obstacles are now, what action local government can take and what changes are needed to central government funding and policy.
What was hugely encouraging from the Summit was the large representation of councils from across NZ and the common themes that emerged, such as support for Vision Zero and lowering of default speeds, the critical need for strong central government leadership and building a safety culture, investment in enforcement, rule changes and resourcing for education (the Ministry of Transport will publish a full summary from the Summit). However, the strength of the collective commitment to prioritise safety will no doubt be tested through individual council feedback on the GPS and the action taken on the ground by all agencies to get behind delivering on ambitious targets.
The challenge in bringing communities along in support of a new approach with an aspirational goal of a transport system where nobody dies was highlighted by a particularly egregious, completely evidence -free and cold hearted Dom Post editorial in response to the Summit calling Genter’s road toll target a fantasy. The anonymous writer suggests that as a Minister of the Crown she should be delivering facts, not fantasy because it is it is condescending and patronising that she would promote a nonsensical target of zero road deaths.
In this thread of tweets the Minister issued a robust response pointing out the many factual errors in the editorial, lazy assumptions and the complete lack of understanding about what Vision Zero delivers.
— Julie Anne Genter (@JulieAnneGenter) April 11, 2018
Community by community, we are already aspiring to a transport system where nobody dies if someone stuffs up. Shortly after the summit the Minister received a petition from Cycle Action Network of over 11,500 signatures calling on government and local authorities to stop the deaths of New Zealanders on bicycles and to make streets that are safe to cycle.
A majority of councillors and the Mayor supported Hamilton becoming the first NZ city to adopt a zero target (as part of the Access Hamilton Strategy) after realising that there have been years in which the city had already experienced no road deaths. Once that was acknowledged they decided it was no longer acceptable to set a “target” that presumed some people had to die (Video: Hamiliton Mayor Andrew King interview with Duncan Garner Can NZ achieve a zero road toll?). In Auckland we are close to adopting Vision Zero to demand and inspire action. Cr Chris Darby has led the way on the Auckland Plan 2050 including a focus on moving to a safe transport network free from death and serious injury.
The Minister demonstrated her determined leadership on road safety by attending the full day of the Summit and actively participated in the sharing of ideas with Local Government. A new road safety strategy with a Vision Zero approach is vital but to tackle Auckland’s road safety crisis we need to be brave and take action now.