Queen St has had a 30km/h speed limit for over a decade and the rest of the city centre is set to join it.
Auckland Transport is planning to introduce a speed limit of 30km/h in the city centre to make the streets safer for growing numbers of pedestrians, cyclists and residents.
The new speed limit will cover an area bounded by the central city motorways and go out for public consultation in November with a wider package of lower speeds.
AT wants to drop speed limits on 700km, or 10 per cent, of the city’s roads to address a sharp rise in the number of serious crashes in Auckland.
Town centre roads like Broadway in Newmarket and Tamaki Drive in Mission Bay and St Heliers will have their speed limit reduced to 30km/h or 40km/h.
Rural roads that will drop to 80km/h include parts of the Coatesville-Riverhead highway out west, Matakana Rd to the north and Alfriston Rd in the south.
Between 2013 and 2017, the number of road deaths in Auckland rose from 48 to 64 and serious injuries rose from 438 to 749.
Just 2.2 per cent of serious crashes occurred in the CBD, but Heart of the City chief executive Vic Beck told the Herald there was a higher number of accidents involving people walking, cycling and riding motorcycles.
That 2.2% of DSIs might not sound like much but you also need to consider that the land area of city centre makes up just 0.4% of the Auckland region. The chart below (from here) shows how this breaks down for the city centre.
Phil Goff Disappoints
One aspect that surprised us was Phil Goff’s poor position on the issue. Here’s what the Herald reports him as saying
Mayor Phil Goff said Auckland had to address road safety issues with too many people dying, but would not publicly back a 30km/h speed limit in the CBD.
“I expect Auckland Transport to make decisions on speed limits which are evidence-based and result in bringing down the road toll.
“I understand lower speed limits in the city centre may not greatly affect actual journey times for much of the day because traffic density already results in lower car speeds,” Goff said.
And he repeated that on twitter
— Phil Goff (@phil_goff) September 25, 2018
Phil seems too scared of backlash on this and is the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff approach where we wait for someone to be killed or injured to provide the evidence of need before thinking about making changes.
While the speed limit change is primarily about saving lives, slower, safer streets will be good for helping to achieve other goals too as it makes it more pleasant to walk and cycle which would further help retailers too, especially hospitality. As I replied to him, where’s the evidence that the current situation was safe or appropriate to begin with. Perhaps we should be taking the approach of making our roads safe first and then look to raise speeds where it can be proven it’s safe to do so.
Regardless, the evidence is there and we just need to look south to Christchurch to see the outcome of the same change two years ago.
2 yrs on, here's an updated analysis of safety impacts of Christchurch's 30km/h central city zone. Reported injuries: down 36% vs previous 2 yrs. Reported inj crashes: down 25%. All while veh & foot traffic have been growing with businesses returning to city. #SlowSpeedsMatter pic.twitter.com/tpTJyNCkzF
— Glen Koorey (@GKoorey) August 21, 2018
ATs comms good
In comparison to Goff, AT’s comms have been good.
AT’s Group Manager Network Management and Safety, Randhir Karma, says many of the crashes in the city centre involve vulnerable road users.
“84 per cent of all crashes involve vulnerable road users. Nearly half of the crashes involve people walking and this is not acceptable.
“If a person walking is hit by a vehicle travelling at 30km, the chance of dying is 10 per cent. At 50km, the chance of dying is 80 per cent,” he says.
AT is currently determining the exact locations for the start of the lower speed limit and what physical changes would need to be implemented. The locations would be included in the bylaw consultation.
“The existing average speeds along the main roads are generally below 30km/h and journey times are unlikely to be impacted, however, there are points within the city centre that have higher speeds.
“These are not appropriate when we have a high number of people walking and cycling,” Mr Karma says.
City Centre Population deserves safer speeds
One of the big shifts that we’ve seen over the last few years is significantly more people living in the city with the estimated population rising by almost 20k (to just over 50k). To put that in perspective, there are now more people living in Auckland’s city centre than do in all of Invercargill and that’s before you consider other factors, such as how many people are staying in hotels. These residents deserve safe streets just like everyone else.
Unlike those jumping in their cars or on PT to exit the city, these people are the ones who are more likely to be walking the streets.
In many of the opinions already expressed about this proposal, there’s the idea being pushed that 30km/h is fine for some parts of the city but not the big roads connected to the main motorway ramps. One such example being the AA.
The Automobile Association’s principal adviser for infrastructure, Barney Irvine, said lower speeds in a lot of CBD streets was a no-brainer where there were many pedestrians and distractions.
But on busy multi-lane streets like Hobson, Nelson and Fanshawe Sts that connected to motorways, reducing speed limits might not be the answer, he said.
“There’s a risk on these bigger roads that we change the speed limit, but don’t get the compliance, because 50km/h still feels like the natural driving speed,” Irvine said.
What is often forgotten in this line of thinking is that Hobson and Nelson streets are one of the densest residential areas in the entire country. Below is a density map from Koordinates based on the 2013 census data and you can see the darker patch around the southern end of Hobson and Nelson. Given the growth that’s occurred in the city and numerous developments that have subsequently taken place, this number is likely even higher.
While there’s a general acceptance that some city streets are slow to travel in a car, it’s worth questioning just how much impact a change would have even on these roads. Thanks to the power of Google I looked at how long it would take to get from the exit of the Downtown Carpark to the SH1/16 motorway on ramp at the southern end of Hobson St, a distance of about 1.2km. This was based on travel at just after midnight and works out at an average of 24km/h. Changing the travel time to the afternoon peak resulted in it estimating up to 12 minutes to travel or about 6km/h.
Let’s not forget that just over a year ago a man died on Hobson St.
AT say they’ll be consulting on the proposal in November and it’s obviously something we’re going to follow closely.