This is a guest post from reader Heidi O’Callahan

Since the Road Safety Review was released earlier this year, Auckland Transport have been clear that their new approach will use the Swedish safety system called Vision Zero. For example:

We want to move towards a more “forgiving” road network, where a mistake made by a driver or road user does not lead to devastating consequences. We are also moving away from the “blame the driver/road user” attitude towards solutions where death and serious injury do not occur in the event of a crash. This is moving towards a Vision Zero approach.

In the 2018 Statement of Intent, Levy talks of Vision Zero as a shift in attitude that

seeks a paradigm shift in responsibility from the people using the roads to the people designing and operating them.

This is a welcome change, and urgent.

So why am I worried about spin?

Recently, a red-light runner narrowly missed some preschoolers crossing Nelson St at the Union St intersection. What emerged after this incident raises some serious questions. The father wanted the intersection made safer, but was told by AT in October:

The situation to which you refer of vehicles failing to stop for pedestrians during the green man phase and running red lights, is caused by inappropriate driver behaviour and there are no further engineering measures we can take to prevent this from occurring.

To someone with even a cursory understanding of Vision Zero, placing blame on the road user and refusing to accept responsibility for making a safer environment makes no sense. This intersection is a veritable blank canvas for Vision Zero improvements. One of many obvious possibilities is to install a red-light camera. In fact, AT has recently removed a red light camera. The post has gone, and the footpath reformed. Here’s a streetview image still showing the camera:

The father with the preschoolers requested a copy of internal communications used to disseminate Vision Zero thinking and principles among AT staff. The response, received early November:

The intent is absolutely for AT to adopt Vision Zero as mentioned publicly. However, the AT Board has not officially adopted Vision Zero yet.

They haven’t adopted Vision Zero? It gets worse:

To do this we are currently conducting the due diligence to determine how we might do this and what this would mean for AT and partners. We anticipate this to be considered for formal adoption by the AT Board early in 2019… We therefore do not hold the information relating to Vision Zero that you have requested other than what has already been made publicly available

Ten months after the Safety Review, AT can provide no evidence of staff training in Vision Zero because AT are still checking what risk Vision Zero might pose to the organisation and its partners.

With this admission, my patience is done. AT are displaying more concern about risk to the organisation and its partners, than they are about risk to road users. So I’m going to demonstrate how they have toyed with words – and lives – all year.

Auckland’s deteriorating road safety situation prompted the AT Board to commission an independent Road Safety Business Improvement Review last year. This was completed by Eric Howard, January 2018:

The crisis in road safety performance… reflects an absence of commitment to improving safety on New Zealand and Auckland’s roads.

The report made 45 recommendations for Auckland Transport to implement, each with a timeframe. The 2nd recommendation, to be implemented in 2018, is:

Safe system with Vision Zero goal adopted and supported

In May, Simon Wilson reported:

Ellison told the Weekend Herald all 45 of the report’s recommendations would be adopted. “We need dramatic change,” he said.

Great. Committing to all 45 recommendations meant committing to adopting Vision Zero in 2018, and given how Vision Zero would form the very backbone of the new approach, we could expect the staff training to be rolled out soon after. But by early July, AT had diluted their commitment to:

Auckland Transport is working towards a Vision Zero approach.

“Working towards” is a totally different proposition to “adopting and supporting”. In August, the wording was weakened further:

AT’s long-term goal of Vision Zero…


The Road to Zero

All this word play gives the impression of adopting Vision Zero, when they haven’t actually adopted it. Yet Lester Levy, Chair of the Board, assured us on the 4th September:

There were 45 recommendations and we’ve adopted all of these in full and without question.

This matched the accompanying report:

The Board of Auckland Transport in November 2017 commissioned an independent road safety Business Improvement Review that made 45 recommendations, which the Board adopted in full.

So I asked Auckland Transport directly if they had adopted Vision Zero. The reply was:

In simple terms ‘yes’. I do note however, the implementation of the Safe System Approach will take some time as we need to train all the relevant team members in this approach and we will also need to update our systems, standards, specifications etc to ensure they are in line with this approach. A pilot training course has been undertaken and the roll-out to the broader organisation will commence from later this calendar year.

That seemed reasonable. And it was good to see that the staff training was happening.

Which brings us to the LGOIMA response received a few days ago saying they can produce no communications indicating staff training in Vision Zero, because the Board has not adopted Vision Zero, and that they will consider it next year.

What happened?

Allow me to labour one point to forestall attempts at legitimising the delay. The Safety Review said:

Not all recommendations identified can be implemented as soon as possible. Some require enablers to be in place and there is also the limiting capacity of the organisation to “learn” and to “act” concurrently…

Some recommendations are considered urgent and allocated to 2018, others for 2019 and others for 2020. The very substantial list for 2018 will require discussion within AT to prioritise early action.

Adopting Vision Zero is an obvious urgent ‘enabler’, hence its number 2 spot on the 2018 list of actions. Indeed, AT have considered it a necessary precursor to providing staff training.

But ‘due diligence’? Why is this a necessary ‘enabler’ before the staff training can start? Without Vision Zero training, the capacity of AT to “learn” and to “act” concurrently is certainly limited. Did they seriously think due diligence might indicate they should NOT adopt Vision Zero? AT should have prioritised adopting Vision Zero early in the year. But failing to even meet the 2018 timeframe for such an urgent action is definitely not committing to the recommendation “in full and without question”.

This year-long delay to appease the ‘business-as-usual’ contingent will have prolonged unnecessary loss of life, trauma, and misery, plus cost to the public health system and social services.

I’m appalled.

I’d like Auckland Transport staff to be well-informed about the Vision Zero approach, so they can respond to people like this father of preschoolers in a proactive, responsible way. Only then can places like Nelson St be made safe and liveable. But somehow, this game of avoidance and word play leaves me thinking that Auckland Transport are too busy minding their own back to bring about the transformational change our city needs.

Ellison is a CEO committed to making safety a priority, but he needs support to resist the influence of “industry partners” whose focus is on status quo road construction and priority to traffic flow. He needs an executive and a board who have already made the paradigm shift, and whose strong commitment to Vision Zero and a healthier transport network will lead staff, industry partners and the public into new territory. Instead, he’s being hindered by whoever:

How do we put pressure on AT to promote able people who hold a vision of a more liveable city into decision-making roles, and to demote the people making these terrible, regressive decisions?

What’s next? AT says:

A programme business case for longer term investment in road safety is expected to be completed by December 2018.

To Council and the public:

The review of the Roads and Streets Framework for its “emerging financial implications” demonstrated that the roads-first faction in AT begrudge every cent given to other priorities, such as safety, placemaking and healthier transport modes. AT and NZTA are planning to spend multiple billions of our dollars on new and widened roads and intersections, all of which will induce traffic, making our safety situation worse. Every single safety improvement should have priority over those wasteful projects.

To Auckland Transport:

Your public commitment to the 2nd of Howard’s 45 recommendations means you must adopt Vision Zero this year. A quick look at the calendar might be a good idea.

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  1. Resolute and persuasive argument, one that voices my deeply held belief that nothing will change in AT until there’s a purge of not only its senior management but also its current chair who, no matter his weasel words, has presided over a business as usual regime since the entity’s formation. It’s bizarre that while AT can identify ‘inappropriate driver behaviour’ at Nelson Street (and numerous other sites around the city) in fails to acknowledge that this behaviour is a response to its—an its predecessor organisations—design practices over the past half century or so, practices that have incrementally marginalised all road users other than drivers. AT’s lack of criticality is seemingly systemic.

  2. I understand your maddening frustrations with Auckland Council and its Council Control Organisations.

    Like you, I wondered what happened to cemented to the ground red light cameras I swore were there not 3 months ago. But when it was revealed that somewhere in the mix the police had a role to play but they had neither the infrastructure to support red light cameras, nor the budget, it became clear. Even if they had one per intersection there is no way in the next several years anyone could use them, the police are still trying to get off their knees budget wise after 9 years of neglect.

    That they had no realistic budget for resources for road safety at all, at its worst point in early 2017 when road policing units were being disbanded such was the staffing issues so Bill could get his effing budget surpluses and Phil and Darlene of Remmers could have their tax cuts to accompany their 3 investment homes, simply meant people had to die for the cause. Cause and effect demonstrated in blood.

    But back to AT and AC.

    A large monolith business in the business of being a good corporate citizen for business. That is what it is set up to do. Hence Councillors we vote for (waste of time) are kept well and truly at arms length and in reality have next to no say in how the corporation runs and deliberately so to avoid plebs messing in business matters that matter to business only which is money. Dead ordinary people are a minor blip on the balance sheet if anything at all, hence the issues you have. There is no one accountable to answer for the issues you raise, no one cares. Those that are paid to, in theory, appear several places back from the front line, deep in areas of plausible deniability. Apart from pure corruption I cannot think of any who have been sacked for non delivery.

    And as for Lester Levy, a man whose occupation is chairing as many boards as he can fit into a day as humanly possible, its time AT had a stand alone accountable person to do this job.

    And if we really want a more responsive council, the legislation that underpins it needs to be looked at to be responsive to its human citizens, not its corporate ones.

    1. Wow! That was some well deserved vitriol. But AT will take no notice since they are not accountable to the people who finance them, that’s AC and hence ratepayers. The chair and board simply don’t care. Vision Zero is just a nuisance to be faffed about, spun out, futurised forward to excuse inaction this year. These are common standard blockers likely learned from Sir Humphrey (yes minister) except not laughable as in real life people are being maimed and killed.

    2. Well stated Waspman; this is what happens when everything is corporatised.
      The know the price of everything and the value of nothing. (Wilde).

  3. Good article Heidi – right on the money. It’s unbelievable when the road safety review that AT commissioned clearly showed that AT’s inaction had cost lives. Given the amount of money that Council and the Government are investing in road safety, if we don’t see rapid improvement I would hope we see some people being asked to leave AT.

    Also worth noting that with the AT restructure I believe they are getting rid of all their urban designers. This is potentially a huge problem. They have said the ADO will review their designs, but there isn’t anyone in the review team who does road design, and reviewing a bad design is often too late if decisions have already been made.

  4. I would have thought that you’d start the move to Vision Zero by announcing it and starting training/informing the organisation so that they began to understand it and then workshop the individual changes that would be required, allowing those who were going to have their work disrupted the opportunity to engage with the concept and suggest the changes, with nudges for teams that seemed to be lagging a little in making changes.

    The Top down approach allows to much opportunity to allow individuals to ignore or sabotage the change process.

    I’d also be bringing in the strongest critics to the organisation and allowing them transparency on the process, incorporating their ideas if possible, so that progress can be independently observed. those who comment here and in related forums are more likely to be in the early adopter sector of the curve and allowing them to be part of the process may bring benefits not yet thought of.

    The mistakes during the journey would be forgiven if momentum is maintained. Patience is a limited resource and the concept that a business case needs to be completed before the change is communicated (a short email form the CEO/Chair would probably be a great start) tests many peoples patience.

    1. I don’t know if AC in its current iteration has the capability to do that.

      I recall not too long ago the Mayor venting his frustrations at rubbish dumping and fair enough, its an environmental problem.

      We had a neighbour doing just that, dumping her rubbish on the street in a plain bag, week after week more went out and it lay there, uncollected. Notes were left on it directing the dumper to use paid bags or bins but to no avail. Sometimes the rubbish ended up on the road, spilling out, going down the drains.

      I got hold of AC to let them know the rubbish was being dumped. I was given a job number and nothing happened. In frustration I went through the rubbish, week after week, revolting stuff until the person identity was found. I went and spoke to her but the rubbish remained. So I contacted AC, again, still nothing happened. I emailed Phil Goff, no reply and nothing happened.

      We were contacted by AC to tell us they were closing the job, despite the rubbish remaining nearly two months later and them doing nothing about it, AC by this point knowing who the offending party was, were the rubbish was, were they lived. Eventually it was put in another bin and the dumper starting using another method. No thanks to Auckland Council.

      In short no one but no one at Auckland Council gave a shit. They have systems that are set up that do not work or perhaps are not intended to work.

      And the irony was they sent a survey out for me to rate their response. F*#$king idiots!!!! And this is what we are dealing with!

  5. One part of this is AT is huge. It is made up of many empires led by senior managers whose job is, first and foremost, to increase their budget and the size of their empire. It is that way because they are paid based on the size of their budget and the size of their empire. For the most part the senior managers care ONLY about their own salary.

    The inevitable consequence is that senior managers are at constant war with each other. Far from embracing cycling and walking their aim was always to destroy a competing nascent empire and they’ve succeeded.

    Similarly there is simply no incentive for any senior manager at AT to embrace vision zero and many reasons to see it die a death the same way the cycling and walking team was killed off.

    We’ve accepted that having managers like this, incentivised to build and protect their empires, is the best and only way to run a large organisation like AT. So long as the incentives exist to kill off new ideas and protect their existing empires then we will not see change at AT.

    Nothing I’ve heard from Mr Ellison suggests he is any different from those senior managers beneath him and nothing suggests he even realises what is happening to undermine any change at AT. Depressingly I cannot see any way this situation changes.

    Vision zero was dead before it was even mooted, just as the cycling and pedestrian team was dead before it could establish itself. The internal politics of AT is just too brutal for mere humans to survive.

    1. AT has gone from 1000 employees to 1600 employees over 8 years. Assuming each employee is getting $75k per annum average, that’s $45 million in personnel costs. That’s a lot of cash and I just don’t see the value for money there – there seems to be a lot of inertia and the organisation just keeps getting bigger

  6. Let’s be fair to AT. They are trying to make our local roads more forgiving. At the intersection at the end of our road they have recently installed new lighting. A truck rolled there a couple of months ago (nobody seriously hurt). They now have a light pole about 1 m from the outside of the offending bend so now a vehicle that leaves the road will hit the pole thus preventing it from rolling (and increasing the probability of killing the driver). At least at night they will see what they are about to hit.

    Your rates dollars at work.

  7. I enjoy driving my car and I oppose the plans to shut the CBD to vehicles. That said I’m all in favour of placing red light cameras on every major intersection in the CBD. In fact put a camera box on all intersections and rotate the cameras around if it’s too expensive to put one in each (altho’ I suspect they’ll pay for themselves). Hammer red light runners hard – make it expensive and impound the vehicles of repeat offenders (regardless of who was driving, 3 strikes and the car is gone for a month).

    1. And then start putting red light cameras on each major intersection/hot spot city wide. Technology is getting cheaper, surely?, so it shouldn’t be hard.

    2. When Eden Park (capacity 50,000) sells 50,000 seats to an All Blacks test, do you oppose them shutting the stadium to further patrons? Probably not, because you understand there is a basic issue at play: not enough space. We’re facing the same situation with cars in the CBD… Fixed amount of space in CBD… Increasing density of both workers and residents in CBD… Increasing Auckland-wide population wanting access to the CBD… If we want it to continue to be functional we need to replace cars with more spatially efficient forms of transport.

    3. You can put up as many red light cameras to cover all intersections yet absolutely no enforcement action will happen. The gomnt don’t care
      about enforcment as they won’t fund the police to monitor new cameras.
      Eventually drivers ignore them and people die.
      Can you fix this JAG?

      1. Totally agree.

        The red light cameras need to be ANPR & backoffice software send an SMS within an hour to the vehicle owner saying that they have been caught & will be fined subject to final confirmation.

    4. I enjoy a lot of things, but I wouldn’t dream of them taking priority over everything and everyone else.

      I’m sure those hefty fines the red light runners get will really be consolation for the parents when a child ends up getting run over.

  8. In the enforcement of our road rules we have the worst of two bad worlds; A Mock Bureaucracy where the mandarins create car centric rules that drivers can often ignore with impunity due to the same mandarins not resourcing enforcement thereby putting other users at increased risk.
    We have calls (as per John A) for a move to a more Punishment Centered Bureaucracy which would only serve to entrench the current rule set.
    I think what Heidi has very eloquently called for is a Representative Bureaucracy where rules are created and enforced to serve the interests of all users of a right of way such that human safety is the paramount measure of success.
    Furthermore she has called out AT for talking from both sides of its mouth.
    Speaking truth to power is extremely important to a democracy so well done Heidi, and also GA for publishing.

  9. Heidi, great article. But aren’t you being too soft on the CEO, who appears to be asleep at the wheel, if not actively steering the ship in the wrong direction? The honeymoon period is over. And on our elected Councillors, who ought to be calling out AT for being the worst-performing part of the Auckland bureaucracy at every opportunity and writing censure letters (which they make public) and investigating every possible option to bring AT to heel?

    1. fraggle, yes absolutely right that AT is completely directionless. Public Transport ridership has stalled with apparently nothing major planned for six years. Parking buildings are still being constructed. Congestion is increasing. Road accidents are increasing. Road re-surfacing expenditure has mushroomed. Mark it down as an abject fail.

  10. 1) NZ needs a new nationwide transport infrastructure standard based on vision zero that all transport authorities have to meet. I cant believe we have around 67 territorial authorities for 5m people and numerous infrastructure design standards.

    2) Clearly given the current road toll the existing design standards are too low & are not forgiving enough given human error is responsible for > 90% of crashes.

    2) All new designs (public and private) would have to meet the new standard

    3) All retrofits/upgrades would have to meet the new standard.

    4) As a minimum design standard it has to be built.

    5) We could also increase the value of life used in economic evaluation. There are other jurisdictions with higher values.

    Below are some of the design standards which make where I currently live a lot safer on urban roads:
    a) almost no main road priority junctions – all left in left out. Same for driveways
    b) traffic signals all have exclusive protected phasing by approach
    c) no parking on main roads
    d) all cycle facilities are off road
    e) peds and cyclists have fully protected phases at signals – no filtering traffic
    f) most local streets have speed humps along them keeping the speeds down to 30kmh
    g) most local street junctions are tee junctions.
    h) pedestrian crossings of main roads are raised and have speed humps in front of them
    I) non urban high speed roundabouts have speed humps on the approaches
    j) there are speed cameras every 2-3km on main arterials
    k) I cant renew my license unless I’ve paid off the fines

    1. a) to k) would make a big difference. If it’s left in and left out at driveways, do you have to leave driveways forwards?

  11. Heidi, good work.

    I have produced this little gem from AT that is an answer to an OIA request. Obviously when AT introduced the first shared street they thought that up to 10 kph was safe for car speeds. And then they thought 50kph was safe? And now they find that Elliot St is “operating safely”. Despite it operating safely AT now want to lower the speed to 10kph – to make it incredibly safe?

    Is it just me or does anyone else have the sense that they just bumble along.

    1) When the shared street was opened in Elliott St, it had a 10kph speed restriction sign on a lamppost at the Wellesley St end. Was AT permitted to set the authorised speed at 10kph?
    In 2011, when the shared space was opened, the power to set a 10km/h speed limit existed under the Land Transport Rule: Setting of Speed Limits 2003 (since replaced in 2017) and the legacy Auckland City Council Traffic Bylaw (since replaced by the Auckland Transport Speed Limits Bylaw 2012).
    However, the decision to install the 10km/h sign was made by AT as an operational response to mitigate immediate safety concerns raised after the new shared space was opened. The correct formal process was not followed and whilst the signage had the effect of reducing the speed of vehicles, it is accepted that the speed limit was not legally changed and the sign could not have been enforced. AT has since reviewed the operation of the Elliot Street shared space without the sign and found it to be operating safely.

    7) Does AT intend to place speed restriction signs on these streets? If the answer is yes what is the time frame to implement these changes?
    AT is working on a proposal for a reduced speed zone throughout the city centre. We anticipate the reduced speed zone will be 30km/h and would apply to all roads in the city centre, except shared zones where 10km/h speed zones would apply.

  12. I’ve never seen a pedestrian crossing design which will make sure that no harm will ever come to the pedestrians even when drivers go through red lights. I think the design solution is relatively easy – steel barriers on both sides of the crossing which emerge from the ground when the crossing light is green and goes back in on red, so that it’s flush with the ground when the cars are passing. That way a driver running through a red light will smash into the barriers not the people.

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