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.
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.
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’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:
- Produced the rogue Regional Land Transport Plan
- Slashed the Cycling Budget
- Put the Roads and Streets Framework under review for its “emerging financial implications”
- Advised the disestablishment of the most progressive unit in Auckland Transport.
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.