while Auckland city centre accounts for 0.6% of the total network, in 2017, it accounted for 4% of the total deaths and injuries (serious and minor). – Auckland Transport
Auckland’s city centre is one of the highest risk areas of Auckland’s appallingly unsafe road network, yet the AA is lobbying to prevent speed limits there dropping to 30 km/hr. This is the speed that Auckland Transport has concluded is required, but the AA are arguing for a mix of 40 and 50 km/hr.
If the AA succeeds in its lobbying, many lives will continue to be lost unnecessarily, some through crash trauma and many more as early deaths due to the unhealthy street environments.
Simon Wilson’s excellent article lays out many of the flaws in the AA position.
The AA seem to be trying to keep limits at 50 on the most dangerous multi-lane roads:
The AA is also questioning whether any speed limit reductions make sense on multi-lane arterial routes such as Hobson Street, Nelson Street and Fanshawe Street.
Auckland Transport must be frustrated with this lobbying, because the Nelson / Hobson area is the densest area of population in the country. Thousands live there and most are working or studying in the city which they get to by walking, but the streets are in the top 10% of high risk roads in NZ. Auckland Transport have also put time and effort into helping Irvine understand:
Levy said they had met with Barney Irvine to talk through their concerns.
“The arterial roads like Nelson St, Hobson St and Fanshawe St are critical to this whole plan. The average speed on those roads now is only 19 [km/hr]. But the danger is that people speed up before the lights. That makes them high crash areas.”
Nelson St, Levy said, has the highest density of any residential area in New Zealand, “and it’s in the top 10 per cent for crashes”.
Note, too, that Queen St would probably be on this map, but the speed limit there was reduced to 30 km/hr in 2008. Ten years of data since has shown that death and serious injury has dropped by 36%.
I’d like to explore some of the information given in the New Year’s Eve opinion piece by the AA’s principal adviser, infrastructure and motoring affairs, Barney Irvine. Here is the first post on the subject. Irvine says:
“The Speed Management Guide recommends 40km/h as the safe and appropriate speed for most roads in the CBD, not 30km/h limits as AT is suggesting.”
That’s not my take. The NZTA Speed Management Guide specifies 30 km/hr for urban roads with high volumes of cyclists or pedestrians (Page 13), unless they are shared spaces, in which case it’s 10 km/hr:
Page 19 similarly says that “CBDs or town centres with high place function and concentration of active road users” should be 30 km/hr.
The guide has a major oversight: it doesn’t define what numbers of people would constitute ‘high volumes’ of cyclists or pedestrians. Of course, if pedestrian numbers aren’t considered high in Auckland’s city centre, I’m not sure where they would be. Another NZTA document provides some guidance: the old Speed Limit Setting Guide 2003 in Table SLNZ6, rates roads differently if there are higher numbers of pedestrians. The trigger distinction is 200 pedestrians per day.
So what are pedestrian counts in the centre of NZ’s largest city? The Heart of the City counters show these monthly counts for last year:
The average daily counts range from over 1000 ppd in Courthouse Lane to over 42,000 ppd in lower Queen St (both sides of the road). That’s a fair bit more than 200, however you look at it. Sure, there aren’t counters everywhere, and Council is looking to put more in. Hopefully they’ll put some in Victoria Quarter. But there’s no reason to expect that “most roads in the CBD” will have less than 200 pedestrians per day when the existing counter with the lightest foot traffic shows over 1000. Using the guide at face value: “30 km/hr if high volumes of cyclists/pedestrians” means the guide recommends 30 km/hr.
On the surface, then, it appears the AA is simply wrong. And since lobbying like this could easily undermine AT’s Safer Speed Programme, NZTA must surely be concerned. I’m wondering why NZTA hasn’t responded publicly to the AA’s statement. If AA have made an incorrect assertion publicly about an NZTA document, it is NZTA’s duty to correct it. On the other hand, the AA is unlikely to have simply made their assertion up.
Let’s take a broader look at what’s going on here. The Government Policy Statement on Transport lists four goals: Safety, Access, Environment and Value-for-Money. AA’s Safer Speeds Programme delivers on all of these.
In a city centre, the goal should be to achieve high levels of pedestrian activity, as this contributes significantly towards having a healthy population. In the most densely populated part of the country, low pedestrian activity would be a sign of a poor walking environment, including too-high speeds. The speed limits on our streets influence their safety, and also their liveability, the air quality, noise levels, and the level of access people can have. In terms of Value-For-Money, there’s not an awful lot of cost difference in changing the speed limits to 30, vs changing them to 40 (although I will go into that in my next post). But there’s a huge amount of difference in benefit levels: the healthier streets that a 30 km/hr speed environment creates will have massive implications in our health bill. So for all four priorities – Access, Safety, Environment and Value-For-Money – 30 km/hr speed limits in a dense city centre are clearly preferable to 40 km/hr speed limits.
If NZTA was doing well at putting the priorities of the GPS into place, it would be recommending speeds of 30 km/hr in Auckland’s city centre.
To that end, here are some questions for NZTA:
- If the Speed Management Guide recommends 30 km/hr as it appears to, why hasn’t NZTA publicly corrected the AA on this point?
If the AA is correct, and the Speed Management Guide says that most of the roads in the city centre should be 40 km/hr:
- Is this the final word on what NZTA recommends, or is the Speed Management Guide only one of many factors?
- What speed, then, does the NZTA recommend?
- If NZTA recommends 40 km/hr, this shows they haven’t taken into account the priorities of the GPS. What is the NZTA going to do to remedy this quickly before projects like this are ruined?
- If NZTA recommends 30 km/hr once other factors are considered, why haven’t they stated this publicly in response to the AA?
- Why is the Speed Management Guide such an opaque document that it says one thing to a reader but another thing to someone with access to other tools?
If you’re rewriting any guides, NZTA, you also need to rethink something pretty major.
Communities shouldn’t have to prove high levels of pedestrian activity in order to live with safe and appropriate speeds. They should be given safe and appropriate speeds in order to have the freedom of being active.
I will continue with more reflections on the AA’s lobbying in a second post soon.