The Automobile Association supports 40 km/hr on most roads in Auckland’s city centre, and rejects Auckland Transport’s proposed 30 km/hr speed limits, on the basis that 40 has been successful in Melbourne. In response to this, I thought I’d do some research into Melbourne’s speeds. Specifically, I wanted to know the reasons Melbourne lowered speed limits from 40 to 30 km/hr in a small part of town near the city centre last year. I found there are lessons for Auckland in Melbourne’s story. We could save ourselves money and time, with less social disruption, on our own path towards safe speeds.
The new limits are part of:
a 12-month trial led by Yarra Council, backed by a $250,000 grant from the Transport Accident Commission. The area is currently a 40km/h zone.
Yarra mayor Daniel Nguyen said he wanted to make it safer for pedestrians and cyclists on the area’s smaller roads, which are often used by motorists travelling between the outer suburbs and the city.
One hundred crashes occurred within the new speed zone between 2012 and 2017. More than 90 per cent of the crashes involved pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists.
“We’re looking at seeing if the trial will change driver behaviour and whether pedestrians and cyclists can reclaim the streets a little bit,” said Cr Nguyen…
Sam Luck, principal of Collingwood College’s primary school said the new speed would help protect more than 80 per cent of students who ride, walk or take public transport to school…
Monash University Accident Research Centre Associate Professor Jennie Oxley, who will monitor the 12-month trial with Yarra Council and VicRoads, said researchers would recommend that the speed zone be rolled out more widely — especially in areas with a large number of schools — if the Yarra trial was a success…
VicRoads’ Safe System Road Infrastructure Program director Bryan Sherritt said it was one of hundreds of road safety initiatives funded through the $1.4 billion Towards Zero action plan, “which aims to ensure no one is killed or seriously injured on Victorian roads.”
So this trial is:
- led by the Council,
- financially supported by the Transport Accident Commission,
- part of VicRoads’ safety programme,
- welcomed by the schools, and
- informed by Monash University research, which says (references removed for easy reading, and my emphasis added):
At lower motor-vehicle speeds, the driver is afforded greater time to recognise hazards, a reduced distance travelled whilst reacting to the hazard and after braking, and a reduced likelihood of losing control of their vehicle. Other road users are afforded greater ability to judge the speed of an approaching motor-vehicle, and more opportunity to avoid the collision. Importantly, should a collision ensue, the impact forces exchanged between road users decreases, and so too the probability that these forces exceed those able to be tolerated by the road users without sustaining an injury. Vulnerable road users are particularly sensitive to this interaction, and it has been demonstrated that the probability of severe or fatal pedestrian injury increases exponentially with impact speed. An often cited view, is that to offer greater protection for pedestrians in particular (as less is known about cyclists), the prevailing road conditions must discourage motor-vehicle speeds in excess of 30 km/h. It should not be overlooked; however, that the critical impact speed may indeed be lower than 30 km/h.
Auckland can watch Melbourne and ask: Are they getting value-for-money by lowering speed limits from 50 to 40, and then to 30, and only in small sections of the city at a time? So many schools lie just outside the area – could the trial not have been extended to include them? And how many cities have to successfully ‘trial’ lowering the speed limits to 30 before it’s considered essential rather than experimental? Here’s a little history.
In 2012, Melbourne lowered the speed limit to 40 km/hr in a 2 sq km grid of the inner city. While this was progressive, it was also a compromise between what science said would make the area vastly safer (30), and the status quo (50). At the time, safety and health advocates called for 30 km/hr in the CBD. Victoria Walks gave a readable and well-referenced submission:
Traffic speeds that prioritise vehicular traffic tend to result in poor walking environments where streets are hostile and dangerous to pedestrians. This is a major barrier for walkability and consequently a significant impediment to increasing the number of people walking. For instance, VicHealth research found that 63 per cent of parents believe traffic volume and speed is a barrier to their children to walking to school…
The evidence linking lower speed limits to increased pedestrian safety is clear–30 km/h is the internationally recommended safe speed limit for areas where vulnerable road users are exposed to vehicular traffic (as defined by the biomechanical tolerance to crash impact forces) (WHO 2008).
But, in a strong parallel with what’s happening in Auckland, the RACV (the Victorian equivalent of the NZAA) lobbied to keep speeds high:
Brian Negus, the RACV’s public policy general manager, said a 40 km/h speed limit was only appropriate for some roads in the city grid that have high volumes of foot traffic, such as Bourke, Collins, Russell and Elizabeth streets.
‘‘But it’s not appropriate for roads that have more of an arterial function, like King Street, Spencer Street and La Trobe Street, because they have city access and city bypass functions,’’ Mr Negus said.
Looking at the council documents from 2012, The City of Yarra (a part of central Melbourne) planned to lower the speed limits to 40, and then progressively change them to 30 km/hr in the years 2012 to 2016:
Once all local streets reduced to 40kph, begin progressive program of applying for 30kph speed limits in residential areas.
It didn’t happen. Whatever political and practical difficulties they faced trying to do it piecemeal, more 40 km/hr speed limits were introduced around Melbourne, but the lower speed of 30 km/hr didn’t get introduced until the current trial. This is 2 years after they’d intended to have already rolled out a number of 30 areas.
Now, with this small trial, they are paving the way for safer streets where pedestrians can feel much safer:
Just a 1km/h decrease in a car’s speed could lead to a 3 per cent reduction in road crashes, according to the World Health Organisation.
The 30km/h trial will run for 12 months in Collingwood and Fitzroy.Source:Supplied
Despite the ample research, the RACV has continued with their resistance, arguing against this new 30 km/hr trial:
But the RACV’s mobility advocacy manager Dave Jones said the move was a waste of money, as average speeds on many of the streets were already close to 30km/h.
“We think the TAC’s funding would be better spent on making high speed country roads safer, or providing separated bicycle lanes and paths along busy arterial roads,” said Mr Jones.
The motoring body backs 40km/h zones on a “case by case basis”.
Brisbane is also trying for 30 km/hr. And Sydney will be watching the trial closely. They followed Melbourne in 2014, with the implementation of 40 km/hr in central city areas. And there, too, scientists advocated at the time for 30.
Even in this small trial area of Melbourne, they’re retaining 40 km/hr for some of the arterials, so additional changes can be expected in future.
Had Melbourne and Sydney been able to reduce their speed limits to 30 km/hr in one large area, not just to 40 km/hr in selected pockets, there would have been a number of wins:
- people would be alive today who are not, and many serious injuries would not have occurred,
- more people would be getting exercise in a healthier, more walkable environment,
- the change in speed would have been more consistent and thus easier to adapt to, and
- the city councils and public would have saved both time and money on multiple stages of consultation, entry treatments, trials, signage and documentation.
Auckland has been slow to respond to international success with 30 km/hr speed limits, but the benefits of coming late to any progressive move is being able to do it faster and with more certainty. Auckland has the benefit of evidence. Let’s speed this process up.