Last week Auckland Transport opened consultation on a bylaw to set new speed limits. The programme over the next few years will hopefully put our speed limits in line with best international practice, and reduce the appalling level of road trauma our city has:
These statistics represent failings in two ways: too many people dying, and too few people walking, cycling and possibly motorcycling – because of the unsafe and unhealthy environment.
Auckland Transport has released a truly inspirational video, which outlines the healthy benefits to our communities of lower speeds. Well done, AT.
Why hasn’t Phil pushed back against the plan to slow the entire city down by making 700 kilometres of our roads only 30 km/hour? Even the Automobile Association says this will create even more congestion.
Despite the enormous benefits of these speed limit changes, the NZ Automobile Association has continued with its lobbying, with a media release asking AT to:
dial back its proposal for lower speed limits across the city in order to both improve road safety and get lasting buy-in from the public.
This post is about the AA member survey they are quoting, and gives suggestions for how the AA could use the valuable information. I will describe in another post what they have done instead, and examine whether that marries with their responsibilities.
In Part One I asked NZTA what they are going to do to remedy the problem of their own Speed Management Guide being used to undermine AT’s moves towards safety, and here I outlined how the AA’s use of Melbourne as a reason for supporting 40, not 30, in the city centre, is not supported by Melbourne’s actual experience. My apologies for the urban focus – I am limited in space.
First, some errors in the survey questions:
Question 11 said:
Auckland Transport is proposing that all roads in the CBD have 30 km/hr speed limits. How do you feel about this proposal?
In fact, Auckland Transport is proposing a mix of 30 km/hr and 10 km/hr in the city centre. People who wanted to support 10 km/hr might have responded with any of the options, so the results of this particular question is meaningless.
Question 17 said:
Auckland Transport is proposing to reduce speed limits in some residential areas to 40 km/hr. How do you feel about this proposal?
I think this must be a typographical error. The vast majority of residential suburban roads in the consultation have 30 km/hr speed limits proposed, including the three given as examples in the survey. Again, this error meant that people who wanted to support 30 km/hr could have responded to any of the options, so the results of this question are also meaningless.
Next, some arresting results:
- 13.6% thought the current 30 km/hr speed limit in Queen St was right. 86.4% thought it should be raised. No option was given for a lower speed than 30. Yet data shows that lowering the speed limit to 30 reduced deaths there by 36%.
- Only 3% thought that Hobson St should have a speed limit of 30 km/hr. This high risk road is the most densely populated residential street in the country, a place where walking needs to be safe and prioritised.
- Above is the image used in the survey for High St. Approximately 50% thought that this road should have a speed limit of 40 km/hr or more. High St has very high pedestrian numbers, is very narrow, and has what planners call “high place function”. If anyone was to emerge from behind a parked car – such as a wheelchair user or a child, a car at 40 km/hr would not be able to stop to ensure they survive. The requirements of the Road Code to “Be careful when driving past parked vehicles. Pedestrians may walk out without warning.“ could not be met.
Younger members’ responses
I asked for, and received, the results for younger members. I did so because the city centre has a young population with low rates of car ownership and driving, and high rates of walking. On these high-risk roads, a typical young central city resident would be well aware of their vulnerability, and have different concerns to
- a youngster from the general population, let alone
- a typical young AA member, and it may be that their views cannot be represented at all by
- a typical young AA survey respondent.
The AA told me when they provided the results:
our younger Members were less in favour of lower speed limits than the older ones.
In contrast, the NZTA found that young people are more likely to take risks, but are more aware of the safety gains offered by slower speeds than older drivers are.
Some results from the younger members:
For this image of Symonds St, 38% of young male respondents aged 18 to 24 thought the speed limit should be increased to 60 km/hr. Symonds St bisects the university campus, has many people walking, crossing, catching buses, cycling. Would the results have been different if the image had been taken at a busier time of day? Perhaps even a slightly different choice of streetview image could have received a different response:
For the image below, of Vincent St, the corresponding figure was 20%. That’s still a high number. Vincent St has a high residential and working population housed in buildings up to 13 storeys high. It is only 400m in length and has busy intersections at either end. What acceleration rate would be required to get – briefly – to 60 km/hr?
Who were the AA member survey respondents?
The survey was sent to Auckland members, and there were 14,000 respondents. There are apparently 1.5 million members in NZ, with 36% living in Auckland and Northland. At a guess, the response rate was about 3%.
We know the survey was not accompanied by any education about the city centre context, Auckland’s safety crisis, safety research, nor Vision Zero principles.
What we can learn from these results:
- Errors in the survey render the results of some questions worthless.
- Many respondents didn’t appear to understand that fewer of our people have died on Queen St as a result of the 30 km/hr speed limit there, and that raising it again would result in more lives being lost.
- Many respondents didn’t appear to understand that the city centre is a dense residential area with high pedestrian numbers, and that safety requires 30 km/hr speed limits in such areas. Nor that this is recommended by international researchers and authorities including the OECD’s International Transport Forum.
- Many respondents didn’t appear to understand that the tragedy of the 92 fatal and serious crashes in the city centre between 2012 and 2018 was avoidable, and that safer speeds are part of an appropriate response to prevent further tragedy.
- The response about High St indicated a lack of concern from many respondents about driving fast near parked cars, and the dangers this presents to children and wheelchair users.
- Younger respondents preferred higher speeds. This indicates more about the opt-in nature of the survey than about the awareness of younger drivers of the need for safe speeds.
In short, opt-in surveys of drivers cannot inform decision-making about speed limits.
What the AA’s survey reveals is not a flaw in Auckland Transport’s decisions around speed limits, but that some drivers are out of touch with their responsibilities to other road users.
How the AA could use this information
The results of the member survey suggest the AA should plan a comprehensive education programme about safe driving and the benefits of safer speeds. As AT has realised, the public are more likely to respond positively to safer speeds if they can see that healthy streets allow families and communities to thrive.