It’s your last chance to submit on the safer speeds bylaw.

Safer speeds will make our city comfortable for people to walk, cycle and scooter, including to the bus stop. They’ll improve our physical activity levels and health, reduce our public health bill, and reduce our transport carbon emissions. And they reduce the number of people needlessly being killed and hurt by traffic trauma.

The New Zealand Automobile Association (AA) has asked Auckland Transport (AT) to

dial back their proposal on speed limit changes

The AA has a unique place in our transport sector. Its chief executive is specifically named in the Land Transport Rule Setting of Speed Limits 2017 as someone who must be consulted when setting speed limits. This 2017 Rule “formalises the approach to speed management” in the Speed Management Guide 2016, which was “developed in association with the sector, and the Automobile Association.”

This level of influence on policy is surprising for a commercial organisation which makes its money servicing the automotive sector. Using 2017 figures, the AA earns annually $155.7m of revenue, and pays its executive team $7.3m (averaging half a million per FTE).

The AA like to position themselves as an advocacy group, even though the break-down service is the common reason for joining. People join an advocacy group because they support the advocacy goals, and they leave again if the advocacy strays from what they believe. That’s not why people join the AA, and it’s not why they stay with the AA even if they don’t like the AA’s advocacy.

The AA wrote to members, encouraging them to submit, yet providing details derived from their opt-in member survey, rather than from international research on safety.

We have a clear safety issue. The AA’s call for 40 (or 50), not 30 km/hr, in the city centre, ignores best practice guidelines (eg the International Transport Forum). It also means they have failed to uphold the safety agenda of the Federation Internationale de I’Automobile (FIA), a group they are a member of, on these items:

  • Prioritise pedestrians and cyclists in urban planning
  • #SlowDown: < 30 km/h speed limits on school routes and residential streets.
  • By 2030, a safe and healthy journey to school for every child.

The AA’s position will have influenced the public’s support for the consultation. As Daniel Venuto said (writing on the topic of the Capital Gains Tax):

public opinion is difficult to sway once it’s been established in another camp

Before the consultation started, the AA sent a letter to the Ministry of Transport and NZTA, in which they accepted that higher speeds cause more harm. The AA:

is not arguing against the idea that lower speeds means less harm from crashes… the risk of death is still considerably higher at higher speeds – something no one could argue with

but they protested that AT’s education materials overstated the risk at all speeds. The AA then produced their own graph of speed vs risk of fatality for a pedestrian, based on using six cases from one paper referenced in the International Transport Forum’s Speed and Crash Risk report. They failed to highlight that this data was:

  1. from a researcher who believes that  30 km/hr is probably not low enough as a default urban speed limit, and
  2. from within a report that concludes that reasonable speed limits in built up urban areas like ours should be no more than 30 km/hr.

The very nature of science means what we understand is always being updated. Mackie Research analysed the available speed risk curves in the context of the NZ conditions and actual outcomes. Their curve representing the risk around larger vehicles or for frail pedestrians (which is what we need to be designing for) is very similar to the older curves criticised by the AA, albeit with a considerably higher risk at 30 km/hr.

In an excellent paper entitled “The Mechanics and Politics of Changing a Speed Limit” presented this month to Engineering NZ’s Transportation Group Conference, Glen Koorey says:

the risk of pedestrian fatality if struck at 50 km/h is still twice that at 40 km/h and five times that at 30 km/h

The AA’s graph added nothing to the discussion.

Today, safer speeds have been adopted in many places. Whether our public thinks they’re credible depends on whether they’re aware of what is possible. Telling them that other people don’t think the speeds are credible prevents consideration of the idea, and protects the status quo.

Graz, Austria, solved the ‘credibility’ problem in one fell swoop way back in 1990. Their solution to the resistance to 30 km/hr in a big area of the city was to trial it for a year before consultation. At which stage, the public were in favour. Vocal members of society hadn’t been able to visualise how good it could be – but once they saw how it worked in practice, the idea became ‘credible’, indeed preferable.

One principle that underpins the Speed Management Guide is the need to:

Build better understanding between the RCA’s and the public for speed management.

The AA have a privileged place of responsibility in our transport planning. They should have helped build a better understanding between the public and AT, using their funds to promote a targeted education campaign. Instead, they actively worked to diminish that understanding.

Given they are not playing the game, why are they on the team?

In NZ, transport policy and investment has favoured driving for 60 years, and the motorist’s voice is mainstream, represented by the majority of every working group, board, executive, reference panel, consultancy, project team. While the AA claims they are:

Representing the 1.5 million members who drive, ride, cycle and walk everyday

the reality is that vulnerable road users are better represented by grassroots advocacy groups, untainted by the commercial interests of motordom. It is these groups, on shoe-string budgets, who have authentic stories illustrating why our systems must change.

To read more about the benefits of safer speeds, you could read Matt’s post this morning, this Bike Auckland post or the Healthy Streets Alliance website.

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  1. How would one go about getting the AA removed from this legal position? They are basically a loyalty scheme for BP and a few other companies nowadays, so we may as well put FlyBuys in charge of the country too if that is the standard.

    1. When I asked, they said midnight. I didn’t want to contradict the other post in case I’m wrong, but anyone who’s left it to the last minute should still try. Thanks, Grant.

        1. Agree. And some submissions are due at 5, some at 8, and some at midnight. Different organisations, I suppose. But it’s a barrier, and should be fixed. Midnight seems reasonable to me, given that they’re presumably not starting work analysing them until the next day anyway.

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