One of the most important tasks Auckland Transport have is to improve road safety. This is even more so because we’re in the middle of a road safety crisis where between 2014 and 2017, the number of deaths on Auckland roads increased by a staggering 78% to 64, a bigger increase than seen elsewhere in the country (which is has also been increasing). But it’s not just people dying, increasing numbers of people are also being seriously injured on our roads and in 2017 that number reached 749. Again, this increased at a higher rate than the rest of the country. What’s more, vulnerable road users made up 43% of the deaths and serious injuries in urban areas.
There are many things that can be done to help improve safety but one of the quickest, most effective and cheapest ways to do this is to lower speed limits. The speeds people travel at is a key determinant of how likely someone is to survive a crash, especially if they’re a vulnerable road user.
Vehicles travelling at slower speeds can stop faster, for example it takes about twice the distance to stop when travelling at 50km/h to 30km/h and that means
- the driver is more likely to be able to stop without a crash occurring
- the speeds involved are much more likely to be survivable – this is shown below.
A month ago, Auckland Transport launched a consultation to change the speed limits on 700km of roads across the Auckland region. That may sound like a big number but it represents only about 10% of the entire road network in Auckland and about 90% of those are rural roads. While rural roads make up the bulk of the changes, perhaps the most visible and contested changes are those planned for the city centre where AT plan to lower speeds to 30km/h on most streets (blue) with a few, such as the shared spaces even lower (pink).
The proposed changes are being particularly opposed by the AA, who say they support improving road safety but want to compromise with limits reduced only to 40km/h. They’ve also come under attack from mayoral hopefuls like John Tamihere who have deliberately misconstrued what is proposed.
There are plenty of myths floating around about the changes. AT have made a few attempts to address the most common of these here and here. One of those myths is the impact on journey times, however in most cases, the changes will result in delays of only seconds at most. In the city centre this is likely to have even less of an impact as traffic at peak times often doesn’t move close to that fast but also AT plan to adjust the traffic light phasing to allow for ‘green waves’ on key corridors.
One thing we also know is that where these changes have been implemented, they are successful with plenty of local and international examples to back them up.
An aspect many in this debate forget is that city centre streets aren’t just about getting people from the motorway to their carpark as fast as possible. Auckland’s city centre has been changing dramatically in many ways in recent years and one of those has been an explosion in the city centre population with no over 57,000 people living in the area. They’re people who primarily get around the city by walking, cycling or scootering and who deserve to be able to do so safely.
The excellent video below highlights many of the reasons why we should adopt lower speed limits. One of the things I like is that it’s not just about safety but also makes the point that slower speeds also benefit areas like air quality.
At 5pm on Sunday the consultation ends and so if you haven’t made a submission yet, now’s the time to do it. As of Monday, AT had told me they’d received just under 8,000 submissions, although not all of those are individuals as some are from organisations such as schools and health boards, and so represent a lot more people. While I don’t know the numbers, we can also assume that a lot of those submissions will be from the AA and their members opposing the changes. The good news is AT have confirmed that the consultation isn’t just a beauty contest to see who can make the most submissions. But in our view, it is still important they get as many in support as possible. Submissions only need to take a few minutes.
For some further reading, there have been a couple of really good articles on The Spinoff in recent days about the topic.
- Our friend Jolisa from Bike Auckland writes about “Why a 30km/h speed limit makes sense for Auckland’s city centre“
- Teuila Fuatai has a great piece titled “How one city reduced its road toll – and gave its streets back to the people“