On Monday, Stuff published an article by Holly Walker, on low traffic neighbourhoods and their importance in the New Zealand context. Holly is from the Helen Clark Foundation, an independent public policy think tank, and today, she is releasing “The Shared Path,” a report on the subject by the foundation and WSP New Zealand.
Last night, Newshub interviewed Holly about her report, and the concept of low traffic neighbourhoods. She said:
We know it will help with emissions reductions.
We know it will help improve road safety.
And we know it has a really beneficial effect on people’s sense of belonging and connection in their neighbourhood…
We don’t have to put up with those hundreds of deaths every year. We can do it differently. We just need to choose the right policies.
They also interviewed Peter McGlashan of the Maungakiekie-Tāmaki Local Board. Peter and his local board are championing two low traffic neighbourhoods – one in Glen Innes and one in Onehunga – as part of Waka Kotahi’s Innovating Streets programme.
Letting local people use the local streets… You make short trips easier to the shops, to the schools, in a much safer way. Rather than having people depend on cars to get from a to b.
[Edit: And just now, I see that The Spinoff has also run an article about the report.]
It is no surprise that low traffic neighbourhoods are gaining traction. The modeshift and traffic reduction gains are considerable, and quickly dispel myths that cycling and walking have only “fringe” benefits for decarbonisation. What mere “traffic calming” or “safety” project has Auckland implemented that comes close to returning mobility to people on bikes, especially women and children? As Railton LTN tweeted yesterday:
Below are some highlights of the report.
What is a low traffic neighbourhood?
… a group of residential streets where through-traffic is discouraged… ideally, residents should be able to walk or wheel from one side to the other in less than 15 minutes… roughly one square kilometre. Low-traffic neighbourhoods are also most effective if they are part of an integrated, city-wide plan and network of connected low-traffic areas, so that people can cross easily between neighbourhoods to access key destinations, and in order to keep main arterial routes safe for all.
As I’ve blogged before, the concept could apply to all precinct types.
To date, neither the Government nor the Climate Change Commission has produced detailed policy about how Aotearoa should decrease its transport emissions… a recent United Nations report projected that a 7.6 percent drop is required every year from 2020 to 2030 to be in line with the Paris Agreement…
Guidance produced in the UK suggests that around 15 percent of traffic inside a low-traffic neighbourhood will disappear permanently… To produce network-wide reductions in traffic volumes, low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods need to be planned and implemented at scale…
“Let’s consider the potential reduction in traffic volumes from more families conducting the school-run without driving… Auckland Transport’s 2020 Travelwise Survey of 94,679 school-aged children and youth shows that 44,345 (47 percent) of daily trips to school were made by car. Previous evidence suggests an average of 1.2 children are in vehicles arriving at schools in Auckland, and that approximately 42 percent of school run drives are ‘cold- start’ trips (i.e. car trips undertaken only for dropping children at school, without carrying on to work or elsewhere). If we apply all of these statistics and assume that these ‘cold-start’ school drop offs could be replaced by walking or cycling, there is the potential to remove 15,520 cars off the road during the morning rush hour, just based on this subset of Auckland schoolchildren…
“We know that the optimal home to school distance “threshold” for cycling is likely to be much greater than for walking or other forms of wheeling, so supporting cycling is an important strategy to increase active school travel…
Improved road safety
[The] Road to Zero road safety strategy… action plan… does not include reducing traffic volumes as a key road safety measure. This is unfortunate, because the more we drive, the more we crash…
the system-wide thinking of a Vision Zero approach provides an opportunity to change this. Modelling suggests there are considerable safety gains to be achieved by reducing traffic volumes…
Policy discussions about traffic reduction, when they happen at all, tend to frame the issue as one of personal choice… leaving it up to individuals to change their transport patterns in a social and physical environment that is often hostile to alternatives… we need to adopt policies that can secure the change required at scale, in ways that enhance people’s daily lives and improve their transport experiences. Rapidly accelerating the implementation of low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods in Aotearoa’s cities is one important way to do this.
“in the majority of cases crashes happen as a result of some form of mistake… the speed at which the vehicle is travelling has a major impact on whether the situation is recoverable, the crash likelihood and most importantly, on the outcome of any resulting crash… Cars emit fewer damaging pollutants at 30 km/h than they do at 50 km/h, especially nitrous oxide and particulate matter output from diesel vehicles…”
“Much of the existing infrastructure is outdated and does not provide any benefits for those choosing active forms of travel, especially young children and the elderly. Specifically, there was a lack of safe crossing points and cycle infrastructure. Compounding this, roads and intersections are wide and allow uninterrupted and fast vehicle travel.
“The trials are a way to engage with the wider community. They enable people to see what their streets could be like so they can give more informed feedback.”
Greater health, equity, and wellbeing
Even before Covid-19, loneliness posed a significant public health and wellbeing challenge, and the pandemic and associated lockdowns has exacerbated these risks… communities thrive when people know their neighbours and feel a sense of belonging and Connection…
aspects of Aotearoa’s current transport system are also likely to be contributing to rising levels of psychological distress as a result of increased noise pollution and declining levels of active transport… improving neighbourhood walkability, reducing long commutes, increasing active commuting, and reducing the cost and improving the comfort of public transport [are] key ways to improve urban mental health in Aotearoa.
the adverse impacts of transport-related ill health are unequally distributed… the most deprived areas in New Zealand have the highest rates of traffic injury deaths, including pedestrian deaths. The large-scale design and implementation of low-traffic streets and neighbourhoods has the potential to improve physical and mental health, foster social connection, and reduce inequity.
Prior to the introduction of low-traffic interventions, residents often express concerns about the negative impact the changes may have on their daily lives…
There is good evidence from the UK that low-traffic neighbourhoods are good for local businesses. It suggests that people who walk and cycle take more trips to their local high street and spend 40 percent more there over the course of a month than people who drive. Improving walking and cycling infrastructure can boost retail sales by up to 30 percent, and cycle parking delivers five times the retail spend per square metre than car parking…
Executed well, low-traffic measures such as wider footpaths and separated cycleways have the potential to improve safety and access for disabled people, and indeed are among measures that disability advocates have been requesting for some time. But, for these benefits to be realised, direct involvement of disabled residents in decisions about low-traffic interventions in their area is essential. There is an important opportunity here to align urban planning for a low-emissions future with the growing international movement for universal design and accessible cities.
Principles and Actions for a Low-Traffic Future
The debate about climate change is over, as is the political debate about what our collective response as a nation should be… To achieve these goals, we need central and local governments to adopt regulations and policies that ensure change happens, and quickly.
Make the process tika (just and right)
When done well, low-traffic projects can have benefits for all, but if poorly planned and executed, there is potential for low-traffic neighbourhoods to inadvertently disadvantage some, including Māori. This should not be allowed to happen…
Plan large areas together
Low-traffic interventions work best when they are planned as part of a network, not operating in isolation. This is particularly important to ensure vehicle traffic is not simply displaced from one neighbourhood to the next without achieving meaningful traffic volume reductions. It is also important to coordinate between neighbourhoods to manage the flow of traffic and ensure safe walking and wheeling options and crossings on main arterial routes. Councils should therefore develop high-level plans to create multiple, interlinked, low-traffic areas in parallel, while keeping the specific form and process highly responsive to local needs.
Engage and listen
If Aotearoa should take one thing away from international experience with low-traffic interventions, it is that best practice community engagement is vital to their success and longevity. Early, proactive, and deep engagement should be at the centre of every low- traffic neighbourhood project and proposal.
The report has recommendations for communities, local government, and central government. Here are the policy recommendations for central government that are specific to low traffic neighbourhoods:
We recommend that central government:
- Make reducing VKT a road safety priority. When the Road to Zero action plan is next updated, make reducing the number of kilometres travelled in vehicles (VKT) one of the focus areas, with specific targets and actions including the reduction of traffic in urban areas.
- Increase Innovating Streets funding with specific provision for permanent low-traffic neighbourhood projects.
- Develop a specific legislative tool to enable the creation of low-traffic neighbourhoods modelled on the UK’s Experimental Traffic Orders, but adapted for the Aotearoa context.
- Review existing legislation, especially s342 and schedule 10 of the Local Government Act, and the definition of ‘traffic’, with a view to how they could more easily enable low-traffic interventions.
The kids in our street have a ramp which comes out every evening. Why wasn’t I consulted ? pic.twitter.com/sQBscHAmAg
— Bob From Accounts (@BobFromAccounts) September 21, 2020