Image Credit: Boating Safety Mag 

Waka Kotahi CEO Nicole Rosie recently penned an article on Stuff, about the tragedy of our road safety crisis, in which she reminded us that safety needs to be approached from several angles. She made the excellent point:

why isn’t this massive public health issue in the spotlight throughout the year, not just during the holidays or after a “bad weekend” or a high-profile crash?

The article was in some ways a summary of what she’d presented about road safety at December’s 2020/21 Annual Review of Waka Kotahi, a meeting at which parliament’s Transport and Infrastructure Committee were able to ask questions of the agency’s CEO, Board Chair, and General Manager Transport Services.

In Turning the Waka Around, I drew on the review to discuss planning concepts. In this post, I’ll do the same to discuss road safety.

As before, I’m aiming to show how topics are being discussed, so the public can hold everyone to account.

Vision Zero

New Zealand’s road safety strategy is called Road to Zero, and Waka Kotahi explain that it:

adopts Vision Zero, and a vision for Aotearoa where no-one is killed or seriously injured in road crashes, and where no death or serious injury while travelling on our roads is acceptable.

In discussing safer vehicles, Rosie only mentions vehicle safety standards in terms of the vehicle occupants. The review was an opportunity to explain to the politicians why our vehicle safety standards need to be improved to give better protection to people outside the car, who don’t have the protection of a steel box.

Further, she noted the statistics showed pedestrians and cyclists are increasingly being harmed in urban areas, and then suggested this is:

probably a consequence of increased intermodal investment.

Assuming she means investment in walking and cycling infrastructure, this is a worrying misconception to convey to the politicians. Cities which have invested in safe cycling infrastructure are safer for all road users.

Dangerous infrastructure. Credit: Support Vision Zero – This is why.

Unfortunately, Waka Kotahi didn’t address the criticism I’ve mentioned before that the Road to Zero programme is insufficiently focused on urban safety.

Mode shift is central to Vision Zero

In the Vision Zero paradigm, planners don’t just attempt to improve the safety of how people are currently travelling. Instead, they design the system to enable people to get out of their cars and choose a safer way to travel.

What are the safer ways to travel?

  • When you measure safety by how many (or how few) injuries are caused, the “active modes” – walking, biking, scooting – are safest.
  • When you measure safety by how many (or how few) injuries are sustained, public transport is safest.
  • And driving is unsafe by both measures.

So – in both cities and in regional areas – a key plank of transport safety planning is creating “mode shift”.

But in the current “predict and provide” planning system, the focus on “traffic flow” and “travel time savings” interferes with mode shift – and therefore with safety. Projects which speed up longer distance vehicle trips are favoured in the investment evaluation framework – despite their negative effects on shorter, active trips, and despite the extra traffic they create in the whole network, which slows down public transport. This works against safety, by encouraging people to keep driving.

But the paradigm shift seems very slow coming.

Is that because the shift ultimately threatens the budget available for road widening projects?

Or is it about speed limits? Are the senior planners having difficulty conceiving how Vision Zero speed limits could work in New Zealand, and have decided to dismiss them as unattainable?

Safe speeds in Regional Areas

The UN recognises that all countries still face major road safety challenges, and that we must focus on speed management. Where speed limits have been lowered in New Zealand, they are working to save lives.

At the annual review, speed limits were mentioned, but Waka Kotahi should have presented the evidence for changing our speed limits by default. The default speeds are needed because they set an upper ceiling to the speed limits. Planners can do further “analysis of the road conditions” to determine safer speeds needed below this ceiling, but default speed limits bring safety swiftly before there’s resource available to look at the locations in more detail.

Vision Zero speed limits are determined easily, by simply looking at the users and movements possible:

New Zealand’s regional roads – with unprotected road users (residents, workers and visitors) and with “transverse conflicts” (driveways, side roads and intersections) – should never have had 100 km/hr speed limits. This error alone has been responsible for tens of thousands of unnecessary serious injuries and deaths.

Waka Kotahi has a programme to address some of the problems on our state highways, using side and median barriers, rumble strips, roundabouts and wider centre strips and shoulders – but we’re still awaiting Vision Zero solutions for:

  • Driveways
  • Side roads
  • People on foot and bike

These barriers, for example, were installed as part of the Road to Zero programme, but they have only addressed some of the risks present, and there’s clearly enough room to adopt a different solution:

Waka Kotahi’s General Manager of Transport Services, Brett Gliddon, said:

whenever we build a new highway, we add a cycleway on as standard practice

Yet retrofitting the existing state highway corridors to be safe for all users is Waka Kotahi’s responsibility too. Indeed, “fix it first” before adding more is just responsible planning from all perspectives.

So how should Waka Kotahi create a Vision Zero system from our current network? These Vision Zero speeds mean roads with driveways and side roads need 50 km/hr, and people on foot, bike or horse need 30 km/hr – or complete separation.

Let’s look at solutions.

Traffic Circulation

New traffic circulation patterns – something we’ve often discussed for urban areas – are a big part of this solution for regional areas – and help make sense of Vision Zero speed limits.

Where speed limits of 70 km/hr or 100 km/hr are desired, one of the big changes needed is the removal of driveway entrances, as that is a source of “transverse” conflicts. Alternative ways to access properties include:

  • Easements over neighbouring properties
  • New access lanes off side roads, or
  • Access lanes parallel to the highway

Sometimes the space could be reallocated from excess lanes.

Intersections will also need treatment to remove the “transverse conflicts”. Often there will be too many intersections for this to be economical so Waka Kotahi will need to either drop the speeds to 50 km/hr in the region of the intersections, or close some of the side roads. With this last solution, local “traffic circulation” changes might mean people need to take a different route to get to their property. Standard designs for small overbridges – for walking, cycling, horses and maybe stock – could minimise their costs while preventing severance.

It is also Waka Kotahi’s job to reduce the high speeds drivers use as they leave the state highways. In Slowing Drivers in Houten, Kent showed some design ideas that are used in the Netherlands to slow drivers down rapidly, as soon as they leave the high speed road.

Above, this road leads from a 90 km/hr ring road, and uses visual cues, trees and sharp turns to slow the cars initially. This is followed by narrow single lanes, as below, to slow drivers further, before they enter the local road system where there are properties to access and people.

There are many roads where we need a few Vision Zero templates to give people on foot, horse, bike or e-bike the safe travel they deserve, like:

  • separated paths created on the other side of the side ditches, or if there’s no room for that,
  • making the road one way and reallocating some of it to active modes, with a barrier between the cars and the people.

Waka Kotahi will need a streamlined programme that uses economies of scale, and they need to prevent it getting lost in business case madness, consultation limbo or used as a political football.

An excellent manager would find a way to excite the highway engineers about doing this retrofitting work – because the funds for it must be reallocated from highway building. With climate planning meaning our vehicle travel will reduce anyway, we cannot justify spending money on new or widened highways, let alone afford their maintenance, which has already grown to become an enormous drain on the budget.

However, in many areas, default speed limit changes and enforcement will need to suffice rather than making these changes. There will often be a higher cost benefit ratio for using the funds to improve travel by other modes. Bringing the rail and national public transport networks up to standard would provide real travel choice, equity and freight benefits. As Andre de Brett has written this month:

we can have excellent transport simply by upgrading our existing conventional rail network. Passenger trains with timetables that outdo non-stop car journeys are so realistic that we should have them already.

The Ōtaki Example

So now I turn to the Annual Review. Labour MP Terisa Ngobi asked about progress on Road to Zero:

I’m from the Ōtaki electorate so I probably have one of the most dangerous stretches of State Highway 1 along there. We’ve had many deaths this year, unfortunately… how are we engaging with iwi when we are doing those safety improvements? …Just being out there this weekend, I noted that while those safety improvements are happening, it’s making it harder to get into the marae, and to a lot of the houses that are up and down that Kuku stretch

Here was an opportunity to paint a picture for the Ōtaki MP about what Vision Zero and new traffic circulation ideas could deliver for her community.

Instead, Board Chair Sir Brian Roche said:

We would acknowledge that your area is one of the most dangerous areas in the lower North Island which is why we’re actually committed to getting a substantial rebuild of that whole network, which will address some of the issues to do with iwi as well…

And here’s the problem. The planned “substantial rebuild” of that network is a new highway. There are some minor interim safety improvements on the existing highway, but not to a Vision Zero standard.

Yet the area is ripe for investment as a demonstration project showing how a community can be provided with low cost, safe, sustainable travel options. There are already great transport “bones”. For the money being spent, the area could easily be transformed into a world-class, Vision Zero environment, with train, bus, and safe biking and walking, enabling the local community and economy to thrive in a sustainable way.

Sadly, what Waka Kotahi are planning to build between Ōtaki and Levin is simply a road capacity expansion project, focused on improving travel times.

It will induce more traffic:

And the additional traffic at the start and end of each new trip means safety will deteriorate on the local network.

The politician’s question was good, but the response from Waka Kotahi was not Vision Zero, and it prevented the upskilling of a willing listener. Indeed, it was a lost opportunity to inspire the whole select committee about the potential that Vision Zero has to lift our communities out of the twin problems of transport trauma and transport poverty.

In Summary

In addition to the progressive safety programmes of work that are already underway, Waka Kotahi’s leaders need to let Vision Zero guide the entire programme. It isn’t something to “squeeze into” a sector feeling the pinch of funding pressures; it’s a way to critique everything in order to reprioritise funding. The scale of change required is immense, and some entirely new programmes are needed, based on Vision Zero principles and harnessing traffic circulation changes. Many programmes should also be discontinued, with their budgets reallocated.

Waka Kotahi need to demonstrate how they will:

  • Put mode shift and vehicle travel reduction at the centre of Road to Zero
  • Introduce better urban safety improvements
  • Present the evidence for default speed limit changes
  • Establish a programme for retrofitting regional roads with safe back and side lanes and safe intersections to meet VZ speed limits
  • Provide better Vision Zero information for politicians and public

The politicians should be making sure this happens.

Again, let’s hold them all accountable.

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  1. “Further, she noted the statistics showed pedestrians and cyclists are increasingly being harmed in urban areas”

    One major cause of this is the increasing size of vehicles people use in place of cars- very large SUVs and utes- and particularly those with bull bars and high front ends designed for driving over rough ground, and anything else that gets in their way, like people

      1. I think expanding the farm rego system would be a better / easier solution.
        You can make all the crazy modifications you want so long as the on-road capacity of the vehicle is limited to crossing the road, driving to a different part of the same farm, or driving to town to get work done on the vehicle.

      2. Hard to se how bullbars can be justified practically in this country- we don’t have roos leaping out in front of us

      1. Off-road license and separate rego band seems a very sensible idea. We charge motorbikes a lot for ACC, why not vehicles with bullbars etc?

      2. +1, scaling rego / wof for your class of vehicles harm caused to other people would be the way to go IMO. Plus charging for weight, and volume.

  2. Great post! It’s such a bummer that every transport agency in NZ DNGAF about PT users, pedestrian or people on bikes, but walk on egg shells around car drivers, even when the desired outcome is them not killing each other.

    Hopefully successfully changes like the road from Nelson to Blenheim embolden WK to take a more comprehensive approach. And hopefully this resulted in a lot more urban roads gbeinf made safer too.

      1. This highway is best described as windy, hilly, and a bit narrow.

        You could argue that going faster than 80 is a stupid idea. But you can go 100 and you’ll still have people tailgating 10 metres behind you because you are going way too slowly.

  3. Rumble strips are good where they wake up drivers to avoid head-on crashes, but they’re being widely applied to shoulders without room to cycle on the left of them, where they force cyclists out into the main lane. WK’s response was “A balance between accommodating people on bikes and providing a continuous safety countermeasure for people driving vehicles is needed due to some of the noted options in the ATP flow chart [audio tactile profiles – can be cost impractical and/or the demonstrated crash risk on a particular corridor.” It seems to me that the minimal cost of providing an extra metre of road is minimal compared to WK’s budget and shouldn’t be “cost impractical”. Another great article. How do we get the minister to read and act on it?

  4. With regard to Otaki/Levin most people I meet there, and I visit or go through Levin several times a month – want the trucks out of the main street: the noise and fumes are bad.
    Many of those people also say they want a proper train connection. Likewise Otaki.
    When the Otaki- Levin proposal was put on hold in 2018 the campaign to restore it was relentless judging by the news items which came out virtually every week. This included the community papers, community radio, “mainstream” radio, The DomPost and the TV news.
    National’s campaign to keep the seat also focused heavily on the road. Obviously that didn’t work for them in 2020. The desire of many Otaki and Levin people for better public transport- trains and buses- is mute in comparison.

    1. Great example thanks, Jeremy. Imagine if all this time Waka Kotahi had persistently fronted these annual reviews – and all other fora – with best practice planning advice.

      Imagine if they had been using Sustainable Urban Mobility Plans, and Sustainable Safety for Logistics and Regional Mobility Planning, and were patiently explaining the concepts to the country.

      Decisions would have then been quite different. We could have tackled our safety crisis and worked alongside the other safer countries to continue to find new ways to improve. We could have substantially reduced our emissions and reduced and improved our vehicle fleet, and seen many people alive today who are not. We would be enjoying massive public health and liveability benefits.

      Politics will be hard in this vacuum of quality information, which is why I’m raising the need for the public to intervene and demand it.

      Do you have any thoughts about how to gain the ground we’ve lost?

      1. Well this is local election year. I would expect anyone standing in Otaki for the council or community board will be saying all the right things about advocating for public transport.
        Also by election time – possibly – the Pekapeka to Otaki section of the expressway will be complete so there should less distraction about major roading projects. The planning is underway for extra train service north of Waikanae. This could be a second daily capital connection which is what the Horizons regional council will be expecting or some sort of link Waikanae to Otaki or Levin. It will be linked to the decision to buy hybrid engines to be used on this line and also on the Wairarapa line. I think 2025 is the earliest the machines will be here.
        Adding to the pressure will be the growth spurt in Kapiti and Horowhenua, caused by families fleeing Wellington house prices. Most of those people will be working in Wellington so even greater pressure on the transport corridor.

  5. Please don’t show AT the Dutch residential street. One part of AT will try and make us provide 30m wide residential streets with no access off them. Then AT and at least three other branches of the Council will argue with each other over who has to maintain it all.

    1. I don’t see the piece as biased against cars. Many of the things Heidi is arguing for have already been agreed by the authorities, just not followed through on. Which specific points did you want to take issue with?

        1. Could you be specific? It will not be possible to achieve the goals on safety and emissions that have already been agreed without following a course very similar to the one outlined here and elsewhere by Heidi. That course retains the great majority of all car use, so I do not see it as anti-car, let alone biased. Bias would need to involve distorting, misrepresenting, or ignoring the evidence in some way.

    2. You have poor manners. It isn’t nice to make comments like that.
      Heidi puts in a lot of work on these articles. Whether you agree with the article or not, there’s no need to drop by and be rude.

        1. Not at all KLK.
          As my name suggests, I’m a realist…
          Do we need to reduce car usage? Of course. Do we need to hate drivers and make it unpleasant for them? No. 70km/h on all of our state highways except motorways? WTAF?!
          So how do we solve the impasse? We need to improve PT (both frequency and speed, as well as making it more affordable – weekly/monthly/annual passes at cheaper prices and tax deductible for businesses).
          Do we need more cycle lanes? Of course.
          Do we need cycle lanes that costs millions per km using existing corridors? No – a lick of paint and some cheap barriers are what’s needed in many cases.
          Do we need shared paths where pedestrians can get in cyclists way and/or force cyclists onto the road? No – keep them separate.

        2. Based on what LG?
          FYI I’m super pro-PT. Having spent years overseas experiencing proper PT I know the benefits of it more than most here.
          I also understand the environmental implications of our targets. My point is that Heidi seems to be a stick rather than carrot type of advocate. I’ll give you an example: how does lowering rural open highway limits throughout NZ to 70km/h improve PT/cycling/walking in our 3 main cities or more specifically Auckland? Answer?… it doesn’t. But it does mean that as a country we become less productive (as well as earning less to pay for things like healthcare and indeed PT infrastructure and opex), it slows down goods around the country pushing up prices of everything in the process.
          The carrot approach would be to improve PT while also making it both more affordable and indeed with weekly/monthly/annual passes make it more attractive to use off-peak. That’s how you get people out of cars.
          On a related note, we could get some very easy big gains by building the Onslow pumped hydro scheme (decarbonise completely our electricity) and electrify/green hydrogen transport, heating and industry as much as possible.

        3. I’ve shown the Vision Zero speed limits table. This clearly does not say that all state highways need to be 70 km/hr. I also went into the details of what would be required to keep the speeds high: “Where speed limits of 70 km/hr or 100 km/hr are desired…”

          There may be different pathways to achieving a network with appropriate Vision Zero speeds. But I’m not seeing them being discussed by Waka Kotahi – they are implementing other speeds, and still approaching the task as if it’s all about the handling of the car, instead of accepting Vision Zero’s upper limits.

          As Robert McLachlan points out, I’m simply fleshing out how to achieve what the authorities have already agreed to. They need to change the layouts so that we can have 100 km/hr. Or even 70 km/hr. But they can’t compromise on Vision Zero just because they want to spend the money on building new highways instead. That attitude is a cause of DSI.

          From your last comment, it appears you think I am focused on active travel in cities only. That’s not the case. The e-bike is entirely appropriate for travel in regional New Zealand. So is public transport – which requires being able to walk or cycle to the bus stop. Solutions can be different to in the cities, and paths can deviate from the road corridor, but it’s just as important for transport equity, economic health, public health, emissions reductions and safety.

      1. Well perhaps she should focus on more things than just being anti-car?
        As for poor manners, you should read some of the comments she makes in the comments section of many posts…

  6. Well done to WK CEO Nicole Rosie for putting the WK view out in front of the public, there should be a lot more of that. Even better would be to front up to some public forums so there can be an exchange of ideas. There is a certain sleight of hand in her article.

    The bit about car safety is straight out of a car manufacturer (and AA) press release – nothing about what those cars do to non-occupants.

    Safe speeds – WK has already done a study (Mega Maps) to determine the safe speed for each section of state highway. They are much lower than at present, but they won’t tell the public what those speeds are. Missed the chance to tell people that the entire system of setting speed limits is about to change – by the way, when are the results of that consultation coming out?

    Personal responsibility – the Stuff commenters will love that one. Completely misses the Vision Zero point though.

    “Safety improvements are working” – I don’t think they are. We are two years into Road to Zero and fatalities are increasing. Weren’t they expected to decrease? We’d need to see much more evidence of the specific projects and their results compared to other possible interventions to be sure.

    1. Yes the mega-maps thing was a lost opportunity. The only version most of us could access was on the NZ Herald website and you needed a Herald subscription. If a tree falls in the forest and Waka Kotahi pretends it never happened then does it make a sound?

  7. How WK can talk about any new roads, when to meet our climate change goals we need to reduce driving by around 50%, I just don’t know. Any and all roading budget should be put towards making the network safer for all users, including vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists.

    1. Not only do they talk about new roads, but actively rely on massive increases in demand in their business cases to help justify these projects. While the other side of the mouth is talking about decreasing VKT significantly.

    1. I agree the attitudes are a big problem, but one of the key influences on the attitudes is the design of the infrastructure.

      I’ll give an example, wide splay angles on side streets like this one :
      This makes people feel entitled to drive at 40+ km/hr through corners into residential areas, and makes the following driver angry if someone takes the corner slower because they could have taken it faster. If it were sharper, and had a continuous sidewalk, the following driver would be more accepting of the lead car doing an appropriate speed for this manoeuvre crossing pedestrian traffic.

      Another example is dodgy passing, if there were median ropes then that wouldn’t even be a possibility, people would never get away with it because they wouldn’t be able to do it in the first place.

      These kinds of infrastructure decisions that we have made in the past, provide continuous nudges to go faster, behave more poorly, have a worse attitude. I think the infra is the number one reason for NZ’s pretty poor drivers. You can instruct people all you want when they are 20 how to behave on the road, but 40 years later most of that training will be long forgotten and the daily nudges for decades will far and away have come to dominate the decision making process.

      1. That is not the entire story though.

        One counter example is the Taupo–Napier highway mentioned above. It generally looks like this: . It should be obvious that you don’t drive 100km/h on that road, but it isn’t.

        You inherently cannot have a safe system if drivers don’t have the habit of giving themselves some margin.

  8. For years SH1 between Paekakariki and Pukerua Bay was a killing zone. But finally they put in a wire barrier and head on crashes in that area ceased. They could do that on part of the Otaki to Levin highway, including near Kuku beach turnoff. On the Kapiti/Horowhenua Coast there is real pressure for sprawl which will support the idea of upgrading roading. So urban planning decisions are really important too. At the moment all the villages/towns up the coast are reasonably compact and flat and could support cycleways linking to train stations. With vision there could be a low carbon – and safe – development strategy. No evidence of that yet.

    1. Yes, that was my point, an attitude enabled and encouraged by the infrastructure.

      You could spend all day yelling at / ticketing people, but at the end of the day that is going to be less effective than changing the infra.

  9. Perfect ! well wrote Heidi.

    Transport People of NZ – please read and absorb – here lays the way forward.

    Heidi’s summary assigns some homework.
    A Challenge to our Politicians – Hold WK to account – Mode change out of DSI
    A Challenge to us – Hold our politicians to account.

    I am fairly certain WK under current management is un-aware of any deficiencies.

  10. Very interesting about the state highway upgrades Heidi.

    A road setup like this one :
    With the addition of median ropes, side barriers, and a bit more of a shoulder would be capable of 100km/hr, and consistent with vision zero. And would be relatively inexpensive to roll out to the majority of the state highway network. (compared to the motorway building of late)

    Driveways appear to be a big problem for WK on state highways, they believe that its unacceptable to anger locals by taking away their right to right turn across multiple lanes of 100 km/hr traffic. Insanity.

    The new sideroad access way for houses is commonly a part of the cycleway in the netherlands Which is an appealing double use. I was thinking these side roads / driveways were an eternal headache, but they can actually present as an excellent opportunity.

    I will also note the relative in-expense of small vehicle underpasses. There have been hundreds built in every region over the last couple decades. Including under major state highways. I remember in ~ 2013 they cost around 200K to 300K under a local road, and a probably double under major state highways. Half a million is fairly cheap to buy this kind of excellent access. I presume that these are cheaper than over-bridges, although the engineering requirements for cows vs pedestrians are a bit different.

  11. +1 Heidi

    As I’ve commented in many other articles NZ needs a compulsory nationwide vision zero/carbon zero infrastructure standard.

    1. Thanks. Yes. The creation of anything like that in NZ’s transport sector would have to be very carefully overseen by experts – probably international ones – who’ve already overseen paradigm shift for transport decarbonisation. If I had time (which I don’t at the moment) I’d write about the hogwash that we end up with because a lack of vision about what we could achieve limits the planning of steps we can take.

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