It’s been three months since our post, Where do we put our fury and our grief?, which responded to a cycling fatality on our roads. Later that same week, we all learned that the person killed while riding their bike on Manukau Road in Royal Oak was 19-year-old Levi James.
Our post highlighted the fact that the location where this happened has known safety issues. Manukau Road is on AT’s cycling network as a priority regional route; according to AT’s own design guide and parking strategy, it shouldn’t have parking on it at all. And yet, it does, creating the conditions for a ‘dooring’ incident resulting in death. This tragedy was not an accident; it was a consequence.
The guest post below by Damian Light (originally published here) captures some of what we’ve been wondering in the months since: what will it take for AT to act on making streets like Manukau Road safer for people on bikes like Levi?
I’ve gone to write this piece a number of times, but struggled. Not because I don’t know what to write, but because it makes me so angry and frustrated. Too many people are being killed or seriously injured on our roads.
And Auckland Transport has been big on promises for road safety, but their record shows otherwise. Their website proclaims that they have adopted Vison Zero:
“Vision Zero, an ethics-based transport safety approach, was developed in Sweden in the late 1990s. It places responsibility on the people who design and operate the transport system to provide a safe system. This is a transport system that is built for human beings, that acknowledges that people make mistakes and human bodies are vulnerable to high-impact forces in the event of a crash. To protect people from forces that can cause traumatic injury we need to look at how the whole system works together to protect all those who use our roads.”
The page that makes this bold claim that “No death or serious injury is acceptable” has little updates since 2020. The Auckland Transport Monthly crash statistics – Road deaths and serious injuries page hasn’t been updated since 15 April 2021 and most of the data is from 2020. No surprise, they’ve never taken road safety seriously.
But this is too important – people are being killed. These aren’t just numbers – real people are dying on our roads in avoidable situations.
On 5 March 2022, Levi James (19) was killed on his bike riding to see his grandmother. Not only is this a terrible tragedy, it was avoidable – Auckland Transport had recently completed a project in this area, but refused to consider basic safety improvements for bikes, even though their own plans and policies required it. And improvements recommended by an independent safety review weren’t implemented either. They’ve blamed budgets, but that’s a cop out – there are simple solutions that don’t cost big money. And this is meant to be a priority regional route on the strategic cycling network. Read this post on Greater Auckland for more details.
12 weeks since this terrible tragedy and Auckland Transport have done nothing.
In an email to a council worker after Levi’s death, seen by the Herald, an Auckland Transport (AT) staffer said the organisation had considered removing parking outside the shops as a “quick win”, however, that would require consultation with businesses and affected parties.
“We anticipate that given the town centre environment and businesses operating there would be varied responses and would take several months to complete.”
This should be completely unacceptable, but it’s how Auckland Transport respond. Four years after the tragic loss of life in an intersection in East Tamaki, there is still no sign of action from Auckland Transport despite a coroner’s ruling that the road layout was the primary cause of death.
William Wiki Teoi was hit by a car while crossing East Tamaki Rd in Ōtara and died later at Middlemore Hospital from heart failure in March 2018.
The 84-year-old had been trying to cross the busy four-lane road because a nearby pedestrian crossing was not accessible in his wheelchair.
Why has it taken so long to do nothing? Auckland Transport decided to do something else instead, widening the road instead of building a safe crossing for people.
I’ve been fighting with Auckland Transport to get them to build a crossing near my workplace – as we were promised in 2015. And again in 2017, 2018, 2019… When they finally did something (on one of the five intersections), they managed to make a complete meal of it.
How does this keep happening?
Auckland Transport has a serious cultural issue that needs to be addressed. And culture is driven from the top – the executive leadership and the Board. So what is being said at the highest levels of Auckland Transport? At their Board meeting on 26 May 2022, this is what appears in their papers.
The AT safety team are aware of these concerning trends and are continuing to deliver on the 2021 business improvement review recommendations. One of the key actions has been the development of the advocacy plan, focusing on increasing our influence on policy and regulatory changes to support our Vision Zero strategy such as our ongoing work with NZ Police to increase enforcement efforts and with Ministry of Transport’s Fines and Penalties Review.
For an organisation that is taking Vision Zero seriously will ensure that safety is an issue that everyone considers not just “the safety team”. Developing an advocacy plan isn’t going to bring back Levi, William or the 59 people killed on Auckland roads in 2021. Vision Zero requires a system response, not pushing the responsibility onto a team who’s responsible for advocating for change. “System designers are ultimately responsible for the safety level in the entire system – systems, design, maintenance and use.” is what their website says, but their Board papers say otherwise.
The data here is from December 2021 which is almost 6 months ago. Worse, the comment here is identical to the comment that appeared in the same report (but a different graph) in March 2022. Not only has AT done nothing in the period between these meetings, they’re just copying and pasting their excuses.
I’ve never seen an organisation do so little in the face of such awful, avoidable tragedy. I’ve worked for organisations that have hurt and lost people so have no illusions about how challenging this can be. But in every case I’ve seen people try to fix the problems, laser focus on the immediate issue and a increased focus on health and safety throughout the organisation. Auckland Transport seems immune to the very human response that we must all do better to ensure that people get home safety.
The Mayor and Councillors helped build this culture when they voted in support of a proposed Emergency Budget that cut funding for safety programmes, with the full knowledge that it would lead to more serious injuries and deaths on our roads.
I’ve sat in meetings and watched elected representatives and council staff debate which part of council should pay for critical safety infrastructure for children. I’ve seen the determined school representative come back month after month, begging for action not more words or promised. But instead of keeping our tamariki safe, Auckland Council has been distracted with it’s own internal processes.
I’ve written to the Chief Executive of Auckland Transport asking him why their organisation is failing to respond, although I have little faith that I will get a reasonable response.
What will it take for Auckland Transport and Auckland Council to act?
— Damian Light
Originally published here.