This is a guest post by accessibility and sustainable transport advocate Tim Adriaansen. Header image by Nenad Stojkovic

So your transport agency has a Vision Zero plan.

But does it really?

A new report released yesterday on the impacts of air pollution in New Zealand shows that until now, we’ve been underestimating the impact that traffic-induced air pollution has on our health – by a factor of 10.

HAPINZ 3.0, as the first of its kind to measure NO2 emissions (AKA, traffic exhaust – at least, that’s where 90% of it comes from) is both groundbreaking and alarming. It points the finger squarely at motor vehicles for causing $10 billion in pollution-related harm in a single year.

Included in this ‘social cost’ are some grim statistics: More than 2,000 premature deaths, 9,000 hospitalisations and 13,000 cases of childhood asthma across 2016 alone. In effect, every single New Zealander is subsidising motor vehicle transport by $2,000 per year – year after year – to offset the costs of air pollution.

We already knew transportation could have a big impact on health. A 2021 meta-analysis concluded that “any level of cycling is better than none for all-cause mortality” while a similar more recent meta-analysis on walking found that the more steps you take each day, the less likely you are to die.

While walking and cycling don’t have to be transportation, it’s fair to say that in a city like Auckland – where the climate is pleasant and half of all trips taken are less than 6km in length – transportation often could be either walking or cycling. And if it’s not, we’re missing out on those potential life-lengthening benefits.

What became clear during the Covid lockdowns – if it wasn’t clear already – is that the number one reason people aren’t eager to cycle more often is because they’re scared of other people’s driving:

And walking around our city, unfortunately, has been made much more difficult and time consuming for pedestrians… in order to make things easier and save time for drivers.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that inactivity is the leading cause of harm to people’s health in Aotearoa: A 2019 Active NZ survey found that just 7% of children and 23% of adults were getting sufficient daily exercise. As one cheerful study frames it:

“There is overwhelming evidence that physical inactivity is linked to an increased risk of non-communicable diseases including coronary heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, hypertension, and several cancers. Physical inactivity is also associated with non-communicable disease risk factors… and a higher risk for severe COVID-19 outcomes”

It’s a pretty simple formula: Physical activity very good; inactivity very, very bad. The long list of conditions associated with inactivity effectively make up the very similar looking list of leading causes of death in New Zealand.

That is, with one notable exception: Motor vehicle accidents [sic].

Which brings us back to Vision Zero, the aspirational policy which sets a humble objective for our transport system:

“By 2050, we aim to eliminate transport deaths and serious injuries (DSI) in Tāmaki Makaurau.”

It begs the question, however: What is a transport death?

We can say, with a high degree of confidence, that air pollution and inactivity related to transportation both claim far more lives each year than crashes. If we were aiming to create a safe system, then surely addressing these two causes of harm would be top priority?

Are we really working towards eliminating transport deaths, if we don’t have a robust plan to address the leading causes of death from transport?

Thankfully, the philosophy behind Vision Zero is robust, espousing “We want a transport system that prioritises safety, not a system that puts other measures ahead of human life and limb”. It already encourages a “safe system” with “safe vehicles” and “safe infrastructure”.

It just needs a little more of the Vision part of the equation. That is, someone with 20/20 vision to step back a hundred paces and take a look at the whole system, not just the parts of it that are smashing into each other. Find the common themes, look for common causes. Heck, you could even throw Climate Change in the mix, for good measure. Oh, and did I mention that traffic noise causes permanent brain damage? Might want to give that a look in, too.

Once you’ve identified all the risks, you can apply the classic risk management hierarchy to start finding the most effective solutions, noting that “engineering controls” and “administrative controls” (or it’s better known cousin – “behaviour change”) fall well down the list in terms of what is most effective:

Now then, can anyone think of an easy way to eliminate air, noise and climate-changing pollution from traffic, and the risk of crashes, all while encouraging people to live a more active lifestyle?

That’s what I’d call Vision Zero.

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72 comments

  1. Important in this context to note that EVs while quiet at low speeds have pretty much the same amount of noise as a normal quieter car at speed due to tyre roar predominating at speed. And also EVs are just as intimidating and dangerous for cyclists to be mixing with at any speed over 30kph. So EVs while they have undoubted air pollution gains do nothing for congestion, active mode intimidation and do little for noise above 30kph.

    1. Not to mention all the new mines that will need to open to obtain the metals used in their batteries. Then there’s the factories….

        1. An iPhone battery weighs about 200 grams, and Tesla battery packs range anywhere from 200kg to 900kg, so you could literally buy six iPhones a year for a decade to consume at worst maybe 5% of the metals required for a single small EV battery. Nice try though.

    2. EVs will have to be banned anyway because the driver won’t get their quota of compulsory exercise. I am not sure about E-bikes. Banning them will probably be at the discretion of the local Workers’ Soviet.

      1. Well to be fair it was a decision by the local Soviet in the first place that from now on driving was the only way to get around. And I won’t deny that cars gave us an unprecedented level of mobility, but it was probably a mistake to use cars for all trips.

        1. To be fair you do get to make your own decision now. You won’t in future as under Zero Vision bikes in general might have to be banned because it is conceivable someone might fall off. Walking too can be hazardous so it will need to be supervised as we all march together to the big stadium to do our compulsory massed – games gymnastics on the leader’s birthday.

        2. Comrade, your antisocial comments have been noted! Do not discourage the noble workers assigned to our service station, fried chicken and bariatric surgery bureax!

        3. No, you may be happy with your decision. That is not the same thing as saying everyone gets to make decisions about how they get around.

          If they want to walk or cycle, but they cannot because it’s not safe and healthy, or because it’s not vaguely practical (because priority has been given to drivers instead), that’s not a true option. So they don’t get to make the decision they want to make.

        4. Dearest Samfnz,

          I am unable to go work again this year. I used all my worker’s RUC for a pass to visit my elderly parents behind the Western Wall at Point Chev, so I have to stay home and tend to the community gardens until my entitlement rolls over again in the Spring. We are contemplating shooting one of the children to free up some carbon credits for extra onions next week, or possibly some bread for the first time this year.

          I would write more, but I am being ram-raided again, and it is soon time for my mandatory bike ride at gun point.

          All hail our benevolent regime!
          Buttwizard K. Stakhanov

  2. “Now then, can anyone think of an easy way to eliminate noise pollution from cars?”

    A microphone throttle retrofitted to all cars and motorbikes, so you have to yell at the same volume as your engine (with a very small cooldown for breathing…).

    All the fastest drivers will be didgeridoo players, opera singers, or Brian Blessed.

    1. or all exhausts to be redirected back into the driving compartment? Should fix that particular issue pretty quickly…

        1. Just think of all of the panel beaters and trauma surgeons who would lose their jobs! /sarc

      1. If they start with residential roads (not arterials) it should only take up a very small percentage of traveling time (unless you are a rat runner in which case bad luck). Not that I am saying they should stop at residential roads, but I am saying there really is no reason at all for them to be 50km/hr. not even the economy argument. Why not a blanket speed limit change instead of the current piecemeal approach? Why muck around waiting for more people to die?
        Vance have you got any good reason why the narrow residential street I live in has a 50km/hr speed limit + a 10km/hr police tolerance?

        1. “Why Arterials be kept dangerously fast” – I am not saying they should, but obviously someone things they should otherwise it would be done by now. Probably because of the supposed economic effects or voter backlash or similar.
          But for residential streets I can’t think of a single reason not to, there won’t be any economic effects, I can’t see voters being too upset about people not racing up and down their residential street, there is no need for trials etc, just get on with it.

        2. Well, in a large city like Auckland 50 km/h on some roads other than the motorway is reasonable in general. A problem with this is that because of the many culs-de-sac there is often no alternative way for bikes or pedestrians and they have to walk along the arterial road as well. It would be so much better if we could take more bike trips through smaller residential streets. In fact, Ponsonby is built that way. Keep Richmond Road and Ponsonby Road at 50 km/h, everything else at 30 (or 25?) and it would be pretty nice I imagine.

          Also: Not Just Bikes -> Cities are not loud (cars are)

        3. Forgot to mention: Decent separated bike infrastructure for any road with speed limits above 30 km/h is a must.

        4. “Economic effects”

          What makes you think that lowering the road speed from 50k to 30k would have economic effects? This line gets trotted out every single time lower speeds to save peoples lives is mentioned, but where is the evidence that this is a thing?

        5. JohnBGoode.

          Vision zero puts safety above all else.

          Roads should be 30kph unless there is physical separation of road from residential area. Parts of Tiverton road are approaching this, with parallel side streets where people live. You need to design roads carefully to allow this, Auckland is full of opposite, high speed strodes.

          Ponsonby road at 50kph is particularly daft (on many levels) as bikes can keep up with cars due to the lights being everywhere. Cars just floor to wait at the next set of lights, achieving nothing but extra air pollution, noise pollution, wasted energy and increased danger for everyone nearby. Ponsonby strode is exactly the sort of Road that should be 30kph at most.

        6. @Jak: I have to admit I don’t know the specifics in Ponsonby and just had a quick glance at the map. However, I still think that 50 km/h is one problem but other aspects can be changed for vision zero. If all the residential roads are more bike friendly, people would not have to bike through PR. If safe bike infrastructure was there, 50 km/h would not matter that much. If less people drove, everything would be more relaxed and so on.
          The main reason why I make this point is actually buses. If they are slowed down as well, it would extend travel times even more. A factor which is not as important for cars, as they have all the other conveniences. But I am not religious about this and open to good arguments. Also, stroads are bad!

        7. “What makes you think that lowering the road speed from 50k to 30k would have economic effects? This line gets trotted out every single time lower speeds to save peoples lives is mentioned, but where is the evidence that this is a thing?”

          Indeed. But there is certainly a positive economic impact from having less people severely injured, disabled. Or dead.

        8. They have lowered the speed of ALL vehicles within Central Wellington and Te Aro, to just 30km/hr. There are just two roads that are not lowered – Taranaki St and the SH1 part of Vivian St.

          I’d be keen for those two to be lowered to 30km as well – currently people coming roaring into Wellington on the motorway at 100km, then enter the city and supposedly change down to 50km – but they are often still doing 60-70-80 km as they head down Vivian St. So dangerous. There would be bigger traffic jams than there already are, but those cars really need to be made to slow down…

          I imagine Auckland would have similar issues at Nelson St offramp – except that you don’t enter directly into an area with on of the highest pedestrian counts in the city…

        9. JohnBGoode.

          What about people that want to bike to Ponsonby road? An arterial that’s also a destination needs bike infrastructure more than a anywhere.

          I take a bus reasonably often down Ponsonby road it stops and starts probably 10 time in the 2km length of the road. I would imagine that it and most traffic would not hit 50kph on most trips. A change to 30kph max would be negligible for busses.

        10. The campaign to lower speed limits to reduce deaths on the road is not working. It’s reflected in the increasing death toll in the last few years.

          A dangerous road can still be a dangerous road even with a lower speed limit.

          Improving the quality of the road will reduce deaths.

        11. Vance. In the tiny number of places where lower speed limits have been implemented, it is absolutely working.

          https://ourauckland.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/news/2021/10/it-s-simple-safer-speed-limits-are-saving-lives/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CRural%20roads%20where%20speeds%20were,limit%20changes%20have%20been%20made.

          https://i.stuff.co.nz/national/127315811/zero-deaths-following-speed-lowering-on-blenheim-to-nelson-highway#:~:text=The%20speed%20limit%20on%20sections,100kmh%20to%2090kmh%20and%2080kmh.

          It’s failures are in its scope and ironically speed. Only a tiny fraction of NZ/Auckland has been treated.

          Blanket ITF speed limits should be implemented all over NZ.

        12. The next step should go like this:

          “let’s make all minor streets at most 30 km/h.” Auckland transport has an official classification of streets that it can use for this.

          I think it roughly amounts to all streets that are not rendered white or coloured on zoom level 12 on open streetmap:

          https://www.openstreetmap.org/#map=12/-36.8523/174.7944

          Since you drive almost no distance on those streets it will not cost you much time.

        13. Those suburbs on the isthmus basically are built the wrong way for driving cars. All the shops are on the main arterials. And every arterial has shops. This was a good design back when people got around mainly by walking and catching the tram. Now with cars being a thing this is quite inconvenient.

          You need at least basic bicycle lanes (think Karangahape Road) on those arterials so you can reach the shops. Parallel routes are OK to cater for longer distances (think for example Killarney St instead of Anzac St in Takapuna).

        14. Yes the misconception that our arterials are about driving fast over longer distances still needs to be tackled at certain levels in AT. Sigh. Our arterials are places where people live, shop, walk to school, meet and mingle. They need 30 km/hr.

          Any road intended for driving fast over longer distances need to be designed as motorways or limited access highways. For people concerned about travel times, the key is reducing traffic, and giving priority to buses and bikes and pedestrians so their trips are faster. The slowness is due to the space inefficiency of cars.

  3. This has big implications for the economic evaluations.

    But we still need to fix the traffic modelling – or how it’s applied – otherwise the evaluations will have to work with the standard bogus output from the modelling which will claim road widening decreases emissions (or doesn’t increase emissions to the extent that it really will). In which case, faulty measures of the health implications will be forcing the decision-makers in the wrong direction.

  4. Well this makes you think, eh? I usually do have some options, even if they take a bit longer. I’ve cut down my driving but the reasons I do still drive… just seem selfish now.

  5. The cool thing about absolutism is it provides something for enthusiasts to do. Vision Zero you say?

    1. And a hilarious thing about vision zero, is that it gives people (typically heavy car users) an avenue to try and make jokes and avoid talking about huge number of people that get killed and maimed on the roads each year.

      How many people should be killed on and around the roads each year?

      1. You would make a great Jesuit. Avoid arguing a point you will lose by reframing it as a different argument you can win.

        1. Well now, thats the car driver calling others traffic if ever heard it.

          This is an article with vision zero in the title, talking about it is stated purpose is absolutely valid.

        2. You are the one advancing a false dichotomy not me. You appear to be claiming road deaths are all a result of policy and we have a menu of policy choices of no deaths or some finite number. The part you are missing is that not all deaths are a result of some policy. Maybe vision zero is 60% marketing bullshit.

  6. Hard case seeing all those Srilakins queuing for petrol for days just as well it can never happen here. Nothing worse than being dependant on public transport and walking to get around and receiving your daily dose of pollution. Seriously though I have being advising everybody who will listen to have a plan B for car dependency ever since the 1970,s oil shock. Not that they took any notice. I recently had to bailout a family member who had built an entirely car dependent life to the point where the cost of mechanical repairs would have resulted in her loosing her job. It went down very hard with me but it seemed to be the only option. However I not optimistic she will change. Or for that matter will we as a society.

  7. So if we” fixed” housing and transportation, we would also resolve the health system issues for free. Hard to see how our politicians don’t understand this,or maybe they do, but find it hard to articulate to the “average” kiwi.

  8. There is utterly zero chance Twyford’s latest unconnected missive will be useful.

    NZTA have just completely gutted their policy department at all levels which has seen their most experienced policy people walk out the door taking over 200 years of experience between them. Just another foolish restructure.

    There is now zero institutional capacity for NZTA to engage with either MoT or MOH to make sense of this latest study, and another layer of seriously pissed off staff with no time to do even more work with even less people.

    1. The rapid and comprehensive changes needed in the transport system will only come if NZTA does completely change their planning systems. But restructures are a real set back if the purpose of them is not well-grounded.

      What did they say the purpose of this restructure was? There was certainly an imbalance of power created by the restructure under the interim CEO a few years ago. Did this one seek to rebalance that or to achieve something else?

      We just don’t have time for management to do this poorly. This is really disappointing, but it’s not surprising. I think the trouble stems from New Zealand’s really poor culture and processes for appointments and governance.

      1. Lordie if anyone below Tier 2 knew what the actual stated purpose of this current restructure was. Plenty of indicators show it won’t be the last.

        They still haven’t been able to remove the “customer” language inside the joint, when Road To Zero needs a fully regulatory framing.

        This government has a habit of forming more bullshit quangoes rather than better integrating existing ones.

  9. AT has in its TDM a set of Guiding Principles for design. These include “Design for safety” and “Streets influence our health”. These aren’t the same thing, but as this post shows, there is a strong overlap – also with “Streets are public space”. Total System Design does mean that all these things need to be looked at individually and together. “All” we really need is for these Principles to be taken seriously whenever design happens.

    1. Yes. A lot can be achieved if the senior people are supportive of the intention to do it well; if they take the principles seriously.

      The TDM has “Streets influence our health” but “Healthy Streets” was removed from the RASF. That call was really bad from AT management; there’s an enormous difference now between Auckland and the places where the “Healthy Streets” concept was taken seriously. It’s literally been a matter of life and death for many people.

      The new Healthy Streets Framework was supposed to be finished last month. I’ve asked for a copy. I wonder if it’s even been started.

  10. This HAPINZ 3.0 report is a big deal. The massive increase in air pollution deaths (now 10% of all deaths in NZ) comes from a re-evaluation of the health impact of NO2. The authors say this is a new result but that it has been replicated internationally. In that case all the world’s cars and trucks are implicated.

  11. Aerodynamics may have a thing to say about that. The fuel consumption of my Mini rockets over 90kmh due to it having a windscreen rake like your garden variety brick. Given our predilection for SUVs, I’m not really sure I believe that the function of the catalytic converter can override the physics of shifting huge chunks of air out of a family car’s way at speed, given this kind of thing tends to square as you go faster.

  12. Good news in my local rag (Pukekohe) today.
    From 13 July max speed allowed on SH1 from Hampton Downs to Tamahere
    (and reverse) will be 110 km/h.
    Now, where did I park the Mustang ?

  13. There is no highway or motorways in NZ that would be 130km/hr ratable by the remotest stretch of the imagination.
    Now factor in induced demand and induced land use changes from shorter travel times.
    Factor in the acceleration and braking to / from the higher speeds with NZ’s high interchange density, and almost all motorways being within citys / congestion.
    Implement acceleration limiters on all vehicles.
    Reduce all diesel speed limits to 75-80.
    Implement emissions testing at WOF to strip out the vehicles that are in poor condition and would increase emissions by running harder.
    Factor in the higher co2 output and energy requirements from the increased speeds.
    Factor in higher death rates from higher energy crashes.

    But you only want to talk about things that would make your life more convenient hey?

    1. But it is a good point about the diesels. There economic tradeoff between the health downsides and productivity seems like it would be very skewed towards lowering the diesel limit to 90 (or even 80) being a good idea.

      1. Lol. Imagine speaking to a Ukranian and trying to explain to them that there are people out there that think there is an actual war on cars.

        1. Have you not heard of thewaroncars? Try a google. Should be right up your alley.

        2. Keep raging that any minor loss of vehicle privelege in Auckland is a war against them. It gets stupider the more you say it, especially when you take a look outside your window

  14. Basically the big polluter is the old trucks and bus.

    One big polluting truck cause then times more pollution than converting EV cars.

    I wonder why the progress to upgrade those trucks are so slow. Seems like the business has way too much bargaining power to keep their old fleet as long as possible

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