A Letter to the Minister of Transport: Pull Finger and Sort the Mess that is our Transport System

Road toll consequence of wrong priorities

 

This is a letter to the incoming Minister of Transport outlining the mess our transport system is in.

 

To the incoming Minister of Transport

 

I write to you in dismay that after an excellent run getting the road toll down from the highs of pre 1987 a disturbing trend of the toll creeping back up since 2014 has been noticed.

Deaths-1921-2015
Source: Ministry of Transport

 

So far the Road Toll stands as of October 17, 2017 at  299 compared to 255 this time last year. On current projections we will exceed the 2015 and 2016 road toll totals of 319 and 328 respectively. These numbers are far too high and are both embarrassing as well as a tragic record against New Zealand transport authorities mentality when it comes to transport investment.

There is three tiers that affect the what goes on our roads and it looks like a pyramid:

  1. The bottom tier is driver behaviour and education
  2. The middle tier is road design
  3. The top-tier is the authorities including the Ministry of Transport, NZTA and Auckland Transport

 

The bottom tier is influenced heavily by the middle tier while the middle tier is heavily influenced by the top-tier. It becomes obvious rather fast that the top-tier trying to “mould” driver behaviour into “safer” driving, while building big wide sod-off designed roads that encourage the need for speed (so the middle tier) is simply not going to work in the slightest. Not when the top-tier says one thing (drive slower) to the bottom tier then does the complete opposite thanks the middle tier (designed for speed). This is why we have speeding issues in the Waterview Tunnel and North Western motorway, Waikato Expressway and the East Tauranga Link.

 

Greater Auckland summaries the issue:

Given the level of signage that exists, I think this story also highlights an important aspect in the discussion on road safety. Essentially, speed limits and signs are useful but alone they aren’t enough. If a road feels as if it was designed like a race track then people will drive accordingly. To bring speeds down we need to improve safety we also need to make changes to the road environment to encourage slower speeds. A point also made by the AA – it’s also good to see them ruling out the “it’s all just revenue gathering” trope.
“It’s certainly not revenue gathering,” spokesperson for the Automobile Association, Barney Irvine said. “Police aren’t trying to trick anyone here, there’s plenty of signage in every approach to the tunnel.
“What this really highlights for us is for the need for speed camera sites to be reviewed every six to 12 months right around the country,” Mr Irvine said.
He said that should be done by an independent body, which would decide what an appropriate fine rate was, and then decide if “too many” tickets were being issued.
“And if too many tickets are being issued, then obviously the system isn’t working, and we’d need to see more done to bring speeds down,” Mr Irvine said.
In urban environments, changes such as narrower lanes, protected bike lanes, improved pedestrian infrastructure, different surface treatments, street trees and many other tools can all help to change the feel of streets and bring speeds down while also providing increased safety and amenity for those not in cars. What’s more many of these changes can be made fairly cheaply, especially using tactical urbanism practices.

quote context: http://pllqt.it/nCfVdl

 

A local example of the top and middle tiers not meeting the bottom tier is Beaumont Street at Wynyard Quarter. Auckland Transport has posted a speed limit of 30km/h as the area has a high cycling and pedestrian volume. The problem? Not many cars do 30km/h. Why? The road is still excessively wide from its industrial past so the behaviour of motorists will be a tendency to floor it. How to fix it? Road design through narrowing the road at key points and even some speed tables (heavy-duty ones to withstand the trucks in the area) will go a long way. The problem with that? Auckland Transport is still heavily car focused – that is it is all about the flow at the expense of the pedestrian and cyclist – even in high volume pedestrian areas such as Wynyard Quarter.

 

 

In the end and as the famous planner Brent Toderian would say:

Transport Budget
Source: Brent Toderian

 

The budget being controlled by the top-tier in which it will have impacts on the middle and bottom tiers as a consequence.

 

Roading budgets set for the massive Roads of National Significance program at the expense of simple and cheap upgrades to our run down State Highway network (check SH2 from the Bombay Hills to the Thames turnoff as a comparison) is one example of a budget not lining up with vision (if a vision did exist). Auckland Transport’s Ti Rakau Drive upgrades (see: Auckland Transport Slow to Learn Lessons on Better Transport) where the flow of the car is placed over the movement of busses and pedestrians is another example of the budget not matching the vision.

 

So I urge the new Minister of Transport to please reset things at the top-tier. If we are serious about getting the road toll back down, improving road safety, and making urban environment pleasant for everyone then the example has to be set from the top not the bottom. Simply put the Minister will need to lead in the creation of new standards that will heavily influence road design that in turn influences driver behaviour.

The last nine years have been lost in improving transport safety so there is a lot to catch up on.

 

With Regards

Ben Ross

 

Once the new Government is in place hopefully we will get a better steer in where things will go!

 

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