Vision Zero for Auckland

Fanshawe StreetOn 2 June 2015 Robert Su, 33 was heading home from work at the ASB bank to his family in Hillcrest. Like hundreds of commuters he was walking from Wynyard Quarter to the bus stops on Fanshawe Street. Tragically while crossing the road he was struck by a truck and killed. The exact details of the crash have not been released but it is highly likely that a range of factors were involved – speed, driver error, vehicle design,  road design, weather conditions. Flowers have been placed in memory of Mr Su at the pedestrian crossing.

The day after Mr Su’s death a woman was killed in Orewa as she crossed the road marking a week when two pedestrians were also seriously injured and a rider on his way to work was almost killed.  So far this year 14 pedestrians have been killed in NZ, 4 in the Auckland area.

Photo credit: @ByTheMotorway
Photo credit: @ByTheMotorway

What I find particularly tragic and frustrating about Mr Su’s death is that the road he was expected to cross is designed like a motorway for speed and traffic efficiency. For drivers coming off SH1 there are no clues that Fanshawe St is the gateway to the central city. For some time office blocks have been going up near by but no changes have been made to the road to respond to changing land use and the growing numbers of people walking (and cycling) through the area.

At a time when the Auckland Council family of organisations is working to make the city the most liveable in the world through a whole range of transformational projects we continue to let down our most vulnerable road users.   Improvements are definitely underway (eg removal of slip lanes in the city centre, complete street upgrades) and various campaigns take a safe systems approach to road safety supported by the NZ Police but what I think is missing is a comprehensive, everyone on board, Vision Zero  response where we, collectively as a city, do not consider any fatalities or serious injuries are acceptable or inevitable.

Letter to the NZ Herald 15 June 2015
Letter to the NZ Herald 15 June 2015  

I think Auckland needs to officially adopt Vision Zero (as the Mayor of NYC did in January 2014 ) with a clear action plan.  It will need support from politicians, traffic engineers, transport agencies, all road users and grassroots campaigners. Most importantly it will require a huge culture shift in our attitudes to driving  and acceptance that managing speeds is at the heart of improving safety.

There is strong community support for improving public transport and providing greater opportunities for active travel (as indicated by feedback on the Auckland Council’s Long Term Plan) but too often resistance if this means slowing down drivers. It is far too common to hear complaints that speed enforcement is “revenue raising” and politicians shy away from taking decisive action on speed control in the face of evidence and the recommendation of safety experts. 

 Vision Zero AKL – embracing street design, slower speeds, rules changes,  education and enforcement -I think could provide the right platform for far greater public support for the concept of putting the safety of people first.

In the meantime I think there is the need for immediate action focused on city centre streets so that no one needs to be put at risk of getting killed on their way home from work.

Fanshawe Street missing ped leg
Photo credit: @BytheMotorway
  • Remove motorway signage from Fanshawe St
  • Install the missing pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Fanshawe St and Halsey St (this needs to happen before the new Fonterra HQ opens)
  • Enforce the speed limit particularly on “motorway” style city streets like Fanshawe, Hobson and Nelson
  • Implement the 30km/h speed limit for the City Centre and Wynyard Quarter (as proposed in the City Centre masterplan)
  • Repair the urban fabric of the city where footpaths connections are missing 
  • Target road safety campaigns

(this is my initial list as a non expert – I am sure there are many more actions requiring immediate attention)

Update 17 July 2016 

I’ve joined the call to for Vision Zero to be adopted for NZ to bring down road toll 

More reading

 Five key lessons from Europe’s Vision Zero Success

1) Managing speeds — and speed differentials — is a top priority

In all three of these countries, the leaders of traffic safety efforts emphasize that managing speed is the number one determinant in their successes in improving safety.

Over the past 15 years, the national governments of Sweden, the Netherlands, and Germany have all proactively and systematically changed their approaches to speed. Each nation (to differing degrees, but all significantly) has lowered speed limits for a clearly defined hierarchy of roads and corresponding speeds. For instance, the Netherlands has shifted…

  • from 50 kilometers per hour (kph) to 30 kph on smaller, residential streets;
  • from 70 kph to 50 kph on bigger, or what we’d consider arterial roads; and
  • from 100 kph to 70 kph on the freeway-like roads outside cities.

In each of the three nations, nearly everyone I’ve spoken with credits speed management as the greatest contributor to their success in improving safety on the streets and saving more lives.

Remembering Malcolm (Mel) Coom: Speed limit enforcement will save lives

Pippa Coom, Malcolm Coom and Adam Coom Dec 1991
Me, my dad Malcolm Coom and brother Adam. December 1991

Just over twenty years ago my generous, fun loving, warm hearted dad was making plans for an overseas trip. He regularly visited the UK (where his parents lived) but this time he was especially excited about including lots of dancing into his travels leading up to the Rio Carnival. My dad loved to dance Latin American style and was a regular at the old El Inca club on K’rd.

Before he left for the UK he set out on a roadie to visit me in Wellington where I lived at the time. He never made it. At Sanson on SH1 he missed the turn off to Wellington and a few minutes later along SH3 he was killed instantly in a head on crash.

He was 49.

Many years later and now with a role on the Waitematā Local Board advocating for road safety, I’ve come to think of the crash not just as a personal family tragedy but also how it provides an understanding of the “safe systems” approach to creating a forgiving roading network.

Every part of the system failed my dad.

The Road: The signage on SH1 used to be terrible. It was easy to miss the turnoff at Sanson like my dad did. Shortly after the crash Transit upgraded the signage.

The crash occurred where an overtaking lane abruptly ends at the brow of a hill.

Road Use:  The driver of the on- coming car pleaded not guilty (I think the charge was careless driving). He couldn’t remember the crash and could not believe that he had caused it. He thought of himself as a safe driver who was very familiar with the stretch of road.

The Vehicle: My dad loved old cars (unlike his dad who after a working life in the Vauxhall factory in Luton was able to upgrade his car every year). The car he was driving (I think a Rover) didn’t have any driver safety features like air bags.

Speed: The other driver made a mistake misjudging a simple over taking move in a passing lane. Unfortunately his speed gave him no time to react when he found himself on the wrong side of the road.

Even the best drivers make mistakes. What we don’t have to accept is that fatalities and serious injuries are just an inevitable consequence of driver mistakes. A safe system approach means that we can demand a lower road toll and even zero road deaths (“Vision Zero“)  but we all have to play our part.  We need improved road design, safer vehicles, competent road users and safe speeds.

The NZ Police are currently under pressure to get their messaging right about their approach to enforcing the speed limit and need to explain why the road toll has increased during the holiday period (when the trend is downwards). However I absolutely back the Police taking a hard line on speed enforcement (with the posted limit recognised as the limit without fiddling with “tolerances” rounds the edges) . It is a lazy political response to claim  (as Ron Marks MP has done) that speed management is about revenue gathering. It is based on international evidence that reducing speeds reduces the number and severity of crashes.

If anything I would like to see the Police put even more resources into enforcing urban speed limits.  The Waitematā Local Board is advocating for slower speeds in residential areas (starting with a trial) and supports the City Centre Masterplan objective of a central slow speed zone.  Reducing speeds will contribute to liveability and encourage more people to walk and cycle.  And of course easing back on the gas will save lives. 

Safe systems approach explained

Stop the “blame game” – improving road culture in NZ 

Edinburgh to roll out 20mph speed limit across city

The Safe System approach aims to create a forgiving road system based on these four principles:

  1. People make mistakes

People make mistakes and some crashes are inevitable.

  1. People are vulnerable

Our bodies have a limited ability to withstand crash forces without being seriously injured or killed.

  1. We need to share responsibility

System designers and people who use the roads must all share responsibility for creating a road system where crash forces do not result in death or serious injury.

  1. We need to strengthen all parts of the system

We need to improve the safety of all parts of the system – roads and roadsides, speeds, vehicles, and road use so that if one part fails, other parts will still protect the people involved.