Auckland Transport has "courageously" adopted the Vision Zero road safety plan, targeting 65 per cent reduction in deaths and serious injuries by 2030 and zero by 2050. But why is there no extra money for cycleways?
Unusual scenes in the Auckland Transport boardroom this week. It was quite full, with the board members around one end of the large table, executives around the other, and a large group of staff, from AT, and the council and the police, sitting behind them.
Andrew Bell, "implementation manager for safe systems" at AT, the team leader for most of those staffers, made a speech. "Tihei mauri ora," he began, before going on to praise the board for adopting "more than just a document". He was talking about the Vision Zero Strategy & Action Plan, a major, multi-agency initiative to reduce the number of deaths and serious injuries (DSIs) on our roads.
The targets are very bold: to reduce the current historic highs by 20 per cent by 2021, 65 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050. From more than 700 DSIs a year to 250 in 10 years, and to zero in 30 years.
Bell's boss, Bryan Sherritt, the executive general manager in charge of safety, told the board these targets "align with government thinking but are a bit more ambitious".
The strategy proposes safer roads, safer users, safer speeds, safer vehicles and better enforcement. It covers everything from roundabouts at high-risk intersections to passenger-focused safety procedures for bus drivers. It represents a profound shift in the way road safety has been approached.
Bell talked a little about the work his team had done. "We've talked to people who've lost loved ones," he said. "We have a lot of hope. This plan requires leadership and courage. Thank you." And they all got up and sang "Tūtira mai ngā iwi".
It's a common enough song, a common enough scene these days. Pretty rare and special at the AT board, though.
Acting chair Wayne Donnelly beamed with pride. He said he'd been involved in safety for a long time. "Finally, we're moving away from being a car-dominated city," he said. "Safety is about people in vehicles and outside them." That's certainly true: 47 per cent of the sharp rise in DSIs in the past five years has involved people not in a vehicle.
To put that bluntly: while cars are getting safer for their occupants, they're running down other people: motorcyclists, pedestrians, cyclists.
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Donnelly said, "We've taken on this philosophy. As New Zealanders we don't accept that deaths and serious injuries will happen in any other part of life, so why do we do it in transport?"
Health authorities were there. Michael Hale from the Auckland Regional Public Health Service called road safety "a critical issue for public health". He said, "These are ambitious targets and we are addressing the issue in the right way."
The police were there. Inspector Scott Webb, manager of road policing, talked about the difficulty of coordinating different agencies and how well he believed they had managed that. He looked extremely pleased. The Ministry of Transport, iwi, the rest of the council and others have also been involved.
They're excited. Sherritt told me the day before about the $700 million AT has committed to the project over the current 10-year period. Last year, $45m was allocated to safety. This year it's $75m. Next year it will be $104m.
While high-risk intersections are targeted, so are dangerous rural roads. Speeds will be lowered, although the board has extended to October 31 the deadline for the final proposals on exactly where and by how much.
Already, though, lower speeds are being trialled in Te Atatū and Papakura. There's been a bit of blowback: some trucks make a lot of noise going over the raised tables at pedestrian crossings, and there are drivers who don't believe they should have to slow down as much as the tables force them too.
I asked if some are too high. "Roads all have their own camber," said Sherritt, "so it can be difficult to get it exactly right." He said they've shaved some of them back a bit.
"But if people are complaining they have to slow down? Well, that's the idea."
And the truck noise? Is that about gears? "No, it's a problem with loads banging up and down." Yes, truckies, the solution is in your hands.
It's all good stuff. Or is it? I asked the AT boss, Shane Ellison, what this would mean for bike lanes. He thought about it.
"This doesn't of itself trigger greater investment," he said.
What? Why not?
"That's a good question" he said, and talked about how vulnerable cyclists are. "It's a key issue, especially in the city centre," he said.
All those extra dollars and no more funding for cycleways? Nothing added to the work plan? Are you kidding?
Ellison said again it was important to protect cyclists and reduce vehicle speeds. He added, "The Urban Cycleways Programme will be complete by 2021." And then he decided, "That work is integral to the Vision Zero Strategy."
But is it? He said they have a new Transport Design Manual that specifies what network planners have to look at, and it includes cycle lanes. Which may be true, but the issue is budget, not a list of nice-to-haves.
Ellison said, "We've done better than we thought we would this year, too. We thought we'd do 7.65, I think it is, but it's going to be 9.65. We're overperforming."
Those numbers are kilometres. Auckland Transport is "overperforming" in its delivery of cycle lanes by adding less than 10 kilometres a year to the network.
I asked him what someone on the Nelson St cycleway was meant to do, if they want to get across to Queen St? The cross streets, Union, Wellesley and Victoria, are suicidally dangerous for cycling on.
There was another silence. It felt like neither he nor Sherritt had thought about it.
For the record, the Urban Cycling Programme is a three-year plan intended for 2015-2018. Getting it finished by 2021 isn't fabulous.
Also for the record, the Vision Zero documentation actually says, "When riding your bike, you'll enjoy protected cycle lanes that have curbs or physical barriers."
Sure, it's aspirational. But it still needs budget and a work plan.
The problem is fear, of angering motorists and their cheerleaders. They really need to get over that.
The problem is also methodology. AT prioritises high-crash areas, which sounds reasonable. But cyclists don't show up much in those statistics, because when they get hit by a car it could be anywhere. On an otherwise calm, straight piece of road, say. So the data analysts can't see the problem.
That methodology has a more fatal flaw. Literally. It requires more deaths before we start taking cycling more seriously. In the inner city and town centres, for the sake of pedestrians as well as cyclists and scooter riders, we desperately need more separated lanes.
In the AT strategy to mode-shift people away from single-occupancy vehicles, cycling is supposed to be important. Cycling helps with congestion, public health, community building and, for heaven's sake, climate change.
But in the budget and plans to support AT's bold new focus on safety, it's been forgotten. This is the city that once had the courage to build the pink pathway: Te Ara I Whiti. Where's that courage now?
Bell and his staff did such good work to generate the new safety strategy. I hope they're practising a haka, not just waiata, and will do it to the board, and those executives, every chance they can.