Weekly column by Kāpiti mayor K Gurunathan.
Councillors recently received an open letter from a local group called Kapiti Urban Repair Crew seeking a safe crossing at Poplar Ave. The group has made presentations to council, which has responded with some minor improvements. Not satisfied, the group launched a 720-strong petition to council urging greater safety measures.
Council commissioned Tonkin & Taylor for a report, which noted the crossing was dangerous. The group said they had used advice from this report, including advice from their own "independent" traffic engineers, to install short-term safety hit sticks and a "safety display" during Road Safety Week. They were incensed council had removed the display and installations of safety cones, high-visibility sticks and flags four times.
The letter noted: "Council staff may not like our messaging, but they should respect our right to stand up for those messages. They should also appreciate we are speaking on behalf of many local people. At the heart of our concern is safety for everyone and, in the longer term, a better future for everyone." A central thrust of the letter is the justification of these guerrilla actions for the safety priority for walkers and cyclists because of their contribution to reducing carbon emissions. There is no denying the sincerity and commitment of this group for the common good as they noted: "We need to take these actions to protect our children and grandchildren."
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The group said they accept there are differences of opinion between them and the council's roading team about the safety installations but the safety display should not have been removed during the Road Safety Week. This is a useful place to pose a counterargument to the group. For the council's transport team, it is not a question of "differences of opinion". The council, as the Road Controlling Authority, cannot by law allow the placement of homemade items in the road corridor. Items which are not approved devices as defined under the Land Transport Rule.
Council's transport team has no choice but to remove them. The Kāpiti Urban Repair Crew's "independent" traffic engineers should have advised them of this. You also need formal approval for any work on the road corridor managed under the National Code of Practice for Utility Operator's Access to Transport Corridors, which defines a set of standards for working on roads and its corridors. A neighbour's permission is not a legal substitute. Councils as local roading authorities and the NZTA have very strict safety protocols, especially given the management of subliminal safety alerts requiring split-second reaction from drivers and road users.
The group also claim their actions are for the safety benefits of everyone. A closer examination will reveal their definition is site-specific, meaning "everyone" using the Poplar Ave intersection. In fact, this site is one of about 20 other traffic sites with various levels of danger, some potentially more dangerous. It's a classic question of the council having a limited budget while facing a huge demand for road safety projects across the district.
Council has a multi-evaluation criterion to assess safety paralleled with a priority list and a funding timeline. Should political agitation be included as part of this evaluation criteria to measure level of danger/safety? There is a potential for a zero-sum impact if limited funds are moved from an existing high priority site to another.
There is an old saying that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. While I understand the Urban Crew's big-picture argument that the global threat of climate change should take precedence, this approach should be a request for a new policy for evaluation, not an agitation around one project while ignoring the safety concerns of others around their dangerous sites.