Auckland will have slower speed limits in the central city and many other areas by August next year.
Yesterday the board of Auckland Transport (AT) adopted a plan to reduce speed limits on 700km – about 10 per cent – of the city's roads. On those roads, 50km/h limits will be reduce to 30km/h and 100km/h to 80km/h.
The plan will go to public consultation in February before returning to the board, which will have to adopt a new bylaw. Allowing time for signage and other measures to be installed, AT chief executive Shane Ellison expects the new speed limits will be in place by August.
Auckland has experienced a dramatic increase in serious crashes in recent years. From 2014 to 2017, the number of people killed rose by 77.8 per cent, while the number of seriously injured was up 72.5 per cent. These figures compare with much lower figures elsewhere: the national averages were 22.9 and 27.6 per cent respectively.
From 2016 to 2017, in just one year, serious speed-related crashes were up 47 per cent.
The Automobile Association (AA) has opposed the AT plan, saying it goes too far. Spokesperson Barney Irvine said his organisation had surveyed its members and "57 per cent oppose or strongly oppose a 30km/h limit in town centres" and they have "similar reservations ... about rural roads".
But Bevan Woodward of the road safety lobby group Movement criticised the AA's approach. He said AA surveys "are not representative because the respondents are self-selecting, hence they are more likely to be opposed".
Woodward said the NZ Transport Agency had "revealed that 87 per cent of our speed limits are unsafe". He supported the plan.
AT officials yesterday reported back to the board with evidence it would work in Auckland.
In Queen St, where the speed limit was reduced from 50km/h to 30km/h in 2008, they compared the 10 years before the reduction with the 10 years after. Crash rates were down 39.8 per cent and serious injuries were down 36 per cent.
On Whitford Rd, between East Tamaki and Clevedon, the 80km/h limit was temporarily reduced to 60km/h in June. There used to be close to 10 crashes a year on that road, several of them fatal. Since June there have been none.
Evidence from London, urban and rural parts of South Australia, Bristol and elsewhere was produced. All told a similar story - lower speeds significantly reduce crashes.
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff told the Herald he was worried about safety on Auckland roads but stopped short of endorsing the Auckland Transport plan.
"The human and economic costs are huge and unacceptable. We have to look at every way we can to bring the crash rate down, including lowering speed limits where evidence supports that."
The 30km/h zone in the city centre would include all roads bounded by the motorways and the waterfront.
Urban centre roads like Broadway in Newmarket and Tamaki Drive at Mission Bay and St Heliers would become 30km/h zones, as would parts of rural roads like the Coatesville-Riverhead Highway, the Hibiscus Coast Highway, Alfriston Rd and Waiuku Rd.
Ellison put the cost of the new plan at $21.6 million, much of which would go on signage. There would also be roadworks to make 49 intersections safer, some work on footpaths and some other work.
Speed isn't the only issue. AT chair Lester Levy said they had been talking with the police about enforcement. "We're got very strong co-operation with the police now," he said.
Ellison added that they had been assured the Auckland road policing unit has been "fully staffed since July. Frankly, it was almost disbanded before then."
Levy said they had met with Barney Irvine to talk through their concerns.
"The arterial roads like Nelson St, Hobson St and Fanshawe St are critical to this whole plan. The average speed on those roads now is only 19 per cent. But the danger is that people speed up before the lights. That makes them high crash areas."
Nelson St, Levy said, has the highest density of any residential area in New Zealand, "and it's in the top 10 per cent for crashes".
Levy and Ellison expect they would roll the programme out to more roads in the future but declined to put a timetable on that.
Will they also be stepping up the programme to make the roads safer in other ways, with footpaths, cycleways, more raised tables, safer intersections and the like?
"Over time we may need to do more," said Ellison.
"We'll take all legitimate steps over time," said Levy.
They'll be calling for public submissions in February.
Still waiting out west
Barbara Adler belongs to Candia Rd Make It Safe in west Auckland. They've been campaigning for a footpath for a long time now.
"For many, many years," Adler told the Herald, "residents have asked Auckland Transport, the local boards and the previous council to build a footpath. But we have been fobbed off. Repeatedly."
Candia Rd runs from Swanson and Ranui, over the hill to the Henderson Valley. It's semi-rural, but it leads to schools at both ends, and a kindy too. The Western Line loops around it, so it also leads to several railway stations. Housing developments have begun.
At peak times Candia Rd carries over 4000 vehicles a day. The speed limit on most of the road is 70km/h, but by Adler's reckoning "a third of the cars go faster".
At peak times, 750 cars per hour use the road. "They're all in a rush," she said. "The traffic on this road is neither local nor rural. It is urban commuter traffic but the infrastructure just hasn't kept up."
For much of the road there are no footpaths. No bike lanes, either. The road is narrow and there's not even a verge: if you're on foot or on a bike, there's nowhere to go to escape the traffic except into the ditch.
Two people have died in crashes on Candia Rd. Last week alone, there were three more crashes.
Adler started a petition late last month and already it has over 2500 signatures.
Auckland Transport says the safety of all road users is now its top priority. It also says "mode shift" – getting drivers out of cars and onto public transport, or cycling and walking, is its second priority.
For AT's stated goals to become a reality, the Candia roads of Auckland need urgent attention.
AT chief executive Shane Ellison told the Herald they would be "doing some work" on footpaths, but his board chair, Lester Levy, said, "It has to be targeted, there are too many".
Another spokesperson for AT said that speed limits throughout the Waitakere Ranges area would be reviewed next year and the police had been asked to enforce speed limits in the area more actively.
He added that AT was currently considering a request from the Henderson-Massey Local Board for a footpath on Candia Rd. "This is likely to be funded in the 2020/21 financial year," he said.
Barbara Adler was pleased to hear that. She said it was "the first time I've heard of a 2020/2021 'likely' to be funded date."
Adler was back at the Henderson-Massey Local Board yesterday [subs: Tuesday] afternoon, asking them once more to do what they can to get Auckland Transport to make Candia Rd safer.
The AA says no
The Automobile Association (AA) has responded to Auckland Transport's plan to reduce speed limits by calling for a "more balanced approach".
The AA has surveyed its members, said spokesperson Barney Irvine. "People see 30km/h as too slow to be credible on all but a very small number of CBD roads," he said. "They're not at all comfortable with that becoming the default limit for the whole area."
The Herald asked Irvine why the AA, as a leading voice for motorists, was not in the forefront of attempts to make the roads safer. With Auckland's poor road safety record, why was it opposing the first major attempt in the city to deal with the problem?
"We're not," he said. "We are quite happy with speed intervention measures in the CBD. We're just not in favour of going quite that far."
Irvine said the AA is opposed to a 30km/h limit on central city roads, but supports a 40km/h limit for many of them, as is now in place on Ponsonby Rd.
But, he added, "On busy, multi-lane arterials like Hobson St, Nelson St and Fanshawe St, the AA will be questioning whether any speed limit reductions make sense".
Irvine admitted that Nelson St is in the top 10 per cent of streets at risk of crashes, and that Hobson St and Fanshawe St are high-risk too. But he suggested other measures, such as "reducing the interface" between vehicles and pedestrians, would be more effective.
Neither AT nor the Auckland Council is contemplating turning those streets, or any others in the central city, into sealed corridors for fast traffic.
We asked Irvine if he knew that when cars speed up and slow down, as commonly happens on Hobson and Nelson streets, they tend to move more slowly overall than if they are all progressing at a slower but even speed?
"Yes," he said, "but it's not about through-put. It's about compliance."
Why didn't the AA promote the value of greater compliance with slower speeds, instead of opposing it?
"There's no evidence they work and no evidence of public support," he said.
But as an influential organisation representing the public, couldn't the AA be helping to build public support?
"No," he said. "We surveyed our members and they're opposed."