Walking is supposedly one of the healthiest and safest modes of travel available and yet our pedestrians are becoming besieged on our footpaths.
Of the 21 fatalities on Northland roads this year, three of them have been pedestrians and two of these have been on Whangārei city roads in the past three months.
I can't imagine the horror of those who witnessed the accidents at Kensington and Maunu Road, and the huge sense of loss of the family and friends of those involved.
But we need to confront the fact that both these fatalities were on council work sites, both were at low speed, both involved trucks, both sites had multiple factors going on - machinery, signs, high-vis vests, hard hats, speed restrictions and people directing traffic.
Yet, two pedestrians lost their lives.
I imagine there has been significant investigation around these work sites. If they had been factory sites or farms or public events, the site could be closed down, there would be a WorkSafe investigation to find out what went wrong, and people potentially being held to account.
All council road work sites require a traffic management plan. This includes a work programme, a hazard management plan, and how public and contractor safety is ensured.
These are designed to cover all potential hazards and make them safe and efficient work places while traffic, cyclists and pedestrians move through and around them. It is hard to believe how, with all these safety measures and mindfulness, these accidents could happen.
Making roads safer for pedestrians is a local road issue. There is an irony that one of these accident sites is the construction site of the new shared pathway from the CBD to Kamo.
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It is designed to take vulnerable road users away from direct involvement with passing traffic and new signalised pedestrian crossing places being created. Much of the new roading infrastructure around Whangārei has been about making it safer for walking and cycling.
Council has the responsibility for infrastructure, but the idea of looking out for pedestrian safety has got to be a shared one. About half of the recorded fatal and serious accidents have pedestrians at fault – crossing the road heedless of traffic, being drunk, wearing dark clothing on the road at night, being distracted with mobile devices while walking, stepping out from behind parked vehicles and children escaping from supervision are all identified pedestrian factors. People make mistakes and accidents happen in the blink of an eye.
The pedestrian environment is also becoming congested and confused in places. Most pedestrians just want to cross the road safely without being run over, but finding a safe accessible pedestrian crossing, especially if you have limited mobility, can be difficult.
As the population grows, the need for roading infrastructure grows with it and road crossing places are in this equation. Council engineers are often reluctant to put in zebra crossings where people want them.
They need to meet a specific criteria and the interest is in keeping traffic moving to avoid congestion. Roundabouts are great for traffic but challenging for pedestrians. Signalised intersections make for safe crossing places, but traffic lights create the potential for red light running and that can create a pedestrian danger.
Constructed footpaths can be compromised with cracks, undulations and lack skid resistance, which make active walking difficult. Street side furniture designed for outside dining can create problems for walkers with limited mobility or poor eyesight.
The footpath itself can also be populated by skateboards, mobility scooters, motorised scooters and cyclists, which may have the right to be there, but need some etiquette to share the pathway. So while walking can be enjoyable and healthy, it can also be hazardous.
Safer roads means safer roadsides as well.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.