Summer, sun, socialising – speeding?

Summer! With loads more people outdoors, it’s more obvious how local streets are performing for their communities. Here’s some tips for local citizens to seize the opportunity for some productive local conversation about driving speeds.

As more of us want to get to cool parks, al fresco dining spots, beaches and other destinations outdoors, and more of us want to get there in the fresh air – by bike, scooter, on foot and so on – a few things get thrown into relief.

  • If there’s a great outdoor destination in your neighbourhood, how well are your local streets (and roads) coping with having more people than in the rest of the year?
  • And when we’re off visiting that great beach, pub, playground, park in someone else’s neighbourhood, how do we behave when we’re getting there – by car, public transport, on foot…?

Summer means local communities with beaches are seeing lots of great revenue for local sellers of icecream, fish’n’chips, sunscreen and so on – but also loads of “seasonal phenomena” like obnoxious parking (of cars, but also scooters), speeding or showing-off driving, and plain old congestion.

However this summer stuff can, if you’re cunning, be a springboard for getting long-overdue street improvements to calm traffic and make your neighbourhood streets better for everyone, all year round.

Your citizen toolbox

In a particular community in Wellington, the summer crowds have arrived and there are lots of (anecdotal) reports of speeding by cars and utes driving through busy, heavily people’d bits of road by beaches. This happens every year, but typically results in lots of angst without anything practical.

This year Talk Wellington provided some starting points for channelling the energy on the local Facebook group into something potentially positive for the local streets and roads. It’s focussed on speeding rather than other phenomena like obnoxious parking.

GOAL: a good local conversation

Besides wasting a lot of people’s time on screens when we could be out in the sun, Facebook-started conversations tend to result in a certain kind of local community kōrero, even when taken into real life with a community meeting. It’s a kind you really don’t want: angsty, messy local argument and raruraru. Often it leaves the council (Road Controlling Authority) with a confused picture of local feeling, so they don’t do anyting (because other communities are making a clearer case). Often it’s unnecessarily divisive amongst neighbours. And it can often encourage a fortress mentality of local sentiment against “People From Outside Our Community”.

GOAL: better streets for people

As a general observation, this community’s streets and roads are typical small-Kiwi-town ones, built when people thought there was no downside to the automobile. So their shape and form generally encourages uncivilised, thoughtless driving and parking (and same for scooting), and generally discourages people from free-range, confident, enjoyable walking, sitting, chatting, crossing to the other side, play, or al fresco dining. In other words, traditional Kiwi streets and roads are serving poorly the communities that live amongst them, and summer visitors.

So while YMMV, these will be useful for many similar neighbourhoods!

Special thanks to NZ speed management guru Glen Koorey for many of these references.

Local / neighbourhood speed management: start here for an informed conversation

Typically, people won’t have made a clear case for what the problem / opportunity is. They’ll be all “hoons are speeding!!! it’s UNACCEPTABLE!!!! See the [poor quality mobile] photos [where I’ve not anonymised faces]! Sign my petition!” or “keep yer knickers on, it’s FINE”, or “don’t be a Karen”.

You’ll need a clear picture of what’s actually happening on the street relative to what should, with liberal use of the 5 Whys for each of those statements, and some good evidence.

  1. NACTO’s City Limits is excellent for making the cases and asking the questions (nicely laid out too). p15-16 here is useful for us all,  Locally, this is a treasure-trove of industry best-practice (so much good stuff to swim around in!).  
  2. This page is important for putting a particular problematic street in the context of wider neighbourhood (spoiler: you’ll probably find there should be lower formal speed limits and lower-speed self-explaining environments on lots of local roads and streets!)   
  3. Look also at the risk matrix here from p63 and consider the different zones of “problem” streets/roads at different times of day, year . Importantly, think about what your community wants the streets/ roads to encourage and discourage in people’s behaviour incl driving behaviour, not just what they currently encourage and discourage.  (And remember: 5 Whys that stuff!)
  4. Specifically, this presentation is great – it talks about the different tools for making roads and streets (not the same thing) safer, and the evidence. Note it covers both formal speed limits (alone, cause a small slowing-down overall) and physical changes to the road / street environment (most effective). Speed humps and cameras are the thing people go to, but they’re the tip of the toolbox! Also a useful summary with good pictures: section 5.2 here “speed management toolbox”. Look at “self-explaining roads” – this is super powerful (academic and general-audience incl video). 

Sidebar: emergency services’ “need to speed”

Sadly, in many communities badly needing traffic calming, the local fire and emergency crews’ contention that “it’ll slow down our response times!” means the whole traffic calming initiative gets killed off. We’ll have another post on this because there’s some nuance, and local fireys generally very respected. But for now:

Really good traffic-calming in a high-risk location will make it MUCH safer for your community (and often MUCH nicer a street to be on). 

And it’s an inconvenient truth that dozens of different things slow down emergency vehicles. Local traffic calming is only one, and its influence on response times is often negligible relative to things like on-street parking on narrow roads, and just there being lots of general traffic in the way.

So if you start hearing “But The Firetrucks”, use the “5 Whys” and “OK, can you fill us in on the evidence behind that?”.

(There’s also “but the rubbish trucks” and “but the school buses”. These are related but a bit different, and their speeding isn’t legitimised under the law!)

Start here for a constructive local conversation

Firstly, don’t underestimate how tricky a conversation space this will be. Both online and especially in person, get an independent facilitator – to either hold the space or to give backstage preparation help to whomever is going to lead the meeting.

Get clear outcomes and outputs from the hui – such as:

  • we want to present Council with enough material that they’re willing to prioritise investigating our street over all the other ones that deserve it – which will probably require a whole little project beyond the meeting.
  • We want to get everyone on the same page about the problem/opportunity – how bad is it, when, where, and why do we think that’s bad? This will require a bunch of evidence so be prepared to go gathering (and be rigorous!).

And secondly, besides being guardian of an informed conversation (5 Whys, evidence) the facilitator and meeting chair should be on alert in the conversation for: 

  • people victim blaming (“pedestrians should just…”)
  • people concern-trolling the traffic calming initiative by pretending (all of a sudden!) that they care about vehicle greenhouse emissions, or disabled people’s access (only by car, funny that) 
  • cultural safety vs actual safety
  • privileging people whose experience of a street is overwhelmingly by driving through it (or at best parking on it), over those whose experience of the street is for much longer and is done in the fresh air.*

If in doubt, invoke the freedom we owe our kids – to be able to hoon around in packs on bikes, scooters, feet and enjoy their neighbourhood, the kind of freedom that we older people enjoyed!  And the freedom that older people need too: to be able to cross the road to see a friend or take in a view without feeling scared, etc.  These are freedoms that are our rights as Kiwis, of all ages, but we deny them “because it’s not safe on the roads”

Good luck! And drop us a line if you’ve any questions…

*Note on evidence and privileging driving people over people out in the fresh air (or not):

People’s experience of streets is vastly under-studied compared with the street surface that we drive on. And we tend to study even less those who are more vulnerable: kids, disabled people, older people. Great.

So, get your community to ask: Who’s not making trips they might want to, because they feel the road’s not safe enough, so we don’t see them right now, so we don’t realise they exist and have a right to use their neighbourhood like everyone else?) 

Image credit: neighbourhood sign in Glen Innes, by Tim Murphy

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