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News, insights and perspectives

30 June 2020

New speeds and neighbourhoods – What do lower speed limits mean for communities?

Claire Wannamker, Social Sustainability Consultant at Just Add Lime, and her daugther Genevieve making an oral submission about safer speeds outside schools.

By Claire Wannamaker

Today sees the reduction of speed limits on rural and city centre roads in Auckland.  Infrastructure is built for communities and Auckland Transport (AT) has a responsibility to protect people from harm on the network they provide. This change is a key piece of the puzzle in reducing road trauma.  Speed doesn’t stop crashes, but it is the single biggest determinant of damage done in a crash, and crucially, the reduced speed limits in urban areas reflect human tolerance to impact.

In short – if you’re hit at 50km an hour, you’ll probably die, if you’re hit at 30km an hour, you’ll probably live.

These reduced speed limits are not just about safety – they represent a fundamental change in the way public space is used.  Quieter streets build community.

When vehicles travel slower in neighbourhood streets, they also travel quieter.  Streets become more peaceful and welcoming for people and less tempting for rat runners, reducing congestion and fumes for clearer air.  We may have normalised the stress of standing so close to large hurtling missiles that we feel the wind, noise and vibration as they zoom past, but this move renews our entitlement to exist in public space, particularly the old, young and differently abled.  This new freedom as we move around and enjoy our city centre without threats to our mortality could see many more people out and about, providing a much needed boost to city centre businesses.

Aucklanders who visit the city centre might imagine how much quieter, cleaner and safer their own neighbourhood could be with reduced speed limits.  How they could enjoy the quiet lockdown streets that invited them to walk, cycle, explore and connect with their neighbourhood and neighbours without the inconvenience of a pandemic. 

Opposers of lower speed limits argue that drivers won’t adhere to them.  Maybe they won’t meet the new limits exactly, but experience tells us they will travel slower than they did before.  

The speed reductions represent a paradigm change in the use of public space and I acknowledge the people who have worked to challenge the status quo and make this happen.  We must also acknowledge the people it’s too late for and families who should not have lost a loved one.

AT are planning second and third tranches of speed reductions over the coming months, so we can expect more to come, providing an opportunity for communities, schools, workplaces, business associations and local boards to rally for reduced speeds in their neighbourhoods and town centres.  Ultimately it makes sense to reduce speed on all local streets and town centre main streets.

At Just Add Lime, we are passionate believers in the idea that infrastructure is built for people and communities – it is evident is all that we do. So we couldn’t be more pleased to see this change happening today. 

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