Working on road network management contracts Dr Fergus Tate, WSP Technical Director Transport, is acutely aware of the impact that serious and fatal crashes have on the community. Here he discusses why Vision Zero works.
Dr Fergus Tate - WSP Technical Director Transport
WSP is thrilled that the Auckland Transport Board has approved the Vision Zero programme for Auckland. Vision Zero came into being because prevailing approaches to road safety had not, and still haven’t, solved the issue of road traffic deaths.
As long as we travel, we will never be able to prevent all crashes, because people will always have lapses or make mistakes. In fact, Scandinavian and Australian studies have suggested that even if all road users obeyed the laws we would still have roughly half the deaths we currently record.
By definition, “vision” is the ability to think or plan for the future with imagination or wisdom.
WSP began working on Vision Zero in Sweden more than 30 years ago. The approach has been adopted in many other countries and we’ve developed our own in-house Vision Zero Handbook, because we know that where it has been adopted road fatalities have reduced.
Vison Zero works for a number of reasons. It relies on an evidence-based approach to road safety treatments and, while everyone has a role to play, Vision Zero assigns the greatest responsibility for safety to the system designers, to continuously ensure that transport users are not killed or seriously injured when things go wrong.
While road users should always follow traffic laws and regulations, such as wearing seatbelts and obeying speed limits, system designers should take further measures to prevent deaths and serious injuries from occurring.
With the right mindset, there are diverse ways to begin approaching road infrastructure work to advance Vision Zero. Paying attention to accumulated data from operations and maintenance can red-flag a possible hazard. Instead of asking “How will we warn drivers about an upcoming hazard?”, we ask “How can we eliminate the hazard or prevent severe consequences if the driver cannot avoid the hazard?”
The Vision Zero philosophy makes roads safe for all users, with special attention to vulnerable users—pedestrians, cyclists and motorcyclists. When roads are safe for vulnerable road users, they will likely be safe for all road users.
Again, that means we ask questions such as “How can we provide a balanced roadway for all transportation modes and improve safety for users of all ages and abilities?” Taking this thinking one step further, “How can we increasingly develop road networks that encourage walking, cycling and public transportation?”
For example, in Sweden WSP performed an on-site inventory with a Geographic Information System (GIS) tool that looked at road safety when walking along the road, the possibility for pedestrians to safely cross the road, and the safety at bus stops. These were evaluated and classified as good, acceptable or insufficient for use by school children. The classification method is now used when developing school travel road designs and actions that need to be taken to improve safety at public bus stops. A bus stop that is good for children, for instance, would have the waiting area separated from traffic by a curbstone and the bus stop width.
In a Toronto bikeway pilot, WSP recommended a context-sensitive design option that included a bike lane protected by parked vehicles on one side of the street, and a buffered bike lane (separated by bollards) on the other. Parking, loading zones and turn lanes were relocated on each block to minimise risks for all road users. This approach helped strike a balance between creating a more comfortable cycling experience and maintaining adequate levels of parking, as well as mitigating negative traffic implications.
If we try to create a system that relies on perfect human behaviour, we will never succeed, which is why Vision Zero is such a transformative approach. It just makes sense.