Posts Tagged ‘safety’

Speeding up improvements to road safety

December 7, 2011

As a frequent motorist to Adelaide’s roads, I occasionally am confused as to the speed limit on the section of road on which I am driving. It seems to forever be changing – in both distance and time – and as more councils are taking speed limits into their own hands it only looks like becoming more confusing before the situation improves. Unley City Council is a good example of this where local speed limits have been reduced to 40km/h.

Speed limits can be confusing and frustrating for many motorists. (Source: AdelaideNow)

In the urban areas around Adelaide, there are large signs around in yellow notifying drivers that the speed limit is 50km/h unless otherwise sign posted. But if a driver has just turned onto an arterial or connector road from a local street how does a driver tell what the speed limit is, particularly if they aren’t familiar with the area? What happens if one of the 40km/h or 60km/h speed limit signs has been removed, knocked over, or vandalised?

I like the New South Wales approach to posting speed limits. The speed limits are painted on the roadway in addition to the signage. But where there’s no signage, the speed limits are often still painted on the road anyway such as on the entry to a local street. This approach communicates more clearly to drivers the speed limit of the road they are driving on.

But even this, I don’t think, is the be-all end-all solution to sorting out speed limits on Adelaide’s roads. There’s a lack of consistency across much of the metropolitan region. Some councils have local speed limits of 40km/h, others use 50km/h on local streets, whilst others such as the Adelaide City Council have widespread 50km/h speed limits with only a handful of exceptions. And then there’s the odd arterial road that has a speed limit that isn’t 60km/h such as The Parade in Norwood and some outer suburban roads such as Lonsdale Road.

However, are we asking ourselves the right questions when we consider speed limits to improve safety? So much of the media and public discussion in creating safer road and pedestrian environments revolves around speed limits. Purely focusing on this aspect alone ignores the bigger picture. An example of this is currently happening in discussions about Hutt Street and a number of other local streets in central Adelaide.

Hutt Street is a wide four lane road with median strip and dedicated right turn lanes as well as on-street parking. It is lined with a number of restaurants and bars and is a well regarded dining strip in Adelaide. Adelaide City Council proposes reducing the speed limit from 50km/h to 40km/h to “encourage an expansion of alfresco dining and encourage pedestrians to spend more time and money in the city”. No other changes are currently proposed for Hutt Street.

This solution is a bit short-sighted, although I can see how lowering speed limits fits into a bigger scheme as it has successfully been implemented in other cities including Swanston Street in Melbourne, which is now closed off to regular traffic except trams. Yes, lowering speed limits might slow down traffic but it doesn’t do anything to increase the appeal of the street and the street is currently not very pedestrian friendly, which is what Hutt Street needs. Other measures and planning are needed to transform Hutt Street into a place that people want to visit instead of changing a few rules and hoping.

Maybe the authorities and public have forgotten about one traffic calming solution that was implemented on King William Road in Hyde Park in the 1980s to slow traffic through the local shopping street (or high street as the English call them). The street is lined with bricks which causes vehicles to rumble as they drive over them, which encourages traffic to slow down as driving at high speed over them creates large vehicle vibrations.

Of course there’s other measures that could be considered for Hutt Street as well. Zebra crossings which prioritise pedestrian movements could be used at some locations. (For some reason that I can’t explain zebra crossings don’t seem to be in favour in planning across Adelaide.)  The angled parking that currently exists takes up an excessive amount of potential footpath and outdoor dining space and could be redesigned for parallel parking, allowing some of the space to be reallocated for outdoor space. As an aside, the existing City Loop Adelaide Metro bus route could be extended to include Hutt Street instead of Pulteney Street.

In discussions about improving safety in our road environments, we need to start looking at the bigger picture and stop imagining individual actions as be-all end-all solutions. There is no such thing as the perfect solution. However, there is always room for improvement and those safety improvements can take forms other than changing the speed limit.

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Watch out: Cyclists ahead

July 6, 2011

Over the past few years, councils and authorities have gradually been trying to encourage increased travel by cycling across the Adelaide metropolitan area. Some of them are genuine efforts including the dedicated cycle way that is being established alongside sections of the Noarlunga train line and Southern Expressway in Adelaide’s south. Other schemes have been trialled and then reversed such as the Sturt Street bike lanes that were established and then removed due to local opposition. And then there are other token efforts that make you wonder what the responsible planners were thinking when the plan was implemented.

One of those examples of token efforts is at the intersection of North Terrace and Pulteney Street in Adelaide’s CBD. A few months ago, this intersection had a small upgrade which introduced dedicated zones and lanes for cyclists to cross North Terrace in both the north and south directions. However, the upgrade demonstrates some of the issues that have continued to discourage cycling around Adelaide particularly when it comes to safety considerations.

New bike lanes. Northbound is indicated by red and southbound is indicated by green. (Source: Nearmap)

For the north bound approach to the intersection, cyclists have this small indented bay to allow them to wait until the signal on the other side turns green. However, cyclists must negotiate other road traffic on the left turning lanes on Pulteney Street in order to reach this bay which is far from safe. As the bay is not very large and not isolated from the adjacent lanes, it is also possible that a waiting cyclist may be clipped or knocked over by a turning vehicle.

The indented bay for cyclists heading north on Pulteney Street, adjacent to the left turning lanes of Pulteney Street.

On the south bound direction the situation is even worse for cyclists due to the traffic signalling sequence of the intersection. While cyclists have the safety of the footpath when waiting for the light to turn green, they must be careful of vehicles turning right from North Terrace into Pulteney Street as the cycle lane ends up on the left lane of Pulteney Street which some vehicles access as they turn right, creating the potential for a collision if drivers and cyclists are not careful. There is also a number of parking bays very close to the intersection which adds to the danger of cyclists being hit by vehicles turning in and out of the bays.

Notice where the southbound bicycle lane ends - on the left lane of Pulteney Street and next to several parking bays.

When planning to accommodate cyclists, the surrounding areas need to be considered and not just the individual focal point of the upgrade. Bicycle lanes along Pulteney Street to and from the intersection and the realignment of a number of lanes and parking spaces could have been considered. In the above instance, it is clear that the surrounding areas of the intersection have not been taken into consideration during the upgrade which has resulted in a number of new safety issues. I worry about some of the accidents that may occur as a result of the recent changes.

Lessons from the Christchurch Earthquake

March 23, 2011

Predicting the Danger and Risks

This 8.5 minute documentary that went to air in New Zealand in 1996 warned of the dangers that Christchurch faced from a major earthquake. This clip below shows that building and infrastructure problems were then well known. In the earthquakes that took place on September 4 2010 and February 22 2011, many of the buildings shown in the clip were badly damaged or collapsed, including a number of buildings claimed to be success stories.

How Did Christchurch’s Buildings and Infrastructure Perform?

A few days ago, the Institution of Professional Engineers of New Zealand released a fact sheet about the background into building codes in New Zealand and how effectively buildings and infrastructure constructed in different times performed. This document can be viewed here. Particularly interesting is that the Institution notes:

Many buildings designed before the early 1980s may have experienced earthquake loads significantly above that for which they were designed. Nevertheless, many of them have experienced no or minimal damage.

The last major update to the design standards for earthquake loadings was in the early 1980s, which makes the complete collapse of the CTV Building constructed in 1986 and the stairwell failure of the Forsyth Barr Building while many older buildings survived somewhat puzzling. This is currently the subject of an inquiry under way in New Zealand. Also noted was that the majority of the damage to underground infrastructure was the result of liquefaction in Christchurch’s saturated, loose soils.

What About Earthquakes in Australia?

There’s also recently been some comments about the likelihood of such a large quake causing damage in Australia’s cities. While Australia has a far lower risk of damage from major earthquakes due to its location away from tectonic plate boundaries and major fault lines, some cities are still at risk from moderate sized earthquakes measuring between 5 and 6 in magnitude close to urban areas. Both of the cities of Adelaide and Newcastle have been damaged by earthquakes in 1954 and 1989 respectively, with the latter resulting in a number of fatalities. These, however, are still very small in scale in terms of energy released compared to earthquakes that can occur close to the major fault lines.

As individuals, there are some things that can be done to protect yourself during an earthquake. In the US, the recommended course of action is a quick three step procedure called “Drop, Cover and Hold On”. This involves dropping onto your hands and knees, covering yourself under a table or protecting your head with your arms and holding on to your shelter until the shaking stops. The aim of this is to prevent injury from flying and falling debris.

Media often portrays the wrong ways of reacting to an earthquake. While some buildings do collapse during major earthquakes, the majority escape with minimal or no damage. If a building does collapse, your shelter can provide a void. The natural instinct to run outside puts you at risk of injury from falling debris, while other recommendations such as standing in the doorway do not offer much protection.

Source:

Earthquake Country Alliance