Lessons from Europe and Singapore: Transport – Part 2


Continued on from Part 1. This part looks at the logistical issues of owning a vehicle in densely populated European centres, and the advantages of bikes in these locations.

Whilst it is certainly true that the European cities I visited have their share of cars, it is also true that urban planning rules have limited where the cars can go. I visited the old quarters in Stockholm, Gothenburg, Amsterdam and Brussels during my time in Europe. Each city had its own way of dealing with private vehicles.

Some places like Stockholm restricted the vehicular access to emergency and service vehicles. This is understandable. Many of the streets in their old quarter are very narrow and not suited to larger vehicles and would impede foot and cycle traffic. Also to maintain the old city ambiance and not damage the cobbled roads which have been in place since the old city was built.

The old city quarters in Stockholm. (R. GLENNIE)

I also visited Ypres and Brugge in Belgium. These are two towns in rural Belgium in/near the area popularly known as Flanders Field. Here I was able to see other measures that were used to control the number of vehicles in the towns.

One measure, which I understand was in place for Brugge, is that if people live in the old part of town, they cannot bring their vehicle into the old town except for purposes such as dropping off shopping or visitors. On one hand this seemed rather awkward in terms of freedom of movement. On the other it was simply necessary. The streets of the old town were built hundreds of years before motor vehicles were even a remote possibility and therefore without tearing down large tracts of the old town, it is simply not practical or proper to park ones vehicle or vehicles outside their home, for the street frontage might be only a few metres of a house or apartment that is 2-3 stories high. The vehicle, even if parked right up on the footpath would then pose an immediate impediment to the considerable foot and bicycle traffic passing through.

Just a small portion of the bicycles in the vicinity of Amsterdam railway station. (R. GLENNIE)

Bikes are a very popular transport mode in European cities. Their ease of use, low cost in maintaining – a kit for punctured wheels, a lock, working brakes and maybe a helmet (they appeared to be optional, or maybe authorities had given up trying to police any rules) – and one is “away laughing”. Mass bike locks were present in Amsterdam. The ratio of cyclists to other road users was far higher than I have ever seen in New Zealand – or am probably likely to see – and for the most part they were far politer than their New Zealand counterparts.

Cycle ways clearly denoted where the cyclist was allowed to go. There was occasional confusion about what was allowed in the cycle way as motorized scooters sometimes mingled with them as well. Cycle lock up facilities exist in central parts of these urban areas, where the cycle is locked up in a large area with other cycles. But it was just as common to see them locked to lamp posts, canal railings, or simply parked outside buildings.

So, these are just a few observations made of transport on my trip to Europe. Feel free to comment.

Lowering speed limit might not save lives


Yesterday, the Government acknowledged it was looking at lowering the speed limit to 70km/h on some roads. Whilst delighting road safety campaigners, the usual critics have sprung up. Some of their points are valid, but some are simply attacking a Government with an apparently bold plan for N.Z. transport.

There are a range of reasons why lowering the speed limit will not save lives:

  1. A lot of crashes happen as a result of bad decisions – such as turning in front of an on coming car; failing to give way; running red lights
  2. Crashes also happen because people too often do not drive to the conditions and ignore the rules set down in the road code – a person is supposed to be 2 seconds driving time behind the person in front, which becomes 4 seconds in foggy or wet conditions; fail to use lights appropriately in dark, or otherwise poor visibility
  3. Still too many people electing to drive drunk despite common public awareness of the problem and the strong negative reaction to anyone being caught drunk – how many of you have had to stop a person from driving drunk?
  4. Driver attitudes are a major concern – a failure to wear seatbelts; drivers running from cops; letting minors or unlicenced people behind the wheel – and need to change

As a mate at the pub said awhile back, “you cannot fix stupid, Rob”. It was not a reference to the road toll, but people have to accept responsibility for a significant portion of the crashes that happen. Some, such as an elderly driver perhaps backing into someones fence will be purely accidental – they would not have meant to do it and might well have confused the gears or hit the accelerator instead of the brake.

Where in the preceding four reasons did I mention the word “speed”, or the phrases “driving too fast” and “speed limit”?

I deliberately do no mention speed in the reasons, because although it is definitely an issue and one that contributes its share to the road toll, it is a well publicized one. Regular campaigns by the Police aimed at slowing people down feature graphic ads. Speed cameras catch a lot of people, but it is meaningless unless the payment of the fines is better enforced than it currently is.

But do they actually save lives or are they a revenue making gimmick for an underfunded Police force? I believe there is a bit of both. I also believe though that if the Police have a crack down, it should not be announced – it defeats the purpose and the offenders that they want to catch in the act, behave well for the duration and then go back to their normal routines as soon as it is over.

Perhaps there is merit in reducing speed limits on semi rural road, but this will only work if the limit is rigorously enforced. It will only work if human attitudes change. Whilst attitudes remain what they are, a lower death toll will remain being something to dream about.

Labour Government releases transport spending priorities


Yesterday marked a significant step forward for New Zealand’s economy and transport. After years being campaigned for by the Greens, Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter announced that the Government was ready to release a draft Government Policy Statement on transport.

The key highlights of this major announcement are:

  • $11.7 billion for public transport
  • $1.1 billion for pedestrian and cycling infrastructure
  • $6.1 billion for regional and local roads

This is a great start to addressing the waylaid priorities of New Zealand’s transport needs. I look forward to the opportunity in the next few weeks to lay down more formal thoughts in a submission to the draft Government Policy Statement that has been released by Ms Genter, and her New Zealand and Labour colleagues Shane Jones and Phil Twyford.

For years I have been pushing for a much bigger investment in railways, the merchant marine and to a bit lesser extent, public transport. Many of the points on which I campaigned look like they will be addressed in this.

There is however one significant question. For all the great announcements that come out of this draft Government Policy Statement release, I have one niggling question:

What sort of investment is going to happen around merchant marine? We are a maritime nation. It is saying something that one of the major modes of transport is not being given the due investment that is needed to reduece congestion on our roads and help take some of the pressure off the easter South Island where quake damage is still being fixed.

No one should be surprised that there is a fuel tax coming. Especially seeing as the Government did not make specific tax announcements at the election, where people were expecting something to happen. Not surprisingly, the right are out in force talking about how no one can afford the proposed petrol tax. This is the same right that spent $12 billion of N.Z. taxpayer money funding “Roads of National Significance”, which were in several cases completely meaningless  and more about appeasing the trucking and private users lobby.

 

How to deter people from fleeing the Police


Mike Yardley, a columnist for The Press wrote a column that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the newspaper. In it he questioned whether people stopped by the cops would run from armed Police. Mr Yardley’s article was provocative. It got me thinking about how to reduce the number of car chases involving the Police, the number of fatalities that occur as a result of these chases.

One thing is clear. Mr Yardley’s suggestion that cops be armed when they check people is flagrant alarmism. New Zealand Police are largely not armed for very good reasons. There is no reason on Earth why we should arm them in a knee jerk fashion without stopping to consider how an already dodgy equation when it comes to being stopped, now suddenly becomes potentially very volatile.

In saying this, I think Mr Yardley might have had another intention in mind. That intention would be to get people thinking about the folly of fleeing the Police, and merely used armed officers as a suggestion because he knew it would get a reaction.

When a Police officer signals for a person to pull over, obviously they should. Most will do so without any problems and co-operate when the officer approaches the car. But there will be a few whose “fight or flight” instincts kick in, and they choose to flee. It could be for any reason or reasons – narcotics, or laundered money might be in the car; the car might be stolen; the car might be sought in relation to another offence; the driver might have someone in it that the Police are looking to arrest.

I have my own solution to the problem. Like Mr Yardley, I was disgusted by the incident that took Mrs Yanko’s life. How to fix the problem? A deterrent needs to be strong enough to make one think twice before engaging in such a silly act. In the end my solution is quite simple. If a person flees from the Police when they are signalled to stop, then – assuming no previous crimes have been committed:

  • Overnight in a cell for a first time offender with a previously clean record and a warning that the next such offence will be a week, plus $1,000 fine
  • For second time offenders a week in the cells plus the $1,000 fine, payable the day they are released
  • For third time offenders, a month in prison plus either $1,000 or 100 hours community service

I should stress – and I do not think I can do this strongly enough – that this is merely dealing with those who flee from the Police. It is not dealing with any other offences outstanding, or which they might be charged for on the day. The punishment for other offences come in on top of this.

It does not matter what sort of stop they were trying to flee from – alcohol/drug check point; search for a criminal or contraband; dangerous driving or otherwise. I wonder how many people would be seriously tempted to flee the Police if they knew that their criminal record – which might, up to that point not exist at all – will get an instant blotch by their name. I wonder how many might have thought of the consequences for their future plans, such as overseas trips and applying for certain types of jobs before they flee the Police

But I think we can agree on one thing now: Running from the Police is a really daft idea that simply is not worth the costs.

The folly of running from the cops


Yesterday a tragedy occurred in Nelson that was completely avoidable. A person in a stolen car made and his companion made the mistake of trying to flee the Police. Unfortunately in doing so, they crossed the centre line at speed in the vehicle and crashed into an oncoming car, killing the innocent driver of the other vehicle as well.

Every year people make the mistake of fleeing from the Police. Sometimes they get away. Sometimes they get caught and sometimes it all ends in tragedy either because the Police continued a chase they later admitted should have been abandoned, or more often, it has been abandoned, but the fleeing vehicle crashes anyway.

So, now, we have three funerals in the early stages of being planned, because one person fled from the Police.

Common sense as well as Police orders require anyone signalled by the Police to stop, to do so. Police admitted last year that about 300 fleeing driver incidents happened a month or about 10 a day; 3650 a year.

I believe that a few potential causes for such behaviour exist and that they need to be acted on:

  • Under funding the traffic cops to monitor peoples behaviour on the roads. The division of the Police dedicated to the roads was wound up under the National led Government of Prime Minister Jim Bolger.
  • The absence of an effective deterrent may make people think that all they will be given is the equivalent of a wet bus ticket slapped on their wrist with no consequences
  • Parental responsibility needs more legal emphasis on it – parents need to make sure their youngsters understand that running from the cops is just going to make it worse for them when they get caught

There are steps that can be taken. Every person undertaking driving instruction should at some point be made to attend a defensive driving course and as a part of that, sit a test that demonstrates knowledge of defensive driving. As part of that course, a Police officer should talk to the participants and explain to them their legal responsibilities and what will happen if they are not upheld.

Another step is radically tightening the deterrent. I suggest automatic loss of their driver licence for a year or one month in jail. Given the gravity with which society views people who have done jail time and/or lost their licence for traffic offences, the decline of their social status, this will – if made clear to all New Zealanders – make the vast majority think twice before committing such a daft act. Those that don’t are the ones the proverbial book should be thrown at.