Why schools struggle to improve safety

Children do not walk to school because cars make it unsafe to do so. To improve road safety for children around schools, we require traffic calming measures, on all sides, and the implementation of safe zones, where children can move without crossing roads and getting close to motor vehicles. Any approach will require some government expenditure and urban renewal. TCCS have named the process Local Area Traffic Management (LATM). The Lyneham Primary School e-Petition is a typical – and absolutely support worthy – attempt to improve safety around the school. At the moment, the chances of any improvement, however, are low. 😦

Changing culture is like pushing a fly wheel

Reverse engineering is the process of deconstruction to re-construct to understand how something works. So let us rewind the tape from the end to the beginning, so that we can see the long road ahead for the Lyneham Primary School e-Petition.

The information below comes from the Question Time Brief (QTB) for the Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22 for Transport Minister Chris Steel, obtained through a Freedom of Information Request (FOI) 21-111 released on 3 November 2021.

The fly wheel effect

Culture change can be compared to manually pushing a big fly wheel. Fly wheels are large, heavy things that store energy. At the beginning of the change journey, we push against the fly wheel that just simply doesn’t want to budge. And we push, and push, and push. At first nothing seems to happen and we feel like giving up. It takes passion, power, and persistence. Then – often at a surprising moment – the fly wheel starts to spin and we struggle to keep up with it. The car culture fly wheel hasn’t budged yet! 🎑🎑🎑

Changing to an active travel culture is like pushing a huge fly wheel. If children walk and ride to school, they are more likely to walk and ride as adults. Many of the habits we develop as children continue in later life. Culture is passed on from generation to generation, and expressed in values, mindsets, behaviour, and habits. Children are outstanding observers. πŸ‘€ They watch our behaviours and listen to the language we use when we solve societal problems. Culture is the way we do things around here, and it is rarely questioned or openly challenged – let alone consciously planned. If you don’t plan it, you will get the culture you deserve! For example, in the Netherlands most people will not be consciously aware of the fact that their high cycling participation makes them very, very special (they have the highest cycling country in the world). 🚲🚲🚲

In Australia, too, many people are blind to our established culture and shared values. We never question the absurdity of driving 12-year olds to school when it would be much healthier (both physically and mentally) for them to walk or ride. We think it is normal to chauffeur them around in big SUVs, but we only have to look back to the 1970s and 1980s to see that at that time most children in Australia did walk and ride to school. Unless reminded, we are unlikely to realise that driving children to school is only a recent cultural development. Unfortunately, undoing the normalisation of parental taxi services πŸš• is going to take time.

Change is like pushing a fly wheel. It takes passion, power, and persistence. Right now, in the ACT, the active travel fly wheel is not moving. Power is low and resistance is high. It is going to take concerted effort to get the wheel moving, but move it will. It’s written all over the wall! 🎑🎑🎑

Barriers to overcome

Minister has blocked all LATM

As directed by the Minister on 26 July 2021:
– All planned LATM implementations involving vertical traffic calming have been put on hold.
– No new LATM assessments will be undertaken without agreement from the Minister.
– Speed hump implementations associated with areas directly next to a school or essential safety works will require Ministerial sign-off prior to implementation.

Question Time Brief (QTB), Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22, TCCS, FOI 21-111, released 3 November 2021, 145.

LATM studies are currently unfunded

Implementation of recommended measures from the above studies are currently unfunded.

Question Time Brief (QTB), Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22, TCCS, FOI 21-111, released 3 November 2021, 144.

Road safety is driven by crash history

Traffic studies are undertaken on high priority streets (roads are prioritised based on current traffic speed, volume and crash data as well as the surrounding land use). Generally inappropriate speeding and/or crash rates trigger investigation warrants.

Question Time Brief (QTB), Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22, TCCS, FOI 21-111, released 3 November 2021, 143.

Not all incidents are equal. The order of importance for the ACT Government is approximately the following: deaths, personal injury, and then motor vehicle crashes. Only data that is gathered is considered. When 2 motor vehicles collide, that is recorded – at the very least by the insurance companies. If a person is taken to hospital, the hospital will record that, too.

Many things are not recorded, however. For example, your child falling off their bike because they were cut off by a car is not recorded if they rode home to tell you about it. Individual experiences like this can kill active travel. Children are unlikely to want to ride if they do not feel safe, and parents will not let their children ride to school when it is perceived unsafe.

While minor incidents will kill off active travel, it takes major incidents including the death of children to improve road safety. That’s what’s called insanity! The insensitivity of the feedback in the system makes things worse and drives our habits to a new equilibrium. We all drive our kids to school, because of all those dangerous drivers around schools. Minus yours truly, of course… πŸ€”

Installing traffic calming measures will have a cost

Indicative construction costs of traffic calming devices are:
o Speed cushions – $12,000
o Asphalt humps – $20,000
o Asphalt raised platforms – $30,000
o Pedestrian refuge islands – $40,000
o Chicanes – $50,000 – $80,000 – depending on road geometry
o Roundabouts – $100,000 – $400,000 – depending on size, service relocations

Question Time Brief (QTB), Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22, TCCS, FOI 21-111, released 3 November 2021, 142.

It is a common problem

Canberra was built in times when the population was smaller and had fewer cars. Schools in old suburbs were built on the assumption that children would walk to their local primary school and not be driven across the city to an expensive private school. At the end of the first COVID lockdown, children went back to school and peak period traffic in Canberra increased 30% (Minister Steel presenting to the Molonglo Valley Community Forum).

We can safely assume that most schools in Canberra require LATM on surrounding streets. A full list of schools can be found on the ACT Government Open Data Portal.

ACT schools by SECTOR. Data from the ACT Government Open Data Portal. canberra.bike
ACT school distribution in Northern Canberra (Belconnen) as shown on the ACT Government Open Data Portal
ACT schools by TYPE. Data from the ACT Government Open Data Portal. canberra.bike

Some schools have many campuses. For example, St John Paul II College is a secondary campus of Good Shepherd. For the purpose of analysis of road safety (walking to school), the number of schools is a better indicator than ownership.

Type of schoolNumber
Preschool76
Primary School64
Catholic systemic30
High School19
Specialist School/Education Centre11
Colleges Year 11-129
Independent Anglican9
Preschool to Year 107
Introductory English Centre6
Early Childhood School6
Independent Christian6
Independent Islamic3
Independent Catholic2
Independent Steiner1
Independent Special Assistance School1
Independent Community1
Independent Montessori1
Total252
ACT schools by TYPE. Data from the ACT Government Open Data Portal. canberra.bike

2021-22 Budget for Active Travel and Safety Support for Schools

The ACT Budget includes money for improving the safety of infrastructure around schools, but it is only a tiny amount – $297,000 for the whole of the ACT. The data is found in the ACT Budget papers under Connected and sustainable Canberra – Active travel investments (TCCS CW26).

Ministers Budget Estimates 2021-22, TCCS, FOI 21-111, released 3 November 2021, 47.

How much is that per school?

The calculation is shockingly simple, as is the outcome:

252 schools in the ACT,

$297,000 in Budget, or

$1,179 per school

2021-22 budget, ACT Government DATA, canberra.

The Frankenstein that we created

Cars are a monster that we created and that monster is now hunting us down – as did the monster in the famous book Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. Is changing our car culture the same challenge and creating the same problems as climate change in the last 20 years?

  • First of all comes denial – we simply refuse to see the problem.
  • Habit – knowing of a habit does not mean that we know how to change it.
  • Political will – even when the majority of the public is in favour of change, it does not mean that decision makers will support the change.
  • Systems that are the solutions for old problems not new ones – Our city is built on systems, and to change our culture we first must fix those systems.
Photo by Dad Grass on Pexels.com

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