Traffic calming: measure what matters

We would like the ACT Government to be accountable and invest wisely, so we measure and monitoring all sorts of things. However, not everything that matters can be measured, and not everything that we can measure matters, but it matters what we measure. What we are doing makes little sense. We want more people to walk and cycle, but we do not measure that! We measure congestion instead, which we do not want. We want our streets safer for walking and riding, too. Traffic management studies required data, but we do not collect data on that which matters: people’s experience of safety walking and cycling.

Through the lens of a pedestrian

Data skew

TCCS often talks about gathering evidence. Austroads Local Area Traffic Management is about gathering evidence. We should, however, ask ourselves the question, what sort of evidence? Government processes work as designed and consider some aspects but ignore others. Engineers work with models and various algorithms – such as those for spatial mapping. Computer systems use data to make predictions and aid in decision making. They are as good as the data they provided.

Our system, for whatever reason, is more likely to collect data related to roads and motor vehicles than people who walk and ride bikes. The interests of the motorist are favour due to a “silence” – the lack of data for pedestrians and cyclists (read Measuring cycling safety below). The “lens” of those people who drive, those who walk and those who ride is quite different. Vulnerable road users – pedestrians and cyclists – experience our streets quite differently to drivers.

Austroads Local Area Traffic Management process gathers data that is skewed to road data, consequently favouring the interest of the motorist over that of the vulnerable road user.

Management skew

Data skew is bad enough, management skew makes it far worse: management skew. Management encourage traffic calming by making it a priority, or that it is to be avoided. For TCCS, the latter is unfortunately the case. At the heart of this is street are for movement and not streets as place (read Movement and Place). Cars have the priority and pedestrians are expected to wait.

As TCCS manager Shelly Fraser said before the PTCS committee, 4 March 2021, Local Area Traffic Management is used as a last resort. Data skew already favours drivers. Management directives to minimise or avoid traffic calming measures, takes any recommendation from the Local Area Traffic Management process and waters them down again to the bare minimum.

This process reduces the voice of pedestrians and cyclists – firstly through selective data collection, and secondly through the management directive – so that any final measures achieve little improvement to pedestrians and cyclists experience. As a result of an unfavourable walking and cycling environment, people are less likely to ride and walk – including children to and from school. Parents will perceive streets as dangerous and drive their children to school instead. The street is not a place for people but dominate by road designed for cars, and thus the private motor vehicle remains the prime mode of transport.

We try to utilise traffic calming as a last resort.

Shelly Faser, TCCS, Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS committee, 4 March 2021

Measuring cycling safety

Our data collection in the ACT is skewed towards motor vehicles. Injuries are recorded at our workplaces, in schools, and on the roads, but not in public spaces. Should a cyclists or pedestrian slip and fall, that incident – with or without injury – will not be record.

The hospital emergency departments collect statistics for health purposes. Injuries at emergency departments are reported including the cause and other information about patients. Fatalities are, not surprisingly, reported too (with the cause).

Any registered vehicle can drive on our road system. To be registered they must be road worthy and insured. Single vehicle or multivehicle collisions will be recorded, either by the insurance company (as part of the claim) or the police. Accident statistics can be obtained from the insurance companies or the ACT Government.

There is usually no recorded of incidents involving vulnerable road users. The exception being where a motor vehicle collides with a vulnerable road user on a road. If the pedestrian or cyclists is taken to hospital or dies, the incident will be recorded. Admissions at the hospital are recorded. Should the police attend the scene they prepare a written recorded too. Otherwise, our system does not collect data on pedestrian or cyclist incidents and injuries.

The legal system can note personal damage claims when pedestrians or cyclists collide, but usually only in the case of significant injury.

Pedestrians or cyclists will tell you the most common incident is falls, minor injuries and near misses. These fall below the reporting threshold.

Reporting such accidents is difficult as the police do not really want to know about them. They feel helpless to do anything about it. They are, however, obliged to collect the data and there is a process in place. The process is unwieldy, complicated and requires considerable effort from the injured person, with little gain – except the statistics.

Without these statistics, however, TCCS has nothing to work with. TCCS has a risk model for accessing the priority of path repairs (warrant) system. For a system driven by accident and injury statistics, the logical consequences of the lack of statistics for paths is that the paths are largely invisible and therefore seen as low risk. As a result, a path fault is unlikely to be put on a priority list for repaired.

Path faults can be reported through Fix My Street and faults will be prioritised for inspection should they be a safety hazard. Faults can be reported before accidents occur. Nobody needs to get injured. However, it can take a long time before faults are repaired with the average being 52.2 days. Faults on bike paths can take years to be repaired.

The need for traffic calming is assessed through the collation of data for traffic incidents and fatal collisions. This may work with registered motor vehicles on roads. It does not help with bicycle and pedestrian incidents. Traffic calming measures – Local Area Traffic Management (LATM) process – depend on these statistics to complete the assessment (Austroads Standard). The lack of data from the cyclist and pedestrian view point (lens) means cyclists and pedestrians are poorly served by LATM.

Shelly Fraser’s statement is telling: “We do not keep a register per se of accidents that relate to cyclist hazards. We rely on reporting through Access Canberra on serious or fatal incidents on the road network.”

The lack of data around cycle accidents that do not result in death or hospitalisation, or involve a collision with a motor vehicle, leaves considerable uncertainty about the costs of such accidents. Assessing traffic calming through the collation of data, presumes there sufficient quantity and quality of data to make a recommendation. Clearly, when the data is lacking, this approach will not bear fruit. In modelling, they say “garbage in, garbage out”. As good as the model may be, the predictions will never be better than the data you put into it. We need more and better data for cycling incidents.

LATM before the PTCS committee

Discussion of Local Area Traffic Management (LATM) from the Transcript Of Evidence, Standing Committee On Planning, Transport And City Services (PTCS committee), ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021. Mark Parton, Shadow Transport Minister, asks how is traffic calming done?

MR PARTON:

A constituent in Banks suggested to me earlier this month that City Services staff had indicated to him that traffic calming measures, in the form of speed humps, were set to be installed on Forsythe Street in Banks. In the context of this hearing, are we able to get an indication of whether that is the case or not?

Mr Steel:

I am not aware of that specific instance, but I will ask the team whether they are aware of it. If not, they can take that question on notice. The usual process would be that assessing whether those types of treatments were going to be useful on a particular street would be informed by some sort of traffic study on the street.

MR PARTON:

This goes to my wider question. What is the process to determine whether traffic calming measures are required? Which one is optimal? What is the actual start point of that process? Is that a process that is driven by community concern or by police concern? How does it happen from start to finish?

Ms Fraser:

A range of factors contribute to our assessments of local area traffic management considerations. Usually, if we get a number of concerns from the community or police with regard to a range of factors—it could be speeding, crash…

incidents or fatals—we collate all that data and undertake studies to determine the average speed and whether there are implementations other than traffic calming. We try to utilise traffic calming as a last resort.

MR PARTON:

With regard to the installation of traffic calming measures, are you guys able to measure the effects? Do we assess the effect … and in some cases the unintended effect?

Ms Fraser:

We certainly undertake follow-up audits, I believe on an annual basis, to determine the efficiencies of the implementation of those local area traffic management devices and whether it is warranted to install more devices, or remove or reassess, based on a range of factors, such as community feedback, speed surveys and police reports.

Transcript Of Evidence, PTCS committee, ACT Legislative Assembly, 4 March 2021, 87-88.

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