Christchurch's 50kmh speed limit too high, expert claims

Pedestrian and cyclist crashes in Christchurch from 2010 to 2015 (six fatalities on the edge of the city are not shown).

Pedestrian and cyclist crashes in Christchurch from 2010 to 2015 (six fatalities on the edge of the city are not shown).

A transport expert is calling on the Christchurch City Council to lower speed limits around the city because too many cyclists and pedestrians are being hurt or killed.

Dr Glen Koorey, a senior lecturer in transport engineering at the University of Canterbury, believes the city's roads would be safer if the slower speed zones that apply outside many schools were applied in other parts of Christchurch too.

A 30kmh speed limit is planned in the core of the central city, but Koorey believes such a limit should also apply around busy suburban shopping centres, outside all schools, and in residential areas where traffic calming measures have already been introduced.

He has pulled together data that shows over the past five-and-a-half-years there have been more than 1200 injury crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists in Christchurch. Eighteen of those crashes resulted in fatalities and 350 resulted in serious injuries.

"I was quite staggered by how many [crashes] we've got within the city, most of them on 50kmh roads, so clearly 50kmh is not slow enough if we're getting this range of significant injuries coming through," Koorey told the Christchurch City Council's infrastructure, transport and environment committee.

Research shows that crashes at speeds of more than 40kmh have a much higher risk of killing or injuring someone.

Dr Glen Koorey is pushing for speed limits in Christchurch to be lowered.
DAVID HALLETT/FAIRFAX NZ

Dr Glen Koorey is pushing for speed limits in Christchurch to be lowered.

A child or other pedestrian hit by a vehicle travelling at 40kmh has a 40 per cent chance of fatality.

If a child or other pedestrian is hit by a vehicle travelling at 50kmh the risk of fatality increases to more than 80 per cent.

"As the speeds go up, the risks go up significantly," Koorey said. "It's a pretty big argument to get those speeds down."

Over the last few years, Wellington introduced lower speed limits around many of its suburban shopping centres.

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Data collected by the Wellington City Council showed there had been an 82 per cent reduction in injury crashes around those shopping centres since the 30kmh speed limit was introduced.

Hamilton also lowered the speed limit on many of its residential streets to 40kmh to improve the safety of pedestrians and cyclists.

Koorey said he was frustrated that Christchurch, which had for many years been a pioneer of lower speed initiatives, was now lagging behind other cities.  

"Hamilton has got to the point now where virtually every school has a lower speed zone. They've really grabbed the bull by the horns in that regard. We've still got a lot [of schools] to go.

"We often hear the public don't want lower speeds. I think we have to clarify who we are asking.

"Quite often drivers don't want reduced speeds because they are trying to get from A to B as fast as possible, but you ask those who live there, those who walk or cycle in those areas, then they're not happy with that traffic zooming past," Koorey said. 

Council infrastructure, transport and environment committee chairman Cr Phil Clearwater said he was keen to find out more about what Hamilton and Wellington had been doing and to look at what could be done in Christchurch to make the roads safer.

"The statistics on injuries and deaths are alarming, especially when you see them over a five-year period," Clearwater said.

Road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson said reducing speeds in urban areas was a good idea but would not necessarily result in fewer crashes involving pedestrians.

Lowering the speed the vehicle was moving at the time of the crash might reduce the injuries to the pedestrian though, he said.

 - Stuff

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