Speed in the Waitakere Ranges

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Waitakere Ranges speed signI recently attended a meeting in Swanson organised by locals who are concerned at the issue of speed in the Waitakere Ranges.  The meeting was well attended and there was a clear view that speeds in the area are too high.

This view is shared by all of the communities in the Waitakere Ranges area.  Much of the road in the rural area is classified as open road even though the topography and the quality of those areas mean that only the most extraordinarily talented and/or reckless could travel at that speed.

I performed some research on the issue and discovered that the New Zealand Transport Agency is changing the way that speed limits are determined.  The project is called the Safer Speeds Programme.  The proposed changes to the rules regarding the setting of speed limits are well advanced.  The draft document can be viewed here.

The draft in its current form is expected to dramatically change the way speed limits are set with much greater emphasis on safe and appropriate speeds for the road geometry and use. This should have a significant effect on speed in the Ranges where topography and geometric constraints on the road network in the ranges are considerable.

There has not yet been a public consultation/submission process on the proposed changes.   AT anticipates that there will be a couple of separate submission opportunities next year.

There will be an opportunity for public submission when the Draft Speed Management Plan is produced for the Auckland region. There will be a local engagement process before the draft plan is finalised. This is the opportunity to look at the detail of the outcomes generated from the new guide and whether these meet with the expectations of the local community or whether they go too far or not far enough in specific areas.<

There will also be a legislation change process during the rewrite of the speed limit rule by the Ministry of Transport.  The changes will be advertised and there will be a chance to make submissions on the form of the new rule.

I understand that NZTA is trying to manage a gradual transition from the historic approach of a default rural open road speed limit of 100 kph to setting rural speeds that reflect the nature of the roads. Changes identified in speed management plans will be gradually rolled out and initially targeted at the highest risk roads (based on crash records) as these are the easiest ones to defend and justify if there is push back from road users regarding the lowering of speed limits. There is also an intention that achieving safer speeds should be a mixture of lowering speeds on lower use roads, and performing improvements to support existing speed limits on some higher use roads that currently are not suitable for their speeds and volumes.

I anticipate that Waitakere Ranges with its challenging topography and protected status will be a candidate for lower speeds.  I understand that engineered improvements to support a safe 100km/hr speed limits (eg median separation, wide shoulders, clear zones, etc) would be prohibitively costly and have unacceptable environmental impacts so reduction in speed limits are almost inevitable.

Of course this will not be the solution and policing and education will continue to be important. But it presents an opportunity for safety in the area to be improved.

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