29 Nov 2020

Global crisis not required to have safer, quieter streets - study

6:51 pm on 29 November 2020

New Zealand should invest on building low-traffic neighbourhoods rapidly to benefit people's lives and the environment, a public policy think tank researcher says.

Wellington on 26 March, the first day of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Wellington's city centre streets were largely deserted during lockdown. The report from the Helen Clark Foundation suggests using policy to do the same in smaller neighbourhoods could have several benefits to the locals. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Holly Walker from the Helen Clark Foundation, who did The Shared Path research, said people enjoyed safer and quieter streets during the Covid-19 lockdown and the experience could be copied for normal times.

She said in low-traffic neighbourhoods, only residents can drive through and buses, trucks and other vehicles should stick to main roads.

Walker said the approach could reduce traffic, carbon emissions and road death and increase physical activity, social connection and even life expectancy.

"The good news is we could have quieter, safer streets like that all the time and we don't need a global crisis to have them. We just need to choose the right policies," she said.

"There are a lot of ways that this can be achieved, certainly not a one-size-fits-all scenario.

"Often that will involve the creative deployment of things like wider footpaths, the use of bollards, planting and planting boxes, traffic calming measures as well as the temporary closures and changes of speed limit at certain times of day," she said.

Diverting drivers to the main roads and encouraging people in the low-traffic area make greater use of alternative modes such as walking, wheeling or cycling for short local trips would all help, according the Walker.

Walker said the approach could help achieve the government goal of zero carbon emissions by 2050 and a 40 percent reduction in road deaths in 10 years.

Her research made four recommendations to the communities and local and central government.

The research suggests communities start local conversations, building coalitions of support, use existing funds and schemes to demonstrate benefits and demonstrate demand to local and central government.

It said local government should develop city-wide transport emission reduction plans, conduct proactive local engagement, gather and publish information, create contestable local tactical urbanism funds and apply the principles of tika (right and just) transition.

The research also said central government should make reducing vehicle kilometres travelled a road safety priority, as well as increasing innovative streets funding, developing a specific legislative tool and reviewing existing legislation.

On a wider policy level, central government should adopt a strategy to decarbonise the country's transport sector, increase investment in active transport infrastructure, adopt policies to incentivise alternatives to driving and consider further mandating flexible work arrangements.

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