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HOW THE SAFE SYSTEM APPROACH CAN IMPROVE CYCLING SAFETY

The Road Safety Council is calling on all West Australians to contribute towards the future of road safety as it drafts a new strategy for the State Government to consider. Road Safety can be a highly emotive subject and we all have opinions on what we think should be done to reduce crash risk on our roads. As part of the development of a new road safety strategy for WA, a three-month consultation period will allow you the opportunity to consider the latest research and provide informed and constructive feedback that will contribute to the development of the strategy, making a difference for decades to come.

More information about the Road Safety Strategy consultation process and the ‘safe system’ please click HERE

While this is not an exhaustive list, we have put together some cycling-specific road safety information to help you to discuss how they might help improve your communities when participating in these public forums. The more people we can get talking about cycling safety in these forums the better outcomes we can achieve in the next road safety strategy.

Safe Speeds

One of the key policies that the Road Safety Council has proposed is reducing speed limits. There is clear evidence to show that higher travel speeds increase the risk and likelihood of crashes causing death and serious injury. We all make mistakes and our bodies are fragile, and when a crash does occur, there are limits to what we can survive. These limits change depending on what kind of vehicle we are driving and the type of crash we have. The speed limit that is most important to pedestrians and cyclists is 30km/h as crashes that occur at speeds higher than this dramatically increases the severity of that crash.

As we will discuss further below, we should continue efforts to improve our roads, our vehicles and our driving behaviours. However, these improvements take time and considerable money and by slowing some of the speed limits, we can achieve dramatic and immediate effects to give the other parts of the system time to catch up.

Having an honest review of speeds on all roads, both on metropolitan and regional roads, has the potential to save the lives of all road users. For the cycling community, one of the biggest opportunities we can see is on our neighbourhood roads where separation may not be realistic or viable and bike riders are required to share the road with other road users.

Last year, a study in Perth looked at the impact of lowering speed limits on local streets in our suburban areas. The author concluded that “Reducing the speed limit on residential roads from the default metropolitan 50km/h to a slower and safer speed will assist in reducing the number of fatalities”. The author also explored the impact on travel times, applying this reduced speed limits in Padbury. In this experiment, local suburban roads were reduced to 30km/h, while some of the important arterial roads, remained at 50km/h. The results highlight that a change in the speed limits on neighbourhood roads would only marginally impact travel times and only for short distances.

Source: The West Australian 

However, while reducing speeds to 30km/h may be appropriate for the roads in Padbury, a blanket approach may not be the best way to implement lower speeds on all of WA’s neighbourhood roads. In some circumstances, a sign alone won’t change behaviour. 

Those newer suburbs that are designed with smaller and confined serpentine-like roads and in busy CBD or activity centres will be the logical first areas to implement 30km/h speed limits as many driver will be already driving at lower speeds. This is usually by-design and is referred to by planning professionals as ‘self-explaining roads’. However, those older suburbs with wider streets and traditional grid formats may be more challenging and require retrofitting using treatments such as local area traffic management/traffic calming devices and safe active streets to make these neighbourhood streets ‘self-explaining’ 30km/h streets. 

Shakespeare St Safe Active Street, Mount Hawthorn, more information HERE

As these treatments can be costly and take time to plan and construct, these roads could instead be initially set at 40km/h so that those people living on these streets can get that immediate road safety and livability benefit. Then through the typical lifecycle of infrastructure, our local governments can then aim to improve these streets over the next 10 or so years as they reach the end of their effective lives and require replacing, designing these roads to match the appropriate speed limits and function of those roads.

A trial in Perth is currently underway in the City of Vincent, an inner-city local government with traditional grid-like streets. The City has applied a 40km/h speed limit without any infrastructure improvements. An evaluation of the effectiveness of this approach will be made after two-years.

Safe Roads and Roadsides

Ongoing investment and improvement in our roads and roadsides should improve safety for all road users including people who ride bikes. Well-designed infrastructure that is safe, connected, convenient and attractive can also encourage more people to ride a bike.

While we can dream of separated and protected bike lanes on every road in WA, this is not practical or feasible, especially in the short-term. Instead, we can ensure that our new roads are appropriately designed to safely accommodate all of the roads users and designed to suit the main function of the road. We also can progressively retrofit and upgrade those roads that are no longer appropriately serving its function. ‘Complete Streets’ and ‘Movement and Place’ are design approaches often referred to that aims to plan, design, operate and maintain roads recognising that streets perform multiple functions. These are not cookie cutter approaches and they recognise that not all streets are for vehicle movements, but rather different streets in different parts of the state will have different transport design needs and perform different functions.

With these in mind, many agencies have developed guidelines to set a standard of the roads and the type of cycling infrastructure that best suits their environment. These guidelines typically state that, on low-volume, low speed roads, bike riders sharing the road with other road users is acceptable. But as traffic speeds and volumes increase, greater separated infrastructure is required to ensure the safety of all road users.

What this means is that safety shouldn’t be featured only in road safety strategies, but safety considerations can be embedded in every aspect of our built environments. There are also opportunities to ensure that safety features of roads designed primarily for fast transport movements, can benefit bike riders with little or no additional modification. For example, road shoulder sealing programs on rural and regional roads are often promoted as a cost-effective way to reduce run-off-road crashes. Ensuring that any installed road shoulder is wide enough to safely accommodate bike riders can also provide a safety benefit for bike riders at minimal or no additional cost. There have been some recent examples of where the safety of bike riders have indirectly improved on rural and regional roads as a result of the installation of wide sealed shoulders such as the South Coast Highway.

Incorporating cycling infrastructure when building other related infrastructure is an efficient way to progressively improve the network while avoiding costly retrofitting in the future. Main Roads WA has had a ‘positive provision’ policy since 2000 and as a result many of the new Principal Shared Paths you see today are a direct result of this policy. However, this policy isn’t perfect and there are opportunities to strengthen this and other road improvement and Black Spot programs ensuring a cost-efficient way to construct safe infrastructure for all road users.

Safe Vehicles

There are many features that vehicles can have to save lives or reduce the likelihood of serious injury. It is in everyone’s interest to ensure that your bicycle is roadworthy and in good working order, however, there is a great opportunity to improve the safety bike riders in the standards we set upon motor vehicles.

Historically, ANCAP, the car safety rating system, has worked to ensure that the car, in the event of a crash, protects its driver. In 2018, the ANCAP safety rating system had its greatest change in its history, implementing and broadening the new scoring system to include a rating for Vulnerable Road User Protection. This assesses new cars for its ability to minimise injury in the event that a vehicle strikes a pedestrian or bike rider. With advances in vehicle technology, there are now vehicles that can actively avoid collisions with pedestrians and bike riders.

While these advancements are welcome news, the benefits of these technologies such as Autonomous Emergency Braking and Truck Underrun Protection will only be realised when most people are driving these vehicles. This means that we won’t be seeing the benefits of these vehicles for 10-20 years as we update our vehicles.

With the average age of motor vehicles in WA being 11 years, there are actions we can take to ensure that these safe vehicles hit our streets as fast as feasibly practical. This may include policies in businesses and government agencies that ensure that the vehicles purchased provide the highest possible protection not only for its driver, but for everyone involved in a crash with a motor vehicle. Encouraging more people to purchase vehicles with high pedestrian and bike rider protection features and increasing demand for these vehicles will ensure that car manufacturers design their cars with these safety features.

Safe Road Users

Illegal and risk-taking behaviour only contributes to 23% of serious and fatal crashes. However, it is still important to consider how we can continually improve the education and enforcement of the road rules and emerging road safety issues to ensure that everyone has a clear awareness and understanding of their importance and why they are in place to ensure we are all safe. This means continuing to find cost-efficient improvements to road safety campaigns to address emerging issues. Issues such as driver distraction, educating the public on road rule changes such as the Minimum Passing Distance law, driver and rider education such as cycle awareness training and the Best Practice Guide to Cycling and to discourage other illegal and risk-taking behaviours to name a few.

Post-Crash Emergency Responses

The post-crash care aspect of the Safe System consists of three key components: First Responders, Hospital Setting and Rehabilitation. Improvements to post-crash care will help ensure that the personal, social and financial cost of death, disability, injuries and physical and mental suffering are reduced.

 

Reduce travel demand and increase walking, cycling and public transport use.

In the current road safety strategy, one of the guiding principles acknowledged that “the fewer people driving cars and riding motorbikes and scooters on the roads, the fewer death and serious injury crashes will occur”.

There are two key ways using travel demand principles that can have an impact on road safety. Firstly, the way we design our cities, increasing density and mixing residential, commercial and education precincts allow more people to live close to where they work, learn and recreate. The more people that don’t require long journeys, especially at-speed, reduces a person’s exposure to the dangers of road use. There are also community, liveability and environmental benefits for reducing travel demand. Secondly, constructing and prioritising walking and cycling in those dense areas as well as connecting communities outside of walkable and cyclable catchments with public transport also reduces the distances that people need to travel by car, and therefore fewer people will be killed or seriously injured by, or in a car. Poorly designed, low-density suburbs on the urban fringes can not only create dangerous environments from a road safety perspective, but this can also impact other aspects of our lives.

Overall, as a community, we need to stop accepting death and serious injury on our roads as normal. We need a new mindset in road safety in WA. This means looking at ensuring that we have safe roads and roadsides, we drive at survival speeds, our vehicles are designed to lessen the impact of a crash as well as continuing to ensure people are driving safe.

Now that you have spent the time reading and watching the videos, we encourage everyone – regardless of your choice of vehicle to get involved and participate in the community forums.

 

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