In a major step toward safer speed limits in Australia, Yarra Council in Victoria voted on 14 November 2023 (minutes) to support an increase to the area covered by the safe 30km/h speed limit, by around 200%. If it is supported by the Victorian Government the 30km/h speed limit zone will be expanded from the existing area in northern Fitzroy and Collingwood to cover the expanded area to the south (in blue).
In making their decision the Council considered a safety study compiled using data from the Victorian Government's Road Crash Information System database. The safety study found that in the five years since the 30km/h speed limit zone was implemented, serious crashes in the area dropped by 70 per cent compared to the five years prior, while noting the added effect of COVID lockdowns. The report to Council can be accessed (here at item 7.2) and on ABC news here.
However, two days later on 16 November, the Chief Commissioner of Victorian Police Shane Patton was on ABC Radio Melbourne saying he was not aware of any evidence that 30km/h speed limits would reduce road trauma. He said, “I think no one is going to obey it ... it’s ridiculous”. You can listen here around minute 15:30.
His views are similar to those of many people in the community for whom driving is a central part of their identity and life, and driving fast is celebrated. It is problematic however that as police commissioner he is unaware of the large body of evidence that lower speeds reduce trauma, put forward very recently to a state parliamentary inquiry looking into reducing road deaths by the Victorian Government’s Road Safety Partnership (made up of the Transport Accident Commission and the Transport, Justice and Health Departments).
More problematic is that the way he expressed himself might give people the impression that Victorian Police would not enforce the speed limit if it became law. The Safe Systems approach, that underpins most of Australian road safety, relies on consistent and comprehensive enforcement as a foundational element to shifting community views and behaviours to achieve lower injury and death rates.
Fortunately, the Chief Commissioner has been publicly called out in Victoria’s newspaper of record. In an editorial in the Age (Nov 2023) Patrick Elligett described how far behind international best practice Australia is in relation to adopting safe 30 km/h speed zoning in urban areas. His column explains how 30km/h speed limits that initially seem problematic to a lot of people can quickly become normalised: ‘often, once unpopular decisions are implemented, it can be hard to believe there was ever resistance.’ That in the past Australia has been a leader in adopting new road safety measures but has not kept pace more recently. Examples that he cited may sound shocking to modern ears, like wearing seatbelts (in 1970 considered an affront to personal liberty!) or not driving while affected by alcohol or drugs (introduced in Victoria in 1976).
It is a long road to get from where we are to safe streets for everyone. As a community we are all relying on the support of police and their leaders. This mini-drama highlights the importance of the relationships between ministers with responsibility for transport and police portfolios. When politicians talk to police leadership they must prioritise discussions about how enforcement efforts can be used to promote community safety, not perpetuate social attitudes where many people feel entitled to drive at dangerously high speeds that result in killing and wounding of other people.
Read more about safer speeds here.
Exciting news from Better Streets! We're thrilled to announce a significant achievement in our ongoing efforts to promote active and safe travel for school children in New South Wales. After a series of strategic meetings with ministers, parliamentarians, and participating in pivotal workshops, we have successfully influenced the NSW Government to allocate $10 million towards Active Travel to Schools. This funding is part of the broader $60 million Get Active NSW annual grants program.
A Step Towards Safer, Healthier School Commutes
The funding earmarked for Active Travel to Schools is a game-changer. It opens doors for essential infrastructure developments around school areas. Councils across NSW can now apply for this funding to construct and improve footpaths, shared paths, pedestrian crossings, and potentially develop 'school streets' – zones prioritizing the safety and mobility of young students.
The Role of Better Streets
Our journey to this point has been one of persistent advocacy and collaboration. The Better Streets team, including our member organisations, have been at the forefront to engage in meaningful dialogues with key government stakeholders. Our goal is clear: to ensure that the safety and well-being of our children are at the heart of urban planning and development, especially in school zones. We recommend that 75% of school children should be enabled to walk, ride, scoot or catch public transport to school.
The Future of Active Travel
This funding is not just about infrastructure; it's about fostering a culture of active travel among the younger generation. Encouraging walking, cycling, and other forms of active commuting to school has far-reaching benefits, from reducing traffic congestion to promoting physical health and environmental awareness among students.
Call to Action for Councils, Parents, and Teachers
The first round of funding applications is due by mid-December. We strongly encourage councils to take advantage of this opportunity. But the engagement doesn’t stop there. We also call on parents, teachers, and school communities to think creatively about how this funding can best be used to enhance access and safety around their schools.
While this is a significant milestone, it's just the beginning. We anticipate additional opportunities for funding in the future, aiming to expand the reach and impact of the Get Active NSW program. Better Streets remains committed to advocating for safer, healthier, and more sustainable communities.
Together, let's transform the way our children travel to school, making each step, pedal, or stride a part of a larger movement towards a better, more active future.
An alarming spike in deaths across Australia is underway and no one is talking about it. In the 12 months to August 2023 there were 27% more pedestrians killed and 37% more bike riders killed in cities and towns across Australia. That includes 15 children who will never reach adulthood.
NSW roads were our number one killer, with 65% more pedestrians killed in the last 12 months to August. In South Australia there were 50% more.
Across all road users, deaths have increased by 8.4% in the last 12 months, with NSW up by 25% while South Australia and Western Australia are up by 22% and 16% respectively.
This is a national tragedy that needs immediate action.
The arms race for bigger, more dangerous vehicles
"Driving is probably the most dangerous thing we will ever do, and as a normal citizen, it is the most likely way that you will kill another citizen,” says Adam Tranter, walking and cycling commissioner for West Midlands in the UK. "Cars are getting bigger, more comfortable, more protected. The more we lose sight of the fact that cars are very effective weapons when used incorrectly, we lull ourselves into a false sense of security," he said in The Guardian last month.
The surge in road deaths in Australia can be attributed to increased vehicle sizes, speeding and driver distraction. SUVs and utes have worse sightlines so it's harder for drivers to see people (some are worse than a tank), it takes longer to brake (due to weight) and the bonnet is much higher (hitting a person's skull and internal organs rather than hip or leg which increases the likelihood of death). Bullbars can make this even worse.
This is evident when we compare pedestrian deaths in the USA, where the number of pedestrians killed each year in traffic rose 83% between 2009 to 2022, an average increase of around 6% a year. Vehicle sizes have also increased significantly over that period.
By comparison, the European Commission has a target for ‘vision zero’ with no road deaths by 2050. It’s considering banning inexperienced drivers from operating SUVs and ensuring that all driver training includes safe behaviour around people walking and cycling. It’s also difficult and expensive to purchase and run an SUV in many European countries, whereas in Australia we often heavily subsidise them thanks to a generous $67,000 tax write-off for businesses (a subsidy that only recently dropped from $150,000).
Meanwhile, Standards Australia is contemplating increasing car parking spaces by 20cm in length to accommodate these larger vehicles.
Photo by Better Streets volunteer Toby Thumpston at his local shopping centre
The current car parking standards were established in 1993 when a new Ford Falcon measured 4.92 metres long. Today, the most popular car is the Toyota HiLux dual cab ute at 5.27 metres long – giving it less than 15cm of breathing space in average parking spots.
Two-thirds of new vehicle sales in Australia last year were SUVs, 4WDs or light commercial vehicles, which include utes.
Image from The Guardian
This arms race for bigger vehicles is leading to a catastrophic increase in deaths and horrific injuries.
"Loosening your belt isn't the best way to resolve weight gain. We need to tackle this spike in deaths head on," says Sara Stace, President of Better Streets. “We need to stop sanitising terms such as 'Killed and Seriously Injured' which the industry simplifies to KSI," says Sara. "It downplays the devastation that people experience when their child is killed or they have to live the rest of their lives with a crippling disability. We're immunised to the 1,250 people killed on our roads every year.”
But aren’t new and electric vehicles safer and cleaner?
A counter argument we often hear about these big new vehicles is that they have lots of safety gear, like sensors and automated braking. However if these were truly working we’d see fatalities decreasing and clearly we’re not. Vehicle safety gear is mostly for protecting the occupants rather than people outside the vehicle, and does not ameliorate the inherent danger of military-sized trucks driving on our local streets.
In addition to the fatal consequences to humans, pets and wildlife, there’s also enormous climate and biosphere impacts. The embodied emissions and other materials in two- to three-ton vehicles causes vastly more wear and tear on the roads than regular vehicles. Even electrifying them won’t solve the problem of decarbonising and reducing resource consumption. McKinsey says an EV has roughly double the production footprint of a typical internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicle.
Stephen Hodge from We Ride Australia points out that “a single Tesla 3 battery is equivalent to around 147 e-bike batteries, resources that could be used to help get people mobile much more economically and save valuable resources at the same time.”
And these massive batteries make them heavier and more dangerous. “EVs reinforce the car-dependent behaviour and approach to city-making that created the problem in the first place,” says Dr Catherine Knight, from Massey University in Aotearoa New Zealand.
What does Better Streets recommend?
Better Streets recommends three broad solutions to improve safety for people walking and cycling and get us closer to achieving Vision Zero:
The role of governments
Governments in Australia have proven themselves willing to take radical action to save human lives and support public health and safety. Most notably in relation to world-leading anti-tobacco campaigns and rules (we were the first to ban smoking on flights), gun control, seat belt safety, and responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. The case of enormously dangerous cars and speeding on our roads should be no different. Governments need to urgently address the true causes for the rapidly escalating road deaths as a public health and safety emergency - and act immediately to protect lives.
Our recommendations for all three levels of government are outlined below.
At a national level:
For local governments:
The 2023 NSW State Budget was released in mid September. But does it improve our streets or is more needed? We analysed if the budget supports better streets.
The 2023 NSW Budget only allocated 0.13% of the transport capital works budget, or $3 per person every year, for walking and cycling infrastructure across the whole state. This is less than a cup of coffee, and is nowhere near enough to increase participation and safety, despite this being the NSW Government’s objective in its Active Transport Strategy.
By comparison, Ireland allocates 20% of its transport budget to active transport while Sweden allocates 18% in line with the UN’s recommendation to prioritize people over cars in the transport system. Greater Manchester in the United Kingdom is spending £54 per person (AU$102 per person) on cycling infrastructure. Such a substantial commitment to active transport is critical to reducing emissions, as well as improving community health and wellbeing outcomes.
Better Streets would like to see the NSW government commit to $55 per person per year for active travel as follows:
What can you do?
As a member of the public, you have a right to ask our politicians for more funding, and influence next year’s budget. By presenting a united front, our message is more powerful.
Your advocacy matters, and together, we can create the change we want to see in our communities.
More is spent on other transport infrastructure every day than on active transport over two years.
$72.3 billion for transport infrastructure: The budget allocates a whopping $72.3 billion for transport capital works over four years, which is $1.5 billion a month, or nearly $50 million a day. In other words, we spend more on transport infrastructure a day than we do for active transport over two years!
$97.9 million for Active Transport capital works: The Active Transport capital works budget is $97.9 million over 4 years. This is just 0.13% of the transport capital budget, or $3 per person every year.
Active Transport funding as operating expenditure: In August 2023 the government announced $39.5 million for the Get Active NSW grants program which will fund 80 walking and cycling projects in 50 councils across NSW. This is reserved in the operating expenditure budget. This is presumably in addition to the $10.5 million that was already allocated, bringing total grant funding to $50 million for this year.
The Next Victorian meeting will be online.
Date: Thursday 16 November 2023
Time: 8pm on Zoom
Call for volunteers to help organise the End of Year catch up in Sydney.
Date: 16 December 2023
Time: 10am to 2pm
Location: Centennial park (exact location to be confirmed)
Bring: Families, Friends, furry friends, music, snacks
Activities: Small group ride, live music, good company and banter
Register on the Facebook invite: link
Better Streets, with our coalition members WalkSydney, Bicycle NSW, 30 Please and Committee for Sydney have had the honour of hosting Marco te Brömmelstroet, the Dutch bicycle professor on several talks and meetings while he is visiting Sydney promoting his latest book "Movement". True to the advice in his book he's out here encouraging people to have conversations with people of power and motivate them to take back our streets and transform our lives.
Critical to his mission was getting him and his family bikes to make sure he could experience first hand Sydney cycleways and the network before attending NSW Parliament to present to the Parliamentary Friends of Active Transport. The meeting was well attended and Marco's presentation was well received by the Hon. Jo Haylen (NSW Transport minister), Kobi Shetty (member for Inner West), Jenny Leong MP, Dr. Marjorie O'Neil MP. Along with Marc Lane (WalkSydney), Lena Huda (30 Please), Sara Stace (Better Streets), Peter McLean (Bicycle NSW), Estelle Grech and Cassie Newman (Committee for Sydney). Thanks Sara and Marty for the critical bikes.
Then thanks to the Committee for Sydney, City of Sydney and AITPM, Marco was invited to do a public talk and a panel discussion with Sara Stace (Better Streets president) and Transport for NSW Executive director Active Transport Anna Bradley, Mayor of Campbelltown Cr George Creiss. In this engaging discussion Marco talks about his experience in NSW, from moving between depressed by the amount of driving he is forced to do in Sydney but positive to see we're entering a new era and there is a huge momentum for change.
He says we are not catering for children, the mobility they need is where they can explore the city autonomously and we should not be penalising them with death by making these choices. Watch him and his logic while he some how weaves the ukulele into his mission on youtube.
Marco te Brömmelstroet's book: Movement on amazon
Committee for Sydney public talk with: youtube presentation
Guardian article with Marco's interview - ‘Moto-normativity’: why cycling professor wants Australians to rethink how we use our roads
Better Streets is delighted that Victoria has appointed Gabrielle Williams MP as Minister for Public and Active Transport.
Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan said this week: “We want a focus on those last mile connections that make it easy for kids to get to school, make it easier to get to work - there are many benefits to having a focus on active transport.”
We welcome Minister Williams to their new role and encourage them to engage widely with the Better Streets alliance to help achieve Victoria's vision for safe and healthy streets!
Gabrielle Willams MP. Photo source: Gabrielle Williams website (link)
We're excited to share with you the progress we've made in our recent meetings with key New South Wales politicians. Our advocacy efforts are gaining momentum, and we're at the forefront of conversations that will shape the future of our streets. These conversations are pivotal in encouraging our politicians to make decisions that ensure streets are not just roads but vibrant community spaces.
Regular Engagements with Minister Haylen's Office
We've successfully established a regular quarterly meeting with Minister Haylen's office, the Transport Minister. Our most recent discussion was both productive and promising. We delved into the potential of launching an active travel to schools program for NSW. This initiative is close to our heart as it not only promotes healthy and safe access for our children but also reduces traffic congestion during peak school hours. We provided a range of options for a program in the short to long term, and examples of successful pilot projects throughout NSW.
Furthermore, we discussed setting mode share targets and provided advice on rallying community support for the Oxford Street streetscape upgrade and cycleway in Paddington.
Meeting with Dr Marjorie O'Neil MP
Our advocacy for active travel to schools found a passionate supporter in Dr Marjorie O'Neil MP, the Parliamentary Secretary for Transport. As with Haylen's office we provided further insights on this topic and gave practical advice on how such a program would roll out to councils and schools. Joining us in this meeting was Safe Streets for Schools, along with members experienced in Sydney's Northern Beaches and Eastern suburbs. Their insights and experiences added depth to our discussions, ensuring a holistic approach with practical advice.
Workshop with Transport for NSW
In collaboration with Bicycle NSW and BIKEast, we participated in a workshop led by Transport for NSW on the Oxford Street streetscape upgrade and cycleway. Our role was to guide them on collaborating with us and our coalition members to rally community support. We also provided feedback on the proposed street design layout and offered suggestions on framing messaging and timing for maximum impact.
Upcoming Meeting with John Graham
We're scheduled to meet with John Graham, Minister for Roads and Arts, this week. We're eager to discuss our vision and gain his insights on roads, outdoor dining and the 24 hour economy.
One of our core purposes at Better Streets is to consistently engage with key decision-makers and politicians in government. We believe in supporting them in making bold and necessary steps to improve streets for people. Our goal is to ensure that our streets are not just thoroughfares but spaces where communities thrive.
Thank you for being a part of this journey. Together, we can make our streets better for everyone.
Fairlight community members and businesses have partnered with Northern Beaches Council to host a street party in the village centre on Sydney Road. The slip road opposite the main shops will be closed to cars and traffic speeds reduced from 60 to 40km/h, allowing the village to come together and celebrate local artists, makers, musicians and community groups. There's a packed agenda with yoga classes, salsa classes, and a DJ. Come and join in the Fairlight fling.
Event Date: Saturday 9 September 2023
Time: 10am to 2pm
Location: Fairlight Village Centre, 147 Sydney Road, Fairlight NSW. 10 minutes walk from Manly Wharf or the 144 bus drops you in the heart of the village
Event website: link
The installation of temporary infrastructure such as artificial grass, planters, outdoor furniture and garden games on the road (often referred to as tactical or guerilla urbanism) will be a great opportunity to highlight the benefits of creating additional space for people and improving the safety of our streets.
Better Streets will be launching a new online mapping tool on the day that will allow community members to highlight opportunities to create safe, healthy, people-friendly, climate-friendly streets.
Call to action: Better Streets are looking for volunteers to help with the event. We need: