25 November 2011

Avoidable Tragedy with 30 km/h Zone?

Join the Facebook Group 30 kb/h for 30 km/h zones in Copenhagen and Frederiksberg

Last night a tragedy took place right down the street from where I live with my children. A mother and daughter were crossing the pedestrian crossing. A car stopped for them but a van didn't fancy stopping and overtook the stopped vehicle on the right. He plowed straight into the mother and daughter without even braking.

They were knocked 23 metres down the street.

The 10 year old girl died today at the National Hospital. The mother is still in critical condition at time of writing.

Tragedies like this are always more intense when they happen in your neighbourhood or happen to people you know. It is quite impossible as a father to NOT think about my own children - 9 and 4 - who also use pedestrian crossings in the same neighourhood. Those thoughts and feelings are something I try to keep private.

What this post is about is that this tragedy - and others like it - could quite possibly have been avoided. If it wasn't for the increasingly car-centric attitude that grips Copenhagen and Denmark.

This is about 30 km/h zones. Two years ago I blogged about 30 km/h zones for the first time here on Copenhagenize.com. Amazingly, I remain the only person in Denmark who talks about them. Amazing because we have a great deal of knowledge about the positive effects of 30 km/h zones in urban areas and yet the Danish police and politicians remain silent on the issue.

There are many culprits, not least the man who killed the girl and critically injured the mother. He probably won't go to jail for what could easily be considered a murder. He'll be punished, of course, but the punishment will be shockingly inappropriate to the crime. We'll never change perceptions about how dangerous driving is unless people are punished accordingly. Unless driving licences are revoked permanently.

The Danish police are also a primary antagonist. They are a constant source of irritation because of their reluctance to change the status quo in the traffic. They do not support lower speed limits, even though the Danish Road Directorate has recommended it. Compared to other police forces in Europe they have little interest in what other cities and police forces are going and they rarely embark on study trips to learn from other experiences in other cities.

The politicians in Copenhagen and Denmark are also shockingly silent on the issue of lower speed limits. You need a magnifying glass to find references to them in the press and they are often just passing comments. No serious efforts are made to make our cities safer and to reduce injuries and prevent deaths for pedestrians and cyclists.

The Danish Road Safety Council are the automobile industry's best friends. They have had a few campaigns aimed at motorists, including one called "Ta' Toppen af Farten" - something like "Cut Down Your Speed a Bit". They have never gone after motorists in any effective way - never trying to change the perception of driving as normal, merely carrying on the same old, same old status quo.

Today I was sitting with my friend from Classic Copenhagen and we were rather outraged that over 70 cities in Europe have implemented 30 km/h zones and yet Copenhagen is doing nothing. Absolutely nothing. The man who killed the girl was doing 60 km/h in a 50 km/h zone. The mere fact that there are 50 km/h zones in Denmark's most densely populated city - Frederiksberg - is an outrage.

It came out today that the City of Frederiksberg knew that the location of the tragedy was dangerous. In this article in the national paper Politiken it states that "The City of Frederiksberg has known for a long time that the location is problematic for the pedestrians who try to cross Rosenørns Allé."

Last September (2011) the city decided to improve safety at the spot. Their plan? Putting in a wider median between the two crosswalks at the intersection and putting up blinking yellow lights to warn motorists that they are approaching a pedestrian crossing.

Did they consider improving safety by listening to the experiences from the rest of Europe by reducing speed limits to 30 km/h? No.

A couple of flashing lights in a 50 km/h zone. Letting the parasites roll freely through our city streets.

Today we started a Facebook group advocating 30 km/h zones in Copenhagen. We call it 30 kb/h - the kbh is the abbreviation for Copenhagen in Danish. Please pledge your support by joining the group. If you have any other links to studies/articles about the benefits of 30 km/h zones, please add them here to the comments or to the Facebook page page.

Here's why 30 km/h zones make a difference. And why this tragedy may have been avoided. This also applies to cyclists, of course.

More on 30 km/h zones:
Amsterdam's 30 km/h zones

Barcelona's 30 km/h zones

British campaign 20's Plenty - for 30 km/h zones

20mph speed zones cut road injuries by 40%, study says

Effect of 20 mph traffic speed zones on road injuries in London, 1986-2006


Erik Sandblom said...

I think wider medians/pedestrian refuges are a good idea. They shorten the distance pedestrians have to walk, and they probably make the motorists slow down a little.

A 30 km/h speed limit can nicely be combined with other things like raised pedestrian crossings. Taken together, they make motorists behave more like guests and less like they own the place.

Sadly, many people still think motorists do and should own the place!

Ze Lobo said...

Even Rio de Janeiro has 30 Zones, since 2009.

Samara said...

and just today I found this link http://map.itoworld.com/road-casualties-usa#fullscreen

I wonder if maps like this are available from other countries as well.

Kim said...

We have tried to get 20mph limits on the main roads in Edinburgh, the ones where most of the collisions take place, but these were kept out of the zone.

As Erik says: Sadly, many people still think motorists do and should own the place!

Edward said...

Tragic. Keep up the fight.

We only just had our speed limit in cities reduced from 60km/h to 50km/h over here in Australia. You should have heard the moaning.

But we still get plenty of people speeding through our street at over 50km/h even though it's barely wide enough for two cars to pass.

Our children are quite safe though. They're all locked up in the back of cars and backyards.

Shaun McDonald said...

Would the 30 kph limit have stopped thasat driver from overtaking the car that had stopped at the pedestrian crossing at speed?

As a cyclist in London I regularly stop the traffic at zebra crossing while there's been many cars driving past when they should have stopped to let the pedestrian across.

Anonymous said...

Of cause it's a tragedy. But I dislike people using tragegies for the benefit of a cause. I pass and cross the intersection everyday and have never seen your expertise enfold. It is so easy to be clever afterwords...
30 km/h : yes. But the guy overtook an other car...

amoeba said...

Drivers of motor vehicles need to be made to realise they are interlopers in cities. Guests, but accepted only under sufferance.

It must never be acceptable that someone in a hurry should endanger, injure, or kill someone.

30 kmh speed limits are essential.
After that roads and junctions need to be engineered to discourage excess speed.

Anonymous said...

Would the Danish Police you refer to be the same ones who, earlier this year in Copenhagen, were stopping cyclists and cajoling them to don helmets provided by the police as part of a "we're doing something about road safety" PR stunt?

Clearly the woman and her daughter should have been wearing airbag overalls.

Peter said...

These 30K zones really work and a big effort should be made to have them. I have experienced them as a driver and as a cyclist in Sweden. As a cyclist you are definitely safer because as a driver it is no problem reacting to anything at all on the road at that speed. Unfortunately for my own country, Australia, whenever it is suggested there are usually howls of condemnation.

David Hembrow said...

It's not just 30 km/h zones. You really need the whole package of Sustainable Safety measures in order to greatly improve road safety.

BTW, 30 km/h zones are not just cities. Every city and town has many 30 km/h streets in the Netherlands, where a third of the whole road network has this speed limit or lower. However, this is also the speed limit that you expect to find through most villages.

Макс Панцырев said...

Just found in the news: Villager paints 15ft speed limit sign on house

amoeba said...

Макс Панцырев,
Thanks but it's confusing, that's a 30 miles per hour sign, which is the default speed limit in built-up areas, 30 mph is 48 kmh.
Many in the UK are hopeful that the default speed limit for built-up areas will fall to 20 mph, which is 32 kmh.

Anonymous said...

A couple of flashing lights is the way Portland deals with these situations as well

Anonymous said...

The little girl killed in the accident attended the same school as my kids. I'm terribly shocked. And you are of course absolutely right that 30km/h zones should be widespread all over Copenhagen. But you're right, too, that it is as if the Danish politicians and the Danish police constantly turn their back to the real problems of traffic. Last time a child was killed in a pedestrian crossing, a police officer was quoted as saying that "you will have to be carefull when you cross a street, even at a crossing or having a green light". Right. WE pedestrians and cyclists will have to be carefull. That attitude makes me very very angry. And the really frustrating thing is that it mirrors the general attitude of the Danes. When discussing 30km/h in major parts of Copenhagen, they're truly amazed that one could get such an idea, expressing that one is "egotist" (as a cyclist, of course) and that one fails to "see things from the point of view of drivers". In light of this latest tragedy, I'm at a loss of words when confronted with that degreee of perversity.

bikefish said...

Thank you, Mikael, for posting about this tragedy. Your blog is read around the world and perhaps a few people will notice. My neighborhood here in Seattle is bisected by a 4-lane road with a nominal speed limit of 30 mph (48 km/hr). Most drivers go at least 35 or closer to 40 mph (64 km/hr). It is a very rare thing for a driver to notice a pedestrian trying to cross this road - and when one does, there are usually 3 drivers in the other lanes who don't see me or don't acknowledge that they are legally obligated to stop for me. There is no attempt at all to enforce the already outrageously high speed limit on this residential street.

Anonymous said...

Could you please post the punishment that this driver receives when all is said and done. I've long had the perception that penalties for drivers is more severe in Europe (I live in Canada) and I would appreciate information on whether my perception is correct or not. I'd also like to hear from others as to what penalties drivers who kill someone face in your respective countries.



Anonymous said...

I don't drive a car as I've never had a licence. I do think that the angry rhetoric here could be turned down a notch or two. The police, though some may be a**holes are not here to make laws. They are here to implement them. Why are proofs being angry that they are suppressed to look putt when they are at a zebra crossing? It's only common sense. Yes what happened is horrible, but we don't need lynch mobs

amoeba said...

An important post on Zone 30 kmh / 20 mph zones.


Rod King said...

30km/h is a great campaign to have in Denmark. In the UK we now have 115 local campaign groups calling for a default 20mph speed limit for residential roads and urban centres.

Already over 7million people now live in towns with a "Total 20" policy. Some like Portsmouth and Oxford have already converted the whole town's residential streets to 20mph limits.

Its hard work, but whenever you ask for lower speed limits then you force a debate on how the roads are shared.

Good luck in Denmark on 30km/h. In so many ways you show the UK how to make better conditions for cyclists. If only we could take some of everything which each country was best at and all adopt them.

Rod King

Anonymous said...

I find it wrong that the policeman is teling us to be oh-so-carefull when we're crossing a road in a place that ought to be absolutely safe - even sacrosanct - instead of telling the politicians the truth: that the police is unable to make the drivers obey the laws, and that something has to be done about it. Like implementing wide-spread 30 km/h zones, and making sure that the streets are next-to-impossible to speed in. Tell the car drivers once and for all, in every possible way: "These streets are for everyone. You don't own them".

Anonymous said...

I had a long discussion with a car owner & yes he does feel his owns the road and that we bicyclists should shut up until we have license tags, insurance and contribute to the maintenance of the roads. While he is considerate of bicyclists while driving there are so many that share his view that are not.

Anonymous said...

I am originally from the Netherlands and currently living in Copenhagen. Where I am from there are plenty of 30 km/h zones. Mainly in cities and residential areas. As a cyclist I think this should be a no brainer. It works. I will off course join you on Facebook!


Anonymous said...

Concerning car owners who think they own the roads because THEY are the ones paying for maintenance etc.: We all pay for the roads. It's the taxes, stupid! And the reason cars are registrated, insured, taxed etc. is that they are so much more dangerous for their surroundings, and wear down the roads a lot more than bicycles. It's quite simple, really.

amoeba said...

"The [UK] Department for Transport [DfT] commissioned TRL [formerly Transport Road Laboratory] to conduct a literature review to consider the role of infrastructure in the causation and reduction of injuries to cyclists. It was undertaken as part of the wider research programme, Road User Safety and Cycling, being led by TRL.

Overall, it proved problematic to draw definitive conclusions from the literature. Taken as a whole, the most significant infrastructure-related risk factors for cyclists in single vehicle incidents on highways appear to be; slippery road (due to weather), and poor or defective road surface. For multi-vehicle collisions the infrastructure risk factors appear to be; posted speed limits, and encounters with other road users at junctions."
In English only

"....Of all interventions to increase cycle safety, the greatest benefits come from reducing motor
vehicle speeds. Interventions that achieve this are also likely to result in casualty reductions for all classes of road user. This may be achieved by a variety of methods, including physical traffic
calming; urban design that changes the appearance and pedestrian use of a street; and, possibly, the wider use of 20 mph [32 kmh] speed limits. ...."


Anonymous said...

Regarding this particular crossing, it is clear that 50km/h streets with two lanes of traffic in the same direction need stop lights or a proper roundabout. To repeat: No 50km/h street should require people to cross more than one lane on side with only the aid of a zebra, or really 50km/h should have most crossings, e.g. at crossroads or important locations, with stop signals.

I have a feeling the above is the design regulation in Germany and the NL.

Certainly city-wide 30km/h speed limits are the way to go.

Zebras and pedestrian refuges are flags of surrender which are not always respected.

Anonymous said...

@ amoeba: Most research tells us that cycling infrastructure increases safety a lot, even in spite of slightly increased problems at intersections. I suspect that this is a two-fold thing: percieved risk is a lot lower on bike tracks (and with the same number of cyclists, real risk a little lower), and this will lead to more people riding, which will give the benefit of "safety in numbers" which I think is vastly underestimated, as it is both about drivers seeing a lot of cyclists in the streets AND about drivers getting accustomed to share the road (in a broad sense) with others.

Of course, once the cars move as slow as 20 mph, most people will feel all right cycling among them, but on large arteries, that speed is not practical. There's no way around infrastructure.

amoeba said...

"Most research tells us that cycling infrastructure increases safety a lot, even in spite of slightly increased problems at intersections...."

I wasn't arguing for 30 kmh alone, I am strongly in favour of separate, segregated infrastructure for cyclists, but where pedestrians and cyclists intermix with motor-vehicles, then it's essential that speed limits for motorised vehicles be lowered. I am persuaded that the evidence points strongly to 30 kmh or lower.

FYI 20 mph = 32 kmh.

For example, I cite this:
"Reduced Sensitivity to Visual Looming Inflates the Risk Posed by Speeding Vehicles When Children Try to Cross the Road"

"Almost all locomotor animals respond to visual looming or to discrete changes in optical size. The need to detect and process looming remains critically important for humans in everyday life. Road traffic statistics confirm that children up to 15 years old are over-represented in pedestrian casualties. We demonstrate that, for a given pedestrian crossing time, vehicles traveling faster loom less than slower vehicles, which creates a dangerous illusion in which faster vehicles may be perceived as not approaching. Our results from perceptual tests of looming thresholds show strong developmental trends in sensitivity, such that children may not be able to detect vehicles approaching at speeds in excess of 20 mph. This creates a risk of injudicious road crossing in urban settings when traffic speeds are higher than 20 mph. The risk is exacerbated because vehicles moving faster than this speed are more likely to result in pedestrian fatalities."

Anonymous said...

@ amoeba: Ah, I get what you mean, then, and I completely agree. Interesting information re: children and their perception of cars and speed.

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