President says give way to walkers

12 Aug 2016

The President of the Institute of Transportation Engineers has suggested that transport professionals should re-examine the issue of pedestrian priority. He asks - should vehicles have to give way to pedestrians and the speed limit be reduced to 30 km/h in town centres and residential streets?

In the President’s Column of their latest newsletter, Nick Szwed tells how he was inspired by a recent trip to Scandinavia.  In particular, he was impressed by an intersection in Lillehammer, Norway (photo on this page).

“All 4 legs had pedestrian crossings giving pedestrians right of way - on a main road. The speed limit was 30 km/h.”

It led him to ask:

“What would happen if we dropped the speed limit to 30 km/h in the CBDs and residential streets and gave pedestrians right-of-way over motor vehicles? Would traffic grind to a halt? Would the world end? Is it time we gave some rights back to pedestrians?”

Of course, drivers are already required to give way to pedestrians who are crossing a road that the driver is turning into.  In practice however it is not clear that drivers understand or adhere to this rule, and pedestrians are commonly hit by drivers who were required to give way to them.

Victoria Walks has been considering how to better prioritise pedestrians for some time. We’ve identified a few options for better road rules, including:

  • Requiring drivers to give way to pedestrians when they are already required to give way to other vehicles, such as at stop or give way signs
  • Designating car parks as shared spaces, where vehicles have to give way to pedestrians
  • ‘Strict liability’ legislation in line with a number of European countries such as the Netherlands, where drivers are assumed to be at fault in crashes with bicycles or pedestrians unless proven otherwise.  To their credit, Infrastructure Victoria identified that as an option in a recent discussion paper.

The suggestion of 30 km/h speed limits in residential streets and CBDs is entirely consistent with road safety best practice as promoted by organisations like the World Health Organisation and the ‘Towards Zero’ approach supposedly taken by Victoria’s Road Safety Strategy.  Strangely however, Victorian guidelines don’t allow for 30 km/h speed limits.

It’s great to see the transport engineering profession questioning the priority given to cars and standing up for people on the street. Victoria Walks looks forward to working with transport professionals to build a better world for walkers.