Zero might sound impossible, but Aotearoa has a plan to get there. It’s called Road to Zero, and we’re proud to play a supporting role. We’ve been working with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency on a number of projects to help deliver on the strategy.

On one of the five focus areas - Infrastructure improvements and Speed Management - we’ve been planning, designing, and delivering changes to help stop people dying if they make a mistake and crash.

As safety engineers, we know the changes, such as new roundabouts, median and side barrier, road widening, more signage and better line marking will and do make a difference.

But it’s not always as simple as just building them. Beca’s Business Director - Civil Infrastructure Brent Meekan shares seven lessons that have helped the team along on the journey to make New Zealand’s roads safer.

One: Having a target makes conversations easier

No deaths or serious injuries on our roads by 2050. It’s a firm goal and it is now well known thanks to a national campaign and adverts like this that are catching everyone’s attention.

Prior to the campaign, helping to educate stakeholders and the public about the strategy, the ‘why’ and the purpose of the work was part of the work, happening project by project.

Now the target is clear, the story behind the strategy is well known and it’s easier to start a conversation about road safety.

Two: Understand and plan for how people perceive and respond to change

People use emotions and personal experience to frame their responses. Understanding and being aware of people’s fear of loss (people feel a loss much more deeply than a gain) gave us some insight into how people might react to changes, like median barriers, and helped us shape our conversations.

We found making space for wider conversations early on, gave us an understanding of people’s wider concerns or fears, and allowed our team to address what they could, or pass on issues we couldn’t solve. That approach allowed us to then move to talk about safety.

Showing a range of other benefits often helped affected parties understand and accept the proposed changes. Sometimes people will radically change their view based on recent personal experience. In our community consultations, we had a person who was strongly averse to wire-rope medians become a big supporter overnight when his son was saved from running off the road by a recently installed barrier.  

Three: "Sell the cake, not the ingredients"

I like this quote from The Workshop-Urban Mobility publication. It sums up the approach we learned to take with rural highway improvements. By starting with a discussion of the outcome we wanted we were able to then look at current levels of safety, identify areas for change and then build a pathway to get there.

By talking about behaviour (speeding, bad overtaking, driver distraction etc.) and how we could change that, we were able to get deeper acceptance of change.

Four: Does this make sense?

Sometimes rules can get in the way of doing what’s right. It’s important to stop every now and then to check that what you’re doing is sensible too.

We’ve seen cases where local communities wanted lower speed limits but couldn't have them because of planning rules. Situations include temporary speed limits put in place during construction having to be removed when work stopped, even though the speeds were making a real safety difference.

It’s hard to explain these rules to many people in the community. This is still a tough nut to crack but being aware of it is a start and means we can work through things on a case-by-case basis to get more sensible solutions.

Five: Trials help understanding

We learned from our counterparts in Victoria, Australia that trialling new things helps people understand how things work. You can then modify your approach before moving to full scale. They trialled short sections of barrier, small intersection upgrades and other improvements. Road users could see how they were personally affected and then suggest changes.

By also testing how these would be maintained the “bugs” were eliminated before large scale construction.

Six: Be prepared to change and progress in stages

Early on in our work we learned what concerns would be raised about each type of improvement. We also discovered local communities understood their section of the network very well and knew what worked for them. By listening to them and responding (e.g., shifting turnaround points) to suit the local needs, we achieved much better outcomes.

We also found that sometimes you can’t get to the end in one step. Budget, property, and consent constraints would lead us to stage works. For example, painting a wide median first, then widening pavement and installing edge barriers, then finally installing the median barrier. 

Seven: Use local champions to build support

During community engagement it became clear that most people were open to the safety changes being proposed but there were always vocal opponents. It was no surprise who got the most media attention!

We worked with community stakeholders, such as the local school principal or school board, the marae, cycling and walking groups to help get the other side of the story across and win support.

These local champions provided an alternate message for their communities and helped us overcome the nay-sayers.

A final thought is about our team. Initially we would get disappointed when projects had to be staged differently. We had periods where some projects slowed down, while others sped up. We learnt a lot about agility and found that sharing success across the whole programme meant we could all enjoy the wins together.
About the Author
Brent Meekan

Business Director - Civil Infrastructure

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