How many children do you see playing in your street? I live in a cul de sac that is about 200m long and I have never see a child playing on the street and I almost never see children cycling. Even in the 1980s, when I was growing up in Christchurch, we would often play in our quiet street with the traditional yell of “car” scattering us all out of the way. Now it seems streets are only for the movement of tin boxes at the maximum speed possible.

De Pijp before - does the streetscape look familiar?
De Pijp before – does the streetscape look familiar?

This article on the excellent Bicycle Dutch blog explains how the children in the Pijp, an old part of Amsterdam with narrow streets, campaigned to be allowed to play on their streets again. It includes a cut down version of a 1972 documentary showing how the children of De Pijp protested (with the help of many adults) to

transform De Pijp into an area where children could play:

De Pijp now - where the children can play
De Pijp now – where the children can play

The interesting thing for me too is that the number of people living in the area has more than halved – so the density of the area (although high by NZ standards) wasn’t a deciding factor in transforming the streets – only a change of culture and expectations of motorists. You can see in the video too that motorists did not at first accept the changes. However now there is no call in the Netherlands to go back to the dark days of automobile dominance.

How does New Zealand rate internationally in terms of children dying in road accidents? Not well:

Among the 24 OECD countries with road user death rates by age, New Zealand (with Greece and Poland) had the highest death rate for children under 15 years. At 2.6 deaths per 100,000,  it was double the OECD median of 1.3. New Zealand also had the highest rate for 15–17 year olds, with 15.0 deaths per 100,000, more than double the OECD median of 7.3.

Dutch children - not only safer and slimmer but happier
Dutch children – not only safer and slimmer but happier

How does this contrast with the Netherlands? I think abysmally is the only adverb that springs to mind:

What does this say about NZ’s priorities? Is our pride at being a great place for children well founded?

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7 responses to “Where do the children play?

  1. This is a great post (and you already know where I sit on this Ben :-)). I see more kids playing on the street in our, almost, retirement village than I used to in our old suburb. The difference? In my opinion it is the 30kmh speed limit and the lack of driveways due to keeping them all together where possible. The number of people who walk and bike around here is astounding and well above the NZ average I would expect. Dylan (6) rides on the street, not the footpath, and does so safely.

  2. Thank you for raising this. Quality of life is important – more cycling (by children and adults) will make children’s lives better in so many ways. I hope that more of our streets can be transformed like those of the Pijp.

  3. Engineering expected behaviours really helps. My 2 year old son plays with around half a dozen kids on our cul-de-sac, on bikes, trikes and scooters.

    I join them and keep a nervous eye out, because I know that the entrance to the street, hidden round a gentle curve, can easily be taken at 40kph thanks to its huge mouth and generous curb radius.

    I’d be much happier with a 20kph limit and a severe narrowing of the junction, after all, what’s the hurry?

    1. You are spot on Jake. We should be adopting European best practise and having all non-arterial streets at 30km/h.

      However, you will find that the government agencies who are in theory supposed to care about safety (AT, NZTA and the Police) actually only care about motorist safety and moving cars as fast as possible.

      This is illustrated by the fact that the Police routinely oppose traffic calming and lowering speed limits (i.e. on Albert/Victoria Road in Devonport). This is because they say people will not respect the law if it requires unrealistic speeds and they are afraid of being accused of revenue gathering.

      AT/NZTA will only lower speed limits if you can show that the cars are already travelling at that speed or if you can show a high crash rate.

      You have to remember that motorways have an excellent safety record. Therefore, AT/NZTA’s approach to roading is to turn every road into a motorway (e.g. Lincoln Road). Also, if you create an awful street environment (AT/NZTA’s speciality) you then scare away all the pedestrians and cyclist and, hey presto!, no more pedestrian or cycling related crashes!

      This is the country we live in and how much the roading authorities value the lives of our children if they are not in cars. To be honest, it really saddens me.

  4. I thought it would be easy to get a lower limit from the roundabout on Albert rd to the bottom of Victoria rd with a school,two blind sharp bends, four pedestrain crossings and parked cars day and night,six side streets also coming into a shopping area with lots of cafes that are open late ! Half the job has been done with at the first crossing the road narrows (sticking out curb by the church and flexi post along the center line ) within 100m from roundabout you can’t get up to 50kph ,another 100m another crossing then the two bends that that lead into the shops….Has anyone tried to get a lower limit there?its a no brainer

    1. Thats exactly what I was referring to above Marty. I spoke late last year to the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board (on behalf of CAA) and one of the members said they remembered exactly that had been proposed a few years ago and been opposed by the Police (for one – I imagine AT/NZTA as well). Again, I understand this is because the Police say people will not respect the law if it requires unrealistic speeds and they are afraid of being accused of revenue gathering.

      There was a lot of support around the table for the concept from all members. Especially when I pointed out the delay in travel time between 50km/h and 30km/h on that piece of street is about 10 seconds.

      The businesses in DP are struggling and I think a shared space in DP would be a no brainer. The retailers in Fort Street would certainly confirm the value of a shared space.

      I personally think the New World car park should be made a public one, as it is very seldom full. With cycling, improved ferry services and bus services, that should get plenty of people in there spending money.

      1. “Police say people will not respect the law if it requires unrealistic speeds”

        So prove them wrong.

        From what I’ve read over the last year or so, here and on the transportblog, the single biggest thing that change for cycling in Auckland would be to reduce the speed limit on residential streets to 30 km/h. We should not give up on this one so easily, just because the police say they don’t like the idea of enforcing it.

        What do the signs say on SH1 up north? “100.. it’s not a target”

        So why is 50 a target?

        What if we just started driving at 30? Or at least, under 40. Now the police statement is just plain wrong. What’s the next barrier to knock down?

        Think about it. How many cars need to drive at less than 40 to make a difference? A few percent? If you drive at 40, all the following cars drive at 40 too.

        Is there any reason why not to start? Is this illegal?

        Could be a lively way of raising the debate? Something for Gen Zero to have a go at maybe?

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