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How to create life-saving infrastructure? Jaworzno is an example

27 of May '24
w skrócie
  1. Jaworzno has significantly reduced the number of fatal accidents over the years through strategic investments.
  2. The traffic study has been a key tool in planning and implementing safe traffic in Jaworzno.
  3. Reductions in traffic incidents in Jaworzno have been achieved by eliminating transit and introducing traffic calming zones.
  4. Political will and the support of residents are key to the successful implementation of traffic changes.

  5. For more interesting information, visit the home page of the A&B portal.

Interview as part of the #CityMojeawNim series

Are Poland's roads safe and what can be done to ensure that fatal accident rates continue to fall? As part of the #CityMojeawNim series, we take a closer look at different areas of the city by talking to experts. We talk about the issue of traffic safety with Tomasz Tosza, Deputy Director of the Jaworzno Road Administration, responsible for implementing the ZERO Vision in Jaworzno.

Wiktor Bochenek: What is the reason for Jaworzno's success in road safety?

Tomasz Tosza: Let me start by saying that it's not a success, it's just normal work that road managers all over Poland should be doing. Unfortunately, very often they don't do it properly.

Tomasz Tosza

Tomasz Tosza - Deputy Director of the Road Administration in Jaworzno, responsible for implementing the ZERO Vision in Jaworzno

© Courtesy of the interviewee

Wiktor: A few years ago, Jaworzno boasted so much that simply no one was killed for almost two years. What is the situation today?

Tomasz: ZERO vision is not a single event but a continuous process. In the last six years we have had three times more than one year periods without fatal accidents. And you have to start from the fact that if you can talk about the success of Jaworzno, it is in the way that we have radically reduced the number of traffic incidents.

This radical decrease in the number of traffic incidents has also been followed by decreases in the number of victims and those who are seriously injured and those who are killed. Jaworzno started a dozen years ago with a level of eleven or twelve fatalities per year, meaning we had one fatality every month.

Importantly, the goal of the changes we made in the city was not just to improve safety, but to change mobility in such a way that Jaworzno residents could get around comfortably. Jaworzno was a completely congested city, a city full of cars, where all the streets were cluttered with parked cars. At the time, public transportation was in agony, and this was not a good solution. No one was happy about it, the biggest desire of the residents was to eliminate traffic jams.

Victor: Where did you actually start in your efforts to change this status?

Tomasz: From working with scientists, primarily transportation engineers. We commissioned a traffic study. We wanted to have a traffic model done, which is the existing one, so that based on it we could formulate a model of the future state, the one we wanted to achieve in 10 years.

This involved investments in reconstruction or construction of road sections. This transportation study was the first in Poland. According to the company that carried it out, it also became the only one that did not become a so-called "half-baked" study. It hit a very consistent implementation, so that after 10 years we were able to do a replay of the traffic study and check whether those data that we assumed for ourselves in 2003 were confirmed in 2013. Here is a unique situation that practically no municipality can do such a second study.

istotnym elementem polityki Jaworzna było stworzenie warunków do poruszania dla wszystkich uczestników ruchu

An important element of Jaworzno's policy was to create conditions for movement for all traffic participants

© Courtesy of the interviewee

Wiktor: Why?

Tomasz: There is a lack of consistency in the implementation of investments. The transportation study for Jaworzno assumed that investments would be made for about 400 million zlotys over 10 years, which was a frightening amount for councilors, because in 2003 the city could have spent 20 million zlotys on all investments, absolutely all of them.

However, money is not really the limitation. The limitation is the will. If we want to rebuild the road system, if we want to change mobility, we are always able to find institutions, funds that are able to support this process. At that time we were entering the European Union. Local government roads were also funded in those first periods of EU funding. Local government officials at the very beginning were asked by experts who came from the west not to repeat the mistakes that western Europe filled in the 1970s.

Victor: First of all, which mistakes?

Tomasz: Betting on infrastructure that only promotes the development of automobile traffic. We simply listened to people who were smarter than us, had experience to them and knew what building cities based solely on automobile infrastructure would end up with. This is the process that leads to the fact that eventually you always end up with traffic jams. Of course, as a country we have made all the mistakes of the West.

There is no city in the world that has succeeded. Even the Chinese tried to build cities with massive road infrastructure, which was supposed to be enough to meet all transportation needs. It turned out that even though they were building multi-level highways, stacking roads, eliminating all collisions with pedestrian and bicycle traffic, it still led to gruesome traffic jams. They tried, it didn't work, because it's impossible for purely physical reasons.

infrastruktura w Jaworznie ma pomóc minimalizować ryzyko zdarzeń drogowych

Jaworzno's infrastructure is designed to help minimize the risk of traffic incidents

© Courtesy of caller

Wiktor: Starting with a traffic study and a change in thinking, you have certainly encountered a wide range of barriers over the years before introducing various solutions, such as road narrowing. How do you deal with them?

Tomasz: Let me put it simply. Some solutions have to be introduced even without consultation, so that people will see that it's not threatening.

Only then will they notice that solutions that are not in line with their intuition are effective and work. For example, that narrowing lanes does not increase traffic jams at all, but reduces them. That it doesn't worsen safety at all, but even improves it, and suddenly they start saying "it works." If it does, then keep doing it. The "Vision Zero" program has the support of the vast majority of residents in Jaworzno -seventy-six percent are in favor. Only nine percent are opposed.

Wiktor: Were there surveys conducted on the impact of the program?

Tomasz: It was a normal opinion poll, conducted on a very different sample so as to have a high degree of confidence in the results. I was able to predict who doesn't like the changes - mainly young men. Who likes it the most? Young mothers. We no longer live in a country where people accept wild behavior on the roads.

Victor: That seems to have changed in the last few years.

Tomasz: And it continues to change. People support high fines. People support confiscating vehicles from drunk drivers. If a survey were conducted today on automatic speed surveillance, we would also have surprising results for fast driving enthusiasts, that people would like automatic surveillance to calm down driving and those who allow themselves too much on public roads.

Victor: Going back to the issue of the Jaworzno case, what did you focus the changes on after the study was introduced? We mentioned narrowing roads, but this was a broader process.

Tomasz: First of all, we eliminated transit inside from the streets where urban life takes place. We have built a system of roads that make it possible to make a different transit than it used to be.

Such a rather peculiar point in history was 2013, when we closed the possibility of transit through the market in Jaworzno. This forced a great many people to change their transportation behavior. People move like storks - always on the same routes. On the other hand, the moment they were forced to change their traffic behavior, they found their new paths. Very often hitting the new bypass roads, which resulted, reducing the number of collision points.

In the traffic study, we also did the hard work of putting all the traffic incidents that had occurred in the previous three years onto a map of Jaworzno.The results of drawing up such a map were quite surprising, as it turned out that the places that were marked in red, i.e. where a large number of heavy incidents take place, were places that were not considered needlessly dangerous by people.

elementem przebudowy infrastruktury było stworzenie dróg tranzytowych poza centrum

Part of the infrastructure redevelopment was the creation of transit routes out of the city center

© Courtesy of the interviewee

Victor: People are not aware of where the points actually are?

Tomasz: This awareness was mistaken, because people very often consider for dangerous places are those where they feel unsafe. In such places, surprisingly, there are very few traffic incidents. If they do, they are very light incidents, most often collisions. On the other hand, in order to effectively implement "Vision Zero," it is necessary to intervene in those places where heavy incidents occur.

Wiktor: A few years ago, especially when Jaworzno stood on the podium of the European Road Safety Award for Cities, there was a lot of publicity about the city itself. Is there no end in sight to creating a city in "Vision Zero"?

Thomas: Once a certain safety threshold is reached, its improvement slows down. For us, it was surprising that we achieved "Vision Zero" so quickly. From one hundred traffic accidents a year, we went down to sixty, then to forty. Then we asked the engineers what we needed to do to improve these results. They said, start "cameralizing" the streets.

"Cameralize" means not to put a camera there, but to calm traffic - to make these streets intimate. After two years of intensively reconstructing a dozen streets important in the road system and cameralizing them, suddenly there were no more fatal accidents. That was the first twenty-month period when we had no fatal accidents. And the number of accidents dropped to twenty-seven for three years in a row and then below twenty a year.

I wondered why this happened so quickly. Later I found a study by Dutch researchers who noted that you don't have to rebuild all the roads in a city to make it safe. It's enough for forty percent of the roads to be calmed down. This is a sufficient threshold for the level of safety from these intimate streets to also transfer to the street, where there is no hard infrastructure forcing certain behaviors on drivers.

By reaching the threshold of forty percent of reconstructed roads, we have dramatically improved road safety. Let's remember that road accidents are something that is completely chaotic and completely unpredictable. When there were severe accidents in Jaworzno over several years, they were associated with a kind of regularity for which I was hectored online for a while. It turned out that with sometimes these accidents were drivers from outside Jaworzno.

Such drivers were about ten percent of traffic participants. It was such a statistical threat. It turned out that this effect was normal, because these drivers moved on the streets of Jaworzno the way they move on the streets of their own cities. In an irresponsible, fast, inattentive manner. Jaworzno drivers adjusted to driving calmly and did not cause these accidents.

Victor: And in that case, how does the city want to continue this policy? If it's enough to calm 40% of the city's streets, what's left to do next in such a case?

Tomasz: It's just that the residents of the other sixty percent of the streets envy those people who live along the calmed streets.

Victor: Why do they envy?

Tomasz: Because it's calmer, quieter, more comfortable and nicer. We are rebuilding more streets, adding infrastructure for pedestrian and bicycle traffic, forcing certain behaviors on drivers. This is positively received by residents. Once the residents of an area know how "Vision Zero" works, they themselves enforce certain solutions during design.

Wiktor: Jaworzno is a medium-sized city, and would such a solution work in metropolises like Krakow or Warsaw, or much smaller ones like Wojnicz or Jaslo.

Tomasz: These solutions are completely scalable - they work in any city of any size. We used solutions that were conceived in cities much larger than Jaworzno. Traffic is made up of paradoxes itself. Some people think that if they go faster, there is more throughput. In contrast, the greatest through put is achieved at forty-two kilometers per hour.

The calmer the traffic is, the easier it is to join from subordinate roads to the main line. Traffic flow increases, although the speed is lower. At the same time, travel is faster. Time is saved, not to mention the savings from traffic incidents, i.e. collisions, accidents and fatalities. We have calculated that we have savings of up to seventy million a year, on the fact that we have only twenty accidents, with fatalities occurring incidentally.

It is worth noting that they are not related to infrastructure. We analyze every serious accident that occurs, asking ourselves whether the infrastructure could help in such a case. If an intoxicated person passes a red light at a traffic light, the infrastructure is not able to help in any way.

jednym z celów było uspokojenie ruchu i kameralizacja ulic

One of the goals was traffic calming and the cameraization of streets

© Courtesy of the caller

Victor: Where should cities start in implementing their "Vision Zero"? What is such a key to starting this arduous, multi-year process ?

Tomasz: From political will.

Wiktor: Only and exclusively?

Tomasz: Yes, and then the path is simple.

A transportation study, tasking the topic to be solved by professionals, people who are not connected with the place and are able to look down on the transportation situation of the city. What is important is political support to oppose in the initial period very vocal groups of people who do not like these changes. And this is a very small but extremely vocal group of people on the Internet.

Here we have a few circles that are so very pro-car, who don't like the restrictions associated with the introduction of safe road infrastructure. As they run for local elections, the head of such an organization in the largest Polish city got 199 votes in the local elections - these people have real such support. You should listen to ordinary people.They are a radical minority, and in my opinion, if they want to drive cars fast, there are really quite a few tracks in Poland where you can rent time and drive at the speed you like.

Wiktor: What are the most important elements of this kind of policy?

Tomasz: The most important thing is to understand why traffic incidents happen. Traffic incidents happen because our species has a great deal of evolutionary constraints that mean we shouldn't go at speeds much higher than our natural speeds, and our natural speed is about 30 kilometers per hour, which is very fast.

Anything above that speed for evolutionary reasons is very difficult for our senses to perceive. Sight deceives us constantly and sometimes in a criminal way. Therefore, the ZERO Vision is not about eliminating traffic incidents but those that result in death. Do you know what causes fatal accidents?

Victor: It isdifficult to say.

Tomasz: Fatal accidents happen almost exclusively because of excessive kinetic energy. If we enforce by means of road infrastructure or supervision that drivers travel at legal speeds, we will reach a state very close to "Vision Zero."

Wiktor: So you just have to admit it loud and clear, that speed kills, yes?

Tomasz: This is quite obvious, while kinetic energy has a very in one way good and bad property. Kinetic energy increases with the square of the speed and decreases with the square of the speed. It seems to the driver that whether they go at sixty or fifty kilometers per hour doesn't matter, but if you take the formula for counting, kinetic energy, itit turns out that the kinetic energy of an event at sixty kilometers per hour is not twenty percent higher than at fifty, but it is already an order of magnitude higher. Speed limits did not come from nothing - they stem from the physiological limitations of human bodies. This is also supported by research.

Therefore, traffic with a speed of thirty kilometers per hour should be used in places where we have heavy pedestrian and bicycle traffic. Fifty kilometers is the speed for urban roads, where we are able to separate this traffic in urban areas. Traffic at seventy kilometers per hour we must already have full separation. This is the speed we can use for longer distances.

to, co udało się w Jaworznie jest skalowalne dla innych ośrodków

What has been successful in Jaworzno is scalable to other centers

© Courtesy of the caller

Wiktor: going back to the tools, the solutions that Jaworzno has used, well you mentioned changing transit traffic, narrowing roads. And what are the other elements of implementing such a strategy?

Tomasz: Narrowing lanes, because very often in cities we have lanes that are wider than on highway sections, is the most effective method, and this equally uses a kind of illusion of the speed at which the vehicle is moving. If the lane is narrow, driving at a legal speed, we don't feel like we're standing still or dragging. On the other hand, if the street is wider, we even have a psychological compulsion to go faster, due to the fact that the street gives us the opportunity to do so.

Infrastructure should be built in such a way, have such a geometry, that the maximum speed that is allowed by signs is the maximum speed above which anxiety and fear begin to appear in drivers that they are going too fast. This can be achieved not only by narrowing lanes, but also by "essing" the roadway, by running sections of road in straight sections, only on curves. It can be achieved by planting trees along roads. Contrary to appearances, they do not worsen safety, but improve it.

Here is a very interesting example from Brandenburg in the 1990s, when the Germans inherited a very old network of roads connecting county towns from the GDR, and these were such avenues inflicted with trees. When they moved from Trabants to Volkswagens polos and golfs, they started killing themselves on these trees. They came up with the idea to widen the road lanes and cut down the trees, it would be safer.

What turned out? It turned out that it was even worse.

Not only because there are more fatal accidents, but in these fatal accidents bystanders began to die, that is, people driving properly, who were hit head-on by someone. And after this experience, the Germans stopped cutting avenues and started using energy barriers along the trees. I'll repeat, so that it will be perpetuated - we do not have an evolutionary predisposition to move at high speeds. By moving at speeds higher than natural we exceed the thresholds of perception. Our reaction time to events is too long to react appropriately. When incidents occur, most participants don't use the brakes because they simply won't have time to do so.

Victor: Can our local governments afford such changes from a financial perspective? As you mentioned yourself - starting them in Jaworzno was linked to external funds.

Tomasz: We can't afford to have people die on the roads. Each fatal accident costs 3-4 million zlotys per fatality. Jaworzno saves, as I mentioned, 70 million zlotys because of the cost of road accidents, and these are not overall savings - there are effects of increased quality of life and improved safety.

One should not worry about the heckling, one should do one's job. Road managers are supposed to manage roads so that drivers are not so much comfortable, but safe.

jak Jaworzno zmniejszyło ilość ofiar na drogach a jednocześnie poprawiło komfort komunikacji?

How has Jaworzno reduced the number of casualties on the roads and at the same time improved the comfort of transportation?

Photo: Archifolio Tomasz Zakrzewski | © Courtesy of the interviewee

Wiktor: If a local government official came to you and asked for advice, what would you point out to him?

Tomasz: There have already been many such local government officials in Jaworzno. I always answer the same thing. Make a diagnosis in the form of a transportation study. Talk to professionals who will show you what to do. These solutions, they work the same everywhere.

Victor: Thank you for the interview.

interviewed by Wiktor Bochenek

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