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Low priority: pedestrians & wheelchairs

Written By: - Date published: 11:00 am, February 26th, 2013 - 41 comments
Categories: infrastructure, public transport, transport - Tags: , ,

Yesterday’s appalling accident with a woman in a wheelchair being caught in the tracks at Morningside rail crossing, highlights several problems with the hierarchies operating in our transportation systems.

In the end, all the rescuers could do was tip the chair on its side and leap out of the way.

“[The woman] fell clear but the wheel chair was still on the tracks,” Mereau said.  “That got caught by the train. The lady was still close to the wheelchair so she got dragged along.”

The woman remains in a critical condition today.

Top of the priority tree is given  to motorised vehicles and roads.  Secondary to this comes the organisation of public transport: buses, trains, ferries.  Arrangements for pedestrians are often pretty low in the hierarchy. People with disabilities are increasingly being catered for, but they remain a very low priority as shown by news reports on yesterday’s accident..

As a car driver, public transport user, pedestrian and ex cyclist & motorcyclist I have long been aware of the low priority given to pedestrians around Auckland.  It’s especially noticeable with the upgrades at places like New Lynn.  At such places the road and footpath arrangements have been constantly changing.  Each time I arrive on foot to some train stations or bus terminals, the footpaths have been changed, often requiring the pedestrian to negotiate an unfamiliar, re-routed obstacle course.  Usually it takes longer than expected, sometimes having to wait for more than one lot of traffic lights changes, and is frustrating when rushing to catch a train or bus on time.

Generally footpaths away from main routes around Auckland can be uneven, and prone to causing tripping and slipping.  There are extra hazards of trying to avoid vehicles backing out of drives.  Traffic lights and roundabouts clearly show motor vehicles are first consideration.  There’s those “free” left turns at traffic lights, often with a constant stream of traffic, while the pedestrian has to find a gap in which to dash between the stream of cars.

At lights some vehicles turning on/after the orange or red lights, and impatient drivers when both vehicles and walkers have the right to proceed, add anxiety to the pedestrian experience.

All these things must be extremely hazardous for people in wheelchairs.  Yet the reports show that they are just expected to accept the conditions, and wait for fairly long periods for upgrades.  Last night RNZ reported that:

The accident happened on an undulating footpath that passes over at least three sets of tracks.

KiwiRail says there have been previous incidents at the scene and it upgraded the tracks last year.

Local ward councillor Cathy Casey says she is shocked to think people in wheelchairs could be at risk at train crossings.

She says safety measures such as barrier arms and warning bells aren’t enough, as they are often ignored.

KiwiRail says the incident with the wheelchair becoming stuck on the tracks is an unusual event that has never happened in New Zealand before.

The company’s chief executive Jim Quinn says a full investigation is underway which will determine whether the gaps, which should be around 69 millimetres, are too wide.

Mr Quinn says staff will be at the crossing on Monday night to check if there are any problems with people in wheelchairs passing the tracks.

But the chair of Auckland Council’s disability strategic advisory group says several other people have become stuck in their wheelchairs at the Morningside level crossing.

Huhana Hickey, who chairs the disability strategic advisory group on the Auckland Council, says she has the same wheelchair and it does get stuck in nooks and crannies.

Dr Hickey says three or four people have told her they have had trouble at the Morningside crossing.

Campbell Live last night, showed that, white arrows marked on the crossing are evidence that the Morningside rail crossing had been registered as a hazard some time before the accident: see about 1min 53 into the Campbell Live video.  Following this in the video, the reporter Kate King asks who is responsible for fixing the hazard? “The people who run the roads, the people who run the trains, or the super city council.”  According to Albert-Eden Community Board Member Graeme Easte,  some people have been debating whether the road goes over the railway tracks or vice versa, in an attempt to  identify who has ultimate responsibility.  He says the ARC (Auckland Regional Council) put up some money for upgrades a few years ago, but no other organisation followed with further money, and nothing happened.

Kiwirail upgraded the Morningside rail/road intersection in 2011, but left the footpath remained cracked and uneven.  Campbell Live showed this is a hazard to cyclists and pushchairs. There’s a lot of these kind of crossings in Auckland, and the planned new electric trains will be quieter, and harder for pedestrians and wheelchair users to hear than the current ones.

Adding to the hassles for wheelchair users, I have also heard that some people in electric chairs can’t take them on buses because their combined weights are above the current limit.

Wheelchairs and some mobility scooters can be carried on a bus subject to the following restrictions:

  • Maximum length:           1200mm

  • Maximum width:             700mm

  • Maximum weight:           240kg  (combined weight of wheelchair and user)

As constantly argued by the Greens, our public transport system needs to be given higher priority. As Julie Anne Genter argued yesterday, the public also wants a better system.  Along with this, high priority also should be given to pedestrians and accessibility for all.

41 comments on “Low priority: pedestrians & wheelchairs”

  1. Rogue Trooper 1

    that crossing looked unbelievable, yet where will the money come from?

  2. tracey 2

    well, it’s going to be worse in Christchurch if the minister of money(Joyce) gets his way and many buildings dont have to be accessible.

    17% of our population classify themselves as disabled. That doesn’t include the number who don’t classify themselves that way but are – for example older folks.

    It’s actually a substantial part of the electorate. If you then add in their family and friends the issue of accessibility can be bigger than first thought.

  3. Yorick 3

    All I know (at the moment) comes from this blog and a short clip on TV, but I cannot believe what I read.

    What was more important – to save the person or the wheelchair ?

    All they had to to was lift him or her out of harms way (I saw a couple of able-bodied
    police around a person in a wheelchair stuck on the tracks on TV) then deal
    with the mechanical problem afterwards.

    It is a no brainer, and tells us a lot about lack of experience and official priorities .. words fail me.

    • Rogue Trooper 3.1

      i wondered why the person was not un-belted and fireman-lifted out of harms way but i wouldn’t want to presume

      • RJL 3.1.1

        The stories seem to suggest that there was very little time to do anything at all, and that it appeared (correctly or not) to the rescuers that the woman was strapped into her chair.

        The fact that the woman in the wheelchair was nonetheless still dragged along when the train collected the “pushed over wheelchair”, suggests that she was indeed somehow strapped in.

    • scrubone 3.2

      The people who were trying to help were two random people who in seconds went from their normal routine to the most stressful situation they probably will ever encouter.

      One of them was injured and taken to hospital, because she put her own life on the line.

      I’d be a *lot* more careful about describing decisions in those circumstances as “no brainer” myself – especially when using words like “official priorities” to describe first responders.

      • Yorick 3.2.1

        Re ..I’d be a *lot* more careful about describing decisions in those circumstances as “no brainer” myself – especially when using words like “official priorities” to describe first responders. ..

        I was careful to emphasize my limited knowledge of this incident at the top of the post ..

        • Yorick 3.2.1.1

          I’ve had a bit of experience with people and wheelchairs. The fact that he/she was strapped in suggests a considerable degree of disability. I don’t know who the ‘random people’ were, but most NZers are fairly down to earth in their assessment of risk. This would certainly have been novel for a lot of people, and it sounds as if there was unexpectedly little time to react .. but getting him/her out of danger would not have used up a lot of cortical computing power.

          Re. “the most stressful situation they probably will ever encouter” .. will probably be when they themselves are at risk.

          Re. “I’d be a *lot* more careful about describing decisions in those circumstances as “no brainer” myself – especially when using words like “official priorities” to describe first responders.”

          scrubone (or should that be ‘scrub one’ ?): The TV footage I saw briefly showed what appeared to be police uniforms struggling with a wheel chair stuck on tracks. I remain dubious about official priorities in providing safe railway crossings for the differently abled in Auckland. I have a lot of respect for medical first responders .. whom I have worked with on-scene and in casualty overseas.

          This is an evolving situation so it would be unwise to comment further.

    • McFlock 3.3

      Well, you’re thinking without factoring in stressors, in this case “fucking big train bearing down on you”.

      It wasn’t stress-experienced cops trying to save the woman, it was a couple of joe blow public. Possibly that’s some of the most extreme stress they’ll face in their lives. So prime candidates for objective fixation and lowered mental functioning. That’s if they had the fine motor control to deal with any seatbelt etc.

      People do funny things under stress – sometimes completely random, other times there’s a discernible logic (in this case they might have been used to thinking about paraplegic+wheelchair as one unit, so didn’t think to break up the unit – the woman was probably used to thinking of chair as best way to move anywhere quickly, too), but almost always sub-optimal. Even running like buggery might be a bad move in some situations.

      The funniest one I saw (nobody hurt, fortunately) was a driver that pulled out in front of a cyclist, who proceeded to somersault over the bonnet (most impressive). The driver was completely unharmed, but in a bit of shock, and the first thing she did was stammer “this is a new car”and look for a scratch. Not as insensitive as she sounds – just a stress reaction. Of course, if the cyclist had died then the prosecutor would have made a big deal out of it as an example of her callous and uncaring attitude to killing someone else. Not that at all – she was just shitting bricks and that was the first thing that snuck through the information overload.

      • vto 3.3.1

        Myself and a couple of others on the day of the Chch earthquake (Feb 22) caught up together in the first hour or so made some decisions and did some things that in hindsight were most definitely not smart. It was stressed thinking and it does most definitely lead a person to make decisions that wouldn’t normally be made. One of those people has since said subsequently that they did not make good decisions that day, and neither did I. Another person nearby was killed as a consequence of decisions like ours at the exact time we were doing these things. Close calls.

        Was very sobering and highlighted that circumstance of decisions made quickly and under immediate threat of death.

        Those brave people helping the wheelchair person would have been freaking out.

        • aerobubble 3.3.1.1

          The picture of the tarmac between the rails was obvious well worn down, and the fact nobody was out there with tarmac asap is horrific. Why have people not complained in the past? A culture of non-complaint? Why aren’t people more aware of dangers and so think better when the time comes – as the previous comment makes clear? The opening car door killing a cyclist.
          Why do we always get to pick up the pieces and there is no department of government who actively catch these issues, and also educate the public about decision making in moment of crisis? Risk analysis, risk abatement, risk training…

          Where are the disabled groups blocking the intersection until someone fixes the problem?
          And as to its not a rail budget, or a council, or a roading issue, bollocks, if a third
          party goes and tarmacs the area you damn sure the rail people will turn up and start
          suing, and so its a rail safety issue and a rail safety botchup. The rail company, if this
          lady were to die, would be charged with corporate manslaughter if it was legislated.

    • AsleepWhileWalking 3.4

      Alas, poor Yorick! (sorry – had to)

      Not many of us have been forced to make such a life/death decision in the face of an oncoming honking freight train, but I suspect the wheelchair would have been seen as valuable (they are a couple of grand at least, ACC are shits at paying for them and it’s not like she could walk into a wheelchair yard and get on the next day), and the rescuers would also have seen the chair as an extension of the person sitting in it.

      No chair = no ability to function, something which we able bodied folk take for granted.

      • Yorick 3.4.1

        Yorick is “is the deceased court jester whose skull is exhumed by the gravedigger in Act 5, Scene 1, of” Hamlet.

        More broadly,

        Scholar David Carlyon has cast doubt on the “daring political jester”, calling historical tales “apocryphal”, and concluding that “popular culture embraces a sentimental image of the clown; writers reproduce that sentimentality in the jester, and academics in the Trickster,” but it “falters as analysis.”[6]

        Jesters could also give bad news to the King that no one else would dare deliver. The best example of this is in 1340, when the French fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Sluys by the English. Phillippe VI’s jester told him the English sailors “don’t even have the guts to jump into the water like our brave French.”[7]

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jester

  4. Jeremy Greenbrook-Held 4

    “Kiwirail upgraded the Morningside rail/road intersection in 2011, but left the footpath remained cracked and uneven. ”

    That’s not entirely true. The ped crossing was tidied up, but they did such a crap job that it’s all warn out now. Doesn’t help that they’ve driven heavy maintenance machinery across it too…

  5. Bill 5

    If the people who used stuff were the people who designed the stuff, most problems with accessability/bad design would disappear.

    I’m sure we could all give a shopping list of things we’ve encountered in life that made us think “Wtf?”

    But then we are trained to understand that ‘experts’ know better. Regardless.

    On the transport front, I just happened to be reflecting on how car designs have become more ‘sexy’ and comfortabe while public transport designs have become ever more ‘grey’ and uncomfortable. I know this isn’t so much to do with physical accessabilty rather than psychological desirability, but think of the old comfortable bus/train seats with plenty of room alongside the internal trimmings and compare to modern b/s plastic bucket seats and hard plastic ‘nothingness’. Next time you pass a bus-stop, imagine how it would be if the concept of four sides and a door as shelter against the elements had been thought of.

    Thoughtlessness permeates all aspects of social design from urinals to bike lanes and sweet counters to entrance ways. Like i said at the beginning of this comment – have stuff designed by those who will use the stuff. It’s a simple solution.

  6. vto 6

    Streets were created for pedestrians first and orginally.

    Horse and cart, and then cars, came much much later, yet most people look at you sideways if you mention that fact, such is the ingrained “car is king” approach to everything today.

    This approach manifests itself in other ways too. Check out new houses which apparently need to have two cars parked inside the house as close as possible to the half dozen toilets and two lounges. Recall horses used to have a barn separate from teh dwelling. It should be thus today. Quite why people want noisy stinking cars inside their house I do not know. Dumbo.

    Also, business and shops and malls. We all need to be able to park right beside the shop.

    What ever happened to walking? Chech the streets out right now. Take look. Betcha the number of people walking is close to nil. Ffs I know people who drive 100m to the shop.

    The streets were created for people first. The cars came later and should be relegated so…

    (one other thing – always wondered why wheelchairs don’t have bigger diameter wheels. Just like tractors, makes it a hell of a lot easier trundling along a surface and this would have allowed the wheelchair to roll across the gaps…)

  7. AsleepWhileWalking 7

    I note that in today’s Domp the WRC are looking at increasing fares.

    Again.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/8350269/Bus-train-commuters-likely-to-face-fare-rises

  8. Skinny 8

     So CEO of Kiwi Rail, Jim Quinn says “safety will not be compromised as s result of  cuts jobs.” guess what Jim public  safety has been compromised because of your job cuts. That Morningside rail crossing was identified by a track inspector late last year as needing urgent attention  ‘nothing done about it.’ And now Mr Quinn has done away with track inspectors all over the Country, so the New Zealand public can expect a lot more safety issues regarding Rail regrettably.

    • vto 8.1

      “And now Mr Quinn has done away with track inspectors all over the Country”

      Remove mines inspectors and people die in mines.

      Remove track inspectors and people die on tracks.

      what is the matter with these people?

      • muzza 8.1.1

        According to Albert-Eden Community Board Member Graeme Easte, some people have been debating whether the road goes over the railway tracks or vice versa, in an attempt to identify who has ultimate responsibility

        More to the point, what is the matter with the NZ public that allow this kind of midset to control our country.

        What a terrible situation, (which the first responders must be recognised for), which I had not heard of until I read this post.

        With every such avoidable situation as this, we are allowing those charged with the safety and well being of NZ, to inflict further damage.

      • Arfamo 8.1.2

        What’s the matter with these people? Unless it happens to them, they don’t care. It’s that simple.

  9. AsleepWhileWalking 9

    A note on accessability – NZ is a party to the United Nations Resolution for the Rights of Disabled Persons. One of the points the treaty agreed upon is accessability, specifically for things such as public transport.

    For those who aren’t disabled you likely have no idea of just how little regard is given to those less mobile in particular, and how disabled needing modifications (eg to vehicles) have to fight over scraps of funding just so they can have basic independence.

  10. dewithiel 10

    The marginalisation of pedestrians is the consequence of a long-running and insidious campaign – dating from the 1920s – by car manufacturers and driver associations such as the AA aimed at ensuring that motor vehicles have priority on the roads. It was embraced enthusiastically by Auckland traffic engineers and their political masters who, from the 1950s onwards, have designed the city’s roads with one overriding principle: move more vehicular traffic faster. The initial step taken here was to abolish the tram system; this was followed by the construction of kilometres of motorway and arterial roads – a process which continues to receive the overwhelming bulk of transport funding. Sadly, 100s of people die on our roads every year, many of them pedestrians hit by motor vehicles but we don’t seem to care all that much and the police have become adept at ensuring that pedestrian behaviour is highlighted as being primarily culpable in these incidents. Yet when one wheelchair user is tragically hit by a train, ultimately because traffic engineers haven’t considered it a priority to grade separate our rail and road networks, the press goes into overdrive. The victim of this tragedy has all my sympathy; and the heroic actions of the two passer byes who sought to rescue her have all my admiration. But we should recognise that as a society we treat pedestrians as second class citizens; moreover, we should challenge the actions of the engineers and politicians whose venality and complacency has led to this awful outcome.

    • Ennui in Requiem 10.1

      There’s some common sense dewithiel. I have for a long time ridden my cycle on the footpath on the basis that my bike and cars / buses / trucks are incompatible in the same vicinity. The occasional cop and rare pedestrian raise some ire at this, to the cops I usually suggest they do their job, slow the traffic and make it safe for me. On the road I don’t feel as much a second class citizen as an endangered species.

      Fortunately cars have now become the endangered species….peak oil and all that: might use a few cars and vans to grow tomatoes in as there owners abandon them.

  11. BD 11

    The main problem is that we have a government who has commited to spending billions of dollars on building shinny brand new motorways around NZ, and leaving virtually no money left for safety upgrades to foot paths and level crossings for pedestrians around Auckland were more than 2/3 of the population live. Even when some pedestrians crossings do get upgraded they are done in a half-baked way and don’t take into account for disabled people.

    Even the bus network around Auckland is a shambles. The trains are improving but more needs to be done about the level crossings and making station access easier and safer for both pedestrians and disabilitiy people.

  12. dewithiel 12

    In the three years 2012-2015, the current administration will spend an obscene 97% of new transport infrastructure funding on roads and a mere 3% on public transport. See: http://transportblog.co.nz/2013/02/26/why-arent-we-getting-what-we-want/

  13. pmofnz 13

    Always remember, if a certain Mr Cullen had not wasted all that taxpayer wedge on a toy train set, there would not be any level crossing problems today.

  14. tracey 14

    Agree with bd. Why would kiwirail, whose boss is the govt, upgrade for the disabled when they are proposing loosening disabled access to buildings in the chchch rebuild?

  15. tracey 15

    Pmofnz is that because no passenger trains wld be running?

  16. xtasy 16

    Thanks for your post and raising this, which for once even mainstream media raised justifiably.

    I know that crossing well and have crossed it many times there in Morningside.

    While I am not wheelchair bound, I can fully understand what any person in a wheelchair, same as a prem pushing parent or even a cyclist would encounter and face.

    That is just one more case, where I do, and I know it does offend some, consider NZ in some ways to be backward and needing to improve a lot.

    Rail crossings here are an invitation for disasters, and this one is just one of many, in Auckland and other places across NZ.

    It maybe suited to drive cattle across it, with low risk, but to allow for civilised, vulnerable and modest transport option using pedestrians, many of such crossings are a hazard.

    I never saw anything like it in Europe, where much more emphasis is on safety and security. Such wide gaps beside rails, such poor controls and such appalling standards in general are disgusting. It is overdue that something is done, and Kiwirail, same as Auckland Council have responsibilities here.

    What the hell would it cost to pour a bit of bitumen or concrete in there to narrow the gaps? It cannot cost a fortune, for sure. It should also not impact on traffic. There should be better signals too, and it is overdue that things get done and improved.

    Sadly, I feel, this is showing how poorly NZ is on supporting and protecting disabled persons in general, that is of physical and mental disabilities. We have before Parliament a Social Security (Benefit Categories and Work Focus) Amendment Bill that will hammer many beneficiaries by placing “work obligations” or “expectations” on them.

    Where is the bloody support and decent respect that sick and disabled deserve here, I ask. NZ signed the UN convention on the rights for disabled, but this government is SHITTING on that obligation. It stinks and makes me extremely angry, to just see and hear what is going on in NZ daily. Sadly the public are largely not aware of what goes on, because a useless media is not paying attention.

    I am ANGRY!

  17. Afewknowthetruth 17

    Cyclists, pedestrians, scooter riders etc. use little or no fuels = bad for the profits of the oil companies that run NZ for the benefit of oil companies.

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