Both these deaths are being investigated but what we can say with certainty is that one of the easiest ways to immediately bring down the high rate of deaths and serious injuries on our roads is to set lower speed limits.
Road crash statistics show that the risk of death to a pedestrian struck by a car travelling at 50 km/h is 80%. This risk reduces to 32% at 40 km/h and 10% at 30 km/h.
A growing awareness of the safety benefits of lower speeds is seeing major cities including Paris and London introduce 30 km/h speed limits. The NSW government is pushing for 40 km/h limits in high pedestrian zones and trials of 30 km/h zones are currently running in Manly and Liverpool.
These moves are in line with a 2020 UN General Assembly resolution to make 30 km/h speed limits the norm for cities worldwide in places where people mix with traffic.
Sadly however, then Federal Transport Minister Michael McCormack pushed back, calling it “nanny state stuff”. The resolution also seeks to integrate road safety with UN Sustainable Development Goals, including climate action, speeding up the “shift toward cleaner, safer and more affordable modes of transport, incorporating higher levels of physical activity such as walking, cycling and using public transport”.
The specific case of Valentina Gioia in Leichhardt is made even sadder when it turns out that exactly 4 years prior to the day of her death, the Inner West Council passed a motion from Councillor Marghanita Da Cruz to reduce the speed limit on Marion St and introduce associated pedestrian safety measures. The reduced speed limit was later refused by Transport for NSW.
Today, visitors to Leichhardt will notice that while there are raised ‘wombat’ pedestrian crossings on Norton St and a 40 km/h limit, there is a 50 km/h limit on Marion St directly in front of MarketPlace where Gioia lost her life.
The 2017 Da Cruz motion makes mention of concerns from locals of ‘road rage’, narrow misses, cars screeching to a halt and animal fatalities in front of MarketPlace.
Discussing speed limits, Da Cruz said: “Good road design uses structural elements that reduce speeds to improve pedestrian safety. We must also keep in mind that NSW has over 10,000 serious or permanent road injuries a year requiring hospitalisation.”
The whole Australian road toll currently sits at about 1200 fatalities per year. This level is a choice made by decision-makers based on a calculation of the statistical value of human life traded off against the value of time travel savings. It’s not a level set in stone or a ‘fact of life’. Through a variety of measures Oslo, Norway managed to get its death toll down to just one person in 2019.
Popular opinion is on the side of lower speed limits. A recent national survey conducted by the Heart Foundation found that 64% of Australians want lower speed limits on local streets. Organisations such as WalkSydney and 30please are growing in numbers and influence.
The senseless slaughter will continue however without asking big questions: what sort of city do we want to live in? Do we want Sydney to be a city for people, or for cars?
Andrew Chuter is the president of the Friends of Erskineville