Students push for change

View Larger Map This streetview shows the pedestrian crossing used by many Oakura students. The new speed limit zone begins further out along the highway.

September 16 2014. Students campaigned for lower speed limits, as their Taranaki school grew community ownership of safe travel.

With their own lives potentially at stake when crossing a highway twice a day, Oakura School students wrote to the government requesting lower speed limits.

This coastal town south of New Plymouth is bisected by State Highway 45. Most families live on the opposite side to the school, and while there is a pedestrian crossing, students were concerned that drivers did not slow down as they entered town.

"Cars are increasing their speed to get up a hill even though they should be slowing down…one third of the students attending Oakura school walk along this road and have to cross it to get to school—increasing the potential for accidents or even death," wrote senior students Rachel and Emily in their class blog during 2013.

The students enlisted help from New Plymouth District Council. The council works with the school to increase participation in safe active travel, as part of the Let’s Go model community initiative funded by the NZ Transport Agency.

Council engineers set traffic counters to get data on vehicle speeds (many were recorded over the limit as they entered the town), and students used this data when writing letters to the Transport Agency.

From this experience, students learned how to contribute as citizens towards improving the road system, a public asset with a tangible link to their own well-being.

"The thing that I enjoyed most about the process of researching, planning and writing to the NZ Transport Agency is that by doing this it might, and probably will, save someone’s life," wrote a student, Kate.

The students also experienced success. The government gazetted a speed limit change in February this year.

District council travel planners celebrated the achievement in a newsletter to schools:

"Congratulations to Oakura School students, who successfully campaigned to the NZ Transport Agency and secured a change to the speed limit. Through their work they have pushed the 50km limit on SH45 out beyond Wairau Road, making it safer for all the kids who walk, cycle and scoot that route! It’s great to see it in action."

Principal Lynne Hepworth says the Let’s Go programme has had a long-lasting and positive effect on how students view travelling to and from school.

"The students have also learnt that by taking a positive and proactive approach they can have an input into the safety of their local community."

Securing staff and parental support

The council notes that travel planning requires champions within the school to keep momentum for change throughout the process. So Oakura School nominated one teacher to take a lead on the travel plan, with support from the principal.

As a result both school and council had clear go-to people to work through a travel plan. Resulting activities increased the numbers of students walking, cycling or busing to school from 48 to 83 per cent after one year.

Along the way, parents have seen tangible support for their children:

  • School, council and police all talking the same talk about safe school travel

  • Cycle safety training for children

  • Pocket maps of “safe and exciting routes” to school

  • An upgrade to a rough track to create an additional route for walking and cycling.

Parents responded with an increased willingness to help. Lead teacher Judy Zieltjes says in the past, staff members were unable to find enough parents to monitor the highway pedestrian crossing.

"Since the instigation of the Let’s Go programme, we have been able to successfully run a parent roster for the main road crossing and many of these parents have found the experience to be really rewarding, and feel they are helping the school community in a very positive way."

An economic analysis by transport consultants estimates that over 10 years the Oakura School travel plan may bring the community benefits (including better health) worth nearly 8 times the cost of the project.