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Stupid urban planning

As a planner by profession, I can quite honestly say that more often than not we do urban planning in Auckland utterly terribly. We focus enormously on silly details: recession planes, consistency with minutely detailed assessment criteria, road-widths, numbers of parking spaces per unit, number of units coming off driveways and so forth – but we miss the really obvious stuff. Like the following:

  • Will it actually be feasible to operate a bus service through this area?
  • Can people walk to the local shops?
  • How can we create vibrant and interesting neighbourhoods?

One particularly important part of urban planning that tends to get completely overlooked – or tossed over to the road engineers, is the fundamental question of “where will the streets go?” As I noted in Friday’s blog post, street patterns have an enormous ability to influence the viability of public transport – with a grid of arterial routes (like Vancouver has) making life far far easier when it comes to serving an area with a decent bus network.

One thing that’s extremely depressing is to see how some of the most recent parts of Auckland are actually the most utterly hopeless at providing a decent street network. In fact, there are areas of the city built in the past few years that are actually nigh on impossible to serve with any form or public transport at all.

An extreme example of planning stupidity is down Schnapper Rock Road near Albany. There are probably hundreds of houses down this road and the various streets that come off it – all developed within the past few years. Potentially well over a thousand people might live down this road – but look at how massively disconnected from the rest of the city they are: By my analysis of the aerial photographs, and a couple of visits to the area, there are no shops at all down Schnapper Rock Road, meaning that your options for doing anything without driving at almost non-existent. How about the public transport – well that’s an interesting route option to try and ask MAXX about: a peak time trip from Dove Place to town gives some interesting options: It takes me an hour and a half, costs me nearly $10 and requires a trip on a freaking school bus! Talk about designing for auto-dependency.

Just down the road things are arguably even worse – thanks to the failure to connect up the two ends of Kyle Road, which should have been an absolute requirement before any development took place around Upper Harbour Primary School: Quite bizarrely, some planner made the decision that William Gamble Drive shouldn’t connect with Huntington Park Drive – which means that the two residential areas located right next to each other are hugely isolated from one another. Furthermore, the one road connecting the William Gamble Drive area with the rest of the world doesn’t even have a footpath along most of its length – meaning that to get anywhere else without driving is pretty much a suicide mission. Fortunately there is a pedestrian connection between the two ends of Kyle Road, which means that it’s only a 1.5 kilometre walk from William Gamble Drive to the nearest bus stop.

Moving further south, the new developments on the Hingaia Peninsula near Papakura aren’t much better, once again having exceedingly poor connectivity to the rest of the road network: This is another place that has some rather amusing public transport options: So I get to walk for two and a half kilometres in order to have the pleasure of a 90 minute bus trip into town. Gee that sounds fantastic!

Even in more inner areas, new developments have often seemed to design their street networks with the expressed purpose of being as useless for public transport as possible – Stonefields near Mt Wellington is a classic example of this: While Stonefields has quite a nice grid, the fact that no effort was ever made to connect up the street network with its southern and western edges means that every future bus route through the area will need to be a pointless loop. While I obviously realise this is a former quarry site and there are some pretty big stone walls making the connection difficult, I am sure if a southern street connection had been a condition of allowing any development in the quarry, it would have happened.

The poor street connectivity means that the new residents of Stonefields need to take a 1.5 km trek to access a bus service: Now I hear there’s an entire “land-use transport integration team” at Auckland Transport these days. Let’s hope that their primary job is to ensure that nothing as stupid as the various recent subdivisions I’ve shown above ever happen again.

26 comments to Stupid urban planning

  • George D

    Absolutely agreed, on all points. One small note though, and that is that bus stops near the intersection of College and Stonefields Rds would reduce that 1.5km to around 800m. Still 15 minutes walk, but a lot better than half an hour.

    Ironically, if it had better bus connections the Stonefields project would be really well served after integrated ticketing, with close proximity to Glen Innes and Pamnure train stations.

    • George D

      It appears there’s still time to create connections to Lunn or the south end of Ngahue, which would greatly increase the amenity of the development, as there are a lot of food and other shops there. A supermarket opens on Lunn this week.

  • George D

    Looking at the first image, I wonder if it would be possible to connect Averley and the closest Oak Rd (and what planner ever gave them permission to name ten different roads Oak?). You’re right to note the lack of any commercial shops. This is what happens when sectional thinking which places people in picturesque neighbourhoods with the idea that they will be serviced by a quaint ‘town centre’.

    The sad thing is that you can look at most of the suburbs from south and east Auckland and see the lived results from the last 50 years. They’re certainly mixed.

  • Dan

    You’re completely right about the Hingaia Peninsula developments. I can literally see the new developments from my house in Pahurehure over the Southern Motorway, yet if I wanted to walk there, it’d probably take me 30-40 minutes, and more importantly I’d have to cross many pedestrian-unfriendly on/offramps from the Southern Motorway near Beach Rd. It’s also miles from Papakura train station, so it gives people who live there yet another reason not to use the rail network!

  • Wellington does no better. Grenada Village has no shops (the nearest dairy is in Paparangi), a bus route that stops in the southern part of it, and no pedestrian access across or under the motorway to Churton Park, in itself a silly car only development without any shops (although some are apparently being built). Then for Wellington’s northern suburbs, hills. So no one can easily bike. It could have been done better with aerial gondolas linking to the train line in the gully to up the hills and then have pedestrian routes from the top stations, but it isn’t and the bus routes where they exist are circuitous and slow.

    There should really be indices of connectedness for the street network, how easy it is to get around by public transport/ the ease of public transport provision, and how interconnected it is for being on foot and on bicycle, and if a proposed development doesn’t reach the minimum score on those indices it should not be allowed to be built.

    • Christopher Nimmo

      My ordinary pattern for commuting from Grenada Village involves a 35 minute walk to JVille train station. I notice that even on peak buses returning from Wellington there are no more than ten people going to Grenada Village. The bus does actually access the entirety of the “old” section of GV – I think there’ll be potential for a much better service when the road to Grenada North is completed. Assuming that ever happens.

  • Wow, this looks like parts of Canberra.

    The only public transport that is viable in that area is Public Helicopter!

    You need a decent road system for decent public transport- that’s true. But motorways are not it.

  • Matt L

    The good thing is that most of these shouldn’t be that hard to solve.
    The Schnapper Rock area could have a few roads connected up by buying just a couple of houses and putting a road through, another option would be to just run a small LCN route through there and across to Constellation Station where people can transfer to a NEX service.

    Kyle Rd will easily be sorted by a bridge between the two ends, I understand from someone I know who lives on that street that one is planned and developer contributions were even paid for it but the North Shore City council decided to delay it and put the funds to use on something else (which seems quite typical with a lot of councils, I think they use the excuse of waiting until the area is more developed first)

    Hingia is surely a case of a local bus along Harbour Side Dr through to Papakura Station but it might not be economical to do at this stage until more of the area is developed. Perhaps extending Harbourside Dr or Capriana Dr through to Pararekau Rd would enable a bit of a loop to be run.

    Lastly at Stonefields, a simple solution could be to extend the bus route down Stonefields Rd all the way to Tephra Blvd, around to Bluegrey Ave and out to College Rd again. Again a problem with Stonefields is most of these sites are still empty so there probably isn’t much point in doing anything at this stage.

    Of course this doesn’t mean I think everything is fine, we definitely need to get better are street design and things like how to provide PT need to be part of the planning process.

  • Patrick R

    The problem is that these places aren’t accidental, they start from a position that is determined that the private car is the best and only system for human transit. And that isolation from the arterials and motorways that then dominate the landscape is the most important feature for a successful development. It comes from the idealisation of a fearful kind of separateness (safe, secure, no strangers, similar to gated communities) weird that the proponents of this world fail to see the contradiction in it. More of these cut off worlds mean the need for more highways and motorways, that they need isolating from…. And so on….

    • James B

      I agree the biggest problem facing Auckland is that for the last 50 years we have avoided mixed use. Areas like Albany are shocking examples of this. Straight line between the university and the mega centre is about 200 metres. Unfortunately as there is no entrance along Albany Highway you are forced to over double your walking distance to go down Mercari or Coliseum. The centre is in effect a wall blocking the university from the shopping centre.

      • Chris Harris

        There was supposed to be a proper pedestrian corridor in the mid-1990s structure plan that everyone signed up to, but it was never enforced or properly designed. Not a priority I guess. The space went to car parking and an impenetrable wall of shops instead.

  • Scott M

    Hi Jarbury,

    Interesting examples, and funnily enough ones I have been looking over very recently. The strangest thing about the RMA and District Plans that have been written under this legislation, is that subdivision is seen as a technical matter and very often is treated as a non-notifiable resource consent. This is just bizzare, when as demonstrated if you get a stupid layout to start with there is no going back and the retrospective fixes are expensive.

    • tochigi

      so an integrated approach to planning is definitely not the objective. i wonder what these people (residents) will do when petrol is $5 a litre?

  • Geoff

    That split of Greenhithe is a shocker alright. I first noticed it about four years ago. There are houses there less than ten metres apart, but to drive from one to the other involves a ten kilometre drive. Hope nobody wants to borrow the neighbour’s trailer, or it’ll cost you 20km worth of time and petrol money! Would be easier to knock down the back fence, move the trailer through, then put the fence back up :-)

  • rtc

    Parts of Stonefields do look very nice from what I’ve seen and the associated park space looks fantastic – you can see with the huge cliffs around the development that access roads are somewhat limited in that respect (have a look at these great photos to see what I mean). I do think that with a feeder bus running through the area (schedule to meet every single train) to Glen Innes/Panmure and Ellerslie the area will be fairly well served by PT. A cycle lane up to LunnAve would also make the shops on that street quite accessible and easy to get to as well – and feeder buses to Glen Innes would provide good access to shopping. Overall. this is definitely one of the better subdivisions in Auckland, partly because it is well located in respect to train stations.

    http://www.skyscrapercity.com/showpost.php?p=78631968&postcount=72

  • Mark

    This is a interesting article.

    I work for one of the major developers in auckland and we continue to try and push transport links especially with the council planners but if they disagree they can hold up developments for months with peer review after peer review (which we have to pay plus with a adminstration fee by council-thats right council make money out arguing), in fact they can hold it up, until they find someone that agrees with them….and there is always someone that is prepared to say “yes council you are right”…means more work in the future……

    Frustratingly, it is often easier to agree with them, and by far, a better commerical decision….

    Some may say, that we should fight harder, but in the current enviroment it is simply not worth fighting a fight you can’t win.

    • Tim

      “…tends to get completely overlooked – or tossed over to the road engineers…”

      I agree. Where’s the leadership from AC and AT on this? Discussion document for the Spatial Plan needs lots more backing up with action in the Unitary Plan if we’re not to see lots more opportunities lost. I’m still seeing tenders from AT with all the wrong angles on significant projects like Anzac Street upgrade in Takapuna.

  • Tim

    So… surely the next question to ask is what the Auckland Spatial Plan /Unitary Plan is going to do to overcome this? Urban edge extensions are going to continue (we just don’t have the solutions for infill working yet), so what is going to be put in place to deal with this?

    I find it significant that some of the most successful city planning models that are admired widely (Cerda’s Barcelona and Manhattan) were premised on planning massive expansion (do we need to face up to this rather than staying in denial) of their cities, but around on a new highly connected grid.

    • Tim, is this a policy problem or more of a “process problem” though? Reading through District Plans it often seems like they intend to create nice well connected urban villages with mixed use areas, but something goes horribly wrong in the process.

      I am worried that the split of AC and AT will make this worse. That’s why I highlighted AT’s land use and transport integration team as the key to ensuring this crap never happens again.

  • PBY

    WOW just spotted this post. I lived in this area for 3 years. On William Gamble drive and owned a house on Schnapper Rock Road. Youve only touched on a few of the accesability issues in the greenhithe/schnapper rock area. But its really bad and car dependant. Kyle road is a roller coaster as well a very dangerous road.

    When I worked with Upper Harbour school on the transportation plan we were told by the North Shore planners that Kyle road wasnt connected beacuse they didnt want it to become a rat race and wanted people to use the new motorway that was being built at the time. As a result the car trip from lemon grove or greenbough to the school is over 5km and from Kittiwake to the school over 3km.

    To their credit there are some geographic issues around the harbour endge to deal with and they have recognised the access to the school as a problem and installed a foot path connecting greenhithe to the school and a fantastic bridge connecting schopolo place with the school. The little bridge is real hidden secret and a nice place to walk.

  • Ari

    I think the inertia of large organisations are too big an obstacle for many people to be bothered beyond their job description.

  • (Nottheother) Tim

    I live on Oakway Drive and I’ve walked, biked and run extensively around the Schnapper Rock area. While I agree that the lay out is poorly designed for public transport I imagine that the terrain would have made it simply not feasible to build the subdivision any other way. From the top of Schnapper Rock Rd the hill drops steeply away to the water so where they put roads in would have been dictated by this.

    In some respects the subdivision is quite good – large houses on small sections, no 1/4 acre blocks to be seen ;)

    I have scratched my head wondering why Kyle road terminates just after the Primary School. The only conclusion I could draw from it was that the powers that be didn’t want masses of cars using Kyle Road as their primary entrance to Greenhithe from Schnapper Rock Rd.

    • Watcher

      “I have scratched my head wondering why Kyle road terminates just after the Primary School.”
      Probably because the primary school had a say in the matter. We have the same problem up here in Warkworth – perfectly good roads that should be joined up to provide another route west of SH1 but the primary school is dead against it because they are afraid that it would encourage more traffic past the school.

  • In perhaps not a coincidence the locality of Schnapper Rock comes in at Number 5 in terms of biggest average house size in the country at a mean 259m2. Probably room for a 4 car garage in that sort of footprint…

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