Digging through the details of how Auckland Council operates is quite a challenging task: what is the responsibility of the council, what is the responsibility of any of the CCOs and how on earth do these “local boards” fit into the whole thing? In the debates and discussion over the formation of Auckland Council, it was probably the issue of the local boards that got more attention than anything else – how much power would they have? Would they be similar to a community board? Would they be more like a small council, but without some planning and transport functions? Would they have the opportunity to levy targeted rates? Would they have dedicated staff?
It’s probably fair to say that many of these issues remain somewhat unresolved. It would seem to me that the local boards still feel as though they should have more powers and responsibilities, but at the same time they’ve been surprised with the willingness of the Council and the CCOs to listen to what they have to say. So it seems as though what the role of the local board has become is something of a mixture: they have direct responsibility and the opportunity to fund a few things, but for many of the larger issues their main role will be through advocacy and being the ‘link’ between the community and whatever agency (be it the council or a CCO) actually carries out the issue raised.
An important part of this process appears to be the creation of Local Board Plans. Each plan sets out the priorities and wishes the local board has for what happens in their area over the next three years. There are 21 different draft plans and they’re all currently open for submissions until August 8th. It is important to note that the ability of the local boards to ‘see through’ the wishes they have for their area are limited – because they aren’t the funding agency in many cases – but the plans do have statutory weight and will be really important for influencing things like the Auckland Spatial Plan, the 10 year Long Term funding plan and the next Unitary Plan.
For me, the most interesting draft Local Board Plan is the one created by the Waitemata Local Board – because that is where I both live and work. The board is a pretty exciting bunch of people, particularly in terms of their transport vision which appears pretty consistent with what I talk about on this blog. So there are some really great ideas – and also some really useful “little things” that the board’s plan proposes in relation to transport. One thing I am particularly impressed by is the local board’s determination to get involved with little details of how streets are designed – to ensure that they work for all users, and not just for drivers. It is often little improvements that can make a big difference. Here’s what the plan says on this matter:
We support innovative approaches to reduce traffic congestion and enable walking and cycling. This includes public bike-hire schemes, car sharing and developing travel plans for businesses. Where streets have a number of traffic issues, we would like to see whole-road solutions that provide for a quality street design. Two examples of this are Richmond Road in Grey Lynn and Parnell Rise in Parnell. We will work with Auckland Transport to complete feasibility studies of the roads and implement their findings.
Board member Christopher Dempsey highlighted the stupidity of Parnell Rise’s design a few months back in a report he put together. It will be interesting to see what comes of that. The plan also says some exciting stuff about walking and cycling – including mention of pedestrianising Queen Street on Sundays (I wonder where that idea came from?):
Cycleways and walkways for commuting, everyday trips, and leisure are important to our communities. We want to provide more opportunities for our people to undertake these healthy and environmentally-friendly activities that help to reduce traffic congestion. Simple actions we want undertaken are increasing bike parking in our local shopping areas and the installation of advance stop boxes (where bikes can safely stop at intersections) with feeder lanes.
Cycling in the area must be made safer. We want cycleways and walkways designed with eight and eighty year olds in mind, to make them safe, accessible and enjoyable for everyone. We want dedicated connected cycleways and quality road design that rebalances the priority of road users to all modes of travel (including cyclists, pedestrians, skaters and mobility scooter users). We support simple and effective ways to make cycling safer and easier. For example, we would like to see a designation of two-way cycling on existing one-way streets. We will also work for better connection between existing routes, including extending the northwestern cycleway into the city centre. We support a walkway and cycleway over the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
We support the expansion of shared spaces (such as Darby Street) for vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians in the city centre. We would also like to see trial closures of streets for walking and cycling, such as making Queen Street a car-free pedestrian boulevard on Sundays.
I hope that the push to making cycling safer extends to the importance of making cycling feel safer, through the provision of really high quality cycling infrastructure – rather than the half-hearted “paint on a street” that seems to make up the majority of cycle lanes in Auckland at the moment. The plan also notes a couple more road safety/amenity issues that I’ve pushed hard for in the past: two-waying Hobson and Nelson streets and lowering the speed limits on neighbourhood streets:
Improving pedestrian and cycling safety is a priority, with slower traffic on residential streets, upgraded footpaths and pedestrian-oriented street design. We will strive to increase the number of low speed zones around our area, and improve street design, such as making Hobson and Nelson streets two-way. We will work alongside schools to provide a safe environment for children to walk and cycle to school. We would like to see an audit of intersections in our area to make them safer, and easier to negotiate by pedestrians.
Let’s hope the audit of intersections includes the complete lack of a pedestrian crossing of Kitchener Street next to the Victoria Street carpark.
Unsurprisingly, it says the right things about improving public transport:
Public transport must be easy to access, comfortable, affordable and run on time. To achieve this, we want integrated and synchronised public transport so people can move easily and quickly between different buses, trains and ferries. Public transport must be accessible to all. It must be easy to use by people with pushchairs, mobility scooters and bikes. It also must be priced to be attractive and accessible. In respect to the provision of buses, one size does not fit all. We promote a mixed size, environmentally-friendly bus fleet. We support the increased use of bus lanes to improve the efficiency of buses.
We support greater use of trams and trains in our area. The city centre Rail Link is essential to achieving an integrated transport network. We wish to see a tram from Britomart to the Wynyard Quarter and beyond and support a heritage railway station in Parnell.
Probably the one thing I would add to the list of PT priorities is how essential it is to find a more efficient way to manage buses in the city centre. At the moment they really clog up the streets at peak times – partly due to a lack of bus lanes but also due to the way the routes are structured in the city centre and the fact that just about every route begins and ends here, rather than passing through. This leads to a huge number of buses in the afternoon just ‘waiting around’ polluting the city before they even start their run. With the number of buses in the city inevitably due to increase significantly over the next 10-20 years (especially if the City Rail Link is delayed due to a lack of government support) it will be utterly essential to handle these buses efficiently.
The plan also says good things about parking policy – highlighting the fact that dedicating so much land and space to parking can really blight the city. But perhaps the best thing the plan says is actually hidden away further towards the end of it:
We will take opportunities to improve and develop new public spaces, including improving access from Station Square to Broadway in Newmarket.
And they’ve got funding for this too. At long last there will actually be a visible connection between our second busiest train station and one of the city’s main shopping streets. It’s completely bizarre that it’s taken this long, but at least it is happening.
Overall, it is a really good plan. I’ve taken a bit of a look through many of the other plans and generally they seem quite good too – with the main exception being the Orakei Local Board Plan: because they’re still obsessed with getting rid of the Remuera Road bus lanes.