My last post compared a roundabout in the Netherlands to a similar roundabout in Auckland. I noted how relatively simple design choices in the Netherlands seemed to have a relatively large impact (in my opinion) on pedestrian amenity, with minimal impacts on drivers. In the Netherlands, deliberate geometric decisions, such as narrower lanes and shorten turning radii, were used to reduce vehicles speeds and improve safety/amenity.
Astounded is the only word I can use to describe the level of interest and emotion stirred up by this post. It was intended as a puff piece, a bit of a carb-loaded filler, rather than the main transport course. But chow down people did, and in the process they threw up some insightful/colourful discussion. This lead me to some of the other examples of interesting Dutch intersections, like the “square-a-bout” shown below.
Here we have an intersection of 7 roads, where the two major traffic streams are off-set (bottom right and top left). There’s a lot going here but from what I can tell a full range of vehicle, pedestrian, and cycle movements are catered for nonetheless. There’s even a diagonal pedestrian crossing across the centre island (which has been turned into a park), a bus/tram lane running around the centre lane, and on-street parking provided on two sides – where the latter are accessed from the circulating lane. While I’m sure this is a chaotic, untidy intersection sometimes – it seems to provide a lot in what is a very constrained space.
Note that the squareabout is about 70m by 70m. To put this achievement in context, this is the same areas as Auckland’s favourite roundabout … Panmure!
Now before all the traffic engineers start hitting me with their hard hats, let me first acknowledge the following caveats:
- I’m not suggesting we turn Panmure into a squareabout.
- I’m aware that the Panmure roundabout probably handles more vehicle traffic than the “squareabout”.
- I agree that vehicles are the dominant mode at Panmure and should have priority.
Notwithstanding these caveats there are some lessons to draw from these comparisons of complex intersections in the Netherlands and New Zealand. The first is that in Auckland when things get complex our solution is to downgrade the needs of pedestrians to that of the dung beetle, i.e. you’re free to do what you want (even roll in kaka) but make sure you keep out of the way.
The squareabout is, I think, a useful example of how transport planners in the Netherlands approach complex urban environments; they’re not willing to sacrifice non-motorised modes at the altar of convenience. Indeed, when confronted with complex urban environments, transport planners in the Netherlands appear to get out their ultimate weapon: Techniques that are deliberately designed to slow vehicles down. If time is what’s needed to make a complex intersection safer then BY GOD that’s what will happen. It’s the same sort of thinking that underpins Auckland’s shared streets, although writ large across a wider area (and to varying degrees of pedestrian priority).
Many people interpreted my last post as a criticism of Auckland, when I intended it as an observation of how we could look at and learn from what’s done overseas . Some of these same people might now claim that the Panmure roundabout is a poor example, because it was built so long ago; the “bad old days” of traffic engineering practices have been done away with – all we need to do is sit back, calm down, and give engineers loads of money so that they can put everything right. And then I jumped on Google Earth and took a look at this bad boy …
Behold progress! In the immortal words of mortal kombat, “FATALITY!” For pedestrians at least. A tad melodramatic? Guilty as charged sir. Too negative? Innocent until I see something positive, sir. Albany is shaping up to be, well, shapeless as far as I can tell. Not a good recent project for Auckland to have on its CV …
Now, I will acknowledge that Albany’s not all bad. It has a nice tussock-ringed bus station and a pleasant view to the forested ridgeline to the north. Civic Crescent is coming along well, with some nice bus shelters and pedestrian facilities creating a sense of place. Ooo la la. But one has to ask: Which engineering company designed the “earbud” roundabout approaching the south side of the mall? I’m only half joking when I suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for them to hang up their slide rules. Or export themselves.
Their efforts are not completely wasted; this will be very useful in my presentations to clients of “what not to do.” Hmmm … I wonder if that counts as finishing on a positive note?