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Grids Gone Wild, Episode 1

Continuing on from my recent post on our troublesome speed limits, I wanted to further document some of the other problems I see on local streets. I have a particular fondness for our streetcar neighbourhoods with their old homes and regular gridded street network. In an earlier post I calculated the advantages of the streetcar grid to typical suburban development patterns. The reticulated grid forms a highly efficient transportation structure as well as a convenient method for land development. In addition to being highly walkable, streetcar suburbs provide advantages to present-day traffic by dispersing vehicles in a variety of directions unlike sprawly street patterns which tend to focus traffic at increasingly congested nodes.

But here’s where the value of the grid system breaks down in Auckland. It’s not the fact that cars can traverse these neighbourhoods, which is good and creates a resilient network,  it’s that the street designs and road rules allow people to drive with impunity. It’s as if these streets are designed to serve an elevated network function when in fact they are foremost residential neighbourhoods.

Besides the crazy speed limits, most streetcar suburbs have little if any traffic control. In fact, more important than the speed limit is actually bringing cars to a full stop with regularity. This obviously slows cars but most significantly discourages through (rat race) traffic in the first place. Increasingly, I have witnessed the insertion of speed tables as a method of traffic calming. These are okay, but most drivers have an uncanny ability to slow and then speed up in perfect rhythm to avoid slowing down too much. Also, the speed tables seem incredibly expensive to achieve something that other cities can do with a lick of paint.

I see the best solution to fixing the suburbs for increased walkability and even cycling is to insert North American style crosswalks and stop signs. Of course this raises questions about pedestrian priority in NZ and the basic roadway designs that we have adopted from Canberra. As an example see the image from Vancouver below. It is a gridded neighbourhood about 6km from downtown Vancouver. Note the density and diversity of traffic control devices. The small red stripes represent stop signs and a simple stripe. Because of the road rules giving pedestrian priority and the fact that that the stripes are pulled back from the intersection, these work effectively as crosswalks, giving people on foot prominence and more comfort. Note also the partial street closures. Unlike cul de sacs, these retain the traditional network connectivity of the streetcar grid by accommodating people on foot and bike, but stop unnecessary through traffic. Not noted on the map is a “Bicycle Boulevard” that cuts through this neighbourhood with its associated sharrows, signage and other features.

Traffic control in streetcar suburb of Vancouver

Below is the same scale area in the Auckland neighbourhood where I live. The blue stripes represent giveways which have limited pedestrian value, especially since they are placed beyond the pedestrian desire lines, and since there is no pedestrian priority status in this country. The few stop signs also have limited function for people walking because of their placement and the status of pedestrians. Compare the density of traffic control devices. Sure the blocks are much longer, but  that should only emphasise the practicality of putting crosswalks on every corner.

Lack of control in streetcar suburb of Auckland

Because it seems pretty unsafe, I walk my kids to school here. Of course many parents drive, creating an absurd self-reinforcing cycle of car dependency in a neighbourhood originally designed for people.

40 comments to Grids Gone Wild, Episode 1

  • Brendan

    I really liked the 4-way stops that I used in California & Canada. As a pedestrian, you have right of way at a 4 way stop, it also kept the traffic speed nice and low.

    In California, they had really wide roads, but 4 way stops help keep the traffic speed down.

    • obi

      I was in San Jose for the Loma Prieta quake in 1989. There are over 7 million people in the Bay Area and every single one was on the move at the same time as people headed home to check the damage and make sure their family was okay. The traffic lights were ALL out. That should have been a recipe for gridlock. But people just naturally treated all the intersections as 4 ways, with opposing directions taking the right of way in an alternating fashion. It was the perfect way to handle the situation, I was surprised that people sort of figured that out naturally, and no-one seemed to try and sneak an advantage.

    • Peter M

      You’re right obi that often once we start ignoring the road rules things actually operate smoother. That’s the mentality behind shared spaces – now if only we could get the engineers to realise this!

      • obi

        I think NZers have a bit of a compliance mentality… That it is up to amateurs to enforce the law whether that means tooting their horn at someone jaywalking, or sitting on 100 in the passing lane of a motorway in order to stop “speeders” getting past. I think I’m more inclined towards a system where people are expected to behave reasonably and only penalised if they’ve caused actual harm. And shared spaces are probably a good example of that… let people interact with each other using good manners and mutual respect as a guide.

        • Gian

          10000% agree. I’ve been thinking about this and you finally wrote what I couldn’t exactly figure out from my immigrant point of view. thanks. (I’m a proud speeder and jaywalker)

          • obi

            Italy is a country with a lot of rules and laws, but people pretty much ignore all of them. The joyful anarchy seems to work and (in my experience as a visitor) people seem to treat each other decently. I wish NZers were a bit more like that.

  • bbc

    Every day I walk around Auckland I wonder how it is that NZ is so scared of providing pedestrian crossings anywhere – after living in the US the supposed auto-capital of the world I still find it is immeasurably worse in Auckland. The US had crossings at almost all intersections, even that was poor compared to places like Germany which have zebra crossings at regular intervals down almost every road. In Auckland we seem to be slowly removing zebra crossings in favour of pedestrian ‘refuges’ where you have to madly dash between cars barreling down on you.

    • bbc

      I visited the slowly upgraded Penrose station and noticed once again that at a supposed people-centric development i.e. people will be getting off the trains and buses not cars, there were still newly built roads with no pedestrian options to cross, let alone any cycle lanes…..

      • Bryce P

        The local sports park has 2 carparks where there are no pedestrian paths to the grounds other than to walk through the actual car park. Anyone would think the park was built for automobile use. Just to rub salt into the wound they are now going to build a walkway around the park and, yip, no changes to the car parks.

    • Kent Lundberg

      “Refuges” are in a future episode. Unfortunately, I will have to serialize this rant.

    • Its also worth noting that those ‘refuges’ are not good for cyclists as they push vehicles back in to the curb. Of course drivers don’t slow to allow the cyclist any right of way so they cause a shrinking of road space for bikers. Pedestrian refuges are a curious idea born of the holy grail of mode separation, where slowing and calming would be a much better outcome for all road users.

      • Kent Lundberg

        Indeed. They also require the corner radius to be much bigger (increasing ped crossing distance), since every intersection seems to be designed to carry a truck with a wind turbine on it. Traditionally infrequent, oversized vehicles simply encroach into the oncoming lane. The refuge prohibits this. It’s one of those standard practices that engineers insert routinely with good intention.

      • Bryce P

        Narrow the roads and build off road cyclepaths or at least narrow the road and make it 30 km/h. Narrow roads and no centre line = slower traffic and roads that are easier to cross. Simple, surely?

      • Newnewt

        Flush medians are similarly bad for cyclists, as they also push vehicles closer to the kerbs. Tamaki Drive is a prime example of this.

  • Chad

    Does the roads in the area you show that you live in have speed bumps by any chance?

    I should e-mail you the area I live in…. talk about a road planners nightmare…

    • Kent Lundberg

      Yes, they do. They have been added recently in a few places (of course where you would never walk). Some of them have sort of crosswalks on top of them. So the kids have to battle wits with the drivers who stop and those who dont. It’s a nightmare.

    • Kent Lundberg

      Would love to see it. Contact email is above.

  • Bob

    Its the roundabouts that put cyclists and pedestrian lives in danger. In Te Atatu they have 4 schools in close proximity to the roundabout from hell where the kids walk/bike home separated by cms from trucks, buses, frustrated drivers. They should have fixed his area up years ago.

    • Bryce P

      It’s not the roundabout per se’ but the lack of cycle infrastructure. After all the Netherlands has, what must be, thousands of roundabouts.

  • lucyjh

    anybody thought about asking an MP or even better a Minister to introduce bill to change give way rules? wd get the debate started even if it didn’t pass…

    • Kent Lundberg

      Walk Auckland has been working on this. I believe they met with the Assistant to the Minister of Transport recently. I’ll see if I can get a better idea of the status and report back.

  • sting

    excellent post again Kent.

    one of the most striking things from the two images is the size of the blocks. Whilst our older streetcar suburbs are indeed our better suburbs, the size of the residential blocks (and therefore (lack of) frequency of streets) is astounding. In the two images shown, there are only 7 east-west streets in Auckland, compared to 10 in Vancouver, if you exclude the “back lanes”, or 19 if you included them. There is a similar difference in north south streets.

    So these parts of Auckland are immediately significantly less connected and therefore less walkable.
    I live not too far from this image, and some of my childrens’ friends live less than 300m away as the crow flies, but because of the lack of connections, require a walk of over 900m. this immediatley transforms what should be a simple walk into a possible car journey, especially due to the speed of the roads and lack of crossings. this includes the ridiculously wide Lambeth Road – a simple residential street yet a staggering 11m wide, with no crossing facilities, and no message to drivers to drive at a reasonable speed – a pedestrian nightmare…see link below

    http://maps.google.co.nz/?ll=-36.894305,174.739658&spn=0.000002,0.002064&t=h&z=20&layer=c&cbll=-36.894352,174.739752&panoid=TdMes26yLr_ZCL85NDrNxA&cbp=12,302.8,,0,9.36

    • Bryce P

      Wow. There is enough room on that road to narrow it down, build parking bays and put cycle lanes on both sides of the road. It’ll never happen I know :-)

      • Newnewt

        Lambeth Road is part of the 50km marked cycle route set up by the former Auckland City Council in the 90s. It’s quite good for cycling, at the weekends at least.

  • Roy

    Chico, CA, US, is currently in the middle of building and improving its downtown area with “bump-outs” (larger rounded corners) and cross walks at almost every corner, at least in and near downtown. The city has even added a few roundabouts, which are new to this community and it’s drivers. Most drivers seem to be adjusting to getting around them and the rules involved, etc. (These are really very new to this area, and would be to many US cities and towns). Walking around here has gotten much easier. Thanks Kent

  • Stu

    With reference to Stop signs, Auckland drivers treat those as optional anyway, barely even getting to the point of giving way. If we add more, I think that would just make that worse. Right outside our door is a crossroads with stop signs. Daily we hear the beep of car horns as someone hasn’t actually come to a complete stop, and monthly there is an accident at the intersection for exactly the same reason. You see it everywhere in Auckland, any time you should be stopping (stop sign, orange light) drivers treat those as a recommendation…

  • LucyJH

    As well as talking to the Minister, you might find an opposition or (even better, from your perspective) National MP who would pick this up and make it into a Members Bill. Particularly if you helped them a bit with the wording…

    This particular law change would probably cost quite a bit (mainly for the advertising campaign so that people knew about the change but perhaps also some intersections would have to be redesigned?) so I doubt the govt will pass it in this term. But worth a crack. You could try and do an economic justification in terms of numbers of accidents prevented and/or lives saved.

    Even if the bill goes into the ballot and is never pulled or gets pulled and then is voted down, it can be a way to get politicians and the public thinking about these things so that in the future the bill may pass.

    councils themselves can also introduce bills to parliament – as in the Manukau City Council bill that sought to outlaw prostitution in parts of the city. While obviously the council could only ask for changes in the area they govern (Auckland) this might galvanise the govt into changing the law for the whole country. More info here on different types of bills:

    http://www.parliament.nz/en-NZ/AboutParl/HowPWorks/FactSheets/6/1/5/00HOOOCPubResAboutFactSheetsProcess1-Parliament-Brief-The-legislative.htm#_Toc143945578

  • Gian

    am I the only one who saw a report yesterday night in tv3 about the proposed new fuel tax to fund the RONS? I was expecting to see something here about it

  • Geoff Houtman

    What is the problem with roundabouts and cyclists?

    Every time I suggest a roundabout I get jumped on by cyclists saying they’re dangerous!

    How?

    • Bryce P

      They’re only a problem because in NZ we do not design them with cyclists and pedestrians in mind – just cars. The Dutch, and elsewhere, seem to manage quite nicely.

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