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More Lessons From Bilbao

On my recent trip to the cities of northern Spain it was hard not to notice how thoughtfully every corridor was designed for all users as outline in this previous post. Of course this is completely unremarkable to the locals, it’s just obvious to them that:

1. The public realm must be built to accommodate all users, and

2. That safety for all is the first priority.

Well here’s another example from what I consider to be one of the most civilised urban places on earth, this is the Eskalduna Zubia, a bridge [Zubia] charged with the quotidian business of carrying a whole lot of traffic over the River Nervión that divides the city, shot on that same autumnal afternoon:

BILBAO BRIDGE_7227

Nothing much to see here; just like a typical four lane arterial in NZ, even a bit of a flush median, that use of roadspace that clearly obsesses Auckland Transport with its universal value. It’s not till you see what’s concealed by the dramatic steel structure on the right of frame that my interest in this Zubia starts to make sense:

BILBAO BRIDGE_7220

Securely separated from the traffic on the same bridge and even protected from the weather! No need to build a barrier between the cyclists and the pedestrians as there is so much width that contact is always easily avoided. The cantilevered roof makes for a completely structureless open side directing the walkers’ attention upstream away from the traffic [for those not staring at their phones]. As everywhere in Bilbao, cycling is not considered a dangerous activity so no one is forced to wear extreme safety equipment as if they are steeplejacks.

Here is an equivalent four lane bridge in inner Auckland, like the Eskalduna Zubia it is between two busy pedestrian and cycling generators; in this case the inner city Universities and the Domain/Parnell/hospital:

WELLESLEY ST_01

I’ve had to use Google maps for the image because it is illegal as well as impossible for anyone not in a moving motorised vehicle to go here. And from above:

WELLESLEY ST_02

There is nothing in this picture except total misery. It’s even laughably hopeless for the only mode its built for. Every time I have driven through here I marvel at its counterintuitive over-complication and the near uselessness it offers for all vehicle movements except the most simple motorway exiting. And of course it is pretty much murderous for anyone on foot or cycling; this glorious intervention in the name of movement efficiency turned a sylvan inner city glade into, at best, an insurmountable barrier and total aesthetic horror. People stay away even from the parts they are ‘allowed’ to be on. Like the once leafy and lovely Grafton Road. The slip lanes at every turn of every intersection make negotiating what footpaths there are there deadly and extremely frustrating to use.

Grafton Rd from Symonds St

Grafton Rd from Symonds St

I have discussed the waste and hopelessness that is the road engineering in Grafton Gully with many of those involved in its creation and they all cheerfully explain how dysfunctional the process was with Transit and Auckland City Council squabbling over who should pay for any amenity beyond these basic and clumsy roads and neither giving in. Transit arguing it is only responsible for  the cheapest way to move traffic and all else is someone else’s problem, and ACC arguing that as it is Transit’s works that are causing the problem they should include the fixes in the cost. I guess we can see who won that argument. NZTA [who inherited this mess but are of the institution that made it] are still happily wasting all this inner city real estate: It is neither being efficiently exploited nor have they returned it to the haven of solitude and clear air it once was for all Aucklanders. And of course it remains part of the fearsome rampart that is the ring of motorway Severance that hacks inner Auckland to shreds.

AK CBD

Here is the one piece of walking and cycling amenity on this whole section of upper Wellesley St:

WELLESLEY ST_1659

Yup that’s right, it’s a sign telling you that you can’t walk to that big park right in front of you without going, counterintuitively again, in some completely other direction for some considerably much longer time. I have had to help explain this to baffled european tourists staring at their smart phones showing a nice big park and the Museum right there…. ha, welcome to clean, green, oh wait…..

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s

This is how it was sold to us by the first iteration of place-wreckers-by-motorway, it reads:

The Grafton Gully and nearby areas will be the focal point of of a network which will be among the most important in the Auckland Master Transport Plan. The original Grafton Bridge was merely built to span a bush clad gully. Among other things there will be a twin tunnel, nine chains long, with the rest “cut and cover” passes.

Well wouldn’t that have been good? Tunnelling instead of severing. It is a tragedy that not even short sections of these routes aren’t underground. It is time not only for NZTA to complete the range of movement modes across this route but also to make good on the promise to bury their horror as much as is possible so Auckland can get at least a small amount of functionality of this place back.

Let’s see what they do in Bilbao? Do they have motorways there?

Bilbao expressways in tunnels

Sure they do, and guess what?, a great deal of them are underground, especially under green space, in order to maintain surface continuity and and reduce severance.

The age of severing urban motorways and incomplete streets is well and truly over. Aucklanders have recently managed to stop one appalling new motorway, The Eastern Highway, and got the next one put substantially underground, Waterview. It is vital that we demand that the mistakes of the past are learned from as well as looking at other places that seem to have been able to do things well first time. But also insist that the broken pieces are fixed before our institutions engage in even more destruction.

There is little point in moving tin a little quicker through our city if we substantially harm that place and the quality of life for its inhabitants in the process, and at such high cost.

BILBAO BRIDGE_7222

57 comments to More Lessons From Bilbao

  • Ari

    I would like to know how Bilbao paid for that infrastructure without being badly in debt like the rest of Spain and Europe. Do we know if local government has greater control of transport dollar spending in Spain?

    • Yes Bilbao City has zero debt apparently. While I am not certain about all the funding structures for transport infrastructure in the Basque Country, I do know that as an Autonomous Region, The Basque Country has more independence from Madrid than other parts of Spain, and is doing better economically. What I have been able to find out points to two answers:

      1. Yes national [Spanish] and probably EU money was involved. So like in NZ highways are not paid for by local authorities. As far as I can find out the Metro was funded locally though, and is currently being extended .

      2. As you will see from upcoming posts the housing is much more compactly distributed. In other words all infrastructure, not just transport, covers a much smaller area for a similar population. Everything, except intercity rail and expressways, from water, waste, roads, the metro, the tram network, connections to the [new] airport, everything, is of a much shorter extent than Auckland’s endlessly spread out and duplicated infrastructure network. Also no highway becomes 9, 10, or 11, lanes wide as it approaches the city because none need to carry huge numbers of car commuters for a couple of hours every day. Sprawl is simply the most expensive urban form to service.

      And we have simply had to put up with very low standards in highway design. Especially in terms of place quality impacts. And especially for urban motorways. This seems to to reflect a very low value being put on the quality of the city, perhaps in general in our culture, but certainly by the people in Wellington making the important decisions about urban motorways in Auckland.

    • nonsense

      Spanish motorways are amongst the most expensive in Europe. 9 euro from the French border to Bilbao (120 km). What about charging the same in akl?

  • George D

    The Auckland Council body Auckland Transport, and NZTA are about to put a motorway through my neighbourhood. And possibly through my house. Either it cuts through the heart of a strong and vibrant community*, or it cuts Auckland from the beautiful Manukau Harbour.**

    *yes, Mangere and Otahuhu are strong healthy communities.
    **yes, Auckland has two harbours.

  • Starnius

    With the current spate of motorway funding being announced, I am afraid that the days of severing our cities with more tarmac are NOT over.

    And at Point Chevalier, we see the monument of that excess rising four levels high – the new mega-interchange.

    Of course it also included removing lots of trees – the area now looks like a wastelan. An the works will include lots of new lanes (not “just” a new interchange for several hundreds million of dollars).

  • Waspman

    This article sums it up why I have had it with motorways. Sliced and diced Auckland that is a damned difficult place to navigate on foot some areas. I use them, who doesn’t, but they are hideous, invasive and poorly thought out. They can be excused slightly because they are very typical of the 50’s and 60’s ideology when most were constructed but its not the mid 20th century anymore.. Any further motorway construction needs to be built as per the examples above.

    The Eastern Highway was no victory in the common sense, it failed (at this point) because of the premium real estate it sliced through, lots of money in those suburbs meaning lots of influence in all the right places. The Mangere motorway will go ahead for the exact opposite reasons and it will be equally hideous (but they will put up pretty patterned grey concrete walls, some flax bushes and wood chip) and again just like the Waterview construction and the causeway rebuild in the present, no accommodation for anything but cars even though now is the right time to do it..

    The question is what are we going to do about it?

    • I hate to be political (as it really should be a rational, evidence based discussion) but the only real answer I see is to remove this government. As long as we are faced with ideological zealots in government who dismiss any evidence against roading plans which conform with their 1960s transport philosophy, nothing will change and we will fall further and further behind the rest of the developed world.

      • donna

        On the contrary, it’s well past time to get political. Infrastructure is always political because a lot of money is involved, and, in Auckland particularly, a great deal is at stake. Benefit/cost ratios are an attempt to de-politicise infrastructure decisions, but as most readers of this blog will be aware, these can be manipulated according to the desired outcome.

        Auckland Councillors need to know that the continued privileging of motorways over other more sustainable and less destructive forms of transport will cost them votes, and the same with this government.

        The other side of negative politics is putting forward alternatives, and this is why the CFN is so valuable. And imagine, if you will, a quieter, less polluted sub/urban environment from more cycling and less traffic. Yes, institutional structures and old habits die hard, but we are not mere passive observers, either.

      • Anna

        But it isn’t just politicians. It is the engineers and modellers that tell the politicians that we NEED more roads because the population is increasing and we NEED to ease congestion. Take the current ITP development and the ridiculous CBG….. Wasting 60billion wasn’t enough! We NEED to waste 68 billion!

    • Indeed Waspman. That WAS the prevailing ideology of the 1960s, but was already being seriously questioned by the 1970s. It is important to remember that these urban motorways represent the privileging of outer suburbs over inner ones. The older inner ones were considered as being of low value, as slums, and therefore expendable for the greater good of the expansion of the new edge city residents. People were ‘encouraged’ to leave the inner city for fresh pastures, quite literally.

      Yet we now know this is not what want people want at all, the price spread between the remaining inner suburb ‘slums’ and the new out suburbs tells us that this privileging is based on a mistaken assumption. So to be persisting with it now is extraordinary and reflects, in my view, not only the hegemony of a particularly dated political view at the top but also the persistence of certain institutional structures and habits that require urgent overhaul.

      Just think of the rateable value of all those old suburbs that were smashed and lost for ever to the Auckland Council? Multiple millions no longer in the city coffers every year!

      Central motorway planning with scant regard to the wishes of local communities and local government, backed up with a disproportionate amount of available funding for transport in the hands of a small group sitting Wellington drawing lines on maps is a strangely old fashioned, and dare I say it, Stalinist model.

      • TheBigWheel

        There’s also a glaring demographic deficit.

        Not only do older people have more money and influence (of course) than younger people, but more older people vote more, and write to their elected officials more, and attend more public meetings.. And as we have seen here, older people are more likely to drive than younger people, and more likely to live in suburbs.

        So the “1950s world view” (or as a European immigrant I might say, without being too critical, the “1980s NZ view”) is perpetuated for a decade or two yet.. by our present generation of dinosaurs and by younger politicians and wannabees, Brewer, O’Connor, Craig etc.. I’m going to be optimistic here and say they may yet change their stripes.

  • Starnius

    “no accommodation for anything but cars”

    Actually, I think it will be a lot better than that – AT and NZTA have improved a lot in terms of mitigation & provision for other modes around their motorway projects.

    But it’s still like someone deeply in debt and with two cars in the garage buying a new oversized SUV – but insisting that it have a hybrid motor, and the newest pedestrian-recognition-automatic-braking system. Doctoring around the edges, while breaking the bank for what underneath it all, is still a car-dominated world.

    • And putting a rack on the back of the SUV so they can carry their bikes to a reserve because they are “really into cycling” but could never imagine cycling for transport, only recreation.

  • Ari

    Most peaple don’t care about stuff beyond their neighbourhood, so I’m not sure what affected people can do about it. I wonder if the local Maori iwi are involved already. They at least care about the environment and heritage and government at least can’t ignore them.

  • nonsense

    Please Patrick stop with this. It’s really pissing me off. The short-sightedness in this city is appalling. And I don’t understand how you can’t build a 4 storey house but it’s ok to build a 4 storey freaking motorway.

  • JimboJones

    I wonder if it would make economic sense to build apartments over the gully? If the NZTA allowed private building over the gully with no ‘land’ cost to the developer, but with provisions on large public pedestrian spaces being developed also, it could provide much better walking connectivity between the domain and the city, hide the motorway shame, and add much needed housing stock in a fantastic location. And it wouldn’t cost the ratepayer or taxpayer a cent.
    Would the extra cost of building over a motorway make up for the fact that there is no land cost?

    • Yes, student Accomodation, connection, at least cap that already sunken section between Wellesley and Grafton Rds.

      NZTA seem to have no responsibility to place beyond doing a little gardening (to hide the mess- ‘mitigation’) . There seems to be no economic imperative on them to use the land they requisition. How about they pay rates at current commercial value…? That would concentrate the mind wonderfully on getting better use out of this waste.

      That would change the balance of power between AC and NZTA/AT!

  • TheBigWheel

    Hmm.. you’d think from the comments that we all believe motorways (and other major arterial roads) are innately bad. Motorways are the safest roads in the world.

    Isn’t the point of Patrick’s post that it’s how we specify, design, and build them that matters.

    I’ve been to Bilbao a few of times (and the CAF train factory as it happens). Reflecting on the city I’d note.. it’s compactness, dense walkable city streets; cafes, small local shops; the abrupt change from city to countryside – apartments right up to the urban boundary in most places.. no “brick and tile for miles” as Midnight Oil put it; plenty of efficient motorways, mostly on bridges or in tunnels it seemed to me; busy metro lines and buses; lots of cyclists despite Bilbao making Auckland look flat and despite the frankly miserable weather in winter.. plenty of rain and northerlies off the Bay of Biscay.

    I can’t remember what the form the motorway environmental screening was like in Bilbao, apart from the tunnelling of course. In Japan it’s striking how when a motorways aren’t in tunnels they’re screened from nearby apartments and businesses with mile after mile of curving transparent screens like the ones on Grafton bridge. Even that makes a huge difference.. captures a fair amount of the fumes and noise.

    No question though I prefer Auckland to Bilbao :-)

    I’m quite happy to say I like the space we have (which is not the same as wanting any more sprawl). But that very space is surely the answer to how our transport issues will ultimately be fixed, physically. As post after post here (and on CAA) has noted our wide streets have *heaps* of room, for bike lanes, bus lanes, tram tracks, trains even.. many of them were designed for trams and trains.

    But this blog is years ahead of where our institutions are. The tough nut to crack is to address the values and behaviours that hold them back. From what I know, Lester is very well disposed to ask the hard questions to get that process going at AT. Who’s there in NZTA or Central Government?

    • Starnius

      Japan has one of the largest construction industries of the world, and has had enormous government “stimulus” programmes for decades that went into more infrastructure. Their motorways may well be better than ours in terms of integration into the urban landscapes – but tunnelling and even curved screens are very expensive. Plus they have invested much more into PT.

      So I think we need to be wary of calling for more tunnelling and screening – in a way it is just making our wrong choices even more costly, when better options that are better on pretty much ALL criteria are available.

      • TheBigWheel

        On the contrary, Starnius.. more covering and screening is exactly what we need!

        For starters, as the post argues, on our existing motorways. Covering Grafton Gully over part of its length would transform connectedness for 1000s of students, workers, anyone wanting to get to/from the Domain / Hospital / Newmarket and Symonds St University precincts. Screening SH1 south through Greenlane, Otahuhu, Papakura would make a decent improvement to the “liveability” of the homes of 1000s of people.

        Raise the standards I say. Why on earth would you want to make do with the “entry level” environmental specs that we have here in NZ? The BCR of every new motorway project has a denominator as well as a numerator..

        • Starnius

          You are getting me wrong. I am saying – lets not build MORE NEW motorways, just because “they can be done with so much less impact”.

          Whereever we do build new ones, of course we should squeeze out every last bit of mitigation. But that still doesn’t change the fact that 4 out of 5 of these are unnecessary – or would be, if we saved the money for more worthy, less damaging projects.

          I am arguing that greenwashing a thing doesn’t make it green. That having a 24/7 loudspeaker next to your house isn’t a good thing, just because you are now required to hand out earplugs. That driving out country’s transport policy further off a cliff is still a stupid decision, even if we build a couple of footbridges over our concrete moats.

          • TheBigWheel

            But more new motorways will be built nonetheless.. Preferably with mitigation to the max.

          • “But more new motorways will be built nonetheless” – And that is purely an ideological and political decision. There are plenty of alternatives – so let’s not present it like an immutable law of nature. Vancouver doesnt have any inner city motorways and it doesnt seem to be failing as a city.

  • jaywocky

    Skycabs or some equivalent would be the answer to many of our transport problems

  • Excellent post, Patrick. Depressing, though! A veritable ship of fools.

  • George

    There are actually people in that bridge picture. Patrick, are you sure that isn’t a computer rendering?

  • jaywocky

    @Nick R The question is how can traffic congestion be relieved? Are more Motorways going to fix it?
    Skycabs would elevate much public transport to another level.

  • jaywocky

    @Patrick Reynolds. Elevated passenger transport systems such as Skycabs have been used successfully in many parts of the world.
    Pigs are not usually among the passengers; piglets maybe.

  • “And I don’t understand how you can’t build a 4 storey house but it’s ok to build a 4 storey freaking motorway.”

    And neither do I. In the 1890’s (yes that is 18) we were building houses up to the current permitted height. And we had transport that defecated up and down every street. We didn’t have telephones. And yet in everything apart from houses we have moved on, and seem to want to continue to move on.

    Why with houses do we want to be locked in a time warp? Was this the zenith of housing development? Was it really? Does it suit the largely sedentary lifestyles of the majority of Kiwis who probably resent having to mow a lawn?

    I would be very interested to see what the polling says about housing wants rather than the expressions of the well organised few who submitted to the UP.

    • conan

      It’s worse than that, these days you would not be able to build many of the inner city suburbs as they exist today. Sections too small, houses too close to the road, gap between houses too small. Yet they seem to be extremely popular.

  • jaywocky

    @Mike. If you Google The Monorail Society you will find plenty of examples and much else.(I am not a member)
    Wikipedia has plenty of information about all sorts of elevated monorail transport systems, most in smaller projects but also plenty of larger serious
    schemes. The Wupertaal (? spelling) German system has been going since 1901.

    • Martin W.

      Yes but the Wuppertal Monorail, is unique in the world, one carriage cost them millions as it need to be handcrafted. Ridership is comparatively low as it is quite slow. And it was built over the Wupper (thats the river there) very invasive in terms how it looks like. Thus they did not need a corridor for it, The only thing how that could be built in Auckland would be on top of elevated roads. I already hear all single level dwellers screaming —- HIGH RISE.

      • Martin W.

        sorry meant of cours
        “the only way to be built in Auckland would be above arterial roads”

      • jaywocky

        Forget Wuppertal it was mentioned only as an example of an extremely durable successful monorail built in 1901.and still going strong.
        Arterial roads don’t have much residential housing and screaming would abate after any residents appreciated the convenience of their new transport
        It would be smooth and silent..

        • Max

          It would also not get built. It’s less convenient than a tram for users, less flexible in terms of where it goes, more expensive to build, and much harder to agree & install. Why aim for something like that, just because it is cool?

          Also, we do not have too little space on our road for PT, we have too little backbone and interest for PT from our politicians, especially at Central Gov level. That’s not going to change because it suddenly is on stilts.

          But hey, you might be able to convince them to spend a few millions on a case study report – in the meantime, they will call a stop to AMETI, CRL and Dominion Road PT type projects, because, hey, better wait for the new study, to see whether there isn’t a better option, eh? Yes, I can see our government liking that.

        • Mike

          jaywocky – so the only example that you’ve given, Wuppertal, we can forget (sensible, because it’s nothing like Skycabs): so where are these “many” parts of the world that Sycabs etc have been used successfully? You must know where they are!

          • jaywocky

            Did you miss my answer of Nov 26th?. I referred you to the Monorail Society and also to Wikipedia. They show hundreds all over the world. Most quite small scale but others 70lm or more. Japan and other Asian countries seem strongest.

          • jaywocky

            Sorry I meant to say 70Km

          • Mike

            jaywocky – I’ve got a better idea: instead of expecting readers of this blog to trawl through other websites, why don’t you share the information with us? After all, since you know there are many Skycab-like systems you must know where at least some of them are, mustn’t you?

          • jaywocky

            This could take a little time. But it seems to me for some reason you’re reluctant to research the topic yourself maybe because you find it easier sniping from the sidelines. Perhaps it would disconcert you to face the fact that there are many successful systems round the world which use the principle of elevated PT.such as Skycabs.

          • Mike

            jaywocky – OK: don’t bother to tell us, and readers of this blog won’t have to bother with assertions you won’t substantiate. Sounds like a fair deal to me…. :

          • jaywocky

            OK Mike,
            here’s a list of larger systems ranging from 8.6 km to 74.6km. Google any one of them and you will get details of installation date, passengers/day and much other data. Go for it!
            Kuala Lumpur, Chongquing China, Shanghai(Maglev), Mumbai, Daegu S Korea, Tokyo Haneda,, Chiba City, Osaka, Walt Disney World, Sao Paulo Brazil (under construction)
            Source: Monorail Society. http://www.monorailsociety.org/

  • jaywocky

    You are right about lacking backbone and the general political. resistance to PT, but I believe, mistaken
    about cost and flexibility of an elevated transport system. Glad you agree it’s cool. Case study would be great so long as it could be expeditious
    and free of preconceptions. The biggest hurdle is political and there unfortunately, it probably stalls.

  • Bryce P

    Just to reinforce that Auckland cannot move forward, I have heard that the new commercial area to be built near Hobsonville (not Westgate), on the Western side of Hobsonville Rd, will have it’s main entrances/exits onto Hobsonville Road. This will include traffic lights at more than one road. With the construction of the motorway this is totally unnecessary and prevents Hobsonville Road being repurposed into a residential street with cycle lanes and a nice level of local traffic. Why isn’t commercial traffic being directed straight to the motorway FFS? I’m exasperated at the continued focus on every road being an arterial even after parallel motorways are built to supposedly reduce traffic volumes.

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