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How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods

Brent Toderian has written an interesting piece on Planetizen about the massive impact that garages (or perhaps more specifically off street parking) – has on just how walkable neighbourhoods or auto dependant our neighbourhoods are. The piece is quite timely with formal submissions on the Unitary Plan closing at the end of next month.

Many years ago, a suburban ward councillor in the city I was planning for, asked me for some unusual advice. Residents had been calling about speeding on the roads in their neighbourhood, and the councillor was wondering if posting lower speed limits might be a way to address the problem.

After looking at the circumstances, I told the councillor that the root problem was too many front drive garages.

What do garages have to do with speeding? In suburbs all over North America, front drive garages are causing ripple effects that change the design and nature of our neighbourhoods in many ways that we don’t initially realize.

Think about it. When you have a two, or even a three car garage in the front of your house, that usually creates a large “curb cut” driveway out to the street. That makes it hard, or even impossible, to park cars on the side of the street, because you can’t block driveways. Thus many suburban streets have little, if any, on-street parking.

How does that lead to speeding? Municipal streets are designed with a “design speed” in mind – a sort of rational speed that a reasonable person would want to instinctively drive at, based on the width and other conditions of the street design. I’ve heard it suggested by transportation experts that the actual design speed of most streets is actually higher than the posted speed limit, leading to an instinctive urge to want to drive faster than the speed limit. This has led in part to the growth in recent decades of the “traffic calming” movement, where new street designs or alternative design standards seek to create “friction” that slows down speed more effectively than the posted speed limit does.

But in these garage-filled suburbs, it gets worse than this regular design speed challenge. That’s because the width of streets across our suburbs is based on the assumption of on-street parking, usually on both sides, or at least one. So the streets are wide enough to accommodate very comfortable drive lanes, plus the on-street parking room. But as I’ve explained, the front drive garages and related driveways prevent that on-street parking, leading to extra-wide driving lanes with even higher design speeds. So its not surprising that people speed on these roads – the design is essentially tempting them to!

Of course many of the newer suburbs in New Zealand have exactly the same issues as being described above and it’s worth remembering that the outcome of garages and off street parking is not just something that was purely about people choosing it but that off street parking was enforced through minimum parking requirements.

In my suburb the prevalence of off street parking means that very few people ever park on the street itself leaving many roads very wide and conducive to speeding (which many do). Luckily in my suburb the frequent curb cuts that do happen are not the style where the footpath suddenly drops in a bid to make it easier for cars but makes for a quite uneven footpath and definitely not one friendly towards people in wheelchairs.

Perhaps one upside of the unused parking spaces is it should be fairly easy to implement the likes of cycle lanes on many streets – although probably not protected ones due to the need to allow for frequent driveway access.

But it’s not just speeding that is an issue; it’s never nice to hear about kids that get run over in driveways by family members who didn’t realise they were there. Safekids NZ says:

Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. A further five children are killed annually, on average, in the same way. Most children injured in driveway incidents are toddlers, aged about two years old and when death does not occur, the injuries they receive are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member. The devastating impact of these events upon families cannot be overstated.

But the off street parking often creates additional problems with how our houses and streets are designed. Brent continues:

On top of the speeding, multiple garages mean that the house is set back deeply from the street, usually at least 6 metres with no (or at best small) porches, separating the house from any easy social interaction with the sidewalk. The setback and blocking garages (often referred to as “snout houses” if they pert rude closer to the street than the actual house) also mean there’s no “eyes on the street,” which makes the street less safe and social. Such houses even fail the “trick-or-treat test” at Halloween! Can you find the door bell, or is it hidden from street view? It can sometimes feel like there’s no house at all, or at best that it’s a house attached to a garage, rather than a garage attached to a house.

Actually the interaction with the sidewalk may be moot, as there likely isn’t a sidewalk anyway…that’s another thing the curb cut often replaces. No continuous sidewalk, no landscape green strip, and often most disappointing, no street trees! Add to these losses the previously discussed absence of on-street parking, which can actually play a valuable role as a buffer separating pedestrians from moving cars, and you have a significant impact on the quality of the walking experience, the walkability, of the neighbourhood. When the walking experience is less inviting, more people choose to drive, with all of the health, expense, environmental and social/quality-of-life implications that come with that choice.

In many things it’s often what seems like small insignificant issues that can end up causing massive problems. Off street parking in itself isn’t the only cause of auto-dependency but it certainly contributes towards it. Further as Brent points out these issues are ones that can get significantly worse with a greater density of housing unless the building/neighbourhood is well designed to deal with it.

Parking Curb Cuts - Stonefields

At the roads in Stonefields have been narrowed down

Back in Auckland the Unitary Plan will be setting the rules about parking and garages in the future. It’s generally an improvement over what exists now as the plan removes parking minimums from most Metropolitan, Town and local centres (some rural ones excluded), from the Terraced house and Apartment and Mixed Use zones and from the City Centre Fringe Overlay area. However they will still apply in single and both mixed housing zones which are the ones that make up the majority of Auckland. There are no controls proposed to deal with the issue of how off street parking interacts back with the street and the only requirements around garages is to try and reduce the visual dominance of them in dwellings.

ADM Parking issues

I’ll leave the last word to Brent

Obviously garages aren’t the only issue and challenge effecting our suburban street designs, or even the biggest. Outdated engineering street standards, designing for fire truck sizes, snow storage expectations in winter cities, and the whole underlying disconnectedness of typical subdivision design, all play huge roles in our history of car-dependant sprawl. But don’t underestimate the role that garages have played. As we strive to build smarter, more walkable suburbs, while undertaking “sprawl repair” on those we’ve already built, it’s time for a more candid and thoughtful discussion about the ripple effects of, and alternatives to, all those front drive garages. They matter a great deal to the design and enjoyment of our neighbourhoods, well beyond that garage door.

84 comments to How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods

  • Fred

    The irony is that because of curb cuts often every off street parking space takes away an on street space. So what you get is no increase in overall parking just a shift to off street and reduced efficiency because most people can’t use that space anymore.

  • Yes Fred this needs emphasising – a single off-street park accessed by a driveway is a net zero increase in the combined total of on-street and off-street parking as an on-street park is lost for the driveway.

    But it gets worse.

    An on-street parking spot uses about 6 square metres of land. If that on-street parking spot is lost to a driveway, that land cannot be re-used – and land on your property also becomes dedicated to storing the car and accessing that car storage spot – so at least twice as much land square meterage is used or wasted for no increase in car-parking space (in total, all the area in red in the above graphic in the blog post, and the lost parking spot on the street).

    And that’s just looking at car parking capacity. You also end up with another vehicle crossing of the footpath, and on a macro scale of course an increase in neighbourhood car dependency and domination. At its worst, it starts to look like the garaged house is where the car lives and its driver is stored.

    • Absolutely, take a look at where I used to live: https://maps.google.co.nz/maps?q=Stanley+Street,+Richmond,+Victoria,+Australia&hl=en&ll=-37.824351,144.994723&spn=0.000975,0.002064&sll=-36.863023,174.865469&sspn=1.010826,2.113495&oq=Stanley+Street,+Richmond&t=h&hnear=Stanley+St,+Richmond+Victoria+3121,+Australia&z=20

      You can see because there are no driveways the street can accommodate angle parking down one side and continuous row of parallel parking on the other. This results in two or three parking spaces for each house in a road that is no wider than the quiet one I live on in suburban Auckland.

      • I think angle parking has a part to play in making cycling safer.

        I recently saw an article about a street redesign in San Francisco where the angled parking was to face in the direction the cars were going. This would require drivers to back into the angled parking space meaning they would be able to see much more clearly if there are cyclists (or pedestrians) walking in front of them.

        This seems like a very quick fix that would have three great benefits in one:

        1. No car doors to worry about
        2. No reversing drivers to worry about
        3. Narrows the road increasing “friction” and slowing traffic.

        Lets do it AT. What are the reasons against this?

    • Starnius

      “An on-street parking spot uses about 6 square metres of land”

      12 to 15 square meters, actually. Length 6m, width at least 2m.

    • jonno1

      Andrew, I’ve just checked my street and the ratio of houses to vehicle crossings slightly exceeds 3:1. This is common in Auckland with multiple rights-of way and infill housing. So to imply an overall 1:1 ratio is somewhat misleading, although Stonefields does seem closer to that. However the street to housing area ratio there is higher too, so more kerbside parking is available. Also, the terraced houses in Stonefields have tandem garaging with correspondingly narrow vehicle crossings.

      Nick R has suggested angle parking as an option, however this requires significantly wider streets and is a poor solution aesthetically. Much better to keep most cars out of sight as far as possible.

      • Steve D

        Aesthetics is personal to a large degree, but I find cars themselves to be considerably less ugly than blank walls and garage doors.

        • jonno1

          Steve, your latter comment is valid in many circumstances, such as at Stonefields. However, it’s not difficult to design an attractive house frontage incorporating a garage, eg with offsets, balconies, cedar garage doors, planting etc. And where the majority of homes are not street frontage, it doesn’t matter to anyone but the owner.

          Granted, bespoke homes are always going to be more expensive than cookie cutter ones This is where at least some of the tension arises between affordability/intensification and individualisation.

          • Steve D

            People will pay a fortune to live in areas with the right sort of cookie cutter houses! I mean, there’s thousands of houses across Ponsonby, Grey Lynn, Mount Eden etc that are all half a dozen basically identical designs.

            If you mix several standard designs and let people customise their houses – at least paint them different colours – you eliminate most of that sameyness. It doesn’t have to cost a lot, but it does conflict with the modern urge to use complex devices like cross-leases and unit titles that tend to force a uniform look.

            As for designing the frontage, I don’t think there’s a tension between bespoke and standardised. If you can design a decent frontage you can re-use it. Still, I’ve never seen a really “good” design for a garage front, just some that managed more successfully to mitigate the impact of the thing. Often by narrowing to a single garage door, or diluting the impact with a wider frontage. Having the garage set back a bit helps, too – have a nosy around San Francisco on Street View and you’ll see tons of ground-floor garages that look a little bit better because the whole frontage of the house sticks out, when the garage doesn’t. It’s actually worse when the whole house is set back, or only single-storey, I find. There’s less house to dilute the garage…

            Of course, exposed off-street parking is often ugly too, especially when it’s basically just a concreted front yard. Either way, off-street parking is an aesthetic problem to manage, which you could largely avoid with having on-street parking only.

          • Steve D

            Oh by the way, have you got any example of garage frontages that you think are actually well done? Be interesting to see.

          • jonno1

            Steve, your SF link is interesting, and I agree that the garages are discrete. The steep terrain helps, but particularly the multiple levels and recessed entries. I tend to dislike protruding garages, but they suit some deep, narrow sites.

            There are some examples in James Cook Crescent, Remuera, where the garages don’t dominate, although I don’t necessarily like the overall designs. See http://goo.gl/maps/TCJcz. The whitish house to the right (now complete) recently sold for $3.3m, so not a starter home!

          • Steve D

            Yes, that’s considerably nicer than Stonefields (or Dannemora), although it’s still less than one might hope for that kind of money. Interesting, though, that the houses are three stories, just like the particular ones in that Street View of San Francisco! I really do think it’s a largely a proportions issue, and adding extra height is a “free” way to dilute the visual impact of the garage front assuming a given number of cars in the garage and a given parcel width.

            FWIW, the Unitary Plan actually has a rule about garage widths, they’re not allowed to be more than 40% of the width of the building’s façade.

            http://unitaryplan.aucklandcouncil.govt.nz/HTMLSept/Part%203/Chapter%20I/Chapter%20I%2001%20Residential%20zones.htm#TOCt_h48507_ID

          • jonno1

            Another interesting link Steve, albeit a little ambiguous (ie, can there be more than one door?). Actually, for that zone (THAB) the relevant clause is 9.15, but the same rule applies. I wonder if it exists under the current DP. For example, In my link you can see two garage doors (double + single) at #10.

          • Steve D

            I see what you mean about ambiguous. I’m no RMA lawyer, so that’s not really something I can answer. I think there’s a separate rule that limits the size of the actual vehicle crossing from the street, though, which would mitigate that a bit.

            Anyway, that’s a fix to suggest in one’s Unitary Plan submission.

  • TheBigWheel

    I read somewhere that the Stonefields residents are currently complaining about the narrow streets and lack of parking, with often three cars to a house and visitors in the evening.

    Wasn’t Stonefields supposed to be a model neighbourhood to encourage less car use?

    But there are no cycle ways in Stonefields, or in or out of the area (other than on the “wrong” side of College Road), no bus routes along Abbots Way / Lunn Ave / Ngahue, and no walkable shops (I heard the informal access track up to Lunn Ave is to be closed when the new Warehouse is built on the corner of Ngahue Road)?

    Where’s the joined-up thinking?

    • Steve D

      Stonefields is an utter disaster if it was really intended to be a model of lower car use. It’s inherent in the design. It might be possible to retrofit the surrounding area for better cycling, but there’s no realistic chance of having anything nearby to walk to, and the layout of the place has made an effective public transport service permanently impossible.

    • Greg N

      Stonefields is an utter disaster alright,
      Yes it was sold as a model “PT oriented development” by LandCo (the developers – now broke and taken over by Todd Properties)

      The Auckland City Council and Environment court swallowed that line hook line and sinker.
      Many of the current big names in AC Planning (Penny Pirrit being one), Stephen Rainbow (former ACC transport guru) for another, lauded Stonefields up hill and down dale as a “model” for all and sundry to copy.

      As for narrow streets – utterly predictable those complaints, those side streets are not designed to have more than the occasional on-street car on them, and if cars are parked both sides side opposite/near each other, you can’t get through the middle very easily, if at all, let alone an emergency vehicle like an Ambulance or Fire engine if someone had a fire or got ill.

      As for linkages, no linkage is possible really due to the fact thats its an old quarry and the only exits are at the northern end and the option of building a (PT) linkage at the southern end to Lunn Ave roundabout was dismissed by LandCo without ACC questioning it.

      The developments there that are on the main streets and face College Road all have “back street” access and the garages are therefore hidden out back.
      Which cuts down on the driveways crossing the main roads, which is why the main streets of Stonefields look quite good as the houses really “stand up” to the street much better without driveways everywhere. Contract with Ngahue where each house has double garages facing the street to see what a disaster that is.

      That Warehouse land can’t be built on until 2021 (restriction by the developer I think), so that track is safe in the meantime, but eventually it will close.
      And there are some pretty ugly designs for that Warehouse corner right now for another park’n'sprawl type development which is a shame as the car parks could be at the back there too.

      Under the revised PTOM half hourly buses will travel down Lunn Ave/Abbotts and maybe Ngahue – but not yet.
      The only bus there is the 635 which flies through the main two avenues (Bluegrey and Stonefgelds).and up Morrin past the (soon-to-be former) University Tamaki Campus and then loops through St Johns park. Which is not exactly the shortest route to anywhere.

  • I cringe every time I read the term “auto dependency”. As propaganda terms go, that one is really up there!

    • Steve D

      … and what term would you use instead?

      • I don’t believe the concept itself exists. People choose to buy cars, they are not forced into it. Every individual is responsible for choosing where they live, work and play.

        • Great. I want to choose to live in an affordable, car-light neighbourhood with walkable or high frequency high-speed PT access to work, entertainment, a good school for my daughter where she is not at risk of being run over on her way there. Oh and a private garden.

          So if such a neighbourhood just doesn’t exist in NZ, and I don’t have the right passport to live in a place like Amsterdam or inner Bordeaux, what remaining choices do I have?

          • The simple choice of a terraced house without a carpark is impossible, they are illegal.

          • Steve D

            They’re not completely illegal. You’re now finally free to build a new one, if you’re lucky enough to get your land with the right Unitary Plan zoning and a Special Housing Area declared on it :-P

          • I think you’ll still find that area where zoning permits not having any parking are still so limited and centralised to high value areas that in practice you’d not see any mere terraced houses built on them.

        • So I can take your car away tomorrow and you’ll tell me you are not dependent on it just because you bought the thing? You’ll happily head off and change where you live, work and play to accommodate not having it? You’ll have the same opportunities for work, and where you live and what you do in your spare time without a car?

          • You have it backwards Nick. People develop their lives around the freedom a car can bring. Sure, if you suddenly take it away they would be in trouble, but then you are neither describing people who choose to live with a car, nor people who choose to live without. You have created a mythical “suddon car loss” entity.

          • Kent Lundberg

            Geoff, auto-dependency (or inversely walkabilty) is a thing, it is measurable.

          • What you are telling me is that you personally chose to live with a car, but you would be unable to chose to live without it? Now you’ve pick a car based lifestyle you can’t change.

            You’ve just described it exactly, you’re freedom is dependent on the car. You have to develop your life around car ownership and once your dependent you cannot reverse your choice. If that isn’t dependency I don’t know what is.

          • Of course you can reverse your choice, just as you choose to live a car-based life, you can choose to live something different.

            What you appear to want Nick, is to trade your perceived car dependency for an even bigger dependency – “development dependency”. I.e., to develop the environment and lay everything out in a manner that enables you to go without a car. You’ll always be dependent on living within that development. Even if you made it work, it would mean giving up the typical kiwi lifestyle, as the development dependency zone will not extend very far in a country with such low population as ours.

          • Geoff the Kiwi lifestyle you refer to has only existed since the mid 1950′s. Before that Auckland was build based on first how far you could walk from the centre of town (city fringe suburbs) and later by how far the trams went. It was only after the mid 1950′s when we started developing the city as we know it today with amenities spread all over the place and it difficult to get to any way but with a car.

          • Counterpoint

            Ignoring the red-herring about “kiwi lifestyle” for the moment, you’ve built into your comment the dichotomy of “if you aren’t dependent on a car you’re dependent on developments”, which seems at first glance to be false. Certainly at the very least you need to cast a wide, yet oddly specific net with respect to the definition of “development”. Does a road count as a development? Cars required a huge amount of support infrastructure on which any car user depends, aside from having the opposite outcome, how is laying out a city for driving any different from laying out a city for transit in terms of depending on development?

          • Indeed Matt, the kiwi travel culture developed with the car. But now that it has, it isn’t going away. Just look at the thousands of people who flock to Piha Beach on summer weekends. Hopping in the car and going somewhere is now well established in our culture. How we lived more than 60 years ago is no longer relevant to most people.

          • Way to miss the point Geoff. Culture and the lifestyle we expect changes over time. It was different from what it was 60 years ago and will be different in 60 years from what it is today. There is no one set in stone ‘kiwi lifestyle’. If you want to live with a car then do so, no one is saying you shouldn’t or can’t.

          • ” If you want to live with a car then do so, no one is saying you shouldn’t or can’t.”

            No one is saying you shouldn’t or can’t park your car on the street either. For those who want their car safely on their property, they need a driveway into their property, and since most people will want that, it makes sense to ensure every house has that option.

          • Except at what point does the impact of your desire for an off street park impact on the rest of your neighbourhood? You have the right to smoke but we don’t allow it inside due to the affects it has on those that chose not too. There are strong health disbenefits from living in auto-dependant neighbourhoods (it’s been studied).

            Brent Toderian says this in the piece.

            I recall many resulting discussions with developers and builders about the implications of the garage choice, often with the developer’s response that garages, and suburban house design in general, are “none of the city’s business.” It’s more of a personal issue and choice for a home buyer, they argued, and it doesn’t affect the broader city.

            But here’s the thing – the ripple effects mean the garage choice affects the whole neighbourhood, both immediately and well into the future, and yes, it affects the public interest. And it isn’t just about speeding.

            There’s a great saying, attributed to Oliver Wendell Holmes among others, that the right to swing one’s fist, ends at the point of another’s nose. To borrow from this saying, the fist might be the garage, and the nose, the neighbourhood’s “public realm.”

          • Geoff the issue here is “one car good, many cars bad”. A single car is great – once obtained, it allows easy personal transport and carriage of goods over long distances.
            But when everyone has one, the cars and the infrastructure required to facilitate them ends up taking up massive amounts of land that can no longer be used for any other purpose, which pushes things away from each other, which makes them harder to get to, which in turn changes the car from a convenience to a requirement to function in suburban Auckland. That is the problem here.

          • Oops I somehow managed to post that reply twice, the second is at the bottom. It’s hard to keep up with conversations the way these comments get threaded :(

        • Steve D

          Sure, as an individual person you can avoid being car dependent if you can live or work in a different neighbourhood. Matt, who used the term in the post, talked about neighbourhoods being either walkable or auto-dependent.

          If I’m choosing which suburb to live in, and I’m describing what I want from the area, I can say that I’m looking for a place “where I’m not dependent on a car”, or even “where I don’t have to drive everywhere”. The concept of car dependency exists, and it needs to be phrased somehow.

          As for whether car dependence is a bad thing – well, that’s up to you. But I think there are lots of people who would prefer to drive less, and yet there simply aren’t the number of neighbourhoods to accommodate them all. The neighbourhoods that are walkable tend to be more expensive, so they’re partly rationed by price.

          Even if there were enough new walkable areas for people to move to, lots of people like many features of where they are, and simply want to improve the area they currently live in. And why shouldn’t they? Even if you personally want to drive everywhere, you’re hardly hurt by the fact that some other people now have more opportunity to walk, cycle, use public transport, make fewer journeys, or drive shorter distances.

          • “where I don’t have to drive everywhere”

            There’s no non-car transport solution that enables that, unless you greatly restrict your idea of “everywhere”. If you really want to go carless, your best bet would be to move to a small village, here you can walk to all main amenities, and give up wider travel. That’s how we all lived hundreds of years ago. A village society, where most people lived their entire lives within a 15 mile radius.

          • Geoff, there is a difference between not having to drive everywhere and not having to drive anywhere.

            Oh and I take it from your comments you’ve never lived in an actual major city? I have, and they are harder to travel around by car than other means. Seventy five percent of New Yorkers don’t own a car, do you really think they live their lives within walking distance of their home?

          • Kent Lundberg

            For reference Manhattan is 13 mile long and San Francisco is 7 x 7 miles. Poor villagers.

          • Nick and Kent, you both refer to cities outside NZ, where the kiwi lifestyle just doesn’t exist. No comparison.

            People who want to live like New Yorkers should live in New York.

          • Counterpoint

            Ah yes, the incomparable “kiwi lifestyle”. A lifestyle so unique to this part of the world – no person born outside our borders could fully comprehend its distinct traits. Moreover, a lifestyle that demands a unique approach to urban planning that everyone knows, almost instinctively. We brazenly discard the lessons of other urban communities, for what would they know of the “kiwi lifestyle”? What machinations of any foreign land could be applicable to that which we collectively hold dear?

            Public transport? Pah! Townhouses? Phooey! Walkable neighborhoods? Pish! Off street parking? Boo!

          • Geoff did it ever occur to you that not everyone has the means to live in New York (not that we are saying that is always desirable). Many of the people in the most auto-dependant neighbourhoods are those on the lower end of the socio-economic scale for who these neighbourhoods are the only thing they can afford.

          • Perhaps people who want to live ‘the kiwi lifestyle’ should just live in Gisbourne, and stop trying to pretend that Auckland is functionally the same as a small rural town one fiftieth it’s size.

          • Kent Lundberg

            For reference this is what 15 miles looks like in Auckland. FWIW I live within 3 miles of the city centre and rarely go outside that catchment. I can get 95% of what I need in this area.

          • Why would Aucklanders living the kiwi lifestyle want to live in Gisborne, when Auckland is one of the best places to be for that lifestyle? It’s great, you can get to any part of the city relatively quickly, and it’s surrounded by beaches and forests.

            The only people who will struggle to get around Auckland will be those who try to do so without a car, but then that’s not the typical kiwi now is it?

            It’s the anti-car people who should move to small towns, as they’ll be happy not having very far to go in the day to day lives.

        • john smith

          Let’s distinguish the meanings of ‘auto-dependent’ as applying to cities and individuals.

          An auto-dependent city is one that has developed in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for most people to access the city’s amenities with reasonable convenience without a car.

          In an auto-dependent city, most individuals are auto-dependent. Individuals may be able to reduce their personal auto-dependence – for example, by moving to a more transit rich inner area – but in an auto-dependent city those options are relatively costly and available to only a minority, because the less auto-dependent locations are relatively few.

          The things that make a city auto-dependent are overwhelmingly a result of communal decisions made over many years (public planning policies controlling density, landuses, subdivision design, road and public transport investment….) People who live in an auto-dependent city cannot opt out of the effects of that since, even if they try to minimise their personal auto-dependence, they will find the cost higher than it would be in a less auto-dependent city.

          Individuals may be able to reduce their auto-dependence fairly quickly, if they can afford to and accept the other lifestyle compromises needed. An auto-dependent city becomes less so (that is, increases the overall opportunities for individuals to choose less auto-dependence) only slowly, as the relevant policies change.

          In short, we are talking about population features here. The fact that individuals may be able to choose their level of auto-dependence does not negate the validity of auto-dependent as describing *cities*.

          • “An auto-dependent city is one that has developed in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for most people to access the city’s amenities with reasonable convenience without a car.”

            And it does it because people want to have a car. That’s the part the car dependency believers get wrong. They seem to think that everyone is a victim of poor planning, when in fact the planning is to suit the majority of people, who want to drive.

            NZ’s transport planning is suited to NZ’s driving culture. Those who want a non-driving lifestyle should not expect everyone else (i.e., the majority) to have to live differently just to suit them, which is essentially what you want by seeking to have off street parking removed from housing construction.

            It ain’t going to happen. As I wrote earlier, if you want to live like a New Yorker, then go live in New York. Our culture is different, and likely always will be, because it’s the one best suited to our low population and big wide open natural environment.

          • You are describing the qualities of a small provincial town, Geoff. Plenty of those easy-driving dreary places for you to move to. Ak has a million and a half people and will soon have more…. No it won’t have NYC’s population, thankfully, but it already has enough to have all of the positive attributes of a real city. And these are the fruits of the ‘power of nearness’. The fact the we still have the built environment of a dull middle American nowhere-burg doesn’t mean we have to put up with this experiment much longer.

            It will take time but we are already fixing this city, fighting against this improvement will simply mean the changes will be mainly in the areas that are already more successful. You can probably keep your area crappily auto-dependent, the visionless idiots trying to stop it in inner suburbs won’t win. And the rewards are only greater economic viability, higher sustainability, and a happier community…

          • valar84

            Geoff Blackmore, you mistake the cause for the consequence. The car culture is a RESULT of cities being designed to make driving easy (and making walking hard, biking hard and transit hard). Since people needed cars to get around, they bought cars and got used to using them to get around all the time. At the time those norms and urban standards were designed which imposed car-friendly developments, most people didn’t even own cars. It was essentially the bias of the car-owning elite that imposed the car-friendly design on urban areas, and led to the “car culture”.

            The reality though is that there is much repressed demand for walkable and transit-friendly areas. Even in the places where the “car culture” is strong, people in surveys indicate large preference for walkable, mixed communities. For instance, Houston in the US is a very sprawling city, but surveys of what people actually want revealed just out of whack regulations that care only about car travel and impose car-dependence are. By a 55 to 37% ratio, people in Houston said they would prefer living in central urban settings where things were within walking distance rather than in suburban lots, even if they had to live in smaller houses and smaller lots. 46% said it was “very important” to have schools and services withing walking distance of their home (and 25% said it was “somewhat important”). Finally, a whopping 87% said that it was important to make walking easier in the city. That means that even in this car paradise with a very strong car culture, only a third of the people were actually satisfied with the car-dependent mode of development. I’m sure they would be even fewer in NZ.

            The question then is why does this car-loving minority wishes to impose on the majority a certain mode of urban development made to force people to own one car per adult in each household and to use cars to go anywhere? Why make walkable, transit-friendly neighborhoods illegal? Some people seem never to be happy unless everyone else is forced to live their lives just like them.

          • Geoff Blackmore

            valar84, you imply that urban development came first, then people had to buy cars. It’s actually the other way around, people bought cars, then urban development took place.

            The bottom line is that most kiwis are happy with our travel culture, to the point where it’s pretty much a non-issue to most people. The issue is really only with a core group, and even then, only in Auckland. I also can’t help but notice how many of those people are from overseas. Auckland has a lot of immigrants, and perhaps some misjudged the travel culture before coming here?

          • counterpoint

            “…you imply that urban development came first, then people had to buy cars…”

            Out of curiosity, just how old do you think cities are? Bonus question – how long have cars been around?

            “Auckland has a lot of immigrants, and perhaps some misjudged the travel culture before coming here?”

            Is this the Daily Mail school of urban design talking here?

          • conan

            Geoff, there you go again with your ‘most people’. If you don’t have evidence to post of this, please don’t assume you know what ‘most people’ are thinking or doing.

            Not quite sure what your immigrant comment is meant to mean, but are you saying in that in order to be a fair dinkum kiwi you need to own a car and drive everywhere and anyone who doesn’t isn’t a real kiwi? Quite a narrow view there I suspect. Is that what most people are thinking?

    • Geoff perhaps you have never travelled to other cities? ‘Auto-dependent’ may be a clunky expression but it is a very accurate description of Auckland, well almost all of it.

      You don’t believe in it? What else don’t you believe in? Needing oxygen? Really Auckland is a very hard place to function fully in without a car. I have lived in other cities where the reverse is true. The ideal? Somewhere in between: The car-optional city.

  • Perhaps the writer could explain how moving your car from your garage or carport, or even driveway, to the street, can be achieved without loss of security. Perhaps it could also be explained how one’s car will remain in as good a condition if it’s always sitting out in the sun and rain, instead of in the garage or carport?

    How anyone could look at the above picture of densely spaced, crammed-together houses and conclude that somehow it’s not dense enough, and that there’s too much wasted space between the houses and road is totally beyond me. That’s a “sardine suburb” in that photo. Goodness, some people won’t be happy until every blade of grass and every tree is gone, and everyone just lives in a single communal concrete box with no open space at all!

    • Not having to pave out driveways and kerb cuts leaves more room for blades of grass and trees. Not having to stick garages on the front allows for much better architecture, if you want concrete box, design your home around a garage.

      Why not take a look through the likes of Grey Lynn and Parnell and see the rows of beautiful homes without driveways and garages. They are leafy, green and have plenty of open space, more than say Flat Bush.

    • Bryce P

      There is 10x the grass at my new house compared to my old and I came from a 1,300 sqm section. I don’t own it as such but it is well used as the entire community uses it. There is a pond that gets used for model yacht racing. There are gardens galore as well. And streets that kids can play on safely (narrowish streets / 30 kmh limit). Kids ride skateboards along the streets. People have conversations on the street. People say hi to one another. Garaging is all off lanes this minimising kerb cuts. You’d probably hate it but I’m in heaven. As are my wife and son.

    • Starnius

      “Perhaps it could also be explained how one’s car will remain in as good a condition if it’s always sitting out in the sun and rain, instead of in the garage or carport?”

      Oh. My. Gosh. Cars are not that fragile. Also, more and more of the world doesn’t consider the pristine *bling* status of one’s car (if one still has one) as important.

      As for your substantial question: Shared driveways. Have one driveway for 2-3 properties, ensured at subdivision stage. And make the shared driveway normal width – not those horrible multi-width access strips you see sometimes, like this one:

      https://maps.google.co.nz/maps?q=blockhouse+bay+road&ll=-36.896345,174.7021&spn=0.003132,0.006539&hnear=Blockhouse+Bay+Rd,+Auckland&gl=nz&t=m&z=18&layer=c&cbll=-36.896345,174.7021&panoid=c4VxHMttFL5yWNicvqCK6A&cbp=12,151.12,,0,7.97

      That solves the number curb cut issue beautifully.

      • jonno1

        Heh, that’s pretty ugly Starnius! But there can be problems with narrow shared driveways too. A friend wishes to build an additional house on her large rear site. It’s fully compliant with planning rules except that as the shared driveway exceeds a certain length (not sure what that is), one more house requires a passing bay in the driveway. So currently she is negotiating to buy a piece of back lawn (about 6x2m) from a street-frontage neighbour to comply. The irony is that she doesn’t have to build the passing bay, just show it on her plans!

      • jonno1

        Very nice, Bryce. Is that what’s known as Kensington Park? It ties in nicely with the discussion above between me and Steve D, with the added advantage of the garages being largely hidden; certainly not prominent anyway. I might even retire there one day (provided I don’t have to do any repainting – I’m over that!).

    • Steve D

      Perhaps it could also be explained how one’s car will remain in as good a condition if it’s always sitting out in the sun and rain, instead of in the garage or carport?

      Man, how precious can you get? Cars are waterproof and sunproof. They’re designed that way, since, you know, they operate outside. There are always weirdos who waste perfectly good weekend afternoons polishing their toys to a shine, but most people quite rationally treat their cars as robust heavy machinery that’s not too delicate to look after itself in a slight amount of weather. You can always get a one-off cut and polish before you finally sell your car, if you think anyone’s going to care, and you don’t just keep the car and drive it into the ground.

      As for security, sure, that’s an issue. It’s almost as if owning a car in the city is inherently an expensive and frequently annoying burden. Driveways don’t even protect your car much, anyway – compare some insurance quotes sometime, and you’ll see that which suburb and city you live in has a much greater effect than whether you park off-street.

      How anyone could look at the above picture of densely spaced, crammed-together houses and conclude that somehow it’s not dense enough, and that there’s too much wasted space between the houses and road is totally beyond me.

      There’s loads of open space in that photo. The problem is that most of that open space is designed primarily for moving and storing cars, or providing a buffer area against cars, or poorly used by surrounding each house with a unusable, totally exposed couple of metres of wasted space on each side so that we can keep pretending that they are meaningfully separate. On-street parking, rather than off-street, is just one way of reducing the amount of our suburbs that needs to be paved for the use of cars, and increasing the bit that’s usable by the actual people who live in the area.

      In fact, even that very photo of that very half-arsed subdivision shows quite a number of trees. They haven’t grown up yet, since it’s a new suburb, but when they do it’s going to feel far leafier than any barren rural paddock would. There’s also a rather large (if somewhat barren) park just out of frame at the bottom.

      • As precious as most car owners I suppose. Most will look after their car – that’s what garages are for! Sure, there are folk who drive around in rust buckets and never wash or take any pride in their vehicle, but let’s not all go there. Obviously it’s not safe to wash your car on the road.

        • Steve D

          I haven’t done a detailed survey but I see a hell of a lot of cars that get parked on the driveway right outside a garage, and loads more cars owned by people who don’t even have garages. Obviously, I’ve particularly chosen to live somewhere that a real car enthusiast probably wouldn’t bother with, but I don’t see a lot of care going into people’s car upkeep in most parts of the city that I visit. Except in really flash areas, I think actually storing your car in your garage, if you even have one, is a pretty niche sort of activity. Garages are for storing your miscellaneous crap, or setting up ping pong tables, or converting into dubiously-legal sleepouts!

          Actually washing your car is reasonably common, but I don’t know where you get the idea that you can’t do it on the street. Maybe you live somewhere that the streets are designed like miniature highways, on on a major arterial road, or in the middle of the countryside? I clean my car (well, just remove the bird shit, really) on the street, and I see loads of other people doing so.

          There’s also the option to save yourself the trouble and just drop $10 on a petrol station car wash. You can also do all the actually important stuff at a petrol station for free – check the oil, wash the windscreens, pump the tyres, etc.

          • Frank McRae

            “I don’t want to pay $10 every few months so instead I purchased $150 000 worth of urban real estate” – People with garages

        • conan

          That’s twice now you’ve quoted the ‘most people’ group. Care to back that up in some way?

  • Anthony McBride

    My sister has built a house which has a garage at Emerald Hill in Wellington and they never even used it for its original purpose. It is only used for me to sleep in when I go there to visit, or a place where the dog hangs out on a cold, rainy day.

    When I had a look at the housing options, there were about 10 different houses. All with one/two car garages. They would have preferred another bedroom and laundry room rather than a garage, but of course, that’s not an option.

  • Dave B

    Wellington is a good place to live without a car, yet still be reasonably able to access most of what you need. For the first 8 or so years of family life my wife and I did just that and managed well. On occasion if we really needed a car, or more often a van or ute, we were easily able to hire one from a nearby petrol station. Good public transport in our area, good local amenities, bicycles, and children who knew how to walk, use raincoats, take the train etc, ensured that we were not car-dependent. However, take away those amenities which freed us from car-dependency and we would become car-dependent and not by choice!

    I remember once being told by a person who was wanting to criticise, that “I had far less freedom without owning a car than she did by having one”. To which I replied, “I have the freedom to live without a car, and I do so quite happily thank you. I also have the freedom to buy a car if I really felt I needed one. On the other hand, you would find it very hard to live without your car. You are car-dependent. So who in the broader context has the greater freedom?”. That shut her up!

    When our children reached teenage, my wife felt unable to continue living without a car, largely due to the ridiculous societal expectation that parents should act as chauffeurs/taxi-drivers for their own and other people’s kids! On several occasions since, for some reason we found ourselves without a car for a number of weeks and as before, managed perfectly well.

    We are not car-dependent and don’t want to be. Therefore we are local-amenity-dependent, and consider forced car-dependency caused by general lack of such amenity to be a negative and detrimental thing for society.

  • Phil

    Dave, most people look on the car as progress in much the same way we do other things that have evolved over the years. Modern medicine as an example. Now you may want to opt out of this and good on you – but please do not think that means everyone else should take a step backwards to please you. I mean – you would not expect Auckland to rid itself of hospitals just because a few people prefer holistic healing.
    We live in the 21st century – that means cities are places where cars and trucks dominate our roads. If you want to opt out of that I would suggest you move somewhere more remote.
    At the moment you sound like a vegan in a steak restaurant complaining about the menu.

    • Stu Donovan

      is the question not whether cars and trucks should dominate our roads, but whether roads (and parking) should dominate our city? I think not.

      • Phil

        Show me a city where roads and parking are not dominant? Not London – Not Paris – Not Rome – Not New York – Not Chicago – NOT LA – Not Sydney – Not Singapore – Not Mumbai – Not Dubai – Not Cairo – Not Athens….
        What do you want to model Auckland from Stu? Zermatt?

    • counterpoint

      …therefore terraced houses are crap?

    • Dave B in reply to Phil

      Phil, why do you argue with such ridiculous extremes? “…Auckland to rid itself of hospitals”?, “…everyone else take a step backwards to please you..”
      Where have I suggested that we should rid anywhere of anything? Or that “everyone” should do anything to please me? All I am suggesting is that a better balance be achieved between the needs of the car-users and the needs of those who, for whatever reason, do not have a car. (And bear in mind this may include those who may normally use a car but at that instant are not in it or do not have it available). Many continental European cities manage to achieve a far more sensible balance than Auckland and they are better places for everyone as a result. Cars and trucks do not dominate the way they do in Auckland. Presumably you have been to such cities Phil? So tell me, do they make you feel uncomfortable and deprived, as if you have taken a step backwards to please a minority?

      “Vegan in a steak restaurant complaining…” – You must be hearing voices in your mixed-up head Phil. My point was that Wellington or at least the part where I live DOES have the amenties I desire. I am not complaining. But I am suggesting that other places could learn from this aspect of Wellington, and be better themselves for it. You know Phil, like those European cities you hate.
      What? You don’t like Wellington either? Is that too backward for you also? You sound like steak-lover in a general restaurant who complains because some people don’t want steak.

  • Geoff the issue here is “one car good, many cars bad”. A single car is great – once obtained, it allows easy personal transport and carriage of goods over long distances.
    But when everyone has one, the cars and the infrastructure required to facilitate them ends up taking up massive amounts of land that can no longer be used for any other purpose, which pushes things away from each other, which makes them harder to get to, which in turn changes the car from a convenience to a requirement to function in suburban Auckland. That is the problem here.

  • Martin W.

    Actually all that Kiwi lifestyle talk reminds me on a discussion i had with a colleague last year, when I was telling i am moving in an apartment, and he could not understand why I do so because, i am missing out on having outdoor spaces. Now it happened that I was invited to his house and the outdoor space was a huge concrete driveway of something around 100-150 sqm (for the 4 cars of the 4 head family) plus a double garage which it seemed not to be used for the cars. Followed by a 250sqm something single level home, and the “hailed and praised” backyard was actually smaller than the lounge area of the house and half of it covered with a wooden deck……

  • john smith

    Me: “An auto-dependent city is one that has developed in a way that makes it difficult or impossible for most people to access the city’s amenities with reasonable convenience without a car.”
    Geoff Blackmore: ‘And it does it because people want to have a car…. the planning is to suit the majority of people, who want to drive.’

    OK, we seem to be admitting that ‘auto-dependent’ is a reasonable way to describe cities at least.

    The next question is, are the policies that have made our cities auto-dependent an efficient reflection of the majority will?

    I doubt it. Certainly in Australia, if you poll people on ‘what are the biggest flies in the ointment of your suburban life?’, the dominant responses are ‘traffic congestion’ and ‘inadequate public transport.’ This doesn’t suggest that auto-dependent urban planning has been particularly successful in giving people what they wanted or thought they wanted.

    There is also the question of catering fairly for minorities. Perhaps auto-dependent planning really does suit the majority. How big is that majority, exactly? Where does it leave the significant minority (I’m sure others can fill in the numbers) who don’t have cars [fn1] or driving licences? In an auto dependent city these people are severely deprived, in their ability to access the city’s goodies, both relatively compared with others, and often *absolutely* compared with own grandparents (given the hollowing out of public transport services and the dispersion of activity centres).

    The classic example of this is the when the out of town mall kills off the old transit-friendly strip shopping centre. The majority with cars gain a minor convenience of easier access to the mall; the minority without cars suffer a severe inconvenience – they can no longer get to the shops. Overall, is this a net gain to total community welfare? Telling the minority that they should move to New York is a flippant and inadequate response.

    I think the principle of ‘urbanist’ planning is, let the people who really want the auto-dependent suburban lifestyle have it, but let’s try to do it in a way that doesn’t ignore the people who want something different.

    note 1: ‘don’t have cars’ – remember that where the car is used for commuting to work, much of the time this includes the at-home partner in one-car, one-income families.

    • Exactly John. Maybe the majority who are happy with the auto dependent structure of Auckland is 60% (though I think it is actually lower than that and surveys seem to support that). That means 40% of Aucklanders would like better PT and cycling infrastructure.

      So isnt it fair that 40% of the available money is used to supply that infrastructure? Not 100% but not 10% either because that isnt delivering what people want.

  • […] noticed Transport Blog’s “How off-street parking is hurting our neighbourhoods” built on Brent Toderian’s argument about off street parking in the suburbs. Knowing […]

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