Auckland: the world’s friendliest city

UK travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler has just named Auckland the world’s friendliest city in its 2014 rankings. It introduces Auckland with a great photo that highlights the city’s growing urbanity:

Conde Nast auckland friendliest city

FRIENDLIEST: 1. Auckland, New Zealand

Score: 86.0 (tie)

We must admit, we saw this one coming—and so did you. “The people are friendly, and their humor and view on life is something to aspire to attain,” said one reader. “Such a gorgeous city on the water” with “clear air,” “fresh food,” and “amazing culture,” others raved. A trip to the Auckland Museum for its Maori collections and “terrific” cultural performances is highly recommended. If you’ve never been to New Zealand, this “clean, youthful, adventurous, beautiful” city is the “ideal starting place” for seeing the country.

Last year’s world ranking: no. 16 (friendliest).

It’s fantastic to see New Zealand’s urban places start to make it into the travel magazines in their own right rather than as brief stopping-off points on the way to the Southern Alps. More of this please!

Reflections on Melbourne and Sydney

2014 was an auspicious year. Whether by cosmic alignment or fickle chance, Easter Monday and Anzac Day fell in the same week, and I was able to shoot off to Melbourne and Sydney for ten days with only three days off from work. We talk about these larger cities a fair bit on the blog – they’re both almost three times the population – but I think there’s still some interesting points left to make.

Getting by with fewer cars

In Melbourne, I stayed with a friend in the outskirts of the city, 35 km away from the CBD. Despite living this far out, he and his partner get by with a single car. They commute to the CBD by bus and train, and only really use the car in the weekends. With car licensing at $700 a year, and the other costs of car ownership that go with it, they don’t see the need for a second vehicle.

I also caught up with a couple of friends who live more centrally in Melbourne, and who work centrally as well, and neither of them own a car. Likewise, the friends I saw in Sydney were a couple with just one car between them. The people I’m talking about are all professionals, but they manage to get by with fewer cars then they would in Auckland. There’s a real cost saving there.

This observation also comes through in the census data. The average Auckland household has 1.7 cars, compared with 1.6 in Melbourne and 1.5 in Sydney (actually, the figures will be slightly higher than that… I’ve assumed that all households with “three or more” motor vehicles only have three).

Better transport options – public, active modes and so on – make all the difference. Auckland is very well placed to make some big changes on that front, a point Peter made very well here. We just need to take advantage of those opportunities.

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Don’t forget to publicise the shiny new things. Not that this tram was particularly shiny, but you get the idea.

Metro Rail Networks/ City Rail Link equivalents

Of course, and as we’ve discussed previously on the blog, Melbourne and Sydney both have much more extensive train networks than Auckland. They’re also adding new lines as we speak – the Sydney routes map below shows two new lines currently under construction. The Melbourne map doesn’t show what’s currently being built, but the Regional Rail Link is underway and due for completion in 2016.

Also visible from these two maps, of course, is that both Melbourne and Sydney have their own version of the City Rail Link – looped track through the city centre. Brisbane and Perth do as well, for that matter… more on those in another post.

Smart card bundling

Melbourne has recently stopped accepting cash or paper tickets on all public transport services. You’ve got to have a smart card, called “myki”.

A myki costs AUD $6, and you can also buy a “myki Visitor Value Pack” for $14 – it’s preloaded with a day’s worth of unlimited Zone 1 travel (covering the CBD and most of the inner suburbs where tourists would want to go). However, the thing I really like about this pack is that it bundles the myki card with discounts for 15 of Melbourne’s major attractions, including the aquarium and Eureka Skydeck. The discounts are pretty good in some cases, up to around 20% off admission.

This is a great way of getting myki cards into the hands of tourists who might otherwise be put off by the fact that they can’t pay with cash when they’re only in town for a short visit. It shows a pretty good understanding of consumer behaviour, and it’d be good to see something similar here – how about it, Auckland Transport/ council? For starters, there are the council-run attractions such as the zoo and museum… Or for that matter, why don’t the private sector guys – Kelly Tarlton’s, Skytower, and so on – get the ball rolling on this?

*Update – as Matt wrote this morning, it turns out that AT are already working on this: “concept development for 1/3/7 day and customized HOP cards for visitor / tourist PT and tourist attraction discounted access is nearing completion”, and AT are hoping to release something for January 2015 to tie in with the next Auckland Nines. Good stuff!

Variable quality cycling infrastructure

Melbourne has some pretty good quality infrastructure, with a number of separated cycle paths and trails, and a large network of bike lanes. However, the city is let down by the Australian laws which require cyclists to wear helmets – as for New Zealand. According to cycle-helmets.com, which has a wide range of resources on the topic:

In Melbourne, surveys at the same 64 observation sites (PDF 535kb) in May 1990 and May 1991 [before and after the introduction of compulsory helmet legislation] found there were 29% fewer adults and 42% fewer child cyclists (36% overall). Each site was observed for two 5 hour periods chosen from the four time blocks of weekday morning, weekend morning, weekday afternoon and weekend afternoon, representing a total of 640 hours of observation. The weather was broadly similar for both surveys. Victoria introduced compulsory bike helmet legislation in late 1990.

In the first year of compulsory helmet legislation in Victoria, child cycling went down by 36% and child head injuries went down by 32%. Surveys taken in May/June 1990, 1991 and 1992, reported by Cameron et al. (1992), indicated that total children’s bicycling activity in Victoria had reduced by 36% in the first year of the helmet law, and by a total of 45% in the second year.

There’s some more on this topic here – written, funnily enough, by a libertarian think tank. It was good to see the ACT party picking up on this earlier this year, and saying their policy would be to scrap the helmet law.

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A bike hire scheme run by a hotel called The Olsen – not sure if it’s available to the general public

Stuff happening

There seemed to be cranes everywhere in the Melbourne and Sydney CBDs – reflecting a country which didn’t have the same slowdown we had here in New Zealand. Of course, and as reported by the Herald, we’re starting to get things going again in Auckland as well. Construction activity is picking up in many parts of the city and in most sectors.

 

White elephants

As many will know, the Sydney monorail was decommissioned last year, after just 25 years of operation. I’m no expert on monorails, but according to a newspaper article from the time, light rail would have cost 33% less, and could have carried 60% more passengers per hour. And now the monorail’s been torn down, so the government can put in light rail after all. Go figure.

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There’s probably a couple of lessons that can be taken out of this. Firstly, monorails tend to be a waste of money. Secondly, and more importantly, it’s important for public (or private, for that matter) transport infrastructure to be well thought out, and provide value. This is why our Congestion Free Network delays investment in some public transport projects which we don’t think give good value for money, and brings forward others which do. It’s also why we advocate different solutions for different corridors – heavy rail for some, light rail (potentially) for others, busways for others.

Bike to the Future

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Bike to the Future. 28 September 2014. Photo: Tamara Josephine.

The wunderkinds at Generation Zero put on a great event yesterday. Part celebration, part protest, the Bike to the Future event was attended by about 400 (500?) people, including young kids, oldies and a couple of dogs. Surprisingly the weather cooperated – making the attendance even more impressive.

The event is part of a bigger campaign for the provision of separated bike lanes along Karangahape Road. Of course re-allocating road space for spatially efficient modes makes a whole lot of sense for safety, convenience and economic reasons. Most importantly the event shows what Auckland will look like in the future; and if the smiles, good cheer and overflowing cafes were any indication the future can’t come soon enough.

Below is media from Tamara Josephine, @bythemotorway (more photos here: 1, 2, 3), and @wheeledped (website).

Photo by @bythemotorway

Photo by @bythemotorway

 

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Photo: Tamara Josephine.

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Photo: @bythemotorway

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Photo: Tamara Josephine.

The emergence of an urban generation of Aucklanders

This is just a quick note about an event on tomorrow night. Our good friend Dr Sudhvir Singh from Generation Zero is speaking at the Sir John Logan Campbell Annual Lecture on “The emergence of an urban generation of Aucklanders”. Details are here.

24 September 2014

6:45 – 8pm

Venue: Reception Lounge, Level 2, Auckland Town Hall

The ‘father of Auckland’, Sir John Logan Campbell initially trained as a doctor before going on to play a key role in Auckland’s early development. During Auckland’s initial planning stages, suburbs were designed for people, and Auckland had some of the highest rates of public transport patronage per capita in the world. Since then, Auckland has grown into an incredibly diverse, outward looking city of 1.5 million people. However decisions made in the 20th century have resulted in a sprawling, car-dependent urban form. Under the new ‘super city’ structure, Auckland’s future shape is being determined. Issues of urban development are highly consequential: cities like Auckland are on the front line of 21st century challenges, from climate change to inequality to the epidemic of ‘non-communicable diseases’ like diabetes and heart disease.

Can smart urban planning provide solutions to these contemporary challenges? Do Auckland’s increasingly multicultural cohort of young people have different preferences to their parents’ generation, and what kind of city do they want to live in in the future? What lessons can be learned from Sir John Logan Campbell’s time? Using his experience as a health professional, a migrant and an advocate for a more liveable city, Sudhvir will share his vision for Auckland, and the potential for Auckland’s first ‘urban generation’ to help influence the future shape of our city.

Stuart’s 100 #30 Small is Beautiful

30: Small is Beautiful

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What if we decided small can be beautiful?

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beholder sees beauty through the lens of what they hold dear. When it comes to lifestyle beauty relates to how we want to live and how we are used to living.

Aucklanders have lived large for a long time. Many of us are now making different choices to live small. This might still seem quite foreign to many Aucklanders accustomed to lots of space and their own personal bubble. But that doesn’t make small inherently bad.

If we decided small can be beautiful, then we will develop a new appreciation for these things. People who choose to live an inner city lifestyle develop an appreciation of the joys of the small apartment, the small car or the folding bicycle, because space is at a premium in every aspect of their city existence. They recognise the trade-offs but are content that they work for them.

A sense of beauty is important but it can be cultivated and trained to grow in different directions. Small can be beautiful.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Our love affair with personal mobility

We often hear that New Zealanders have a love affair with their cars. Some people argue that driving is an essential element of our national psyche: even if we succeeded in providing good walking, cycling, and public transport options, Kiwis would doggedly insist upon taking their cars. Even if it didn’t make any sense to do so.

There is some basis for this idea. We do, after all, have an unusually high rate of vehicle ownership. We’re the eighth-most vehicle-owning nation in the world, with 712 vehicles per 1,000 people in 2010. If you take out the anomalously wealthy micro-states – San Marino, Monaco, etc – we’ve got the fourth-highest rate of vehicle ownership, behind the US, Iceland, and Australia.

Let’s set aside the question of whether Kiwis are freely choosing to own loads of cars, or whether car ownership is required by our poor public transport system, and take a look at the cultural aspects of car ownership.

As it turns out, if we take a historical perspective, New Zealanders do have a real preference for personal mobility. But that hasn’t always meant owning cars – the preferred means of getting around have changed as technology and society changed. We expect this process of change to continue – New Zealanders will get rid of their cars as better options become available. (In fact, they already are.)

So let’s take a look at the history of personal mobility in post-European settlement New Zealand.

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People also had some pretty awesome means of getting around before the Europeans arrived (Source)

In his brilliant history of the New Zealanders, Making Peoples, James Belich comments that the relatively sparse population density of early European settlements was associated with a surprisingly low rate of social isolation. This was because pakeha New Zealanders tended to travel faster than their forebears in Britain, as a result of extremely high levels of horse ownership:

Horses were expensive in the early 1850s; bullocks were cheaper and preferable on poor roads. There were 115 horses per thousand Europeans in 1851, and some of those were actually owned by Maori. But by 1858, there were 254 per thousand, much of the breed stock having been imported from Tasmania. By 1867, despite the large inflow of people, there were 302 horses per thousand, and 333 by 1878. The equine ratio peaked at 400 per thousand in 1911, and declined slowly thereafter with the development of the petrol engine.
[...]
One horse for every three people was a vastly higher ratio than in Britain, and, from the 1860s, New Zealand horses were cheaper to buy. Mild winter and more easily available grazing meant they had always been cheaper to keep. Easier access to horse ownership, like house ownership, had interesting social implications… [p 354]

I note briefly here that it wasn’t the petrol engine that did in horse transit in the early 20th century. It was actually a combination of the urbanisation of the NZ population, which meant that it was increasingly hard to clear away manure piling up in cities, and the invention of the humble bicycle, which was cheaper to own and run while enabling similar levels of mobility.

Back to Belich – he argues that horse ownership enabled relatively high levels of social interaction even in seemingly isolated rural areas:

Further out of town, high access to horses must have increased the power to associate. In 1881, New Zealand had about six times more horses per thousand people than Britain. Roads were often very bad, but roads and tracks impassable to wheeled traffic were sometimes still traversable by riders. Poor roads were more of an obstacle to economic transport than to social transport. ‘The attitude to travel and distance of the rider or [coach, trap or buggy] driver was totally different to that of the pedestrian or dray driver.’ Riding was several times faster than walking over substantial distances. Even if allowance is made for bad roads, widespread horse ownership must have significantly reduced the social effects of geographical isolation. [p 419-420]

A few decades later, the technology had changed but the social dynamics of transport remained the same. After bicycles were invented and commercialised in the 1860s, they swiftly spread across New Zealand. A few technological innovations later – chain-driven safety bicycles, brakes, etc – the price of bikes was coming down and ridership was on the way up. Personal mobility was still king – but two wheels were now preferred over four hooves.

The book Ride: The Story of Cycling in New Zealand, written by the Kennett brothers, provides an interesting window into New Zealand’s “golden age” of mass cycling in the first half of the 20th century:

Between 1900 and 1950, New Zealand imported nearly 800,000 bicycles and manufactured thousands more. By the late 1930s, an estimated 250,000 bicycles were being ridden in New Zealand – one for every six people. [p 21]

Cycling, unlike horse ownership, was most heavily concentrated in urban centres, where it was taken up in massive numbers:

Christchurch, nicknamed ‘Cyclopolis’, was the centre of New Zealand’s cycling boom. In 1924, the Christchurch City Motor Inspector estimated that there were 40,000 cyclists in the city – almost half the population. There were 56 cycle dealers and no fewer than 33 cycle clubs. On 4 March 1936, a Christchurch traffic census recorded that 11,335 cyclists had passed the BNZ corner of Cathedral Square between 8 a.m. and 5.30 p.m. – a rate of 19 per minute…

Despite the huge popularity of cycling in Christchurch, a cycle workers’ representative claimed in 1938 that many more bicycles were being imported into northern cities and that “twice as many are absorbed by the North Island as in the South in proportion to the distribution of population”. This suggests that while most people already had bikes in Christchurch, many North Islanders were still taking up cycling in the late 1930s. [p 32-33]

The bicycle’s egalitarian nature was a good fit with New Zealand society – bikes transported the young and old, men and women, and people of all social classes. The book provides all sorts of interestingly suggestive examples – Palmerston North’s cycling fire brigade, Christchurch’s wheeled female nursing corps, bushmen and deer-cullers outfitted with bicycles to make it in to town, etc.

Christchurchs's Atalanta Cycling Club combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women's lib (Source)

The Atalanta Ladies’ Cycling Club in Christchurch combined two great New Zealand passions: bicycling and women’s lib (Source)

As we know, bicycles didn’t remain the mode of choice. After World War II, rural New Zealanders replaced their horses with cars and urban New Zealanders replaced their bikes with cars. We now define personal mobility as the possession of four wheels and a ton of metal and plastic. But it’s important to realise that car ownership itself is not necessarily the be-all and end-all here. It’s just a means of getting around.

History teaches us that New Zealanders will eagerly embrace new and better transport options. We’re less attached to individual technologies, including the car, than we are to mobility. Why would we insist upon travelling in a certain way, regardless of how costly and inconvenient it becomes?

At this point New Zealand is an urban nation, and urban transport solutions are different. Urban transport systems based solely around the car suffer from congestion and the need to spend increasing amounts of money on roads in a Sisyphus-like effort to reduce it. Fortunately, public transport networks can be excellent at offering personal mobility if they are designed well. Transport consultant Jarrett Walker, who helped design Auckland’s New Network, is a big proponent of this idea. His slogan is “frequency is freedom” – meaning, essentially, that buses or trains that turn up every few minutes and connect to other frequent services allow people to get to wherever they’re going, whenever they want.

Frequency is freedom

Frequency is freedom!

Finally, as someone who bikes to work, I can vouch for the speed and ease of urban cycling. When I bike down Symonds St in the morning, I am usually the fastest-moving thing on the road. I often beat the cars back up the hill at the end of the day, too. So I’ll give the last word to the Kennett brothers, who recall an idea that we should perhaps get started again:

Publicised races to work, from the suburbs to the centre of NZ cities, were common around 1980,”with bicycles usually winning hands down. [p 51]

The Pullman Hotel – Pulled into line?

Greetings from Barcelona, where I’m currently winding up a 3 week European holiday that has also taken me to Amsterdam, Paris, and Porto. But my thoughts on those cities will have to wait for another day, because right now I want to engage in some bloated, tapas-filled celebration of a more local achievement.

That’s right – our wee TransportBlog community can notch up another sweet (albeit small) civic success on our train belts (NB: Some of our earlier successes are documented here and here).

First some background. Some of our longer time readers may remember this post from approximately 18 months ago, in which I ranted and rallied against a metal post that had been rather brutally plonked smack in the middle of a narrow footpath, as illustrated below. I live and work in the area and this metal post was, frankly, a small but constant pain in the ass head whenever I stumbled home blind drunk from many and varied soirees.

Pullman post gone

 

And just take a look at it now (NB: Photo taken by Kent Lundberg – urbanist extraordinaire and fellow MRCagney worker bee). Note this photo has been taken looking south, i.e. opposite direction from the previous photo.

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Boo yah – begone ye post! And look at all those happy pedestrians; no longer do they have to swerve around the plywood box inconveniently placed in their way. Instead they can move freely, and glower at oncoming pedestrians without obstruction.

More seriously though: This is just one more small example of the sorts of positive transport outcomes that can be driven by an educated, informed, and pro-active community – such as that which TransportBlog has – over a number of years – sought to cultivate.

Of course credit needs to go to Auckland Council and/Auckland Transport for taking this issue up with the Pullman. I believe, from my not-so-secret contacts with democratically elected representatives, that Christopher Dempsey of the Waitemata Local Board also deserves mention for pursuing the issue.

In terms of the Pullman Hotel, I think it’s a crying shame you took so long to come to the civic party and acknowledge that you, or the Hotel’s previous owners, had clearly erred in placing this metal post in the footpath. Personally, I believe that “law” is a minimum morality and that their references to having consent for the aforementioned pole were a dereliction of duty to the community in which their Hotel operates.

But now that it’s been put right, I hereby declare that my Company’s embargo on your services has been lifted. Not that I’ll be using it anytime soon, preferring instead the wonderful travel opportunities opened up by the likes of AirBnb (NB: I hope to cover how this so-called “sharing economy” website is revolutionising how we travel and in turn how we utilise our housing stock in a subsequent post).

In spite of this sweet success, there is one obvious outstanding question: What’s the next priority for Auckland’s long-suffering pedestrians? Speak now; the AT/AC God’s may just be listening.

 

 

Stuart’s 100 #25 The Original Act of Philanthropy

25: The Original Act of Philanthropy

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What if all Aucklanders understood the founding act of philanthropy in this city?

Every city should have an understanding of how it came to be. The gifting of some 3000 acres by Ngati Whatua to Captain Hobson to allow the establishment of Auckland is a hugely significant act. It led to the development of the earliest settlement in the central city and surrounding ridges and valleys between Maungawhau Mount Eden, Mataharehare (Hobson Bay) and Opou (Cox’s Creek).

Knowing this changes both how you understand the historical foundations of Auckland but also the much deeper connections Ngati Whatua and other iwi have to this land dating back long before this city was ever conceived. With such a high percentage of Aucklanders not having been born here, it is important that these aspects of our city story are acknowledged, talked about, and even dare I say celebrated where appropriate.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Stuart’s 100 #23: The Knowledge

23: The Knowledge

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What if taxi drivers knew this city better than you?

A light-hearted observation really; but it seems that in recent times the average taxi driver in Auckland has a very poor knowledge of destinations and how to get around this city. Is the use of GPS systems just making that worse? Surely drivers should still have the Knowledge? Shouldn’t we expect that driver knowledge be more discerning than GPS and outsmart it when the unexpected happens? Has the deregulation got out of hand?

Stuart Houghton 2014

Stuart’s 100 #19: TVNZ

19: Opening up the TVNZ HQ onto Victoria Street

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What if TVNZ HQ wasn’t such a fortress?

There are a number of central government buildings across Auckland that historically have really let the city down, offering very little to the public realm and in their design quality setting a poor standard for the private sector.

One of the worst offenders perhaps is the TVNZ headquarters on Victoria Street West in the city centre.

Clearly, this is a building from a different (post-modern) age. It appears to almost revel in a fortress-type quality in terms of the way it presents to the surrounding streets. It is almost unintelligible to find a way into the building from the public street (as opposed to the basement carpark). And it presents a series of largely solid, blank walls and generally uninviting appearance on all sides; not to mention the famous bunker bus stop on Victoria Street.

3 simple changes that could be made include establishing a legible and friendly front door to the corner of Victoria and Hobson Streets; providing engaging signage – possibly innovative digital media displays that say interact with passers-by at a pedestrian scale and speak of what goes on inside the complex; and possible creation of some exhibition or gallery space that can stage changing exhibits from the TVNZ archives or be used for promotional activity.

Other state broadcasters, like the BBC in the UK, or Radio France in Paris, are quite memorable places and even major attractions within the city. After all, they play a large role in the nation’s storytelling and culture.

Wouldn’t it be great if TVNZ had even just a nod to that? Otherwise there seems no point to being in the city centre at all. They might as well be out in an anonymous business park somewhere away from the public eye.