Photo of the Day: Our Out of Balance Centre City Streets

Vincent and Pitt, Thursday 5:49 pm. Every corner occupied with people wanting to cross, including eight on this silly little delight of a ‘pedestrian refuge’, or nine if you include me, as I stepped back into the vehicle priority slip lane to take the shot, including at least one genuine princess. There appears to be one vehicle using the intersection and another a long long way in the distance up Pitt street.

vincent-pitt-6pm-thrus

Auckland Transport have a lot of work to do to fix the dated modal priority that dominates City Centre streets as it is no longer fit for purpose. This design dates from a time when very few lived in the city, fewer worked there and those that did didn’t stay on to recreate in the city either. It is also from before the time that the economic and social value of well designed walkable streets were so well understood. People not in cars need more space and time afforded to them from the people that control this critical part of our public domain. The value of this in supporting the modern urban services economy and the social well being of everyone is overwhelming.

After all transport infrastructure is simply a means to economic and social ends; not an end in it self.

Mt Albert upgrade under threat

Hot on the heels of last weeks flurry of consultations, we now have another one to add the mix and it’s one that could definitely use some help to stop Auckland Transport going rogue with a nonsensical and dangerous plan.

You may recall that back in November, the Albert-Eden Local Board undertook consultation on plans to revitalise the Mt Albert town centre. The plans were decent and included some great changes such as removing the slip lane onto Mt Albert Rd for southbound traffic, but as always, it had some areas that could be improved, particularly related to the lack of bike infrastructure. In February it was announced that overall, the plan had 94% support from respondents with the provision for bikes being the main objection and so the plans were adjusted to include raised cycle lanes the length of the town centre. Here’s what was confirmed at the time.

mt-albert-town-centre-upgrade-feb-16-design

Since then the first part of the plan, the direct connection to the town centre from Mt Albert Train Station was completed.

Now, suddenly, Auckland Transport are back with an unusually short consultation on one aspect of the plan, for northbound on New North Rd, that is completely at odds with the stated goals of the project. It’s worth noting that this is a local board led project, they want Mt Albert to be more people friendly town centre. AT say this about the upgrade

Mt Albert Town Centre upgrade is an Auckland Council and Albert-Eden Local Board joint project that will be delivered by Auckland Transport to revitalise the heart of one of Auckland’s older suburbs. It aims to celebrate its unique character while creating a clean, safe, pleasant and lively environment both day and night that locals can enjoy and take pride in.

There’s not a lot of information online but based on what we’ve experienced in from AT in the past it’s clear from the language what must have happened. Essentially it appears that as the project has progressed, the traffic engineers have got hold of the plans and grabbed their traffic modelling tight like a child clinging to their favourite blanket or toy. The problem with this is we’ve seen over and over again the traffic modelling been proven wrong yet it still gets used, after all the computer saying no to an idea is easier to explain. So when there’s even the slightest hint of inconvenience for car drivers, even if a proposal does all sorts of other wonderful things, the engineers put their foot down. I’ve heard of projects being delayed for months, possibly a year or longer and all at huge cost just to show that a proposal won’t cause the sky to fall.

At issue is how to deal with right hand turns from New North Rd to Mt Albert Rd. They say that all up are around 1,200 right turn movements at the intersection currently. There four options are suggested.

  • Option 1: Right turn at all times
  • Option 2: Right turn banned part of the time
  • Option 3: Right turn banned at all times
  • Option 4: Changed layout with right turn allowed at all times

I’ll cover each of these below but Option 4 is AT’s preferred option.

Option 1: Right turn at all times

This combines the right turn lane with a straight through lane. The issue is AT say the models show a 50% increase in delays in the morning peak and 300% in the evening peak. Something doesn’t seem right with this as in the evenings when most traffic is southbound, why would northbound traffic delay the intersection.

mt-albert-town-centre-dec-16-consultation-option-1

Option 2: Right turn banned part of the time

This would prevent right turns being undertaken during busy times but AT say they don’t actually know how long that would need to be. They say it would also cause confusion for drivers

mt-albert-town-centre-dec-16-consultation-option-2

Option 3: Right turn banned at all times

This option just does away with right turns altogether and surprisingly doing so has some big benefits including reducing intersection delays by 10-30%. It would also have the benefit of having more people use Richardson Rd/Owairaka Ave which would help get some traffic out of the town centre.

mt-albert-town-centre-dec-16-consultation-option-3

Option 4: Changed layout with right turn allowed at all times

As mentioned this is AT’s preferred option as it gives right turn movements a dedicated lane but it does so at the expense of the cycleway which instead stops dead at the bus stop and cyclists are then expected to mix with traffic.

mt-albert-town-centre-dec-16-consultation-option-4

What’s notable about this consultation is not just what AT say but what they don’t say. Nowhere in the consultation do AT talk about the benefits of having a safe bike lanes as part of the solution or what is lost by removing them in option 4. All that is really focused on is having turning options or not. Also not mentioned in the information is the impact on carparking as you can see that the first three options actually retain more carparking than option 4 does due to squeezing in that turning lane. They don’t even mention clearly that option 4 would perform worse than option 3 from a traffic movement perspective.

Just back on the bike lanes, AT say this as one of the benefits of the town centre upgrade.

A safer, more appealing environment for pedestrians, cyclists, commuters, road users and retail and restaurant businesses.

Do they really think that cutting out the bike lanes will make it safer for users. I wonder if the engineers who proposed this daft idea would be prepared to look a parent in the eye and tell them with a straight face that it’s safe for their child to use. These plans will do nothing to get people who aren’t currently brave enough to cycle in the city to try ride a bike.

Putting aside the design for a second, the timing and details of this consultation are also odd. It went up on AT’s website quietly on Friday night and three different dates are listed for when feedback closes. One comment in the timeline section says December 13, the “Have your say” section lists the date as Thursday December 15 while the paper feedback form says Friday December 16. The timeline section also says feedback will be received and analysed while also stating that construction starts in January. That’s got to be a record turnaround time, especially once Christmas and New Year are taken into account so perhaps suggests AT have already decided on the outcome and are only going through the consultation motions to be able to tick a box. In a final bit of poor form, the only way currently visible to make a submission is to print off a form and send it to AT, even though the form itself says you can do it all online.

Overall this appears to be a sham consultation to justify a shoddy option, one that is at odds with the stated goals and visions of the Mayor, Council, Local Board, those who have previously submitted, because it removes more parking probably the retailers and of course it’s even at odds with AT’s own policies and vision.

Hopefully AT can put up an online version of the feedback form today as it’s important we get submissions in to stop their dangerous preferred option. Given Option 3 also improves traffic at the intersection by 10-30% and other options for regional trips already exist via Richardson Rd/Owairaka Ave, it appears Option 3 is probably the best of what has been suggested.

Sunday Reading 4 December 2016

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Marti Friedlander (1928-2016) Kids Playing in the Street, Ponsonby. (Te Ara)

Welcome back to Sunday Reading. Here is a collection of stories I found interesting over the past couple of weeks. Add your links in the comments section.

There has been interesting housing news coming from the Australian big cities. In addition to a massive wave of apartment supply coming on-line, there is a growing issue about “settlement” and the ability to secure loans from places outside Australia, namely China. Michael Heath and Enda Curran, “Getting Chinese to Buy Your House Isn’t Easy Anymore. Just Ask Cate Blanchett
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-11-28/cate-blanchett-s-sydney-home-hitch-shows-china-s-money-flow-fear

As Chinese citizens embark on an unprecedented buying spree of foreign property, the Blanchett case illustrates how such money flows have created an economic and political backlash, both in China and abroad. Nowhere is this clearer than in Australia, the developed nation most exposed to China.

Chinese authorities are stepping up capital curbs just as myriad restrictions in Australia have made mortgages tough to get for foreigners, putting buyers from China in a sandwich squeeze that could dent the property market down under. While that’s not unwelcome for Australia’s central bank, which is keen to take some steam out of rising prices, it shines a light on the struggle to digest China’s cash exodus as it flows further afield into locations from Malaysia to Florida.

Many European cities are moving rapidly to de-car their central city streets. Here’s Berlin where they are removing cars on their famous street in conjunction with the introduction of new mass transit systems. Hmmm. Feargus O’Sullivan, “Berlin’s Most Famous Street Will Go Car-Free“, City Lab.

It’s hard to overstate the symbolic significance of the move. Unter den Linden is the most famous street in Germany, a kind of Teutonic Champs Elysées that contains museums, libraries, monuments, a university, and two opera houses. The East Berlin avenue, whose name means “under/among the linden trees”, used to function as an east-west highway through the city’s heart and was the focus for military parades from the era of Napoleon to that of Gorbachev. Banishing cars from such a central space won’t just remove private motorists from the city’s tourist heart, it suggests a change of heart that could steadily see such traffic increasingly sidelined.

The city is currently expanding the U55 subway line, which is bringing back trains from the 1950s, so that it joins up with an existing line that currently begins at Alexanderplatz. This line will run underneath Unter den Linden, and current construction work on the project has forced partial lane closures up and down the avenue. The disruption has already seen car traffic on the avenue drop significantly. Before construction began, 30,000 cars traveled the avenue each day. Now, that number is just 8,000. That decrease is an important precursor to the ban, showing motorists that they don’t need to keep Unter den Linden for themselves.

Disappearing traffic is a thing. Coming to city near you soon. Charlie Sorrel, “When Paris Closed A Major Road To Cars, Half Its Traffic Just Disappeared”, FastCoExist.

If we look at the numbers another way, you’ll see that overall traffic has actually been reduced. Before the closure (measured in September 2015), 2,600 vehicles per hour passed on the low road. But after the closure, only 1,301 extra cars are being seen on the Boulevard Saint Germain and the high river road combined. That is, half of the cars that used to use the now-closed road have disappeared.

Some of these cars will have found alternate routes on other roads, but many of those passengers and drivers will now be using alternative forms of transport to get to and from work.

Stephen Joseph, “1986 was the year of car dependence. Thirty years on, have politicians learned nothing?“CityMetric.

The M25 became an illustration of a truth, increasingly accepted during the 1990s and 2000: that it’s not possible to build your way out of congestion, because road building simply generates traffic. When the Labour Government came to power in 1997, it scaled back the road programme and commissioned a series of “multi-modal studies”, including one for the M25. The main consultant on that study described widening the M25 as being like “digging a ditch in a bog”, and recommended forms of road charging or traffic restraint instead.

All of these lessons appear to have been forgotten. We are back to an era of road building, with a widespread belief that it’s possible to meet demand for road use by building and widening roads. The “predict and provide” forecasts and models that justify road building, based on extrapolating past trends, are still in place, despite noises about moving to a range of scenarios instead. There is serious talk of double-decking the M25 to cope with future traffic growth, especially around Heathrow with its proposed third runway. Issues of air quality and climate change are ignored, because of a belief – one not founded in any serious research – that by 2040 all cars will be electric, and possibly driverless too.

One of the key factors in Vancouver’s success story was the decision not to build an inter-city motorway network. Here’s an inspiring story about how Vancouver provides lifestyle options through rapid transit, buses, high density housing and increasingly cycling.

Vancouver’s Multi-Modal Success Story from STREETFILMS on Vimeo.

Protected bike lanes attract a wide range of users since they remove the key barrier to cycling – traffic stress. Not surprisingly, they are also safer. Separation by design follows the principles of Sustainable Safety and forms the basis for European cycleway design. Because of the legacy of vehicular cycling advocates in English-speaking countries, separated cycle facilities are rare. There is now a growing evidence base about the safety of separated facilities. It’s only taken us 40 years to figure this out.

Dudley, “Why Protected Bike Lanes Save Lives“, CityLab.

The transformative virtues of protected bike lanes have been the focus of much research lately. A 2014 study from Portland State University determined that segregated bike paths are not only demonstrably safer for riders, they have the power to lure lapsed riders back aboard their bikes. And in a new paper in the American Journal of Public Health, “Safer Cycling Through Improved Infrastructure,” the authors John Pucher and Ralph Buehler demonstrate that those cities that have invested heavily in fully protected bike paths over the last decade or so have reaped the biggest safety improvements and ridership boosts. “It is not simply a matter of expanding bicycle infrastructure,” the authors write. “The specific type of bicycle infrastructure matters. Several studies show the crucial importance of physical separation of cycling facilities from motor vehicle traffic on heavily traveled roads.”

For bicyclists, the swift erosion of America’s driving abilities is yet another reason to admit that the cause of “vehicular cycling”—the safe-biking philosophy that says bikes should ride assertively rather than cower at the side of the road—is increasingly compromised by reality, and thus the intra-cyclist civil war that’s raged for decades over the issue should be put to rest. “Vehicular cycling doesn’t work: Where there aren’t bike facilities, there are more accidents and more injuries,” says Pucher. “There’s all sorts of weird cultural factors behind the defense of vehicular cycling, but all the evidence shows that separate facilities are much safer. In particular, you’re much less likely to get killed, because most crashes don’t involve motor vehicles. And when you look at what planners are actually doing, there’s a very clear preference for separate facilities.”

 

 

Electric cars, autonomous cars, ride sharing on-demand transport , etc have captivated people’s imagination on how they will change city life. Something overlooked in the hype, is how they have already changed city life. For example, along popular late night destinations (K Road, Ponsonby Rd) there are a swarm of taxis and Ubers. Meanwhile. the kerbside is still relegated to free, long term and overnight parking making pick-up and drop-off difficult if not dangerous.  The rise of the ubiquitous small parcel delivery vehicle  seems also to have gone unnoticed while thought leaders navel gaze about the future at conferences.

Benjamin Reider “Our Amazon addiction is clogging up our cities—and bikes might be the best solution” QZ.com

This causes a different kind of traffic problem than in the past. Just a few years ago, delivery in urban centers was about dropping off large volumes of goods at shops. Today, it’s about delivering small numbers of parcels to different addresses, often directly to consumers. City centers today are congested partly because delivery trucks are blocking traffic while trying to deliver boxes.

An additional part of that problem is that the consumer often isn’t at home at the time of delivery. The number of failed deliveries to consumers makes grown people in e-commerce weep: Estimates for failed first deliveries range somewhere between 10 and 30%. This means that a van has to make not one but two trips (or more) to deliver those sneakers to you.
And if you decide you don’t like those sneakers? You can send them back. Three trips.

Alex Steffen, “Tesla’s City Problem“, Medium.

I am well aware that Tesla wants to brand itself as desirable, first, and then sustainable and smart. The idea, though, that “desirable” means “suburban” is way out date with current cultural reality, and completely out of touch with the demands of the future.

Here’s what I’d love to see Tesla show instead: urban life made hipper and more awesome through the adoption of its cars, batteries and solar technologies. There’s plenty of scope for imagination here.

A suburban Tesla is an improved means to an unimproved (and unsustainble) end.

It’s Cycleway Consultation Season

It seems it’s consultation season for bike related projects with not one, not two but three currently now underway by Auckland Transport and all could do with submissions to improve them.

Herne Bay cycling and walking improvements – Closes 18 December

This project came out of AT’s recent consultation on improving cycling options in the inner west of the city. AT say the original plan was for cycling connections via Clifton Road, Argyle Street and Sarsfield Street however they’ve now opted for area wide traffic calming measures using speed tables. All up 22 speed tables are proposed at intersections and mid-block, as shown below.

••••••Hernebay-A4

Here are some examples what is proposed. More can be seen on the AT website.

herne-bay-treatment-1

herne-bay-treatment-3

In a location such as this, an area wide traffic calming effort, if done properly, should deliver a good outcome and across a much wider area than a single cycleway as planned before. It will also have benefits not just for cycling but for pedestrians and a wider range of residents too.

But of course there are things that could be better with  the first thing that springs to mind being that there are no ways for bikes to bypass the speed tables, like Auckland Transport proposed recently for Northcote Point, one example of which is below.

northcote-point-speed-cushion

Further, while the traffic calming will likely help in reducing speeds, it surely wouldn’t hurt to back that up with an area wide change to speed limits.

Our friends at Bike Auckland have a few other ideas too.

There are two open days planned for the consultation, the first being today, details below.

  • Thursday, 1 December, 11am to 2pm at The Governor, 228 Jervois Road, Herne Bay.
  • Saturday, 10 December, 11am to 2pm at the Leys Institute (Ponsonby Library), 20 St Marys Road, Ponsonby.

Consultation closes December 18.

Westhaven to City cycle route – Closes 18 December

Many of the cyclists using the Herne Bay roads above, along with those from the future Skypath as well as other locations, will be heading to the city. Currently, upon passing the motorway noose the options are usually to take the scenic route via North Wharf and Te Wero Bridge, wind around Gaunt St and Viaduct Harbour Dr or to brave Fanshawe St. While only anecdotal, I notice a lot picking the later as it’s the most direct route.

AT are now proposing to upgrade Viaduct Harbour Dr to make it more bike friendly and they’re currently consulting on the section as far as Market Pl.

westhaven-to-the-city-route-map

Unfortunately, what AT are suggesting is a complete turd of a solution for a route that will likely have high numbers using it. The plan, like above is to just calm traffic using speed tables as well as some paint while making no changes to the road. That might be appropriate in an area like Herne Bay but in my view, is completely inappropriate in this location which is likely to have higher volumes using it including children. Based on what’s proposed, they’ll stick to using the footpath – a view some have already expressed on social media.

Below is an overview of the plans but more detailed versions can be found here.

westhaven-to-the-city-route-plan

One example of why this is such a rubbish idea can be seen in this more detailed view of the plan on the part of Customs St West north of Pakenham St East. As you can see people on bikes are meant to cycle on the road behind angle parked cars who could start reversing out without being able to see if any cyclists are coming. Would the people who proposed this be prepared to let their 8-year old child ride on the road here, I certainly wouldn’t (if I had one).

westhaven-to-the-city-route-plan-1

AT have already ruled out using Fanshawe St for a direct connection but I think they need to go back to the drawing board and look at as an option again. The road must be one of the widest in Auckland with the corridor in places over 38m wide. For the section east of Halsey St this width includes a massive 4.5m wide flush median. If ever there was a road that could do with some boulevard treatment, it would be Fanshawe St. That boulevard would include improved footpaths, cycleways, a separated urban busway and then the general traffic lanes

And Fanshawe needs some love too, while it is designed and treated like a giant motorway on/off ramp, it also had surprisingly high volumes of pedestrians who would also benefit from making the area more people friendly and less sterile. What’s more, given the width I think that could likely be accommodated without having to compromise on the number of traffic lanes

fanshawe-st-now

This idea is something we might flesh out in a later post but let’s get this option back on the table because what’s proposed won’t get anyone new cycling on Viaduct Harbour Ave and there is already the scenic route available via the waterfront for those that want that.

Like above, the consultation closes on December 18

Parnell cycleway and residential parking zone – Closes 23 December

The government’s Urban Cycleway Programme identified a route from Tamaki Dr up to Newmarket. To facilitate that, AT are looking at putting protected cycleways along St Stephens Ave and Gladstone Rd.

parnell-cycle-path-map

We along with others like Bike Auckland and Generation Zero met with AT over this project some months ago when at the time they were planning to just install painted lanes. We told there was no point in having a fight over removing the parking they would need to if they were just going to put a bit of paint on the road. Thankfully they’ve taken that feedback on board and the proposed solution includes physically separated bike lanes. In some locations these cycleways will have parking outside them while in other locations there will be no parking. AT say that all up just 95 carparks are affected.

parnell-cycleway-artists-impression

This isn’t to say the proposal is perfect, for example at bus stops the cycleway just stops and cyclists would have to wait for it to depart again.

parnell-cycleway-plan

In this situation, a solution like floating bus stops, where the stop is pushed into the general traffic lane and the bus stop and bike lane become a shared area might be more appropriate, but that would mean AT getting over their fears about buses stopping in general traffic.

To go with the cycleway, AT is proposing a residential parking scheme for the area. They say that just 10% of cars parked on the street are from locals with most assumed to be commuters. They also think the scheme will help locals deal with the loss of the parking on Gladstone Rd.

parnell-residential-parking-zone

If you want to talk to AT about the plans, they’ll be at La Cigale French Market (69 St Georges Bay Road, Parnell) on Saturday 3 December from 8am to 1pm.

Consultation closes 23 December.

 

What do you think of what AT has proposed?

Why we do this

Here is a great 15 minute look back at the work of Streetsblog and Streetsfilms from New York, that articulates the motivation behind what we do here at Transportblog. However modestly compared to their output. This is a worldwide movement; the profound improvement of lives, one street at a time. It is also, I believe, unstoppable, simply because it is so effective, so overdue, and therefore so powerful.

And it is, ultimately, about ending the dominance of our streets by traffic, about returning balance to this easily overlooked but vital slice of public space. Everything is interconnected in this increasingly urban age, and the street is really were it all comes together in the city. Get the streets right and so much else will follow; from human wellbeing to wealth creation and equity, from public health to personal freedom and opportunity, from environmental sustainability to social resilience and security.

A great thing in the film is also something we are seeing here; the mainstreaming of these ideas into our institutions. This does sometimes lead to confusion for some people, as when the Council, Auckland Transport, or NZTA do something we agree with we do of course praise them, yet some people think we should only ever be critical and never supportive. This is naive and would be counter-productive. Rather we would love to be made unnecessary; we believe our views are rational and supported by evidence and deserve to be the official ones. Here’s to the next decade and more of constant improvement and reasoned and evidenced activism. And thanks for reading.

New Amsterdam

The current cycleway revolution in Auckland has a serendipitous feature for one of Auckland’s most cherished but badly treated areas: All routes lead to Karangahape Rd. Both the recent city by-passes: Grafton Gully and the Pink Path, have one end in the K Rd precinct, our only current cycling ‘superhighway’, the NorthWestern, is about to get its city termination moved forward from Newton Rd to the K, and the coming real on-road separated cycle lanes on Great North Rd also lead straight to the K. Oh and the cycle friendly ridge level link of our very own Pont Neuf, Grafton Bridge, leads bike riders there from the other end.

Yes Karangahape Rd is the ground zero of Auckland’s bike riding revival which surely offers a real opportunity for the area to at last both thrive and remain true to its very specific identity. It would be a shame for K Rd to either slide back into decline or to try to keep up with its glossier rivals by seeking to become something its not. And as Ponsonby Rd becomes ever more upmarket and seemingly determined to drown itself in more and more parking and therefore driving, this offers K Rd a great opportunity to brand itself as a street and people place and not a car place. This happy confluence of street culture and improving bike infrastructure is already having an effect on the numbers that access businesses on the street by bike, as can be seen below:

k-rd_3357

And in the data:

k-rd-enhancement-consultation-oct-16-travel-survey

But this is despite the lack of any safe cycle routes on K Rd itself, nor clearly enough parking places. But happily our Transport Agency is on it:

k-rd-enhancement-consultation-oct-16-pitt-to-queen-visualisation-1

The plan is to add cycle lanes each side with temporary barriers, or at least without expensive excavations of the existing curb line and stormwater systems. And improved bus priority which is already clearly vital to the area. It is wise to start with a changeable pattern as there is a longer term opportunity to further tune down through traffic once the CRL station opens way off in 2023. Then this important section, between Pitt and Queen Sts should become one lane each way for buses (and emergency) and otherwise be for people on foot and bikes only. For more on the plan and links to make a submission go here.

To this end I think the K Rd business association should push for a regular traffic closure of this short section between Pitt and Queen every Sunday. This won’t be particularly disruptive, except to through traffic, and that should be the desired outcome; an assertion over place through movement. And of course a way to brand the area as street not arterial, and uniquely street.

So the whole upgrade is clearly a great opportunity for the businesses in the area to market themselves as being at the leading edge of the new city with the bike as the symbol of all the current new urban changes underway: The rise in city centre living, the ongoing revolution in Rapid Transit ridership, in short the return of the City.

The wider point is that the driving era destroyed this place and the walking/biking/transit age we are now in is its best chance at redemption. Go the K.

Not so surprising: When cyclists are happy, so are drivers

News site Daily Hive Vancouver recently published an article with the following headline:

Surprise: Bike-friendly Netherlands named best place in the world to be a driver

Daily Hive was reporting on the results from a new index created by wayfinding app Waze:

…a new report released last week by community-based traffic and navigation app Waze, proves a place pleasant for cycling and one pleasant for driving are not mutually exclusive.

For the second year in a row, Waze’s Driver Satisfaction Index – which analyzes the driving experiences of 65 million monthly users in 38 countries and 235 cities across the globe – named The Netherlands the most satisfying place in the world to drive, specifically referencing its “smooth traffic conditions” and “solid road quality.”

waze-driving-index-netherlands

Image: Waze

It may seem counter-intuitive, but a key ingredient in creating the world’s most enjoyable driving conditions is providing the freedom to leave the car at home. With the ability to walk or cycle for short trips, tram or bus for longer trips, and use a fast, frequent national rail system for inter-city trips, the automobile is viewed as a last resort for many Dutch families.

With fewer motorists moving both short and long distances on the country’s roadways, space is freed up for those who really need it, such freight companies and emergency services. In addition to reducing the amount of congestion, this also decreases the need for road maintenance due to “wear and tear.” Finally, the report mentions the unparalleled safety of Dutch streets, statistically the safest in the world, having virtually eliminated deaths and serious injuries by engineering user error out of the equation.

But is it really a surprise that prioritising cycling, walking, and public transport makes life easier for drivers as well?

Not if you’ve been paying close attention!

To illustrate, take a look at this picture of cycle lanes on New North Road, headed east to the Dominion Road flyover. If you’re on a bike, this intersection puts you into a very stressful situation: constantly wary of the risk that a car will clip you from behind. If you’re walking, it’s also pretty unpleasant.

But this design is also bad if you are in a car, as you have to deal with the psychological stress of not knowing what other road users are going to do. Someone ahead of you on a bike could turn left, continue on, or do anything, really. That kind of uncertainty is psychologically costly.

new-north-rd-where-the-cars-cross-the-bike-lane

Here’s another example of an alleged cycling facility on Tamaki Drive, at the east end of the Mission Bay shops. Again, this creates a lot of uncertainty. What on earth are you supposed to do here if you’re on a bike? Do you ride into the hazardous “door zone” next to the lane of parked cars? Head up onto the footpath? Take the lane, and hope that the car behind you doesn’t run you down?

Or are you supposed to simply dematerialise and reassemble your molecules at the point where the bike lane reappears?

Once again, this is bad for drivers and bad for cyclists. Neither party knows what the other one will do, and so both must live in fear.

NCD Tamaki Dr 2

One way to reduce that uncertainty is to create “negotiated spaces” where all users of the street have to communicate informally about who will go and who will give way. That works pretty well in well-designed shared spaces, where people on foot and people in cars make eye contact quite a bit. But it’s virtually impossible at an intersection like this, as cyclists and drivers are all looking forward and trying to guess what each other will do.

On most streets, the best way to reduce this uncertainty – and make life easier for everyone using the street – is to build facilities that give everyone an intuitive and convenient path. Like they do in the Netherlands.

But here’s an example of an intersection that works for people on bikes and people in cars. Unlike the flawed examples above, it’s really easy to understand what everyone has to do. The cyclists ride on the separate cycle path, and the cars drive on the road. Give-way rules are fair and easy to understand: cyclists stop when crossing the road, and cars stop when crossing the cycle path. Everything is straightforward:

Here’s another, more in-depth explanation of the underlying philosophy between Dutch intersection design:

But, you ask, what about traffic speeds? Surely giving over space to better cycling facilities will worsen congestion and driver frustration?

Well, not necessarily. Since it started implementing protected cycle lanes and other traffic calming measures, New York City has been monitoring the end outcomes, including impacts on traffic speeds. Their findings, which Eric Jaffe (CityLab) reported in 2014, contradicted expectations:

A new report on protected bike lanes released by the New York City Department of Transportation offers a great example of how rider safety can be increased even while car speed is maintained.

To see what we mean, let’s take a look at the bike lanes installed on Columbus Avenue from 96th to 77th streets in 2010-2011. As the diagram below shows, the avenue originally had five lanes—three for traffic, one for parking, and one parking-morning rush hybrid. By narrowing the lane widths, the city was able to maintain all five lanes while still squeezing in a protected bike lane and a buffer area.

NYC DOT

Rather than increase delay for cars, the protected bike lanes on Columbus actually improved travel times in the corridor. According to city figures, the average car took about four-and-a-half minutes to go from 96th to 77th before the bike lanes were installed, and three minutes afterward—a 35 percent decrease in travel time. This was true even as total vehicle volume on the road remained pretty consistent. In simpler terms, everybody wins.

Over on Eighth Avenue, where bike lanes were installed in 2008 and 2009, the street configuration was slightly different but the traffic outcome was the same. Originally, the avenue carried four travel lanes, one parking lane, one parking-rush hybrid, and an unprotected bike lane. Again, by narrowing the lanes, all five were preserved (though the hybrid became a parking lane) even as riders gained additional protection.

NYC DOT

After the changes, traffic continued to flow. DOT figures show a 14 percent overall decline in daytime travel times in the corridor from 23rd to 34th streets once the protected bike lanes were installed. That quicker ride was consistent throughout the day: travel time decreased during morning peak (13 percent), midday (21 percent), and evening peak (13 percent) alike. To repeat: a street that became safer for bikes remained just as swift for cars.

So what happened here to overcome the traditional idea that bike lanes lead to car delay? No doubt many factors were involved, but a DOT spokesperson tells CityLab that the steady traffic flow was largely the result of adding left-turn pockets. In the old street configurations, cars turned left from a general traffic lane; in the new one, they merged into a left-turn slot beside the protected bike lane (below, an example from 8th and 23rd). This design has two key advantages: first, traffic doesn’t have to slow down until the left turn is complete, and second, drivers have an easier time seeing bike riders coming up beside them.

There are undoubtedly ways to design cycle facilities that do not result in such positive outcomes. But the data from New York shows that is not an inevitability, even on busy urban streets. Consequently, adding safe, separated cycleways can be a win-win scenario: people in cars aren’t any worse off, as traffic speeds aren’t significantly affected, while both people in cars and people on bikes benefit from increased safety and certainty while using the street.

What do you think about the relationship between cycle facilities and driver satisfaction?

Central Access Plan – Mass Transit for the Isthmus

In July Auckland Transport stealthily uploaded a 97 page Programme Business Case on the Light Rail page of the AT website. Due to ATAP (Auckland Transport Alignment Project), the Unitary Plan and City Rail Link (CRL) has gone a little bit under the radar.

So what is it? Technically while Light Rail is one part of the business case, the document is called the Central Access Plan (CAP) & deals issues identified in City Centre Future Access Study, which was even with the CRL CBD bus corridors would reach breaking point due to bus congestion/numbers on Wellesley & Symonds Streets.

2041-buses-withcbdrl

Bus Numbers with CRL 2041

It looks to be part of a wider scope of studies/works about providing transport access to Central Auckland, they being the CRL which provides good access for the West/South/Inner East, the North Shore Rapid Transit study, which I assume is looking at a need for future rapid transit options either standalone or as part of AWHC project in the foreseeable future, and the Northwest Rapid Transit Project which one would assume is the Northwest Busway report due April 2017 prepared by Aurecon. 

Access to Central Auckland

Access to Central Auckland

The area the Central Access Plan looks as if it trying to address is Void, which has been mentioned on this blog before, the isthmus area between the Western & Southern lines. This area consists of some of Auckland’s major arterials & bus routes – Mt Eden Road, Sandringham Road, Manukau Road and Dominion Road.  

The Void

The Void

 

The study identified 3 major problems

  • The inability to meet current and projected transport demand on key corridors will sustain unreliable travel and poor access to productive central city jobs
  • Blockages and delays in central bus services worsen travel times and customer experience for those using public transport
  • High and increasing traffic volumes on residential and inner city streets create adverse urban amenity and environmental effects.

The study also notes that “There is already a substantial problem now with buses frequently late and full, resulting in passengers being left behind. Projects and initiatives such as the City Rail Link (CRL) and the New Network, largely with double-decker buses, will provide substantial additional capacity, but the underlying growth in projected demand is so great that most bus routes and the associated terminals and bus stops will have reached capacity by the early 2020s. The stress on the system at that time will be such that only the introduction of a mode that can move more people in fewer vehicles and that can use the sole under-used City Centre corridor – Queen Street – will provide more than very marginal relief. While measures to optimise the use of the bus services and reduce demand through promoting active travel are integral components of the proposed programme, they only ‘buy time’ before the extra corridor must be brought into use with a higher capacity mode. They will help to make conditions more tolerable as demand continues to grow and before a step-change can be introduced.”

CBD Street Capacity

CBD Street Capacity

The below graphs show the buses per hour needed on each street, the Orange shows unmet demand due to over the realistic capacity of buses on the corridor.

Wellesley St Bus Numbers

Wellesley St Bus Numbers

Symonds St Bus Numbers

Symonds St Bus Numbers

The below map shows the Business as Usual scenario, with the red areas no longer within the 45min PT Commute of the City if speeds decrease by 31% (This was a KPI in ATAP)

Areas within 45 CBD PT Commute

Areas within 45 CBD PT Commute

To try & mitigate the 3 problems above they first tested 6 options against the Do Minimum Network (The Do Minimum Network included CRL/AMETI/Busway to Albany, Puhoi-Walkworth, as well as Southern/Northern Corridor Improvements.), the options were (Please note these are the Plan’s Pros/Cons, I don’t necessary agree with all)

Option 1 – Do Regardless which includes: Auckland Cycle Network – $200m, More Double Deckers – $80m, City Centre Street Improvements – $30m, Footpath improvements – $15m, Bringing forward Te Atatu and Lincoln Rd stations – $10m, Implementing off board collections, traffic signal changes, more cycle parking and bus shelter improvements – $2m

Pro: Buys Time & minor increase of capacity.

Cost: $340m

Option 1 - Do Regardless

Option 1 – Do Regardless

Option 2 – Non-Financial Demand Management which included reducing parking supply in CBD, all lanes on Symonds (Past K’ Road) & Wellesley during peak would be bus lanes, more aggressive cycle/walking upgrades due to removal of parking.

Pros: Improves Bus Efficiency, more space for Active Modes, does not preclude further options & reduction in pollution.

Cons: Effectiveness Short Lived

Cost: $540M (Not sure if Do Regardless Cost is Part of each Options Cost or Not)

Option 2 - Demand Management

Option 2 – Demand Management

Option 3 – Extended Bus Network which turns Queen Street into a surface busway for Dominion & Sandringham Road bus services as well as changes to other routes.

Pros: Increase of Capacity & Bus Efficiency, Removal of General Traffic from Queen, Buys a number of years before further intervention.

Cons: Lots of Buses on Queen Street, effective short lived without bus terminal capacity, restricts future interventions, high cost.

Cost: $920M

Option 3 - Extended Bus Network

Option 3 – Extended Bus Network

Option 4 – A Mt Roskill Spur using the Avondale Southdown Corridor with two stations at Owairaka & Mt Roskill.

Pros: Low Impact due to using rail designation, provides extra capacity on inner west stations, buys time before further intervention, some reduction in buses, does not affect further intervention.

Cons: Short lived, low train frequencies adds to travel times, longer distance for Dominion Road.

Cost: $540M

Option 4 - Mt Roskill Spur

Option 4 – Mt Roskill Spur

Option 5 – An LRT Network which consists of 5 stages. Stage 1: Mt Roskill via Queen Street & Dominion Road, Stage 2: An extension to Wynyard Quarter, Stage 3: A Sandringham Road LRT Line via Queen Street, Stage 4 & 5: Three Kings via Symonds & Mt Eden Road LRT, Onehunga via Symonds & Manukau Road LRT.

Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes high level of buses from CBD, removes traffic from Queen Street, increase of public space.

Cons: Cost & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.

Cost: 3,740M  

Option 5 - LRT

Option 5 – LRT

Option 6 – The introduction of a Bus Rapid Transit System with a CBD Bus Tunnel.

Pros: Provides necessary capacity, travel time improvements, removes buses from CBD surface, increase of public space, North Shore services can use tunnel.

Cons: Extremely high cost, large tunnel portals & potential impact on general traffic in isthmus.

Cost: $9,540M

Option 6 - BRT Tunnel

Option 6 – BRT Tunnel

AT then put each option against criteria with a ranking of 1-5 for each, the total was the average score with LRT coming on top as best option with a average of 4.4/5 compared to the next highest option the BRT tunnel at 3.7/5.

Cap Option Evaluation

Cap Option Evaluation

After concluding that LRT was possibly the best way forward, they looked deeper into the option, the first observation they made from the models was that “a second light rail service pattern using Symonds Street, Manukau Road and Mt Eden Road may be required towards the very end of the 30 year period. Allowance has not been made for this service pattern in the IP owing to the level of uncertainty in forecasting so far out as noted in ATAP.” So in the time frame they would only be looking at Cost/Benefits of two of the LRT Lines, Dominion Rd & Sandringham Road

Dominion Rd LRT had a Cost Benefit Ratio (CBR) of 0.7 – 1.9 if land value uplift was included, this allowed the potential of a Mt Roskill Spur to be potentially added to the package. The Cost of Dominion Rd LRT including Wynyard Quarter was $1,367m.

Dominion Rd & Sandringham Rd LRT had a CBR of 0.5 – 1.1. However they say this should improve due to it being able to be staged. The cost of Sandringham LRT they have estimated at $500m.

AT says there is issues with the modelling however for the following reasons which do not allow a proper case to be made

  • The constraint of requiring a fixed land use for the evaluation is a flawed assumption, as without additional capacity for travel to the City Centre, the ability to deliver the land use is compromised.
  • Similarly, for the people that are ‘crowded off’ the public transport services, there is likely to be a second order effect on general traffic as some of them would be forced back to car travel, making it even less efficient in the process. The performance of the road network would also be expected to degrade over time so potential benefits further in the future are likely to be under represented.
  • Large public transport projects where a step change is being made represent a significant investment up front, but offer comparatively modest benefits in the early years. However, for a number of reasons there is a need to make that investment at that point in as there are no feasible options to allow continued functionality without the investment.
  • The reliability improvements that come with almost completely segregated travel need to be explored further, particularly as the EEM currently caps them at the same value as the travel time savings.
  • The non-transport benefits, such as increased tourism activity in the City Centre would further contribute to the overall economic benefit of the IP.
  • Land use value uplift has not been estimated in detail but based on overseas examples is potentially large. Further assessment will confirm the magnitude of these benefits.

These are now the same graphs as before but with the Programme Interventions

Wellesley St Bus Numbers with Intervention

Wellesley St Bus Numbers with Intervention

cap-symonds-st-bus-numbers-with-intervention

Symonds St Bus Numbers with Intervention

With ATAP released the other day, it should be noted they in the Indicative Projects List have said that Bus Improvements may be able to last until the 2nd Decade 2028-38 period before a Mass Transit system may need to be introduced, I am not sure ATAP & CAP are on the same page regarding this, and this issue may potentially need more investigation.

So what do you think?

The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.

This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:

  • Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
  • Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements

linear-park

linear-park-renderlinear-park

Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:

  1. The Green Link
  2. Aotea Station Public Realm

The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.

Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.

The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:

CEWT Preferred Option

Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:

CEWT Victoria St

Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:

lower-vic-st-final

Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.

pedestrian-circ

Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those  that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.

albert-to-queen-plan

aotea-portal-axio

hobson-to-albert-plan

albert-to-federal-axio

So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:

ped-volume-study

 

In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.

The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:

linear-park-connections

And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and  how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:

network-change

 

cycle-strategy

The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.

And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.

linear-park-vision

 

 

A Visit to Portland

This is a guest post by our most august regular reader Warren Sanderson.

Over many years I have developed a dislike for what the concentration of motorway/roading only expenditure is doing to our cities and particularly Auckland. This heavy concentration on roading expenditure with ever widening multi-lane roads is promoting unsustainable car dominance and frequent severance of neighbourhoods from parts previously closely aligned. In other words, it is not doing much for “quality of place”.

I have been reading Transport Blog regularly for some years now because of my interest in architecture and city design and why some cities have so much more appeal as places to visit and live in than other cities.

And over the years Portland is frequently mentioned and photographed in Transport Blog as one of those desirable urban places for living.

So seeing that Portland was the only North American west coast city of any significance that I hadn’t visited, it was time for my wife and me to go.

But first I have to confess to recently attaining 80 years of age. I didn’t aspire to reach this age – it just crept up on me. And going forward there can’t be many advantages in reaching 80 but the reason I mention it is twofold:

When entering the U.S. this time they did not want to fingerprint me or make me take off my belt and shoes when going through security. The terrorist potential of 80 plus’ers must be considered low. My ‘young’ wife however, who in any event would cause far less trouble than me, got the full treatment.

The second advantage, although one only needed to be 65 for this, was one of nomenclature. We were not merely ‘pensioners’, not even ‘senior citizens’ but were ‘Honoured Citizens’ (Generation Zero take note!) and as such were entitled to half cost of the already modest cost of public transit on the TRI-MET System.

Upon arrival the volunteer information staff at Portland Airport quickly provided us with a ‘Journey Plan’ to the Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland. Other volunteer staff watched over our ticket machine purchase and another directed us to a substitute bus – all so friendly.   Because the light rail line was undergoing maintenance a free shuttle bus took us to Kenton N Denver where we transferred  to light rail for the remainder of the journey.

And wow!  The cost for each of us was $ US 1.25.  Unhonoured citizens pay double. If you choose to go by taxi I am told the cost is $ US 39 – 40.

On this basis, Auckland Airport, New Zealand Government policy, NZTA and AT together, have enormous scope/margin for improvement and it is fair to say that the travelling consumer with the lack of alternatives in Auckland, is being totally ripped–off, both financially and by insipid policy.

benson-hotel-portland

Our hotel was the Benson Hotel.  It was well located on the corner of SW Oak and Broadway. I am not sure when it was built but it is impressively Edwardian in character and especially in the lobby area.

From the picture you can see that a considerable portion of the façade is red brick and visually set on a solid base. It was designed to impress which is nothing less than you would expect from Simon Benson, the original owner.

The Benson name crops up frequently in Portland. Benson made a fortune in the timber trade and then moved on to other ventures, activities and also to philanthropy.  He gifted land including impressive waterfalls for state parks along the Colombia River Gorge. In Portland itself, he donated the ‘Benson Bubblers’ (a complete water system) that you can see on so many street corners. See picture below –

benson-bubbler-portland

Portland’s street pattern is mainly organised on a grid system. Because each block is of fairly small dimension the city is reasonably pedestrian friendly. Most crossings do not have a beg button but don’t let your attention stray as there is no pedestrian buzzer. As a pedestrian you need to keep watch or you will miss your turn.

With some notable exceptions the buildings are not usually more than 5 or 6 storeys in height. Many are pared back Louis Sullivan Chicago Style which I find aesthetically pleasing – c.f. our General Building on the corner of Shortland and O’Connell Streets.

And yes, in Portland there are many buildings both older and more recent that are faced in brick. Portland has a high winter rainfall just like Auckland and brick certainly evokes the feeling of shelter and warmth far better than ever grey concrete can do.  See pictures below –

On my return to Auckland I am pleased to note that Ockham’s new Bernoulli Gardens apartment development at Hobsonville Point will offer a European brick façade with some white relief and contemporary detailing. I hope this is a trend and that architects and builders stop trying to con us all, that we are part of the Mediterranean.

Let us return to the reason for visiting Portland – that is to use and explore their light train transit system.

Well wow!  It is so easy to use – even for strangers. We walked three short blocks up to Pioneer Courthouse Square and purchased a number of HR (remember Honoured Citizen) Day Pass tickets at $ US 2.50 each. They need to be validated before use, at the little machine at the train stop. In the centre of Portland itself the trains run each way a street apart but with the aid of the TRI-MET System Map you soon get used to it.

For our first trip we took the Beaverton train westwards which soon enters a long rail only tunnel under the Washington Park hills before arriving at the Beaverton Transit Centre. We then took the Hillsboro train which comes on the same route but continues much further out to Hillsboro where Saturday Market was in full swing.

The light rail train goes fairly slowly on its tram style rails in the city but goes much faster on its railway style rails once it is on its own dedicated way a little further out.

On another occasion we went south crossing over the Willamette River on the much noted Tilikum Pedestrian and Rail only Bridge to Milwaukie.

On our final day we returned to the airport, initially part way by bus because of the maintenance and the rest of the way by light train from the Gateway Transit Centre – again the cost was $ US 1.25 each.

TRI-MET advertise that 45% of commuters and 45% of students use Transit every day and I understand that in Portland 6% of commuters bike to work each day compared with  .5% of commuters in the U.S. nationally.

Not everything in Portland is perfect however.  On the eastern side of the Willamette River there is a plethora of freeways flanking the river. You only have to go to the 30th floor of the U.S. Bankcorp Building to obtain a great view of the city and of these motorways including entries and exits snaking and weaving on the far river bank. Many are elevated like our motorways in the sky at Auckland’s Waterview and frankly all are rather ugly.

porttand-freeways

And then there is the question of stigma – the belief among some that only lower status people use transit.  For example, when checking in for our departure at the airport, I commented that we had used Portland’s excellent public transit system to reach the airport and the attractive airline girl replied “Yes, it is very cheap but you get some funny fellow travellers”.

I thought about this comment afterwards and to a very limited extent had to agree with it on that particular route. In the other direction to Beaverton and Hillsboro all passengers had seemed ‘very normal’ so I guess in large measure, passengers are reflective of areas transit serves. Furthermore the latter route goes through a long tunnel because of the natural barrier of the Washington Park hills which may make driving at peak over more winding roads a less attractive alternative, thereby upping the patronage.

Maybe too, the overcoming of the significant natural barrier of the Washington Park hills, would in turn, appear to be an indicator of success for light rail from the new Aotea Station under Auckland Harbour to the populous North Shore.

So bring it on.

I can’t wait !!