Over the last few years there’s been a lot of teeth gnashing over what to do with High St. The success of Britomart, the shared spaces and the emergence of Wynyard have started to drain it’s prestige (and high profile retailers). Hopefully work on turning O’Connell St into a shared space will start soon (although I’m not hopeful based on what I’m hearing). One of the problems with High St seems to be that there are a few noisy retailers that are so afraid of change – even change that will benefit them – that they oppose it.
Yesterday Metro has published an article that was in the magazine in November 2012 on exactly this issue and it really underlines some of the immense stupidity that some of those noisy retailers have. It starts off by highlighting some of the problems that High St has.
Here’s what happens in High St. First thing every weekday morning, service vans enter the street and fill up half the parks. They’re not delivery vehicles, they belong to tradespeople working in nearby shops and offices. They have council-issued permits to park there all day.
From mid-morning, a steady stream of shoppers drives into High St, which is one-way heading south, looking for a park. They turn left into Freyberg Place, left again into O’Connell St, which is one way north, then down Shortland St, turn once more into High, and on it goes. Many of them go round and round; a few get lucky, more don’t, and they give up and drive away.
High St is the heart of what is supposed to be Auckland’s premier shopping precinct, and it’s got problems. Parking, sure. And a whole lot more. Three high-profile fashion retailers moved out a few months ago and set up new shops in Britomart. Others, on High St and in the Chancery complex, have followed them out of the precinct and several shops remain empty. Earthquake strengthening is due for many buildings, which impacts on tenancy security and rentals, and the heritage status of some is also uncertain. The fast-growing student precinct nearby has changed the makeup of the local population.
It goes on. The recessed strip of shops and cafes under Metropolis and the council carpark at the Victoria St end is dark, dreary and under-patronised. The whole south end of the street is ugly and uninviting. The stonework in Freyberg Square (the square is the public space; Freyberg Place is the street running through it) is wearing away and needs to be replaced. O’Connell St, despite being home to several cool little boutiques and good restaurants, is bleak.
I would add to that list that the footpaths are too narrow and if you’re with someone it almost certainly means walking single file killing any chance of conversation or enjoying the area. I’d much rather stroll down a shared space that walk along High St and I’m guessing a lot of other people feel that way too.
Cars rule in High St
The article contains a lot of are a lot of theories and finger pointing from retailers on what’s affecting High St from the economy to online shopping to that perennial boogie man of the large suburban malls like St Lukes. It’s even suggested that the fact Britomart (the development not the station) has valet parking is contributing to the issues (why can’t the High St retailers fund a valet service using the Victoria St carpark).
But what can be done to improve the area. The council is meant to be turning O’Connell into a shared space and upgrading Freyberg Square, the response:
Chris Cherry is not happy. “Fort St and Elliott St were dogburgers,” he says. “But High St isn’t broken and turning O’Connell St into shared space is the thin end of the wedge. O’Connell St is worthy of preservation as it is. It’s a point of difference.”
John Courtney disagrees with Cherry on this. “O’Connell St is a dark carpark. You still need to drive through, but let’s move some of the cars out.” He’s looking forward to the shared space and says the four restaurants there now, including his own, Kitchen in Hotel DeBrett, are all keen to create an Imperial Lane-style experience.
How anyone can suggest that O’Connell St is worth preserving as it is now is just crazy. Like High St it’s lined by cars but with even worse footpaths and it actively turns people and therefore shoppers away.
Any chance of a pedestrian mall, with service vehicles limited to early morning? Apparently not. Retailers, even after nearly 50 years of the successful experience of Vulcan Lane, are dead against them. Chris Cherry is so vehement, he says that if the vehicles-free zone of Vulcan Lane turned the corner into High St — that’s the corner his shop is on — he’d be “out of there tomorrow”.
Cherry, like most of the other retailers I spoke to, doesn’t like shared spaces either. “Show me a city anywhere in the world where they work,” he says.
To which, DeBrett’s Michelle Deery, who does like them, responds: “Covent Garden.”
Cherry says Covent Garden is “different because of its scale — it’s got a whacking great Tube station right in the middle of it. And it’s got all those attractions.”
When I told Campbell-Reid about this, he kind of stiffened and looked away. “If you create shared spaces you can put in the attractions. Where do shared spaces work? Only everywhere.”
Including here. A just-released analysis of Fort St by the council shows pedestrian numbers up by 50 per cent, with consumer spending up by 65 per cent overall and 400 per cent in the hospitality sector.
Fort St has been an outstanding success but the other shared spaces have been successful too. As is pointed out in the article, perhaps part of the problem is actually the retailers themselves not being open at the right times. It’s the next part that really made me go wow.
To Chris Cherry, the biggest problem is those service vehicles clogging up the parking. And it’s an easy fix: all they need to do is give the tradespeople permits to use the council parking building.
Cherry, Murray Crane and Heather Gerbic share a strategic goal which is diametrically opposed to Ludo Campbell-Reid’s: they want to make the street more attractive for cars.
Elliott St, says Cherry, can have its shared space — it was “a dog” anyway. “High St’s not a dog. It needs protecting. People coming into High St are coming past Ponsonby and past Newmarket. They’re coming for that special old-fashioned experience.”
What he means is the ability to drive right into the street, park there and shop. Crane even told me High St should be a “thoroughfare”.
To be honest I can’t even see how you could make it even more attractive to cars. Also just what is the “special old-fashioned experience”? Even if you could get more people driving and parking in High St, it’s unlikely to actually have an impact on the businesses. This is because the figures from the councils study into O’Connell St – which I assume would produce similar results to High St – showed that most people shopping in the street got there by some other method than driving and parking in the street. Even more interesting was that of those that did park in the street, most were going somewhere other than O’Connell St.
I do agree that tradespeople can be an issue but they also need to be accommodated in the city and many have/need vans that simply can’t fit in carparking buildings (not that it means they need to be on High St)
As for the disagreement with the council’s plans:
Cameron Brewer relishes this. He clearly doesn’t see eye to eye with Campbell-Reid on the role of cars in the inner city and says he would “hate to see High St become a shared space. Part of its attraction is its European flavour. It’s busy with cars. Drivers have to play Russian roulette. It’s quite gritty like that.”
Really? We want a street for Russian roulette? Brewer reflects on this. “Perhaps it should be a kind of shared space. If you took away the kerbs but still allowed people to park there, that wouldn’t be so bad.”
Perhaps someone should have told Brewer that shared spaces came from Europe. The only people playing Russian roulette are the pedestrians who want to cross the road, even at the crossings, especially if a driver happens to spot a free carpark up ahead.
It’s not mentioned too much in this article but some people love to compare the plight of not just High St but the CBD and town centres to success of the suburban malls. They point out the masses of parking outside them and assume that to be successful that they have to have parking outside their shops too. What I find both comical and sad about it is that one of the things that makes mall so successful isn’t that people can drive to them but that people can’t drive through them. Ultimately malls are just the equivalent of pedestrian only streets. I suspect that in many ways malls were simply a response to us having turned so much of our CBD and town centres over to the movement and storage of cars.
Sadly despite this article being over a year old, I have heard that many of the views mentioned haven’t changed and the retailers are still fighting any change to High St as well as O’Connell St. If they get their way then High St will likely be a lost cause for some time to come because at the end of the day people buy stuff, not cars.
A shared space idea from the Cty Centre Master Plan
Read the full story in metro.
In my post yesterday about the AT board meeting I omitted discussing one crucial agenda item – although I’m sure some of you picked up on it. It was
Presentation by Cycle Action, Generation Zero and Transport Blog on cycling Auckland
Both we and Cycle Action Auckland were invited late last year by the board to present to them on the Congestion Free Network and on Cycling. Both us and CAA believe there are huge synergies to be had between PT and cycling and so we agreed to combine our presentations into one (for which we were also given additional time than had we done them separately).
I also have to say a huge thanks to Lance Wiggs and his wife Su Yin for heroically helping us last minute to vastly improve the presentation.
You can see the presentation here (7MB) but as you will see it has a lot of photos and not a lot of text.
The general thrust behind the presentation was that
- Auckland has the right ingredients to make it one of the best cities in the world. What we need to do now is make that a reality and make Auckland more liveable.
- On top of that there are a lot of great things going on already with the likes of Wynyard, shared spaces, electrification, integrated ticketing/fares, new bus network etc.
- That we are at a tipping point, we’re seeing trends change with less people choosing to drive and more opting for PT, walking and cycling.
- That investments in a more liveable city are already paying off e.g. in Fort St where Hospitality spending is up 400% since the shared spaces were created.
- That the CFN builds on what AT is doing and does so primarily by re-prioritising the projects they already have.
- That the CFN is much cheaper than what is currently planned which will reduce/remove the need for much of the funding shortfall that the council will need to find.
- That the impact of the CFN can be greatly boosted by improving cycling (not just about feeding the CFN though).
- That improvements to PT, walking and cycling can make it easier for kids to get to school, thereby helping to improve traffic.
- That this is also what other cities are doing. As Patrick says, if a city like New York can do this stuff with the demand for space that they have then we certainly can.
- That it doesn’t have to be done with expensive road widening.
- That the boards leadership is needed to help make these improvements and that ultimately they are the ones responsible for/have the control to make Auckland the world’s best city.
The presentation was well received and we had a number of comments from board members afterwards saying they thought it was done very well. I could also definitely see a few of them nodding in agreement with what we were saying.
Perhaps one of the funnier moments was that we had talked about how parking needs to be addressed and that in some cases it should be removed. At the end of the presentation it was mentioned that a group from Freemans Bay were in the audience and who might disagree with us however they also approached us saying how much they agree. They could see that by improving the PT network we have that less people would want to or need to drive to inner suburbs to park their cars on residential streets (also known as hide and ride).
All up we were very happy with the outcome and the main thing is it is something that will be in the back of the minds of AT board members who will shortly be having internal discussions about their future strategy.
Now we just need to work out who we should talk to next, perhaps we should also try to present to the NZTA board (I know at least some have already heard about it).
Update: Google Drive doesn’t seem to be playing very nice with the images so have used Dropbox instead. Links updated or click here.
This weekend has been a particularly big one with so many events on and with the exception of the Big Day Out, Auckland Transport haven’t exactly be doing a stellar job when it comes to event management with the recent cricket matches in particular being quite shambolic. As such we knew that this weekend would be a real test for AT but it was one they said they were prepared for and were confident of being able to handle the crowds.
Well unfortunately that appears not to have been the case with lots of reports streaming in last night about all sorts of issues, many of which are reminiscent of the RWC opening night. Below are some of the issues that we saw.
The CBD was packed with people from both the lantern festival and from those coming and going from the Nines or Eminem concert yet pretty much nothing was done to improve pedestrian priority. This was particularly evident around the intersection of Victoria St and Kitchener St where huge numbers of people were walking and trying to cross the road. The picture below doesn’t really do that justice but you can see a pretty busy Victoria St. You can also see some traffic cones out and there was someone there who was supposedly meant to be making things work better however their focus seemed to only be on stopping the pedestrians to allow cars to flow. Once again traffic management seems to mean that moving cars is more important than moving people.
This is the response we got from Auckland Transport when we suggested that they should have closed the intersection.
But it was other parts of the CBD too, Fort St which should have been humming with people was allowed to be taken over by cars trying to rat run somewhere.
It seems that once again despite probably tens of thousands of people trying to walk around the city cars were treated as king and pedestrians as the least important.
Buses seemed to have a patchy night. There were some reports of them working well but also lots of reports of them failing and too infrequent. Northern Express services in particular seemed like it was only to standard weekend frequencies with some buses 30 minutes apart, completely inadequate for the numbers of people in town. When this photo was taken after 9pm there were an estimated 300 people waiting (more around the corner) for a bus that was a long way away.
Here’s another one
There were issues with other bus services too.
Of all the modes about the quietest noise was about the rail network which seemed to generally work ok – although there were a few complaints. This is perhaps the most surprising because my understanding is that there was a chronic shortage of drivers (for various reasons) which may explain why the timetable looked so light.
I get the feeling now that while Auckland is still very much a car city that Aucklanders are quite prepared to catch PT to large events and people are learning to enjoy big city events. The problem we now face is that our management of our transport networks for anyone but those in cars is woeful leading to very poor outcomes and probably holding a lot of people back from using PT altogether. What is needed is for AT to be more bold, to put more pedestrian priority in place or even close intersections/streets to vehicles. They also need to a much greater provision of PT services. With big multi event days like this weekend it means not just a couple of extra services tacked on to a regular timetable but a proper set of frequent services. The question is if anyone will be held accountable for the constant event issues that keep arising.
I also can’t help but think that many of the long talked about city centre ideas would have helped greatly with all of this including the Victoria St Linear park, a bus only Queen St with wider footpaths and a proper east/west bus corridor on Wellesley St.
This is 254 Ponsonby Rd.
254 Ponsonby Rd
A low rise and rather miserable example of provincial modernity currently home to a large car park and drive-through, the food retailer Nosh, and a Liquor King.
254 P Rd in context
Just another piece of dross-scape left over from the great auto-age. But what is important about this piece of commercial property is that we own it. We the people that is. The Council bought the site in 2006 for, I believe, around 7.5mil, with the idea that it is a good place for some kind of public space.
It’s ours!: So what should we do with it? There are a few options outlined in the Ponsonby Rd Masterplan here. Discussed in a previous post here.
A small group of very local residents are determined that it must be a public park in its entirety and are running a media campaign to this end which is being reported like this: Battle for Suburb’s Future.
And I kind of agree, this is a bit of a test case about Ponsonby Rd’s future. If this site is deactivated down to simply grass and trees making what would surely be Auckland’s most expensive park per square metre then the idea of Ponsonby Rd being any kind of centre of urban vitality and intensity will have suffered another blow. And the opportunity to patch a gap in the continuity of the streetscape will be missed.
The main argument for this being gardened at public expense is a rough calculation that Ponsonby has proportionately less parkland than other areas. Is this a valid metric for land use decisions?, looks like a crazy bit of bureaucratic mumbo-jumbo to me. Areas are different, I would hope and expect to see more parkland in outer suburbs and more intensive urban land use in inner city areas. Doesn’t Ponsonby self-describe as a funky inner city area quite unlike most or even all of the rest of Auckland? Do we really want to level it out so that it’s the same as everywhere else? Street culture can only develop from intensity of activity; for Ponsonby to retain its vitality it needs to build up not water down its land use to suburban levels.
Most would agree that city open space is great and hip inner city retail and dinning areas need it too, but living in the area I already enjoy Western Park, Grey Lynn Park, Cox’s Bay Park, Victoria Park and the nearby Tole Reserve [part of which is shown above], but I certainly didn’t come to here all those decades ago because of its supply of open space. Quite the reverse, what is unique and valuable about the area is its built intensity as described in this previous post. We have raised three kids in the area and never once experienced a lack of parks or swings and slides. Vermont St has a park, so does Brown…
But even if we agree that the main problem faced by Ponsonby Rd is a lack of open space [which certainly isn't clear], then we have to ask if this is the best place for it? To answer that we need to ask what sort of open space is ideal for urban centres like Ponsonby Rd? And what is the best use of public money to meet these ends. I agree that Ponsonby Rd’s physical qualities are poor and need investment but this looks awfully like all our eggs in one very expensive basket and with a very questionable result. How about improving the quality of the entire streetscape of this strip? The street, surely that is locus of the public realm in urban places. More trees along the the length of the street [those that are already there are great], raised pedestrian tables on side streets, fine grained and activated ‘laneway’ types of public space, narrowing the tops of streets like Mackelvie St, these sorts of things strike me as much more valuable than one bland plot of inactivity.
Because it is on one of Auckland’s premier shopping streets the land is valuable and potentially generates a healthy rate income for the city. The latest figures we can find is a capital value of 7.5million and the current rundown building pays 57,800 in rates pa. So there is a tremendous opportunity here to fund a whole lot of public realm improvements in the area as well as getting much better use of this site by redeveloping it rather than just making and maintaining a park on this site.
254 Ponsonby Rd
In considering what should happen here it’s important to note that the site has two distinct qualities in terms of its adjacent properties: commercial neighbours up at the Ponsonby Rd end and residential ones down at its western end. Furthermore its Ponsonby Rd face has real public realm responsibilities that the current building certainly completely ignores. So even if it was to be developed to its maximum extent the scale of structures at the bottom end of the site would be governed by those residential neighbours and the top end by its. Especially in terms of massing, height, and proximity to boundaries.
So it’s impossible to put a tower block on it even if that were desirable, but it does give us the opportunity to fix one the many ‘broken teeth’ in the line of commercial buildings on the strip. I, for one, would really like to see a structure at the Ponsonby Rd end of this site at least of a comparable volume to the adjacent Edwardian shops, right up to the footpath to repair the continuity of the built edge. Preferably separated from that building with a narrow laneway down to another running between O’Neill and Tole Sts and a properly urban courtyard towards the middle of the site connecting to all three streets . The western end is ideal for residential at a similar density as its neighbours [and how hypocritical would the neighbours be to complain of that?]. So the protected centre of the site would be public space with connections to existing streets and opportunities for sophisticated paved courtyards and planted, all served by retail.
This would enable commercial activity to continue on the site, it would create a more fine grained public realm, continue the built wall edge to the Ponsonby Rd footpath, with cover from the elements and for pedestrians and the bus stop, remove the awful vehicle crossing currently at the top of the site, and of course release to the city a whole lot of capital and future rating income to make improvements all along Ponsonby Rd’s length or perhaps to concentrate that effort somewhere better nearby.
Ponsonby Rd with St Johns
And I think there is a somewhere else that would make for a much cleverer use of these public funds, including some really much better open space. And it’s just across the road: St Johns:
St Johns Ponsonby
Built in 1882 this timber ‘carpenter’s gothic’ Gothic Revival methodist church is desperately in need of love. Its spire makes it the tallest building on Ponsonby Rd yet somehow it is easy to overlook. It has a Category 2 listing with Historic Places, yet I seriously doubt that the church, no matter how much they love this building, have the resources to maintain it. Maybe it is still used richly by the church but if so this happens very subtly, and certainly doesn’t happen in any public way involving the local community. It seems like it needs a new use in order to justify maintenance let alone restoration. It is fenced off from Ponsonby Rd and has a bunch of very unfortunate additions on its sides and rear and sits in a sea of tarmac on a fantastic site gently tipping towards the city, offering fabulous views, especially at dusk. Instead of a formless park on the 254 site we could have this restored and repurposed Victorian building sitting in an urban space like the new one surrounding St Patricks in the city.
Its latest valuation is 3.94mil and pays just 207.80 in rates [presumably just for the carparks occupied by local businesses]. I have no idea if the church would be happy to sell, or if there is a way it could still serve them along with new uses but I do know that Ponsonby Rd lacks any theatrical venue [despite its artistic reputation] or other kinds of performance or public meeting space. By taking this on we could get not only a historic building of extremely high value, but also the funds to at least begin to restore it, reconnect it to both the street and the community, a new venue for all sorts of activities, and new open space of value [especially if the additions are removed]. Furthermore this is on the northern and more residential side of the street, so the open space ca be added without causing a break in the activation of the streetscape on the commercial side of the strip.
This idea looks like a huge win/win to me. Financially, certainly, but also in terms of built heritage, public amenity, and it means open space without de-intensifying this urban centre.
I have no idea if the St Johns idea is possible, so it certainly isn’t a case of the Nosh site or St Johns but I do think we need to be creative with opportunities like this. It is, after all very easy to be in favour of preserving our built heritage but it is much more powerful to come up with a means to actually do so. Which essentially means finding vibrant new uses for valuable old buildings.
I understand the concern the direct neighbours will have about any change to the 254 site, especially because it is in public ownership, but having people in houses just like them next door and a whole lot of retail options at the main street end of the site is almost certainly a better outcome than a vapid and windswept public park with all the informal nighttime recreational activities that this will attract, and clearly is better than the car park they currently have now. But also they are not the only ones affected by what happens on this site. The Ponsonby Rd frontage in particular is something owned by us all.
There are a lot of pressures on the whole Ponsonby area, a lot of competing claims and different points of view. And fair enough, but the number of sites for development has already been shrunk to a narrow strip along the ridge so to reduce this further is to undermine the very source of Ponsonby’s identity and success; it’s intensity.
It’s extremely rare for Auckland to get snow and even if it does happen, it would never be heavy enough to give us some sneckdowns. So what is a sneckdown?
It’s a shorter way of saying snowy neckdown and a neckdown is another name for a kerb extension.
Kerb extensions are described well on the Streets wiki as (note: Americans use curb instead of kerb):
Curb extensions are extensions of the curb line into the street, reallocating a portion of street space to pedestrians or ancillary uses. Curb extensions are one of the most effective traffic calming tools, and can be used in a variety of ways, both at corners and mid-block. They can mostly be found in residential neighborhoods and downtown commercial areas. Also known as bulbouts, popouts, or neckdowns, curb extensions increase drivers’ awareness of pedestrians, decrease crossing distance, reduce pedestrian exposure to traffic, and reduce traffic speeds. They are also referred to as neckdowns because they create a narrowing of the street at intersections or midblock.
Studies show curb extensions combined with a marked crosswalk increases yielding of vehicles to pedestrians waiting to cross the street.  Curb extensions also have a number of other purposes:
- Providing a prominent area for landscaping, public art, lighting fixtures, or freestanding A-frame signs.
- Providing an area for newspaper vending boxes. Cities or merchants sometimes want to remove vending boxes to de-clutter the sidewalk, but newspaper boxes are protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and must be accommodated. A large bulbout can provide a good compromise location.
- Corner bulbouts carefully constructed to neckdown a street also eliminate high speed turning movements (particularly right turns), increasing safety for all users of the street.
- Providing protection for vehicles parked behind the bulbout.
- Providing an area for street trees, other landscaping, or a groundwater recharge area, also known as a “bioswale“
We actually have a few kerb extensions in Auckland, for example there was one in the Lorne St photo yesterday but they are not widespread. Where they do exist they are usually added as part of a wider streetscape upgrade. I think AT should be looking to roll this type of treatment out across a wide area of Auckland as they can be great for slowing cars down in residential areas however if they were to do that I could see them being forced into conducting numerous traffic studies, multiple rounds of consultation and subject to protest from some residents and local businesses worried about a loss of on street parking or having to drive slower.
What makes the sneckdown so interesting is it because it is caused by weather it happens without consultation and there is nothing that can be done to stop it. When the snow is ploughed it moves it to the edge of the road where it forms in piles creating temporary kerb extensions that people quickly adapt to. The snow also helps highlight just how much space is on our streets that is generally only used to allow vehicles to corner faster. In effect you could argue that a sneckdown is nature’s way of slowing down traffic and making more pedestrian friendly and liveable streets. Clarence Eckerson Jr who runs the awesome Streetfilms told the BBC “The snow is almost like nature’s tracing paper,” and “It’s free. You don’t have to do a crazy expensive traffic calming study. It provides a visual cue into how people behave.”
The image below shows helps explain the sneckdown
And here’s a video from a few years ago showing them in action.
I imagine that if Auckland were to get a massive dumping of snow we would see huge numbers of intersections that could be easily narrowed down. As the chance of that happening is remote, perhaps it’s time to start trialling this with traffic cones?
One of the big reasons for making improvements to our streets is simply for safety. Safety for pedestrians, safety for cyclists and safety for drivers. We’ve been talking about safety a lot over the last month or so and despite the great news that 2013 has the lowest road toll in New Zealand for over 60 years, it’s still way too high.
One of the lessons New York has learned as a result of its roll out of bike lanes is that not only does it make the streets safer for cyclists but for all users of a street. The reason for this is often quite simple, far too many of our streets have been designed with only the movement of cars in mind. This often means roads with wide traffic lanes, big intersections to try and cater for all movements and as few pieces of pedestrian/cycling infrastructure as possible.
Cities like New York are striving to improve safety and despite the impressive gains that they’ve made so far it clearly isn’t enough and last year 286 people were killed on traffic crashes – or as some are now calling it “Traffic Violence”. Bill De Blasio, the new mayor of New York has just announced what he calls “Vision Zero” which is a vision to reduce that traffic violence to zero.
Just two weeks after his inauguration, New York mayor Bill de Blasio did something safe street advocates have been demanding for years. The mayor outlined comprehensive changes in the city’s approach to traffic fatalities, treating the issue as “a public health problem” and ordering city government branches to pull together to reduce those deaths to zero.
In his remarks on Wednesday, de Blasio put traffic safety in the spotlight. “I said on Inauguration Day that we were here to make changes, and I meant it,” he said. “This is an example of where we will act immediately.”
The mayor pointed out that last year, the city hit a record low of 333 homicides, but that nearly as many people – 286, by last count – died in traffic. “It is shocking to see how those two numbers correspond,” he said. He noted that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death among New Yorkers younger than 14, and the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths among New York’s seniors.
The mayor’s approach calls for an unprecedented coordination among the NYPD, the city’s Department of Transportation, its Department of Health, and the Taxi Commission. De Blasio said he wants to see detailed plans from the leaders of those agencies by February 15.
As a comparison, Auckland had 48 deaths on the road in 2013 which on a per capita rate is about the same as New York (and for those interested the murder rate in Auckland to 30 June 2013 was 41)
Perhaps it’s time for Len Brown and the council to announce something similar.
One change that De Blasio singled out is that on many streets the speed limit was simply too high and that reducing them to 20 mph (30kph) would be more appropriate. In Auckland the only streets I can think of off the top of my head that have lower speed limits than 50 km/h are Queen St (30 km/h) and Ponsonby Rd (40km/h) and the shared spaces. To me expanding the number of streets that have lower speed limits is something that could be done fairly quickly and cheaply if there was the political will to do so.
Closer to home Wellington has just announced it is looking at extending the area covered by its 30km’h speed limit in the CBD
A central-city slowdown is looming for Wellington motorists as a 30kmh speed limit is considered for a further 64 streets.
Public feedback will be sought next month on a proposal to extend the 30kmh speed limit from the Golden Mile to the rest of the central business district, where the limit is now 50kmh.
The change would cost about $250,000, and include parts of The Terrace and Taranaki, Tory, Willis, Featherston, Ghuznee and Dixon streets. The harbour quays and Vivian St would not be included.
Extending the 30kmh limit recognised that pedestrian safety problems were not caused only by buses, and were not restricted to the Golden Mile, Wellington City Council transport and urban development committee chairman Andy Foster said.
Most drivers were probably driving at about 30kmh already, but officially reducing the speed would help bring the top speeds down. “That, obviously, is something that is highly desirable.”
Cutting the speed was also about improving the chance of surviving crashes. People would always make mistakes, but the consequences for pedestrians at 30kmh were a lot less serious than at 50kmh, he said.
The plan has gained tentative support from other road users. NZ Bus general manager strategy Scott Thorne said the company supported moves to improve safety, and the change was unlikely to have much impact on travel times.
While in Christchurch the plan is also to have 30km/h speed limits through the central city. It’s something that raised the ire of some including TVNZ’s seven sharp reporter however the results of a time test weren’t quite what they expected.
Is Auckland Transport planning on doing anything like this? Evidence so far suggests it is not.
No one should pay for a mistake with their life.
That’s the key message being pushed by the NZTA ad that’s gone viral and now has over 5.6 million views (up from 440k when I posted about it last Wednesday). It’s a key part of the way we design many roads, for example it’s why we have barriers between motorway lanes, light poles that are designed to shear off at the base if someone accidentally hits them. It’s also why we spend money to improve our roads through the likes of easing corners and why transport agencies run advertising campaigns.
The sad event last week where a cyclist died after apparently running a red light and crashing into a truck is obviously a horrific situation but instead of asking what can be done to make things better so it doesn’t happen again, most seem to only be focusing on who was at fault. Now just so everyone is clear on my thoughts, I think there is no excuse for anyone using any mode of transport to be barrelling straight through an intersection on a red light – it’s a recipe for disaster.
The reality is people make mistakes or poor judgement calls all of the time yet when a cyclist makes one it seems to bring out an absolute hatred towards them from some in the community. Just like for cars and trucks, the only way to effectively minimise the risk of cycling is through improved infrastructure that reduces the risks. It’s an area that many people think AT have very poor at despite what they have said they are doing. Now this isn’t completely AT’s fault, the government policy statement that spells out the funding bands for each mode and only allows for very small amounts of the total transport budget to be used for cycling and walking projects – despite many projects performing substantially better under standard economic analysis than many of the massive roading projects currently on the agenda.
However in what appears to be a bid to draw attention away from questions of what can be done to improve conditions for everyone using roads, Auckland Transport appear to wanting to play the blame game by suggesting that not just this one cyclist made a mistake but by implying that it is something endemic among all cyclists and therefore implying that cyclists deserve the consequences of whatever happens to them. I think this is an extremely sad development in what is already a sad situation. To do this they released the results of a survey on red light running however the numbers actually raise far more questions than answers.
The headlines were that of the intersections surveyed there were 116 cars, 4 trucks, 3 buses, 1 motorcycle and 217 cyclists that ran red lights – although it appears there are a few counting errors but they don’t fundamentally change the result. Now the results sound really bad but here’s the thing, the survey was only done at four intersections across all of Auckland and three of them (the three that saw the most cyclists running red lights) were along the waterfront (not that this excuses it). When we look at the results by intersection this is what we get.
A couple of quick thoughts spring to mind about these intersections, on Quay St/Lower Albert is it cyclists travelling through the intersection while the pedestrian phase is running? On Tamaki Dr are the numbers high due to pack cycling? At Tamaki Dr/Paterson Ave there was clear trend of cyclists running red lights towards the city in the mornings and away from the city in the afternoons. On both the Quay St/Lower Albert and Tamaki Dr/Solent St intersections the red light running by cyclists was almost exclusively by those going westbound. Why are westbound cyclists more likely to run reds at the intersections (perhaps at the Solent St intersection it is to do with the cycle lane on the footpath being clogged up with traffic signals?
However as I said, there were really just four intersections that were studied and I doubt they give a fair representation about how most cyclists at intersections behave. By releasing the information as it has I wonder if AT have done more harm than just letting the issue blow over. The information and how it has been reported in the Herald and other sites is only helping to create an us vs them attitude between different modes which is exactly the opposite of what needs to be happening.
In saying all of this it’s also useful to understand why cyclists may run red lights. This research from Daniel Newcombe at AT helps to shed some light on the issue. The learnings were that
- Cyclists make choices about their behaviour on an intersection-by-intersection basis
- Overall, cyclists’ red light running is a relatively infrequent and safe behaviour
- Levels of red light running vary but (if use of Barnes Dance phases excluded) it’s the same as jaywalking (3.9%)
- Higher numbers of vehicles ran red lights than cyclists but the proportion was lower (1.2%)
- Cyclists want to clear the intersection ahead of other vehicles for safety reasons – not impatience
- Commonly cyclists run red lights to turn left
And what can be done?
- Sensor loops in the right place
- More cycle lanes and boxes
- Use technology to give cyclists head start
- Legalise low risk red light running (Barnes Dance, left turn) – make cyclists give way
- Stop slagging off cyclists for running red lights. Pedestrians are just as bad and neither group kills people like the alarming number of cars running reds
It seems AT need to heed their own advice on all of the recommendations that were made.
Note: Here is Cycle Action Auckland’s response to the survey results and things that can be done to improve safety.
Lastly let’s stop pretending that only cyclists are the ones breaking road rules. There must be 10′s of thousands of speeding tickets issued each year along with thousands of other traffic offences. This study from the Ministry of Transport suggests that in Auckland 5% of the people they checked were either holding a cellphone to their ear or probably texting while driving
Once again we need to stop blaming people and start building our roads so that they are safe if people make mistakes because people don’t deserve to die because they make them.
Unlike 2012 where there was a bit of internal contention, Walkable City by Jeff Speck was a clear standout for the best book of 2013, and will be included in our upcoming Unity Bookstore selections (more on that in second).
Walkable City: How Downtown Can Save America One Step at a Time follows up a massive 2012 that had amongst other great urban reads the 1-2 punch of Human Transit and Straphanger. Where Jarrett Walker’s Human Transit provided a technical clarity to the practice of PT network planning and design, Taras Grescoe’s Straphanger Saving Our Cities and Ourselves from the Automobile was more of a travelogue devoted to the largely unrecognized and under appreciated people who get around in cities without cars. (Please can we have an Anthony Bourdain No Reservations-style tv series that drops Taras into various cities for 24 hours?).
Speck’s Walkable City fits nicely with those books by again wrapping technical expertise into a story that appeals to a exponentially growing audience of interested urbanites. And like his earlier work Suburban Nation co-authored with Andres Duany and Elizabeth Plater-Zyberk, Walkable City is an opinionated, sometimes polemic piece that is backed by extensive professional experience, heaps of data, and miles of chutzpah. In many ways Walkable City is a snapshot of the latest thinking on the American practice of urban planning and design.
In Walkable City Speck describes the practice of urban planning using a lens of ‘walkability’, though the act of walking is really a supporting activity. There is plenty of content here sourced and credited to the giants of the field including Jane Jacobs, Jan Gehl, and Andres Duany. Walkability it turns out is a nice framework to describe the practice of people-first urban design and planning. Speck outlines 10 “steps” that cities take to become walkable (read: a place that is interesting, economically vibrant, and attractive to tourists and millennials).
Here is a sample of a couple of steps.
Get the parking Right
As innocuous as it may seem, parking plays a key role in supporting vibrant downtowns. Parking in addition to gobbling up a huge proportion of our cities also unfairly subsidizes car drivers over other city users. Donald Shoup figures prominently in this chapter and the content will be familiar to the regular readers of the blog.
“Shoup calculates that the subsidy for employer-paid parking amounts to twenty-two cents per mile driven to work, and this reduced the price of automotive commuting by a remarkable 71 percent”
Speck advocates that parking be priced appropriately to ensure that there is always parking available for the people willing to pay a premium to turn up and pay for on-street parking in front of their destination. This supports local retail and removes the significant level of traffic simply associated with ‘cruising’ for parking. Speck is also a strong proponent for on-street parking for the following reasons- it slows traffic due to the friction created between parked and moving cars, it reduces the number of kerb cuts that intrude onto footpaths, and it provides a physical barrier to protect pedestrians.
Put the cars in their place
In this step, Put the cars in their place, Speck has a go at the practice of traffic engineering and the emergence of siloed ‘specialists’. If you thought engineers are given an unfair rap on the blog, best to skip this chapter. Here is a taste:
..It would seem that almost no traffic engineers in America possess the necessary combination of insight and political will that would allow them to take the induced demand discussion to its logical conclusions which is this: stop doing traffic studies. Stop trying to improve flow. Stop spending people’s tax dollars giving them false hope that you can cure congestion, while mutilating their cities in the process.
Perhaps less entertaining than professional posturing, are a series of vignettes on trends in street design. Take for example ‘road diets’ the widely accepted practice (outside of NZ) of converting four lanes of travel to two with little noticeable impacts to traffic, while having plenty of upside for local business and people on foot. Another is the practice of returning one-way streets (‘an epidemic’) back to two, which according to the evidence provided, has instant benefits.
Most importantly here, Speck shines a light on the practice of traffic studies which he calls “bullshit”. He back this up with three points:
- The computer model is only is good as its inputs, and there’s nothing easier than tweaking the inputs to get the outcome you want.
- Traffic studies are typically performed by firms that do traffic engineering…. As long as engineers are in charge of traffic studies, they will predict the need for engineering.
- The main problem with traffic studies is that they never consider the phenomenon of induced demand.
Technically, there are things that are worth debating in the book, for example, the opportunities for pedestrianising streets or the utility of on-street parking. To his credit Speck caveats most of his advice with exceptions to rule. Many of the quibbles I have with the details are based on the context to which they are proposed. Luckily in Auckland we have a mostly flourishing city centre that has not been entirely cratered by surface parking and auto-priority which allows us to critically explore more advanced levels of urban design.
Debating the finer points, which we have the luxury of doing through the blog format, misses the big picture. Walkable City presents a professional body of understanding in a platform that practitioners, policy makers and the general public can both understand and associate. Importantly, it reinforces the progression that cities around the world are making to satisfy both the demand and advantages of walkable urbanism. It isn’t since David Sucher’s City Comfort that I can think of a book as well suited to be issued to every councilor and local board member, and one of the many ideas they would take away is this:
We can have the kind of city we want. We can tell the car where to go and how fast. We can be a place not just for driving through but arriving at.
As we move into the next urban era it is critical to improve the narrative of how cities and urban design can make our lives better, Speck does this spectacularly as seen in this TED talk. Speck’s entertaining, fact-filled book Walkable City provides a powerful example of how quickly cities and downtowns are assimilating and deploying best practice to remain relevant both locally and at the global scale.
Unity Books, High Street, Auckland
Speaking of downtown, this year we will be teaming up with Unity Books to provide a shelf of books that we think our readers will enjoy. In addition to a few classics, there will be Walkable City, Human Transit, and Straphanger. We’ll have more details on this soon along with some more Read This book reviews.
A great video from Streetfilms showing how the streets of New York have changed over the last few years with primarily quick and cheap transformations that have re-prioritised space around pedestrians and cyclists.
There’s nothing more dramatic then looking back five or ten years at Streetfilms footage (some of it a bit low-res) to see how much the livable streets landscape of New York City’s streets have changed. In this wonderful montage that even makes us cry check out the transformation of Times Square, Herald Square, the Brooklyn Waterfront and many other places that out-going NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and her staff have intrepidly installed.
We have similarly high hopes for Mayor de Blaiso as he takes office today and look forward to what he and his new NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. As much as has been done, the large majority of our streets still need reforms, we need drastic policy change, slower speed limits and traffic calming for our most vulnerable citizens. Hopefully, this short gets them excited to top the transportation record of the Bloomberg administration.
Please note: this is but a short sample. Seriously, we could have put together a one hour version!
We really need some of these types of changes to happen in Auckland so come-on Auckland Transport, get your act together and stop being so worried about the flow of vehicles.
A view from new Britomart bar and restaurant Ostro that seems to perfectly express the contradictory current phase in Auckland City’s development.
What a great scene:
Sitting here amidst the sophistication of the latest addition to the our reborn downtown with all the perfectly prepared kai moana you could want, reassuringly expensive wines from every viticultured corner of the country, the cruise liners slipping around North Head, and the sculptural forms of the gantry cranes lined up and waiting patiently in the late afternoon sun like a row of giant robotic footmen, it is hard not to marvel at how lovely Auckland can be and at how far it has come recently.
Britomart is surely the best example of a Transport Orientated Development around, showing not just what can be achieved by coordinating land use and Transit investment well, but also just what a great resource there is in our urban centres if only we redevelop them properly. Central Auckland is really beginning to show extraordinary promise for what quite recently was an very dreary place, and it is not difficult to predict that these improvements are only going to accelerate over the years ahead. It’s like we’ve suddenly discovered that the city is by the sea.
With the successes of Britomart, both the train station itself and the redevelopment of the commercial buildings above; the Shared Spaces, which now surely will spread [not least down into the Britomart block itself]; and the first phases of Wynyard Quarter, the quality of Auckland’s City Centre is poised to explode in vitality, desirability, and productivity.
The next phase should be even more dramatic: The transformation of big city streets into more interesting and specialised uses; Victoria hosting a Linear Park on half its width uniting the two parks on either side of the city, Victoria and Albert; Wellesley a Transit corridor, efficiently bringing thousands of bus riders into the heart of the city: Queen and Quay, downscaling and becoming more pedestrian and place focussed [Quay also an important cycle route], Fanshaw and Customs moving ever more people both in more efficient bus systems and, like Mayoral, focussing of carrying general traffic across town.
Along with the big build at Wynyard, the city will also get new towers at Downtown and on the corner of Victoria and Albert, along with the apartment building boom that is already underway all over the city.
This is no guess about the future but rather the continuation of what has already begun; the latest census revealed that central Auckland’s residential population grew 46.5% between 2006-13 by far the greatest growth in the whole country. Vacant commercial floor space is drying up and demand is rising. Like all over the western world, inner city living and working is not just back, it’s hot. Auckland is already surfing the urbanising zeitgiest well.
Interestingly both the the new towers mentioned above will sit on top of the City Rail Link that in 2015 will begin to be constructed at least for the section below the new Downtown Centre. And as is clear from the growth listed above that the city will urgently need this resource in order to bring, circulate, and disperse back out to the city’s extremities all the people that will work, live, and recreate in this transforming city.
Because if there is one uniting theme to all of this improvement it is the increase in the numbers of people entering the City without a corresponding increase in the numbers of cars- if not their actual decrease. All the growth in number of those entering the Central City this century has been on the improved Transit systems, especially rail and the buses of the Northern Busway, but also ferries and cycling and walking. This has to continue if not accelerate, because the place quality improvements require a reduction in the domination of place by vehicles, or at least are impossible to achieve while the city is swamped in cars. Essentially there is a very simple equation observable in urban renewal:
More People + Fewer Cars = Better City
So in order to achieve this the city needs to be attractive and accessible to people and efficient and productive for business. How are these aims best achieved at the planning and investment level? It seems very clear all across the world that there are three investments that have proven to consistently achieve these outcomes in urban development, whether it’s London, or, Barcelona, or Shanghai, or Amsterdam, or Portland, or Bilboa, or Sydney or Brisbane, or Wellington or where-ever, these are every city’s best best:
- repurposed mixed use Waterfronts with
- dynamic Public Spaces and Activities served by
- high quality Public Transit + Walking + Cycling amenity
The last to efficiently bring and circulate large numbers of people in ways that do not adversely affect place, in fact ideally enhance it, the second to attract, entertain, and retain residents, workers, and businesses, and the first because the whole new venture is so much more desirable and therefore valuable if it’s by the sea, a lake, or along a river, making the investment much more likely to be viable. But the essential component is that these all have to come together in a centre in order for the attractions and vitality to double up on themselves, for these improvements to agglomerate.*
[*There are three other investments that cities often try to use as springboards for improvement but that all have much more fraught outcomes around the world: Casinos, Stadia, and Convention Centres, and all have a common theme; they usually have the same big blank walled city-blocking form, intermittent use, and internalised programmes- and are often built on an auto-dependent model with vast parking garages and motorway like access routes right up to them; both highly anti-urban place ruining systems.]
So it is clear both that Auckland is largely on the right track and that there are enormous challenges ahead. Wynyard Quarter is not being built in the best order, in the way that Britomart has been: Ideally you built at least the bones of the High Quality Transit system first, Wynyard is going to quickly have to get better and more permanent Transit systems in place as the building sites currently used as car parks start to get built on and these will at least at first have to be bus systems- the only near term way of moving high volumes of people- and surely they will have to get those buses working in a trainlike way, ie with stations more than stops, while working towards upgrading some bus routes to a modern light rail system.
The problem of funding the City Rail Link needs to be addressed in 2014, which on the one hand means either changing the government or changing the government’s mind, as well as working out an efficient way for the Council to fund its share of the capital cost too. Increasingly I think this could be around a PPP for the three new stations as there will be changes in land value to be captured there.
Then there is the related issue of the accommodating hundreds of buses in the city, the CRL will in time limit the need to endlessly grow the numbers of buses on city streets but even once it’s open there will still be a need for a lot of buses in the city, especially from the North Shore. Hopefully the new plans for concentrating these onto specific routes and speeding their passage through the city will be done well and make a huge difference. But also I think it’s vital that the quality of the buses themselves are improved, that they aren’t walled off with blocking advertising and that their exhaust and noise standards are improved radically, ideally that emissions are eliminated all together. Therefore the electrification of all our urban transport systems should be a matter of higher priority. Electricity is, after all, our great local resource and so much better for the increasingly contested city streets for everyone.
All of which brings us back to the image:
Also clearly visible here are hundreds and hundreds of new cars, well at least new to NZ , freshly off-loaded and ready for our streets and roads. So if [leaving aside the issue of whether this is the best use of these warves], as I predict, these vehicles will increasingly be less and less welcome on the streets of the City Centre then where are they headed? Out to the suburbs and the exurbs I suppose; the more dispersed the living the more ideal the car becomes. Auckland is becoming a Mullet City. It is surely getting more and more bi-level like the famous westie haircut: Increasingly urbane, more European in form, more walkable, ridable and lively in the centre. But still largely auto-dependent, low rise, dispersed and spread out, more American-new-city in form, the further out you go.
To some degree this is inevitable, and is in the very nature of cities, but I hope this doesn’t become too extreme, Auckland could develop a number of great and happily more intense metropolitan centres. So I hope it’s more blurred than this, but the latest version of the Draft Unitary Plan doesn’t inspire confidence. Councillors facing reelection and a vocal anti-change lobby greatly reduced the areas that can enjoy the great gift of the city; the ‘power of nearness’, intensity, and if it stays like this then growth and intensity will be concentrated into just a few areas, and in particular the Centre. This will reinforce a contrasting bi-level city. This form is increasingly apparent globally as The Great Inversion unfolds and City Centres and Inner Suburbs become more desirable and therefore expensive, and as this partly reflects differences in transport value of place, or relative inaccessibility, so the provision of affordable transport options throughout the wider city is critical to ameliorating this tendency [the existing reach of the rail network will become increasingly valuable for equalising access; especially after it is more essential to Auckland once the CRL is operational and the New Bus Network is integrated with it with new interchange stations].
But then there are many ways the suburbs can improve. Auckland’s older tram built suburbs are already relatively dense, are pleasantly leafy and walkable [remnant pathways linking through to old tram stops are sign of this], and have enough old shops and mixed commercial parts to give them great bones. Many simply need improvements in Transit service and cycling amenity to become really good; work for the rest of this decade. Then if we can get the Unitary Plan to allow some decent mixed use density in the centres that serve these suburbs many may find their own neighbourhood pretty well has everything they need as well as being well connected to the big City and other Centres. The newer further out sprawl-burbs are more difficult to bring into this century, but simply calming residential streets and serving those missing modes will go along way to repairing those urban form monocultures.
All of this is to say that 2013 has been great for Auckland’s urban quality and I’m confident 2014 will see this accelerate. So thanks for visiting the site and have a wonderful summer: In the City or as far away as you can get [a perfect use for our cars]…