Shared spaces then and now

How things change… or don’t change.

I recently ran across two videos that illustrate humans’ ability to navigate complex urban environments with a mix of people on the street.

The first video is from the dawn of the motor vehicle age: San Francisco in 1906. It’s a 12-minute long journey down Market Street, shot from the front of a tram. Throughout the video, you can see (and hear) the extraordinary range of uses on the street: horse-pulled carts and carriages; early cars veering suddenly out in front of the tram; young men on bicycles; men in suits and women in long dresses crossing the street, standing around, moving easily through the traffic.

There are no traffic lights or painted lanes. Nobody is controlling this chaos. But everyone is moving at a human speed – at a pace where it’s possible to adjust to unexpected circumstances. The tram periodically slows down to take on passengers – not quite stopping, but easing its pace for a moment to allow people to step up. Boys occasionally dash out in front of the tram to demonstrate their pace.

The second video is a three-minute timelapse video of Amsterdam’s Central Station, at the point at which the city’s ferries are disgorging their passengers. (Central Station also accommodates buses and trains.) There are no cars in the station, but people on bikes, motor scooters, and foot travel through the space in all directions.

Once again, it’s possible to perceive spontaneous order out of the travel chaos. People speed up and the slow down when they get to knots of cross-traffic; people on bikes mingle comfortably with people on foot; and the whole thing generally proceeds safely and conveniently. People who want to cycle straight through the station can do so – provided that they keep an eye out and time their approach to avoid running into cross-traffic. There are occasional bottlenecks – it’s hard for fifty people to get on a ferry when one hundred are getting off – but the system works with admirable efficiency.

What is the point of these videos?

In my view, they demonstrate that humans are reasonably intelligent. We can deal with complexity, provided that we’re given time and space to assimilate it. A lot of contemporary traffic planning seems to assume that we are a bit dim – i.e. that if people in cars aren’t allowed to travel as fast as possible with as few potential interruptions as possible, then terrible things will happen.

When streets are heavily trafficked by cars, there’s definitely a case for separated lanes for buses (which can move more people per lane than cars, even if they’re not chocka) and bikes (which are vulnerable to injury when in mixed traffic). And when you want the cars (or buses) to move fast, then yeah, perhaps keep the pedestrians away. But when the mix of modes is more evenly distributed, then it’s sometimes better to keep things at a human speed and let people negotiate their path through the space.

What do you think of these videos?

Auckland’s Leafiest Suburbs

Auckland’s ‘leafy suburbs’ is a term we’ve heard a lot over the last few years as debate about the Unitary Plan has raged. But what suburbs are the leafiest? Now we have an answer.

Reader Euan has put together some maps looking at the number of public trees within 500m of each residential property and normalised the results to provide a degree of comparison between residences on the isthmus. He hopes to be able to do the North Shore and West Auckland in the future but unfortunately he says there is very little data available for the old Manukau City Council area.

On the analysis, he also notes:

The two major shortcomings associated with this analysis are: A) the public tree data was incomplete; and B) there is an underlying bug with the tool used that has not been fixed. While there’s not much I can do about the incomplete data, there are ways around the software bug. Unfortunately, they are time intensive, and I do not currently have the time to implement the work around. I can always return and fix them later.

In many ways the analysis serves to highlight the change in how we’ve developed cities and streets over the years. If you take a google streetview tour through some of the red areas, like those south of SH20, there are some trees but they’re generally only on private property rather than in the road corridor. I’d also suggest there’s probably a high correlation with the leafiness of an area and the quality of the footpaths. Again those mid-late 20th century developments south of SH20 tend to have narrow footpaths often right up against the road.

Despite the shortcomings, the results are fascinating. As already mentioned there is a serious lack of public trees outside of the streetcar suburbs with the exception being some of the eastern suburbs. One area that bucks this trend though is around Remuera where there is a surprising amount of red, more so than even the CBD. You can also see a fairly dense patch of public trees in Stonefields and I’d expect to see similar results in other new suburbs as the importance of street trees is now more understood.

 

Leafiness - Isthmus

The second map highlights the top 20% most leafy residences to more clearly show where the leafiest suburbs are

Leafiness - Isthmus - Most Leafy

 

Lastly this is an earlier map Euan sent me highlighting the data and showing the number of street trees in the CBD

Leafiness - CBD

All up a fascinating piece of work so thanks Euan for putting it together.

Guest Post: Rethinking our Town Centres for People (Thinking Orbital not Radial) Part 1

This is a guest post submitted by reader Harriet. 

Town Centre Upgrade

We talk so much about how to make the CBD more pedestrian friendly by removing general traffic, and concentrating on public transport and active modes instead, but do we do this enough for our town centres? For the CBD we talk about traffic calming, diverting and even removal of cars for places like Queen Street, so why don’t we apply the same logic to our town centres?

Town centres for the most part sit along main arterial roads. As Auckland has expanded outwards, and over time became more auto focused, these roads have increasingly become through routes for people driving past, rather than functioning as places. Let’s think about the CBD. Is Queen Street a through route arterial or is it focused on access? Policies especially since the 90’s have encouraged motorists to use orbital routes by reducing the speed limits on Queen Street, Barnes Dance crossings, and street upgrades to encourage pedestrian access. In the future Queen Street could become a pedestrian mall with LRT (Light Rapid Transit, or light rail). In a way Symonds Street, Albert/Nelson/Hobson are like western and eastern ring roads. Most motorists therefore freely elect to use these orbital routes. So can applying the same principles to our town centres which presently have radial through roads and instead change it up investing in orbital routes instead which will allow traffic to still flow around, but leaving our Town Centres free for people. Could this be a win win?

Mt Albert was once a strong historical town centre with access to the old tram network, it has now fallen into decay. The local board has lately fought for revival and DART has brought an upgraded station but people still flock to St. Lukes Mall or the CBD.  Anyone who has been to Mt Albert can see that New North Road is used as a through route for people driving to New Lynn, Avondale and further afield, not for people coming to Mt Albert. New North Road thus has been upgraded for this purpose being a dual carriageway through the town centre, not including the protected parking on the station side and on-street parking on the other side. Traffic lights are phased for vehicle flow and the walkways remain decayed and cracked. All this creates a seriously unfriendly environment for pedestrians and shoppers. The new town centre plan really does little to change this. It keeps the same amount of lanes, not adding in any real cycle or bus priority with really token improvements to aesthetics.

Tram heading to Mt Albert

What if we treated Mt Albert the same way we would treat Queen Street, or even the ways other cities would treat their own versions of Queen Street? What if we wanted our town centres to be destinations, not another set of traffic lights? What if we wanted to create great town centres for people without even hurting traffic flows? It’s possible, if just like the CBD here and in other cities we think orbital not radial.

Here is my alternative proposal. If we rail-bridged the Woodward Road level crossing (which needs to be done regardless) and if we diverted New North Road down Carrington Road and Woodward , we would remove one level crossing and create a bypass of Mt Albert Town Centre. From the Woodward Road/Richardson Road intersection to the Mt Albert Road/Carrington Road intersection there would be a section of road completely free from general traffic. The area especially on the NAL (Western Line Side) is mostly post-war low density retail, light industrial, re-purposed warehouses and a service station. If we pedestrianised the old New North Road this would leave enough room for cycle lanes, shops to re-purpose the old walkways into outdoor space and of course plenty of space for pedestrians. If up-zoned to allow mixed use and higher density this would create plenty of area for apartments, offices and retail right next to Mt Albert Station and a future light rail terminus for the Sandringham Road LRT, all without drastically affecting traffic flows. Traffic instead would use the orbital route or potentially switch to SH16 when the upgrades including Waterview are completed.

Objections would be:

  1. Parking (always  parking) – Study after study has shown that retail owners greatly overestimate the amount of customers who come by car compared to active modes and PT. That after improvement to active modes & PT more customers tend to visit not less. Also, with more residents as part of the mixed use potential development, there will be a larger base of local shoppers who can simply walk to the centre.
  1. Bus Access – In the long run, before 2023, it is possible to have both Sandringham Road LRT which could potentially terminate at Mt Albert and likely to have the CRL with potentially 5 minute frequencies to Henderson and the City plus a 3 train per hour crosstown service. We are moving to a best practice bus network which would mean there will be significantly fewer New North Road buses after the CRL, as well as Electric Buses which will be more Town Centre friendly due to less pollution both noise & air. In the short run buses could use the Town Centre with strict rules on idling & speed restrictions.
  1. It will create a negative outcome for some on the new orbital route – Perhaps in some ways, however, the proximity of the town centre and increased transport options would likely increase their property values and they would have access to the improved town centre. Also, Woodward Road is busy at present and the removal of the level crossing would be of great benefit to the residents.
  1. Wouldn’t it be better to just reduce the traffic? Possibly. However, I wanted to show a win-win situation where through motorists wouldn’t realistically be affected travel wise and the local people would have their town centre returned to them. Who doesn’t love win-win?

If we think orbital and not radial is it possible we could have a Swanston Street in every town centre in Auckland, such as Kingsland, Mt Eden, Glen Innes, Sandringham, Avondale, New Lynn, Ellerslie and more?

Is it possible that with a little creative thinking, town centres can become great places just like CBDs or like Santa Monica Promenade? What do you think, any ideas of your own? Also, let me know in the comments if you would like this to become a series as I do have ideas for the above.

Santa Monica Promenade

Fort St

Fort St before

 

FORT ST_8012

 

Autonomous Cars and the City

I made a little Tweet Storm Saturday morning on an issue that’s been on my mind about driverless cars and the City:

Here’s the link to the very good video produced by the Ryerson City Building Institute in Ontario, Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1B9z8ituS8&feature=youtu.be

There are of course many other issues, not the least of which being this technology’s utility for Transit services. But interestingly as a result of my tweets I was sent this link from the US Highway Admin on the very subject of aviation standards versus road standards. Because, let’s face it, the standards are wildly different: 38,000 people were killed directly by auto-dependency last year in the US, that’s just in crashes, that doesn’t include those dying of respiratory diseases, or from the way driving makes people fat and sad, also leading to earlier death from the diseases of inactivity.

I have an additional thought too. At what point will the near perfect safety performance of driverless cars lead to human driving becoming illegal? I suspect this is an almost inevitable consequence of this technology. Likely to start in certain areas then be extended. Perhaps what Google et al are ultimately doing with Autonomous Vehicles will lead to a redefinition of the conceptual link between cars and freedom in American culture?

Sunday reading 15 May 2016

CiWO9QVUUAMJWnm

Hi, and welcome back to Sunday reading. Starting off here is an interview with one of my favourite urban observers, Christoper Hawthorne with the Los Angeles Times. Hawthorne has been actively documenting the transformation Los Angeles has been going through over the last decade. Hawthorne has framed the story in a historical perspective calling the current era, the ‘3rd Los Angeles’. Here he is interviewed by Jon Christensen for Boom magazine.

Mayor Garcetti recently talked about this as being a “hinge moment” in the city’s development. That idea that the city is navigating this transition has become part of the popular, broader discussion about the city. But the more that I wrote and thought about the history of Los Angeles, it occurred to me that a lot of the elements that we’re struggling to add—whether it’s mass transit, places to walk, more ambitious public architecture, innovative multifamily housing, or more forward-looking city and regional planning—we actually produced in really remarkable quantities in the prewar decades. In the DNA of the city’s history is something before the car and the freeway.

…But there are other ways that this emerging city is completely different. First LA and Second LA are both driven by huge growth. And the Third LA is really a kind of post-growth city. Population and immigration have both slowed really dramatically in Los Angeles. Manufacturing is a shell of what it once was. So, in some ways, we have the first chance since the 1880s to really catch our breath and think about how to consolidate our gains—and about what kind of place we want to be. So that’s the basic framework.

As part of the public conversation about the future of Los Angeles Hawthorne runs a lecture series at Occidental College that seems comparable to our Auckland Conversations. It’s admirable to see a writer having the range and latitude to contribute so meaningfully to the public conversation.

It seems the urban conversation is not as sophisticated in New Zealand and Australia as it could be. Here is an interesting study that looks at how newspapers cover local intensification projects in Australia. The findings conclude that writers sensationalise the issues with dramatic references and emotive language. Katrina Raynors, “Media picture of urban consolidation focuses more on a good scare story than the facts“, The Conversation.

Media reports predominantly capture the drama of consolidated development with references to warfare or natural disasters. Articles commonly refer to floods of development or a city under siege.

Local politicians opposed to consolidation are characterised as saviours of the people. These white knights stand strong, benignly offering their constituents protection from the destruction of over-development.

Dramatic physiological language is used in articles discussing high-density apartment buildings. Such places are characterised as choking the city or ripping the heart out of its suburbs. Increasing urban densities are presented as threatening the overall health of the city.

Apartments are depicted as “shoeboxes”, “rabbit hutches” and “charmless chunks of brick”. The people who choose to live in them are routinely portrayed as outsiders. They are the unwelcome intruders who are taking over the city and corrupting traditional suburban values.

Speaking of rolling back decades of past mistakes, Matt had some great posts this week on the recent NZCID policy dump. This comment on road pricing by MFWIC is worth mentioning:

“You are absolutely wrong Hamish. The value of tolling has little to do with the cost of collecting the toll. You need to stop seeing it as harvesting cash and start to understand the concept of economic externalities. The value of congestion pricing is to ensure people include into their decision of how and when to travel the impact they have on others. The correct price is the marginal cost including the externality. If you gather more than it costs to collect (which you will) then you get an opportunity to use that money to further improve transport by either improving public transport or if it makes sense to build additional capacity. The problem is every time congestion charges are raised the infrastructure lobby jumps in like a robbers dog to try and claim the cash. The public then see it as a cash grab with them being fleeced and the whole debate is over before it starts. Congestion charging is the only chance to actually ‘fix’ transport and the best thing the infrastructure people could do is point out that pricing a public good with negative externalities is in everyone’s interest.”

jane-jacobs-google-doodle

Jane Jacob’s 100th anniversary was celebrated this weeks with lots of adoration, some critiques and a fair amount of misunderstanding.  Biographer Peter Laureance provides a useful summary of what was debated last week over the innertubes with  links to several articles. Peter Laureance, “How best to use, abuse, and criticize Jane Jacobs” Archpaper.com.

I found this bit particularly interesting:

Moses wasn’t behind the scheme to redevelop the West Village; and the Lower Manhattan Expressway, which received support from picketers who saw short-term gains in construction jobs, among others, it was bigger than Moses and outlasted him. Fueled in part by the anger that activism took away from writing her second book, The Economy of Cities (1969), Jacobs described LoMEx as a beast that had to be killed three times, in 1962, ’65, and ’68, by which time Moses’s political power had been also fatally wounded.

Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 580-10204

While Jacobs was battling motorway expansion and superblock modernism a quite distinct history was unfolding in Copenhagen. Athlyn Cathcart-Keays, “Story of cities #36: how Copenhagen rejected 1960s modernist ‘utopia’“, The Guardian.

Copenhagen’s lack of funds led to the city’s modernist visions progressing at a painfully slow pace. It did get a small taste of a car-oriented future in the shape of the six-lane Bispeengbuen expressway, which rips through its northern neighbourhoods directly in front of second-storey windows.

“That was a real eye-opener. People could see that this would change Copenhagen – that this is what the plans mean,” Elle says. “Inside people’s heads, they found out that they were not happy with these [modernist developments]. By the 70s, they could experience how it was to live in it … you have to feel it in your body to know it’s not good.”

NACTO_transit_lanes

How Can Cities Move More People Without Wider Streets? Hint: Not With Cars (NACTO via Streetsblog)

The US Feds took a fact-finding tour of the Netherlands to figure out how they have achieved such a high level of bicycle use. The report concluded, surprise!, that “much of the Dutch design approach can be adapted to US context”- US Bicycle Network Planning & Facility Design Approaches in the Netherlands and the United States, FHWA. Here are some takeaways from the report:

There is an implicit assumption in Holland that on roads with higher volumes of cars traveling at faster speeds, it is always preferable to separate bicycle and motor vehicle movement because it is safer and more comfortable. Specifically, in the Netherlands when motor vehicles are traveling faster than around 19 miles an hour, it is assumed that separation is needed.

Motor vehicle speed is controlled by visual narrowing techniques and grade differences and less emphasis is placed on signage and striping. With cars and bikes traveling at slower speeds, there is greater ability to allow for informal mixing, for example on shared streets and at points where two bike routes cross each other.

Informal mixing strategies require greater trust in the users of the transportation system and rely more heavily on eye contact, active awareness of all travelers, and high bicyclist skills levels (achieved in part by bicycle safety education and training provided at a young age). It also helps that people driving often have a history of bicycling themselves and so prioritize watching for bicyclists while they are driving or opening car doors. Dutch approaches to traffic laws also provide more protection for bicyclists than is typical of the U.S.

Of course we can’t so easily translate best practice cycleway design in NZ. Here Bike Auckland raises the serious issue of our current road rules and standards of practice. Tim Duguid, “Ride, Interrupted – the Stop-Start Bugbear“, Bike Auckland.

After 10 years in New Zealand there’s one thing I still can’t get used to: having to stop and start to cross side streets while I’m out for a run. Where I used to live, England, this scenario is barely cause for a second thought: a casual glance over your shoulder maybe, but your reasonable expectation is that you can keep going at the same pace. Which is incredibly helpful for running after dark, when main roads are often your best bet for smooth pavements and decent street lighting.

Please share your links in the comment section.

Let’s ban everything dangerous, like walking

This week, the Herald on Sunday published an article calling out a dangerous new practice: walking under the influence of a smartphone. According to them, careless walking causes literally dozens of injuries a year and should possibly be criminalised:

Now legislation has been introduced in New Jersey that would slap a US$50 ($72) fine and possible jail time on pedestrians caught using phones while they cross. And in the German city of Augsburg, traffic lights have been embedded in the pavement – so people looking down at their phones will see them.

The Herald on Sunday carried out an unscientific experiment at the busy intersection of Victoria and Queen Sts in central Auckland during the lunchtime rush to discover the scale of the problem here. Observing one of the corners, between 1pm and 1.30pm, we spotted 39 people using their cellphones while crossing.

Some people looked up briefly while crossing. Others kept their heads down, oblivious to what was going on around them.

In the past 10 years, the Accident Compensation Corporation has paid out more than $150,000 for texting-related injuries to a total of 272 Kiwis.

About 90 per cent of injuries were a result of people tripping, falling or walking into things while texting.

Incidentally, I have to admit some guilt here. While I don’t usually walk under the influence of a smartphone, I will often walk around reading a book – a habit I picked up during university. In over a decade of distracted walking, I’ve never fallen over, walked into anything, walked in front of a car, or walked into anybody else.

Anyway.

Let’s take the Herald’s suggestions seriously, and ask whether there is a case to ban other activities that risk injury to participants. Their threshold for “enough harm to consider regulation” appears to be around 27 injuries a year costing ACC at least $15,000.

What else fails that test?

I went to ACC’s injury statistics tool to get a sense. Helpfully, they break out injury claims (and the cost thereof) by cause, activity, and a range of other characteristics.

Here’s a table summarising some of the sports that should be considered for a ban. Rugby and league are obvious candidates, of course, as they result in tens of thousands of claims every year and a total cost in the tens of millions. But would you have suspected that humble, harmless lawn bowls was so hazardous? The sport of septuagenarians injures over 1,000 people a year and costs ACC $1m. Likewise with dancing, golf, and fishing. They’re all too dangerous to be allowed. It’s a miracle that we’ve survived this long with all of this harmful physical activity occurring.

Sport Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Rugby union 56,842 $65.4m
Rugby league 12,556 $15.3m
Lawn bowls 1,134 $1.0m
Dancing 6,972 $5.1m
Golf 5,797 $4.5m
Fishing 2,431 $3.2m

But it doesn’t stop with sports. Your home is full of seemingly innocuous items that are eager to kill or maim you. Your stove, for example. Boiling liquids cause almost 5,000 injuries a year, costing ACC $1.9 million. We should definitely ban home cooking. Leave it to the professionals, for pity’s sake! Lifting and carrying objects at home is even more dangerous – over 100,000 claims a year. So don’t pick up that tea-tray or box of knick-knacks: call in someone who’s suitably qualified for handling such dangerous objects.

And let’s not even mention the toll taken by falls, except to strenuously argue for a ban on showers, bathroom tiles, and private ownership of ladders.

Cause of accident Average new claims per annum (2011-2015) Average annual cost (2011-2015)
Boiling liquids (at home) 4,680 $1.9m
Lifting / carrying objects (at home) 103,798 $95.1m
Falls (at home) 310,292 $323.4m
Driving-related accidents (on roads/streets) 13,322 $173.2m

Finally, it’s important to remember an important bit of context that the Herald doesn’t mention: Distracted walking is a far, far lesser danger than driving cars (distracted or not). In the average year, ACC receives 13,300 claims for driving-related accidents and pays out a total of $173 million for people who have been injured or killed. That far, far exceeds the injury toll associated with texting while walking.

On the whole, you’re more likely to be killed or injured while in a car than you are while walking. This chart, taken from a Ministry of Transport report on “risk on the road”, shows deaths or injuries in motor vehicle crashes per million hours spent travelling. Drivers experience 8 deaths/injuries per million hours. The two safest modes are walking (4.6 deaths/injuries per million hours) and public transport (0.7).

Because different travel modes are substitutes, measures to discourage walking – i.e. by penalising people who combine walking with smartphone use – may have the unintended consequence of killing or injuring more people.

MoT risk on the road chart

[As an aside, this chart presents a somewhat misleading picture of cycle safety. People on bicycles experience 31 deaths or injuries per million hours – considerably higher than driving. However, drivers, not cyclists, are at fault in the majority of cycle crashes. According to another recent MoT report, cyclists were primarily responsible for only 22% of crashes. Drivers were partially or fully at fault in the remaining 78% of crashes.

MoT cycle crash fault chart

Consequently, if we provided safe cycle infrastructure that kept people on bikes away from people in cars, cycling would get a lot safer. If we could completely eliminate the risk of people on bikes being hit by cars, cycling would be about as safe as driving.]

To conclude, there are two things that the statistics teach us.

The first is that although injuries and ACC claims are bad, it’s essential to put risks in perspective. And the relevant perspective is this: Walking is a safe mode of travel. It’s remained safe in spite of the invention of the smartphone and the existence of hoons like me who walk around with their nose in a book.

It’s always worth looking for effective ways to improve safety. That’s why Transportblog’s advocated for safe, separated cycleways, and also why it’s taken a positive view on cost-effective investments to improve road safety, like the recent announcement of safety improvements to SH2. But it’s also important to remember that the best way to improve safety is to make it easier to travel in comparatively safe ways. Like walking and public transport.

The second lesson is that there are many activities that can injure us, from rugby to lawn bowls to cooking. Walking while texting is a recent invention, so it may seem newsworthy. But it’s only one of the many hazards that people choose to expose themselves to. If you’re not living in a padded room, you’re probably risking your life in some way or another.

As humans, we’re very prone to focus on risks from new activities while ignoring the effects of things that are already common. Status quo bias is a very real thing – and it doesn’t just apply to transport reporting. It’s the reason why people can, say, oppose new three-storey apartment buildings while being perfectly comfortable with the three-storey houses next door to them.

What risks do you think we should pay more (or less) attention to?

Sunday reading 1 May 2016

Welcome back to Sunday reading. As a reminder, the K Road Open Streets event is happening today from noon through 7pm. It sounds like a great opportunity for some premeditated city fun.

Auckland Harbour Bridge

‘Showing heavy traffic on the Auckland Harbour Bridge two weeks after opening in May 1959’ (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 7-A3703)

Here’s Patrick Sisson’s long read take on the state of transportation investment in American cities. Spoiler: the system inherently favors roadway projects over mass transit. “The United States spends 55 percent of available transportation funding expanding one percent of the system, and 45 percent maintaining the other 99 percent.” – “Fixing the American Commute“, (Curbed)

Nearly every city has tried to build its way out of traffic congestion, but the approach hasn’t yet worked. Even Houston’s new mayor, Sylvester Turner, who calls for more light rail and mass transit spending, called out the Katy extension in a speech where he said these kind of building solutions are “exacerbating our congestion problems.” According to Olivieri, this build-first mentality is built into our system for funding transportation.

“State transportation departments that do much of the highway building across the country see themselves as highway builders,” says Olivieri. “They’re removed from city transit organizations. They believe there are economic benefits to building roads. They’re not bad people. They’re just living in a world that doesn’t exist anymore, and ignore a host of negative externalities such as pollution and congestion. Politics lag behind policy in this case.”

Stephen Moss, “End of the car age: how cities are outgrowing the automobile“, The Guardian. Here’s another good one on transportation and cities focusing on European cities.

What is evident is that the cities of tomorrow are likely, in effect, to revert to the cities of yesterday: denser, more neighbourhood-based, with everything you need for work and leisure in one district. There will be less separation of functions, less commuting, less travel generally.

“To me, this last 50 or 60 years feels like an anomaly,” says Hill. “If you haven’t already guessed, I’m a non-driver. I think we will look back on this time and say, ‘Wasn’t it odd that we drove ourselves around?’ In the 1920s and 30s, you’d have gone to the butcher on your high street, and a grocery boy (it would have been a boy then) would have delivered the goods to your home on a bike – and they’d have been there by the time you got back.”

In Hill’s view, that age and those services will return. Neighbourhoods and self-sufficient communities will make a comeback in a new era that will be dominated not by the car, but by the smartphone and the network. The commuter is dead. Long live the hipster.

Surely one more lane will finally solve our congestion problem, right? (Slightly better GIFF. Feel free to copy) pic.twitter.com/uDJwqVT3WI

Ben Schiller, “How Copenhagen Became A Cycling Paradise By Considering The Full Cost Of Cars“, FastCoExist.

When the city decides on a cycling project, it compares the cost to that of a road for cars, and it includes not only the upfront amount, but also things like the cost of road accidents to society, the impact of car pollution on health, and the cost of carbon emitted to the atmosphere. After including these factors, it comes to a rather startling calculation. One kilometer driven by car costs society about 17 cents (15 euro cents), whereas society gains 18 cents (16 euro cents) for each kilometer cycled, the paper finds. That’s because of factors like the health benefits of cycling and the avoided ill-effects of cars.

This story reminded me of the win/win outcome of the Franklin Road cycleway project redesign. It describes how kerb protected lanes can be less costly to build and maintain than conventional roadway space. Michael Andersen, “Surprise: Protecting Bike Lanes Can Cut The Cost of Brand-New Roads“, People for Bikes.

Curb-protected bike lanes, his firm realized, can reduce the huge cost of managing rainwater that falls on pavement and then flows into streams and rivers. That runoff is a major source of water pollution, which is why the federal Clean Water Act requires local governments to minimize it. But in rainy parts of the country, preventing excess runoff from pavement that cars are driving on has also become a major cost factor in road construction…

But their discovery is similar to the one Portland made on Cully Boulevard. When it rebuilt that street in 2011, the protected bike lane along each side reduced costs, because it didn’t require as much excavation as a wider road bed would have. Unlike with a conventional bike lane, there was no need to layer the pavement deep enough to carry a truck.

Last Sunday Peter linked to this excellent post from Bike Portland which argued that before zoning west coast cities would simply build more to accommodate booming population growth. Here’s a related take from Granola Shotgun in San Francisco,”Jiffy Lube Metropolis“. The photos from these blog posts of dense, mid-rise housing reminded me of this tweet (above) showing the Mayfair apartments in Parnell with a few admirers.

Victorian era builders didn’t construct gas stations. At one time these streets were lined with grand homes and businesses that were incrementally torn down and replaced with new auto-oriented establishments. People often forget that San Francisco went in to serious decline for a few decades after World War II and followed the same general trajectory as many other industrial port cities like Cleveland and Detroit. There was a time in the economic and cultural history of the city when traditional buildings were out of fashion and economic liabilities. It made sense to clear away under performing buildings to make way for more productive and profitable structures.

San Francisco’s economy recovered sooner and stronger than most other inner cities. Today real estate in once undervalued neighborhoods is astonishingly expensive. The culture has changed and so has market demand. As a result many aging gas stations, auto repair shops, and parking lots are being converted back to residential buildings – many incorporating retail shops on the ground floor.

And here’s the context for these new buildings. What we’re witnessing isn’t a modern aberration of multi story buildings being imposed on the traditional city. It’s actually a return to the historic pattern after an odd twentieth century hiatus. The car oriented land use pattern was the real anomaly.

Please post additional links in the comments section.

Franklin Rd design improves

For the second time this week I’m able to say that AT have improved the design of a cycleway, this time on Franklin Rd.

Franklin Rd Impression

Franklin Rd is one of the most iconic streets in Auckland with its large established trees.

The plans to upgrade Franklin Rd have been fairly contentious over the last year or so resulting in multiple designs, redesigns and debates. There were cycle lanes, then there weren’t, then there were as AT kept changing how it responded to feedback from locals and others who use the street. The same applied for the painted median and parking between the trees.

During the last consultation AT presented three options

  • On road painted cycle lanes with a median and cars parked between the trees
  • On road painted cycle lanes with no median and cars parked between the trees
  • Raised cycle lanes inside of parked cars and no median

In the end they chose Option 1 saying amongst other reasons why it was preferred that “it provides for confident cyclists”

Franklin Rd - October 2015 -revised option 1

Option 1 from last year

But AT are now back with a new consulting on the plans following their more detailed design work. They’re now proposing to slightly raise the cycle lanes by 50-70mm above the road and on the inside of the kerb line. The kerb itself will be rounded rather than vertical so still easy to mount but will still be much better than what was proposed before of just paint.

As I understand it, one of the key drivers for the change was that the previous design would have required digging storm water catch pits in the tree roots – and AT are trying to avoid damaging the trees. This seems like a much better outcome for both the trees and those on bikes.

In addition to the cycle lanes there are other good changes too such as having raised tables over the side streets and at the intersection of Wellington/England streets where a narrow roundabout will be installed on top of a raised table with pedestrian crossings included and even cycle bypasses.

Franklin Road Roundabout Design

Positively the design also appears to be acceptable to local residents including Waitemata Councillor candidate Bill Ralston.

While I’m aware Bill hadn’t opposed them before, some others had and that AT have been able to come up with a solution that is acceptable to the various interest groups is a great sign.

In addition to the cycle lane changes, AT are also consulting on the street lighting. Traditional street lighting would require regular and ongoing tree maintenance and so they’re also considering using a catenary system – something they say could also be used for the annual Christmas lights further enhancing the street.

They are consulting on these changes with it open till 10 May.

Well done AT

Thoughts on CBD Bus Changes

Last week Auckland Transport made the latest round of changes to streets in advance of the construction works for the City Rail Link. As mentioned in my post the other day, these changes impact me quite a bit as my commute normally involves transferring between buses and trains at Britomart. Below are just a few personal observations I’ve made over the last few days and I’m keen to hear your experiences of the changes.

Train to Bus

For my trip to work I catch a train to Britomart and then transfer to the Northern Express. In the mornings, the NEX runs every 7-8 minutes and so every second bus is effectively on the same timetable pattern as the western line. Due to the timetabling of services, previously I usually arrived in town just a few minutes before the next NEX departure so a quick dash from the train platform to the bus and I was on my way again with minimal delay.

CRL Bus changes map departure

Now, instead of walking across the road outside of Britomart I now have to walk to Albert St and the timing difference means I just bus I would have previously caught is just pulling away from the stop. That’s a little frustrating but given the frequency it’s not a massive deal. This should also all change when the Western line gets a frequency bump in about two weeks so I suspect could see pretty much back to as they were – with a slightly minor and not terrible walk.

Given lower Albert St is where many buses will leave from post CRL, I don’t think the short walk is terrible – or at least it won’t be once the permanent lane through the Commercial Bay development is completed. It’s certainly not the disaster some like George Wood would have us believe

Downtown Lane

Bus to Train

My trip back to the city is generally a little varied. I’ll either catch a bus direct from Takapuna and then transfer to either a City Link or a NEX on Fanshawe St or I’ll go to Akoranga and catch a NEX from there. For the purposes of this I’m only referring to these services from about the Nelson St intersection towards Britomart.

CRL Bus changes map arrival

City Link – Previously this used to travel down lower Hobson St then along Quay St before heading up Queen St. This part of the trip used to infuriate me as lower Hobson St and Quay St were often jammed up and it could sometimes take over 10 minutes to travel about 500m and the reason I’d transfer to a NEX if possible. The change to using Customs St West with a right turn into Queen St has been a fantastic change and it feels like it’s significantly sped up the service. The stop is just up from the Customs St intersection and even with a short walk from there to Britomart instead of being right outside, it is a much more pleasant journey.

Of course on Queen St also now has bus lanes and it was good to see AT out monitoring them the other day. Given how AT have acted in the past, I suspect they will start with an educational approach first.

Queen St Bus Lane enforcement

NEX – I’ve had mixed results with the NEX so far. In the afternoon peak the downtown carpark can disgorge a lot of cars onto Customs St West who then want to loop around the block to get to Hobson St – presumably that’s faster/easier than using the dedicated ramp to Fanshawe St. In one experience the bus was held up from being able to turn left at Albert St for a set of lights or two as a line of cars in front of my full bus took their turn to do so. That plus the short walk to Britomart was just enough to see a western line train departing as I walked in the building. However in another experience there were only a few buses and we weren’t held up so I suspect it could be a bit of a hit and miss situation.

Other observations

A few other related observations.

  • Crossing lower Queen St outside Britomart was quite easy, sometimes a bus or two to dodge but fine so long as you were paying attention. Crossing lower Albert St is not the same as for one general traffic is allowed on it which they weren’t on Queen St. And because it’s open to cars and quite a wide road there are inevitably some idiots out behind the wheel trying to see how fast they can get to the next set of traffic lights.
  • Of course crossing at the lights is always an option too and given the numbers of people who will now be getting off NEX services and probably heading southeast of the bus stop I wonder if AT should consider converting the Albert/Customs St intersection into a Barnes Dance like the intersections to the east of Albert St.
  • By contrast to Albert St, the new/currently temporary space outside of Britomart has been a welcome improvement. Walking to/from the station and having more space without having to dodge buses is fantastic. I also like that AT are thinking about temporary activation of the area – such as this which was being painted the other day.

Temporary Activation outside Britomart

Overall the changes seem to have gone fairly smoothly and I haven’t seen any real issues with the changes either personally or on social media (not saying there haven’t been). I’ve also noticed that AT have had a lot of ambassadors around directing people who might need it to the new bus stops which is useful. So all up sounds like AT have been fairly successful here. Were you affected by the changes and if so what are your thoughts on them?