Mike Lydon Auckland Conversation now online

If you missed Mike Lydon’s talk on Tuesday about Tactical Urbanism you can now watch it online. I thought it was a great talk and highlighted how quick, cheap and temporary measures can be extremely useful both from an advocacy perspective to show better outcomes are possible but also for agencies like Auckland Transport to trial outcomes as part of a consultation process.

Mike Lydon - Auckland Conversations

Did you go (or have you now watched the video). What did you think of it.

Now where can I get some of that traffic tape?

Island Bay Cycleway: Safety for All Road Users

This is a guest post by Wellington architect Guy Marriage.

Wellington City Council has, at last, voted to go ahead with its first separated cycle-way and to adopt the Wellington Cycling Framework. The former is a section of cycle-way starting in Island Bay (a southern suburb next to Cook Strait, once a predominantly Italian fishing village). But just because it has been approved by Council, don’t expect it to go away as an issue. Down here, for inextricable reasons, it is dividing the local community like the Springbok Tour of 1981. Yes, it has become that venomous.

ISLAND Bay

Bizarrely, or so it seems to outsiders, the people most against it are a small group of locals on “The Parade” whose properties it goes past. They will gain a cycle-way positioned close to the verge (or berm as Aucklanders call it), sheltered from the passing traffic by a row of parked cars. In doing so, about 30 of the about 300 carparks will be lost. You may think that seeing as this section of road has excellent off-street parking for nearly all residents, that this small loss of parking would be happily written off against the gain of a protected cycle-way. But you would be wrong.

Opponents (seriously) claim that the design of the cycle-path will cause deaths and destruction, particularly with the elderly and toddlers. Quite how the elderly have avoided their certain death all these years crossing over 2 lanes of infrequent car and bus traffic is uncertain, but opponents are certain that only death awaits the elderly as they cross the separated cycle-way. The logic escapes me, but evidently not local Councilors such as the Labour rep for the Southern ward, Clr Paul Eagle. He has teamed up quite firmly (but not in a Colin Craig manner) with Nicola Young, the local National-leaning Councilor, and future Mayoral contender. The current Mayor, Celia Wade-Brown, strongly Green and avidly pro-cycling, has largely kept at arms length from the fracas so far, especially as she lives in Island Bay and it is seen by some as her having a pet project – although this is probably quite far removed from the truth.

Island Bay Cycleway_02

The argument appears to be that by having the cycle-way separated behind a row of parked cars, risks speeding, unwary cyclists plowing recklessly and frequently into people opening passenger doors on the left hand side (a 600 wide zone is allowed for this door-opening to safely happen, but even that does not seem to have gratified the people of Island Bay). Opponents of the cycle-way argue that these doors will be flung open without checking by small children, and that the kiddies will be mown down, along with any errant grannies who dare to cross the road, the potential row of parked cars, and the “killer cycle-way”.

At present, there is a small but steady stream of cyclists from Island Bay, who either share the main part of the road with the cars and buses, or else they cycle along a parallel, less busy road a short distance away. The road is wide – exceptionally wide by Wellington suburban standards – and stats for crashes are low. One of the valid arguments against the cycle-way starting here is that it is the easiest part of the route from here to central Wellington, and that the WCC should perhaps have tried to solve the harder parts first. They do seem to miss the point that without a safe path, cycle numbers will not grow. They argue that no-one much cycles there at present, and so there is no need for a separated path. If you think Northcote Point home-owners are NIMBYs, you haven’t yet met the Island Bay Luddites. “Cycleway anti community” placards and “Safety 4 ALL road users” signs dot the wall of one of the local shops – but this logic escapes me. I honestly would have thought that little old ladies and children would have been much more at risk from cars and buses than by cyclists. Covered in the Dompost here.

Iasland Bay_03

Proponents of the cycle-way starting here argue the opposite points – that Wellington needs to lead the demonstration of quality cycle-ways with the highest quality possible at first, in order to continue the trend of separation when it comes to the following, harder parts of the cycle network. A basic masterplan of cycle routes has been published by the WCC, and this is just the first part of the first route. It is planned to become a centerpiece of how to do it well. It was consulted on, both online and also with flyers to all locals, and a show and tell meeting one weekend – all very easy to find out about and attend – but the locals who did not make themselves aware of the consultation are now taking the matter to the Ombudsman. Sadly, I kid you not. This story continues on.

There are over 1000 children in the Island Bay region, the third largest population of children in Wellington. The words of Enrique Penalosa – the former Mayor of Bogota and the President of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy – seem most appropriate here: “A bicycle way that is not safe for an eight year old is not a bicycle way.”

On faustbook: https://www.facebook.com/IslandBayCycleWay

More on AT’s Light Rail Proposal

We have been sent more LRT details from AT. Light Rail is undergoing investigation at this point, but slowly more of their thinking is emerging:

LRT Stage 1.0

Clearly access to Wynyard is the most difficult part of this route. Queen St is so LRT ready and at last a use for that hitherto hopeless little bypass: Ian Mackinnion Drive. The intersection of New North and Dom Rd will need sorting for this too- Is there nothing that LRT doesn’t fix!

LRT Stage 1.1

They are planning for big machines, 450 pax is at the top end of LRVs around the world.

LRT Stage 1.2

At 66m, these are either the biggest ever made, or I guess more likely 2 x 33m units. 33m is a standard dimension, and enables flexibility of vehicle size.

LRT Stage 2.1

The contested road space of Dominion Rd. Light Rail will create the economic conditions for up-zonning the buildings here; apartments and offices above retail along the strip. But the city will have to make sure that the planning regulations support this. Otherwise it will be difficult to justify the investment. Something for those in the area who reflexively oppose any increase in height limits, reduction of mandated parking, or increases in density and site coverage rules to ponder. If they prefer to keep the current restrictions they need to be aware they are also choosing to reject this upgrade. More buses will be as good as it gets, and AT’s investment will have to go elsewhere. I’m not referring to the the large swathes of houses back from the arterials, no need to change these; it’s the properties along the main routes themselves that need to intensify; anyway these are the places that add the new amenity for those in the houses. And not just shops and cafes, also offices with services and employment for locals, and apartments for a variety of dwelling size and price. Real mixed-use like the world that grew up all along they original tram system city wide, before zoning laws enforced separation of all these aspects of life.

LRT Stage 2.2

Queen St Light Rail

On the day that the Sydney Morning Herald runs an intelligent editorial showing a grown-up attitude to the disruption that comes with important infrastructure builds…

The Herald remains a strong supporter of the light rail project to run through the inner city and eastern suburbs, and urges the Baird government to prosecute the case forcefully for the line.

Construction of the project, due to start on George Street in October, will be painful and frustrating. Mistakes will be made, and they must not be excused.

But any conception of the transport needs of central Sydney must begin on the basis the status quo is unsustainable.

That status quo represents an over-reliance on bus transport through crowded city streets.

The streets are so crowded that the buses are unreliable. They consistently fall behind timetable well before they have left the city and entered the suburbs.

…AT has released more LRT images:

Town Hall LRT_800

Note in both images all cars are gone, and there is a sort-of cycle lane, that in practice will really be part of the big shared space, yet indicated. Personally I think this is a good arrangement for this pedestrian dominated place and means that it is a slow speed and take care place for riders. The parallel routes of Nelson and Grafton Gully are for getting places at pace; good crosstown cycling connections will be needed to link these all together.

Queen St LRT_800

This would be a spectacular upgrade to the Queen St valley in terms of access but even more so in place quality. And just at the right time, or at least the proposal certainly isn’t ahead of the need; downtown is booming and development is spreading up the hill. We will be able to taste the sea air again in the city! I just can’t wait to get the fume-belchers out of our main spine.

Also from a purely transport capacity angle this will add a whole new access point for people into our uniquely motorway severed City Centre, as currently buses have been restricted on Queen St to the local access only City Link, and the AirBus, because of the unattractiveness of too many diesel buses in core pedestrian places. Adding Queen St to those other two north-south streets of Albert and Symonds as a route to move high volumes of people, while reducing the total bus numbers.

As the SHM goes on:

The Herald does not support any one mode of transport over another. In a metropolis like Sydney, trains, buses, the private car, light rail, cycling and walking all obviously have their role to play.

But the government should invest money in the mode of transport that fits the particular need of a particular space and of a particular travelling public.

And in central Sydney, the use of a growing number of buses to get people to and from work is no longer fit for purpose.

Without major changes to the city – without replacing some of those buses by new rail links – it will be impossible to increase the frequency of bus services to those areas not served by rail.

This argument represents much of the benefits inherent in the CBD light rail project down George Street, as well as the North West Rail Link and its eventual connection to the inner city.

This is exactly the situation Auckland finds itself in; the City Rail Link for connection to and through the core and the further out West, East, and South, and buses upgrading to LRT when capacity limits are hit on surface routes elsewhere. Including, in my view, across the harbour from Wynyard in tunnels to a balancing North Shore network, instead of the bloated and destructive third road crossing. Or a bridge, either way it would be direct, fast, and way way cheaper than NZTA’s current, yet last century, plans:

Light Rail Bridge

Light Rail Bridge

 

All up it renders Queen St just like Bourke St in that other Australian city:

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

I have requested an image of Dominion Rd LRT too, so will follow up with that and other info in the days ahead.

Helping Our Heritage Come Alive – Parnell Rise

This is an image from Mark Bishop. Here are the previous posts: Queen and Wellesley, Newton Rd, Kingsland, Mt Eden Rd, Dominion Rd, Karangahape Rd, Mt Eden South

These images were developed by merging together various historic black and white photographs (all from the “Sir George Grey Special Collection” – Auckland Library) with contemporary colour photographs taken at the same location.

The black and white photographs were taken between the years 1900 to 1940, and cover a number of areas of the city and the outlying suburbs. The colour photographs were all taken in early 2015.

The intention of these images is to use photography to help show how much has changed – or not changed – over almost one hundred years by focusing on locations that are familiar to Aucklanders.

It is interesting to think that the people, horses and trams seen in these images passed by around a century ago where we walk and drive today.

View looking east up Parnell Rise and shows Beach Road in foreground.  Black and white photograph (Mar 1904) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries 1-W942.”

History Alive - Parnell Rise

This is the last of the series so many thanks to Mark for providing them.

Auckland’s new Parking Stategy

Last week Auckland Transport finalised their region wide parking strategy which they first consulted on a year ago. All up AT received more than 5,500 submissions.

The strategy is potentially one of the most important that AT have as parking has huge impacts across a wide range of areas so managing it right is critically important. It has the ability to impact on how people live, congestion, what mode they use, the provision of bus and cycle infrastructure and even local economies.

One of the things I really like about the strategy is that it fairly clearly sets out what the various parking management options are and also what the trigger points are for changes. The types of parking restriction listed are:

  • Loading Zones
  • Mobility Parking
  • Motorcycle Parking
  • Taxi Stands
  • Buses and tour coach parking
  • Car Share Parking
  • Time Restrictions
  • Bicycle Parking

For each of these there is a description of what the restriction is for and the policies around it. An example of this is below:

Parking Strategy - Descriptions

As mentioned there are trigger points as to when parking management might change, the example below is for on-street parking and shows the magic number for change is an occupancy of 85%.

Parking Strategy - One Street Interventions

There is additional information for priced parking that addresses issues such as how frequently AT will review parking demand, how it will adjust prices, the times of operation and for off-street parking this includes issues like yield targets and pass options. In addition to managing parking there are policies that cover topics such as the investment in new or divestment of off street parking facilities.

 

Residential parking schemes have been started to be introduced in some areas and have been proposed in others. In general our view is that residential parking schemes are unwise however they are often popular with locals and AT have created policies to deal with these. Some of the components in the parking schemes include

  • Time restrictions for those without a permit.
  • A cap on the number of parking permits issued based on a percentage of total car parks available,
  • The ability for people to stay longer than the permit by paying a daily charge – residents also get a number of free days per year for visitors.
  • Restrictions on permits to only dwellings built before the council’s Unitary Plan was notified.
  • Permits that will be issued based on an order of priority which is below.

Parking Strategy - Permit priority

Arterial roads get special mention and importantly AT say that they will manage parking on arterial roads by potentially removing parking if it:

  • Causes significant delays to the speed and reliability of public transport on the FTN, and/or
  • Causes safety risks for cyclists or impedes quality improvements on the Auckland Cycle Network

Actually acknowledging that bus and cycle infrastructure is more important than parking is hopefully a significant step in AT being able to stand up to locals who claim the sky will fall if a single carpark is removed.

There are a few other policies covered in the document however the last one I want to address is Park & Ride (P&R). AT say there are currently about 5,500 P&R spaces around Auckland (with about 20% of those at Albany Busway station alone) and 80% are at capacity by 8am. AT want up to an extra 10,000 P&R spaces over the next 30 years. I’m not convinced pursuing lots of P&R is a great strategy as while they get used, they don’t actually contribute that many customers to the network. Even if 10,000 new spaces appeared tomorrow and they were all used by people who don’t currently use PT, that’s only around 2.5 million extra trips per year which is nothing really. If they do get more P&R one thing I like is they talk about opportunities including making better use of locations near stations that have an excess of parking during the week, examples include shopping centres, sports fields and even churches.

One aspect that will cause some concern is the suggestion that P&R could be charged if occupancy is high to manage demand. Many will complain however experience from Calgary shows it can be done without losing patronage. The map below shows the potential sites to investigate adding & P&R. If these come to pass there will end up a lot of space dedicated to parking and as I mentioned earlier, not that much extra patronage for it. On this AT do mention that P&R is almost a form of land banking.

Potential Park and rides

Overall the document is fairly good and a welcome addition to the landscape.

Jean Batten Place time lapse

Through the wonders of modern smartphones I’ve put together a sped up clip of a few minutes activity at a downtown intersection. This shows the intersection of High St, Shortland St and the Jean Batten Pl shared space in action. This clip shows everything, pedestrians crossing every which way, cyclists weaving through queues of traffic, drivers going the wrong way down the street and the inevitable tradesmen doing dodgy u-turns.

The funny thing is it all seems to work in harmonious chaos, although it does make you wonder if a ped crossing might straighten things out a bit.

PS: sorry about the music!

 

Nederland (Re) Cycle and (E) Cycle

This is a guest post by Andre de Graaf, Architectural Director of Isthmus, who is travelling the Netherlands. The post originally appeared on the Isthmus Blog.

We all know the Dutch do the bike priority thing really well, but they are not resting on their laurels as they continue to reprocess existing infrastructure for more equitable multi-mode travel. Take the following local street for example. Until a few years ago these streets simply had a single carriageway in each direction (cyclist simply shared the road) as they might do in similar situation in NZ.

Less than 18 months ago the street looked like this.

Less than 18 months ago the street looked like this.

In the last few years all the local streets have/are being converted – with only PAINT making the the difference – no widening or re-curbing has occurred.  The above shot I located on google street view in the same place as I was yesterday where I took the shot below.

Same street, same place – now re-prioritised with central carriageway and cycle lanes to either side.

Same street, same place – now re-prioritised with central carriageway and cycle lanes to either side.

The street is now essentially a widish single carriageway for cars in both directions that pinch from the cycle lane (between cyclists) on either side as they pass one another. This all requires a sense of sharing the road no matter what transport device you are on or in.  This of course helps to keep vehicle speeds in check as they are continually slowing to intersperse with cyclists.  The mental shift in drivers is a big factor to consider in less cycle friendly countries but overall its these initiatives, that in my view, lead to driver behaviour/expectation changing. All local streets are currently getting this makeover and one has to wonder about the potential in Auckland or Wellington, where it is possible to re-prioritise so much road space with just paint and texture – easy wins that can transform neighbourhoods.

3

Another shot from a few days earlier in a neighbouring town

I will do some more careful recording of actual dimensions, but the other thing to note is that the carriageways (kerb to kerb) are no wider than our typical local street condition at between 6 – 8m.  The reality is that cars and cyclist share the road in much the same way (whether the cycle lines are there or not) – BUT the difference is that it signals to a driver that they don’t have carte blanche, that cyclists have just as much right to be on the street, and visually helps scale the road width to mitigate excessive speed.

Once you enter the town centres the priority changes further in favour of cyclists where cars are effectively “guests” in the street.

4

The sign on the road translated reads: Cycle Street – Cars as Guests

Even the really small streets still signal that cyclists are to be accommodated with dotted lines.

5 (1)

The interesting thing is that when I am on the bike my intuitive reaction is to pull over and let cars through (I don’t though), but cyclists in Holland would not dream of doing this AND importantly drivers do not expect that – they seem very happy to wait until it is safe to overtake.

The other interesting bit of info’ on bicycles is that they have now become so popular and the issue of bike storage so problematic that all rail stations (other than really small ones) are constructing underground storage facilities.  This recently constructed one is in Beverwijk. They are security controlled and aim to remove the visual blight of excessive bicycles everywhere at town centres/rail stations (these are always proximate).  Where these facilities have been constructed you now get fined if you park your bike above ground. Storage is free.

7

8

6 (1)

 

The storage facility is financed and constructed by the NS (Netherlands Railways) and then leased back to the local community boards. The storage racks are double decker.  For the top level storage, the channel slides out and lowers to the ground at an angle – pop your bike on and through clever weight distribution its easy to lift up and slide back in.

What an enviable problem to have – accommodating excessive amounts of bicycles in our cities!

BTW – Part of why cycling numbers continue to increase so much is the popularity of e-bikes. The reality is with an e-bike people cycle more frequently and for longer.  I have observed in three large cycle shops now that effectively half of all display space is given over to an extensive range of e-bikes.  My dad’s newspaper subscription features daily full page bicycle sales promotions (as summer begins), 80% of which are all e-bikes.

‘Thanks, but no I really don’t need a lift’

The Public Transport offer in Auckland has a long way to go, but on some routes, especially in the inner city, it can be not only the quicker but also more pleasant option than driving, particularly once the hassle and costs of parking are considered. We look forward to this advantage being spread out to more areas and for more people as the Electric Trains, the New Bus Network, Proper Buslanes, and Integrated Fares roll out over the next couple of years.

Yet there is still the issue of people’s mindset. I understand this well as it wasn’t until I returned from living in Europe that I just didn’t unthinkingly reach for my car keys to undertake even the shortest or most ill-suited of journeys in Auckland. But also over that time PT services have improved from almost completely useless to on many occasions pretty handy. The Rapid Transit system is at last reaching utility as can be clearly seen by consistent rise in uptake, but there are also bus services like the Inner Link that I now use regularly because, once armed with a HOP card, it is often the best option for many journeys. Frequent enough, and a great place to check my messages between commitments, or just stare out into the city sailing by, perhaps even thoughtfully. It can also be pretty social:

BUSES ETC_8274

Ride Social: On the Inner Link

My partner and I have recently had two instances that are deeply illustrative of how far many Aucklanders have to go with their car addiction. An addiction born of the environment; as for so long only one means of movement was well supported.

Both times we were happily bussing it, only to be dragged off into relatively unpleasant and time wasting car experiences by people determined to do us a favour and generously save us from perfectly efficient and enjoyable Transit trips.
The first, after a dinner out we were dragged, past our bus stop, into the limitless helllhole that is the SkyCity car dungeon, our hosts struggling to find their car on the bizarre sloping and labyrinthine parking floors, paying an absolute fortune to release it once found, seriously taking way longer and much less pleasantly than hanging on Albert St on a clear evening, even for the relatively roundabout 020. 
It was very kind of our friends but I really really would have rather had the bus trip home. The conversation, thereafter, became all about how vile SkyCity is as an experience and how expensive the parking was; which was an order of magnitude higher than our combined busfares.
The second, Maria was on Ponsonby Rd buying flowers en route to the hospital (Bhana Bros; what will we do without you?), only to bump into a mutual friend who insisted on driving her to Grafton. What ensued was a longwinded driving/parking hopeless nightmare. Compared to taking the Link, as she’d intended [directly point to point; unlike the drive], or riding, as I usually do to get to the hosp. and there’s been a lot of that over last few years, what a stupid way to cover that route! Yet this person wouldn’t have a bar of it, absolutely full of how she’d saved Maria from some kind of malady and done her a great favour…. But it actually made her late for her next appointment and robbed her of a contemplative moment on the bus.
Nick adds:

I had a similar experience not too long ago. Drinking near Britomart late at night, group decides to go to a bar in Ponsonby. They start the inevitable horse trading of who is driving what and where and whose car I have to go in the boot of.  I say bugger that and announce I’m catching a bus, the rest look at me like I’m insane. Basically begging me to cram into their car which is parked in some building like they are saving me from some huge hardship. Me and one other get the Link up no worries, and are well onto our second drink before the rest arrive complaining about nowhere to park etc. All absolutely flabbergasted we got there faster on a bus. One person didn’t believe us and said we must have run straight to a taxi. Anyway, who wants to be driving when bar-hopping?
I get this totally because if you don’t use PT at all you sort of don’t see it, except as that thing blocking your way when driving, also you don’t know how it works, where to catch a service or how long it might take, or what the hell a HOP card is. And it also means you pretty much always have your car with you piling up parking charges or nagging you about the wisdom of having that drink. I really do feel much freer in the city without my car, free to change plans, free to socialise. In the city the car is a burden.
And continued improvements to services are baked into the pie, especially now the the Transport Levy is in place. Although it is extension to the Rapid Transit Network that would be truly transformative. Here is the coming spread of the Frequent Network:
RPTP Current Network
RPTP Proposed 2018 Network
RPTP Proposed 2025 Network
Those that still only ever think of driving are clearly the majority in Auckland but there is a considerable upside to this observation because as the kinds of improvements that are available in only some places become more widespread it means that there are many more Aucklanders who will discover this advantage and add using these services to their options for movement. When and where it makes sense to.
The data supports the idea that this is already happening as the transit trips per capita figure keeps steadily advancing despite the rising poulation. It is now at 50.5 PT trips per capita from 44 in 2011, still very low compared to similar cities, and reason enough to expect ridership to keep climbing. As long as Auckland Transport keep improving services measurable.
But also thinks of new ways of getting HOP cards into more new hands. Events where PT journeys are part of the ticket price are currently the main way that AT are doing this. But with Fare Integration I think its time they started approaching major employers near good services to include HOP cards in renumeration packages. And for the government to revisit Fringe Benefit Tax rules for both PT and car parks.

The SH1/SH26 roundabout – what is going on?

In this recent post Matt asked why we were still building dangerous intersections. One part of his post caught my eye, specifically proposed changes to the intersection of SH1 and SH26 in the Waikato. The location of this intersection is shown below.

SH1 and SH26a

 

You can see that the intersection exists firmly within the Hamilton urban area. Moreover,  I understand the area to the east is planned for residential growth in the future. I.e. there will be more and more residential development to the east.

The reason this caught my eye is because the proposed changes, in my opinion, seem likely to result in a horrific clusterfuck of an intersection that will, at a minimum, destroy urban amenity and, potentially, result in pedestrian carnage. In my opinion, this roundabout design is completely inappropriate for an urban area. And unlike NZTA I don’t agree t hat potential delays to vehicles are sufficient reason to provide wholly unsatisfactory facilities for pedestrians. Facilities that are so lacking that they seem likely to increase the risk of injuries to pedestrians who need to cross at this intersection.

The proposed changes are illustrated below.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

 

Now I should mention that the NZTA press release for the changes mentions an additional pedestrian crossing is to be located on SH26 to the east, which I presume (although can’t be sure) is beyond the extent of works shown above. The press release also noted the presence of a pedestrian underpass on SH1 to the south, which is being retained in the new design.

What NZTA are proposing for the southern and eastern approaches to the roundabout is relatively poor practice and ill-suited to an urban area such as this.

But perhaps most importantly, the proposed pedestrian facilities don’t seem to address what happens on the western approach to the roundabout. As anyone can easily see from StreetView below, NZTA’s beautiful junkspace landscaping is *already* being severely trampled beneath the feet of hapless pedestrians as they scamper across the existing road. QED there’s an existing problem that needs to be resolved, not ignored as the proposed design has done.

Crossing

Anyway, I was sufficiently motivated by this proposal to start digging for more information.

The background study for these intersection changes was completed in 2008. Given that it’s now almost 8 years since the study was completed, I thought I’d go and look at traffic volumes since that time. In the figure below I’ve totalled the AADT on the two closest counts on SH1 and SH26 over time (NB: This will double-count many vehicles, which is why the total AADT shown here is significantly higher than the figure of 37,000 vehicles per day using the intersection that is quoted in the NZTA in their press release. Nonetheless it’s likely to be broadly indicative of general trends in AADT).

AADT

 

The volumes bobble around a bit, although current AADT is about 3% below the level achieved in 2008, i.e. the time that the report supporting the proposed changes was developed. Is it reasonable to assume that vehicle volumes will increase or decrease from here?

Well, there’s some growth out this way so it’s plausible to suggest there may be more demand. On the other hand, there’s one major question that I’m not confident is addressed by the studies associated with this upgrade: The Waikato Expressway, specifically the Hamilton section.

For those who aren’t familiar with this project, it’s part of the RoNS programme.

While I’m no fan of the RoNS programme per se, if these projects are to go ahead then I would at least expect NZTA to maximise their potential benefits, especially with regards to re-configuring parallel routes to support more livable urban places. In this context, the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway is  high-speed, high-capacity route that seems likely to shift vehicles away from the existing SH1 and away from this roundabout. Construction of the Hamilton section is expected to start in 2016 with a target opening date of 2019.

I note that the NZTA website states that the Hamilton section of the expressway will:

  • Connect the Ngaruawahia section of the Expressway, completed in late 2013, to the Cambridge section, due for completion in late 2016.
  • Reduce traffic congestion and improve safety on Hamilton’s local road network by significantly reducing through traffic.”

And yet NZTA’s proposed changes to the SH1 and SH26 intersection (which appear to have been formulated prior to the RoN being confirmed) are designed to increase capacity.

One has to wonder why the NZ Transport Agency is spending $2 million to create a situation that is more dangerous for pedestrians than the present one, while at the same time spending the best part of half a billion dollars building a high-speed bypass around the same intersection.

Call me a simpleton if you will but I would have thought the more logical sequence of actions would be:

  1. Complete the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway in the next 3 years as planned; and
  2. Monitor changes to vehicle volumes in response to growth (which apparently is quite low at the moment) and expressway; and
  3. Develop options for the intersection which respond to these changes, but which are also appropriate for an urban area.

In terms of #3, this really brings us full circle. I cannot understand why NZTA would think the proposed design is appropriate for an urban area. I can tell you that in my opinion it’s most certainly not. While I’ll reserve my full and final judgment until I have more detailed information to consider, the proposed intersection seems to compromise pedestrian safety to a level bordering on negligence.

I know that’s a big call so let me present some reasons why:

  1. The design does not seem to meet the present need for a pedestrian crossing on the westbound SH1 approach, e.g. to access the adjacent school. There is already demand for this pedestrian movement, as we can see from StreetView. This demand will only increase as the area develops in the future.
  2. The approaches are wider than the current facility. The western approach on SH1 , for example, is three lanes wide. This will increase the distance pedestrians will have to cross before they reach the landscaped sliver of land in the middle of the road.
  3. The design incorporates features that seem likely to increase vehicle speeds. The western approach on SH1, for example, now includes what is effectively a “slip lane” for vehicles travelling through. This features will enable/encourage vehicles to maintain their speed on their approach to (and exit from) the intersection. This will increase risks to pedestrians who (legitimately) need to cross the western approach, and the severity of accidents.

I draw two *preliminary* conclusions from all this. First, the proposed changes to the intersection is unacceptably dangerous for pedestrians and should not proceed as designed. Second, the proposed intersection has been designed without consideration of the Waikato Expressway and thus are likely to represent poor value for money and low strategic fit.

I’d really like to know what others think: Am I mis-reading the situation here? Or is it as bad as it looks? An outdated and seemingly dangerous design being imposed on what is very much an urban area, just prior to a major expressway bypass opens? What is going on?