Stuart’s 100 #36 On the Beat

36: On the Beat


What if we had more cops on the beat?

Isn’t it time the New Zealand Police started to recognise the changes happening in urban New Zealand? In our central cities and busiest town centres and main streets in particular, wouldn’t it be good to see less racing sirens and more friendly-faced officers on the street, on foot and two wheels?

This aspect of New Zealand life is a noticeable contrast with policing in cities elsewhere in the world. In central Auckland and Wellington in particular, there are now such high numbers of people out and about on foot every day and every evening right through the week that having a friendly police presence on the pavement wouldn’t go amiss, particularly at night.

The positive difference was noticeable during the Rugby World Cup where the police by and large had a very positive presence in the city. Ok, so that was a special one-off event with particular policing needs, but it did signal how too often we see officers out of their cars and on the pavement. As New Zealanders increasingly work out ways of to our urban city and town centres it might be time the police consider doing the same.

Stuart Houghton 2014

Bike to the Future


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

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

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

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

Photo by @bythemotorway

Photo by @bythemotorway




Photo: Tamara Josephine.


Photo: @bythemotorway





Photo: Tamara Josephine.

A Minister for Cities?

John Key by Platon

John Key by Platon

On the Monday night after his impressive victory in the election the Prime Minister presented a very statesman like and inclusive tone in an interview on Campbell Live:

“I will lead a Government that will govern for all New Zealanders” was a quote from Mr Key’s acceptance speech that stood out for many, writes Campbell.

Throughout the interview he gives a strong impression that he has no intention of standing still in the glow of this endorsement, he clearly has ambitions to cement his appeal across as a broad spectrum of the public as possible. If he is to achieve this then it will likely involve reaching across traditional divides in policy to bring even more people into his camp. Of course he will also want to carry his base with him if he is to initiate anything new, so it will need to be acceptable to general market-led philosophy even if  novel for National otherwise.

The other increasingly important issue to him now will be thoughts of legacy, of history’s judgement. I see an appetite for more than ‘steady as she goes’ for this term, both in terms of building for another or if it were to be his swansong. I believe we can expect a more creative and dynamic John Key, looking to make a make a mark beyond being a good manager and a great salesman:

Robert Muldoon’s ambition, “to leave the country in no worse shape than I found it”, Mr Key describes as having an incredibly low ambition.

“I want to leave the country in better shape than I found it,” he says. [ibid]

It is certainly the case that Key has a unique opportunity to be bold, especially within his own party, as no Prime Minister in recent memory has such a strong position to carry even the most sceptical and conservative caucus or cabinet into unfamiliar waters. But where are the opportunities for change?

I will argue here that there is one area that he can certainly do this, that is consistent with modern market-led conservatism [if less so with our own rather parochial traditions], that it is consistent with his type of leadership, and importantly, is already working for those he admires overseas. Furthermore he has already shown some movement in this direction. This opportunity is for him to position his government as the driver of the economic transformation already underway in our cities, and in particular in our one city of scale: Auckland [but not exclusively].

This is to place Key in the similar mould as the UK’s David Cameron [who he expressly admires] and other right of centre leaders such as London Mayor Boris Johnson and ex-New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. These are three modern conservative leaders who have built their reputations in large part by championing the power of cities for economic, environmental, and social transformation.

John Key could go down in history as the man who added a new layer to New Zealand’s economy and identity: the man who added another support to our currently somewhat unstable economic structure, and added another, urban, thread to our social fabric, and who began the turnaround in our environmental performance. And it all starts in our cities.

This does not involve abandoning nor neglecting the countryside, that is already getting huge attention from this government which should continue. But that this is an additional opportunity to add to that work which would remain at the core of his government’s activity.

And conditions are perfect. This is the moment to seize. This is the direction being taken by governments and cities everywhere in the developed world, while perhaps radical here, it is rapidly becoming orthodox and necessary policy to invest in changing urban form to compete for talent and new business. It can be argued that this government has been lucky with the soft commodities boom but that now that is clearly on the wane, but we have already seen that the services sector is already there to at least soften that blow:

Gross Domestic Product rose by 0.7% in the June quarter, according to Statistics NZ, driven by strong growth in the services sector.

The main driver was a 4.2% increase in business services activity, which was partially offset by a 2.8% decline in agriculture, forestry and fishing.

There is economic growth to foster in town and it has different needs to the traditional industries based in the countryside. And we need as a country to diversify our economic base. Urban areas and Auckland in particular are growing in population, activity, and infrastructure requirement and offer just such an opportunity:

NZ city population growth 1926-2006

Data source:

A leader who rejects the mistaken idea that urban growth must somehow be restricted for the rest of the nation to prosper will be the one that can ride this economic force for the good of the whole country. And again Auckland in particular seems right now to be at the sweet spot in terms of scale, density, and growth for this boon. Furthermore his government has already set the foundation for a new urban policy with two earlier decisions that are now bearing fruit: the Super City amalgamation and the electrification of the rail network.

Also because of both the existing conditions in our cities and in the stated preference of their citizens there is actually much less risk to such a pro-urban policy change than it may seem to anyone familiar with the usual cliches of New Zealand Party politics. While it would be a bold move for a leader of the ‘country Party’ that is actually the genius in the idea. It seems clear to me that the notion that National must force the same policies on the cities as fit their core constituents in the provinces is as flawed as the corollary that other parties must try to force urban conditions onto rural communities. This is a lazy idea can can be easily blown open by confident leadership. Different horses for these two courses is clearly what is required for the good of all.

At the core of the policy difference required between urban and country areas is in the type of transport infrastructure investments that have the most effective outcomes. Roads, Ports, Rail for freight, are needed in the countryside. Cities need these too, but they also need the spatial efficiency of quality passenger transport systems. And nowhere is this more true than in Auckland right now.

Let’s consider the evidence: Stated preference, revealed preference, and overseas examples.

1. Stated Preference:

Such an astute student of public opinion polls and changes in sentiment will not miss the profound changes happening in cities all across the world and clearly in evidence in Auckland? Here is what Aucklanders say their city needs:


Stuff Poll - Govt Focus

Ok well this is all very good, but are they voting with their feet, are they using the public transport there already is? Well yes:

2. Revealed Preference:

This century has shown a very strong growth in uptake of our often substandard-but-improving Public Transport systems. Here is a recent example, the latest figures for the rail network:

14 - Aug AK Rail Patronage

And if we look at the figures in detail one very very clear theme stands out loud and clear: The services that approach Rapid Transit standards, ie are on their own right of way, have a high frequency, and offer better quality service are the ones that are growing way above all else. In Auckland that means the improving rail network and the buses using the Northern Busway, each of which attracted around 18% more users this August than last.

And in particular all of the growth in numbers accessing the vital economic heart that is the City Centre has been met by our Transit Systems. Especially Rail and the NEX, but also walking, cycling, and ferry use. So much so that the economic value of the City Centre can only grow through these modes, space for private vehicle access is finite and to try to expand it can only come at considerable cost to the economic performance and appeal of the area.

3. Overseas Example:

Mr Cameron said: “Big infrastructure projects like Crossrail are vital for the economy of London and the rest of Britain. They are the foundation-stone on which business can grow, compete and support jobs

From coverage of a visit by David Cameron and Boris Johnson to the tunnels of the Crossrail project in the Telegraph.

Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail

Cameron and Johnson in Crossrail

Crossrail, while in fact the third layer of underground rail for London, is, on a scaled basis, very similar to Auckland’s City Rail Link project. While it is much bigger and much more expensive it does exactly the same thing in exactly the same way. It comprises of a core section underground through the Centre of the City that connects to existing rail lines that reach out into the edges of the city. So while the new work is under the centre the reach and value of the project is spread right to the peripheries. It brings a new capacity to a growing Centre that is extremely spatially efficient: it delivers the economic power of concentrations of people without occupying land and buildings or clogging streets with vehicles.

But the key point here is in the UK, as in the US, understanding of the economic value of urban passenger transport systems is not captured by one side of the political divide. In fact the most dynamic conservative leaders, like Cameron, Johnson, and Bloomberg are leading the charge on these projects. Because they make the most economic sense in cities.


The Crossrail Business Case Summary Report published in July 2010 presents the latest update of the business case for Crossrail, a new world-class and affordable railway across London.

The report confirms the project is supported by the Coalition Government and forms a key part of theMayor’s Transport Strategy, published by the Mayor of London in May 2010.

And for Cameron as for other modern right of centre leaders it isn’t just about the biggest cities. Speaking at the launch of a programme for investment in Rail for Glasgow, Cameron said:

And for too long governments in London and Edinburgh have acted as though taking powers away from Britain’s great cities is the best way to create growth, rather than trusting the people living there to find their own specific solutions to meet their own unique needs.

Before the election our Prime Minister made a first move towards supporting the changing shape of cities by announcing a new policy to fund urban cycleways nationally. This surely is just the start.

So, in summary, I am proposing that were John Key looking for something fresh, something that will deliver results, something that could define at least this term of his leadership if not something that could lift him up to the ranks of our greatest Prime Ministers, like King Dick Seddon, then adding Minister for Auckland, or perhaps even Minister for Urban Growth, or Minister for Cities, to his roles could be the stroke of genius he is looking for. Perhaps with Nikki Kaye as associate.

In practice this would then mean:

  • Government working much more constructively with the Auckland Council and abandoning any petty obstruction that some less mature players on the right have towards it because of their dislike of Len Brown. Key is surely well above that.
  • Championing the economic potential of our cities for the whole country. Showing that this does not come at the expense of the rest of the country and the primary sector in particular.
  • Advancing the CRL expeditiously. After all; is there a better reading of those letters than: Centre Right Legacy?
  • Recognising that the idea that efficient urban passenger transport is somehow left-wing is a curious and outdated local relic.
  • Accepting the clear evidence that the top priority for the city in terms of transport infrastructure need is a full Rapid Transit System of a mixture of modes, like our CFN.
  • Listening to all the evidence on urban form and housing affordability, and not just the lobbying of vested interests and the Demographia lobby who monotonically urge more sprawl, as there is so much evidence in favour of the economic efficiency of a more compact urban form leading to more international competitive cities.
  • Taking seriously the opportunities that cities offer for improving our energy efficiency and environmental performance nationally.

This government has officially had a policy of being a ‘fast follower’ on climate change. In practice it has done little, fast or otherwise, and always claimed that the reason for this is that it won’t do anything to add cost to the primary produce sector. Well that doesn’t explain its failure to act in the urban areas, where transport, and especially personal transport, is the biggest contributor to carbon emissions. There is a great deal of opportunity to take on all fronts by listening to the desires of city people in the transport and housing sectors and one day some leader is going to take that opportunity. Could it be now? And could that be John Key?

August 14 Patronage

Patronage results for August have been released and they are once again spectacular, especially for the rail network. The results are even more impressive when you realise there was one less weekday in August 2014 compared to August 2013.

Auckland public transport patronage totalled 73,174,770 passengers for the 12 months to Aug-2014, an increase of +0.6% on the 12 months to Jul-2014 and +6.6% on the 12 months to Aug-2013. August monthly patronage was 6,934,914, an increase of 434,383 boardings or +6.7% on Aug-2013, normalised to ~ +9.3% accounting for additional special event patronage, one less business day and one more weekend day in Aug-2014 compared to Aug-2013. Year to date patronage has grown by +6.3%.

Rail patronage totalled 11,729,130 passengers for the 12 months to Aug-2014, an increase of +1.5% on the 12 months to Jul-2014 and +16.0% on the 12 months to Aug-2013. Patronage for Aug-2014 was 1,181,117, an increase of 176,487 boardings or +17.6% on Aug-2013, normalised to ~ +19.0%. Year to date rail patronage has grown by +14.9%.

The Northern Express bus service carried 2,499,332 passenger trips for the 12 months to Aug-2014, an increase of +1.6% on the 12 months to Jul-2014 and +9.7% on the 12 months to Aug-2013. Northern Express bus service patronage for Aug-2014 was 253,328, an increase of 39,155 boardings or +18.3% on Aug-2013, normalised to ~ +19.9%. Year to date Northern Express patronage has grown by +17.5%.

Bus services excluding Northern Express carried 53,870,990 passenger trips for the 12 months to Aug-2014, an increase of +0.4% on the 12 months to Jul-2014 and +5.2% on the 12 months to Aug-2013. Bus services excluding Northern Express patronage for Aug-2014 was 5,119,656, an increase of 217,396 boardings or +4.4% on Aug-2013, normalised to ~ +7.4%. Year to date bus services excluding Northern Express patronage has grown by +4.8%.

Ferry services carried 5,075,318 passenger trips for the 12 months to Aug-2014, no change on the 12 months to Jul-2014 and an increase +1.4% on the 12 months to Aug-2013. Ferry services patronage for Aug-2014 was 380,813, an increase of 1,345 boardings or +0.4% on Aug-2013, normalised to ~ +2.0%. Year to date ferry patronage has decreased by -4.4%.

In many ways the results are completely unsurprising for regular users of PT as services have definitely been busy in recent months and my own personal experience is many of the services I catch are full to bursting – both train and bus. I wonder how much of the increase is coming as a result of the introduction of HOP which has made in considerably easier for people to use PT, especially on routes which are served by multiple operators. Even more impressive is we still have many major changes to go including the full roll-out of electric trains and the new bus network.

14 - Aug AK Patronage table

14 - Aug AK Annual Patronage

As mentioned the rail network continues to see spectacular growth with the August result one of the highest individual months Auckland has ever seen. Further it appears to not just be the result of the electric trains as some of the strongest growth has been on the Western line despite there having been no changes to the weekday timetable for about two years. The growth and lack of change to the timetable explains why on average 15 services a day are over or very close to being considered over capacity based on the number of people standing vs sitting. The growth also means that Auckland Transport only needs around an extra 370,000 trips by July 2015 to reach its recently lowered State of Intent target.

14 - Aug AK Rail Patronage

If the rate of growth was to continue at its current level then we would hit 20 million trips some time in early 2018. This is well ahead of the patronage target the government set for an early start to the CRL of being on track to hit 20 million trips by 2020.

Of course it’s not just the rail network growing strongly as the bus network is also seeing good growth, particularly on the Northern Express. Again this is a service I regularly use and many times the buses are completely packed to the point of leaving people behind – and I’m travelling counter peak (to the North Shore in the morning and to the City in the evening). There are also regular reports of huge queues for NEX services even later at night. I do think AT need to seriously look at bumping up off peak and counter peak frequencies. The later would be quite easy as there are a number of the buses travelling counter peak out of service so they can do a peak service run. The large increases on the rail network and Northern Express also highlight the pull that Rapid Transit services have (frequent largely grade separated routes). Other buses are also seeing good growth too.

14 - Aug AK Bus Patronage

Both rail and bus services are are likely to have been helped by improving punctuality with both modes managing to achieve 90.5% (although rail is based on arrival at destination and bus at departure from start of route).

As with last month the one disappointment in the figures has been the cycling ones which was down 8% compared to August 13 although there was above average rainfall in many parts of the country which may have been a factor.

14 - Aug AK Cycling

Why are we still building roads like this?

Auckland is suffering hugely from decades of building new infrastructure or changing old infrastructure to be dedicated to the efficient movement of just one mode at the expense of all others. Getting good walking, cycling or public transport infrastructure and priority retrofitted to existing roads has proved to be a massive uphill battle and one that shows no sign of being over any time soon. Positively we are starting to see some small progress with the likes of the Beach Rd cycleway or the Fanshawe St bus lane but those victories are small and far between. In many cases we’re told the only way to add walking, cycling or PT infrastructure is for the road to be widened at great cost (which is often so the engineers can preserve the existing level of vehicle priority and dominance).

To me that makes it even more important that when we build new infrastructure we get it right however unfortunately it seems our engineers still leave a lot to be desired. The design released for the Kirkbride Rd grade separation yesterday was a good example and here are a few more – with the focus on cycle infrastructure.

Below is an image tweeted out the other day by our friends at Cycle Action Auckland showing the new AMETI Link road which is due to open any day now. The road runs from Mt Wellington Highway at Van Damm’s Lagoon alongside the rail line and through a tunnel next to the Panmure Train Station and linking back in with the existing road network at Morrin Rd. The intention is that this road will help take a large number of vehicles out of Panmure and allow for the roundabout to be removed.

The road is about 1.5km long and fairly straight with no intersections or driveways. In short it’s going to be like a motorway and I would bet that there will be huge numbers of people speeding along here. This road seems to take the idea of cycling by the motorway a step further and making it cycling on the motorway because that’s how it’s likely to feel for anyone brave enough to try. With such conditions it’s imperative that Auckland Transport provide protected cycle lanes yet as the photo shows that clearly hasn’t happened. This is completely unacceptable.

Now I understand that the road was designed about 4 years ago when our engineers and road planners were even more hostile to cycling infrastructure than they are now (most are still not great). With the project under construction the relevant staff at AT likely think their job is done however I feel AT need to be far more dynamic in how they deal with infrastructure under construction like this.

AMETI Rd Cycle Lanes

The next example comes from Westgate on a road that hasn’t even start started construction yet. Just north of the new town centre being constructed AT will build a new road to be known as Northside Dr. Around the road is expected to eventually be a large industrial area.

Northside Dr

To get across the motorway the NZTA were even kind enough to build the central columns for the bridge that will be needed to avoid disruption later on (who said they can’t future proof when they want too).

Northside Dr Motorway columns

So what about the road design itself?

It appears from the documents that we’ll be getting on road cycle lanes although like above it does seem like they will be protected. Probably the worst part though is the bridge itself. If I’ve read the plan below right there will be cycle lanes on most of road except for one critical area – the bridge over the motorway. This means for a short period any cyclists will be forced into general traffic which due to the nature of the area could mean mixing with large trucks. That’s far less than ideal especially when there’s is/was the opportunity to do it right and have the cycle lanes carry on over the bridge. (click to enlarge the image below)

Northside Dr Design

As mentioned, Auckland has a lot of work to do to retrofit the city for better walking, cycling and PT provision. It’s going to take some time for us to even look at most work that’s needed and the last thing we need is AT’s engineers putting on their 1960’s hats on when it comes to other modes.

Stuart’s 100 # Auckland Hospital

33: Auckland Hospital


What if Auckland Hospital could spare a thought for the people that move through and around it?

The Auckland Hospital seemed an obvious candidate to continue a series thinking about disappointing government buildings and institutions in Auckland.

It certainly does not present a very friendly face to the city on Grafton Road and is almost unintelligible as to how to enter from the street and move through the site at ground level.

4 simple strategies that could really go some way to addressing these issues include thinking about and better providing for all the forms of transport that people use to come and go from what the hospital, particularly public transport and the active modes; in future architectural projects making effort to appear less institutional where possible and bring a more friendly, engaging and outward looking public face to the campus; implement an integrated strategy of pedestrian way finding at both ground and the elevated routes through the upper levels of buildings; and look to capitalise much more on the interface with the Auckland Domain including enhance public access for both patients, visitors and staff.

It seems it is quite difficult to have a conversation about urban design and the health sector without getting responses that it is the health of patients that is the priority of the DHBs and they don’t have time or resources to spend on non-core activities like design.

Well as Dr Sudhvir Singh acknowledged in his Sir John Logan Campbell Lecture at the Auckland Town Hall last night, the links between public health and the urban design of the city are becoming increasingly understood. There is a growing evidence base from both fields to support this internationally.

Wouldn’t it be good if our hospitals and healthcare providers could start to the lead the way in implementing the change that falls out of this thinking on the ground?

It seems there are some good initiatives underway already: the Auckland DHB has recently been working on a research project with AUT to understand peoples’ experience of the public spaces at the Grafton campus. This looks like great stuff. It would be great to see this turn into change on the ground in the future.

Our love affair with personal mobility

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

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

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

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

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

te ara waka 2003

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frequency is freedom

Frequency is freedom!

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

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

Stuart’s 100 #28 Walking to the Supermarket

28: Walking to the supermarket


What if supermarkets cared as much for their walk-up customers?

The extent to which the main supermarkets place emphasis on accessing their stores by car is, in a number of locations throughout Auckland and other towns and cities in NZ, quite out of proportion to the choices and habits of their customers.

Wouldn’t it be good if the starting line from the supermarket companies was to acknowledge that in locations with good walkability (i.e. any town centre or main street and older established residential areas with generally good walkability) people will and do walk up to supermarkets. Sure, they might not carry away a fortnightly shop but the supermarkets know as well as you do that that is not the only way people shop anymore.

Similarly, it is a nonsense to suggest people won’t use the bus to go to the supermarket. Some people will choose to do so, especially if only getting a few items. And even more likely, people catching the bus home from work by bus are quite likely to drop by the supermarket after they alight and then walk the rest of the way home.

Things are improving for pedestrians through supermarket car parks but it could be a lot better and often with minimal effort or impact on operations.

Stuart Houghton 2014

The Pullman Hotel – Pulled into line?

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

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

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

Pullman post gone


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


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

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

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

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

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

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



Photo of the Day: Wellington Waterfront

A fantastic Harbour in a vigourous climate and out of reach for people for many years, but now a really great series of different toned places. Urban and wild; industrial and recreational; gastronomic and cultural; contemporary and faithful to its past. A very real role model for Auckland as our more benign version is still nowhere near as accessible nor as integrated into the city as Wellington’s is now.


Just one small section, note how a commercial and retail building is right there surrounded by great and varied public realm improvements. Total and free access all around the commercial users. Proper mixed use, and indeed used by the full mix of society.