A great concept for urban interaction from Germany that would definitely fit into the fun category.
A very modern and amazing traffic crosswalk in central Germany that allows you to play a game of pong with someone on the other side of the street while waiting for the light to change:
STREETPONG is a concept of urban interaction by Sandro Engel and Holger Michel, developed at the HAWK Hildesheim, Faculty of Art. It is a simulation, not a permanent installation.
There are a couple of things really neat about this idea.
- You can see the countdown timer for both the pedestrian and vehicle phases (I love the countdown timers on Queen St, I wish we had more of them)
- It allows for interaction which can remove any frustration from waiting for the pedestrian phase. Although not so good if there is no-one on the other side
Queen St hums with people most days. Time for some more pedestrian space?
Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne
This is another guest post from Ben L that originally appeared on Cycle Action Auckland.
Following on from our posts on cycle streets and cycle boulevards, this post will look at how this cycling infrastructure can increase the catchment areas of public transport.
It is generally accepted that the maximum acceptable walking distance for public transport like trains and ferries – or a busway – is around 800m. Ideally it should be less than this and the tram system that operated in Auckland until 1955 aimed for a 400m maximum walking distance, by the use of smaller blocks and spacing of the stops.
Using an 800m catchment area, we see the public transport catchment area around the existing train network and ferry terminals as something like this:
As you can see this gives a fairly good catchment but there are large white areas where walking to trains and ferries would be beyond the distance most commuters are happy with. This is because time is probably THE main consideration for commuters and it will take the average person around 10mins to walk 800m at a reasonably brisk walking speed of 5-6km/h, allowing for the occasional delay such as crossing roads. Beyond such distances, the walk becomes too long for most, in more than one sense [Though with increasing residential densities around transit hubs in the future, even at walking pace, a sizeable percentage of Auckland will be close enough to the 10 minute frequencies the electric trains will give us and the even more frequent services after the completion of the CRL].
As most of you are aware, one of the biggest uses of bicycles in cycle friendly countries like Netherlands and Denmark of bicycles is to travel from home to the local public transport station. Around 40% of train passengers in the Netherlands use bicycles to reach the train station and another third walk to the station.
This is made possible the fact 45% of Dutch people live within 3kms of a train station, with great cycle conditions – and you can see it by the legendary cycle parking facilities at train stations:
Is that a tree growing through the middle?
Overcrowded cycle facilities are actually becoming a problem in the Netherlands – though it’s a problem the Dutch are very happy to have as it is far cheaper to solve than Auckland’s transport issues. The Netherlands spends around 30 Euros a year per person on cycling facilities, about $50 NZ.
[CAA Editor's note: Depending on what you include, a rough estimate for NZ's own spending on cycling currently might be around $7-14 per person per year, despite a much worse backlog than the Dutch have.].
Over 70% of cycle trips in the Netherlands are less than 7.5kms. In Auckland, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) estimated in 2007 that approximately 43% of peak morning trips are less than 5 km, and that approximately 67% of these are currently undertaken by car (ARTA 2007). The Ministry of Transport, Household Travel Survey, 2003–2009 revealed that one-sixth of household car trips in New Zealand were less than 2km long and almost half were less than 6km long. So it appears that our travel patterns are not that much different than in the Netherlands – only our choice of mode.
If we keep our 10min acceptable travel time for commuters to travel to high-quality public transport, we can calculate that most commuters should be happy to travel up to 3kms by bicycle at an average speed of 20km/h. This is a very comfortable travel speed and doesn’t require a huge amount of physical effort, no more than walking for the same period of time. If you have an electric bike, it is even easier! The 3km cycle range has also been found to be a suitable range by NZTA research.
A catchment area of 3kms gives us the following catchment map for train stations and ferry terminals:
As you can see, residents of almost the entire central isthmus, most of West Auckland and large parts of South Auckland are within a 10min cycle ride from a train station. In addition, almost the entire Devonport peninsula, Northcote, Birkenhead and the Howick area are within a 10min cycle ride of a ferry terminal.
Unfortunately this map doesn’t show western and far southern Auckland, nor the scope of the Northern Busway stations – or the future AMETI busways to the east – but you get the idea!
I know many people list hills as a major consideration as to why cycling won’t work in Auckland. I suggest this is mainly because cycling has been presented as a commuting option to your place of employment, which is often a distance of more than 5kms and may often include at least one major hill. However, despite Auckland’s hilly topography, there are many people who would have a fairly flat ride if the distance was less than 3kms (or you might chose to go to a train station that is 3km away, but has a flat ride, instead of the closer one that needs you to go up a hill).
In order to make this a viable option for a significant percentage of Aucklanders, there will of course need to be adequate infrastructure in place to make cyclists feel safe. The fact that cycling in Auckland is in fact already statistically safer than driving on a per hour basis is irrelevant – we must have infrastructure in place that FEELS safe, that allows children, women and the elderly to cycle, not just the 1-2% of Aucklanders who currently ride and who are largely males between 25 and 40 years of age. In fact, one of the biggest indicators of a safe cycling environment is the percentage of female cyclists. For example, 55% of Dutch cyclists are women. In NZ it is more like 15-20%.
Most Aucklanders have some anecdotal evidence of why it is impossible for them to cycle to their local transport option. But two things need to be considered. First, what would it take for that situation to change? Do they need better cycle infrastructure or is there something inherent in their job (tradesman, travelling salesman) that requires them to use a car? If the problem is their job, what percentage of people they know have the same issue?
Second, it is well know that traffic in Auckland improves significantly during school holidays, often dramatically. This situation is attributable to a 5% drop in traffic volumes, an amazingly low percentage. If only a small number of commuters were to cycle to public transport, that would create huge knock on benefits for all motorists.
The real change needed for a network of cycle streets would be ensuring lower travel speeds of 30-35km/h on residential streets. Remember this would not apply to arterial roads, only to the quiet residential streets that usually make up 5-10% of most driver’s travel distances. That seems to me to be a small sacrifice to create a safer and more pleasant street environment for us all. So the benefits of offering this option to even a small minority of Auckland’s population will create benefits that can be enjoyed by everyone:
- More cycling – creating a virtuous cycle increasing safety, public acceptance and funding
- More public transport use – using our investment more efficiently, and creating a real mixed-transport city
- Decongesting existing roads for those who still want or need to drive, easing the constant pressure for “more roads!”
- Creating more liveable and safer suburbs for our communities
The costs of putting in place cycle boulevards and cycle streets are incredibly low. The amount spent on consultant reports for one Road of Dubious Significance would pay for a large network of such facilities in Auckland. The cost of separated cycle infrastructure on arterials is greater but will also happen alongside this, if the cycling numbers and modal share can be increased.
So let us go for this, big time – if this isn’t seen as low-hanging fruit, then only because we still need to open our eyes!
A cycling family seen in Devonport
Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne (aka Sydney)
There were quite a few transport related stories from around the Internet that caught my attention yesterday that I thought readers might like. Here is a summary of them
Truck Blind Spot
This video comes from Transport for London showing the blind spot of a truck
Stupid Scaremongering on the Shore
Some locals on the North Shore are trying to drum up fear about four storey buildings (note: that is not high rise) being built by Ngati Whatua
People on a North Shore street where up to 100 new residences could rise are worried about building height and traffic issues and want the community to rein in the developers.
A flyer distributed along Ngataringa Rd asked locals if they knew three- and four-storey apartment blocks could rise on the empty Wakakura block owned by Ngati Whatua o Orakei above Ngataringa Bay.
Flyer writer and resident Petra Heemskerk wants people to try to stop the intensive housing estate because buildings up to four levels or 14.5m could rise in the centre of the site, up to three storeys or 11m along Ngataringa Rd and up to 8m or two storeys alongside the Lake Rd and Wakakura Cres ends of the site.
“The issue is not the development of the site in itself. I think it is fair to say that most residents here are not opposed to the land being developed,” she said.
“The issue is intensive development. The streets near Wakakura Cres are all dead-end streets with one- or two-storey houses and it is hard to see how apartment blocks will fit in with the character of the neighbouring area.”
Only problem is the stupid residents haven’t bothered to check what’s allowed there and the Unitary Plan pretty clearly lists the site as Mixed Housing Suburban which limits buildings to two storeys in height
A 3d version of Streetmix
You remember streetmix right? this guy is building a something similar but in 3d. It’s fairly limited at this stage but hopefully he is able to give a lot more options as would be superb to use to help show how we can make out cities better.
I must say, I’ve long wondered why we can’t use some of the technology employed to make games to help better visualise making out city better.
A Stroll Around the World
Two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Paul Salopek is taking on a pretty epic journey, he’s retracing the paths taken by the first humans as they colonised the world and over a 7 year period is walking from Cape Horn in Africa to Tierra del Fuego in South America. In this piece in the New York Times he writes about it and his observations about how we view and interact with the world when behind the wheel of a car, something he calls Car Brain.
“Why did you leave the road?” one Saudi friend asked me, puzzled, when I improvised an obvious shortcut across a mountain range. “The highway is always straighter.”
To him, the earth’s surface beyond the pavement was simply a moving tableau — a gauzy, unreal backdrop for his high-speed travel. He was spatially crippled. The writer Rebecca Solnit nails this mind-set perfectly in her book “Wanderlust: A History of Walking”: “In a sense the car has become a prosthetic, and though prosthetics are usually for injured or missing limbs, the auto-prosthetic is for a conceptually impaired body or a body impaired by the creation of a world that is no longer human in scale.”
I just call it Car Brain
Cocooned inside a bubble of loud noise and a tonnage of steel, members of the internal combustion tribe tend to adopt ownership of all consumable space. They roar too close. They squint with curiosity out of the privacy of their cars as if they themselves were invisible. In Saudi Arabia, this sometimes meant a total loss of privacy as Bedouins in pickups, soldiers in S.U.V.’s and curiosity seekers in sedans circled my desert camps as if visiting an open-air zoo, gaping at the novelty of a man on foot with two cargo camels. Other motorists steered next to my elbow for hundreds of yards, interrogating me through a rolled-down car window. (Not to pick on Saudi Arabia, which is no worse than any other Car Brain society, but exactly one driver in 700 miles of walking in the kingdom bothered to park and stroll along for a while.)
The whole thing is definitely worth a read. The Atlantic Cities piece on the article is quite good too.
You know things are really auto-dependant when….
Two stories from different parts of Tennessee:
The first a dad who walked to pick his kids up from school gets arrested for refusing to wait in a line of cars.
And the second a lady is being threatened with legal action by the council for letting her grandchildren ride their bikes on a quiet residential street.
Charlotte Mayor Bill Davis said it was “absolutely” true that in Charlotte kids can’t ride their bike on roads owned by the town; a resolution passed by the town in 2003 states that no one can “ride an all terrain vehicle, skateboard, roller blades, and roller skates or conduct similar activities on the city streets, in the city park or on the Court Square of Charlotte.”
A law that doesn’t allow children to play outside on rollerblades, skateboards or bicycles interferes with basic play, according to Mathis, who said she was “stunned” when she got the letter from the city. Mathis has lived on Old Columbia Road in Charlotte for 13 years, the first she’s heard of illegal biking.
And even though bikes are not included specifically, Davis said it’s implied in the language “similar activities.”
To both of those cases I just thing Wow
On my recent trip to the cities of northern Spain it was hard not to notice how thoughtfully every corridor was designed for all users as outline in this previous post. Of course this is completely unremarkable to the locals, it’s just obvious to them that:
1. The public realm must be built to accommodate all users, and
2. That safety for all is the first priority.
Well here’s another example from what I consider to be one of the most civilised urban places on earth, this is the Eskalduna Zubia, a bridge [Zubia] charged with the quotidian business of carrying a whole lot of traffic over the River Nervión that divides the city, shot on that same autumnal afternoon:
Nothing much to see here; just like a typical four lane arterial in NZ, even a bit of a flush median, that use of roadspace that clearly obsesses Auckland Transport with its universal value. It’s not till you see what’s concealed by the dramatic steel structure on the right of frame that my interest in this Zubia starts to make sense:
Securely separated from the traffic on the same bridge and even protected from the weather! No need to build a barrier between the cyclists and the pedestrians as there is so much width that contact is always easily avoided. The cantilevered roof makes for a completely structureless open side directing the walkers’ attention upstream away from the traffic [for those not staring at their phones]. As everywhere in Bilbao, cycling is not considered a dangerous activity so no one is forced to wear extreme safety equipment as if they are steeplejacks.
Here is an equivalent four lane bridge in inner Auckland, like the Eskalduna Zubia it is between two busy pedestrian and cycling generators; in this case the inner city Universities and the Domain/Parnell/hospital:
I’ve had to use Google maps for the image because it is illegal as well as impossible for anyone not in a moving motorised vehicle to go here. And from above:
There is nothing in this picture except total misery. It’s even laughably hopeless for the only mode its built for. Every time I have driven through here I marvel at its counterintuitive over-complication and the near uselessness it offers for all vehicle movements except the most simple motorway exiting. And of course it is pretty much murderous for anyone on foot or cycling; this glorious intervention in the name of movement efficiency turned a sylvan inner city glade into, at best, an insurmountable barrier and total aesthetic horror. People stay away even from the parts they are ‘allowed’ to be on. Like the once leafy and lovely Grafton Road. The slip lanes at every turn of every intersection make negotiating what footpaths there are there deadly and extremely frustrating to use.
Grafton Rd from Symonds St
I have discussed the waste and hopelessness that is the road engineering in Grafton Gully with many of those involved in its creation and they all cheerfully explain how dysfunctional the process was with Transit and Auckland City Council squabbling over who should pay for any amenity beyond these basic and clumsy roads and neither giving in. Transit arguing it is only responsible for the cheapest way to move traffic and all else is someone else’s problem, and ACC arguing that as it is Transit’s works that are causing the problem they should include the fixes in the cost. I guess we can see who won that argument. NZTA [who inherited this mess but are of the institution that made it] are still happily wasting all this inner city real estate: It is neither being efficiently exploited nor have they returned it to the haven of solitude and clear air it once was for all Aucklanders. And of course it remains part of the fearsome rampart that is the ring of motorway Severance that hacks inner Auckland to shreds.
Here is the one piece of walking and cycling amenity on this whole section of upper Wellesley St:
Yup that’s right, it’s a sign telling you that you can’t walk to that big park right in front of you without going, counterintuitively again, in some completely other direction for some considerably much longer time. I have had to help explain this to baffled european tourists staring at their smart phones showing a nice big park and the Museum right there…. ha, welcome to clean, green, oh wait…..
Grafton Gully and Symonds St Tunnel Plan 1950s
This is how it was sold to us by the first iteration of place-wreckers-by-motorway, it reads:
The Grafton Gully and nearby areas will be the focal point of of a network which will be among the most important in the Auckland Master Transport Plan. The original Grafton Bridge was merely built to span a bush clad gully. Among other things there will be a twin tunnel, nine chains long, with the rest “cut and cover” passes.
Well wouldn’t that have been good? Tunnelling instead of severing. It is a tragedy that not even short sections of these routes aren’t underground. It is time not only for NZTA to complete the range of movement modes across this route but also to make good on the promise to bury their horror as much as is possible so Auckland can get at least a small amount of functionality of this place back.
Let’s see what they do in Bilbao? Do they have motorways there?
Sure they do, and guess what?, a great deal of them are underground, especially under green space, in order to maintain surface continuity and and reduce severance.
The age of severing urban motorways and incomplete streets is well and truly over. Aucklanders have recently managed to stop one appalling new motorway, The Eastern Highway, and got the next one put substantially underground, Waterview. It is vital that we demand that the mistakes of the past are learned from as well as looking at other places that seem to have been able to do things well first time. But also insist that the broken pieces are fixed before our institutions engage in even more destruction.
There is little point in moving tin a little quicker through our city if we substantially harm that place and the quality of life for its inhabitants in the process, and at such high cost.
A case of almost comical timing prompted me to write this post. It started off by me reading this article in the Papakura Courier about residents of a retirement village in Takanini who want to be able to cross the road to the shops on the other side. There is a signalised crossing nearby but it adds roughly an extra 100m which some of the residents struggle with and those that do brave it have found drivers often ignore the signals. The retirement village has even resorted to using a shuttle bus to get residents across the road when they would otherwise have been prepared for a few hundred metre walk. The bit that really caught my attention though was this answer from Auckland Transport about it.
Everyone has different ideas about what could change, including a longer-timed pedestrian crossing, an island in the middle of Great South Rd, moving the crossing further south and even upgrading the Walters Rd roundabout to traffic lights.
Auckland Transport’s Randhir Karma says a complaint was also received from village residents earlier this year.
But engineers found a crossing further south won’t work because it would obstruct Southgate’s driveways and general traffic flow.
But residents are right to worry about drivers getting confused between the two sets of lights by McDonald’s, he says.
“What we could do is look at orientation of the traffic lights on the poles. [We] could potentially look at how [we] might direct the traffic lights so they’re not confusing to the approaching vehicles.”
Auckland Transport has to find a “fine balance” between traffic and pedestrians, he says.
I’ve bolded the worst bit. When it comes to transport in Auckland the one thing that is sacred above all else is traffic flow – parking comes in a close second. There is this mentality that we must not do anything to slow traffic down and all other users of the road can go to the far queue. But the comment about Southgate’s driveways is also interesting. There are two separate parts (not sure if they are both called Southgate or not) with the north-western part having two entrances – including one massive opening with three lanes and even slip lanes while the south-eastern part has four entrances to spew cars out of in all directions. These are highlighted below but the question I have is why the developers were allowed – or forced – to provide so many. Surely they could be consolidated down with the more concentrated vehicle entrance being controlled by lights along with pedestrian crossings.
I also think this part from the end of the article is almost hilarious
The organisation is “grappling with congestion across the region” but has few funds to fix it, with the cheapest solution being to get cars off the road by promoting cycling and public transport, he says.
So if the best solution is to focus on PT and cycling then why is the organisation doing the opposite? What’s more the suggestion is coming from the manager of road corridor operations. Must be some serious blockages further up preventing the organisation from focusing on other modes.
But what made the timing comical is quite literally within minutes of me finishing reading the article (and tweeting about it) this press release arrived in my inbox from Auckland Transport.
Big savings from improvements to Auckland’s roads
Work to make some of Auckland’s main urban roads more efficient has seen savings of around $18 million in two years.
Auckland Transport’s four year Route Optimisation Programme has, so far, meant improvements to 40 per cent of Auckland’s urban arterial routes or 134 kilometres of roads.
Route optimisation provides efficiency through improvements like better coordination of traffic signals, assessing the operation of the route and minor changes to traffic lanes, parking and pedestrian crossings.
The savings, so far, include one million litres of fuel, just over a million hours of travel time and 2,400 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Other benefits include reductions in the length of queues and congestion levels.
For pedestrians and cyclists there is less waiting time at some intersections controlled by traffic lights.
Auckland Transport’s Manager Road Corridor Operations, Randhir Karma, says some of the improvements have been relatively easy to make.
“There have been simple changes to help speed up flows like improving traffic signal timings, changing the way lanes are configured and how they merge. To make public transport more efficient, we have improved access to some bus stopping bays. These quick wins, in particular the signal improvements at intersections, have also provided benefits for cyclists and buses.
“The cost of the programme, so far, is $3.7 million which includes a number of minor capital projects to increase efficiency along routes and at intersections. That’s great value seeing we have made savings of $18 million for ratepayers and taxpayers.”
The most impressive result for the 2012-2013 programme has been along Great North Road where better coordination of traffic signals and minor improvements mean, on average, two and a half minutes is shaved off each trip in the peak periods for the 25,000 vehicles using the road each day.
The next stage of route optimisation will mostly be focussed on roads in the inner city.
Once again the all-important flow is the focus and AT have been busy making sure it’s improved. The results appear positive but are they great for all users? Yes the press release states that buses and cyclists have benefited and even that pedestrians will also have had improvements but the key is that these improvements are only at some intersections. What about at the rest, have there been any crossings where it is now harder for pedestrians? My guess is yes, especially on intersections where people are trying to cross the main flow.
Putting the specifics aside of exactly who benefited aside, my immediate next question was, what would the results look like if we spent the same amount of money ($3.7m) on improving access to public transport stations? Basically focusing on making it easier to walk or cycle to catch a train, bus or ferry. As luck would have it, just before this came out I had been looking at the issue of access and had put together the map below which shows the walking catchment of the Fruitvale Rd train station which has a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Each different coloured segment is 150m long and the darker the line, the further away it is. The lines go out to 900m from the station.
Now the part that is the most noticeable is the redder sections just to the east of the station. Some of the houses in there are nearly 900m away from the station despite being much closer in a straight line. Sure 900m is easily walkable for most, when you look closer you can see that we could fairly cheaply and easily dramatically improve access. A 170m path alongside the tracks (fenced off of course) is all it would take to cut 500-600m off the distance to station. What’s more as you can see in the map below the development was designed with that thinking in mind as there was a space left between the houses which currently has a concreted footpath running into a fence.
And you can see the impact that short path would have below with around 100 dwellings shifted considerably closer to the station.
So come on AT, where’s the PT access optimisation? it is almost certainly going to be needed to help make the new bus network work well too. Improving station access for pedestrians and cyclists is also going to be a hell of a lot cheaper than trying to provide a heap more car parking.
This is a guest post by Brent Toderian & Darren Davis. Brent was recently in the Auckland. They have requested we post it although it originally appeared on the Shape Auckland site.
After six packed days working with staff from Auckland Council and Auckland Transport last month, it was very clear to our international urbanism consultant, and co-author of this article Brent Toderian, that there are a lot of great things happening in Auckland city-making! From a growing shared streets and spaces network and double-phased scramble intersection crossings on Queen Street, and the revitalization of the Britomart area following the return of rail to the downtown, to the high value, low-cost placemaking in the harbourside Wynyard Quarter, and the innovative redevelopment of a former airbase into the Hobsonville Point new urban community, Auckland is building great momentum around a culture of strong urban design. But that’s not to say that tremendous work isn’t still needed! If Auckland is to achieve its ambitious and admirable aspiration to become the world’s most liveable city, another level of achievement is necessary.
Brent’s work with staff covered the gambit of city-making issues large and small, from their new Unitary Plan and City Centre planning and implementation, to housing, transport, design, density & culture. Still, some of the most interesting work focused on how a liveable city for people often comes down to walkability. The following “top three” relatively quick wins for a more walkable city, written below from the perspective of Brent’s observations, reflect some relatively low-cost opportunities toward a more liveable & successful Auckland.
1. Create “eye candy” for pedestrians!
Lush motorway landscaping: Eye candy for car drivers
Auckland’s motorway system has some of the best and lushest landscaping I’ve seen anywhere – what I call eye candy for car drivers! Unfortunately, I saw a lot less evidence of such attention and effort dedicated to improving the walking experience. It’s time for more attention to the pedestrian at eye level, such as addressing all those blank walls, including all the glazing at street level that is misappropriated for advertising (which defeats its intended purpose of having eyes on the street, and providing something interesting for walkers to see).
The key to walkable streets is providing an interesting and engaging pedestrian experience. Although the horizontal details of public realm design are important, as discussed in the next section, the vertical view at eye level along the street wall is particularly critical to get right.
This could start with conducting a visual walker’s audit of the downtown and inner-city, perhaps engaging the public to participate through a photographic competition, and committing to quickly address the 10 worst offenders.
The blank walls could be seen as a canvass for artistic expression (and by this, I include commissioned or sanctioned graffiti). Another thought I’ve shared with staff – when the cut and cover section of the City Rail Link is built along Albert Street, why not let artists and kids loose on the inevitable construction hoarding, turning it into an arts project, and turning an eyesore and source of scowls into a creative and cultural opportunity and source of smiles?
Street art near Karangahape Road
2. Fix up the sidewalks!
Even in the city centre, the quality of the walking environment is very much hit and miss, with some excellent pedestrian and “shared” streets in a rapidly connecting network, but plenty of mediocre areas and shoddy stand-out spots. Further out, walking through areas like Eden Terrace exhibits “billiard table” smooth road surfaces combined with narrow, uneven and poorly maintained sidewalks. On top of this, slip lanes with no provision, let alone priority, for pedestrians, reinforce the feeling that pedestrians come last in the mobility food chain.
It should be the other way around, putting pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy. Even balance will not do, as this is frequently code for business as usual. To be more specific, the prioritisation should be walking, biking, and transit, in that order, which makes the city work better for all modes of travel, including driving!
I’ve suggested walking audits of the pedestrian networks, building out from the most heavily walked streets in the city centre, to areas on the edge of the downtown, and then to the second tier centres, so that investment can be targeted at the most heavily walked areas. This could be in the form of an action plan of pedestrian improvements to be implemented within six months.
Elliott Street shared space, City Centre
3. Activate & Get More Out of Streets!
Many streets in Auckland seem scaled for peak hour traffic (and sometimes apparently well beyond peak traffic, on streets such as Hobson & Nelson Streets). This means that for 20 hours a day (and perhaps 24 hours a day on weekends) they are over-scaled for the volume of traffic using them.
A simple way to strategically make use of such surplus car space for place-making and walkability is to convert it to other uses when not needed for peak car movements. A good example of this is the Saturday farmers market, which takes one city block at Britomart downtown, and positively contributes to the vitality and people-friendliness of the whole Britomart area. Such ideas could and should be used more widely – for example, activating parts of Queen Street on weekends.
Britomart Farmers’ Market
New York City, a favourite city of mine, has powerfully shown what you can achieve with simple things like green paint and basic street furniture, in converting dull car-dominated areas into lively people-oriented places. The counter-intuitive irony of such improvements along Broadway in New York, is that they’ve delivered better outcomes not only for the people using the great new public spaces, but for all road user groups, including car drivers (and only 25% of Manhattan households own a car).
Vancouver has embraced this approach as well, through our “Viva Vancouver” street activation program that I formerly co-chaired. Building on the observation during the 2010 Winter Olympics that streets closed for civic celebration don’t translate into the world ending, seasonal and pilot street installations, “parklet” transformations of parking spaces into public places, and other placemaking approaches are becoming common around the city. The streets have become our civic living rooms, our stages for civic life. It’s nothing short of transformative.
Auckland has shown it already understands this “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach (as New York’s Project for Public Spaces calls it) with many of its simple but powerful pilots and designs on the Auckland waterfront.
“Lighter, quicker, cheaper” in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.
Similar treatments could start in streets such as Victoria Street as a precursor for the planned linear park in this street. Some may be put in as pilots, and others as “bridges” to a more permanent redevelopment. If they don’t work for whatever reason, they can simply and inexpensively be pulled out. If they succeed, which frankly they usually do, they can be made permanent with more investment in the lasting design, when funding becomes available.
While my six days working in Auckland hardly qualify me as an expert on your city, my suggestions here are somewhat universal in idea (if not in application), and based on proven successes in cities around the world. Efforts to enhance walkability are being prioritised in many global cities as a key way of making them more people-friendly, while positively contributing to both liveability and economic success. My fervent hope is that Auckland will make some quick positive steps in these directions, amongst your many important city-making efforts!
Brent Toderian is a global expert and consultant on city planning, design and advanced urbanism with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, the former Chief Planner for Vancouver Canada, and the founding President of the Council for Canadian Urbanism. Follow him on Twitter @BrentToderian.
Darren Davis is the Principal Public Transport Planner: Network and Service Policy at Auckland Transport with 20 years experience in transport in Auckland, including being a public transport lobbyist, planner, strategic advisor and consultant. Darren hosted Brent’s recent visit to Auckland on behalf of Auckland Council. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenDavis10
Here are some shots I took while walking along one side of the River Nervión in Bilbao, Spain, on an autumnal Monday afternoon last month. The banks of the Nervión are Bilbao’s waterfront, but until recently this river had the unenviable reputation of being the most polluted in Europe. This was because until its stunning place-centred reinvention Bilbao was an extremely grim centre of little beside post-industrial decline and environmental damage. Unlovely and unvisited, although with great bones Bilbao, used to be known to the local Basques as ‘El Botxo’: The Hole.
Bilbao city has a population of around 370,000 but serves a wider area of about 1 million people. The latter metric is more comparable to the full Auckland Council region.
Yes, there in the background is the thing you all know about Bilbao: Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. The success of the Guggenheim in putting Bilbao on the world map is undeniable but it isn’t what makes this city, and the other Basque metropolitan areas, simply the most civilised urban places I have ever visited.
There are a whole lot of factors that contribute to the success of these urban places such as the natural environment, the architecture, the density of the habitation, the focus on quality public space, the efficient transit systems, and of course, the food, and I will cover these in other posts. But here I just want to look at the treatment of one city route.
All through northern Spain I was struck by the routine and seemingly effortless way that the public realm is built for all users. There are plenty of shared spaces in these cities too but this an important connecting road that demands throughput as well as place quality; it needs to support reasonable speed for all vehicles; trucks, cars, buses, and bikes while it is also a lovely riverside place to linger. These contradictory needs are met well through separation.
This route displays the classic deliniation of modes as defined by speed and mass into three zones each of increasing vulnerability and decreasing speed: Vehicles>Bikes>Pedestrians. I love the way that the bike lane has no elaborate and expensive barrier between it and the traffic lanes. There’s no need, and such a structure would only hem in both areas as well as block pedestrians from crossing randomly where and when possible.
Everyone catered for, the cycle lane is high enough quality [not intermittent] for the sporty as well as the slow riders, but also accommodates roller-bladers and joggers. Which means these faster moving humans are not bothering the slower walkers, families, or slumberers on the footpath, and nor are they holding up the traffic nor risking life and limb by having to mix it with those more lethal machines. Space is made for trees and benches, signage is unobtrusive:
Here is a perfect example of safety clearly being the first priority of the local authority and it being delivered efficiently through environmental design. This is a Complete Street. Looks easy doesn’t it?
Walking along here I found myself thinking about our streets and specifically our waterfront, Tamaki Drive in Auckland, and the enormous difficulty there seems to be to get that flagship place into a safe and efficient shape for everyone. Tamaki Drive has had recent improvements since a number of high profile tragedies there but these are fitful and have been very hard won. I think it is worth trying to unpack why civilising our streets in general is so difficult.
I have followed the advocacy of the Local Board for Tamaki Drive [see their plans on the AT website here and here] and the tireless work of our sister group Cycle Action Auckland here. Great work, but is there any sense we will ever see these changes along the whole route? Here is a visual from the Local Board doc:
This looks simple enough to achieve.
Except there is an expensive problem concealed in this graphic. As shown here this is no cheap and easy lick of paint but an expensive extension of the seawall on the right of the picture would be required to supply enough width for the missing Active spaces as well as the current vehicle ones. Major cost and an unwanted change to a functioning and complete sea wall.
But looking closer at the shots above and it is clear that pretty much the only difference between the Bilbao treatment and Tamaki Drive is that in Bilbao they have clearly used what would automatically be an on-street parking lane in Auckland for other modes. We are constantly told that there is very little budget for cycling. But really this is a road corridor safety issue not just a cycling one. To create competent Complete Streets we need to grow out of this narrow mode specific focus. Below, only the lower outcome can be quick and affordable:
On so many Auckland streets already existing space that could cheaply become bike and/or bus lanes or better pedestrian space are currently reserved for either on-street parking or painted medians. Yet there seems to be a default idea that the addition of the missing amenity can only ever occur without any reduction in these uses. This explains why when we do add the missing lanes they stop and start so much and why it seems to take for ever and costs so much to get any change. Yet pace of change and low cost are vital; as shown in this great explanation of this process from NYC.
The lesson from these other cities is that it is the priority given to the additional parking and turning space for vehicles that makes the completion of our streets so difficult and expensive. It is this culture that is the blockage in the way of completing our streets. And that this extra vehicle amenity should properly be considered secondary to competent safe road design for all users.
Of course I understand the desire for parking, especially free or rather publicly funded parking and of course it should be provided where possible but I think it is important to be clear what the costs of prioritising it over basic road safety design are. Both in terms of death and injury, and in infrastructure dollars and pace of improvement. The clear way forward for this and other Auckland roads is to fix the safety issue first, from road corridor budgets and existing space, and then address the community’s desire and willingness to pay for additional amenity like free waterfront parking as the extra ‘nice to have’ that it is. Here again is a visual from the local board document showing how quickly these streets can be fixed:
It seems to me that a very simple change in thinking needs to occur here. But we need clear leadership from senior people within AT and AC, from the Mayor, and especially from the AT board and chief executive, about what constitutes the priorities for competent street design, and the cost of any additional amenity, say like parking, be clearly expressed and not done on the cheap by failing to provide the basic safe and Complete Streets for all users.
A congested road with no transit priority or cycle lanes is a sign of technical incompetence and political failure.
And of course it’s not just waterside routes that need thinking about safety and parking supply to be more sophisticated than is currently the case; here is a look at Ponsonby Rd.
The Herald today has a large amount of op-eds on what is being called Project Auckland which is looking at how Auckland is going to develop and as you would expect, housing and transport features very heavily. Op-eds include
Now I’m not going to comment on every single article but rather some of the general themes within them, although I will pick out a few individual comments that have annoyed me (as I seem to be in a grumpy mood today which is quite unusual).
The really positive thing about all of the pieces is that in general people think the city is heading in the right direction and considering how much has had to be done by the council over the last few years to merge all of the various council plans and policies together. Things could have easily gone quite wrong and so the council staff (from all organisations) and the politicians need to be congratulated for that.
Of course not everything has been plain sailing and there have been (and still are) a number of issues that haven’t been handled ideally. The Unitary Plan is one of those where the lack of clear enough information about what was proposed led to the development of groups like Auckland 2040 that used misinformation and scare tactics to oppose the plan. In the article about the Unitary Plan I wanted to highlight some of the positive comments in relation to it. First from Penny Hulse
“It’s not about cramming in another one million people but having timely infrastructure, so people moving here are not shocked by bad planning. If people don’t arrive as we thought, then the houses won’t get built as fast. That’s life.
“But we can’t let Auckland languish with a housing crisis, and we can’t let shoddy design continue and building take place in the wrong places,” she says. “I’m comfortable where we have got to in the Unitary Plan process, and we can keep building trust about the whole concept of intensification.
“There are huge benefits about being able to walk to the shops and work, and live in a vibrant community. Some people see intensification as frightening but if it’s done well then it can be transformative.”
And from Chief Planning Officer, Roger Blakely
So the traffic problem is resolved within 30 years?
“Yes,” says Blakeley.
“We will have high quality, high frequency rail and bus services. We will have lots of dedicated cycling and walkways. They are more cost- effective than building more roads, and cars are an inefficient way of moving people around the city.
“The city rail link will be finished, and there will be rail to the airport and North Shore (via the second harbour crossing). Bus services will feed into the rail, and the Skypath on the existing harbour bridge will link up the cycling and walking network.
“The 1960s saw cars take over cities around the world with large freeways and parking lots. But the cities lost their human scale,” says Blakeley.
The residential plans are designed to bring a new face to Auckland. “We have to have a flexibility of choice in housing that meets different needs and different budgets. This need is with us now,” Blakeley says.
“Soon there will be more one or two person households than three persons plus – our present housing stock is not geared to meet that need. We need a mix of terraced and town houses, apartments and single houses on a section.”
Hear hear but how we get our transport agencies and the government to understand this is a different story. And this:
“What we noticed in the debate was the generational gap,” Blakeley says. “The older people who went to the meetings organised by Auckland 2040 objected loudly to the intensification.
“But the younger people who were active on social media wanted to live in a more intensified city – they wanted to experience the extra vibrancy that comes with that, including cultural, retail and recreational activity.
“We are talking about international best practice, here,” he says. “Vancouver has done it, and Copenhagen and Vienna are also following the quality, compact city strategy. As the Danish architect Jan Gehl (he’s an adviser to Auckland) said in his book Cities for People, ‘you can’t keep sprawling outwards’.”
Blakeley says “we saw a lot of Nimby (Not In My Backyard) during the Unitary Plan debate. I’m convinced that when more and more people see examples of housing development that embodies flexibility of choice, quality and affordability, they will become comfortable with the idea of intensification.”
He names developments by Hobsonville Land Company at Hobsonville Point and Ockham Investments at Kingsland, Ellerslie and Grey Lynn as examples of future living in Auckland. He says they have a range of sizes and types of housing, ensuring it’s quality at a price people can afford.
“We didn’t get all the intensification we hoped for in the proposed Unitary Plan this time, but it will be reviewed perhaps every five to 10 years, and there will be the opportunity to change the zoning of some areas.”
The generational issue is a serious one. Most of the older people who are objecting to the plan aren’t the ones who will be around in 30 years-time having to live with the outcomes of scaling back the Unitary Plan. We’ve also talked before about how the plan will need to be revisited in the future due to the downscaling that occurred. Once again Auckland 2040 has been allowed to spout a pile of rubbish in the article.
During the Unitary Plan debate, Takapuna neighbours Guy Haddleton and planner Richard Burton formed Auckland 2040 which finished up in an alliance with more than 70 residents’ associations and other groups, including Character Coalition.
Auckland 2040 was opposed to intensification in the suburbs.
Burton says Auckland 2040 “got 70 per cent of what we were after. The rest is detail in the Mixed Housing Suburban zone – that is still very intensive.
“Originally, the draft plan allowed unrestricted apartment building of three or four storeys over 56 per cent of the residential land in Auckland. That has come down to 15 per cent, and from that point of view there’s a degree of rational thinking in the council.
“Their desire is to focus higher intensity development around the town centres and along arterial routes, and I think that’s appropriate.”
Burton is concerned that rules for height to boundary, coverage and yards have been relaxed too much, particularly when they are applied to existing built-in neighbourhoods.
“They will have quite a significant impact – for instance, adjoining rear yards will be one metre each rather than 6 metres and there will be no room for plantings.
A couple of glaring errors in here, first 56% of the residential land in Auckland wasn’t allowed three or four storey apartment buildings, that figure was the amount of land covered by the centres, terraced house and apartment (THAB) zone and the Mixed Housing Zone (MHZ). The MHZ made up the vast majority of that and had a height limit of 8m which is roughly two storeys. Developers would only have been able to go above that with resource consent and even then only to 10m. As a result of the feedback the MHZ was split into two zones Urban (MHU) and Suburban (MHS).
The second major issue is the comment that backyards will be one metre from each other. While the rules for each of the Mixed Housing Zones have a 1m minimum setback on the sides and rear of a house, they also have a requirement for an outdoor living space off the main living area with set conditions i.e. if the living area is on the ground floor there has to be an area with a minimum of 20m² and no dimension less than 4m in length. So while there is technically a minimum of 1m other requirements also need to be taken into account to understand the full picture of what is proposed.
As mentioned the other major theme is transport and as we have come to expect from transport discussion in the city, most of the talk is about how we need to rapidly invest in infrastructure to “catch up”. However as Lester Levy notes, AT also need to improve the way it deals with it’s customer – us the general public.
The other half of the “walnut” essential to making Auckland’s transport system world-class is what I describe as the “software”. This is the mindset and culture within which Auckland Transport needs to deliver a customer-sensitive transport service, which means providing services that are characterised by precision (reliability and punctuality) and responsive service – we and our partners (the providers of our bus, ferry and train services) have much work to do in this area and I have made it my highest priority to finally get this fixed.
The HOP rollout has been dealt with shows we still have a long long way to go on this.
On the infrastructure side though there is a very clear push through quite a number of the pieces about the East-West Link. The project is one that came from obscurity to be ranked one of the most important in the region in The Auckland Plan a few years ago and there has been a strong indication that the council’s support of it was the price to pay for the business community supporting the CRL. It is now being moved well ahead of the CRL in the overall timeline and the government is expected to agree to a funding package for it next year despite there not having even been a business case completed for it yet, let alone a confirmed route – although I’m also hearing that option 4, the route that is the most destructive, most expensive and that has the least benefit for freight is the one that is now the front runner. It makes me wonder if all these mentions of it is part of a concerted effort to soften up the public on the need for it.
I also want to once again highlight one of my biggest bugbears of Auckland Transport underselling the benefits of the CRL.
CRL will mean Britomart becomes a through station, opening the way for 10-minute train services in peak times to Panmure, which in turn will be able to connect with more frequent feeder bus services to suburbs further to the east such as Pakuranga, Howick, Ti Rakau and Botany.
How many times to we have to remind AT that the frequency being talked about in the article is possible in the next year or two and that the CRL allows for double that i.e. 5 minute train services at peak times. It might not sound like that big of a deal but the way people perceive the difference between even 5 and 10 minute services can be quite substantial. The reason AT keep underselling it is they are afraid to promise anything in case they aren’t able to deliver it but they fail to realise that if they keep underselling the project then it risks losing public support.
As I said at the start, the good thing is that we are generally heading in the right direction but we do need some tweaks to get the best outcome.