Cycling to lunch was logical

Sadly Leonard Nimoy passed away today and this video came up with Leonard and William Shatner talking about cycling to lunch.

And here’s a picture of him on his bike in costume.

Leonard Nimoy

Urban Math

So many things to say about what can be seen in this shot.

Downtown

Downtown

Clearly another glass clad tower will not be out of place here.

Also won’t it be great to get rid of that cacophany of steel and glass that is the rain shelters opposite, and the blank walled box of the dreary Downtown Centre.

But in particular look at the number of people standing on that one corner versus the likely number in those two cars [and you can’t count the taxi driver, he’s part of the machine, in fact he’s about to be replaced by the machine].

Barnes Dance

Barnes Dance

Here they are in motion. This is not rush hour either, it is 11:19am on a Thursday in fact [ahhh, metadata]. These things, these carbon based life forms, with hopes, dreams, desires and wallets, are what the development coming to that site in the background is all about. And it matters enormously that they are on foot. People driving by are of no consequence to the businesses on that block. The people delivered by the 200-300 carparks to built under it are also of little consequence to the retail part of the development. They’ll mostly arrive in the morning with one person in them for the towers above, and stay all day. No the economics of the millions being spent on the purchase and redevelopment here entirely depend on the people who arrive by Transit. Bus, Train, and Ferry.

Like the Britomart development, what is pretty and successful above ground there is only so because of what we the city built under ground first. The ever increasing numbers of people arriving on all modes in the City Centre and at this intersection of Transit services in particular is the foundation of this upgrade. It is also important to add to this the ever increasing numbers now living in the city and those walking or riding there too. This is a virtuous circle at work.

CBD Transport Change

It’s simple; more humans, fewer cars = successful city.

Opening Lower Queen St for people

One of the great things about Auckland Anniversary weekend a month ago was the closing down of Queen St outside Britomart and parts of Quay St. I personally found it great and loved so seeing so many people in the city centre enjoying themselves. The council have put together this video discussing the opening of the street for people and the reaction to it.

Aucklands first Bike Rave

We’ve seen it overseas and now it’s coming to Auckland – as a trial. Introducing the city’s first Bike Rave.

Bike Rave Invite

We’re pilot testing a wee bike rave, so we can hold a bigger one later in the year.

*Light* up your bike and come along for a night-time waterfront bike ride from Mission Bay to Wynyard Quarter (with a little add-on along the shiny new Westhaven boardwalk).

We’ll meet at 21:00 at the Mission Bay reserve. From there we’ll ride (slowly-ish) along the waterfront, while listening to some ear pleasing tunes.

Bring the following:
* Your bike, with loads of lights.
* Some drinks for the adventure. And um, should mention it’s potentially i̶l̶l̶e̶g̶a̶l̶ frowned upon to cycle while intoxicated, so keep it civil ;)
-We’ll probably end at a bar anyway !
* If you have an amp, or portable music device, this would be rad too.

If you don’t know what a bike rave is, here’s a video from Vancouver

So if you’re interested deck out your bike in lights (optional) and come along, it should be fun. Let’s see if we can turn this into a regular event.

Bike Rave Vancouver

Too High a Cost.

AT are doing some very very good things at the moment, they are showing leadership and courage to make rational but bold decisions.  Like dropping the Reeves Rd fly-over in favour of a BRT solution, creatively investigating ways to bring modern light rail to over-crowded bus routes, and quickly rolling out long overdue bus lanes on arterials. These are all fantastic and are signs of a nimble and lively institution, one that is responding to a changing world with a changed response. One that is resisting the natural tendency of public agencies to just roll on doing the same as before and not risk trouble. I applaud this and the hard working and dedicated individuals who are carrying out.

But at the same time, at least at the time of writing, AT has lost its way on Great North Road. So why have they got it so wrong here?

Looking at that first list we can see what all these issues have in common; they are all discretely transport issues; as you’d expect this is AT’s core competency. BRT versus a traffic flyover in Pakuranga? This is a debate between competing transport projects, each can be costed and outcomes evaluated. Analysing whether more buses will be able to deal with the demand on Isthmus and City routes or whether a higher capacity technology may be needed? Again this is problem of spatial geometry, vehicle size, route speed, likely passenger volumes, boarding times, vehicle dimensions etc. All the kinds of things a transport organisation ought to excel in, and that AT increasingly shows it does.

St Lukes Interchange Plan

But in examining the widening of Great North Road as if it only has transport outcomes they are showing the limits of this competency. That ‘place value’ just doesn’t compute is shown by the bewildering array of excuses being rolled out by AT to justify an act they clearly consider trivial: The removal of the six 80 year old Pohutukawa. First was an attempt to blame the need for killing these trees on improved cycling and public transport amenity in order to ‘bring long-term environmental benefits':

We regret that the trees will be lost but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended bus lane and bus priority measures in Great North Road.

Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with Auckland Transport’s drive to encourage the use of public transport. This will bring long-term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car.

This is to draw an extraordinarily long bow. There are no ‘cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge’ in the proposed plan. There is absolutely no more cycling amenity on Great North Rd than there is currently, ie a wide footpath, except the new one will have no shade nor glory from the grand Pohutukawa. There is proposed to be a slightly longer but still intermittent bus lane. And as all this takes place as part of a massive increase in traffic lanes, including a double slip lane, to say that this project is designed to ‘bring long term environmental benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport, to the car’ is frankly, an untruth.
That statement would be justified if fully separated cycle lanes and proper Rapid Transit was at the core of the project. They are not.
Now we have a new justification, signed by the same high level AT executive, published in Metro Magazine: Cost.
Both AT and NZTA spend public money and it is our legal and moral responsibility to deliver the most objective cost-efficient solutions to the ratepayers and taxpayers that planning and engineering can devise, for the least possible cost.
Absolutely right. Cost, and value, is exactly the issue here. We all certainly want our money spent wisely by our public servants. But there are obvious problems with this assertion, first the cost is only relevant in the context of the value; a cheap thing is a waste if it is not very good. And the people of Auckland see losing the trees as too high a cost for what they propose. That AT don’t see they value of the trees how and where they are, or so discount it so, is essentially the heart of the disagreement. We understand that they have a low transport value, but AT cannot ignore values outside of their core discipline, particularly place values, as their actions have huge effects on the quality of life and place that are not captured by driver time savings, traffic flow, or PT ridership numbers. Neither AT nor NZTA can just ignore these issues and simply hide within their speciality. And nor can they claim that a couple of new trees are the same as magnificent ones that have witnessed the last 80 years at this spot.
Additionally, there is no evidence that the preferred option is less expensive in direct financial cost than say Option Six, which the peer review found to have no significantly different traffic outcomes. In fact Option Six must surely be cheaper to construct as it is one lane narrower and doesn’t involve removing the trees:
Pohutukawa Option 6
There are other issues that could be raised with this text like the bold claim the whole purpose of the Super City is to reduce congestion:
The founding premise of the Auckland super city was that the city’s congestion was costing $1 billion a year in lost productivity and this had to change.
Both this idea of the centrality of congestion busting to the whole purpose of the city and the quoting of a $1billion annual congestion cost figure show how blind AT have become to other issues of value. Other costs. Especially perhaps things that are hard to quantify. But then congestion cost itself is a very hard thing to quantify. The most recent attempt in New Zealand, published by NZTA itself [Wallis and Lupton 2013] find that the figure for Auckland is more likely in the realm of $250 million.
Wallis and Lupton 2013
But regardless of this supposed quantum it has long been understood that congestion is not solved by building more roads, that in fact while temporarily easing one route, overall this only encourages more driving and auto-dependency for a place, and ultimately worse congestion everywhere. It is, quite literally, the loosening of the belt as a ‘cure’ for obesity. It is also understood that the best outcome for all road users, the best way to combat congestion, is to invest in the alternative Rapid Transit route, particularly where none currently exists:
This relationship is one of the key mechanisms that make city systems tick. It is basic microeconomics, people shifting between two different options until there is no advantage in shifting and equilibrium is found. We can see this relationship in data sets that make comparisons between international cities. Cities with faster public transport speeds generally have faster road speeds.
So again the heavy cost of this work, both financially and in the loss of the trees, a massive reduction in place value, is too high for this outcome.
As some levels of AT seem to admit they place no value on the trees, or indeed anything that isn’t directly transport related, the best outcome would be for the Board to give them direction to find a solution that both keeps the trees and meets reasonable near term traffic demand and in fact meaningfully incentivises the mode shift that AT correctly values:
Urban roads and state highways working together to keep the traffic flowing and fast, efficient road, rail and ferry passenger services that — together with walking and cycling — entice Aucklanders out of their cars.
 -Auckland Transport Metro Magazine
This is an issue of cost, and value. The people of Auckland, Auckland Transport’s ultimate customers and employers, find the cost to place-value too high, and the value of the proposed outcome too low, to justify this action. The public may have been slow to realise what was planned here but have now made their views clear. Recently we have come to expect bold and innovative solutions from AT for all sorts of difficult problems. So it would be very unfortunate if the Board were to miss an opportunity to call a halt to this irreversible action and to seek a smarter solution.
And because work has begun the most efficient and cost effective solution is probably to make the small but significant change to Option Six, leaving the trees, adding the additional slip lane, but settling at least for now, for the two east bound lanes away from the motorway overbridge instead of three. It would be good to see the real effects are after the opening of the Waterview connection before rash actions are taken. If a third lane is deemed necessary here [even though only two lead into it] it is clear that could be added in a few years as MOTAT as planning to restructure their whole relationship with this corner. AT can save some cost and some grief now and revisit the issue with more information and without the pressure from a NZTA deadline. It could be that they find that an east facing buslane and separated cycle way is of higher value through here…?
Pohutukawa Blossom, Elsewhere

Pohutukawa Blossom, elsewhere

Now connect them!

The other week, the NZ Herald printed a good article on seven secret cycleways in Auckland. We covered it in last week’s Sunday reading post, but I thought it was worth adding a few more words on the topic.

In the article, Elisabeth Easther writes about her rides on the following cycleways:

  • The new Westhaven promenade in the city centre
  • Wattle Downs Peninsula near Takanini
  • Cascades Shared Path in Pakuranga
  • Conifer Grove in Takanini
  • Waikaraka, Mangere Bridge, and Penrose.

While the rides themselves sounded pretty good, it’s ironic to see that Elisabeth had to drive to the start of many of the cycleways. This illustrates a tricky problem: individual cycle projects are increasingly excellent, but connectivity into the local streets is usually lacking. This makes it hard to use them to get around, as it doesn’t feel safe to get off the cycleway, back onto the surrounding streets, and out to final destinations.

As always, it’s worth taking a look at specific examples. Here’s a map of the Cascades shared path in Pakuranga:

Cascades shared path

This path offers some advantages for people seeking to travel places on bikes. First of all, it’s entirely off-road and runs through a big green belt, which means that it’s safe from traffic and not choked with fumes. Its northern branch terminates at the shops in Highland Park, and it has tendrils out to surrounding residential communities – meaning that there are both origins and destinations within reach.

However, AT’s broader map of cycle facilities in east Auckland (found here) shows that there are still many gaps in cycle infrastructure in the surrounding areas:

east Auckland cycle network

For context, here’s the legend on the map, which shows that most of the streets that are colored in are not in fact very useful for people on bikes. Light blue means that streets theoretically have “space” for cyclists but no dedicated cycle lanes. Yellow means that there’s a bit less traffic on the road. Roads coloured white are probably totally inhospitable if you’re travelling by bike.

Auckland cycleway map legend

What this means in practice is that it’s difficult to get to many key destinations on bikes, even though there’s a cycleway running through the centre of Howick. There’s no connection to the Botany town centre, near the south of the map, or any facilities along the busy Pakuranga highway or connecting to the Panmure rail station.

Another example from the Herald article. Here’s the Onehunga to Mangere Bridge section of the Waikaraka cycleway. (AT also has a map of the extension up SH20 to Mount Roskill.)

Onehunga to Mangere Bridge cycleway

Once again, there are some really good things about this. It provides an alternative, non-motorised route between Mangere and Onehunga, with potential connections elsewhere throughout the southern bits of the isthmus. However, the good news doesn’t yet extend far enough. Here’s AT’s broader cycle facility map for Mangere and the surrounding areas:

Mangere cycle network

Again, this is problematic. While there are some on-street cycle lanes in the area, they don’t go anywhere near the Waikaraka cycleway. They lack physical barriers or safe hit posts to keep traffic out. As a result, it is quite difficult for people on bikes to safely travel to destinations like the Mangere town centre or Otahuhu rail station.

Here’s the bit north of the Manukau Harbour:

Onehunga cycle network

This is not great either. There are no cycle facilities for people who want to get directly to the Onehunga town centre or rail station, let alone to head further north on Manukau Road. And there are a number of gaps on the route to Sylvia Park. I know that not everyone wants to cycle to the mall to shop, but I’m sure that there are a lot of teenagers (or adults, for that matter) who would love the option to bike there to hang out with friends or go to the cinema.

What this shows is that there are many, many gaps in our cycle networks. We need to fill them to reap the benefits from a complete cycle network. It’s not like we lack the road space to do this – the light blue lines on AT’s maps show streets with enough space to add cycle lanes. But unless we get serious about joining up the network, we’ll be left with a bunch of well-designed cycleways that aren’t useful for many trips.

What cycle infrastructure is your neighbourhood missing?

Photo of the Day: Vulcan Lane

Following on from this morning’s post on some of the central city Victorian streets I thought a little look back would be useful; so here is Vulcan Lane just before the City Council bravely excluded cars from it in 1968, as a result of a campaign by retailers in the area keen to improve its appeal as a shopping destination. Coming up for 50 years ago!

Vulcan Lane 1968

Vulcan Lane 1968

From the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Auckland Library. There’s also this excellent blog post with more images and further history including how it got its very cool name. Tracking the story of the street is to follow fashions in street design through the 20th century. In the 20s there were calls for widening, then one-waying, and finally in 1964 27 retailers petitioned the Council to close it to traffic. $13,000 was voted for this in 1967:

Vulcan Lane

Plenty of ‘foremen’ on the job.

Even further back; upper Vulcan Lane in 1919, a lovely sterograph image [hauntingly like a De Chirco painting]:

Upper Vulcan Lane 1919

Upper Vulcan Lane 1919

 

Downtown Shared Streets: Complete the Network

Polemic:

The existing central city Shared Streets are clearly an overwhelming success, particularly on the east side where they are starting to form a coherent network. The most recent addition, O’Connell St, has the advantage of connecting to the long-pedestrianised Vulcan Lane. In fact it appears that the reverse might be more accurate: the newly vibrant O’Connell St looks like it is dragging life and trade up into the top half of Vulcan, the part that has long been much quieter than the section between High and Queen.

SHARED SPACES_6243

From O’Connell towards the top of Vulcan Lane

 

SHARED SPACES_6625

O’Connell

To the north the Fort Lane/Fort St/Jean Batten Pl network has been completely transformative; drawing a new flow of people up from the Bus, Train, and Ferry Stations and new attractions of Britomart – only for the Shortland St/High St traffic barrier to interrupt this natural movement.

Jean Batten

Jean Batten

HIGH ST_7381

Lower Shortland

HIGH ST_7131

High St through to Fort Lane

However the novelty of the Shared Streets in a city that has spent half a century building itself on an auto-priority model is still too much for some drivers, and getting it through to this group that it’s time to change away from an expectation of a parking space right outside their destination in the central city still requires work. This is true especially as this expectation is already illusory, and simply leads to pointless circling hoping for that dream parking space: a poor outcome multiplied.

To really reinforce that these key city streets are not appropriate for the same level of private vehicle access as suburban ones, in my view, it is necessary is to spread the typology further, and to join it up into a natural network of Shared and Pedestrian-only streets of high civility. My hunch is that the ‘network effect’, where the value of a thing is multiplied by its connection to more of its kind, the sum being more powerful than the parts, is just as applicable here as in say a Transit system or a road network. This is hardly surprising as even though the driver may experience these streets as a restriction, to that same person once out of their vehicle, they are a liberation. Therefore the understanding of this being an especially privileged place for people will be reinforced through its completeness; and it will both attract more pedestrians and encourage those over-optimistic drivers to just park a little sooner and join the walkers.  As of course the only way to enter the buildings on these Victorian streets and to shop, consult, or socialise is on foot, as a pedestrian.  So here I’m co-opting the motorway boosters’ slogan: It’s time to complete the network.

SHARED SPACES_6786

O’Connell St

This observation is all the more powerful when we consider that the beginning is the hardest time for these places: the small number of scattered examples have to live in a world still totally drenched in vehicles, where drivers are used to virtually complete access to any horizontal surface as a matter of course, and with a natural right to dominate all other uses. Join these these examples up and watch their success multiply off the scale.

Programme:

First a simple tweak: To optimise the functionality of  the new O’Connell St Shared Street, all that is probably needed is a reversal of the one way flow on Courthouse Lane to uphill, and make the western section of Chancery St one way towards Courthouse Lane. This maintains the same vehicle access to the street network here for deliveries and the Metropolis Building, while no longer pouring vehicles into the top of O’Connell St which simply incentivises its use as a rat run. Additionally, the planned pedestrianisation of the little Freyberg Pl Shared Space can’t come soon enough.

Clearly now High St is overdue to be added to the existing Shared Street network [see images to follow]. With that then comes the obvious move to join up these Shared Streets with Jean Batten and Fort St by adding lower Shortland St from just below Fields Lane to Queen St to the network. Currently lower Shortland St is part of the unnecessary Queen St rat-run for far too many vehicles, in particular private vehicles; in other words, drivers with no destination on these busy streets but rather using this very core of our city – our busiest and most valuable pedestrian streets – as a vehicle short cut.

Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High

Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High

And to really make all this work, Centre City Integration must grasp the moment and remove general traffic on Queen St from Customs St to Wellesley St. Leaving it for pedestrians and Transit, just like Bourke St in Melbourne. As is promised to us in the City Centre Master Plan with this seductive image:

queen-st-tram

Queen St, City Centre Master Plan

MELBOURNE_9150

Bourke St, Melbourne

But do we really have to wait for Light Rail for this to happen, can’t it work with buses first? In fact if we’re going to be digging up some part of the street for the tracks wouldn’t it make sense to get the traffic out first? Certainly the City Link would operate much more efficiently, and imagine the improvements to cross town traffic and pedestrians through the removal of those turning cycles at each intersection?  It would probably in fact improve East/West traffic flow on Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. The few vehicle entrances on Shortland St are all at the top of the hill and there should be no encouragement for drivers using these to go down the hill to enter the Queen St valley street network. And the best way to achieve this is simply to remove Queen St from the general traffic network. There is, after all, not a single vehicle entrance off this spine, only pedestrian ones. It will still be needed for Transit and delivery and emergency access; but no private car ever needs to be there.

The control [specified times?] of delivery and trade vehicles [too easy for these to get general parking wavers- even without specific projects] and the rights of taxis are  interesting issues in which I can see value of various positions. But one thing I think is absolutely obvious; the rights of the private car user to these streets is the lowest priority because they are the source of least benefit and the greatest dis-benefit. It is their numbers that squeeze out people, delay service and emergency vehicles, and occupy valuable space that otherwise can be better used for transactions both economic and social.

There are literally dozens of parking buildings just away from these streets up either side of the valley and the richest abundance of public transport options anywhere in the entire nation. Furthermore very few fridges are sold here, and indeed any purchase that is bulkier than a book, a frock, or a belly-full can surely be delivered. Most transactions appear to be inter-human, and many sales consumed on the spot, or at least are not much more difficult to carry than a suit or a pair of shoes.

Like the other recent improvements to our city – better train, bus, and ferry services, and new cycleways – these Shared Spaces will only continue to improve, to add more value, as their improvements are embedded and extended. Or, to express this idea negatively, the Shared Streets will never be more traffic afflicted and compromised than they are now, while they are more surrounded by auto-priority ones. The same as the core Rapid Transit network will only continue to improve as more services and connections with other layers of the system develop. The Network Effect.

Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.

Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.

Now that looks like a real shoppers’ and diners’ paradise; an actual Heart of the City, a zone that can be marketed as having a real point of difference from either suburban big box retail or the motorised strips of Newmarket and Ponsonby. But still, those notoriously conservative creatures, retailers, probably won’t get it till it’s done.

O’Connell v High, Feb 2015:

SHARED SPACES_6885

HIGH ST_7079

O'CONNELL ST_7701

HIGH ST_7221

SHARED SPACES_6655

Earlier posts on High St:

On the Victoria Street end; how to deal with the parking building traffic.

On some retailers’ determination that their only customers are cars.

The great intensive street pattern of the area so damaged in the 1980s and the previous debate about O’Connell St.

HIGH ST_7665

Why can’t you walk to the museum?

Lately I’ve spent a lot of time jogging in the Domain, taking every lane and pathway I can find in and around the park. Recently one thing has dawned on me, it is simply impossible to walk to the museum on a footpath. There aren’t any!

That is super crazy in my mind, why are there so few footpaths in the Domain? On foot you have the choice of walking in the road, or on the grass. The latter is ok in fine weather, but it rains one day in three in our fair city so the grass is often soggy.

Take this for example, the route between Parnell Rd and the museum. Just along here is the bus stop where both Link buses announce that you should get off for the Domain and museum. No footpath on either side! You can however see the clear desire line for pedestrians where the grass has worn away where the footpath should be.

IMG_3254

Fancy that, the city’s premier park and one of its main attractions, mere minutes from the high frequency shuttle buses service the city centre… and not a footpath between them. Even more curious is when you talk a look across the road. Here we have the entrance to the Sensory Garden, stocked with plants of interesting scent and texture developed so that people with limited vision can enjoy the gardens too. Behind that, the Blind Foundation headquarters and series of vision related healthcare clinics. If there was anywhere in the country you would want a proper footpath, it would be right here!

IMG_3258

Then if you do manage to make it along the road on foot to the museum, you are confronted with this. Acres of tarmac striped out for cars, recently designed and built… and still no bloody footpath, let alone a crossing!  There is a footpath on the far side, but that ends abruptly in a loading dock facing a five way traffic junction. I can see more pedestrians than cars in this photos, so I guess at least we Aucklanders are a hardy bunch (or at least we are used to dodging cars). What went wrong here, why are we still building this sort of thing?

IMG_3256

 

The Underline

Auckland’s not quite at the point of having lots of old tunnels sitting around unused – with the exception of those under Albert Park – but if we did here’s a suggestion from London.

Personally I’m not sure it’s such a great idea and would much rather be riding on the street in a protected bike lane but still an interesting idea none the less.