Albany Highway upgrade to start later this year

Auckland Transport have announced that they will spend $58 million to widen a 4km section of Albany Highway starting in September. The road is an interesting one in that some parts look like a typical suburban street while other parts don’t appear to have really changed since the road was a state highway. Here’s the press release:

Auckland Transport’s greatly anticipated upgrade of the northern section of Albany Highway is expected to begin this September.

The $58 million construction of the Albany Highway North upgrade involves widening a 4km stretch of the highway between Schnapper Rock Road and the Albany Expressway to accommodate four lanes of traffic and separated cycling and walking paths. The main aims are to cater for traffic growth, reduce congestion, improve safety for all road users and encourage alternative modes of transport, such as bus travel, cycling and carpooling.

About 15,000 vehicles, as well as cyclists and pedestrians, use Albany Highway every day, and it also serves the North Harbour industrial estate, five schools, Massey University and a cluster of residential estates.

The announcement is welcomed by the Upper Harbour Local Board, which says many locals are looking forward to the benefits the completed upgrade will bring to those living, working and commuting in the area.

“The local community – and in particular its 5,000 school students – can only benefit from improvements aimed at delivering safer and quicker travel options as this area of Auckland continues to grow,” says board chairman Brian Neeson.

The NZ Transport Agency is funding 53 per cent of the upgrade, which together with the agency’s current project to upgrade SH1 between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Road, is part of a wider strategy to improve transport links on the North Shore.

The Transport Agency’s Regional Manager of Planning and Investment, Peter Casey, says: “This is a priority investment for the Transport Agency to help ease congestion and provide more reliable journey times for people in a very busy and growing part of Auckland”.

Features of the Albany Highway North Upgrade:

  • Four traffic lanes (with two general traffic and T3 transit lanes)
  • Signalisation of three major intersections (currently roundabouts) at Rosedale Road, Bass Road and Wharf Road
  • Signalised pedestrian crossings and wider footpaths
  • Dedicated cycle paths and footpaths, or shared paths where there is insufficient space
  • Stormwater improvements to reduce pollution from the road flowing into local streams
  • Relocation and undergrounding of main utility services (gas, water, telephone and electricity)
  • Construction of a new four-lane bridge over the Oteha Stream (Days Bridge)
  • Street lighting upgrade using energy-efficient LED lanterns
  • New bus stops with shelters

The upgrade is expected to start in September, once the worst of the winter weather is over, and take about two and a half years to complete.

For more detailed information on the Albany Highway North Upgrade, visit www.at.govt.nz/albanyhighway

The section that’s being upgraded is in red below

Albany Hwy Upgrade route

Like so many projects this one seems to have some really good aspects and some not so good aspects. One one hand $58 million is a lot of money to be spending on road widening, especially seeing as the NZTA is currently in the process of widening the motorway northbound between Upper Harbour Dr and Greville Rd.

On the other hand, from what I can tell it might end up being one of the closest streets we have to a complete street that caters for all users. I understand that Cycle Action Auckland have fought hard for dedicated cycling facilities which AT are saying they are providing – although only through shared paths in some places. For a busy road like this mid-block pedestrian crossings are also quite useful providing they’re frequent enough.

If we are widening roads, making the new lanes T3 right from the start is a much better idea than just creating additional general traffic lanes – providing the T3 lanes are monitored of course. This is something I think Auckland Transport should have done for the Tiverton/Wolverton upgrade too. For this particular road bus only lanes would likely have been overkill as even with the new network, there won’t be that many buses using it. An idea of what the layout will be is below:

Albany Hwy Upgrade layout

There are a number of before and after images on the AT website however they are quite small and hard to see the details of so I’ve not included them in this post.

Overall I do find the timing of this announcement quite odd as construction is still months away. We’ve seen the NZTA stealing the limelight recently with funding announcements for local road projects. Perhaps this is a case of Auckland Transport trying to announce the project before the NZTA does. Also worth noting is that this is a project we did list in the list of road projects that would still happen even if the CFN was adopted immediately.

Privatising Roads

The ACT party – or at least its biggest funder – was in the news last weekend for expressing some of his views for the party at their annual conference. Of note was this line

“I’d privatise all the schools, all the hospitals and all the roads,” he told the conference.

Now obviously we’re not in the habit of talking about schools or hospitals (unless it’s about how to get to them) but roads are something on our list. Now in reality I can’t see it happening here – at least any time soon – but it raises the interesting question of what would happen if we were to privatise roads? This post is really just a thought exercise as to some of the impacts of doing so.

I suspect that if we were ever privatise the roads the impact would how we get around and our views on transport would change dramatically. There would be some overall impacts across the entire network but also more local impacts due to there likely needing to be different forms of privatisation.

The key impact would be across the entire network and the true cost of operating, maintaining and building roads would become much clearer regardless of how that’s passed on to the public. A better understanding of just how much roads cost, especially if charged for through forms of road pricing would lead to changes in how people travel. People would likely reduce the amount of driving they do in favour of more walking, cycling and PT use.

Private road owners would also likely seek to reduce their maintenance costs while users of lighter vehicles would likely demand that costs are more fairly distributed to those that do the most damage. That in itself could have large impacts. It would likely see the vehicle fleet get smaller and lighter over time i.e. less people would be driving around in large SUVs unless they absolutely need too (or want too). Truckies would be even harder hit. Due to their weight, trucks cause substantially more damage to road surfaces and so would likely be charged substantially more than other vehicles which in itself would have far reaching impacts by pushing up delivery costs. Those increased costs would of course be passed on to businesses and ultimately consumers.

Perhaps one of the areas most impacted would be in road construction. In short it would kill it dead. Most transport projects simply don’t make sense financially and the toll road troubles in Australia are proof of this. Traffic volumes often don’t stack up and most projects are only able to be justified based on the benefits to the wider economy from improved travel times. Faced with paying for a journey in time through congestion or paying a monetary cost to avoid congestion, many choose the former. What all of this means is that road construction would dry up almost immediately and the costs would shift to making the best use of the infrastructure that exists. That could have some negative consequences as there might be little attention paid to improving roads through projects like this. The flip side of this is that the private road owners would likely become liable for road safety and therefore be a push to improve crash black spots.

Regardless of whether privatising roads is a good or a bad thing, one thing that isn’t so clear is just how it could be done. The real benefit from roads comes from the fact they are an extensive network. Very few trips begin and end on the same road and a trip might commonly involve travelling on quieter residential streets, arterial roads and motorways. Each of those would present vastly different opportunities for privatisation.

Motorways

Motorways would probably be the easiest roads to privatise due to the fact they have limited access and all journeys that use a motorway begin and end somewhere else. Motorways also carry large amounts of traffic each day. This is also why groups like the NZCID who have been pushing for the council/govt to find additional ways to fund ever more and larger transport projects have suggested charging for access to the motorways. If we were to privatise roads there would likely be a big temptation to do the easiest ones first and so motorways would be at the top of the agenda. The problem with that though is that it would likely have a huge impact on but still publicly owned roads.

Residential streets

The next easiest set of roads to privatise would actually be quiet suburban streets, particularly those post 1950’s suburbs full of cul-de-sacs. There we would probably do something similar to what is likely to happen later this year in the small sprawly village of Long Grove (north of Chicago). They are looking to privatise many of their currently public suburban roads because it simply can’t afford to maintain them due to their pyramid scheme like system of how roads were funded where the money to pay for them was only raised through development contributions which dried up as a result of the GFC. They are simply going to turn over the ownership of the roads to the owners of the houses on the street and leave it up to them to maintain. 

cul-de-sac

Some typical post 1950’s street patterns

That could put big strains on neighbourly relations in many places as people work out who will pay for what i.e. does everyone on a street pay equally or do those at the end of the street pay more? In some parts of Auckland there could be interesting changes in the stance taking on intensification. More people living on a street means more people to share the cost of a road with and so some of the suburbs that were most opposed to intensification in the Unitary Plan discussions might quickly change their mind. Going further some residential neighbourhoods might start imposing restrictions on vehicle use in their streets – particularly truck movements – in a bid to lessen the damage vehicles do to the roads. Gated communities might also become more common to stop others from passing through.

On the positive side these communities are likely to become much more pedestrian and cycle friendly as those two modes cause much less wear and tear on roads which equates to less maintenance.

Arterials

Privatising arterial roads are likely to be the hardest to do because not only do they serve a movement function but they serve a place one too, people live, work and play along arterials. To be honest I don’t even know how you could privatise them as due to their function they can’t just be turned over to locals to maintain but their connected nature means they would be prohibitively expensive to charge for. Who would really want the cost and hassle of owning them?

Overall I don’t think the idea of privatising roads is necessarily a bad one from an ideological perspective and doing so would certainly change how we use roads, including what modes we use but overall it simply isn’t practical. Roads are such a key part of our everyday life that changing our relationship with them – however flawed it currently is – would have radical and far reaching consequences for society, probably far more so than the privatising of many other government functions. As such I would suggest the likelihood of it happening is very very low. Far more likely and practical would be the introduction of proper road pricing.

Walking on Arterial Roads

Why is the CEO of Auckland Transport saying this? (comment was made to local board members).

He either means that they aren’t currently up to scratch as walking routes or more likely based on the tone of the tweet above (and from others who were there) he was meaning that they shouldn’t be walking environments. This is seriously concerning.

Here’s map from AT of all of the arterial and strategic routes in the city and there’s a lot of roads that we apparently shouldn’t be walking on.

Arterial Roads

Of course many of those arterial roads also have town centres on them, places we want locals walking to and around.

One possible explanation for this comment may come from the general approach to “roads” at AT as revealed in their new Draft ATCOP. While I haven’t been able to get through much of the 1,000 pages yet, in chapter 7 this is how they explain the road hierarchy:

“Arterials have an important strategic movement function and focus. Collectors and Local Streets have a combined movement/access function. Lanes/Service Lanes and Shared Zones/Spaces have an access/place emphasis.”

It’s hard to know how to comment on this since it is so far from a progressive  understanding of streets.

There was also this tweet from Vernon but as he points out, it’s very concerning that the CEO of Auckland Transport would mix up motorways and arterials

Last chance for a say on Lincoln Rd

Back in November it was announced that Auckland Transport wanted to ‘upgrade’ Lincoln Rd. A road I travel on regularly and one that I consider the most soul destroying in all of Auckland. AT have had their proposal open to consultation and public feedback however that is closing today so if you want to have a say about it you need to get on with a submission quickly. Back in November I wrote:

It’s a road that doesn’t seem to do anything well. It’s a road that is quite wide with a minimum of five lanes (two each way and a full painted median), the major intersections are massive blowing the road out even wider to cater for turning in all directions including slip lanes yet can also get horribly congested, particularly for people heading towards the motorway – which the NZTA are currently upgrading into an absolute monstrosity. On top of that it has poor pedestrian amenity, no cycling amenity and the only bit of bus amenity being a small section northbound at the intersection with Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr to give buses a slight head start.

AT say the road carries about 42,000 vehicles per day and a poor safety record with 446 crashes reported between 2008 and 2012, over a third of which were from drivers exiting driveways or side roads failing to give way. The road has also been listed in various documents over the years as needing to be an RTN in the future as part of the primary route connecting the North Shore to West Auckland. The area surrounding the road is also home to around 8,500 residents, 9,000 jobs, a primary school and the Waitakere Hospital.

While I agree that the road seriously needs something done to it and definitely needs improved bus and cycling facilities, what is proposed feels like a massive amount of overkill while also not going far enough.

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve pasenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

Here’s what the mid-block is meant to look like.

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

The biggest problems I have is that despite all of the widening that is proposed, buses still won’t even get their own dedicated lane despite the road being designated for a long time as an RTN route. On the sides of the road the shared path is a poor compromise to having proper walking and cycling facilities. If AT are going to the extent of widening the road then they should be doing it properly. Further according to CAA, the width of the proposed paths don’t even meet AT’s own proposed guidelines. Lastly the changes stop at Pomaria Rd meaning that south of there buses will be forced to squeeze back in with other traffic and cyclists are forced back on to the road with tens of thousands of vehicles. Lastly the intersections are a horrendous mess blowing out to over 9 lanes wide once again in a bid to try and cater for every traffic movement with its own lane.

Here’s a video fly-though

Also see Cycle Action Auckland’s post on the matter here.

So if you want to have your thoughts on the project heard make sure you go and make a submission.

Lincoln Rd to be “upgraded”

Auckland Transport is proposing to widen Lincoln Rd – something that in my opinion is probably already Auckland’s most soul destroying street, particularly from a land use perspective. Every time I travel down there (which is frequently as I live not far from it) it always reminds me of the worst aspects of auto-dependency. Even the recently built ASB regional centre promotes auto-dependency by not only having a drive through ATM but also drive through banking.

It’s a road that doesn’t seem to do anything well. It’s a road that is quite wide with a minimum of five lanes (two each way and a full painted median), the major intersections are massive blowing the road out even wider to cater for turning in all directions including slip lanes yet can also get horribly congested, particularly for people heading towards the motorway – which the NZTA are currently upgrading into an absolute monstrosity. On top of that it has poor pedestrian amenity, no cycling amenity and the only bit of bus amenity being a small section northbound at the intersection with Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr to give buses a slight head start.

AT say the road carries about 42,000 vehicles per day and a poor safety record with 446 crashes reported between 2008 and 2012, over a third of which were from drivers exiting driveways or side roads failing to give way. The road has also been listed in various documents over the years as needing to be an RTN in the future as part of the primary route connecting the North Shore to West Auckland. The area surrounding the road is also home to around 8,500 residents, 9,000 jobs, a primary school and the Waitakere Hospital.

It’s the northern section which is the worst and that is the part AT are proposing to upgrade with the plans being to

The upgrade seeks to

  • widen Lincoln Road to provide an additional bus and high occupancy vehicle (transit) lane on each side of the road to increase capacity and improve pasenger travel times.
  • upgrade existing intersections to reduce congestion and improve safety
  • build a solid raised and planted median to replace the existing painted median to improve vehicle and pedestrian safety
  • install shared paths for pedestrians and cyclists on both sides of the road
  • implement stormwater treatments to minimise surface flooding
  • relocate and upgrade existing utility services
  • integrate with the NZ Transport Agency’s current motorway interchange upgrade.

There are some seriously big cop-outs there, a transit lane (because there aren’t already enough lanes for private vehicles to use) and shared paths that will pit pedestrians against cyclists (although the road is so horrible that very few people walk anyway). Here is what the typical mid-block cross section is meant to look like.

Lincoln Road cross section of proposed development

However while the mid-block may be 7 lanes wide (including median) the major intersections of Universal Dr and Triangle Rd/Central Park Dr blow out to over 9 lanes in width in a bid to cater for every kind of vehicle movement its own lane

Lincoln Rd - Triangle-Central Park intersection

And here is a video (from which the image above has been taken) showing the works planned

There is some more detail about some of the features on the AT website and they say the that construction isn’t planned to start until 2018. Here is the timeline.

Lincoln Rd Time Line

There will also be two open days about the project next week

Thursday 5 December
3.30pm – 7.30pm
Netball Waitakere Centre
31-35 Te Pai Place

Saturday 7 December,
10am – 2pm
Lincoln Green Conference Centre
159 Lincoln Road (use Te Pai Place entrance)

What to do with Arterial Roads

I recently got back an OIA request from the Ministry of Transport and one of the documents in it was a report on Auckland’s arterial roads. The report is dated December 2012 and the intent was to consider whether significant investment in arterial roads should be the next transport priority after the completion of the Western Ring Route and rail electrification. It’s pretty clear to me that this has come about as an exercise to find ways to avoid agreeing to the City Rail Link however I do think it was probably a worthwhile to do this piece of work anyway. Here is the intro where they also seem suggest that the motorway network is almost complete, not that it really matters to them as the goal posts just get shifted when needed.

MoT - Arterial Rd Study Intro

 

The report then goes on to talk about how important Auckland’s arterial roads are for both freight and public transport. General traffic and freight volumes on many on the cities arterial roads are in some cases higher than some of the state highways in Wellington or Christchurch. If these roads were state highways, their volumes mean that many would fall into what the NZTA would class as the most important roads in the country. On the PT side they note that while about half of all bus passenger km’s occur on the arterial network despite it only making up about 4% of the roading network. They also once again make reference to the CRL:

Auckland’s regional arterial network, along with the Northern Busway, will need to provide the bulk of the capacity for future public transport growth, even if the City Rail Link is built

It would be helpful if they quantified the statement a bit as the City Centre Future Access Study showed that even with the integrated CRL and surface bus improvements, that by 2041 access to the city centre would increase by a greater amount on the rail network than the bus network (just). We also know that this is despite their being problems with the modelling including the MoT themselves suggesting it is underestimating rail trips.

Now sure they could be talking about the growth across the entire region however the previous paragraphs suggest they are just thinking about the city centre. It also goes to show just how insular and focused on stopping the CRL the MoT had been.

CCFAS - City Centre Access

Moving on the report actually manages to acknowledge that roads just aren’t about moving as many people as possible but that in many situations – like in town centres – they also serve a critical place function and that a balance needs to be struck between the two.

The most interesting part of the report is the section on Congestion. They note that between 2001 and 2010 the city’s population grew by 250,000 people and that they would expect that to have caused increased congestion but ….. they haven’t seen that in the numbers, especially on the arterial networks in on the isthmus.

MoT - Arterial Rd Study Traffic changes

MoT - Arterial Rd Study Traffic changes text

Right so congestion has actually improved. You can bet that wasn’t modelled into the assumptions of the various roading projects currently under way that are justified on the basis easing congestion. Despite this, the report suggests that there is likely to be a need for more investment going forward to cater for future population growth. It says that due to the significant impact these roads have not just on Auckland but the national economy that there is likely to be justification for the government providing a higher level of funding for these projects compared to the traditional method of using funding assistance rates. It even suggests that one possible way to get additional funding for big arterial road projects (like AMETI or the East-West Link) is to change the designation on them to become a State Highway therefore allowing the NZTA to pay for them fully – although this seems to be a last resort option.

Lastly it is the conclusion that provides perhaps the key point that should be taken away from this report. It suggests that giving greater priority to public transport and freight along arterials are where the most potential gains are. I have suggested in the past that we should perhaps be considering freight lanes and of course we fully support more bus priority.

MoT - Arterial Rd Study Conclusion 1

 

Overall I think this report is quite useful to the debate despite seemingly being done as a way to see if they could use this as justification for attacking the CRL. The report shows that our arterial roads are very important for a number of reasons/modes and that over the last few years that congestion has generally improved. Most importantly for this blog is the suggestion that improved bus priority should be a priority.

Speaking of bus priority, it appears Auckland Transport will go through a whole electoral term without installing a single metre of new bus lane. Perhaps the PT guys at Auckland Transport need to be taking this report to their roading colleagues to start demanding some bus lanes.

Redoubt Road-Mill Road project causing angst

A fairly significant proposed roading project, from Redoubt Road in Manukau down to Mill Road in Takanini, has pretty much slipped by unnoticed as its investigation continues – although some elements of the project seem to be causing quite a bit of angst with the locals. This in the NZ Herald today:

Hundreds of homes are in the firing line of a new arterial road for South Auckland – of which the first section alone is costed at almost $250 million.

Auckland Transport says about 260 properties, many of them along Redoubt Rd above Manukau, are in the path of the first stage of what it ultimately envisages as a 32km eastern bypass of the Southern Motorway to Drury.

The council organisation revealed last night a cost estimate of $246 million for the 9.2km section from Manukau and Flat Bush to Alfriston east of Manurewa, parallel with Mill Rd – including $66 million for property purchases – although it has yet to hazard a price for the full project.

Only $82 million is allocated for the next 10 years, and the project could take twice that time to complete.

But it intends seeking a route designation for the first section from the council’s planners by the end of next month, and says it is powerless to stop landowners from building new homes until then.

The plan has horrified residents of the historic Redoubt Ridge, through which Auckland Transport intends carving a road corridor up to 30m wide, past a remodelled junction with a widened Murphys Rd running from Flat Bush.

At a high level there seems to be some logic in the project – providing an eastern alternative to the Southern Motorway, as shown in the Auckland Plan transport project map:aucklandplan-millroadHowever, as always a lot comes down to the details of project like these – particularly in terms of what kind of corridor upgrade we’re going to get for the massive quarter of a billion dollars proposed. Checking out the proposed cross-sections on Auckland Transport’s website I can’t say I’m particularly impressed as what’s proposed looks like a defacto motorway with no provision for public transport, rather than a true multi-modal corridor which will support high quality development around it in the future. For example:2-alexia-murphysA proposed cross-section of Murphys Road, which connects the corridor with Flat Bush, is even more bizarre:murphys-cross-sectionWhat on earth is the point of wasting 8.2 metres of road width with a giant median strip? It’s not like this road is going to be upgraded to four lanes each way at some point in the future utilising the median strip (at least I hope not). The impact of the road on the bush in this section is highlighted in the Herald article as one area that’s annoying the locals:

Redoubt Rd resident Raewyn Roberts, spokeswoman for an action committee to fight the proposal, yesterday called on Auckland Transport to avoid destroying what remained of a valuable ecological corridor from Murphys Bush to Totara Park and beyond.

Ms Roberts points to the design of the project as a “massive dual carriageway”:

“It’s appalling,” she said. “This is a mega, mega project – they have this massive dual carriageway which will come roaring up from the old Manukau City centre, wipe out the ridge, then sweep down Mill Rd.”

While a certain amount of “moaning locals” seems inevitable with most transport projects I think what’s horrifying people most of all in terms of this project is the vast over-design we’re seeing. A southern motorway bypass needs to be effective at shifting quite a lot of traffic, yes, but whether it needs to be designed for 80 kph average speeds (which is what the design looks like) with enormously wide medians is quite another matter. I think a scaled back project would not only be more likely to gain public acceptance, but it might also cost a hell of a lot less than the $250 million the current monstrosity is budgeted to cost.

From one-way to two

City engineers have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to but not worth arriving at. – Jeff Speck, Walkable City

A few weeks back I prepared a cross section of the cbd that revealed an interesting land value gap that seemed to correspond to the disurban environment caused by the mini-motorways of Hobson and Nelson Street. In an upcoming post I will look more closely at these streets, in particular their potential for redevelopment, but for now I wanted to compile some background material on the history of one-ways.

Land value gap. Auckland CBD.

Understanding one-ways first starts with the design paradigm that required them. One of the few studies on the subject, “Downtown Streets: Are We Strangling Ourselves On One-way Networks?”, by Walker, Kulash and MacHugh, sets the stage:

For many years, traffic engineers were mandated to “move as much traffic as possible, quickly as possible,” often resulting in degradation of movement for other modes of travel. The unequivocal movement of the motor vehicle through a downtown network was of paramount concern; all other modes of travel took a back seat. Effectiveness of the network was measured by the amount of delay a motorist would encounter on a given street segment or intersection during either the morning or afternoon peak hours.

The authors document the typical transition of American downtowns beginning with the ‘pre-Freeway era’, where streets served a multitude of users and modes and most of the city’s cultural, social and civic activities took place in the historic centre. During this time most of the workers lived within a short distance to work as well (think Auckland streetcar suburbs).

Looking south along the west side of Hobson Street from Fanshawe Street. ( ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-2052′)

The ‘Freeway Proliferation Era’ encouraged city workers to move farther from their work.  “As downtown workers began to seek out less expensive housing in the suburbs, the mode balance on downtown roadways that had existed for years began to move toward facilitating the speedy entrance and exodus of commuters. Downtown streets began to be converted to one-way travel to facilitate this expedient movement into the city in the morning and out in the afternoon.” Below is an example of the technique used to accommodate traffic into and sometimes through a cbd/downtown.

Typical solution: one-ways. Charleston, South Carolina. (source: Meagan Baco)

The Post-Freeway Era reached its peak in the 1980s, when corporate offices chose to locate in suburban edge settings. In addition to the one-ways, increasing traffic also gobbled up surface and ground floor real estate in the form of parking which contributed to “blighted, empty streets and boarded-up storefronts, devoid of life after 6 pm.”

Multiple-lane, high speed, one-ways. Land use responds with the highest value: parking.

Finally, the Reemerging Era is where we are today with an increase interest in both residential and business activities locating in traditional city centres. This urban renaissance has lead to a proliferation of one-way re-conversions beginning in earnest in 1990 according to student researcher Meagan Baco.

As urban observer Alan Ehrenhalt notes, in the Return of the Two way Street, cities across America are coming to the conclusion that one-ways should go as documented in this story from Vancouver, Washington:

In the midst of a severe recession, Main Street in Vancouver seemed to come back to life almost overnight. Within a few weeks, the entire business community was celebrating. “We have twice as many people going by as they did before,” one of the employees at an antique store told a local reporter. The chairman of the Vancouver Downtown Association, Lee Coulthard, sounded more excited than almost anyone else. “It’s like, wow,” he exclaimed, “why did it take us so long to figure this out?” A year later, the success of the project is even more apparent. Twice as many cars drive down Main Street every day, without traffic jams or serious congestion. The merchants are still happy. “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail areas,” says Rebecca Ocken, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “We’ve proven that.”

In addition to Vancouver, Washington, ‘hundreds’ of North American cities have already made one-way conversions, including: Baton Rouge, Berkeley, Dallas, Green Bay, Portland, Sacremento, San Francisco, San Jose and Miami. The success of these efforts are increasingly being documented, like this story from Canada:

“It was somewhat controversial at first, but I would say now that, without exaggeration, people are 90% in favour,” said Brian McMullan, the city’s ebullient young mayor. A prominent local businessman came up to me the other day and said, ‘I didn’t support it from the start, but this is the best thing you’ve ever done.’

This brief post does not address the traffic and street design dynamics of one-ways that make them so dangerous for pedestrians and repulsive to urban life.  Instead, I thought it would be best to document how common the practice of retrofitting has become and where it sits in a historical context. Taking a different look at street design, mobility and accessibility (Link v Place) questions the entire premise of our modern transportation planning (What’s the point). It is increasingly becoming evident that designing our city, streets and neighbourhoods for people (as opposed to cars) provides significant value and resiliency.

From the first report mentioned above  I recreated an interesting diagram that depicted the premise that there is a “livability” dividend that can be realised if we are prepared to sacrifice a few seconds of time from a vehicular trip.  Turning one-ways back to two, like shared spaces, signal priority for pedestrians, and providing for transit and cycling is increasingly being seen as a “no-brainer” for cities intent on remaining relevant in the 21st century.

New paradigm: modified from Walker, Kulash, MacHugh.

 

Taking a closer look at East Coast Rd

Peters post yesterday reminded me about a post I had intended to write myself based on that Phoebe piece but from a different perspective. Reading it and some of the comments below made me wonder why people think that the speed should be higher and as I’m not that familiar with the area so I made a trip out there courtesy of google maps and street view. The section mentioned was between Pinehill and Northcross so focusing my efforts there and looking at the images, it  pretty clearly shows why people think the speed limit needs to be faster. The road is mostly a single lane each way except for around a couple of intersections and is pretty straight, further the houses and many of the footpaths are placed well back from the road. All of these things help make the road feel safer and therefore make it easier to travel faster on it. Here is an image from just one place along the road where you can see just how much space there is, even when there are two lanes (intersections are just behind the image).

So even with two lanes there are substantial road reserves but just how wide is it? The councils GIS viewer helps here with the overlay for property boundaries.

That shows us that all up the road reserve is about 40m wide which is absolutely massive considering that the road itself is only 12m wide. Even factoring in having 4 lanes, wider footpaths etc. there is probably something like 15m of road space sitting being used for nothing but growing grass. My guess is the traffic engineers had way to much control when this was happening and wanted a super wide corridor set aside so they could account for every possibility.

To me that is hardly a good use of valuable land, especially when it is sitting in public ownership. So my next thought was how much is that land worth and could do something with it. On the land value, I did a sample of the land values and sizes on a number of houses in the area around the image above. That suggested that on average land value was in the vicinity of $440 per square metre.  Many of the driveways for the existing houses have (or could be modified to have) roughly 20m of space between them. So putting this all together, a 20m x 15m section would then be worth roughly $130k. There would be space for hundreds of similar sized properties all along the corridor amounting to tens of millions of dollars of wasted land.

But is that big enough to do anything with, I think so. Many recent developments have properties that are only this size or even smaller. Take these houses near where I live, each of the three highlighted would easily fit within the dimensions mentioned above.

And what the two southern ones look like from the street level, as you can see there is even space for off road car parking.

So all up what am I suggesting, perhaps we need to look at East Coast Rd, and other roads like it. If needed shift the road to one side of the corridor while still leaving enough space for things like a second lane should it ever be needed (like for bus lanes). Then with the remaining land develop it into either town houses or even stand along places like the image above. By changing the road and developing out the land it would help to give more queues to drivers to slow down  as well as obviously getting more housed into an existing area helping towards our housing supply problem.

What the heck Phoebe?

I almost let the one slip past – meaning to post last week but only just remembering it last night. I just have to comment though when something like this ends up in the NZ Herald’s “Ask Phoebe” column:

Can you please tell me who sets the speed limits on our roads in New Zealand and what criteria are used for determining these limits?

Generally, we have one limit of 50km/h on all urban roads, regardless of whether that road is a main road or a side-street. Compared to Australia, for instance, where the limit is 60km/h on main roads and 50km/h on routes carrying less traffic, our somewhat sedate limit of 50km/h seems unnecessarily restrictive.

For instance, East Coast Rd between Pinehill and Northcross is an incredibly wide road with footpaths set well back from the kerb offering unobstructed visibility in both directions, and it has a 50km/h limit. Not surprisingly, there is a speed camera located at the middle of that stretch, which is the second highest revenue-earning fixed camera location in Auckland. In any other developed country the limit would likely be 70 or 80km/h.

Geez where to start? Let’s just consider pedestrian safety for a moment, if you get hit by a car braking from 50 kph you’ve got a decent chance of surviving. If you get hit by a car doing 60 kph or more, even if it brakes your chances are dramatically lower.

Now let’s consider urban amenity. The faster the speed of traffic is along the route the noisier it is and the more that road severs the community it passes through. I had thought that Auckland was trying desperately to see its streets and roads as more than just a pipe for cars, but for their place-making values. Higher speeds is perhaps the most detrimental thing you could do to a street’s place-making function.

How about cyclists? Oh yeah I’m sure cyclists will feel just as safe along a 70-80 kph road as they would along that road with a 50 kph speed limit. The wider stretches of East Coast Road include on-street cycle-lanes of the green paint variety, meaning that people using them are definitely not shielded from the traffic.

Every other developed world country would NOT make an arterial route like East Coast Road into a 70-80 kph road. Most cities are trying to get away from this obsession about “everything to make the car go just that little bit faster”. We’re the outlier here in Auckland  in terms of our continued obsession with building more road, yet even we aren’t stupid enough to be turning too many more (now that Manukau City Council has thankfully been disbanded) arterial roads into defacto motorways.

What on earth was Phoebe thinking?

Update: It seems that some of what I had thought was Phoebe’s answer was actually part of the question. Thanks to Andrew for pointing this out and apologies to Phoebe.