Notes from Abroad: Hamburg, Bristol, Cardiff, & Zürich

This is a guest post by Warren Sanderson; regular reader, occasional poster, and seasoned traveller.

Hamburg, Bristol, Cardiff & Zurich

zurich__bahnhofstrasse

Bahnhofstrasse, the main shopping street of Zurich, is kept free for just transit [trams] and people, as Queen St should be.

In August last year I wrote a guest post for Transport Blog commenting on my wife and my experiences utilising public transport in the cities of Gothenburg, Hanover and Hamburg. I don’t normally like to revisit the destination cities we explore a second time until some years have passed, but we came away from Hamburg thinking we hadn’t done everything we would like to do. It is a good base to make day visits by train to the architecturally appealing and adjacent north German towns of Luneburg, Bremen, Stade, Lubeck, Schwerin and Wismar.

So back to Hamburg we went, to our favourite boutique ‘Henri Hotel’ located in reasonable proximity to the Hamburg Main Railway Station.

The very busy Hamburg Hauptbahnhof can be a little confusing at first but the staff in the Tourist Information, the Regional Trains Office and the DB Bahn ticket office all speak English and I found them most helpful. The DB Bahn people will work out a programme for you, with departure time, train changes and gleis (platform) No’s clearly set out, all of which enabled us to easily visit those towns.

Transport Blog commentators last year had drawn our attention to and recommended visiting ‘Miniatur Wunderland’ which we had not visited previously. It is the largest model railway in the world; incorporating roads, towns, port facilities and so on. Furthermore, it has a model airport, which has aircraft taxiing along the runway and even taking off into the air.

1 Miniatur Wunderland

2 Miniatur Wunderland

Note as in real life, that on the elevated motorway, the road traffic has ground to a halt, but the trains still get through on their own dedicated tracks.

Miniatur Wunderland is located in Speicherstadt, the old dark brick warehouse district. It is very popular so allow plenty of time if you visit.

Monckebergstrasse is the city’s main shopping street. It is the Oxford Street of Hamburg rather than the Regent or Bond Street – see the picture below which is getting toward the bottom of the street and with the magnificent Rathaus in the background.

3 Monckebergsrrasse

Monckebergstrasse is a very wide street with very wide pedestrian areas on each side and a busway lane in each direction in the middle which can also be accessed by taxis and cyclists but apparently not by private cars. The pale yellow cars on the left are taxis at their taxi stand. Pedestrians cross easily and dominate the whole street – not vehicles.

In my post last year, I referred to the booklet I had obtained from the Rathaus which was the approved vision for Hamburg, available in both German and English, entitled ‘Perspectives on Urban Development in Hamburg’. One of the proposals to improve urban quality was to roof over the A7 Motorway cuttings northwards to reconnect severed suburban parts of the city.

This year I noticed a few of these road signs (below) which obviously have relevance to the proposal but because I don’t understand German, I am not sure what the message is, so if there is a German reader out there who can translate the message please comment……….

4 A7 Motorway

BRISTOL

I have wanted to visit Bristol ever since I first read my father’s copy of Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Treasure Island’ with its wonderful original engravings by Wal Paget:

6 Bristol Quay Long John Silver

And now I have walked on the same quay as illustrated and found the same Inn where Stevenson found inspiration for the story.

7 Inn at Bristol

In terms of pedestrian friendliness Bristol did not disappoint. Although quite hilly generally the central old town is quite flat with the many walkers and cyclists able to get about easily away from major arterial roads.

The town is big on Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806 – 1859), engineer extraordinary and designer of the SS Great Britain and the Clifton Suspension Bridge – both worth visiting. He also designed Temple Meads Station as terminus for the Great Western Railway and many other transport projects in London and elsewhere.

8 Bristol Back Street Bike Park

 

CARDIFF

During our week in Bristol we made a day trip to Cardiff. I had not visited Cardiff previously and was interested to find that the whole of the central shopping area was car-free. The streets, though often irregular, were quite wide, and busy. What I thought was important was that two larger modern type shopping malls were within and part of the central shopping area and could draw on the same public transport. Thus they contributed to the central areas vitality.

The obvious comparison is with our Hamilton where the Te Rapa development has resulted in the decline of the former ‘golden mile’ of Victoria Street and to me is an abject lesson in bad town planning.

9 High Street,Cardiff

ZURICH

Zurich was the last city we visited before departing for home – yes, wealthy Zurich where it is so easy to get to the airport. My little timetable shows that there are 158 trips from Zurich HB to Zurich Flughafen each day from 5.02 am to 11.17 pm. Sometimes they will be on a regional train and sometimes on an intercity with the latter continuing on to Winterthur and St Gallen. The journey to the airport takes about 11 minutes.

Zurich still has a tramway system which appeared to enjoy good patronage. I noted a couple of acute angled intersections where the plethora of intersecting rails could have been a bit of a hazard for crossing pedestrians but elsewhere the rails were straight and hazard free. I wouldn’t foresee any problems in this regard if a tram system for Auckland went straight up Queen Street and out the length of Dominion Road. And in Zurich the tram goes the length of the Bahnhofstrasse – one of the most elegant shopping streets in the world.

 

CONCLUSION

The whole point in writing this post is to indicate to readers that many cities are moving quite rapidly into the 21st century by turning back the motor vehicle tide to make their cities more people friendly.

For instance, the extent of Cardiff’s pedestrian (and bicycle) emphasis really surprised me.

We only spent a short time in London on this occasion but we were close to Paddington so it was an opportunity to get some idea of the extent of the construction needed to incorporate Crossrail’s station requirements into Paddington Station. It was also announced that Britain’s Chancellor George Osbourne has earmarked more than 100 million pounds in his latest budget to develop the Crossrail 2 proposal for rail between Hertfordshire and Surrey.

All this underground rail activity is happening under the aegis of a Conservative government, so it is hard to understand why our ‘conservative’ government is so opposed in principle to investment in Auckland’s public transit, when usage is increasing so rapidly and all the evidence so clearly supports a move away from spending solely on roading.

To make this work Auckland really needs to have a clear vision as Hamburg does, together with a better say in the best way of using our share of the contribution Auckland makes to national taxation coffers. In transport matters Auckland is being poorly served by national government at present.

I am sure that Hamburg’s vision was not reached without much discussion but I believe the ‘Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg’ may have one advantage over Auckland and that is, that it is a ‘Land’ (i.e. Province – effectively a city state) with maybe less conflict than Auckland has with central government. It seems that our government are pursuing short term political goals which are to the detriment of a rational long-term plan for New Zealand’s largest city.

It is quite evident that New Zealand’s transport policies and spending pattern needs reforming and we can only hope that our current government is big enough to realise this and take appropriate action.

Like the CRL, only at a much bigger scale, Crossrail is a relatively short underground link between existing surface routes designed to unlock existing potential capacity.

Like the CRL, only at a much bigger scale, Crossrail is a relatively short underground link between existing surface routes designed to unlock existing potential capacity.

Ponsonby Rd Public Realm

Ponsonby Rd has pretty serious pretensions to being Auckland’s premier shopping and cafe strip, and it sure does attract very high volumes of people. However the amenity for these people is very poor. Both in terms of its form but also in terms of its upkeep. Overall I think its fair to say that like many places in Auckland pedestrians are clearly low on the radar for those who have been charged with forming and maintaining this street. Certainly compared to the constant and loving attention AT gives the roadway the footpaths are in a shocking state [see below]. At many times of any day there are as many or more people on the footpaths than in vehicles, yet both the quantity and quality of the public realm that is afforded to people not in cars is more than suboptimal.

PONSONBY ROAD_9128

Yet there’s lots that’s great here and with just a few well executed tweaks and it could be really fantastic. The street is among the best forms of public realm there is; and it is clear the goods and services on offer here and the opportunity for a good old fashioned paseo or passeggiata along this natural sunny ridge attracts all sorts, young and old, and at all times of the day and night. Ponsonby Rd has such great natural attributes and a near constant activation; the dull moments like the bank and fire station or parking lots aren’t too bad or too long. And anyway are likely to be improved. The length of it is worth walking; from K and Gt North all the way to Jervois and College Hill.

But despite these attractors the pedestrian realm is fractured and perilous. Any attempt to use the footpath, and let’s not forget that is the only way to access the shops and cafes, involves a constant yielding to fellow citizens in vehicles. And not just at the crossings of the narrow side streets but also on the many moments where the footpath itself is also a vehicle crossings. Frankly it is outrageous that the previous Council ever allowed a fast food business to run a drive-in facility that crosses the pavement twice across such a busy pedestrian place. And don’t start me on the terrible informal extra road they’ve allowed opposite the top of Franklin.

Ponsonby Rd- lot 3

The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

Above: The Richmond/Picton intersection; we believe all modes would benefit from this returning to a Barnes Dance pattern. Certainly it would be safer and better for pedestrians.

And a great city walk is a powerful thing, commercially, socially: as an attractor for local business, it is the ‘public playroom’ for residents and visitors alike. I’m not advocating for more land here, just for the quality of what’s already available to be better connected, defined, and available for people doing that most valuable thing: walking.

The prime opportunity is for this public realm to be stitched together across the various interuptions. Firstly for each of the minor cross streets to have their priority reversed and become extensions of the Ponsonby Rd footpath by raising the surface up to footpath level in a continuous line. This would clearly communicate to drivers the need to proceed with great care when turning, and to yield, as some already do, to the more vulnerable pedestrian. Some of the wider cross streets like Vermont are already narrowed and planted with good trees, but continuous blacktop invites fast and careless driving by some impatient or inobservant drivers. This can be fixed, as can the crossings at the major intersections.

So a group of us have got together to outline a number of improvements we would like AT and AC properly investigate along this well trod path.

1. Raised pedestrian tables on the minor side streets inline with the footpath.

2. Reinstating the Barnes Dance at the Richmond/Picton intersection with Ponsonby Rd

3. Ped crossings at the existing refuges at the mid blocks.

4. Enforce the existing 40kph speed limit.

5. Ban U turns.

6. Implement the Ponsonby Rd plan

There’s a petition here: http://www.actionstation.org.nz/ponsonby-for-people

And I would like to add; complete the return of the London Plane trees along the length of the street so we will get fully a joined up architecture of these great street trees along the route.

Add your thoughts on these or other possible improvements and feel free to nominate other streets that you think would benefit from this sort of upgrade. And note this post is deliberately focussed on the pedestrian realm as the cycling, traffic lane, and PT issues are covered in the masterplan, but also so the pedestrian realm can be discussed in its own right.

Why are we building dangerous intersections?

Two stories have recently caught my attention for the appalling treatment of people using roads who are not in cars.

The first was a few days ago from the local paper that covers the Hibiscus Coast and details the issues with a relatively new intersection that people keep running red lights at. It’s so bad parents are making kids waive silly flags as they cross the road.

It is only a matter of time before a child is killed at a dangerous Auckland intersection where up to 14 drivers a morning run red lights, concerned parents say.

There are four schools and a preschool near the four-way intersection at Millwater Parkway and Bankside Road, and near misses are a daily occurrence, the mums and dads say.

Silverdale School parents are so worried they have been doing surveys of the intersection, counting up to 14 red light runners a morning.

The group mans the site each school day for 30 minutes wearing high-visibility vests and handing out orange flags to children crossing the road in an effort to keep them safe.

The situation came to a head in the week before the school holidays when two cars crashed in the middle of the intersection, coordinator Penny Howard says.

“It was at 8.20 am when one car obviously ran a red and hit an oncoming car. Shrapnel was sent flying across the road. Thankfully a pedestrian wasn’t hit by it.”

Yes there are bad drivers out there but 14 red light runners a morning it suggests that perhaps there’s also a design issue with the intersection and surrounding area. I suspect one of the issues is the large empty fields on two of the corners plus having the school effectively set back behind a row of trees and a large berm are contributing to giving drivers visual cues that this is an area they can travel faster. I’d be interested to know from readers what options they think would help make the area safer and more kid friendly.

Millwater Dangerious intersection

On a related note, why the hell are we still allowing roads like this to be built without dedicated cycling facilities. It wouldn’t have taken much to add them when the road was being constructed but now it’s likely to be an expensive and difficult retrofit job.

The second example is from Hamilton where the NZTA yesterday announced plans to spend $2 million upgrading the intersection of SH1 and SH26. Despite the state highway designations the area is thoroughly in a residential area with houses, shops and a school all nearby.

The Hillcrest roundabout will be replaced with a new, larger roundabout which will have three entry lanes for city bound State Highway 1 traffic and a slip lane for vehicles heading onto State Highway 26 (Morrinsville Road).

The Transport Agency’s Waikato Highways Manager, Kaye Clark says the new roundabout will improve safety and help to ease congestion at the intersection.

“The Hillcrest roundabout is the city’s busiest with 37,000 vehicles using it every day,” she says.

“At peak times it is a major pinch point which we know causes a lot of frustration for people travelling through.

“The new, larger roundabout will make a difference to traffic flow.”

Mrs Clark says the Transport Agency investigated all possible improvements for the intersection, including traffic lights.

“We looked at installing traffic lights with a pedestrian crossing however our modelling showed this would have added to the congestion issues and caused more delays,” she says.

“More lanes would have been required to get traffic through as well as the larger roundabout will and having a signalised pedestrian crossing on a section of SH1 with such a heavy traffic flow would have caused significantly more congestion.

“We are confident that expanding the roundabout is the most balanced and effective solution possible here.”

As part of the project the Transport Agency plans to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists by building new paths and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26, so people can cross the road safely.

“With high traffic areas like this pedestrians and cyclists are safer on separated facilities,” Ms Clark says.

“We plan to build new paths on both sides of the entrance to the shopping centre and a new pedestrian crossing on SH26 (Morrinsville Road). The pedestrian crossing will have a raised refuge, so pedestrian can safely cross one lane and wait in the middle of the road before crossing the next lane.

“An existing underpass that takes pedestrians under SH1 will remain in place and a cycle lane will be formed from SH1 into SH26 giving both pedestrians and cyclists safe options to get around.”

Despite what they say it’s pretty clear the only thing the NZTA engineers cared about was the movement of cars and the intersection gives a giant middle finger to anyone not in a car. On the SH26 branch pedestrians have to either cross multiple lanes of traffic to reach the ‘refuge’. That’s may be fine for many people but what about those who can’t run such as the elderly or those with disabilities and would the designers let their children cross there? On the southern side of the SH1 branch the option is a likely dingy underpass that most people will probably ignore – like they clearly do now giving the number of desire lines through the planted median that are visible.

Hamilton SH1 -SH26 upgrade

I wonder how many parents let their children walk let alone cycle to that school.

Below is an example of one of the existing desire lines through the planted median and angled to just avoid the pedestrian barrier. I expect pedestrians will continue to prefer this more risky crossing than the pedestrian underpass a few meters away.

Hamilton SH1 desireline

To make matters traffic volumes through this intersection will likely drop in the near future as early next year the NZTA expect work to start on the Hamilton section of the Waikato Expressway which will see SH1 diverted to the east of Hamilton and away from this intersection. That is expected to be completed in 2019 and is shown below (and even by 2041 is expected to have remarkably low traffic volumes.

hamilton-2041volumes

What they’re proposing is obscene in an urban environment and will almost certainly have to be redone again in a few years time into a form that isn’t so hostile to people.

Metamorphosis: The Return of the City

The Auckland City Centre is entering a phase of profound change. The rest of this decade it’ll be undergoing a more extensive and disruptive renovation than your average Ponsonby villa. The designers and financiers are at work and the men and machines are are about to start. The caterpillar is entering that difficult and mysterious chrysalis phase; what kind of butterfly will emerge?

Some of the probable additions to AKL’s skyline [image: Luke Elliot]

If even half of what is proposed gets underway almost every aspect of the centre city will be different.

The Skyline

Precinct Property’s 500 million dollar total rebuild of the Downtown centre and a new 36 storey commercial tower is confrmed to start next year. The 39 storey St James apartment tower is also all go [with the re-opening of the ground floor to the public soon]. An apartment tower on Albert and Swanson has begun. There are a huge number of residential towers seriously close to launching some of which are 50+ floors. These are on Victoria St, Customs St, Commerce St, Greys Ave and more. The biggest of them all Elliot Towers is rumoured to underway next year. Mansons have bought the current herald site and said to looking at residential there. On the same block 125 Queen St is finally getting refurbished bringing much needed new commercial space in the city [+ about 1000 new inner city workers]. Of course the Convention Centre and its associated hotel will start too. Waterfront Auckland have announced new mid rise apartment developments and a new hotel beginning as well. This list is not by any means exhaustive. Auckland is now a builders’ boom town. And it will resemble nothing other than an enormous sand pit for the next few years.

The Street

Regardless of the forms of these buildings they are going to have profound impacts at street level; flooding the footpaths with people, stimulating more and more retail and especially hospitality services. Add to this the disruption of the works themselves, for example later this year the first stage of the CRL is going to start. Digging up everything from Britomart through Downtown, up Albert St to Wyndam St. If the proposed Light Rail system goes ahead that will mean the [no doubt staged] digging up of the whole length of Queen St and other places, Dominion Rd, Wynyard Quarter. Street space is becoming more and more contested. Driving in the city is going to get increasingly pointless, most will avoid it. But unlike last century that won’t mean people won’t come to the city. One, because it’s become so attractive with unique retail offers, unrivalled entertainment attractions, and a fat concentration of jobs. Two, because people are discovering how good the improving Transit options are becoming, so why bother driving. And three, because increasing numbers are already there; it’s where they live anyway.

And that Transit boom is going to continue, or even accelerate. Britomart throughput is now running at 35 000 people daily, when planned it wasn’t even expected to reach 20 000 until 2021 [see below; the blue line is still growing at that angle; it is now literally off the chart]:

Britomart Projection Numbers Graph

Why is this happening? A lot of people in wider Auckland still think the city is unappealing or unimportant. Aren’t we spreading new housing out at the edges? Aren’t new businesses building near the suburbs in those business parks? Well ironically one of the reasons so much growth and investment is happening in City Centre is because those same people, the ones that prefer their suburban neighbourhoods to the city, don’t want any change near them. The City Centre is one of the few places that it is possible to add new dwellings or offices at scale, and because it is a very constrained area with high land value this can only be done with tall buildings. The more suburban people refuse to have growth near them the more, in a growing city, investment has to concentrate where it can, and in Auckland that means downtown.

Auckland's first electric  tram 1902

Auckland’s first electric tram 1902

Auckland is still spreading outwards and businesses are growing in suburban centres, but these areas are not appealing or appropriate for all people and all businesses, and nor are they sufficient; the City Centre is growing by both these metrics too, and at a greater pace. The 2013 census showed that AKL city is the fastest accelerating place to live in the entire country, growing at over 48% between 2006-2013, and currently the city is experiencing a new shortage of office space and an interesting reshaping of the retail market. The education sector is also still strong there, with Auckland Uni consolidating to its now three Central City sites and building more inner city student accommodation. City growth is strong and broadly based: residential, commercial, retail, and institutional.

There are risks and opportunities in this but what is certain, outside of a sudden economic collapse, is that the City Centre will be a completely different place in a few years, in form, and in terms of how it will operate. And the signs are promising that what we are heading to is an almost unrecognisably better city at street level than it has been in living memory.

What is happening is simply that it is returning to being a city of people. Ten of thousands of new inner city residents, thousands of new visitors in thousands of additional hotel beds each night, hundreds of thousands of workers and learners arriving daily from all over the wider city each day too. All shopping, eating, drinking, and playing within the ring of the motorway collar. Auckland is moving from being one of the dullest and most lifeless conurbations in the world to offering a new level of intensity and activity. Well that is certainly the possibility in front of us now.

Auckland has had boom times before, and each of these leave a near permanent mark on the built fabric of the city [the Timespanner blog has examples in great detail].  So it matters profoundly what we add to the city this time. We are at the beginning of the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the postwar outward boom that came with such a high cost for the older parts of the city. By forcing the parts of the city built on an earlier infrastructure model to adapt to a car only system we rendered them unappealing and underperforming, and the old city very nearly did not survive this era. Only the persistence of some institutions, particularly the Universities, enabled it to hang on as well as it did. The car as an organising device is ideal for social patterns with a high degree of distance and dispersal. It is essentially anti-urban in its ability to eat distance but at the price of its inefficient use of space; it constantly fights against the logic of human concentration that cities rely on to thrive. It not only thrives on dispersal, it also enforces it.

Queen St 1960s

Queen St 1960s

But now the wheel has turned and cities everywhere are booming on the back a of model much more like the earlier one [see here for example: Seven cities going car-free]. This old-new model is built on the understanding that people in numbers both already present in the city and arriving on spatially efficient Transit systems providing the economic and social concentration necessary for urban vitality and success.

This seems likely to lead to a situation more or less observable in many cities world-wide where there is an intense and highly walkable and Transit served centre surrounded by largely auto-dependent suburbs. Melbourne, for example, is increasingly taking this form. And, interestingly the abrupt physical severance of Auckland’s motorway collar might just make ours one of the more starkly contrasting places to develop along these lines. A real mullet city: one made up of two distinct patterns.

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014

Frankly I think this is fine, it could make for the best of both worlds. Those who want to live with the space and green of the suburbs can continue to do so but are also able to dip into a vibrant city for work, education, or especially entertainment, on efficient electric Transit, ferries, and buses when that suits. A vibrant core of vital commercial and cultural intensity sustained by those who choose to live in the middle of it 24/7. The intensity of this core plus any other growing Metro Centres [will Albany really become intense? Manukau City?] meaning the sprawl isn’t limitless and the countryside not pushed so far away that it is inaccessible. Auckland as Goldilocks; not all one thing or the other; neither all suburb nor all city. People will use or ignore which ever parts they want, and soon members of the same households will be able to indulge their different tastes without some having to leave the country.

What are the threats to this vision? Well we do actually have to build the Transit, this means completing the CRL soon as is possible, and ideally replacing a good chunk of the buses with higher capacity and more appealing Light Rail. To connect these two halves; the success of both the centre and the region it serves depend on it. But also we have deliver a much better public realm on the streets and especially at the water’s edge. We have to retain and enhance the smaller scale older street systems to contrast with the coming towers, like we have at Britomart and O’Connell St. All these moves require leadership and commitment and an acceptance that the process of getting there will be contested and difficult.

I have no fear that people in the wider city won’t be happy to choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys, especially into the city, then jump back into them for others across the wider city or out of town. After all it’s happening already. This is not then a bold prediction, merely the extrapolation of current trends. And it is the trend that tells us more about the future than the status quo. More of this:

CBD Transport Change

than this

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

CPO Lower Queen St 1960s

or this

AKL m'ways 70s

AKL Grafton Gully 70s

Photo of the Day: Street Opened

The truly great Lyttelton Market:

LYTTELTON MARKET_8721

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.

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

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.

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From O’Connell towards the top of Vulcan Lane

 

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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

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Lower Shortland

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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.

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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:

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Queen St, City Centre Master Plan

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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:

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HIGH ST_7079

O'CONNELL ST_7701

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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.

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