Images like the one below used to be common not just in Auckland but in many cities all around the world.
Queen Street, Auckland. Smith, Sydney Charles, 1888-1972 : Photographs of New Zealand. Ref: 1/2-046201-G. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/23203589
Of course the laws of physics still applied so pedestrians needed to watch our for cars and trams or even horses however there was nothing really to stop them from crossing the road or using it when they wanted. These days things are different, people are far more likely only to cross at a crossing instead of Jaywalking. In New Zealand the law states that the offence of jaywalking applies if you cross the road within 20 metres of a fixed crossing and if, as a pedestrian, you cross at a red light. The fine is a relatively modest $35 for adults and $10 for children.
In America though Jaywalking is banned in most cities, but why? An article in BBC News magazine earlier this month delved into the history of the concept of Jaywalking – which is actually more interesting than you might think.
The California Vehicle Code states: “No pedestrian shall start crossing in direction of a flashing or steady “DON’T WALK” or upraised hand symbol.” It also forbids crossing between controlled intersections, or “jaywalking”.
Late last year, police began a concerted effort to enforce the rules in central Los Angeles. Pedestrians had been “impeding traffic and causing too many accidents and deaths”, one traffic police official said. Fines range from $190-$250 (£115-£152).
Then in New York officials responded to several pedestrian deaths last month by issuing a flurry of tickets for jaywalking. The campaign quickly ran into controversy when an 84-year-old Chinese immigrant who had been stopped for jaywalking suffered a gash to his head during an altercation with the police.
Enforcement of anti-jaywalking laws in the US is sporadic, often only triggered by repeated complaints from drivers about pedestrian behaviour in a particular place. But jaywalking remains illegal across the country, and has been for many decades.
As mentioned though, at some point in the past, pedestrians could cross the road wherever they wanted – plus in many cases they had the right of way in the street environment, which has also changed over time. So how did this change happen? How did the concept of “jaywalking” come into being?
The BBC article continues:
“I don’t know how this got to Syracuse, but in mid-western slang a jay was a person from the country who was an empty-headed chatterbox, like a bluejay,” he says.
The word was first used to describe “someone from the countryside who goes to the city and is so dazzled by the lights and the show windows that they keep stopping and getting in the way of other pedestrians”.
The use of jaywalking as a term of ridicule against pedestrians crossing roads took off in the 1920s.
A key moment, says Norton, was a petition signed by 42,000 people in Cincinnati in 1923 to limit the speed of cars mechanically to 25mph (40kph). Though the petition failed, an alarmed auto industry scrambled to shift the blame for pedestrian casualties from drivers to walkers.
Local car firms got boy scouts to hand out cards to pedestrians explaining jaywalking. “These kids would be posted on sidewalks and when they saw someone starting to jaywalk they’d hand them one of these cards,” says Norton. “It would tell them that it was dangerous and old fashioned and that it’s a new era and we can’t cross streets that way.”
The invention of the concept of ‘jaywalking’ seemed to be intricately connected to a shifting of the blame for vehicle/pedestrian accidents away from drivers and towards pedestrians. The auto industry seems to have played a key role in this shift:
Clowns were commonly used in parades or pageants to portray jaywalkers as a throwback to rural, ignorant, pre-motor age ways.
Another ruse was to provide local newspapers with a free service. Reporters would submit a few facts about local traffic accidents to Detroit, and the auto industry’s safety committee would send back a full report on the situation in their city.
“The newspaper coverage quite suddenly changes, so that in 1923 they’re all blaming the drivers, and by late 1924 they’re all blaming jaywalking,” Norton says.
Soon, he adds, car lobby groups also started taking over school safety education, stressing that “streets are for cars and children need to stay out of them”. Anti-jaywalking laws were adopted in many cities in the late 1920s, and became the norm by the 1930s.
In a way the rest is history – streets became more and more designed around the need to shift as many cars as possible through them. Pedestrians were either ignored completely by traffic engineers and the models they worship, or later included (and I quote from the article): largely for their role as ‘impedance’ – blocking vehicle traffic.
I also found some old newspaper clippings from NZ papers, like this one from the Auckland Star, about methods used in the 1920′s to enforce jaywalking laws which involved police driving around in cars and using loud speakers to publicly humiliate anyone breaking the law.
Perhaps most interestingly, jaywalking seems to have had absolutely no impact on improving pedestrian safety:
The UK is among those countries where jaywalking is not an offence. But the rate of pedestrian deaths is half that of the US, at 0.736 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2011 compared to 1.422 per 100,000 in America.
I wonder how many tickets are issued in NZ for jaywalking?
The NZTA have awarded the contract for the “upgrading” of the St Lukes interchange and the widening of the motorway between there and Waterview. Here’s the press release:
The contract to construct the next stage of Auckland’s Western Ring Route – upgrading the Northwestern Motorway (State Highway 16) between the St Lukes Road and Great North Road interchanges – has been awarded to the Australian-based infrastructure company, Leighton Contractors.
The $70m project is jointly funded by the NZ Transport Agency and Auckland Transport.
A two kilometre-long section of the motorway will be widened from three to four lanes in each direction. There will also be improvements to the motorway ramps and the St Lukes Road -Great North Road intersection, while the St Lukes Road overbridge spanning the motorway will be widened to benefit drivers, walkers and cyclists.
The Transport Agency’s Highways Manager, Tommy Parker, says this is the last of six projects to connect the Northwestern and Southwestern (SH20) motorways.
“The upgrade is part of our programme to get our network ready for the increased volume of traffic when the Waterview tunnels connecting the Northwestern and Southwestern (SH20) motorways are completed in early 2017,” Mr Parker says.
Work is due to start in mid-autumn and be completed by late 2016. The other projects to connect the two motorways are the upgrade of the Maioro Street interchanges (SH20) which is completed, and the upgrade of the Lincoln and Te Atatu interchanges, the Causeway Upgrade Project, and the Waterview Connection, which are all under construction.
“Leightons bring plenty of infrastructure experience to the St Lukes project. The company is part of the Causeway alliance, and has been involved in some of our biggest Auckland developments including the Northern Gateway Toll Road and the Newmarket Viaduct Replacement Project.” Mr Parker says.
The Western Ring Route is a Road of National Significance, and will provide a 47km-long alternative to SH1 between Albany and Manukau. It will improve safety and city and regional transport connections for people and freight.
The project isn’t exactly a surprise as it’s been talked about for a while and was part of the overall Waterview consenting process that occurred a few years ago. In saying that it does once again bring into the limelight the claim often made (including in the last paragraph) that the Western Ring Route is about creating another route through the region when in fact this piece of work is all about making it easier to get from the airport to the CBD. This is even mentioned in the description on the project page.
The Waterview Connection project is one of the most important infrastructure developments ever to take place in New Zealand. Completing a motorway ring route around the city, it will unlock Auckland’s potential to become a truly world class city, combatting regional congestion and creating a direct, time-saving link between the International Airport and CBD.
The part of the project that is of most interest is the widening of the motorway bridge and the sections of Gt North Rd on either side. This is especially the case as the NZTA and Auckland Transport were at one stage looking to wipe out the large mature Pohutakawa trees that line the road so they could create one additional lane all in the aim of appeasing the gods of traffic flow. This is the before and after of what they showed to the local board a few months ago and which the board weren’t happy with.
The images below suggest they may have backed down on that though. As for what’s now going to be built, the NZTA say that the project includes:
- 3 lanes on the St Lukes overbridge in both directions
- Improved walking and cycling facilities across the bridge – you’ll be able to use both sides of the widened bridge
- Realignment the Northwestern Cycleway
Being able to use both sides of the bridge will be good but that seems to be the only thing.
Here’s what it will look like from above and facing south (click to enlarge)
Immediately there are a couple of major issues I see and they primarily relate to the intersection with Gt North Rd. Amazingly the NZTA and Auckland Transport are actually going to remove some of the few bits of existing pedestrian priority that currently exist. A person wanting to get from the eastern side of St Lukes Rd (where the carpark is) to MOTAT or Western Springs first has to battle their way across to the traffic island if they can find a gap in traffic thanks to the removal of the existing zebra crossing. Then instead of a simple trip across to the northern side of Gt North Rd they have to cross to the eastern side of St Lukes Rd and wait again to get across Gt North Rd.
It’s pretty clear that the primary focus of this project is about making it easier to drive at the expense of other modes. The extra lanes on the bridge are an attempt to squeeze a few more cars through the area. On westbound off-ramp there is also an additional queuing lane which will only serve to funnel extra volumes off the motorways and onto the local streets. It seems to be the typical ‘give every type of movement its own lane’ type approach that only ends up making life easier for cars. By in large everything seems very much the same business as usual crap we’ve seen for decades throughout Auckland.
The prioritisation of car movement over other modes has had a major negative effect on Auckland’s urban landscape. Streets have become focussed on their movement function, to the detriment of their place function. This has negatively affected the ability of anyone not using a car to get around. One area this can be seen is the minimal amount of pedestrian crossing facilities on any road deemed an ‘arterial’. I have discovered few especially bad ones recently to highlight this.
The section of the Strand from Parnell Rise to Tamaki Drive has no crossings. While this is the major truck route to the port, there are several large apartments on the north side of the road, and major office and retail on the south side near St Georges Bay Road. Also Gladstone Road (right side of picture) leads to Fred Ambler lookout and the Rose Gardens which are the local parks for people living in the area. So walking down here do see quite a few people rushing across the road dodging the busy traffic.
Manukau Road between Ranfurly Road and Greenlane West is a 900m long section with no crossings.
The Coast to Coast walkway even passes along the halfway point here, heading east from Mount Eden, down Puriri Drive towards Cornwall Park. This is supposed to be a major tourist attraction to show of Auckland’s varied suburban landscape, so lacking a pedestrian crossing here is totally hopeless.
Along this 2.4km section of the Ellerslie Panmure Highway there are only 2 mid block crossings, giving a 800m spacing between crossings. Making things even worse is there isn’t even a painted median along here. On the two roads above the braver citizens could at least wait in the median hoping a car wouldn’t choose to use the median at the same time. However on Ellerslie-Panmure it is almost impossible to cross without major danger.
Clearly there are several reasons why our roads need to be more pedestrian friendly. The purpose of these roads shouldn’t just be to move traffic across town as fast as possible. They are also walking and cycling routes to local shops, schools, parks and community facilities. Not having any crossings makes it more difficult to access these shops. While some more agile people can run across the roads, this is rather dangerous. However for children, those with limited mobility, such as the elderly, wheelchair users and those with prams, not having crossings is a terrible barrier.
Access to public transport is also another very important factor. Both Ellerslie Panmure Highway and Manukau Road are major bus corridors, and key parts of the future frequent bus network. Every bus passenger is a pedestrian, and will need to cross the road when either leaving or arriving at their origin and destination points. Not having any safe crossing points could put people off catching the bus, and could prevent parents allowing children using the bus for example.
So what needs to happen? Auckland Transport need a major programme to identify areas where there are large gaps. The ideal bus stop spacing is often seen as around 400m, and each bus stop really needs a pedestrian crossing nearby. So this spacing could well work as a rough guide to spacing along major bus routes. However this of course could change dependent on local conditions, such as to allow access to schools, shops and parks.
As we have mentioned Auckland Transport has being going through a process of preparing Route Optimisation. However unfortunately this has been focussed on increasing throughput of vehicles, sometimes to the detriment of pedestrians and buses. A much broader approach needs to be taken that is truly multi-modal which will increase accessibility, safety and overall help make our streets better for all users.
A few weeks back I returned to the new Pt Resolution Bridge to see how it’s settling in. Earlier post here.
This is a great setting for investment in good design, and popular in the mornings with exercisers from the expensive properties above the point, but here’s to the same high standards being met all over the city and not just for a relatively small number of users at the bottom of the Prime Minister’s street.
It does of course also connect to the Modernist wonderland that is Tibor Donner’s fabulous Parnell Baths. The Hungarian emigre architect also designed the Pt Erin pools, High St’s Ellen Melville Memorial Hall, and the Civic Building now unwanted by it’s owners [us] having been stranded by the appalling [and also typically Modernist but of much lower quality] re-planning of that area that resulted in the twice-built Aotea carpark and the destructive sweep of Mayoral Drive; all of course expensively done in the name of accommodating the private vehicle. Joel Cayford is good on this sorry history here.
Soon the wires for the new trains will be added to this scene so it won’t look this uncluttered for long, but then eventually there will be fewer diesels staining the underside of the bridge with their dirty fumes. Looking forward to seeing- and barely hearing- the new EMUs flying through here.
A great concept for urban interaction from Germany that would definitely fit into the fun category.
A very modern and amazing traffic crosswalk in central Germany that allows you to play a game of pong with someone on the other side of the street while waiting for the light to change:
STREETPONG is a concept of urban interaction by Sandro Engel and Holger Michel, developed at the HAWK Hildesheim, Faculty of Art. It is a simulation, not a permanent installation.
There are a couple of things really neat about this idea.
- You can see the countdown timer for both the pedestrian and vehicle phases (I love the countdown timers on Queen St, I wish we had more of them)
- It allows for interaction which can remove any frustration from waiting for the pedestrian phase. Although not so good if there is no-one on the other side
A case of almost comical timing prompted me to write this post. It started off by me reading this article in the Papakura Courier about residents of a retirement village in Takanini who want to be able to cross the road to the shops on the other side. There is a signalised crossing nearby but it adds roughly an extra 100m which some of the residents struggle with and those that do brave it have found drivers often ignore the signals. The retirement village has even resorted to using a shuttle bus to get residents across the road when they would otherwise have been prepared for a few hundred metre walk. The bit that really caught my attention though was this answer from Auckland Transport about it.
Everyone has different ideas about what could change, including a longer-timed pedestrian crossing, an island in the middle of Great South Rd, moving the crossing further south and even upgrading the Walters Rd roundabout to traffic lights.
Auckland Transport’s Randhir Karma says a complaint was also received from village residents earlier this year.
But engineers found a crossing further south won’t work because it would obstruct Southgate’s driveways and general traffic flow.
But residents are right to worry about drivers getting confused between the two sets of lights by McDonald’s, he says.
“What we could do is look at orientation of the traffic lights on the poles. [We] could potentially look at how [we] might direct the traffic lights so they’re not confusing to the approaching vehicles.”
Auckland Transport has to find a “fine balance” between traffic and pedestrians, he says.
I’ve bolded the worst bit. When it comes to transport in Auckland the one thing that is sacred above all else is traffic flow – parking comes in a close second. There is this mentality that we must not do anything to slow traffic down and all other users of the road can go to the far queue. But the comment about Southgate’s driveways is also interesting. There are two separate parts (not sure if they are both called Southgate or not) with the north-western part having two entrances – including one massive opening with three lanes and even slip lanes while the south-eastern part has four entrances to spew cars out of in all directions. These are highlighted below but the question I have is why the developers were allowed – or forced – to provide so many. Surely they could be consolidated down with the more concentrated vehicle entrance being controlled by lights along with pedestrian crossings.
I also think this part from the end of the article is almost hilarious
The organisation is “grappling with congestion across the region” but has few funds to fix it, with the cheapest solution being to get cars off the road by promoting cycling and public transport, he says.
So if the best solution is to focus on PT and cycling then why is the organisation doing the opposite? What’s more the suggestion is coming from the manager of road corridor operations. Must be some serious blockages further up preventing the organisation from focusing on other modes.
But what made the timing comical is quite literally within minutes of me finishing reading the article (and tweeting about it) this press release arrived in my inbox from Auckland Transport.
Big savings from improvements to Auckland’s roads
Work to make some of Auckland’s main urban roads more efficient has seen savings of around $18 million in two years.
Auckland Transport’s four year Route Optimisation Programme has, so far, meant improvements to 40 per cent of Auckland’s urban arterial routes or 134 kilometres of roads.
Route optimisation provides efficiency through improvements like better coordination of traffic signals, assessing the operation of the route and minor changes to traffic lanes, parking and pedestrian crossings.
The savings, so far, include one million litres of fuel, just over a million hours of travel time and 2,400 tonnes of CO2 emissions. Other benefits include reductions in the length of queues and congestion levels.
For pedestrians and cyclists there is less waiting time at some intersections controlled by traffic lights.
Auckland Transport’s Manager Road Corridor Operations, Randhir Karma, says some of the improvements have been relatively easy to make.
“There have been simple changes to help speed up flows like improving traffic signal timings, changing the way lanes are configured and how they merge. To make public transport more efficient, we have improved access to some bus stopping bays. These quick wins, in particular the signal improvements at intersections, have also provided benefits for cyclists and buses.
“The cost of the programme, so far, is $3.7 million which includes a number of minor capital projects to increase efficiency along routes and at intersections. That’s great value seeing we have made savings of $18 million for ratepayers and taxpayers.”
The most impressive result for the 2012-2013 programme has been along Great North Road where better coordination of traffic signals and minor improvements mean, on average, two and a half minutes is shaved off each trip in the peak periods for the 25,000 vehicles using the road each day.
The next stage of route optimisation will mostly be focussed on roads in the inner city.
Once again the all-important flow is the focus and AT have been busy making sure it’s improved. The results appear positive but are they great for all users? Yes the press release states that buses and cyclists have benefited and even that pedestrians will also have had improvements but the key is that these improvements are only at some intersections. What about at the rest, have there been any crossings where it is now harder for pedestrians? My guess is yes, especially on intersections where people are trying to cross the main flow.
Putting the specifics aside of exactly who benefited aside, my immediate next question was, what would the results look like if we spent the same amount of money ($3.7m) on improving access to public transport stations? Basically focusing on making it easier to walk or cycle to catch a train, bus or ferry. As luck would have it, just before this came out I had been looking at the issue of access and had put together the map below which shows the walking catchment of the Fruitvale Rd train station which has a perfect example of what I’m talking about. Each different coloured segment is 150m long and the darker the line, the further away it is. The lines go out to 900m from the station.
Now the part that is the most noticeable is the redder sections just to the east of the station. Some of the houses in there are nearly 900m away from the station despite being much closer in a straight line. Sure 900m is easily walkable for most, when you look closer you can see that we could fairly cheaply and easily dramatically improve access. A 170m path alongside the tracks (fenced off of course) is all it would take to cut 500-600m off the distance to station. What’s more as you can see in the map below the development was designed with that thinking in mind as there was a space left between the houses which currently has a concreted footpath running into a fence.
And you can see the impact that short path would have below with around 100 dwellings shifted considerably closer to the station.
So come on AT, where’s the PT access optimisation? it is almost certainly going to be needed to help make the new bus network work well too. Improving station access for pedestrians and cyclists is also going to be a hell of a lot cheaper than trying to provide a heap more car parking.
This is a guest post by Brent Toderian & Darren Davis. Brent was recently in the Auckland. They have requested we post it although it originally appeared on the Shape Auckland site.
After six packed days working with staff from Auckland Council and Auckland Transport last month, it was very clear to our international urbanism consultant, and co-author of this article Brent Toderian, that there are a lot of great things happening in Auckland city-making! From a growing shared streets and spaces network and double-phased scramble intersection crossings on Queen Street, and the revitalization of the Britomart area following the return of rail to the downtown, to the high value, low-cost placemaking in the harbourside Wynyard Quarter, and the innovative redevelopment of a former airbase into the Hobsonville Point new urban community, Auckland is building great momentum around a culture of strong urban design. But that’s not to say that tremendous work isn’t still needed! If Auckland is to achieve its ambitious and admirable aspiration to become the world’s most liveable city, another level of achievement is necessary.
Brent’s work with staff covered the gambit of city-making issues large and small, from their new Unitary Plan and City Centre planning and implementation, to housing, transport, design, density & culture. Still, some of the most interesting work focused on how a liveable city for people often comes down to walkability. The following “top three” relatively quick wins for a more walkable city, written below from the perspective of Brent’s observations, reflect some relatively low-cost opportunities toward a more liveable & successful Auckland.
1. Create “eye candy” for pedestrians!
Lush motorway landscaping: Eye candy for car drivers
Auckland’s motorway system has some of the best and lushest landscaping I’ve seen anywhere – what I call eye candy for car drivers! Unfortunately, I saw a lot less evidence of such attention and effort dedicated to improving the walking experience. It’s time for more attention to the pedestrian at eye level, such as addressing all those blank walls, including all the glazing at street level that is misappropriated for advertising (which defeats its intended purpose of having eyes on the street, and providing something interesting for walkers to see).
The key to walkable streets is providing an interesting and engaging pedestrian experience. Although the horizontal details of public realm design are important, as discussed in the next section, the vertical view at eye level along the street wall is particularly critical to get right.
This could start with conducting a visual walker’s audit of the downtown and inner-city, perhaps engaging the public to participate through a photographic competition, and committing to quickly address the 10 worst offenders.
The blank walls could be seen as a canvass for artistic expression (and by this, I include commissioned or sanctioned graffiti). Another thought I’ve shared with staff – when the cut and cover section of the City Rail Link is built along Albert Street, why not let artists and kids loose on the inevitable construction hoarding, turning it into an arts project, and turning an eyesore and source of scowls into a creative and cultural opportunity and source of smiles?
Street art near Karangahape Road
2. Fix up the sidewalks!
Even in the city centre, the quality of the walking environment is very much hit and miss, with some excellent pedestrian and “shared” streets in a rapidly connecting network, but plenty of mediocre areas and shoddy stand-out spots. Further out, walking through areas like Eden Terrace exhibits “billiard table” smooth road surfaces combined with narrow, uneven and poorly maintained sidewalks. On top of this, slip lanes with no provision, let alone priority, for pedestrians, reinforce the feeling that pedestrians come last in the mobility food chain.
It should be the other way around, putting pedestrians at the top of the hierarchy. Even balance will not do, as this is frequently code for business as usual. To be more specific, the prioritisation should be walking, biking, and transit, in that order, which makes the city work better for all modes of travel, including driving!
I’ve suggested walking audits of the pedestrian networks, building out from the most heavily walked streets in the city centre, to areas on the edge of the downtown, and then to the second tier centres, so that investment can be targeted at the most heavily walked areas. This could be in the form of an action plan of pedestrian improvements to be implemented within six months.
Elliott Street shared space, City Centre
3. Activate & Get More Out of Streets!
Many streets in Auckland seem scaled for peak hour traffic (and sometimes apparently well beyond peak traffic, on streets such as Hobson & Nelson Streets). This means that for 20 hours a day (and perhaps 24 hours a day on weekends) they are over-scaled for the volume of traffic using them.
A simple way to strategically make use of such surplus car space for place-making and walkability is to convert it to other uses when not needed for peak car movements. A good example of this is the Saturday farmers market, which takes one city block at Britomart downtown, and positively contributes to the vitality and people-friendliness of the whole Britomart area. Such ideas could and should be used more widely – for example, activating parts of Queen Street on weekends.
Britomart Farmers’ Market
New York City, a favourite city of mine, has powerfully shown what you can achieve with simple things like green paint and basic street furniture, in converting dull car-dominated areas into lively people-oriented places. The counter-intuitive irony of such improvements along Broadway in New York, is that they’ve delivered better outcomes not only for the people using the great new public spaces, but for all road user groups, including car drivers (and only 25% of Manhattan households own a car).
Vancouver has embraced this approach as well, through our “Viva Vancouver” street activation program that I formerly co-chaired. Building on the observation during the 2010 Winter Olympics that streets closed for civic celebration don’t translate into the world ending, seasonal and pilot street installations, “parklet” transformations of parking spaces into public places, and other placemaking approaches are becoming common around the city. The streets have become our civic living rooms, our stages for civic life. It’s nothing short of transformative.
Auckland has shown it already understands this “lighter, quicker, cheaper” approach (as New York’s Project for Public Spaces calls it) with many of its simple but powerful pilots and designs on the Auckland waterfront.
“Lighter, quicker, cheaper” in Auckland’s Wynyard Quarter.
Similar treatments could start in streets such as Victoria Street as a precursor for the planned linear park in this street. Some may be put in as pilots, and others as “bridges” to a more permanent redevelopment. If they don’t work for whatever reason, they can simply and inexpensively be pulled out. If they succeed, which frankly they usually do, they can be made permanent with more investment in the lasting design, when funding becomes available.
While my six days working in Auckland hardly qualify me as an expert on your city, my suggestions here are somewhat universal in idea (if not in application), and based on proven successes in cities around the world. Efforts to enhance walkability are being prioritised in many global cities as a key way of making them more people-friendly, while positively contributing to both liveability and economic success. My fervent hope is that Auckland will make some quick positive steps in these directions, amongst your many important city-making efforts!
Brent Toderian is a global expert and consultant on city planning, design and advanced urbanism with TODERIAN UrbanWORKS, the former Chief Planner for Vancouver Canada, and the founding President of the Council for Canadian Urbanism. Follow him on Twitter @BrentToderian.
Darren Davis is the Principal Public Transport Planner: Network and Service Policy at Auckland Transport with 20 years experience in transport in Auckland, including being a public transport lobbyist, planner, strategic advisor and consultant. Darren hosted Brent’s recent visit to Auckland on behalf of Auckland Council. Follow him on Twitter @DarrenDavis10
Here are some shots I took while walking along one side of the River Nervión in Bilbao, Spain, on an autumnal Monday afternoon last month. The banks of the Nervión are Bilbao’s waterfront, but until recently this river had the unenviable reputation of being the most polluted in Europe. This was because until its stunning place-centred reinvention Bilbao was an extremely grim centre of little beside post-industrial decline and environmental damage. Unlovely and unvisited, although with great bones Bilbao, used to be known to the local Basques as ‘El Botxo’: The Hole.
Bilbao city has a population of around 370,000 but serves a wider area of about 1 million people. The latter metric is more comparable to the full Auckland Council region.
Yes, there in the background is the thing you all know about Bilbao: Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum. The success of the Guggenheim in putting Bilbao on the world map is undeniable but it isn’t what makes this city, and the other Basque metropolitan areas, simply the most civilised urban places I have ever visited.
There are a whole lot of factors that contribute to the success of these urban places such as the natural environment, the architecture, the density of the habitation, the focus on quality public space, the efficient transit systems, and of course, the food, and I will cover these in other posts. But here I just want to look at the treatment of one city route.
All through northern Spain I was struck by the routine and seemingly effortless way that the public realm is built for all users. There are plenty of shared spaces in these cities too but this an important connecting road that demands throughput as well as place quality; it needs to support reasonable speed for all vehicles; trucks, cars, buses, and bikes while it is also a lovely riverside place to linger. These contradictory needs are met well through separation.
This route displays the classic deliniation of modes as defined by speed and mass into three zones each of increasing vulnerability and decreasing speed: Vehicles>Bikes>Pedestrians. I love the way that the bike lane has no elaborate and expensive barrier between it and the traffic lanes. There’s no need, and such a structure would only hem in both areas as well as block pedestrians from crossing randomly where and when possible.
Everyone catered for, the cycle lane is high enough quality [not intermittent] for the sporty as well as the slow riders, but also accommodates roller-bladers and joggers. Which means these faster moving humans are not bothering the slower walkers, families, or slumberers on the footpath, and nor are they holding up the traffic nor risking life and limb by having to mix it with those more lethal machines. Space is made for trees and benches, signage is unobtrusive:
Here is a perfect example of safety clearly being the first priority of the local authority and it being delivered efficiently through environmental design. This is a Complete Street. Looks easy doesn’t it?
Walking along here I found myself thinking about our streets and specifically our waterfront, Tamaki Drive in Auckland, and the enormous difficulty there seems to be to get that flagship place into a safe and efficient shape for everyone. Tamaki Drive has had recent improvements since a number of high profile tragedies there but these are fitful and have been very hard won. I think it is worth trying to unpack why civilising our streets in general is so difficult.
I have followed the advocacy of the Local Board for Tamaki Drive [see their plans on the AT website here and here] and the tireless work of our sister group Cycle Action Auckland here. Great work, but is there any sense we will ever see these changes along the whole route? Here is a visual from the Local Board doc:
This looks simple enough to achieve.
Except there is an expensive problem concealed in this graphic. As shown here this is no cheap and easy lick of paint but an expensive extension of the seawall on the right of the picture would be required to supply enough width for the missing Active spaces as well as the current vehicle ones. Major cost and an unwanted change to a functioning and complete sea wall.
But looking closer at the shots above and it is clear that pretty much the only difference between the Bilbao treatment and Tamaki Drive is that in Bilbao they have clearly used what would automatically be an on-street parking lane in Auckland for other modes. We are constantly told that there is very little budget for cycling. But really this is a road corridor safety issue not just a cycling one. To create competent Complete Streets we need to grow out of this narrow mode specific focus. Below, only the lower outcome can be quick and affordable:
On so many Auckland streets already existing space that could cheaply become bike and/or bus lanes or better pedestrian space are currently reserved for either on-street parking or painted medians. Yet there seems to be a default idea that the addition of the missing amenity can only ever occur without any reduction in these uses. This explains why when we do add the missing lanes they stop and start so much and why it seems to take for ever and costs so much to get any change. Yet pace of change and low cost are vital; as shown in this great explanation of this process from NYC.
The lesson from these other cities is that it is the priority given to the additional parking and turning space for vehicles that makes the completion of our streets so difficult and expensive. It is this culture that is the blockage in the way of completing our streets. And that this extra vehicle amenity should properly be considered secondary to competent safe road design for all users.
Of course I understand the desire for parking, especially free or rather publicly funded parking and of course it should be provided where possible but I think it is important to be clear what the costs of prioritising it over basic road safety design are. Both in terms of death and injury, and in infrastructure dollars and pace of improvement. The clear way forward for this and other Auckland roads is to fix the safety issue first, from road corridor budgets and existing space, and then address the community’s desire and willingness to pay for additional amenity like free waterfront parking as the extra ‘nice to have’ that it is. Here again is a visual from the local board document showing how quickly these streets can be fixed:
It seems to me that a very simple change in thinking needs to occur here. But we need clear leadership from senior people within AT and AC, from the Mayor, and especially from the AT board and chief executive, about what constitutes the priorities for competent street design, and the cost of any additional amenity, say like parking, be clearly expressed and not done on the cheap by failing to provide the basic safe and Complete Streets for all users.
A congested road with no transit priority or cycle lanes is a sign of technical incompetence and political failure.
And of course it’s not just waterside routes that need thinking about safety and parking supply to be more sophisticated than is currently the case; here is a look at Ponsonby Rd.
Here’s a great video of New York City transport commission Janette Sadik-Khan, talking about the transformation of many streets within New York City over the past few years to be much friendlier to pedestrians and cyclists:
Perhaps the best suggestion she highlights are the benefits from changing streets quickly, cheaply and in a way that can be reversible if it doesn’t work. While Auckland’s shared spaces are fantastic, they take an awfully long time to implement and are pretty expensive. It would be great to see some quick improvements using paint, moveable chairs and other reversible approaches.
For a start, how about closing off the section of Queen Street between Wellesley and Victoria to anything but buses – narrow the street down to half its current width and then cover the pedestrianised half with paint, moveable furniture and a few umbrellas for shade? It’d be great for the upcoming summer.
And a question I keep asking myself, who’s going to be Auckland’s Janette Sadik-Khan?
In the Ponsonby Rd Masterplan, here and here, there are proposals for much improved cycling and walking amenity along this important road as well as small tweaks that should lift the performance and appeal of the buses serving the area. The better of these proposals do reduce the number of onstreet parks by a few spaces so I thought it would be useful to look at other changes to the availability of parking on the strip.
Here’s the newly expanded at grade park for about 60 cars behind Ponsonby Central.
Lot 3, 134 Ponsonby Rd, a mixed use retail and commercial development on the old petrol station site. Most recently the site of the Mini Garage. 100+ new carparks over 2 subterranean levels.
134 Ponsonby Rd_parking floors
On The Way:
Vinegar Lane. Last I heard there are to be some 650+ new spaces here:
And let’s not forget its former glory for the sentimentalists out there:
Ponsonby Rd is getting some 800 additional carparks. Of course these are all coming with new projects that will increase demand for all ways of getting around the area. The danger here is that if we only build more car parking but fail to improve quality of the alternatives to driving then Ponsonby Rd and the surrounding streets will become ever more clogged with vehicles getting to and from these parks as people use the only fully supported transport system available; driving. So if we don’t find ways to improve the quality, speed, and frequency of the bus services in the area, and persist in keeping cycling a dangerous and unappealing proposition then Ponsonby Rd is likely to become as exciting as an edge city shopping mall on a Tuesday morning:
Botany Town Centre
Ponsonby residents and especially Ponsonby retailers and business people ought to be very mindful of the need to enhance the area’s characteristics and competitive edge. Easy parking and driving is something that places like Botany and Flatbush beat Ponsonby hands down on. These suburban conveniences aren’t Ponsonby’s soul or selling point; character and forward thinking are.
I am not suggesting anything very radical here, simply that it would be a huge mistake to not grasp the opportunities as expressed in the Masterplan to upgrade the urban design and quality of place for pedestrians, and the expanded appeal to attract people by bike or on the buses. This is a great opportunity to keep Ponsonby up with international trends, attractive to younger people, and ahead of other centres in the city.
There are however other parking issues that I do think need attention and which would be more useful for retailers and others wishing to attract and retain customers. Anyone local knows that because so much of the road side parking spaces in the area are not controlled that they are very attractive to informal park-n-riders. People that drive to the limit of paid parking to use free on-street parking and a short Transit trip in order to get to work. A single zone bus fare is a bargain compared to paid parking in the city. These spaces therefore do nothing for the cafes and shops on the strip because they are locked up all day by hide-n-riders. Here is an example:
This is the very top of Summer St, a wonderfully narrow Victorian street, with absolutely no parking restrictions, even outside the few commercial buildings at the top. This shot was taken at 5:30pm on Monday. What is remarkable about this scene is the almost total absence of cars [except an inevitable Audi]. The Hide-n-Riders have ridden the Link bus up Ponsonby Rd and driven back to their outer suburb homes. This street will fill up again in the morning. It is always full all week by all day parkers. Contrast this with the top of Vermont where there are always parks because there is an hour limit.
Same spot at 11am this morning. And the same cars were still there when I came by again, although that was only half an hour later:
Instead of fighting to prevent improved cycling, walking, and bus amenity on Ponsonby Rd because a few parking spaces will be removed, local business operators should be appealing for timed parking, at least during business hours, on these streets, or parts of these streets near Ponsonby Rd. Hide-n-riders are unlikely to be great spenders here being more intent on getting to work or home as they pass through. And of course their car being stored for free on the publicly owned street does nothing for the businesses in the area nor the local residents.
Local business owners should also remember that getting people out of their cars and walking is the best way to get them into the bar, cafe, shop, or business. Parking right outside a destination is not always the best outcome for the commercial area as a whole; the opportunity for chancing upon something that the shopper wasn’t looking for is an important function of street and place appeal. And we know that people actually prefer a walk from a car park if the area has other attractors, as described in this NZTA study:
The study also identified that retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops. Shoppers value high-quality pedestrian and urban design features in shopping areas more than they value parking and those who drive are willing to walk to the shopping precinct from other locally available parking areas.
And that cyclists, walkers, and Transit users are good spenders:
The data shows that sustainable transport users account for 40% of the total spend in the shopping areas and account for 37% of all shoppers who completed the survey. The data indicates the pedestrians and cyclists contribute a higher economic spend proportionately to the modal share and are important to the economic viability of local shopping areas.
Ponsonby Rd needs to stay ahead of the pack, and adding more car parking just won’t do it. Ponsonby Rd risks becoming unappealingly car-choked through the constant addition of more car parking so is in desperate need of improvements for all other modes. Now.
A start: The new bike park on Ponsonby Rd also this morning, 11-ish, five bikes instead of one car, and with room for five more. Connect this up to real bike lanes and it will become a real customer fountain for the surrounding businesses. And without clogging the surrounding streets. It would be especially good if the staff in the cafes around here used this mode instead of filling the residential streets for the length of their shifts. Full bike lanes are the way to encourage that.