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Ben Hamilton-Baillie/Auckland Shared Streets

This is an interesting video of Ben Hamilton-Baillie at the recent Congress for the New Urbanism conference (CNU22). Hamilton-Baillie one of the leaders of the progressive street design movement explains how the street delivers the purpose the city- economic exchange, social exchange, and cultural expression, or “money, sex and art” as he quotably sums it up. He describes the progression of the urban street from a condition where things moved very slowly, people moved carefully along and across the street-  to today, where everything is over engineered, and highly regimented and segregated. This dramatic change occurred with the  introduction of the automobile and enabled by modernist design philosophies (Le Corbusier, CIAM) and technical proponents (Colin Buchanan).  This led to the orchestrated surrender of our streets to the automobile (as described here).

At 26:00 Hamilton Baille describes the biggest problem with street design being the confusion between the utility of roads/highway and public realm. Highways are highly regulated, singular focused, and predictable, while the public realm (ie streets) serve a multitude of uses, are constantly changing, and require eye contact and other human cognitive skills. Combining the two results in a Frankenstein environment where people are caged off (or worse relegated to overpasses), signs regulate the most basic movements, and traffic movement is stifled. This environment works badly for both traffic and  the public realm. This is very similar to the Strongtowns concept of STROADS, which describes the horrible outcome when the function of roads and streets is blurred.

It is amazing the receptiveness that he gets in this forum. With regard to shared streets this is one of the many areas where Auckland is  a global leader amongst new world cities. Today it’s hard to imagine how these were ever built. Was there a traffic signal technology conference in Canberra during the week they were approved?

A few months back Google Streetview introduced a feature many people called the “Wayback Machine” which allows users to toggle back in time through their collection of images. I’ve grabbed a couple before and afters below.

Fort Street Before and After

Fort Street, Auckland – Before and After (Google Streetview)

Fort Lane Before and After

Fort Lane Before and After

For people interested in shared streets or think that the Auckland CBD is still riddled with of $2 and tacky tourists shops, take a tour of these streets:

Elliott Street 

Darby St (for some reason you can only see the after of Darby here)

Lorne St

Fort St

Fort Lane.

Photo of the Day: High St- low value use

The top of High Street is interrupted, dominated, and devalued by the double-laned exit from the Victoria St car parking building.

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The footpath on the east side is frequently blocked by impatient drivers….

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…while on the west side it is so narrow that the high numbers of people there are forced onto the oversized carriageway with the jammed traffic.

A classic example of the prioritisation of the driver over the walker. Some traffic engineer has greedily taken way too much of this public resource for only one type of user.

Furthermore the floods of traffic that this sadly over-expanded vehicle store generate lead to gridlock at the intersection as it is really too close to both the Queen St and Kitchener St intersections for the sudden volumes that this exit at times produces [people still tend to head out all at once].

At the very least the cars could be rationed out the exit by taking it down to one lane, but much better would be to move the exit up the hill onto Kitchener St where the entrance is.

Victoria St parking building

No problem adding an exit to this entrance here with a bit of reworking, the left hand space used to be the entrance before it was doubled. And AT would then have to sort out this intersection and its poor pedestrian phasing.

Vic park entrance

And best of all the High St ground floor could be repurposed for a human use: It’s the kind of hip industrial concrete interior that Prada love, but failing that: A pool hall, dingy nightclub, dungeon? ….. PingPong centre!

High St Big Mouth.

Anything would be better than that gapping maw and adjacent pissoir, and on the street that has pretensions to being the country’s preeminent fashion shopping strip. Well I suppose it did have those pretensions until the retailers there threw their coat hangers out of the cot and stopped it becoming a shared space, and now the action has gone elsewhere….

Note how wide those lanes are at the intersection; really they could be car width, and the rubbish truck could just hog one and a half  lanes occasionally. Until of course the car park exit is gone and High St becomes the Shared Space it obviously ought to be.

Photo of the Day: Star Site

Hard not to agree with the the agent quoted in the Herald commercial property section “that there’s no doubt this is Auckland city’s stellar building site”. The double fronted site, facing both lower Shortland St; long Auckland’s grandest commercial address, and onto the old beach front of Fort St, commanding an uninterruptable view down Commerce St to the sea, is now even more valuable because of the upgrades to the surrounding public realm. A fantastic site in a much improved downtown. But for the last 25 years it has one of the city’s more regrettable ‘parking craters‘.

This is even more the case as it is slowly getting surrounded by shared spaces [it's directly opposite O'Connell St currently being rebuilt]. Parking generates traffic movements so it is utterly mad if, as it is rumoured, the Council have consented a parking building for this site. Does one end of the Council not understand what the other is doing?  Increasing adjacent parking supply is totally inconsistent with the spread of Shared Spaces and the other public realm improvements. Instead the lower Shortland St and Fort St area should be high on the Council’s list for parking removal.

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Star Building Burton Bros Te Papa Collection

Star Building, Fort St. Burton Bros Te Papa Collection

Once home to the city’s other paper, the Auckland Star, and a centre of frantic activity as each of the three daily editions of the paper were distributed directly from the ground floor presses on Fort St. The upper floors also supplied most of the drinkers at the Vulcan Lane pubs and of course the De Brett’s Corner Bar just across Shortland St. Well certainly many of the more colourful ones- editorial deadlines for even the late edition closing by 3pm meant the writers were free to pursue their own ‘research’ pretty early in the day.

Weakened by the rise of television Star owner NZ News was acquired by corporate raider Brierley Investments Ltd who demolished the the building in 1989. It has been a car park ever since, just like the Royal International site on Elliott St, and of course the ‘parking stump’ on the other side of Shortland St. Amazing that 25 years later the city still bears the scars of the carnage wrought by that regrettable phase.

What a fantastic opportunity for a really high quality new building, one big enough to repair the broken built ‘cliff face’ on both Shortland and Fort Streets but also to include a grand atrium at the Shortland St level encompassing both elevations to connect the High St and Britomart areas together. Bringing more people and business into this critical and increasingly urbane part of the Central City.

We really need the Council to fully front up to its stewardship role with its whatever any private owner proposes on important city sites like this one and the others now barren because of the earlier neglect of duty by previous City Councils, especially in the cowboy years of the 80s and 90s. They are important opportunities for the future of the city, all decisions taken on these issues have very long lasting consequences.  Parking is simply not an acceptable use for such an important site.

More detailed property information on this and nearby even larger site at 28 Customs St in this NBR article both are on the market.

Photograph [undated] by the Burton Bros of Dunedin, from Te Papa’s online collection.

JSK in AKL

Last night we hosted Janette Sadik-Khan, the woman who transformed New York City’s notoriously contested streets as Mayor Bloomberg’s Transportation Commissioner 2007-13. We are extremely grateful that she found  time on her four day visit to Auckland to share her wisdom and experience with us advocates.

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Despite arriving at 5am that morning JSK and her team gave us all a great deal of attention and engagement [colleague Seth Solomonow said of the flight: "why'd y'all have to be so far away?"]. JSK still works with Michael Bloomberg at his new not-for-profit post-Mayoral agency Bloomberg Associates. Here is the opening line their mission statement:

Bloomberg Associates, an international consulting service founded by Michael R. Bloomberg as a philanthropic venture, helps city governments improve the quality of life of their citizens.

So the first recommendation from JSK last night is that Mayor Brown contact ex-Mayor Bloomberg to see how Auckland get to see a whole lot more of JSK and here team to help improve our city in more detail.

Other soundbites from the night include:

  • Changing the Streetscape and adding to the movement options can hugely improve the economic vitality of the whole city as well as individual areas.
  • You have to try out radical changes to the streetscape cheaply, quickly, and temporarily.
  • Don’t just do part of what’s needed; be bold keep it cheap and temporary so whole areas can be done together.
  • Be prepared change it, or even change it back to how it was, if it isn’t working.
  • If half the city doesn’t hate what you’re doing you probably aren’t doing anything.

She also said the reason she made it a priority to meet with us was that groups like ours in NY had been hugely influential in enabling change. Particularly streetsblog, a clear role model for transportblog.

Also it was just a great night down at Imperial Lane:

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We are now looking forward to her presentation at Auckland Conversations on Monday. And thanks to the Auckland Conversations team for hosting her visit, and in particular lending her to us for the evening.

Photo of the Day: Euskotren Tranbia

As well as the Metro and an excellent bus system -Bilbobus- Bilbao also has a small tram system. Running CAF built Urbos 1 Light Rail vehicles, the route covers different sections of the city to the faster and longer reaching Metro, offering a highly visible distributor from a couple of Metro stations it connects with to important destinations like the Guggenheim Museum. It runs both on the city streets and on dedicated and grassed corridors by the river. The Quay side has a wide promenade and cycleways on both banks. The revitalisation of Bilbao is built on the back of investment in high quality public realm with thorough attention to Transit and Walking and Cycling networks. The Guggenheim Museum is really the icing on the cake of this rebirth, not the starting point.

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Photographs by Patrick Reynolds.

Federal St Shared Space update

The O’Connell St shared space is now getting started however relatively quietly many people forget about the other shared space currently being developed in Federal St between Wellesley St and Victoria St. Work has been going on for some months now and so here are some photos I took of the progress about a week ago.

The pavers are down at the southern end of the street although part of that has been blocked off for storage of construction materials and equipment.

Federal St Shared Space March 14

Further North (past the black fence in the image above) you can see the pavers have been completed on one half of the street up to roughly the porte cochere for the casino.

Federal St Shared Space March 14 2

Shared spaces work well in improving the quality of a street for pedestrians but won’t work if those streets are still flooded with cars. As such there are a couple of things that I’m worried about with this shared space. There are underground carpark entrances for Skycity, and the former ASB tower (now owned by council) along with the porte cochere for both Sky City Grand and the casino itself. Here’s the ramps into the Skycity carpark that have the potential to spew traffic onto the street. There’s actually quite a decent amount of space there so I wonder if Skycity could pull out the ramps and activate the street with retail/hospitality.

Federal St Shared Space March 14 3

And where the ramp exits with the corresponding exit from the council building.

Federal St Shared Space March 14 4

The porte cochere to the Skycity Grand Hotel always seemed filled with vehicles. I can see there being issues with people and especially taxi’s using the rest of shared space as a carpark or waiting area.

Federal St Shared Space March 14 5

Overall there’s some good progress that’s been made but there are a number of concerns I have and I guess only time will tell how well it turns out.

O’Connell St Shared Space starts

Some great news that the work to upgrade O’Connell St to a shared space is now under-way.

O'Connell St upgrade starts

Construction is expected to be completed in August later this year. Due to the road being too narrow for two lanes, it has been closed to all traffic and temporary measures are being put in place so the shops along the street can have deliveries/rubbish collection etc.

O'Connell St upgrade road closed

Wouldn’t it be great if after the upgrade it could be left closed to traffic permanently.

The work will happen in three stages,

  • Stage 1: the roadway north of Vulcan Lane,
  • Stage 2: the roadway south of Vulcan Lane
  • Stage 3: the footpaths

O'Connell St upgrade stages

The other shared spaces have also spurred a lot of economic development, perhaps that’s why the Minister of Economic Development was there earlier today.

O'Connell St upgrade Joyce

Photo by Nick

And this is what the street is expected to eventually look like

O'Connell Design

O'Connell St

Photo of the day: Eyelight Lane

Back in 2011 when the first stage of the Fort St shared space was being built the artist impressions showed a neat artwork installation on Fort Lane. Now a few years later it’s finally been installed. It’s called Eyelight Lane by Swedish artist David Svensson. I think it looks great and is a nice addition to the area, here are some photos of it.

Eyelight Lane

And here’s another version of it by Richard Wong of PhotosbyRichard.com

 

2013: A year in review – Part 2

In Part 2 of my 2013 year in review I’m going to look at transport other than PT so that includes walking/cycling and roads.

Walking/Cycling

2013 has been a bit of a mix when it comes to active modes. There have been some good things happen however in my opinion simply not enough has been done and from what I’ve heard (but haven’t confirmed) Auckland Transport spent well less than they had in the budget for cycling which is extremely disappointing.

Most recently we’ve seen that the council has agreed to allow the Skypath to move to the next stage where the council officers will come up with an agreement on the project with the financial backers before going to a vote some time in 2014. If that part is approved the project will still need to go through a formal resource consent process. The project isn’t without it’s challenges however with some members of the local communities on either side of the bridge determined to fight the project at every stage.

Skypath aerial

We’ve seen work begin on the Grafton Gully cycleway and Westhaven promenade and cycleway. Along Beach Rd Auckland Transport have finally proposed a proper separated urban cycleway which will probably the first one in Auckland. My understanding is the consultation saw the project get a lot of support so it is likely to go ahead which is great. There have also been some great new pedestrian (and cycling) bridges opened this year including the stunning Pt Resolution Bridge and the Westgate Pedestrian and Cycle bridge which includes quite a fun set of sweeping curves (which were to solve a grade problem).

In the CBD we’ve seen the shared space at the eastern end of Fort St completed while one on Federal St between Wellesley and Victoria St is now under construction. We also had it confirmed that O’Connell St would become a shared space which was a good result after what was initially proposed in 2012. I believe construction on the O’Connell St shared space will begin in early 2014.

Despite the slow progress of walking and cycling infrastructure we have continued to see cycling numbers increase in the city – it’s becoming much more noticeable all over the place. AT have a series of automatic cyclist counters around the city which show this increase.

Dec 13 Cycling

Roads of National Significance

Waterview

Waterview took some big steps forward this year and the project is really in full swing. The massive TBM arrived in July and starting its tunnel boring in November following quite a good public open day on the project in October. I’m not sure how fare in it is now but about 1.5 weeks ago it was about 70m in with the entire machine almost completely underground. The video below from the TBM’s facebook page from just before Christmas showing some of the progress

Also part of the Western Ring Route is the works along SH16 and anyone who has travelled on the motorway in recent months will have seen just how much work is going on. The motorway is almost a constant work-site from east of Carrington Rd through to west of Lincoln Rd. The one patch that isn’t – Te Atatu interchange – will likely start construction in 2014 while we will probably see work beginning on the St Lukes Rd interchange soon too.

Puhoi to Wellsford

Over 2013 we’ve seen the work on the Puhoi to Warkworth section advance culminating in the project being lodged with the Environmental Protection Agency late this year as the NZTA tries to obtain the designation. One of the funniest things I found about this is that despite all of the talk that the project was needed as a lifeline to Northland – all of the supporting documents effectively confirmed that the major traffic issues only really occurred at Holiday times (when many businesses are shut down anyway). We also found out this year the project will almost certainly be built by way of a PPP. There are different forms of PPP and not all are necessarily bad however the way this road (and others like it) will be built will see us paying huge ongoing sums to the private funders with little to no risk for them as they will be paid providing the road is open.

P2W Monthly Traffic Volumes

By contrast to the Puhoi to Warkworth section, there has been a deafening silence on Warkworth to Wellsford section. The last we heard the engineers were still unable to find a viable route for an expressway standard road. At this stage I would be quite surprised if it ever happened as originally envisioned and an operation lifesaver type solution is probably more likely – perhaps extending that kind of upgrade further north to Whangarei.

Other RoNS

We’ve seen work continue on the other RoNS projects. In Wellington Transmission Gully is being pushed ahead despite performing poorly in economic assessments. It will be the first project to use the PPP model that will also be used on Puhoi to Warkworth and it is expected the NZTA will announce the outcome of the process in early 2014. Recently we’ve also seen more about the NZTA’s attempt to get approval to build a flyover around the Basin Reserve. An independent review highlighted a number of issues with how the preferred solution was chosen.

Much more quietly work has continued on the RoNS projects in Tauranga, the Waitako and Christchurch.

Government motorway package

In June alongside the announcement that they will support the CRL, the government also announced an entire package of other road projects for Auckland, some that saw motorway projects previously planned for 20-30 years-time brought forward. Like with all big road transport projects these days there are actually some useful projects in the mix but they invariably get lumped in with some real dogs

Govt Transport Projects

The first of the projects to come out of this fast tracked list of projects was officially kicked off a few weeks ago and will see an extra land added northbound between Upper Harbour Highway and Greville Rd. It is one of those projects that is actually worthwhile but some of the other parts proposed in the area including full motorway to motorway ramps fall into the overkill category.

We are likely to hear a lot more about the progress of these various projects in the coming year.

East-West Link

One of the projects on the fast tracked list that has had a lot of attention, especially in the last few months has been the East-West Link. This has been another excellent example of there definitely being an issue that needs to be addressed but with some of the solutions being equivalent to trying to smash a nut with a sledgehammer (or something even larger). Auckland Transport came up with four different options with the worst by far being Option 4 which would have seen a motorway rammed through the suburbs of Mangere at a cost of many hundreds of homes. AT were planning on going to public consultation on the idea in the middle of 2014 – after the time when it was planned they would go to the government for funding for the project.

East-West Option 4

Thankfully due to public pressure Auckland Transport backed down and has now agreed to talk to and work with the local communities that are affected, not just the business communities like they had been doing. I would expect the East-West Link to be fairly prominent over the coming year.

Funding – Consensus building group

Of course paying for the massive wish-list of transport projects is going to be a difficult thing – unless we change the wish-list. To try and work out how we might do a Consensus Building Group was set up by the Mayor. The idea was to get representatives from different parts of society – including various business and advocacy groups – to sit down and work through the various funding options. The ended up on the conclusion that the below two options were the best ones but that option two would probably be better at managing travel demand. It was also the option overwhelmingly supported in the public consultation.

CBG options

In my opinion the process was fairly flawed as the CBG members were required to work off the assumption that the list of projects was not able to be changed to get the best outcomes, even if some of the options may have made some projects unnecessary e.g. if road pricing reduced travel demand then some of the roading projects might not be needed therefore reducing the overall amount we need to raise.

Other

Like with the PT projects, we’ve also seen a range of smaller things going on:

  • Work on Tiverton-Wolverton has continued and should hopefully be finished fairly soon (it’s looking fairly advanced already).
  • AMETI has been quietly progressed, the primary focus has been on the new road alongside the rail line however next year I expect we will start to see work in other areas – for example I hear the Reeves Rd flyover will be fast-tracked
  • Late this year we saw plans from AT for a massive upgrade and widening of Lincoln Rd. It’s a project I’m mixed about it, the road is a nightmare and needs improvement however some aspects are insane like intersections over 9 lanes in width.
  • Penlink has once again risen on the agenda after being silent for almost three years. AT is apparently trying to hook the project into the same PPP as will be used for Puhoi to Warkworth.
  • I don’t know if it’s just my perception but though-out 2013 there seemed to be a lot more crashes on motorways that ended up causing massive system wide meltdowns.
  • A potentially $600m+ bridge between Weymouth and Karaka popped up during unitary plan discussions but was thankfully rubbed out with greenfield development being focussed around the rail line negating the need for it

Anything I miss?

Economic benefits of sustainable streets

Courtesy of Atlantic Cities, it’s explained how New York City’s Department of Transportation has done some pretty detailed analysis of the economic impacts of many of the changes they’ve been making to the layout of streets over the past few years.

Using tax data from the New York City Department of Finance, the DOT analyzed the impact of street re-design and transportation enhancements on retail businesses. Laid out in “The Economic Benefits of Sustainable Streets” [PDF], the data show encouraging results in seven test cases taken from three of the city’s boroughs, representing a wide range of neighborhood types.

The DOT compared sites where a variety of improvements had been implemented by the DOT to spots nearby and with the borough as a whole.

Overall, the numbers revealed broad economic benefits for the streets that had been changed. One example was Columbus Avenue, a busy shopping boulevard on the city’s affluent Upper West Side. There, the DOT had built a protected bike lane and pedestrian safety islands while narrowing travel lanes for motor vehicles. According to the tax data, revenue was up 20 percent over the baseline in the second year after bike lanes were implemented in the area.

In the comparison area immediately to the south without bike lanes, revenue was up 9 percent. The results are particularly interesting because a handful of vocal shopkeepers in the affected area had reported sales were down, leading to media reports that the lanes were bad for business.

This wasn’t just an isolated case either:

Another test case was the Hub, a congested and chaotic intersection in a working-class neighborhood of the South Bronx, where several subway and bus lines come together. DOT’s main improvements here were changing traffic patterns and improving transit connections, along with better pedestrian signals, crosswalks and shade trees.

Retail sales were up 50 percent by the end of the study period, compared with 18 percent in the borough as a whole, “all while area injuries were reduced and vehicle travel times and volumes were maintained.”

And even where parking was removed to improve bus reliability and travel times, there was also an improvement of economic activity:

On Fordham Road in the Bronx, where the implementation of a “Select Bus Service” express route and dedicated bus lane raised concerns among local merchants about lost parking spaces, sales increased 71 percent over the baseline, far better than the numbers for all but one of the comparison areas.

The DOT report acknowledges that it’s difficult to tease out all the different factors that contribute to a street’s economic health. In at least one of the test areas, a beautified Vanderbilt Avenue, overall gentrification – with all of its collateral damage to less affluent residents and business owners — was doubtless a contributor to a steep rise in sales numbers. But the NYC DOT’s data-driven approach is as valuable when it comes to money as it is when it comes to safety.

Business owners in a tough economy are often wary of any kind of change, especially when it reduces parking or changes their customers’ travel patterns in any way. Numbers like these provide yet another powerful rational argument for street design that puts people above cars.

This last point is key (and perhaps some business owners are starting to realise the value of high quality pedestrian environments). Changes to street layout that puts people above cars provides a valuable economic return – over and above what is often expected by business owners and the organisations that often represent them.

We’ve seen the same change happen in Auckland, with the introduction of a shared space in Fort Street leading to massive increases in sales and economic performance of the area. Conversely, High Street seems to be in terminal decline because retailers there have hung onto their pitiful on-street parking and the terribly narrow footpaths it creates, fighting attempts at creating a shared space.