May 23, 2014 Urban design
Better for people, better for cars, better for bikes, better for freight. Easy? Well, it’s not as hard as you might think.
New and old, above: one of the old diesel locomotives passes beneath the new Point Resolution footbridge connecting Tamaki drive with the Parnell Baths. The bridge is an impressive symbol of a commitment to pedestrian pleasure. It’s also an example of how the council eschews cheap options and will spend either a lot of money or none at all.
Photos: Patrick Reynolds
It’s getting good. Integrated ticketing is here and it works. Electric trains were due to start the week this issue went on sale. A radically reinvented bus network will soon be introduced. And even before the impact of all that, train patronage jumped from 2.5 million trips in 2003 to 11 million trips last year.
Something’s up, for sure. Transforming the culture of how we move around this city is not an end in itself, but a means to the end of making the city a better place in which to live. The job’s not done, but the platform on which to do it is getting stronger.
The job’s not done, because there’s so much more to do.
Is it too hard? Is it not what Aucklanders want anyway? The model is New York. The city of yellow cabs has spent much of the past decade becoming a city of people — and if New York can become a great modern city, why would it be too hard here?
New York’s immensely influential former Commissioner of Transportation Janette Sadik-Khan visits this month. Here are 20 ideas for our city, inspired by what she did for hers.
Establish first principles
1 / Find our own champion
Who runs transport in Auckland? Who’s driving change, making things happen? There isn’t anyone, because the job doesn’t exist. The consensus on New York is that the single biggest reason for its success is that Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed a transport leader determined to make change, and gave her the power to do it.
The model is foreign to New Zealand: we don’t often ask that sort of thing of our public servants. Sometimes, though, we do. Roger Sutton was asked to be Christchurch’s champion after the earthquakes. We need a Sutton for Auckland. A Sadik-Khan of our own.
Of course, we also need a Bloomberg. A mayor, supported by central government, who will enable a transport czar to strut their stuff. That’s you, Len. Time to muscle up.
2 / No more “neutrality”
The mayor and the government both like to say their policies support all options: private cars, public transport in all its forms, bikes and walking. It sounds balanced and fair, but the reality is that the policy favours private vehicles at the expense of all other options.
To truly vitalise public transport, you have to stop making private motor vehicle use so attractive. To make bike riding a genuinely viable option, you have to prevent cars making bike riding so dangerous.
3 / It’s about land, not traffic
Transport policy is about land use. Creating public spaces, and deciding how different parts of the city should be used. Sadik-Khan used to call herself “basically the largest real-estate developer in New York City”, because public transport networks increase land value, especially around stations and terminals.
Transport plans should follow decisions on how to use the land, not determine them. That got forgotten last year when Auckland Transport (AT) proposed another motorway through the middle of Mangere.
4 / Stop dithering and stop spending money too
The slogan should be “fast, temporary and everywhere”. In Auckland, every street transformation costs millions of dollars and happens only after endless public consultation. Yes, we need that consultation. But in New York’s Times Square, they began the change by closing traffic lanes with a few bollards and setting out cafe furniture bought from local shops.
If it doesn’t work, not much is lost. But if it does, you can build on it. AT could start right now, without spending anything on new paving or kerb realignment or major tree planting (all that stuff can come later), on the long-term plan to turn Victoria St into a pedestrian-friendly boulevard.
Reinvent the public transport offer
5 / Give the power to young women
It’s commonly said that for public transport to be successful, it has to be safe, reliable, affordable and cool. The best test of that is single young women: if they’re prepared to stand on a platform waiting for a train, everyone will be.
There should be a very powerful advisory group, dominated by young women, telling AT how to make that possible.
6 / Make it cool
If car ads can sell the idea that a long journey with the family is a time of happiness and relaxation, bus and train ads should be able to sell themselves as anything they want. Auckland public transport ads sell convenience, which is fine to a degree, but they should also be selling sexy.
How about focusing on the Link Bus services? Make them the fastest, cheapest, easiest way to get around town, and more than that, get the marketers to sell them as if they are the coolest new restaurant in town. The place to see and be seen. Riding the Link: your way to register support for the modernisation of Auckland.
For different markets, cool means different things. Make biking the new golf. Make biking so popular it becomes safe so you don’t have to wear high vis.
7 / Add lots more services
If you live on the Western Line — for example — you probably know the evening service runs once an hour. That’s like saying, “Don’t bother to travel with us, because we’re going to leave you waiting forever on a cold and lonely platform.”
Add more services and you will get more customers.
8 / Incentivise commuters not to drive
At the gym across the road from my office, they offer corporate discounts to staff of large companies in the vicinity. That’s private enterprise working out how to build a market, and no one thinks it’s odd.
Why isn’t AT doing the same sort of thing with its AT Hop cards? Why isn’t the council incentivising companies to reduce staff carparks and offer AT Hop card concessions instead?
Take some big steps now
9 / Use events to trial big ideas
Auckland has got awfully fond of patting itself on the back as an events city. But mostly, public planning for major events is about functionality and little else.
Next time there’s a weekend with an Auckland Nines, an Eminem concert and the Lantern Festival all on together, why not take the chance — with food stalls, art shows, entertainments and everything else people can think of — to close some streets, set up shuttles and have a party?
Next Anniversary Weekend, why not turn Quay St and the finger wharves into public space for viewing events on the water? Next March during the arts festival, why not close a block or two of Queen St?
Currently, for major rugby games, public transport to Eden Park is free to anyone with a game ticket, because the rugby union subsidises the travel. But when Eden Park was filled for the one-day cricket against India, there weren’t any free trips or even any extra services. That’s absurd.
10 / Reorganise road use
Many of Auckland’s arterial routes are wide and run along ridges: think Jervois Rd, Great North Rd, Kepa Rd… They’re the routes most obviously ripe for transformation; they rank high in public consciousness and could be exemplars for a new way of setting out the roads. Green Lane would be good too.
And what would that “new way” entail? In essence, separating road users. The European model awaits adoption: at the edge, a footpath, then a physically divided bike lane, then car parking, then motor traffic, then a central bus lane (which over time would become light rail or tram). Footbridges and pedestrian crossings connect the footpaths to the rail stops.
11 / Build the skypath
The proposed clip-on walking and biking undercarriage for the harbour bridge has been vigorously opposed by the Westhaven Users Association and some residents in Northcote Pt and St Marys Bay, worried that people will drive to the bridge, park in their suburbs and walk or bike across. Yet that’s so easy to avoid, with resident-only parking zones.
The SkyPath will have an enormous impact for the better on this city, and it’s astonishing how little progress has been made.
12 / Promote walking
Done the coast-to-coast yet? That’s Waitemata to Manukau, via the volcanic cones. What a great day out.
How about Rangitoto? Shakespear Regional Park? The remarkably serene Hunua Ranges? Parts or even all of the Hillary Trail connecting the west coast beaches? Stony Batter on Waiheke? And what about the ring around the Waitemata, from Long Bay down to Devonport and Westhaven around to St Heliers? (That SkyPath would help.)
There’s nothing to stop anyone doing this now, but why don’t a bunch of entrepreneurial cafes and food trucks incentivise us to get going? The more we walk, the more we’ll want to walk. And can you think of a more beautiful city to do it in?
13 / Make it more beautiful
More planting please, more quick and dirty art, more simple visual design solutions. The circles under the motorway at Victoria Park ameliorate an ugly corner, but only a little. What they really do is highlight that someone knew there was a problem but only did a little bit to fix it. It’s just paint: why not knock yourself out?
Take some more big steps soon
14 / Change the economic models
You hear it a lot: public transport projects like the underground City Rail Link (CRL) don’t stack up, costwise. It’s no surprise, given some of the ways economic impacts are assessed.
One example: land above the cut-and-cover CRL has to be bought, which is a cost; but it will later be sold, almost certainly at a healthy profit given its proximity to the rail route, and yet by law that prospective income cannot be shown as revenue.
Another example: rail commuters save road users time and therefore money. That’s not factored into anything either.
And why not use rates and taxes on land near public transport corridors and nodes to fund the development of those routes? Building owners near the CRL’s proposed Newton station at the top of New North Rd, for example, will see their property gain immeasurably in value once that station is operating. It’s perfectly reasonable they should help fund the development.
15 / Introduce congestion charges
You can’t get around this one, or the next. With a good public transport system in place, and good biking and walking options, there should be a cost on taking a vehicle into congested areas at busy times. The central city is the usual candidate for such a proposal, but what about, ahem, Epsom? How much safer, freer and more enjoyable would the streets in our densest school zone be if most of the urban tractors disappeared?
16 / Change the carparks strategy
Carpark buildings belong around the central city, not in it. The council’s recent decision to allow the old Auckland Star site between Shortland St and Fort St to become a parking building is a travesty of its own plans.
And while we’re about it, let’s stop listening to inner-city retailers who believe their customers need to park outside their shops or they will go to suburban malls instead. They make no sense at all. High St shoppers like the experience of shopping in a high street, which is made worse, not better, by cars clogging it up. Besides, when you go to a mall, you don’t park anywhere near the shops. Everyone already gets that shopping involves some walking.
17 / Teach engineers some different things
In the 1970s, traffic engineers learned that road use grew by 10 per cent a year. That growth has gone, but has the thinking?
18 / Adopt the other plan
As Auckland Council, Auckland Transport (AT), the NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) and the government all wrestle with the mind-numbing costs of transport development, let’s not forget that a substantially cheaper plan for Auckland already exists.
The Congestion Free Network sets out a 15-year programme to enable Aucklanders from Silverdale to Botany, Kumeu to Pukekohe to “move across the city at speed”, using rail, bus and ferry services that run at least every 10 minutes. And it will be 27 per cent cheaper than the official Integrated Transport Plan, even according to published AT and NZTA figures — and that plan will achieve far less over the same period.
What’s the catch? There isn’t one, unless you believe that anything dreamed up by the public transport lobbyists at Auckland Transport Blog and Generation Zero must be inherently flawed. But there’s no reason to think that.
19 / Streamline the planning
There are too many organisations involved in planning Auckland transport, and some major disconnects between central and local authorities and between Auckland Transport (which answers to both) and the council. We created a supposedly streamlined supercity to get over problems like this. The same thinking now needs to be applied to transport.
20 / Beg, borrow or steal Janette Sadik-Khan
Janette Sadik-Khan still works for Michael Bloomberg: he’s set her up to advise other American cities how they might introduce New York-style reforms. She’s for hire. Auckland should hire her. A year? Six months? Hell, three months and a Queenstown ski pass should do it, eh?