My last post compared a roundabout in the Netherlands to a similar roundabout in Auckland. I noted how relatively simple design choices in the Netherlands seemed to have a relatively large impact (in my opinion) on pedestrian amenity, with minimal impacts on drivers. In the Netherlands, deliberate geometric decisions, such as narrower lanes and shorten turning radii, were used to reduce vehicles speeds and improve safety/amenity.

Astounded is the only word I can use to describe the level of interest and emotion stirred up by this post. It was intended as a puff piece, a bit of a carb-loaded filler, rather than the main transport course. But chow down people did, and in the process they threw up some insightful/colourful discussion. This lead me to some of the other examples of interesting Dutch intersections, like the “square-a-bout” shown below.

Here we have an intersection of 7 roads, where the two major traffic streams are off-set (bottom right and top left). There’s a lot going here but from what I can tell a full range of vehicle, pedestrian, and cycle movements are catered for nonetheless. There’s even a diagonal pedestrian crossing across the centre island (which has been turned into a park), a bus/tram lane running around the centre lane, and on-street parking provided on two sides – where the latter are accessed from the circulating lane. While I’m sure this is a chaotic, untidy intersection sometimes – it seems to provide a lot in what is a very constrained space.

Note that the squareabout is about 70m by 70m. To put this achievement in context, this is the same areas as Auckland’s favourite roundabout … Panmure!

Now before all the traffic engineers start hitting me with their hard hats, let me first acknowledge the following caveats:

  1. I’m not suggesting we turn Panmure into a squareabout.
  2. I’m aware that the Panmure roundabout probably handles more vehicle traffic than the “squareabout”.
  3. I agree that vehicles are the dominant mode at Panmure and should have priority.

Notwithstanding these caveats there are some lessons to draw from these comparisons of complex intersections in the Netherlands and New Zealand. The first is that in Auckland when things get complex our solution is to downgrade the needs of pedestrians to that of the dung beetle, i.e. you’re free to do what you want (even roll in kaka) but make sure you keep out of the way.

The squareabout is, I think, a useful example of how transport planners in the Netherlands approach complex urban environments; they’re not willing to sacrifice non-motorised modes at the altar of convenience. Indeed, when confronted with complex urban environments, transport planners in the Netherlands appear to get out their ultimate weapon: Techniques that are deliberately designed to slow vehicles down. If time is what’s needed to make a complex intersection safer then BY GOD that’s what will happen. It’s the same sort of thinking that underpins Auckland’s shared streets, although writ large across a wider area (and to varying degrees of pedestrian priority).

Many people interpreted my last post as a criticism of Auckland, when I intended it as an observation of how we could look at and learn from what’s done overseas . Some of these same people might now claim that the Panmure roundabout is a poor example, because it was built so long ago; the “bad old days” of traffic engineering practices have been done away with – all we need to do is sit back, calm down, and give engineers loads of money so that they can put everything right. And then I jumped on Google Earth and took a look at this bad boy …

Behold progress! In the immortal words of mortal kombat, “FATALITY!” For pedestrians at least. A tad melodramatic? Guilty as charged sir. Too negative? Innocent until I see something positive, sir. Albany is shaping up to be, well, shapeless as far as I can tell. Not a good recent project for Auckland to have on its CV …

Now, I will acknowledge that Albany’s not all bad. It has a nice tussock-ringed bus station and a pleasant view to the forested ridgeline to the north. Civic Crescent is coming along well, with some nice bus shelters and pedestrian facilities creating a sense of place. Ooo la la. But one has to ask: Which engineering company designed the “earbud” roundabout approaching the south side of the mall? I’m only half joking when I suggest that maybe, just maybe, it’s time for them to hang up their slide rules. Or export themselves.

Their efforts are not completely wasted; this will be very useful in my presentations to clients of “what not to do.” Hmmm … I wonder if that counts as finishing on a positive note?

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51 comments

      1. Note the last sentence of the Wikipedia article on this “an excellent safety record, since traffic moves too slowly to do serious damage in the event of a collision.”

    1. I would trade all the Roundabouts in the Netherlands to have Roundabout in NZ with tramtracks (real not touristy) running through the middle!

  1. Westgate also looks to be heading down the same path. In the illustrations they use they might chuck in a few people and they may bandy around a few pedestrian friendly words but the area looks ultimately for cars. Ultimately it is because you can’t get there without a car. Few tranpsort links, few houses around. From the last look they didn’t even have a transport hub. Future proofed in no way.

  2. Coming from the Netherlands myself, I must say that traffic engineers seem to always have a focus on providing facilities for all road users, not just cars or cyclists. This has not always been the case though. For example, the “Vismarkt” in Groningen. This used to be a big carpark: https://p.twimg.com/AdychSWCMAEwMnO.jpg
    Currently this is a car-free urban square where the farmers market is held three times a week: http://goo.gl/maps/05wsn
    Mind you, the roads you see on Google maps are not open to general traffic, they are only accessible to taxi’s, emergency services, delivery vehicles for the markets and of course bicycles.
    The city centre has thrived ever since the traffic circulation through the middle of the centre has been banned. I am not saying we should do this in Auckland, all I am saying is that while it may look like The Netherlands has always been a cycling heaven, this is clearly not the case. It is possible for cities to turn the tide and start valuing cyclists and pedestrians as well as cars.

    1. As we see from our shared spaces, some of the City Centre Masterplan proposals, AMETI and other projects, we have a budding of that kind of more attractive Auckland. But in-between, we also still build a lot of stuff like Lunn Ave and so on, which turns the area into traffic hell without little mitigation or provision for other users.

    2. Thanks Lennart. Great examples. And you’re right on with respect to how the Dutch transport engineering culture has changed from one that was roads dominated (like here) to being more people focused. This theme also comes through in this video of “how the Dutch got their cycle paths” – which is compulsory viewing! http://youtu.be/XuBdf9jYj7o

      1. Great video that. Of note is the fact that the transformation didn’t even start to happen that long ago, well not in my time span anyway :-). There is still hope for Auckland (NZ? Maybe that’s going too far?) yet and based on some of the projects happening around the place we have started.

  3. If you think the City’s planners are turning away from being car-focused then a look at those Westgate renders will show you otherwise.

    The amount of cars driving in the “town center” in the images are, quite frankly, appalling. Its the very first thing I noticed.

    Only in NZ, surely….

    1. Westgate is my favourite choice at the moment to point out mistakes that are being perpetuated time and time again. As I wrote the other day, there will not even be an off-road link between the current Westgate mall and the new one. It is designed to be driven to, much like getting across from Botany mall to the big block of shops across the road over 6 (or more?) lanes. Would love to have a chat with the person who thought that was a genius idea.

      1. Where are some recent plans of Westgate? It might be useful to do a bit of a critique of them…

        .. another Guest Post idea for me.

  4. My favourite part of that picture is the footpath on the left side of the ‘earplug’. Note how it just stops in the middle of nowhere. And then there is the main walkway out of the mall which ends pretty much at the earplug and forces people to somehow walk around it all to find another way forward (which they can’t easily see because that area is below the earplug and there are plantings).

    There was a project started by the NSCC to improve walking links around Albany in 2010. Not sure where it went post super-city. Certainly it is hard to undo the damage wrought by these roading designs but there was at least some impetus to do it.

    1. The managed to get in a signalised crossing of Don McKinnon. Previous to that it was simply impossible to cross from the supercentre side to the mall side without running across a divided multi lane arterial and trudging over the grass. Like no zebra crossing, not even a pram ramp.

      1. That’s not there on the 2006 aerial photo of the area and construction of the mall appears to have started. The worst thing about that is if you look on either side of the crossing the route dog legs before making you walk through a carpark. The footpath actually stops in the middle of the Pak N Save carpark.

    2. Yes well-spotted Axio. Those two issues jumped out at me as well – the footpath to nowhere, and the entrance to the mall that is blocked by the “ear-plug”. I hope that project to improve pedestrian linkages is re-invigorated. After all, if we can’t get it right in our newest town centres (i.e. Albany and Westgate) what hope do we have?

    3. Why wasn’t Albany just built as a grid of fairly narrow streets like most traditional town centres? Seems like it was designed by a traffic engineer.

  5. Difference between the Albany roundabout and the Panmure one is that Panmure is smack in the middle of a residential/light-commercial area with buildings constructed right to the intersections of the feeder roads. That Albany monstrosity is not only enormous it’s also buffered from all surrounding buildings so its occupied space is dramatically greater. It also encourages much higher traffic speeds. It’s hostile to all forms of perambulation that aren’t automotive, whereas Panmure is just unpleasant if you’re a cyclist or pedestrian.

      1. The ‘fix’ for Panmure is re-arranging all the roads at great cost etc. I wonder why traffic lights were not tried on the entrances of the existing roundabout. This is a tactic that is used often in the UK but for some reason has not been used on a permanent basis in NZ.

  6. @KLK. You said “Only in NZ, surely….” Dunno, from what I’ve seen, lots of California is designed on similar principles… at least the newer parts

  7. Albany… Pedestrians…does not compute.

    Had the pleasure of driving through that ‘earbud’ today and it’s horrible even for drivers. The whole area is a complete over-engineered mess of roads, slip lanes and one-way rat runs to nowhere.

    My favourite however is the sheep track that the NEX users have trampled out for themselves: http://goo.gl/maps/8HrKA
    It’s DIY pedestrian amenities here. Just bring your gumboots in winter.

    1. That’s hilarious… that Desire Line is the only sign of intelligent life in the whole image; otherwise it’s 100% machine-ville. Do we work for cars or are they there to help us….? The machines have won and we are their slaves…… clearly.

      1. Ahaha hahha hah aha – what a wonderful image, and very funny interpretation Patrick. You’re a slave – to the vino.

        1. It’s true, I do like a drink, but in vino veritas: Seriously, it is clear that while cars are extremely useful it is a mistake to give our entire world over to them and we have. The shape of the built environment is entirely driven [excuse the pun] by their needs not ours. And this leads to a very poor outcome- an unpleasant and underperforming place to be, as a human. We all know this; why else do we all idealise those cities built before the car became dominant, Paris, Barcelona, Venice, Manhattan, or Oxford?

          Auto-dominace is in overshoot in many OECD countries to borrow an idea from biology, and it just needs winding back a ways. Places like Albany are extreme and will not thrive until they become better suited for people as well as cars. It will remain undeveloped as it is now.

          Anyway check this out, it explains why the developing countries will be able to outbid us for oil, which will make the Albanys of our city even less viable:

          http://www.theoildrum.com/node/9386#more

  8. That’s awesome from an urban evolution standpoint. Afraid that the Homo Sapien Albanian wont survive the next era however.

    1. The proposals put forward seem good, though:

      “Slowing down traffic to 20kmh through Willis and Manners streets
      Introducing street furniture such as benches to create safer crossing areas
      Making buses easier to see
      Reducing the waiting times at lights
      Using social media campaigns to encourage safer crossing behaviours
      Red light cameras
      Training bus drivers to leave larger gaps between vehicles.’

      I don’t see anything to complain about there, though it might depend on the contents of the social media campaigns. I presume the reduced waiting times at lights are for pedestrians.

      1. Why not have barriers placed at an angle to the road that force pedestrians to face toward oncoming traffic before crossing the road?

        1. I imagine that would be difficult to arrange, since they’d have to be at head height to be effective. And it might give car drivers the sense that the pedestrians have more duty of care than they do.

      2. It has been open season on pedestrians and their behaviour (j-walking) this week in Wgtn.
        I read that the pedestrian wait time is to be reduced to 40secs !!! That’s a long time to stand in the rain and wind.

  9. I wonder why the ped. crossing in the Dutch roundabout only goes in one direction? If the roads in the top left and bottom right are the major ones, it would seem intuitive to connect them with a pedestrian crossing as well.

  10. Would love if someone who designed some of these disasters came on and explained themselves on the site. I asked someone at AT why they built 3 confusing roundabouts to get off the new SH 20 to go to Kumeu. They said the budget wasn’t there to do otherwise. I guess its the same with developers, the cheapest road solution.

    1. To be fair to Tauranga, at least that’s at a major state highway junction – and one which will eventually be grade-separated, judging by its layout, so slightly more understandable that vehicles are given some priority. But still looks like pedestrians were considered a nuisance rather than a valid transport mode.

        1. That is the type of control I was referring to. I have only seen it used for temporary roundabouts at motorway upgrade works in Ak. In the Tauranga version there is two levels of control ie on the entry and around the roundabout. In the Tauranga pedestrians appear well catered for with an underpass and crossings across the centre island. With this level of control there should be advantages for pedestrians and vehicles alike.

  11. St Lukes in Morningside/Mt Albert is a good one: http://goo.gl/maps/LjY0U (although not as bad as Albany, not by a long way). The south side of the road is big box retail with Warehouse, JB HiFi, Toy Co, Noel Leeming etc. There is a pedestrian crossing to get from the mall to those shops (woohoo), but the lights are phased so that if you obey the signals you can only get to the central island while they are green! Every time I use them even with my kids, we run so that we can make the crossing without getting mown down. Not a good lesson in road safety, but life’s too short to wait for those lights twice. The real mystery of this spot is the purpose of the slip roads from St Lukes Rd to Wegener Place. This is practically a motorway junction in a heavily populated urban neighbourhood. At least noone lives in those Albany monstrosities.

    It would be interesting to build a ‘pedestrian obstacle course’ map of Auckland. I suspect that for all but the most dedicated Auckland pedestrians the city is an archipelago of disconnected islands, separated from one another by needlessly obstructive roading.

  12. One thing I don’t understand is why grid systems are almost always aligned North/South East/West. This is a terrible idea. Personally I think they should be aligned North West/South East North East/South West. This would mean that all houses in the street would have at least either the back or the front of the house aligned in a vaguely northerly direction and would get full sun either during the morning or afternoon on one side. The sides of houses usually have little space between them and the next house which leads to shading and poor sunlight into living areas. It would also reduce sunstrike for drivers as the sun rises or sets along an East/West axis.

  13. A favourite for me to complain about too. Oneday i thought i’d walk from Albany mall, over the road to another shop, i ended up walking over grass, hopping through a garden, hitting a fence in the medium strip and dodging cars which seem to always push 60kms. It is soooooo poorly designed, that experience made me realise it would have been easier to get in my car and drive over the road. What a sad state of affairs, what sort of society are we going to shape with such a car dependant/anti-pedestrian urban design.

  14. That Albany roundabout “ear-plug” thing is a shocker for padestrians. I occasionally walk to the mall and trying to cross there to enter Westgate is literally “run-for-your life”. In fact trying to cross anywhere around the area is terrible.

  15. As one who has watched these issues for many years but never worked in planning professions, I am curious: Who, in detail, is responsible for the Albany eyedropper and similar monstrosities?

    Who designed it? A road authority? a local council engineer? A property developer in conjunction with a nearby development?

    What standards or principles were they using? There must be mandated design standards for all sorts of things to do with road construction (curves, gradients, camber, pavement depth etc). Where are the mandated standards to do with pedestrian amenity? Who is responsible for writing them? Where can we view them so we can judge whether this particular design followed them?

    Was there a legal approver different from the designer? Who was that? Someone in a council planning department? What guidelines were they using in deciding whether the design was acceptable? Where can we view the guidelines?

    Who should get more stick? The designer? The person or body that approved the design? Or a body that should be responsible for setting standards, but clearly has not done so adequately?

    1. ummmm….WOW!

      This shows how the Dutch ‘sustainably safe’ transport plan works.

      “Now why did this have to change? It had cycle paths and there were traffic lights to control the flow of traffic. But to the Dutch that is not safe enough anymore. Yes, there was separation, but at the places of crossing motorized traffic and cyclists were only separated in time and not in place.”

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