“One of our greatest innovations is our ability to move quickly. The normal capital construction program takes about five years. But we’ve been able to transform city streets virtually overnight. You can literally paint the city you want to see. You can do it with two traffic cones, a can of paint, and stone planters.” JSK BusinessWeek.

Related to the evolving #pieceofcake project, this is a bit of an inspirational detour. Over the holidays I did some research on the work that New York City has done over the last few years under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership. Spearheading the initiative is the  highly quotable Tranportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn.

“It’s not only a safety project, it’s not only a livability project, it’s an economic development project”- JSK 

Regular readers are likley familiar with the ambitious work that has been conducted to return the streets back to the people including re-purposing street right-of-way for plazas, adding separated bike facilities and sponsoring “open streets” events like – Summer Streets. For every Madison Square and Broadway Street there has been about a dozen less complicated interventions designed to re-allocate pubic space for both better mobility and public realm improvements. These programs are developed from a highly organised system where city staff are engaged to develop innovative designs and implement them outside the traditional planning/construction delivery time frames.

Particularly inspiring is the use of inexpensive materials to test designs and to create as Randy Wade, Group Director, NYCDOC Pedestrian Projects  calls, “ a 3D environmental impact report” one that can be evaluated and tweaked on site, or even dismantled if necesarry. As part of the program the City has developed a toolbox of materials used to re-gain public space including textured paint, ‘flexible delineators’, salvaged granite blocks, planter boxes, and my favourite- bell bollards used in combination with raised concrete islands to further protect pedestrians from vehicles. The City often enlists local sponsors (i.e. business groups) to maintain the spaces.

Here are some examples of projects that may be relevant to Auckland. Note the simple materials and solutions- many of which were installed overnight.

Street Before (Source: NYCDOT)
Water + Whitehall Streets Before (Source: NYCDOT)
Street After (Source: NYCDOT)
Water + Whitehgall Street After (Source: NYCDOT)
Street Before (Source: NYCDOT)
Schermerhorn Street Before (Source: NYCDOT)
Street After (Source: NYCDOT)
Schermerhorn Street After (Source: NYCDOT)
Union Square Street Before (Source: NYCDOT)
Street After (Source: NYCDOT)
Union Square Street After (Source: NYCDOT)

For the bean counters here is a comprehensive report on the mobility efficiencies, safety and economic benefits of these projects (PDF).

Here are a couple of intersections in Auckland that have been identified in the #pieceofcake project thus far. How hard would it be to reclaim some of this space for better use? What would they do in New York?

Victoria Street before
Victoria Street before
K Rd / Queen St Before
K Rd / Queen St Before
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  1. The first thing they would probably do is get rid of those insidious free left turns although admittedly the K Rd. Queen st one might be difficult without works to the islands to reduce the angle a little bit. Secondly, and you see this across America, pedestrian crossings would be painted, our current road code might not allow for zebra crossings but we can obviously paint them a different colour to make them stand out. I really like the red crossing on Victoria St at the end of Elliot St.

    The intersection of Drake and Vernon St would likely have its number of potential movements reduced which could free up much of the space taken up by those slip lanes on and off Wellesley St.

  2. As far as value for money goes, a few planter boxes and paint beats spending $10-$12 million. I reckon parts of Ponsonby Rd, and sections of the main streets of Mangere Bridge, Otahuhu and Onehunga could all benefit from such urban-quality improving improvements.

  3. Lots of randomly oversized bits of roadspace which could be put to a better purpose. Doing something about the Sale/Wellesley intersection could create a whole heap of extra space which could perhaps be linked in with the Sale Street bar?

  4. This is a fantastic post and I’m surprised that more comments have not been left. Funny enough, I was talking about this with some people on Friday night and the reaction was “why are we not doing it?”. Why is there this constant need to ‘gold plate’ every piece of city infrastructure? The transport projects in the Auckland Plan (out to 2041) add up to $70B of which only $60B is able to be funded in the plan. This leaves a $10B shortfall that council is looking at ideas on how to fund it. The split on funding for projects is 70% Roads / 29% PT and 0.8% Cycling-Walking. I say we look at ways of removing the need to fund the extra $10B. Apart from the obvious, which is cutting back the road spend, we could start with ideas gleaned from NY on how to reduce the costs associated with the projects above. Instead of looking at the 100% solutions, we should be looking at the 90% solutions which invariably are funded for a significantly reduced budget (not just the 10% difference).

    1. From my point of view, there may be no comments because it is just such a no brainer. All it takes is some political cojones and some reactionary petrol heads to realise that streets are not just for cars. Oh wait, in Auckland that is asking for a hell of a lot.

      Great post.

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