*submissions open till September 16th*   Online form here, plan here, previous post here.

Ponsonby Rd, the heart of my neighbourhood, isn’t bad, but I find it pretty difficult to argue that it is as good as it could be. Local retailers, cafe and restaurant operators, and building owners work hard on what they offer, including the physical qualities of their businesses, but the strip itself is pretty ordinary. The area as a whole is in fact fairy one dimensional, lacking much beyond shopping and dinning, and suffers from a few tricky structural problems. And surely the challenge is to improve the appeal of the area in order to not only compete with other local centres in Auckland but also to put it on the map in the Pacific region as a flagship attractor for the whole city. All of urban Auckland needs to look hard at itself and get more ambitious about what is unique and attractive about each area and work on improvments. How we structure the public realm basically defines the stage on which the performance of commercial and social exchange takes place and therefore has a huge role in forming the quality and tone of the whole city.

P Rd
P Rd

Happily, motivated locals and the Waitemata Local Board have developed a pretty good plan for the way forward, with some fairly gentle ways to build on the good bones of this important ridge and carry them forward to enhance what we know works well for these sorts of places this century. But they need your support. As we have seen with the Unitary Plan fearful voices seem to be the ones that dominate these feedback programmes. And it in particular it appears we can rely on one group; retailers, and especially fashion retailers, to forcefully express a ‘never change anything near my store ever‘ view.

Perhaps being so used to controlling every detail of their businesses gives this group a tendency to demand that the public space beyond their stores be entirely shaped to their interests too. I guess this is understandable in the sense that retail is a place dependent business model so they can feel vulnerable to forces beyond their control that they fear may threaten their income, but of course no single group whether church goers, cyclists, bus users, art lovers, car drivers, or shop owners has the right to control the public realm for their own purposes. And I’m sure even the most panicked shop owner accepts that really. We all pay rates. But even that isn’t the most important issue here.

More interesting is the fact that what retailers often express as being most important in the public realm around their businesses, the things they argue so forcefully for and against, so often just isn’t supported by the evidence. Let’s have a look.

No doubt that the chief area of dispute will be, as ever, around car parking and car privilege on the roads. Ponsonby Rd does serve various important and conflicting purposes around transport that need looking at from all angles, here is the conclusion from an NZTA study to bear in mind as we look at the street as a whole:

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.

Ponsonby Road towards Mackelvie St

Ponsonby Rd is a through route, it’s a destination retail, dining, and socialising area, it’s a residential community, and the main spine for serving the surrounding residential streets, and it’s a locus for cultural activities and events. It has a couple of notable but underused churches. It carries drivers heading somewhere else with no interest in stopping as well as local traffic, it has important bus routes, especially linking it to the City, K’rd, Newmarket, and the North Shore. And, being both destination rich and on a ridge, it is an ideal cycle route. It again has some London Planes that partially replace the full set that both Jervois and Ponsonby Roads had but that were felled when the tram tracks were removed to make even more room for vehicles.

Ponsonby Road in Spring

It is also worth noting what it doesn’t have: no public art galleries, very little public sculpture [except John Radford’s ‘Tip’ in Western Park] no theatres or cinemas, no major music venue [any more], no sports facilities, no rapid transit stations or service. So it has a reputation for cultural vitality that it doesn’t really support in it’s institutions or amenities. It has scattered bits of Victorian and Edwardian building, no visible remnants of Maori occupation, and it faces the edge of one park. Its form is linear, it is very much a street; a spine not a centre. It skirts along parallel to the City Centre as if wary of its gravitational pull. The rhythm of its built occupation is stuttering, there are handsome buildings old and new, some more or less charming shacks [old], and some crimes against place and beauty that never should have been built, largely from the late 20th Century. There are sections where the buildings are regrettably set back from the pavement in order to satisfy stupid parking requirements that give the street face a missing tooth effect.

Ponsonby Rd

It is my view that there is space on Ponsonby Rd for all types of users, but that the quality of the experience there for those out of their cars and participating in the commercial and cultural transactions on the street does need enhancing. In particular that the current auto-dominace needs to be wound back a little. Driving will still remain by far the most dominant force on the street and shaper of place, but by just pulling back a little of its total power Ponsonby Rd can grow into a much better and more attractive place for people. You know, people, those things that shop, eat, drink, and socialise.

The options in the Plan aren’t very extreme in this regard but some of it should make a real difference. Things like:

– raised pedestrian tables at the tops of the side streets to make a unified pedestrian place and to slow and calm turning traffic.

– better pedestrian crossing privilege; Barnes Dances on major intersections.

– bus buildouts so the buses move more efficiently and there become a more attractive option for more users and are less in conflict with other traffic.

– shared spaces at St Mary’s Bay Rd, Pollen St, Mackelvie St. Shared Spaces have been a huge success for retailers in the city where they have been built [Mr Crane is wrong].

– I would add selected restriction on right hand turns from and into some streets, especially Mackelvie St, which causes huge conflict with Richmond Rd intersection traffic and the bus stop on Ponsonby Rd. And this would enhance the top of the unusually wide Mackelvie as an urban space.

– cycle lanes are an absolute must for this ridge route, evidence shows that providing real cycling routes along shopping streets boosts business better than car parking.

Here is the first paragraph of an article based on a Seattle study called, somewhat unambitiously, ‘No, bike lanes don’t hurt retail business‘:

City retailers tend to overestimate the importance of parking to their business. They fail to see the many downsides of free parking (congestion and low shopper turnover, among them). They believe more people arrive at the store by car than actually do. They may not even realize that while driving customers spend more per visit, non-drivers spend as much or more in the long term.

And it concludes with this after looking at yet another study this time in New York:

At best, retailers in a corridor seem to benefit from the change. At worst, they can still count on business as usual.

Still not convinced? Here’s another, this time from LA:

Despite the traditional opposition of local businesses when diets are proposed in front of their stores, McCormick’s case study finds there was little difference in the hyper local economies after a portion of York Boulevard underwent a road diet in 2006.

Those crazy Americans, they don’t love their cars as much as we do, we’re different in NZ, aren’t we? so what does this study from our own very car focused NZTA conclude:

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.


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.

Perhaps it’s just that retailers tend to misunderstand what parking supply actually does to an area. One thing it does is increase driving, and the greater the amount of driving through your shopping area the lower the chances are that it will be a high-quality pedestrian and urban design place. We know what total driving privileged shopping precincts look like because we have been building them for decades. Below is Botany Town Centre, a world made by Traffic Engineers, see if you can find a human in this picture and ask yourself is Botany a celebrated urban place mentioned in all the guide books as a must visit, does it attract visitors to Auckland? Are there high value retail and speciality cafes and restaurants there?


Surely everybody wants to help make Ponsonby Rd as different as possible from places like this, for the sake of the whole city.

The new Vinegar Lane development is delivering 680 new carparks to Ponsonby so removing a few so that cycling can be encouraged will still result in a net gain of over 600 new parking space. There is an argument that taking even more out than is proposed in any of the options in the draft plans should be considered as more parking means more driving and the resultant loss of place quality that vehicles en mass always deliver. And of course removing some parking while building amenity for the other modes is the best way to improve place quality but maintain access and vitality.

There are more interesting opportunities on the strip but in the interests of getting this up before submissions close I’ll deal with them in another post.

*submissions open till September 16th*   Online form here, plan here, previous post here.
Ponsonby Rd in Spring
Ponsonby Rd in Spring
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  1. Great post, Patrick. Cycle Action Auckland has participated in the concepts developed, and while the ideas put forward are pretty good for cycling, we certainly agree that they will be som much better if a few more car parks can be turned into bike lane and footpath space.

    We need lots of submissions in favour, or they will end up only doing cycle lanes in the northernmost third, or only cycle lanes one-way. Which would be seriously weird. 99% of all people don’t rides to one place, and then take another mode on the way back. Write in to make sure this survives to a great outcome!

    1. It’s also worth pointing out that people should definitely support the option provided to have Copenhagen Style lanes, I think managing to get them in on Ponsonby Rd would be a watershed for cycling in Auckland!

      1. Correct – in fact, this is one of my worries. If car parking is given too much emphasis, standard cycle lanes might be the only option that fits, and that would be so much less effective in getting current non-cyclists onto the road. Still a great improvement, but a much more hum-drum scenario.

      2. The ‘Draft Masterplan’ and comments here refer to ‘Copenhagen Lanes’. Copenhagen Lanes have a definite separation between pedestrians and traffic for safety but none of the pictures in the Plan show this. Call me a cynic but I feel cost will be a major factor and cyclists will end up with the ‘green stripes’ and huge safety issues.

        1. The Local Board driving this know very well what a Copenhagen lane is – the artist doing the sketches may have not. Whether we get actual physical protection will be the key, but I don’t think it will come down to cost. It will come down to parking, as usual.

        2. I agree the artist may not have understood but many people see the images and believe ‘what they see is what they get’. Also the feedback form is not designed very well. It gives the impression that there are (up to) 4 options for each proposed change (i.e. the form asks “Which do you prefer? Option A, B, C or D). Speaking to to a local council rep, she said ‘you’re free to add your own ideas/comments, we encourage your views’ – but many people don’t see the form that way and believe the proposals are a fait accompli – we will get at least one of the options. I certainly believe cost will be the major factor here and we’ll get a half baked solution.

        3. Has anyone seen what someone has done to the road outside 264 Ponsonby Rd (Household Linens). There are now some fancy iron railings a metre or so in the road. What are they to achieve? I recall the area wasn’t available for parking but it makes the space a bit of a no mans land, Pedestrians won’t use it, I can only think it’s bike parking for the cyclists that stop at Bambina in the morning? But if the Council are going to add cycle lanes in the future then the railings will need removing.

        4. Wouldn’t that be absurd Rick? Yet our councils insist on that for cars, so really given the choice, as a retail owner [and I am, among other things] there is a very simple calculation to make: One car or ten bikes; what’s best for maximising the number of people on Ponsonby road and the number of potential customers in my shop?

          Now let’s get those bike lanes in so we can really up the vitality of this important retail and people place.

          But of course you can hook your bike up there and go into any one of the cafés and shops on the strip, I know I will be: Bambina is not the only choice.

    2. I thoroughly approve of the cycle lanes, but I wonder, will cyclists be restricted to the same lowered speed as the cars? 40? 30? I wouldn’t like to step out onto the road to be met by a cyclist going at top honk.

      1. Yes. More chance of cyclists going faster on the road than on cycle lanes, cycle lanes don’t really suit the racers.

        The volume of traffic during the day generally keeps all vehicles below 40kph, it is different at empty times when some drivers revert to their usual crazy accelerating between lights.

        Riding now can often be quicker than driving because of the volume of traffic, but it is a fairly risky activity, with a lot of erratic vehicle manoeuvres to avoid as well as a few resentful drivers who quite often like to ‘debate’ the cyclists right to be there at all.

        This is one thing that even painted lanes at least achieve; official sign that cyclists are bona fide users of our streets and roads. A lot of Auckland drivers have no grasp of the ownership of or right to use the road, many seem to believe strongly that only powered vehicles have that right.

  2. Thanks for reminding us! i will definitely put in a submission. Have seen Ponsonby change a lot over the years and looking fwd to having a great plan like this to promote more positive change.

  3. Great post – well considered and heartily backed up by science. I wonder how we make sure Luke “don’t need some Greenies’ cycle path” Dallow to read this one?

    1. Some people will oppose something no matter the effort brought into convincing them. Suggest that it is more useful to get a good swathe of “people on the fence” to agree its a great idea – rather than wasting time on the die-hard opponents.

    2. That’s the first thing Mr Dallow harassed the Auckland Transport rep at the master plan meeting about. “I want to know if you will be removing carparks. Because DON’T DO THAT.” Wasn’t willing to listen to Tim G or anyone else’s point of view, even with citation to studies. 🙁

      1. Well Mr Dallow has two problems with this approach:

        First he is a bar owner, so fighting for people to be able to drive so he can sell more alcohol to them is not a clever argument.

        And second, he is the beneficiary of planning rules in this area that thankfully don’t force him to spend literally hundreds of thousands of dollars on providing parking for his customers as a condition of his licence. Is he really arguing that this shouldn’t be the case and his business can only only function with its own parking? I can get him a quote for the construction of a garage under his bar if he likes…..?

        No? I didn’t think so. So he can stop trying to bully the rest of Auckland into maintaining a crappy public realm so he can have it both ways and be thankful for the lower overheads that this location affords him. Or of course he can move his operation to say Botany in that image above, where there is loads of parking already AND he’ll be forced to provide even more.

        Or even better, realise that the best way to grow this business will be to accept that his best future customers are unlikely to be drivers….

  4. I liked your post too, you touch on what I think is the biggest problem of the ‘centers’ in Auckland: they’re traversed by through-streets. I think this is bound to be less attractive than a center which is skirted by travel routes, not traversed by them.
    To improve things, I think it’d be quite doable to encourage development to the west of ponsonby rd, and shift traffic away from this area so that ponsonby gains a bit of ‘thickness’ – becomes more than a strip.

    1. I think we can ‘fix’ Ponsonby by simply solving the existing structural problems which are that too much preference is providing to cars passing through, slow them down and make it less fast and you’ll have people taking other routes. Simply giving up on what it is and hoping that focusing on the sides streets will improve things won’t really help IMO. We could also make sure that no more developments with 680 carparks are approved – all that will do is to further destroy the area. Williamson Ave will soon be anchored by two oversized supermarket carparks.

      Something also needs to be done about setbacks and minimum parking requirements in the area, one development half way along had to go through a lengthy consent process simply to be allowed to build on the footpath and fought to only have 7 carparks rather than the required 9! Crazy for a 2 story development to be required to have so many and to be required to be set 4 metres back from the footpath. Until these ridiculous rules are gone, it will be impossible to ever make a ‘new Ponsonby’ in Auckland.

      1. Agree with the BBC. But Jacques no, long spines like Ponsonby Rd are great places, so long as the through traffic is not allowed to dominate, which is pretty much the case now. Just needs winding back some.

        1. Oops yes… ! Commenting too fast while drinking coffee- in a Ponsonby Rd cafe.

          Just heard Denise from World try to attack the plan on radio b by saying the street is already perfect for cyclists, then saying drivers on Ponsonby Rd make cycling too dangerous so they won’t come and buy stuff from her business. Her answer; educate drivers, changing the street won’t do anything…. sigh.

    1. It doesn’t look to me like he was misquoted. He writes, “many of the issues facing High Street, and the inner city in general, stem from poor housekeeping and a general lack of attention to detail. I have bleated on before about these issues, I will again. I think that pouring millions of dollars of our ratepayer money into creating shared spaces is short sighted if the real issues facing the central city aren’t addressed.”

      This “real issues” seems to be primarily about rubbish being left on the street by bars and retailers.

  5. I travel down Ponsonby road quite often (pushbike or motorbike mostly) and think it really could use traffic calming.

    It is supposed to be a 40km/h zone, but the wide, straight flat road encourages traffic to travel faster, in particular during off-peak periods.

    I find myself having to ride very carefully, as there is a lot of pedestrian traffic, people diving in/out of side streets, u-turns, cars popping in and out of parks (opening doors without looking of course).

    I am in favour of putting chicanes, road level changes and other traffic calming measures or cycle lanes etc, but not sure there are any good bypasses available for cards.

    Traffic that I see in the morning coming from Richmond road through Ponsonby road to Franklin road and down to the city, don’t seem to have many decent alternatives (and the link bus may not be an option for people coming from the western suburbs). I have always thought that Three Lamps end and the Gt North/K-Road ends should both be concentrated developments with narrow entrances to Ponsonby road to discourage traffic, but still allow some reasonable flows down and across P-road from at least Richmond to Franklin.

    1. While less traffic would be awesome, one CAN make streets cycle and ped-friendly without reducing traffic volumes. It is all about providing enough dedicated space for these groups and at least somewhat reduced speeds.

  6. Amen to this post. I’d like to move back to the area when I’m done overseas, and it feels so great as a cultural area… until you try to cross the road. It always struck me as a good place for a tram, incidentally, but I think that’s a pipe dream.

    1. Central to any plan IMO is should be the provision of pedestrian crossings/traffic controlled intersections. This is the fundamental building block of successful urban places. Improved connectivity exponentially increases people’s options as well as the viability/performance of local businesses. One “great Street” precedent is 23rd Ave in Portland which has signals or crossings every 90m. Look to other streets for inspiration such as Broadway St, Seattle, and Colorado St, Pasadena.

      Since we have surrendered the design of the city to the gods of traffic flow, we have no good local references to this condition. Ponsonby Rd, like Dominion Rd, New North Road, Manukau Rd, etc have been mostly destroyed- whittled away, literally, to stuff in extra lanes. Intersections, the fundamental building block of urbanism have been blown out to make the traffic model look better and shave off a few seconds for the commuters from Titirangi. We are so deprived we think that mid-block refuges and median are good for pedestrians. This is a classic Stockholm-Syndrome condition. It’s time to wind back the insane auto-centric designs to preference local, short, and PT trips.

      1. One of my pet peeves – flush medians in the name of safety. They only make it safer for cars. As a pedestrian standing in the middle of a flush median, protected by some paint, I don’t feel safe at all. Get rid of them and free up 3m of road. If cars have to wait behind a turning vehicle then tough.

  7. Great post as usual PR.

    You just know I’m going to correct you on the “scattered” nature of the Ed/Vict buildings that thoroughly define the street and whether the 680 new carparks are for the public?

    I thoroughly agree with the need for a cinema, theatre and a new Gluepot!(20 years gone now?) These can happen if council comes to the table with parking exemptions. But they don’t. Time and again dammit.

    I urge everyone to submit before Monday. Highlights to mention- cycle lanes, kowhai and planes (both deciduous), a park for the Nosh site with a kids’ playground, a Rimu grove for the K rd corner. Loads of good stuff…

      1. You 100% on that? We negotiated or attempted to with the developer to get a cinema slash glue pot slash something for the community but the council wouldn’t forgive the 200 car parks needed and Countdown won’t share with non shoppers. Maybe you should double check?

    1. Geoff, no, P Rd is not like say Kingsland which is dominated by mostly uninterupted Vic/Ed buildings. Kingsland being so undesirable until recently largely got left alone.

      Ponsonby Rd has notable gaps; from Prego to Dizengoff, for example, only has two modest period structures on the Summer St intersection. great opportunity to build with scale and panche along there, including the sad Nosh site.

      Also interesting to note that Kingsland does serve a major sporting stadium and has an improving Rapid Transit Station [won’t be really Rapid until; 1. at least 10 min frequencies, and 2. The CRL connects it directly with more of Auckland and especially the centre]. so no wonder it’s on the rise as an entertainment locus.

        1. Just noticed this Geoff: why don’t you do a count? Even better measure the lengths of street frontage occupied by buildings of each era. I think you’ll find there’s a lot of space for great new buildings that doesn’t involve removing any Vic or Ed ones. Let’s give those old dames a better context.

  8. Largely agree, with one key point of difference being the shared spaces on Pollen Rd and Mackelvie Street. Pollen is largely industrial and Mackelvie is largely residential – there aren’t that many retailers here to benefit from it.

    I get the sentiment though and it’s one I agree with – Ponsonby is very shallow one very much a one-street town, and it seems like everything is far too strung out when you’re walking around late at night in a winter down-pour. It would be nice to see more depth to the area, which might even help diffuse the traffic situation somewhat.

    1. Shared space on Mackelvie just for the flat retail section by Ponsonby Rd, not the whole length of the street to Gt North Rd. And Pollen St ‘industrial’, really? Is car parking an industry, I suppose it is, again just the Ponsonby Rd end.

  9. I wish the cutting down if old trees was something we had grown out of – but was shocked to read that the council and NZTA plan to cut down all the huge pohutakawa trees in western springs to allow the construction of an additional lane to feed more cars onto the widened northwestern motorway. All because they claim it will be congested in 2026 without this being done. If any further proof was needed of how destructive this constant widening of motorways is, I think this is a pretty obvious example. Complete destruction of the public realm to save a few minutes of car time.

    Pippa Coom has Images of the planned destruction on her blog: http://www.pippacoom.co.nz/monthly-report/reflections-on-the-first-term-of-the-waitemata-local-board/

    And in typical Auckland fashion no other modes even enter the picture when millions are spent on insane projects like this.

    1. Sometimes I really despair of this city. I know we should be looking at the bright side and appreciating what has improved but it just feels like we are a long way from the tipping point. Too many rural people in charge who dont understand or like cities.

  10. Speaking at a fringe event at the Liberal Democrat conference, Mr Baker said: “The worst thing you can do is give free rein to the car. The idea of giving free rein to the car and excluding or marginalising pedestrians does not work economically, does not work environmentally and is a failed policy of the 1970s.


  11. I’m bemused by the reported concerns of strip retailers about losing on street parking.

    Have they ever been into a hardtop mall? In any big modern mall, you park your car, then you WALK a considerable distance to get to the shops. You’re happy to do this because you’re rewarded by shopping in a pleasant – that is, car-free – environment. That’s the new business model, the one that the strip retailers are competing with.

    Surely it’s obvious that creating a pleasant shopping environment for all is more important that the last dozen parking places.

    1. Thats a bloody good point. What is the difference between that and parking in a parking building and walking to the shopping area? I cant see any. At Sylvia Park it is often a 10min walk to the shop you want, depending on where you park.

      Of course if you cycle you can park right outside – how it should be.

    2. Very well put. How did we miss this for a month?

      I think you can really appreciate how good a job the mall does when you visit with very small kids – just old enough to run, but not yet able to be on their own in public for any real length of time. Unlike in town, you don’t have to clutch the kids to you to stop them getting squished. You can sit with your coffee, let them have fun, and just yell out at them occasionally. What’s a shame is how much driving you have to do in order to get away from cars!

      The same is true in the few genuinely pedestrian spaces in the city, as well – mostly playgrounds and parks (unless they’ve been torn apart with roads, like the Domain). I don’t think we put enough value on getting rid of all cars from a place. There’s rightly a lot of love on this blog for “shared spaces”, but let’s not pretend that they’re anything more than a half-arsed compromise. The ultimate goal for city planning should be that everyone is able to walk out their front door and be in an environment designed for people in their natural state – on foot.

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