Over the past couple of weeks there has been quite a bit of controversy around changes Auckland Transport is making to some streets in the Grey Lynn and Westmere areas to improve the safety and attractiveness of cycling, as well as to improve safety on some of these streets. The projects getting attention are routes 1 and 2 on the map below.
The concept of improving cycling in this part of the city is strong. A number of the streets are very wide, as they used to have trams running on them and trip distances to the city centre are relatively short. Unfortunately though, it seems as though some of the design details for these routes has been poor. This has been exacerbated by, shall we say some rather colourful local characters.
Design issues have come to a head in the West Lynn shopping area. Simon Wilson has written a few extensive posts on the issues for The Spinoff and overall has come down pretty hard on Auckland Transport:
It’s tempting to think the urban designers and roading engineers and construction workers at AT simply do not know how to do their jobs. I’ve said as much myself. But is it credible? Does AT really not know how to channel ordinary flows of rainwater? Not appreciate what it’s like to ride a bicycle? Not grasp the basics of making a safe pedestrian crossing?
Yes, AT has been incompetent in West Lynn, but the problem, surely, is not at the construction level. Builders make mistakes. Everybody makes mistakes. Not just builders, but designers, engineers, supervisors on the job and managers back in the office. Communications staff who are supposed to be aware of the optics and good at keeping everybody talking.
But the problem here is not, fundamentally, to do with any of them. The measure of an organisation is how it manages its mistakes. How well it identifies them, fixes them, learns from them and improves the organisation by putting the lessons to good use. And the responsibility for all that goes to the top.
On the evidence of West Lynn, Auckland Transport is blighted by systemic incompetence.
If your organisation has declared it will prioritise safety, how is it possible that you then build a dangerous pedestrian crossing? How, during the processes of design, consultation, approvals and construction, does no one say, we can’t do this? Or, more likely, how is it that when people did say we can’t do this, they were not listened to?
Thank god they’re not flying planes.
Looking at some of the design details, it’s hard to not think Auckland Transport has suffered from incompetence. Just look at that sloping footpath that channels water into the shopfronts when it rains:
Some of the issues appear to have arisen as a result of Auckland Transport trying to avoid bikelash by retaining as many on street carparks as possible. This includes at West Lynn where the bike lanes have sharp turns on them.
Or this section on Old Mill Rd where the cycleway is on the wide kerb but locals are are parking all over it.
— Jayson Bryant (@Jayson_Bryant) November 30, 2017
Other complaints are a bit more difficult to have sympathy for, like changes to the traffic islands at the nearby intersection of Garnet and Old Mill roads where a few locals have been camping out to protest what seems to be a design tweak to make things safer by slowing cars down a bit.
Curiously, Prager’s focus seems to have shifted in recent days. It started with carparking outside shops, then moved to the trees, and now kerb realignment has become the hot topic.
AT is realigning the roadway at some intersections in order to slow traffic, eliminate the temptation for drivers to just “nip round the corner” and make intersections safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Complainants correctly identify that drivers will have to slow down and take more care, and they think that’s wrong.
A lot of these complaints and protests seem to be variations on what’s known as “bikelash“, a backlash against providing safe and attractive facilities for those riding bikes. Auckland has generally managed to avoid bikelash up until now, although it’s pretty common around the world. Streetfilms even have a video on in:
Where things go next will be important for ensuring that momentum on improving cycling in Auckland is maintained. This requires two key steps that Auckland Transport need to focus on in the coming days, weeks and months:
- Better communicating the strategy. The case for getting more people cycling is really strong, with a myriad of transport, environmental, economic and health benefits that provide excellent returns on investment. AT has already built a strong business case outlining the necessary level of investment and where efforts should be targeted. They need to do a far better job at communicating their commitment to this strategy – at times it feels as though too much of Auckland Transport doesn’t really support it. One thing that’s been particularly notable in the discussion about Grey Lynn/Westmere has been that ATs senior executives are missing in action. They appear to be leaving their staff to fend for themselves with no support.
- Committing to higher quality design. Doing high quality cycling infrastructure within a street environment where there are already multiple competing uses is a challenging exercise that requires high quality design skills and the need to make challenging trade-offs. The tragic thing about the cycling infrastructure through West Lynn is that it’s pretty crap for those on their bikes, with very sharp turns and poor protection from vehicles in many locations. Truly great cycling design isn’t about pretty colours, but is about finding creative ways to allocate street space between different users while supporting attractive and successful environments. We know that AT can deliver this but it seems to be an issue of consistency. For example the works at Mt Albert Town Centre are looking good.
As a break from everyone freaking out over the Lynn of the West, the Mt Albert town centre upgrade is looking pretty damn nice pic.twitter.com/xipJ0JKW96
— Geogoose (@geogoose) December 3, 2017
View from the cycleway, with trees. Slightly annoyingly, the trees evaporate closer to the intersection (on this side) pic.twitter.com/WUhQAvQqGU
— Geogoose (@geogoose) December 3, 2017
So Auckland Transport really will need to “step up” and do these jobs better. But they will also need help and constant reminders that Aucklanders really do want safer and more attractive cycling infrastructure to help create a healthier, safer and more successful Auckland.