Fixing Shortland Street is something that I’ve been thinking about for a while. The issue came up again when my daughter came to visit me at work nearby. She can confidently get around the city by bus and cross awful streets like Dominion Road at Balmoral, but after lunch on Fort Street I asked her not to use the Jean Batten/High Street crossing, but instead go via Queen Street.
This is one of the busiest places in the country, our “High Street”, and people can’t cross the street safely.
Fixing this intersection has been the subject of ongoing debate. I heard a zebra crossing here was rejected because there are too many pedestrians. This is different than the other standard response of there not being enough pedestrians. Either reason for not providing a zebra crossing is not the correct answer to “how do you provide safer crossings for pedestrians,” This advice can be found in the US guidance Safety Effects of Marked vs Unmarked Crosswalks at Uncontrolled Locations:
It is important to remember that providing marked (painted) crosswalks is only one of many possible engineering measures that may be used at a pedestrian crossing to improve safety and/or to reduce delay. Appropriate measures depend on site conditions. Whenever considering how to provide safer crossings for pedestrians, the question should NOT simply be: “Should I provide a marked crosswalk or not?” Instead, the question should be: “What are the most effective measures that can be used to help pedestrians safely cross the street?”
Because the intersection is so busy and such an obvious barrier to people going from the waterfront/Britomart to the Shortland Street District and beyond, it has been called out to be fixed in the City Centre Master Plan as part of the shared street network. As an interim fix, large colourful circles have been added to the intersection to help raise the attention of drivers hurtling along the street. People have observed that the circles have raised the confidence of pedestrians, enabling them to step into traffic more often (or more boldly) to slow traffic. This seems like a less than ideal outcome and doesn’t take into consideration that most street users are not super agile and confident filtering through moving traffic.
Below is my design. It is inspired by a street designer in Utrecht who explained to me that they don’t design for people to take unnecessary risks. In places where they expect pedestrians, AKA desire lines, they provide for them. Allowing people to float unprotected across painted medians between fast moving traffic lanes like we do here would be unacceptable to them.
This is how that approach manifests in designs. Below is an example of a pedestrian crossing at a very busy transit street in Utrecht. While there are signalised crossings at either end, this bus facility spans two city blocks so there are high pedestrian flows half way along where the city blocks are now closed off. The designers didn’t ignore the desire line or rationalise that pedestrians should use the signal, instead they provided for the movement by adding a raised protective island.
Crossing one stream of traffic at a time is becoming a standard feature of safe street design in the Netherlands. This can be observed in practice in Auckland. With CRL construction, crossing Albert Street is now a breeze. The signals to control the crossing seem ridiculous and are largely ignored. Another good point of reference is crossing Wellesley Street at Lorne Street. While the lanes are too wide there, it is pretty easy to cross. Here is another example in Utrecht. Note too that the medians are attractively designed, something we haven’t figured out yet.
Another feature of my design is a raised mountable median. The bumpy median, about 1m wide, narrows the lanes without having to move the kerbs. Vehicles using the street become confined. Large vehicles are barely able to squeeze through without rolling on the bumpy median. The road narrowing slows traffic and alerts drivers to the very narrow passage next to the pedestrian islands.
Currently, the excessive road space encourages cars to drive way too fast and sloppily. Speed bumps, or humps would be a useful addition. Physically slowing traffic here is key, something I’m not convinced the painted dots are achieving.
Here is an example of a mountable median which are often a feature of Cycle Streets but also can be found on busy urban streets (see also this post Wijkontsluitingsweg).
The design assumes no changes to traffic. Removing traffic is an obvious and inevitable solution, but we shouldn’t have to wait for major traffic circulation changes or mega transport projects to improve city centre streets.
A few carparks are removed (dashed black srectangles) to allow for improved pedestrian circulation and to shorten crossing distances. Stretches of kerbside are re-allocated for passenger pick up and drop off (red dashed line) in an attempt to rationalise the chaotic traffic circulation. Raised islands are provided at key locations to let people seamlessly cross one lane at a time. The lanes next to the islands are very narrow, not much more than 3m wide.
Here is a “tactical urbanism” version of the plan. Pedestrian islands can be set out using temporary traffic control materials and cones.
This concept acknowledges the heavy and fast traffic along Shortland Street. Conceptually, it doesn’t improve the subservient status of pedestrians, but vehicles are slowed and more confined by the lane geometry. This reduces the traffic turbulence and threat of vehicular violence.
Crossing one lane at a time using protective islands simplifies the crossing by letting people look for traffic in one direction at time.This design make it much better for all users including less mobile ones, and people who don’t have the perceptual acuity to deal with cars coming out of every direction.
It’s nearly 2018 – time to make our city streets safe for all users, especially in places where people vastly outnumber vehicles.
What do you think? How would you fix Shortland Street?