As Patrick wonderfully pointed out on Monday, Auckland is in a period of considerable change. We’re growing into a real city and with that comes city sized problems. We no longer just have the ability to just add a lane here or build another road there, and so addressing our problems requires us to change how we design our city.

Change isn’t easy though, and for many it’s downright scary. This applies to both the public as well as many of the staff within organisations like Auckland Transport. In both cases, often a lack of understanding about what the city is attempting to achieve. While opposition to change in high profile cases like Westmere, Karangahape Rd and Mt Eden has dominated the news coverage recently, there are plenty more cases where AT have picked up bruises along the way.

For some time now I’ve felt that a large part of the problem we’re experiencing stems from there being no explicit policy about how Auckland is changing. For example, while plans like ATAP talk about the need “make better use of existing networks”, it’s not explicitly explained what that means – that in most cases we will need to actively encourage a reduction in car use and corresponding growth the use of public transport and active modes. As a result of this, we’ve often been getting compromised solutions.

This has been very apparent recently the draft 30-year strategy for Auckland where there aren’t even targets for how the city will change, a stark contrast to cities like London who are explicitly aiming to reduce vehicle trips.

So hot on the heels of Patrick calling for AT to be a change agent, we get this op-ed from AT Chairman Lester Levy confirming that they are.

As we modernise Auckland’s out-of-date and constrained transport system, the dream of a transformed system with increased capacity and scope for faster and safer journeys can slowly but surely be dulled by the reality of constantly living with disruptions and squabbles.

Whether it is the vast City Rail Link or smaller but important projects like cycleways, walking paths or neighbourhood intersection safety work, there will always be contestable opinions and unavoidable levels of disruption. It is not unlike a major house renovation where tensions arise, flashpoints transpire and you question why you ever started.

Despite this, in recent years there have been many good things achieved on the transport front in Auckland. Public transport patronage is growing at never-seen-before rates, the Waterview tunnel’s impact has been significant, the long-awaited City Rail Link is being built and new facilities are commissioned or opened on an almost fortnightly basis.

However, these significant gains are reasonably quickly neutralised by the scale of Auckland’s population growth.

Critical to effectively tackling congestion in Auckland is a highly emotive issue, the “elephant in the room” if you will, which is a shift in the allocation of street space.

The board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of re-allocating street space for a wider variety of users, particularly to accommodate more spatially (and environmentally) efficient modes of transport.

Our streets will increasingly change through the addition of light rail, bus and bike lanes, wider and better footpaths and bus stops as well as the addition of proven safety enhancements like raised pedestrian crossings and calmed intersections.

At the heart of this policy is a firm commitment to reconceptualise our approach to safety so everyone can more confidently use their streets without fear of tragic outcomes. In particular this means improving the conditions for the more vulnerable people on our streets, older people, children and all those walking and riding bikes or similar.

It will also often mean changes to the street environment that encourages drivers to slow down to safer speeds through town centres, near schools and other areas where people and vehicles mix.

These changes are gradually rolling out across our city to promote modal changes towards public and active transport (cycling and walking) and involve a shift from a generally vehicle-user first state to a more equitable balance. This approach is consistent with the Auckland Council’s and the Government’s aims for our city and furthermore is well supported by evidence.

Overcoming this car-dependent culture will require thoughtful and effective behavioural change, but if a sizeable percentage of car dependent drivers do not make the modal switch, congestion will simply worsen, adversely impacting economic growth, jobs, housing and quality of life.

It is fair to say that re-allocating street space can be challenging, but these changes are necessary to deal with congestion and to promote safety. The aim is clear: the enhancement of our city’s streets as safer and more productive places to be in and to move through every day.

Overall this is a very welcome, and timely piece from Lester. It makes it clear that AT should be reallocating road space and improving modal choice. For AT, they need to come up with a way of strategically communicating this policy, including making sure it’s included right up front in their communication and consultation. It also needs to be backed up by both Mayor Phil Goff and the rest of the council, both in the various council documents but with set targets in their plans.

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67 comments

    1. “car hatters” – i think you have inadvertently(?) invented a new collective noun for agenda 21 conspiracy trolls

      1. I know several current and past members of the conspiracy who wore very prominent hats 😉

        That said, two certain (female Western Inner Suburbs) anti-change, anti-bike activists also like to wear very prominent hats, so it’s clearly not a definitive identifier!

        1. My Grandpa always said: “beware of any driver wearing a hat or with a dog in the car”. I don’t pretend to know what he really meant.

          1. Heidi, my grandfather always warned me about any driver with a dog and a white cane on the back seat.. I can’t recollect a hat every being mentioned.

          2. Glad to know my grandpa wasn’t alone, then. The hat was the important thing, the reason it was usually brought up. 🙂 I don’t understand the dog rule at all. My grandpa’s dog was only allowed to sleep in his car in the garage. In fact, each one did, all seven or so dogs he had over his life. And he only ever had VWs. They were smelly VWs.

          3. Wise grandpa.

            I’ve long had a rule to be cautious around hat wearing drivers. Confirmation bias perhaps, but my experience suggests they drive badly. Really badly.

            Same goes for those with aftermarket rear view mirrors.

            Anybody on the roads around school drop-off / pick-up time also invoke increased caution from me.

  1. Yeah, but it’s Lester Levy. This is what he does – says great things that give you hope about AT, but then get completely ignored by the organisation. Hopefully the board is a bit less gutless now.

    1. I’m hoping that quoting Lester Levy directly – as well as AT’s own documents like the Transport Design Guide – will break through the resistance to change that AT’s burnt staff throw back, like “Good luck trying to get that through”. As to how to educate the car dependent public – um, help needed here, please. Money needs to be allocated to it.

      A first step, AT, needs to say YES when a community group requests paper copies of AT documents so they can use them in community design!! Lester, I think a directive that education involves information dissemination as a bare minimum would be timely. Otherwise there will be no “Overcoming this car-dependent culture” because there will be no “thoughtful and effective behavioural change” because “a sizeable percentage of car dependent drivers [will] not make the modal switch”.

    2. It’s standard Jim Hacker stuff isn’t it? Claim you support reform to make yourself look progressive while making absolutely sure nothing important changes.

  2. “The board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of re-allocating street space for a wider variety of users, particularly to accommodate more spatially (and environmentally) efficient modes of transport.”

    Can someone please post a link to that policy?

    1. I don’t think AT is actually run in the standard way. Most public organisations make their policies publicly available for consultation and then adopt them and publish them in one place. AT seems to have a whole new bunch of policies in every document they release, none of which are open to any debate or input from the public.
      So when Lester refers to their policy I think he means their current manner of doing things rather than an actual policy.
      Here are their policies: https://at.govt.nz/about-us/policies/
      None of which refer to what he is talking about. The parking one isn’t so much a policy level document as a detailed management plan.

      1. Yes. Your description rings true.

        Here’s something that if you wear the right hat and squint does allude to an underlying, but unstated, policy of at least sometimes re-purposing corridors: https://at.govt.nz/media/301169/section2_integrated_transport_planning.pdf

        But no doubt if someone else in a different hat wanted not to reallocate street space, they could read the document in a way that enabled them to do what they wanted – given that the supposed policy isn’t clearly stated and the document is so vague and verbose. Or at least…it wasn’t until Lester’s newspaper article yesterday.

        ..Or was it? Anyone else find anything where said policy is clearly stated?

        1. I would have thought that if the chair says “The board of Auckland Transport stands strongly behind its policy of re-allocating street space…” then it’s a policy that’s clearly stated. Surely he’d have to retract the statement if it’s not?

          1. The point is that it is now clearly stated, but wasn’t clearly stated before. A bit weird to ‘stand behind’ something that hasn’t really been stated previously, at least not directly. Normally one would ‘announce’ it. And really, it’s much more helpful to write these things down clearly in policy documents, instead of issuing policy ad-hoc through various media. It’s that old favourite ‘policy on-the-hoof’. Where was the robust process behind it? Easy to let it go if you like what is said, but next week it could be something you don’t like, or different things to different audiences.

          2. Yes. If the only thing we actually have to go by is Goff’s letter of expectation, then are we to assume that everything Goff instructed them to do is now policy. 🙂

          3. What about the other policies that they are operating by that they haven’t found a way to communicate through op-ed pieces in the Herald etc. Would be nice to know what they are too.

          4. Lester can offer any thoughts he wants. He gets one vote on a Board of equals. He also gets to speak on behalf of the Board where they have formally decided something. The problem is policy has to be agreed and committed to paper or it isn’t actually policy at all, it is simply something that you are currently doing. Every public school in the country knows this and appears to be better run than AT currently is.
            And that is the weird bit. The Board has responsibility for governance which is a process based on policies and budgets. Yet where is the policy? If it truly is just the words that come out of a Chairman’s mouth then they are well and truly dysfunctional.

          5. So we write to the board and ask them to confirm the policy? And if they won’t we ask them what their chair is doing?

            I’m particularly interested in the timing, during consultation on the Auckland Plan. It’s great Levy is encouraging thought on the topic at this time. And I wonder whether he’s thought through which demographic he might mobilise to submit.

          6. Found it!

            Statement of Intent 2017 to 2020:

            “In the short-term it is imperative that we move ahead with re-prioritising the public space we call roads. This Statement of Intent demonstrates that Auckland Transport will be more aggressive than it has been previously in introducing many more bus lanes and giving a higher priority to cycling, walking and service vehicles. Although this Statement of Intent identifies bus lane improvements of 15kms, the Board is asking management to accelerate the bus lane programme further than this, within the year. ”

            https://at.govt.nz/media/1974965/statement-of-intent-2017-18-to-2019-20.pdf

  3. Its easy to be dismissive of heads of transport making impressive progressive statements like this, but compared to what transport heads are saying here in Nelson and Richmond, this is such a beacon of hope. I think rather than be negative about it, use these words too hold AT to account – e.g. “how doesn’t XYZ project fit into the scheme of reallocating streetspace to PT and active transport users”

  4. The change in public thinking about more emphasis on public transport and cycling is going to be a long hard battle.
    In this morning’s Herald there are two letters to the editor bemoaning Dr Levy’s explanation of AT’s policy direction and the reallocation of road space to cycles. One Roger Russell and one Ken Graham haven’t considered the long term implications of too many space inefficient motor vehicles and are not happy to see a reduction in car lanes.
    Obviously short term thinkers……………!!

    1. One does not expect much from those that write to the Herald. Just reading it makes you less progressive I find. These two writers by their names, sound to be baby boomer or their parents, and possibly cannot be expected to have a great vision of the future? No excuse however, cars are the past, PT and bikes are the future, everybody needs to get with the program!

        1. Yes he can. You should see what he can prejudge about people once he sees the colour of their skin or the spacing between their eyes.

          1. My prejudice is entirely related to the newspaper that one reads I can assure you. Please refrain from accusing me of anything beyond that. I don’t like cars but those who drive them are but lost sheep!

      1. Actually your prejudice is against baby boomers or their parents. Being Ferald readers is simply how you recognise them.

      2. If The Herald concerns you, do NOT read any comments on Stuff.

        Stuff commentators are some of the worst short-term thinking, emotional knee jerk, string of consciousness, uninformed people there are. Just look at how agro most are at the idea that small animals will shortly be able to travel on PT in confined cages and restricted times.

        As for bike lanes – Wow… Do NOT get them started on bike lanes.

    2. The bizarre thing is that in some respects part of the battle has been won. More than 50% of the population want public transport to be improved – that’s a mandate. More than 50% of those travelling to the city do so using public transport. These people need to be recognised by having bus lanes on the roads that buses use and if you wish to drive then use a different street; a car gives you the personal freedom to do that.

      The reality is that everyone won’t be able to drive everywhere they want at whatever speed they want. People should expect to pay more to drive so that the infrastructure to allow this can be maintained; so that trees can be planted to reduce the effect of carbon emissions and pollutants; and that money is available to deal with the effects of climate change. Is this an attack on car owners – no, it’s society recognising that the current model isn’t working.

      AT needs to stop just talking about it and do something.

      1. You make a very strong point here. You also highlight an opportunity missed.

        If AT could provide hard stats that stand up to vigorous attempts at destruction, showing that the number of people transiting to/from the CBD use PT – They should be loud and proud, then make clear and well publicised plans for improvements and justify those improvements by mentioning the over 50% stat.

        Of course there will always be vociferous haters, but the haters should be portrayed as what they are: Selfish / uninformed / uneffected / whatever shuts them down and grows support for AT doing what the majority is asking for.

      2. You have to be careful with quoted statistics and to find the source. 50% of those who answered wanted PT improved. No mention on what that meant or if it was “free” or if they supported higher rates to pay for it. Also who got asked? Everyone, or was it just people hopping off a bus or just people willing to go through a long survey?

        ~50% of those commuting into the city in the MORNING peak are not in a car. So that means mostly bus, some ferry, walking and cycling. This doesn’t apply to the rest of the day. It also doesn’t include people who live in the city (inside the screenline). So it’s hard to use a stat that isn’t the complete picture.

  5. Hey Lester, I’ve rewritten part of your proclamation as follows:
    My additions like this

    Here’s the my more accurate version.

    “Despite this and the attitude and behaviour of the staff in the organisation I lead, to the contrary, in recent years there have been many good things achieved on the transport front in Auckland , mostly due to the work of other CCOs not AT I might point out. But you know, we’re all on the same team, and AT makes up half of the TEAM, spending-wise anyway. Ah but whose counting? Certainly not us!

    Public transport patronage was is growing at never-seen-before rates, for a while, but has now recently plateaued/flatlined. The roll-out of the new Bus network drags on and on. as the barely 4 years old trains are now groaning at the seams ‘cos we never ordered the extra trains at the bargain price when we got offered them by CAF a few years back, and its another 4 or more years before the extras we ordered will arrive. We also have never sorted out who manages the doors issue, and its been ongoing for 4 years now with no sign of a solution. We keep Transdev running the trains only ‘cos we think the alternative – Kiwirail, is worse, the Waterview tunnel’s impact has been significant, and oh so, brief, so much so that the congestion busting benefits are now mostly gone. NZTA are frantically trying to fix things by raising speed limits either side of the tunnels to make it feel “fast” again. We are slowly adding more bus lanes but only when and where folks don’t object too much about losing parking, so its a long haul there too, the long-awaited City Rail Link is being built after a god awfully long and quite unnecessary delay. But don’t worry, we got your back o nthis one, as we’re making sure CRL comes in on budget, even if its running later than planned already, or even if the stations we build will all look like crap, concrete nuclear bunkers utilitarian and have fewer entrances & exits or have them in the wrong place than they should. Because we at AT know that being within budget counts for almost everything when it is this big a project, and even more so when Aucklanders are paying this much money for it. and new facilities are commissioned or opened on an almost fortnightly basis.
    The old roads and footpaths that have any work at all done on them are always put back exactly as they were – because it would be unfair if these other important, newer facilities got delayed because we took our time and made the existing places so much better for cyclists and walking than they ever were before. Because its important that when we do things that we accurately follow the priority list of projects that were budgeted to the letter. It helps give people certainty. This is basic transport management 101 – or so I’m told.

  6. NZ roads are simply too narrow.

    1) Council (& NZ via a new infrastructure standard) needs to:

    a) indicate that parking will no longer be provided on new road projects
    b) and from, say, 1 years time as a firm policy will not be provided on road upgrades
    c) and from say,2 years time as a firm policy will be removed from existing roads without replacement (or compensation) where (Council / NZ) needs to provide for multimodal movement or transport safety
    d) New roads will be designed to the new national standard which ensures sufficient space for all modes (ie may require more than 20m road corridor)

    1. “NZ roads are simply too narrow.”
      – Arterial roads maybe, but when it comes to most residential streets, I would say they are too wide. They allow cars to rocket down them at high speeds, giving the feeling that they are unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists.

      1. Agreed. Many local streets which have not been traffic calmed are too wide – many are 14m carriageways – the same as 1×1 arterials.

        1. A quiet residential street only needs to be 5m wide to accommodate all modes:
          -driving; one way, slow, access only
          -walking; in the middle
          -cycling; in the middle
          -public transport; walk to end of road for service.

          The arterials where you want higher speeds or volumes are the problem.

          1. Yes, 100% true. I lived on such a street for a while.

            A few details:
            – parking: on the side, as long as you don’t block the street. Households are expected to have off-street parking for the cars they own.
            – driving is both ways. 5m is plenty for passing each other, even with the odd parked car on the street.
            – there is the occasional street tree inside a kerb build-out.
            – The street reserve only covered the 5m carriageway. There appeared to be a mandatory setback for houses however.
            – 30 km/h. Duh.

            This kind of street is surprisingly rare in Auckland.

          2. Bananas would be great in the rain gardens. Man they can soak up water!

            How has it panned out? On a Sunday morning are there cars parked all over the place like in the pretty little street right next to the Ranui Train Station?

            (I mean, I’m not damaging the grasses much, and why didn’t they just provide more parking anyway? I won’t be here long, and no-one’s enforcing it, who do you think you are? The police? What’s it to you?)

          3. The rain garden is about 20cm lowere than the street so it’s all but impossible to drive out if you park on them and the gardens have plants about 1m tall too. It actually seems to work pretty well.

          4. Good to hear. Then it is the attention to detail that makes all the difference between this one and the Ranui example. Interesting.

          5. Neither of those streets appears to be 5m wide. Boardwalk rise looks 6m at a guess plus parking. The side road looks like 5m+2m parking+2m parking or 9m wide with gardens interrupting the parking a bit.
            North Shore allowed some true 5m streets and they were a disaster. One poorly parked car blocks the whole thing. the Fire Brigade made submissions against any more of them as they couldn’t get through.

          6. The carriageway is less than 6m. I’ll get a tape out if I’m there anytime soon.

            There are plenty of 5m wide streets in city centres around New Zealand. Vulcan Lane is 5m and happily accommodated vehicles and pedestrians until ped volumes became too high. Plenty of the access lanes at Hobsonville are 5m boundary to boundary. If you ever go to Japan, 5m is the standard suburban street width.

            Yes, fire trucks will struggle to get down 5m streets if vehicles are parked. We can prevent parking on these roads, or if they are less than 200m long, every truck carries over 100m of hose anyway.

            If we do everything the same as we currently do, we can’t do 5m streets. If we make sensible, trivial changes to how dwellings are configured (which are common the world over) then we can easily do it, and get far more housing as a result.

          7. Vulcan Lane was one way. The bottom bit is 9m wide, only the top part by O’Connell is 5m and as far as I know nobody even tried to pass cars on it. The main gripe I hear about Hobsonville is a chronic lack of parking, second is the narrow streets. I have found even using 5.5m wide streets is enough to make things work properly. I wonder how many people who live on a 5m street know the fire service might not be able to get to their home.

          8. If 5m streets were impassable by fire trucks, European cities would have figured that out by now. And there’s still the garbage truck getting through every week, so…

            Of course, don’t expect to be able to fit 2 cars parked on the street for each house.

          9. mfwic, can we use Hobsonville as a case in point: don’t expect anything other than car dependency if you connect a new development by roads accessible by the private car? These developments on the outskirts have nothing going for them unless they offer an alternative, and for that, they need to be connected by RTN and active mode infra only (and very circuitous, non-prioritised car travel). You can’t have the narrow streets where people expect multiple cars per household. Since multiple cars per household and car dependency is not something we can sustain, Hobsonville Point is a perfect example of a fail. It’s not the narrow streets. It’s the car dependency.

        1. Thanks, Glen. Some of these are really interesting. I can see possibilities with that two-way central bus lane, for example.

  7. I live in one of the less fortunate areas where Lester’s progressive vision is yet to permeate. Here’s some of the hard luck that we have had just in the last year: Lake Road will be reconfigured with a T3 proposed for all of Esmonde Road. It is almost impossible to see that this will make for a better experience for bus users compared to the current bus lane; a new 450 space car park for the metropolitan centre and car mode share expected to be at around current levels right out to 2046; and AT is investigating a proposal to have some sort of flyover from Esmonde Road to connect to the motorway.

    So more congestion; more pollution; more carbon emissions; the transport budget sucked dry for roading projects and a higher rates bill.

    I am not buying the feel good factor and from a local perspective AT is a joke.

  8. I want to add this anecdote because it is symptomatic of how little AT is doing for public transport. The motorway access at Greville Road heading south is T2. Why are two people in a car as important as 40 people in a bus? The consequence is that buses can sit forever in traffic. A colleague yesterday says that she spent 18 minutes in that queue and almost 90 minutes to travel from the Bays to the city – disgraceful for a RTN.

    It is bizarre that AT is buying PT patronage just up the road (Albany park and ride) and yet once on a bus it is an unmemorable experience.

    1. To be fair to AT, that particular case is the NZTA’s fault. Not that AT don’t have plenty of similar issues everywhere.

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