This is a guest post by reader Heidi O’Callahan
On Thursday 8th March this year, a truck heading east up Great North Rd from Waterview failed to negotiate the right-turn corner into Carrington Rd, at the heart of the Pt Chevalier Town Centre. Its trailer fell over, and landed on the cyclelane and footpath. It would possibly have continued across the footpath towards a pair of gentlemen enjoying a chat and a drink outside the Flaming House, but luckily some sturdy rock-filled planter boxes stopped its path.
Things we might ask after a B-train’s trailer falls on a cycle lane in a suburban town centre.
1. Are big trucks suitable for urban roads?
Are they stable? Do they need to be packed more carefully, or just driven more slowly? Maybe they are just too big and heavy.
Cyclists can’t cope with the ever-changing damage trucks cause to road surfaces. Thin flexible posts separating cyclists from traffic don’t provide protection to cyclists. Other cities only allow small trucks on urban streets. Why can’t we?
2. Should dining tables and chairs be placed next to the kerb?
There’s a certain Placemaking Thing about having dining tables and chairs next to the kerb. It’s European, très chic. And we seem to have plucked it from Europe’s pedestrian-friendly environments and popped it down here in the midst of monster trucks and fumes and high traffic volumes and speeds. It’s even been suggested specifically for Pt Chevalier:
“The footpaths are wide enough to accommodate outdoor dining and seating and many activities flow onto the footpath bringing natural surveillance. However seating, sandwich boards, sign poles and other elements clutter the footpath in places and make it difficult for people with diabilities. To assist the visually impaired, there may be an opportunity to require café owners to put their street furniture adjacent to the kerb with a wide accessibility zone provided along the frontage of the buildings.” – Pt Chevalier Place Audit Report, November 2014, Auckland Council.
Shouldn’t something be done about the danger, volume, fumes and speed of traffic before we attempt to put tables and chairs right next to the kerb? Signs, yes, but I’m thinking that maybe some massive, protective barriers, like those useful planter boxes, might be more suitable for the traffic environment we’ve been dealt.
3. Whose idea was it to build a petrolhead’s playground?
The truck had approached the intersection on the uphill slope of Great North Rd, where it is six lanes wide, and then failed on the sharp 60 degree turn into the narrower Carrington Rd. In a car, that’s a geometry that is hard to beat for kicks: you can floor it, and have an adrenalin rush as you almost-but-don’t-quite-lose-control on the turn. If you time it right, you can come off the motorway and straight up the hill without even having to slow.
How do I know this, you may ask? I had it explained to me recently by a self-confessed petrolhead. (Very nice man, makes great coffee.) Here’s a shot going up Great North Road’s slope towards the intersection.
(As an aside, the NW motorway was originally touted to locals as a solution that would take traffic off Great North Road. Ha!)
Perhaps the design of the road and the intersection has something to do with why so many cars are sliding through the cycle lane and hitting the kerb as they turn the corner? The hapless planter boxes were put there, in fact, one week before the truck fell over, because a local health professional had heard and seen enough cars hitting the kerb, and recognised the danger. He was also experimenting to see if plants could improve the air quality.
The intersection itself may be generous because it is part of NZ’s “Overdimension Route Map”, but the width of Great North Rd has everything to do with transport planning and road design.
4. How will the number of trucks using this intersection change over time?
Short term, the intersection will serve trucks involved in the construction of the Unitec Development, the Light Rail project, and new development in Pt Chevalier, including 62 apartments right at the intersection and another 180 within 400 m. All these developments are great, but who-at AT, Council or NZTA, is considering the impact these construction trucks will have on safety? Or on walkability and liveability?
Long term, Auckland is adding 40 km of new roads each year, and NZTA is continuing to widen and extend the state highways. All of this induces more traffic, city-wide, so we can only expect both general and truck traffic to grow. Did anyone spot a line in the RLTP that says “Projects to Decrease Truck Traffic on Local Roads”? Yeah.
5. Will Council ever succeed at improving this town centre?
Council know the problems at this town centre. They know that the motorway created severance in a way that Pt Chevalier has never recovered from. They’ve put work and funding into auditing the problems and suggesting solutions:
“There are opportunities to improve and increase the pedestrian crossing facilities along the main arterial routes including Great North Road, Point Chevalier Road and Carrington Road to create a safer walking environment…” – Pt Chevalier Place Audit Report, November 2014 (An audit conducted by 29 subject matter experts from 15 divisions of Auckland Council and Auckland Transport.)
“The Point Chevalier town centre is close to Unitec… The motorway overbridge is the only route between them and currently provides a poor quality environment for pedestrians and cyclists…” – Pt Chevalier Community Project, May 2001 (A 2-day workshop involving 90 people.)
Solutions always involve improving pedestrian and cycling amenity, and reducing the dominating effect of traffic through the town centre. Any guesses why these suggestions haven’t been implemented?
6. What to do?
How do you fix a town centre blighted by motorway severance, high traffic volumes from cars avoiding the clogged motorways, huge unstable trucks, and cars speeding up overly-generous roads and through overly-generous intersections?
- AT have an improvement for cyclists planned. Not best practice, and nothing that would have saved a cyclist in this situation. A useful baby step, nonetheless, but it would be more so if other measures are also brought in;
- lowering local speed limits (30 km/hr);
- providing covered clip-ons to the Carrington Rd overbridge for active modes as recommended for “Immediate Action in the Next Budget Round” – Pt Chevalier Community Project, May 2001 (yes, 2001);
- citywide improvements to alter mode-share and lower traffic volumes and speeds.
But maybe this is one location where some direct design for safety and placemaking is required? Particularly as there are so many developments happening nearby. Goff instructed AT:
Council is looking to see better, and earlier, engagement from Auckland Transport with Local Boards… Auckland Transport’s management of the roading corridor impacts on Local Boards’ ability to make decisions relating to matters that are their responsibility. For instance, place making is the responsibility of Local Boards, but they have no decision-making power over the road corridor in town centres.
The Local Board-initiated Placemaking Project would like to be involved in the design for the Light Rail, transport aspects of the Unitec Development, and in any other AT designs near the town centre. To date, AT have acted when we asked to shorten the pedestrian phasing at a midblock crossing, and are helping provide covered bike parks. Thanks, AT. On the other hand, replies include ‘confidential’ when we’ve asked about specific projects, and ‘no plans to make any changes’ when we wish to discuss areas with safety issues.
Placemaking is not just a surface treatment. It doesn’t just slot in after the transport decisions have been made.
(Planter boxes to this day – Note the ubiquitous illegally parked car crowding the footpath right next to a side road that is a known pedestrian danger spot.)
7. How long will pedestrian-blaming keep the road designers out of the spotlight?
After the accident, I had a little chat to some of the emergency services workers and a policeman clearing up the mess. I take my hat off to the amazing people who do this horrible work. The policeman acknowledged the usefulness of the planter boxes, but when I suggested my Placemaking Project could put a few more of them around, he replied:
Maybe. But I say to people that they need to not look at their cellphones while they’re walking.
And then I understood.
There was no pedestrian using a cellphone. There wasn’t even a pedestrian. But according to that policeman, this is immaterial. The real problem here, apparently, is pedestrians using cellphones.
If someone gets hurt here, will it be blamed on our allowing monstrously huge trucks on local roads? Or on increasing the traffic volume with our road building? Or designing the geometry to encourage hooning? How about speed limits, lack of enforcement, or the cost-cutting that led to police underfunding? No, silly me. The ‘accident’ will involve ‘many contributing factors’ and really, it was the pedestrian’s fault for not paying attention.
Hop out of the way of that falling truck, honey.
Heidi O’Callahan is a civil engineer and permaculture designer. She is a member of Transition Town Pt Chevalier, the Pt Chevalier Placemaking Project, and the Pt Chevalier Streetscape and Cycling Community Liaison Group. Locals interested in contributing to the Pt Chevalier Placemaking Project can contact the group on [email protected]com