This is a guest post from reader Heidi O’Callahan
If Auckland is to reach its full potential, roads and streets need to perform beyond the traditional norm of moving traffic and providing access for vehicles to local destinations.
Auckland Transport does some great work. Last year, the AT Board approved a potentially game-changing document, The Roads and Streets Framework, plus its supporting technical document, the Transport Design Manual. But their latest Statement of Intent, released in early July, has sent shock waves through the community of people working to usher in a more liveable city.
It’s worthwhile taking a bit of time to look at the documents and appreciate how they could improve our transport planning, and it’s worthwhile doing so now, in urgency. The Statement of Intent has indicated a review:
Review the Roads and Streets Framework to clarify its emerging financial implications.
Mild words, hiding layers of disagreement and conflict within AT. And somewhat surprising, given that The Transport Design Manual hasn’t even been released yet, so a review of any meaning, taking feedback from practitioners in the field, is impossible at this stage.
For ease of reading, I’ll refer to the Roads and Streets Framework, as ‘The Framework”.
OK, so why did Auckland Transport need this document? Here’s what The Framework says:
The key problems with current approaches include:
- Conflicts between different modes of transport are not being resolved.
- Lack of guidance on network development to support new urban areas, so that they are less car-oriented than traditional suburbs.
- Limited ability to respond to the wider needs of liveability, sustainability, active transport modes and economic growth.
- Development of silos within and between transport and other infrastructure providers utilising road and street space.
- Lack of strategic direction and design guidance in how to address the pressures of growth in existing urban areas and new growth areas.
It’s certainly refreshing to read an AT document that so clearly names some of the problems we face. What seems to be new in The Framework is that its process requires the consideration of the high quality environment and people-friendly work done in other silos in AT and Council. The Framework overtly acknowledges the conflict between different goals and modes, and puts the decision-making around this conflict front and foremost in the process, before the technical design starts. That’s good for transparency and should produce a robust design that can either find wide support in the community, or at least have well-documented and locally-relevant reasoning presented with it.
By considering both place and movement, the key stakeholders together determine a “street typology” which then guides the technical design. Each typology will have characteristic land-uses, traffic types, speeds, widths, travel volumes, pedestrian numbers, etc.
The resulting road or street type is based on the desired future state, capturing land-use and transport aspirations over 10 years and beyond.
Terms like ‘place’ and ‘movement’ sound like the talk of urban planners, but they do express the concepts important for a well-functioning city. We like nice places, but only if we have access to them. We like to go places easily, but we don’t want to ruin all the places along the way with insensitive transport infrastructure. And if places close to home are lovely, we feel less desire to escape somewhere better, putting less pressure on the transport networks. At every location in the city, there’s a balance between how nice the place can be, and how much it can be a place for moving people around.
Of course, every location is unique. The chosen typology starts the process with an initial guess at how the different modes should be prioritised (see the following chart). But once the local information is considered, the priority for that location is likely to change.
The Framework then presents tools to solve or mitigate the inevitable conflicts that arise between different modes and between place and movement goals. Sometimes, for example, all the goals can be met if the street functions differently at different places along its length, or at different times of the day.
I have already found the general recommendations for good urban design and recommended street layouts helpful. For example, design ideas that make good sense in urban permaculture design are now supported by principles from The Framework, such as:
- Walking is the fundamental unit of movement in neighbourhoods
- Block sizes and intersection spacing must be set to provide excellent levels of accessibility for pedestrians
The Transport Design Manual, which details the engineering design, was supposed to have been released at the end of November 2017. Here’s what AT say about the design part of it that deals with urban streets and roads:
I like the “best practice” and “international research” bullet points! Realisitically, it will need to be a living document, like the AT-COP it replaces was supposed to be. And this is where its delay is of concern. As I understand it, the Transport Design Manual includes design guides, engineering code and engineering specifications. At about 2000 pages in length, they can’t expect to get it perfect first time. There have undoubtedly been good reasons for the delay to date. But the team need to get it out into the practitioners’ hands now so that designs aren’t compromised, and so that the practitioners’ feedback can be considered.
I have a draft of the part dealing with urban streets, and I particularly like the clarity given for where different types of cycling infrastructure are required, based on traffic speed and volume, (which is taken from the Cycling Level of Service tool):
We need to make sure that any money spent on transport in Auckland is done in a way that recreates the city in a safer, people-friendly form. To prematurely review the Roads and Streets Framework “because of its emerging financial implications” while the bulk of transport funding – multiple billions of dollars – is going towards increasing road capacity, indicates a reluctance on someone’s part to make the mindshift this city requires.
Councillors, local boards, advocacy and community groups need to get organised to halt this premature review; it’s a battle of mindsets, and has nothing to do with fiscal prudency