The report looks ahead to wall of traffic heading to British streets in the post war period and sets out principles and plans to ameliorate the negative effects as much as possible. It was hugely influential in the UK at least, wiki:
The report signified some fundamental shifts in attitudes to roads, by recognising that there were environmental disbenefits from traffic, and that large increases in capacity can exacerbate congestion problems, not solve them. This awareness of environmental impact was ahead of its time, and not translated into policy for some years in other countries, such as Germany or the USA, where the promotion of traffic flow remained paramount
There is so much wisdom in this report, much of it borne out by the passage of time, just a couple of examples:
The American policy of providing motorways for commuters can succeed, even in American conditions, only if there is a disregard for all considerations other than the free flow of traffic which seems sometimes to be almost ruthless.
and this, still so true:
We have found it desirable to avoid the term ‘solution’ altogether for the traffic problem is not such much a problem waiting for a solution as a social situation requiring to be dealt with by policies patiently applied over a period and revised from time to time in light of events.
In other words, if traffic flow is the dominant priority, this requires the sacrifice of the very places it is meant to serve. And the problems of traffic cannot be solved, only restricted.
I have known about this book since seeing it in my parent’s bookcase as a kid. But what I didn’t know, and only has come to my attention because his grandson Paul (a transport economist) sent me a copy, is that Sir Colin was commissioned in 1966 by the Mayor of Auckland to “advise upon the the re-arrangement of the inner city streets systems consequent upon motorways“.
The resultant report: City of Auckland Planning in the Central Area – An Assessment has eluded my hauntings of the city archives so must have been even more deeply suppressed than most. And I guess I can see why. It’s very very good. So good its principles should be followed now. Like any good consultant he answered the question that the situation demanded as well as the lesser one he was actually asked: The best of the report is about the principles of how to plan and control city streets in the age of the car, and it is this I want to focus on now.
Because we still need to do this.
And I guess the great news is that we have never been better placed to do so than now, because we are now fixing the huge mistake of last century in Auckland: the car-only transport policy.
The key point is Buchanan starts from the inarguable position that city building is an aesthetic issue, a qualitative one, as well as a quantitative one, and that vehicle traffic in volume is an unacceptable assault on the very possibility of a successful city, and must be consciously managed. Unfortunately the context of his employment was
So the starting point of the report is the rejection of the Rapid Transit half of the De Leuw Cather plan.
On this the report is rather wistful:
The City Engineer, who earlier had presided over the ripping up of the tramways, was looking for support for what parts of the city centre he should bulldoze to receive all the traffic from the planned motorways, which streets to flood with traffic. This is the thinking that gave us the Hobson/Nelson one-way system, Mayoral Drive (Quadrant St) smashed through buildings, the total destruction of Grafton Gully etc. The report discusses all these, nodding along in a very lukewarm way, suggesting trials only. Constantly pointing to place costs this will all impose, especially on the quality of the City Centre and University, but aware of the inevitability.
The report describes the current situation, complains politely about the fractured nature of the governance of the city, then gets to the central problem. Basically that the motorway plan, unrelieved by any alternative, will just dump far too much traffic into the city centre, “more than is civilised”.
This paragraph could have been written today:
There follows an interesting discussion about Queen St, and how the Barnes Dance crossings are likely only popular because of a rare respite from traffic they offer. Then:
“One would expect the benefits from this expenditure of public funds to be very substantial indeed and to include at the least a high degree of withdrawal of from the central streets.”
Then he asks why the motorway was routed to sever the city so tightly. We do know the answer to this but it is a bit off topic, perhaps for a later post. The report then uses the term environmental standards, by which is meant the whole aesthetic condition, the quality of place, so somewhat broader than how we tend to use the term now.
So his starting point would be the pedestrianisation of the heart of the city centre. Begin with place quality then fit the movement to suit. And as a contra to that he would start at the other end and try to ram as much traffic in as possible, but, and here’s the twist, this part of the exercise is simply undertaken to prove its futility:
‘This would be the value of this exercise – it would demonstrate to councillors and the public alike the impossibility of catering for a future condition of “maximum motorisation”.’
Poor Sir Colin, must be spinning in his grave, as an ideology of “maximum motorisation” is a very good description of exactly what was pursued in Auckland, from pretty much the moment his report hit the table, if not before. Total hegemony of the diktat of traffic flow over all other values on our roads and streets, the conversion, as much as was possible, of all streets into roads. Including in the city centre. The condition of the highway considered as an ideal, not as an exception. Still today Hobson and Nelson streets in the city, for example, are controlled by highway engineers and vehicle traffic modellers, with less (though slowly increasing) input from designers into their condition.
That futility was, and by some, is still pursued here.
This is interesting, in contrast to post-war Britain he saw us as having plenty of cash, just not spending it wisely (this situation is even more evident now in Australian cities; all are building terribly wasteful massive motorways that will simply generate ever more driving and congestion and pollution…). And his prediction was surely correct; Auckland city centre has degenerated into a confusion both in terms of transport and built environment, both movement and place.
And it’s not hard to read what this paragraph is referring to:
Furthermore he could clearly see what was happening:
Now, obviously the pressures are greater, but also we at last building that ‘co-ordinated bus-train rapid transit system’, we do have a whole department focussed on design of the city at Council, and they have been busy designing access to city with the quality of the outcome in mind, rather than just how to empty ever wider motorways onto our streets..
Surely now, we can take the dividend from all this massive investment and building of bypasses and at last focus on the quality of the outcome for the city.
And, at last, get the cars out of the Queen St Valley.