Consultation is an important part of the process for public agencies but getting it right is easier said than done. Sometimes the issues with consultation stem from what is included, sometimes from how the results are interpreted – only those passionate enough either way tend to respond – and at the moment we’re seeing another issue entirely.

Auckland Transport currently have a whopping 55 consultations that close on Friday and another one closing a week later. Those consultations range in size from large region-wide and city-shaping plans down to minor changes to kerbs.

One of the issues with this is that consultations tend to draw out those most opposed to any particular change and with so many happening all at once it makes it difficult for those interested in making the city a better place to keep up. It also has the feeling of a student who has left their assignment to the last minute and is now rushing to get it completed on time.

What I think all of these consultations, and some of the content of them, highlight is that our consultation processes seem to be broken with agencies seemingly now feeling they need to consult on even the most minor changes. Perhaps in some of the local situations, like town center improvements, they should take a leaf out of Panuku’s book from Takapuna and send some people to interview locals. This could be particularly useful in catching the actual thoughts of the community rather than just those with the loudest voice.

Over this post and others this week we hope to shed some light on as many of these as we can.

Region-wide pedestrian crossing improvements

AT have proposed to upgrade 49 existing pedestrian crossings across the region but that they’re consulting on all of these individually is a good example of how broken the system is.

In most cases the proposals involve adding raised tables and other measures such as better lighting and high friction surfacing to existing pedestrian crossings. This is good.

One of the issue stems from the fact that each crossing is subtly different from each of the other locations provided, for example, some have kerb build-outs, some have median islands and some have just the raised table. This means that each proposal has to be consulted on individually and makes it particularity difficult for the likes of our friends at Bike Auckland as some will have greater impact than others for those on bikes.

There is also an element of why they’re even bothering to consult with some of these changes. They’ve been identified as being needed for safety and an element of “stop wasting time and just get on with it” at play.  Perhaps the best example of that is the Railside Ave crossing proposal. This is for the crossing outside the train station. It is already on a raised table and they’re consulting adding better lighting, adding smart studs in the road and it seems removing a hump for pedestrians from the existing median island. 

Mairangi Bay town centre safety improvements

AT say they want to make the Mairangi Bay town centre safer.

We are proposing to make changes to roads in Mairangi Bay town centre in order to improve safety and accessibility for all road users, especially children and people walking and cycling.

That last word is particularly interesting as I can’t see anything in the proposal that does anything for cycling. Not even a painted bike lane – but it does retain a large painted median and a lot of on-street parking. The raised tables will help slow most cars down but can anyone really see kids riding through here?

Torbay town centre safety improvements

Similar to Mairangi Bay, AT say they want to make the roads safer for children and people walking and cycling in Torbay. Like Mairangi Bay, there doesn’t appear to be anything for cycling with changes limited to a few kerb buildouts and raised tables.

There even remains carparks on the outside of a roundabout.

Safer Communities programme – Mangere Bridge 

The safer communities programme is slightly different to most consultations in that it appears to be more working with the community before coming up with the solution, something we need more of. AT say are on the third and final step of that process.

Safer Communities programme – Mt Roskill

Similar to above, Mt Roskill is in the the third step in a larger consultation process.

I’ll try to cover some of the other, bigger consultations in larger posts, starting with Grey Lynn this afternoon.

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  1. One half of me says these consultations are just like MPs shirking their responsibilities by pushing things to referenda. The other part of me says, in reference to Heidi’s post yesterday, that the Council doesn’t push AT hard enough to follow its agenda via the SOI process so we need these tedious long winded consults to get things done a bit better than without. Although wouldn’t be better if they consulted on the basic design manual, go that right, then rolled it out everywhere.

  2. I usually just submit oppositions to stuff just for the fun of it. It’s not like they actually listen to people anyway.

    1. They do listen, every single submission is read, catalogued and discussed. I use the outputs in my work. We’ve just made a large, multi million dollar change to the preferred option of a project based on consultation submissions. General comments of “I like this” or “I hate this” are only so useful, but specific comments about why particular elements work or don’t work or might have unintended consequences or doing something, or not doing it… those are very useful.
      Despite what people think these things run on small planning budgets, there are usually few staff working on each project and they do get spread thinly at times. So local knowledge is super useful to the process.

      Of course listening to someone doesn’t mean immediately ignoring everyone else, all evaluations and costing to just do what they demand… it just means listening to them and understanding their comments.

      1. “it just means listening to them and understanding their comments.”

        And that unfortunately is why so many of these consultations are a complete waste of time. The submitter can say that the proposal is contrary to the SoI’s, Parking Strategy, or whatever and then AT can just do what they want. Unless you have a pile of money for a Judicial Review then the individual is powerless. Of course every single decision should not be able to be overturned by just one individual, but surely AT is bound by the policies that they have adopted, otherwise why bother to have them.

        1. And of course if 99% of people think the proposal is OK they probably won’t submit – meaning your design is based off the 1% who have a bone to pick. Maybe that is why they don’t include cycle lanes – they know they will get a whole lot of submissions asking for them, and then they can include them in the final design without needing to consult again.

        2. Good point. Maybe they are leaving items like that out initially to avoid attracting opposition to them, then the submissions requesting can win out. 🙂

  3. Following on from your comments about not looking bike friendly, I noticed that none of the graphics show any bikes.

    1. The complete lack of cycling infrastructure is incredible, isn’t it? Cycling embedded across the organisation? No, but the advocates seem to have been muzzled with the restructure.

  4. Consulting on improving pedestrian crossings is unbelievable. If safety demands it, what on earth would they add to the cost of each crossing by consulting on it? The cost of the crossings is used as a reason for why more can’t be put in. No consultation means more crossings improved, from the same money.

    A public discussion about types of crossings, what actually works for wheelchair users, cyclists, parents with prams, etc, and where each is appropriate, sure. But then just get on and do it! It’s not like they’re willing to use a crossing device that’s actually innovative or taking on board the community’s wishes – we saw that here:

  5. As i remember from past experience consulting for AT a large part of the reason why every little frustrating project needs consulting is a requirement in the process for the resolution of amended or new parking restrictions and traffic controls. This process is convoluted and adds complexity to these small quick win projects.

        1. I agree Sacha. If there are stupid laws that are costing AT serious time or money, someone should be having a chat with the minister. If the minister doesn’t care, then it should be a chat with the media.

  6. I’d be interested to see what happens when someone decides to try and stop and reverse into the carparks on the side of the roundabout. Total chaos or just total traffic paralysis? The person who designed that bit should be sacked, immediately. Such stupidity should not go unpunished.

  7. Consultation is still important so people who is really interested can contribute their ideas and opinion.

    However the need to differentiate between opt-in submissions, and random submissions.

    Opt-in submissions should be used for input and suggestions, not for approval.

    Instead, the approval rate should be calculated based on random input, which is less selective and bias.
    For example to get those, a random on-street / phone survey may be required.

  8. “they should take a leaf out of Panuku’s book from Takapuna and send some people to interview locals. This could be particularly useful in catching the actual thoughts of the community rather than just those with the loudest voice.”

    “Great” consultation process – exceptionally poor outcome.

    Panuku ended up ignoring their vision statement for Takapuna; disregarding some of AT’s SoI’s and the Parking Strategy; along with other significant failings.

    They also only embarked on this consultation process because the previous one was deemed inadequate by the High Court.

    The second one was also roundly criticised by many locals as it lumped together acceptable and unacceptable parts and if you rejected the whole you threw away parts that you found worthwhile.

    As a Takapuna resident I describe the whole process as cynical and Takapuna received what the Mayor wanted, alongside threats of what they wouldn’t get if residents rejected it.

    It was an embarrassment for all the local bodies involved.

    1. It would be impossible to embarrass the Devonport-Takapuna Local Board anymore than they have already embarrassed themselves. The most useless, lazy local board in Auckland according to Council staff I have spoken to.

    2. The Takapuna local consultation was neither local nor a consultation in the end. We have ended up with a useless plan where public land is being hijacked by property developers and public transport is undermined by a massive new car-parking building.

      Everything taka-ite has written about it above is right!

  9. If Council and AT had the cojones to deal firmly with nimbys at a more general level, they would not feel the need to ‘consult’ over every tiny safety improvement.

    1. Exactly, and dealing firmly requires having a firm commitment to good land and transport urban planning. It requires aligning policies, aligning practices with those policies, and aligning communication with those policies. Consultation then should be on perhaps three levels:
      – The higher level where the public can learn about urban planning and be part of the discussion.
      – Another level where some suburb-by-suburb big decisions are decided – probably this would be something like each suburb gets to vote on which of several different building / streetscape combos they would prefer (all would have to meet intensification and mobility standards)
      – A third level where the locals are invited to offer local knowledge to assist in implementing new plans. Not for deciding if they should proceed.

  10. I’ve made quite a few submissions over the years – it usually feels like a waste of time unless you know there’s significant public backlash. I never get any feedback about my submissions.
    A couple of observations/ideas:

    First, the design of places like Mairangi Bay mainstreet should be comprehensively undertaken by the Local Board, Council (parks, design office, maybe Panuku) and AT together. AT don’t have the Urban designers, landscape architects and other specialists needed to achieve “placemaking” (or even Cycle lanes, it seems) so perhaps use consultation as a way of raising these issues/ideas. AT making “safety improvements” just means more work later to review/change it. If there is a real and imminent safety risk to address then put a couple of *temporary* speed bumps and a 20kph sign up until a proper design can be completed..

    Second, consultation should be formalised to certain bodies; NZIA, UDF, NZILA, NZPI, IPENZ, CAA, organised community groups, iwi, etc. AT could get free professional advice from these bodies , but the consultation process isn’t a good way to do that; it’s usually too late by then since the scope & budget (and preferred option) have already been decided.

  11. I was quite surprised when I got one of these consultation thingys for Mt Albert road in Three Kings – and it didn’t include cycle lanes. Surely cycle lanes are in the long term plan for Mt Albert Road – so why not add them to each upgrade?

  12. What I’m going to have to get organised for the next round of AT’s consultation frenzy, is some sort of better document annotation and management software. These documents really require printing out to be able to quickly annotate and cross-reference with. But I’m not prepared to do that. I can’t even easily grab a paragraph or two and paste into my own document to annotate, because the formatting is all over the place. You usually can’t copy a row in a table, because it’ll take all the rows with it, etc…

    I’m sure I’ll find something that’ll work, but better choice of format by AT would make it easier for everyone.

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