With Aucklanders suffering a housing crisis and poor transport choice, new housing in convenient, well-connected parts of Auckland can’t come soon enough. While the unitary plan allows for new housing along transport corridors, there are still a number of barriers slowing the regeneration of these areas. Which isn’t much fun for people stuck in substandard living or commuting conditions.
I’d like to highlight one barrier to “transit-oriented-development” along our arterial roads. These corridors have good bus routes, many amenities within a short walk, and everything you’d normally need just a short bus or cycle trip away. Eventually, hopefully, we’ll see a good mix of housing, retail, commercial, recreation and cultural facilities, and all served by efficient, but people-friendly, safe multi-modal streets.
Council’s Parks and Opens Spaces Strategy, 2013 notes that extra dwellings in urban areas means residents will
use local parks, streets or squares for activities that may have traditionally occurred in the suburban backyard…
And puts as a priority for Council to:
See our streets as places.
Auckland Transport’s Sustainability Framework, 2017 notes that to meet one of its four over-arching goals:
Meet the Social and Health Needs of Aucklanders
sets an objective:
Enhance the liveability of Auckland’s streets
The built environment along these transport corridors could be inspired by Peter Calthorpe:
Or maybe by a more traditional neighbourhood:
Except… car yards.
Car dealerships are not just remaining along our key transit oriented development routes, they are continuing to invest in and develop their sites. Car yards offer very little in the way of public good, or of meeting any of our goals of modeshift, health, environment or social outcomes. And their car transporters are making the streets dangerous.
Suggest compulsory land acquisition or changing the zoning to exclude them, and you’ll meet a barrage of property rights, existing use, and business confidence reasons why this is impossible. The story goes, we need to wait for the market to move them on.
But what if Auckland Transport is skewing the market?
A flurry of recent articles (1, 2 and 3) about an unsafe situation on Great North Road in Grey Lynn offers insight to how Auckland Transport is probably preventing housing development in many parts of the city.
Plunkett and her daughter once became trapped on a pedestrian refuge after a transporter pulled over on the road in front and another behind them. Traffic was busy and the pair had no way to safely navigate to the other side of the road.
She also saw ramps being lowered on the road, cars being revers[ed] into oncoming traffic, cyclists struggling to navigate around them and a transporter parked completely over the top of a pedestrian island.
The lack of room on the road also jeopardised the safety of the drivers, who had to walk in the traffic to operate the transporters, she said…
“The yellow lines are there on the road for a reason”…
Bike Auckland chair Barb Cuthbert said Great North Rd was a key cycling route and was used daily by hundreds of cyclists who took advantage of the safety bus lanes provided…
“Riding around the parked trucks into the live traffic lane is a particular risk for those of us on bikes, and it’s not a lot safer on the footpath.”
This is an unacceptable safety situation, preventing children’s independent mobility and endangering road users. There are no two ways about it from a safety perspective – road safety should have been enforced until safe solutions were found. But let’s explore whether responsible enforcement could also have allowed the gradual change in land use in the area that a growing city – focused on its people – would expect to see.
Cooperation between the various businesses could have seen the development of one unloading facility to serve all the yards in the area:
Was space available for them to achieve this? Yes. Any one of the sites that became an upmarket car yard over the last decade or so could have been used for this purpose. This site, for example:
became a car salesroom instead of a safe unloading facility:
Auckland Transport realises the dealerships could have provided their own land, but ducks for cover behind planning regulations:
Ideally, car yards would have areas for transporters to deliver and unload cars to on site, but Strawbridge said most of the car yards along this particular stretch of Great North were built before consent conditions around the loading and unloading of transporters were required.
Consistently enforced safety regulations could have been as effective as consent conditions in encouraging dealerships to provide their own, shared, facilities. On this expensive land, of course, it would have involved quite a cost.
Which would have made a cheaper site appeal strongly – one not on a Transit-Oriented Development route earmarked to help solve our housing problems.
Enforcement could have limited the car transporters to use just the existing loading zones. For example, this car transporter is in a legal, 21.8 m long, loading zone.
To use existing loading zones like this one requires smaller transporters, in order to be able to negotiate the back streets, plus cooperation between operators, with some sort of booking system.
One existing loading zone in the area isn’t used by large transporters because they can’t get in and out of the side street, and another proposed area isn’t suitable for the same reasons…
Chris Carr, who owns Carr and Haslam, a car transporter company, has been in conversation with AT for about four years trying to come up with a solution…
“The longest of our trucks is 23m long. That would block a whole road while you were either driving in or backing out, and backing out is fraught with difficulty.”
Without enforcement, there is no level playing field for a responsible operator trying to use smaller trucks and safe parking practices. Relegated to using smaller trucks and needing to coordinate loading zone time-slots, or facing escalating non-compliance consequences, Carr wouldn’t be discussing his longest truck. Instead, the discussion would be about how much he would need to charge per vehicle delivery.
And higher charges per vehicle delivery might have been the trigger for moving.
The cars could have been driven in from a location further out. Chris Carr argues against this solution here:
You could ban the trucks, he said, but then there’d be ten times the number of vehicles driven in and out of the city, playing havoc with traffic congestion.
Would that have been the ultimate result, though? Multiple drivers would increase delivery costs, and dealerships don’t want to add mileage to the cars’ speedos.
As each dealership in turn felt the pinch of parking enforcement, short term solutions like this might have led to one of the other solutions, or to a decision to move out of the prime development area.
Auckland Transport’s contribution to the problem
This situation is not a new problem. Auckland Transport say they have limited powers:
the agency was well aware of the problem, but limited to handing out infringement notices for parking violations… A police spokesman said parking infringements were a matter for AT, not police.
If our road controlling agency really is ill-equipped to solve this long-standing safety situation, they have had years to escalate the issue. Part of their role is in advocacy to both government and to police. Are we really to believe that this is one area of the law where serial offences could not lead to more stringent penalties and action?
If unsafe trucking practices in urban areas – such as parking – fail to provide the same grounds for revocation of an operator’s license as we’ve recently seen for a logging truck operator, does this reveal a systemic bias against urban safety needs? A bias against the safety of people cycling and walking compared to rural car drivers? AT is an urban road controlling authority – what have they done to right this bias?
“We are well aware there is an issue and we enforce regularly.”
To the contrary, I believe the fact that AT hasn’t enforced proactively is the reason the issue still exists.
The problem is a mindset one – a belief that safety shouldn’t impinge on business, and that existing protocols have precedence over society’s emerging and urgent demands. Here’s what needs to shape AT’s actions:
We have a safety crisis. Solutions must improve outcomes for walking and cycling – so if road space is reallocated, it must be given to these neglected modes.
We have a climate crisis. Solutions must favour sustainable modes and provide real incentive for people to take to cycling, walking and using public transport.
We have a housing crisis. Solutions must not delay the natural exodus of car yards from an area suitable for intense housing development.
Auckland Transport’s mandate is to provide a safe environment. And their role during our city’s regeneration process isn’t limited to just streetscape redesign.
There’s no mandate in the Governmental Policy Statement or the Auckland Plan to provide further highly-contested space in the road corridor to car transporters. It is enforcement of the rules, not subsidising the car yards with more space, that will improve the safety situation. And yes, that might mean the car yards will move out. Auckland Transport should have no role in skewing the market to help them to stay.
If they do, it will be at the expense of commuters stuck in traffic or in substandard housing, who’d prefer to live in a more convenient location.