What is Council’s vision for our “destination” precincts? Planning to improve these areas for recreation, arts and culture, tourism and education needs to be consistent with the planning for the rest of the city. How should they be developed to ensure they are in line with our social, economic and environmental goals?
Here is the direction for “Places” given in the Auckland Plan 2050:
When we think about a quality compact urban form, compact housing is usually our focus. Where to put it, and how to do it well. I’d like to use the Western Springs Precinct to explore how these “destination” precincts are part of the picture too. There’s nothing radical or uncomfortable about designing for “good density” here. Consistent steps in one direction are all that is required.
Auckland can take pride in Western Springs. It has superb facilities, great green infrastructure, and it’s popular. From a recent Parking Management Plan Report of the precinct by Flow Transportation Specialists:
Attendance figures are recorded to reach a combined total of around 1 million for the zoo and MOTAT alone, with the rest having a wide audience reach throughout Auckland and beyond. Each land use is considered to be unique and is required to develop and grow their audiences and advance economically. There is also pressure from outside sources to increase revenue at the majority of sites within the precinct, subsequently requiring an increase in visitor numbers to the precinct.
Transport networks are on its doorstep, including several frequent bus services, the motorway, the Northwestern cycleway, and the train isn’t far, either.
Public Transport near Western Springs.
I’ve shown most of the amenities on the following map. Here are the acronyms or shortenings that might not be obvious:
- AMT = The Auckland Music Theatre
- TAPAC = The Auckland Performing Arts Centre
- Waiorea = Ngā Puna o Waiōrea – the Te Reo Māori immersion kura
- WS AFC = The Western Springs Association Football Club
- WSC = Western Springs College
- Garden Community Hall = The Western Springs Garden Community Hall
- Horticultural Council = The Auckland Horticultural Council Headquarters. These last two facilities are used by a number of societies and groups, and for events.
Amenities at Western Springs.*
To design improvements we need to understand the key challenges posed by this precinct.
Security. The area is perceived as unsafe at night. Adults drive there. Most parents don’t let their tweens and teens walk or cycle home in the dark from the many evening activities at scouts, the schools, the music theatre or TAPAC, etc. During the day, stark prison-like walls and an unbalanced mix of land uses leaves the area feeling empty and unsafe for many. This results, of course, in dependency on cars for trips that would ideally be walked, cycled or made by public transport.
Parking. There is parking pressure at certain times of the week and year. While local visitors can be expected to respond to parking pressure by switching to walking, cycling or bus, many visitors coming from further afield won’t find these alternatives practical. There can be parking pressure in one part of the precinct while another part has plenty of availability.
Parking on Great North Rd sitting empty while the cruising-for-a-park chaos was well under way on Motions Rd.
Responding to this, many drivers park illegally in the pedestrian realm, which presents danger to vulnerable users and causes damage to Council property.
The anti-social parking behaviour damages soil, kerbs, trees, street furniture and services, and deters people from active travel by the danger it presents.
Poor walking amenity. The precinct is flanked by excellent bus services. The walking connections to these networks are not safe or attractive, though. The route from the Outer Link has no pedestrian crossing, and the tripping risk is extreme:
The “Motat Driveway” – the path connecting Meola Rd with the rest of the precinct, including for the daily cycle or walk to school for many college and intermediate students.
From the Great North Rd buses, there is no intuitive path to the zoo. Taking Motions Rd, people first encounter the carpark entrance, which only caters to cars. The pedestrian entrance is further along the street. Counter-intuitively, the narrow path heads away from the zoo entrance, increasing the walking distance. Since it is used by people with prams, and on scooters and bikes going to the Western Springs playground, the possibility of conflicts is high.
Safety issues also exist for students due to poor sightlines at the school’s entrance, where Motions Rd, Old Mill Rd, the Motat driveway and the tramlines intersect.
No cycling. The precinct is missing a cycling network. Also, the severance from the motorway has never been repaired, so there are no direct connections from Motions Rd via cycling and walking overbridges to the Northwest cycleway.
Too much traffic. People on feet or on bikes face danger from the movement of vehicles in and out of parking lots, in and out of kerbside parks, over kerbs into illegal parking spots, with drivers looking for parking spaces not people, and using the area as a ratrun. Cutting through the area has worsened considerably since the Waterview Connection opened.
How then, should the precinct be improved?
Development of this precinct needs to support the Auckland Plan’s goals of a more compact urban form and of creating urban places for the future that are inclusive, accessible and contribute to urban living. Any land use changes must be wisely chosen so they don’t create further sprawl, car dependency or traffic danger. Providing more parking, for example, is a step in the wrong direction. Changes that make it easier to travel sustainably will create benefits for the rest of the city, where these visitors’ journeys traverse.
Here are the desired Transport Outcomes in the Auckland Plan 2050, which are all relevant here, particularly focus area 4:
Make walking, cycling and public transport preferred choices for many more Aucklanders.
The Parking Management Report says of the Western Springs Precinct:
It is noted that a higher level of overall accessibility by walking, cycling and public transport would encourage and enable lower trips made by private vehicles and thereby enable a corresponding reduction in the provision of available car parking.
The city’s rapid transit network is still a work in progress, so most people coming to Western Springs from distant parts of Auckland will find driving most practical. Solutions need to focus on reducing other, discretionary, driving in the precinct. This means reducing vehicle trips:
- passing through the precinct rather than coming to it, and
- coming from shorter distances.
Smart Parking Management. Pricing the parks will encourage people coming from more local destinations – who have other options – to switch transport mode. This ensures people coming from further away – or who really need a park for another reason – can find a park. If we only drive to distant destinations, and pay for the parking we need there, our overall costs are far lower than if we plan to provide free parking to anyone who wants to drive, regardless of distance.
Smart technology can put a premium on the spaces that are closest to a facility, meaning people wanting to pay less can go straight to a cheaper park. And in general, drivers can be informed about where to drive for a park before they set out, or by dynamic signs, rather than needing to cruise for one.
Closing Ratruns. Through-traffic should be kept to the arterials in any precinct to allow safe active movement within local roads. Cutting the Old Mill Rd ratrun would bring many safety benefits.
The ratrun on Old Mill Rd, endangering and polluting the air for college and intermediate students.
Mixed Uses. Priority must be given, when land uses change, to those that provide surveillance day and night, such as apartment buildings with ground-floor restaurants, recreational facilities and retail. Designed well, this would be a super place to live, amongst all the parks, amenities and excellent public transport.
Some public land in the precinct – an area of old landfill – is about to be developed.
Western Springs Land Use. Pink shows the 1330 existing car parks; yellow shows the 2 ha available for development.
Publicly owned land about to be developed in Western Springs
Travel Plans. All facilities should have a travel plan that is effective in helping people shift their travel to walking, cycling and using public transport. Recent improvements:
- the Zoo’s website now includes information about how to get there by public transport, and
- Bike Pt Chevalier tested demand for cycling to football over 4 weekends this winter. The high uptake indicates many families are keen to cycle, meaning the club’s (long overdue) travel plan can bring necessary cycling infrastructure and priority.
130 bikes at Football on Week 2 of the Demonstration Project. Credit: Bike Pt Chevalier
Passive Surveillance. Improvements to each facility need to follow good urban design advice and “Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design”. This section of the Auckland Design Manual was written for residential design, but applies equally well to destination precincts:
Windows facing the street provide opportunities for “passive surveillance”, or “eyes on the street”, which helps reduce opportunities for crime. This is because people using the street are safer when they can be seen from adjacent buildings…
The practice of using passive surveillance to create safer streets also applies to parks and other public areas. Glazing and balconies should be orientated to overlook public areas, while fencing and planting should avoiding significantly blocking views to these areas.
Areas that feel safe encourage more people to cycle and walk. More people cycling and walking in a precinct also make it feel safer.
Parking Enforcement. Overdue.
Better spatial design. The facilities can be designed to interact better with each other and the transport networks. For example, some Zoo patrons don’t want to walk a long way from distant parking lots. Rather than try to provide more carparks within the precinct, it may be that the Zoo should reopen its multiple entrances to allow shorter distances from various bus stops and from the available, dispersed parking.
Walking and Cycling. The connections to the sustainable transport networks need to be established. Design must focus on children travelling independently, on people with limited mobility and on personal safety at all times of the day and night.
The 6km cycling catchment is given in the Flow Parking Management Report:
With bike hire to the train network as well, cycling can serve visitors from a large part of the city. With safe cycling facilities and good wayfinding, bike hire could fill a gap between the precinct and the local train stations. Cycling becomes more attractive with lower traffic volumes. People shifting from driving to cycling then help to lower traffic volumes further.
City-Wide Solutions. If land use changes to encourage a compact urban form, and transport measures to support modeshift and reduce traffic volumes were implemented not just in this precinct, but throughout the city in every precinct, we’d see traffic volumes reduce and access by other modes improve, project-by-project, in a positive feedback loop. With fewer people travelling by car and fewer cars needing parking space, solutions would become easier in each area by turn.
So what is happening?
Plenty, including a completely new facility. The college and Zoo both have impressive building programmes. Plans are afoot to improve the Western Springs Park. We might see new cycleways through both a new streetscape, covered here, and the local board’s greenways plan. The bus network through the precinct is proposed to be improved even further.
But undermining all this improvement, the precinct’s problems will soon be exacerbated by the addition of a 350-space carpark, which will induce traffic, push modeshift in the wrong direction, and increase traffic danger.
It would be worth exploring this further to see how inconsistent decision-making within the Council umbrella organisations ends up undermining Council’s goals, wasting our money, and preventing the shift towards a liveable city.
*The base aerial photo for these two images are from Auckland Council and are used in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International licence.