Imagine it’s 2030.

Tāmaki Makaurau has a safe, low-carbon and healthy transport system.

Talia lives with her parents in Papatoetoe, works in East Tāmaki, and studies at MIT. She cycles, for fitness and to save money. Whether setting out from home, work, college, or anywhere else, Talia starts each journey in a safe, low-speed and low-traffic area. The main roads provide fully protected cycling all the way to the area she’s going. Leaving them, she again returns to a low-speed and low-traffic area until she reaches her destination.

Hari lives in New Windsor, and divides his days visiting his adult children in Mt Roskill and Green Bay. He helps out with jobs around their homes, with childcare, and does a bit of shopping for them on the way. Being on medication means he can’t drive. He’s happy to take the (electric) bus, and particularly enjoys walking to the bus stops, greeting people along the way. The many new street trees are delightful to watch as they grow, it’s quiet and there are plenty of shaded and sheltered seats along the way.

Sound idyllic? Accessible, clean, healthy, equitable… with freedom for the whole community, including children.

A residential street in Montreal designated as a low-speed free-play zone.

But if it sounds unrealistic, think again. We will need to work strategically – smarter, faster, cheaper, and we’ll need a strong leader to make it happen. But this is not an expensive undertaking.

Consistently reducing traffic – using all levers at our disposal – improves the outcomes of all our transport projects and increases their value-for-money. Two key changes needed are:

  • Low-traffic neighbourhoods, and
  • Reallocating space on the main roads.

This post explores the first of these; applying the low-traffic neighbourhood concept to Auckland.

Tactical urbanism in Seattle Photo: SDot Photos, CC 2.0

Since low traffic neighbourhood projects enable people to get out of their cars, the main roads see lower traffic volumes. The process to reallocate road space there becomes politically easier. With less pressure to keep traffic lanes, it can also mean the difference between needing expensive drainage work, or not. And keeping trees, or not.

Treating the main roads alone doesn’t work. Trying to “add” more modes by squeezing them into congested, space-constrained main roads simply pushes drivers to rat-run through local streets, unless the low-traffic neighbourhoods preventing this are in place first.


The UK Low Traffic Neighbourhoods guide advises:

Low traffic neighbourhoods must be planned as an entire continuous area bounded by main/distributor roads. Attempts to reduce traffic in part of an area without regard to neighbouring streets can often result in the same traffic concentrating on fewer streets and/or a backlash at consultation stage.

Ponsonby’s Collingwood Ave is a recent example of the problems that arise when main roads are improved without a complete neighbourhood plan. (It also highlights the resistance we face to community-initiated tactical solutions.)

What is a low-traffic neighbourhood?

It’s a low speed people-friendly area that allows vehicles access but prevents them from dominating or using the area as a short-cut. Any through-routes are interrupted by “modal filters”, which allow access for people (with wheelchairs, skateboards, prams, scooters, bikes, trikes, mobility scooters, and cargo bikes) but stop motor vehicles. The devices can be inexpensive and relocatable – planter boxes, bollards, large pieces of concrete or tree trunks – so a tactical, experimental approach can be used. One way systems can also be helpful in places.

This is an effective modal filter in Auckland, but if it had been designed as such, would’ve had slightly wider gaps for double pushchairs and cargo bikes.

People walking, scootering and cycling, on the other hand, are able to navigate freely throughout the neighbourhood.

The neighbourhoods work to fulfill this unmet aim of Auckland’s Regional Public Transport Plan:

We will… enhance customer experience for all parts of the door-to-door journey, with a renewed focus on the first-leg and last-leg parts of the journey.

When getting to the bus stop is safe, taking the bus is more appealing.

Low traffic neighbourhoods bring safety, clean air and social life to the streets. They lower traffic volumes, improve public health and increase public transport ridership. Alongside the congestion free network, improved local bus and cycling networks, and intensification, they create the built environment necessary to meet our climate, safety and health goals.

As George Weeks said in his post Mini-Hollands in Nieuw Zeeland:

Waltham Forest Mini-Holland has, in its design, delivery and execution, brought about a substantial mode shift towards active travel at a rate of change that is unmatched anywhere in the English-speaking world.

Auckland’s first design for a low traffic neighbourhood is the city centre’s Access 4 Everyone. Perhaps some peninsulas or Kainga Ora redevelopments will be considered next.

But I was inspired by this video from Bath, where they looked at applying the concepts to the whole city.

Here’s Bath on Google Maps:

And here’s a map produced by Cycle Bath with a design for low-traffic neighbourhoods:

Clearly Auckland is larger than Bath, but so is our need for a transport transformation.

Some important principles:

No-one should be left out. The benefits need to be felt by all.

Factory workers and big box retail staff need options for safe sustainable transport as much as office workers and school kids do. Instead of focusing just on the city and town centres, schools, and some favoured residential areas, our people need to be able to walk, scooter or cycle (including to the bus routes and train lines) in every sort of neighbourhood: industrial, residential, recreational, cultural, commercial, retail, educational, conservation.

Scaling it up quickly to the whole city needs a tactical approach. Having to move gutters and kerbs – or consult with a proposal that removes trees – slows the work down. Just how cheaply can we do it? Strawbales and small planter boxes?

A tactical project in Dallas (not a full low-traffic neighbourhood)

We’ll need to tailor the concepts for our urban form, and to areas where there are more truck movements, for example. Compact Barcelona uses neighbourhoods that are typically only 400m by 400m. In the less dense areas in the UK, they recommend about 1 km2. For Auckland, although tempted to go larger, we shouldn’t alter the key concept, walkability:

You should be able to walk across a neighbourhood in fifteen minutes at most. Larger, and people start driving inside the neighbourhood. We suggest an ideal size of about 1km2.

Treating the whole city would amplify the benefits. It would enable many trips by many people to be taken by sustainable transport. It would increase access and safety to the point that local businesses using sustainable transport for delivery and operations can thrive.

The substantial traffic evaporation we could expect would eliminate the need for expensive road widening projects to ‘fix congestion’, reducing maintenance costs in the future, too. And at the same time, walking and cycling could save billions in healthcare costs.

So what would be involved in treating the whole city?

I thought I’d look at a section of Auckland and see what I could learn from dividing it into roughly 1 km2 neighbourhoods.

My attempt here is very much a springboard for ideas, something to mull on, not a finished design.

I chose an area that has a range of land use types, and that stretches between the Waitemata and the Manukau Harbours: the Rosebank Peninsula to Green Bay area, which includes New Lynn and Avondale. The colours mean nothing except that they differentiate neighbourhoods from each other.

Looking at the map with the street network laid over the top shows which streets would be used by drivers taking a shortcut, and in need of ‘modal filters’.

In other neighbourhoods, there aren’t any through-routes and the main focus will be on establishing a better walking and cycling network. Negotiating access through properties, securing land for alleyways when development occurs, and improving paths through parks will all take time.

The current bus network is shown below:

Clearly, I wasn’t able to keep the bus routes just on the main roads dividing the neighbourhoods. So a critical part of the process when looking at the whole city will be to highlight these situations. In each place where the current bus routes dissect a neighbourhood, locals and bus network experts would need to determine whether adjustment is needed in:

  • the bus network – will locals prefer fewer routes with far better frequency once the walking amenity is radically improved and there are sheltered seats along the way;
  • the neighbourhood boundaries; or
  • the concept – so a bus route can dissect a neighbourhood.

Can Auckland Council commission a low-traffic neighbourhood map for the whole city? The tactical design of each neighbourhood could be led by local people or local boards, using elements important to people in the area, like planter boxes, artwork, playgrounds, furniture and trees.

Auckland Transport is trying to calm traffic to make our streets safer, but rarely use modal filters, despite their benefits. I fear that in resisting this technique, they’re using dated methods: too many speed humps and cyclist-unfriendly pinch points. These devices are less effective at reducing through-traffic, and will meet public resistance.

The Transport Design Manual lists advantages and disadvantages of traffic calming, but since a low traffic neighbourhood works in a fundamentally different way to speed humps, most of these “disadvantages” dissolve away, leaving just the advantages:

Using the UK Low Traffic Neighbourhood concept could bring Auckland Transport up to speed with best practice. The quality of the scheme has certainly been acknowledged in the UK:

Waltham Forest Mini-Holland has won 18 major awards since 2015 and has been shortlisted for over 50. In 2018 the scheme won the “people’s choice” award at the Institute of Civil Engineers, cementing its status as London’s most popular infrastructure project. Other accolades have come from the Healthy Streets Awards, the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors, the Urban Design Group and Pineapples Award for Contribution to Place.

After the main roads have also been treated, the city could then tweak the neighbourhoods, and make the changes permanent. Here’s a four-way intersection fitted with modal filters in Vancouver:

And here’s the 52nd modal filter going in to the UK Mini-Holland scheme:

I’ll address the main roads in a separate post.

Modal Filter at Strasbourgh, from 20 Amazing Public Space Transformations by Urb-i.

Sound impossible? What’s impossible, in truth, is meeting our goals if we continue to focus on building roads, “reducing congestion” and “optimising the network”.

Innovative thinking is something humanity is good at. We have the ability to take concepts that are working, and apply them to Auckland, even though our urban form is challenging. At this scale, Tāmaki Makaurau could become a world leader in how to lower transport emissions in sprawling cities.

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42 comments

  1. Yes.

    Climate change means the current pandemic will be followed by many global shocks that’ll affect the economy. So we won’t be rolling in dough to fund all the hard engineering projects. Using smarts like this is the way to go.

  2. Excellent post Heidi, would love this approach in Akl, especially allowing empowering locals once the map is drawn. Can see how this could accelerate things..

    1. Thanks Matt. The division in roles would be healthy, too: Council shows overarching direction, AT creates the maps for integration between the different networks and for continuity, Local boards help implement it with local flavour.

  3. I would hope/expect to see interventions like this implemented as part of the forthcoming ‘connected communities’ programme. The name change from ‘integrated corridor’ to ‘connected communities’ lends itself to low-traffic neighbourhoods. I wonder if that was the intention…

    1. I hope so, Joe. If not, setting this up wouldn’t take them a lot of work, and it would improve the outcomes of the connected communities programme immensely.

    2. Yes! Again GA doing the thinking Auckland Transport is incapable of, presumably cos it’s full of old school traffic engineers, with insufficient planners/urbandesigners/active mode specialists, or at too low a level, reporting to the TEs, for fresh thinking to make it through.

      Surely the consultancies have been advising that whole neighbourhoods need to be sorted along with arterials, yes? Or are they still stuck in last century thinking too?

      1. Same problem in Council, urban design team with engineers above them just got smashed. Looks like a widespread cultural problem in our public institutions. Engineers in charge not allowing diversity of thought through.

        Not saying we don’t need engineers and engineering thinking, that’s essential too, but that we need the full place and movement toolbox and skills at senior levels across our systems; not one dominating at the expense of the other.

  4. There are a few parts of Auckland that already have this and it works well. For example the area around Mt Eden Station (which will be even better once the station redevelopment is finished as part of CRL). It isn’t possible to drive from one side of this 0.3km2 neighbourhood to the other without using the arterials around the outside: https://www.google.com/maps/@-36.8702042,174.7583735,17z

  5. Very timely -thanks Heidi. I live in Te Atatu and Kainga Ora are in the midst of major redevelopments. The recent opening of a few houses has led to a very noticeable change- a dozen or more kids from the age of 2- 10 suddenly treating the road as a playground however the road is also a rat run – we need these low traffic neighbourhoods right now. I hope Kainga Ora and the like take these ideas on board and push the council and AT on it ( although with the next development on our street being 21 units with parking for all and only 1 consent mandated bike park for the whole development we still have someway to go)
    And maybe with reference to Drury the planners could consider this https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/15/forward-thinking-utrecht-builds-car-free-district-for-12000-people

  6. Great post Heidi 🙂 I think your opening line is the most important: “Imagine it’s 2030”. How is Auckland going to reduce its GHG emissions by 50% in 10 years? A wholesale decentering of the city away from the private car as the primary means of transport. These low traffic neighbourhoods are cheap and easy to implement and take us a long way to meeting our 2030 climate goals.

    I also think in the long term, this model can reconnect us with our communities and move us away from a highly individualistic way of living. Viewed in this way, your proposal can also be a decolonising force – with more communal space and connection that aligns with the papakāinga model.

  7. Great post, but also this is hardly a new concept. Freemans Bay is full of modal filters to discourage through traffic.

    Just seems like at some point we forgot how to do this.

        1. That looks quite crap for parents with prams, people in wheelchairs, and there is no consideration for cycling in that 🙁

  8. Would this even work with our urban form outside the Auckland isthmus? I mean I don’t think this could be applied in most of the North Shorebecause of their terrible urban form which is poor access and car dependent.

    I know how it works well in Barcelona because of their urban pattern and lots of mixed used buildings, but we don’t have that in most of auckland. Most people have to drive to get where they need. Otherwise they have to make drastic changes to their lifestyles, which most don’t want.

    I can definitely see it being used in some locations, but I would expect a huge fight everywhere it is attempted. I guess start in South Auckland. No one complains out that way. They don’t even know what is going on until after it is done.

    1. Yes, I had a good look at the North Shore and I think this will be possible. There will be a few neighbourhoods bigger than 1 km2, and a few foot/cycling bridges over streams needed. To tackle car dependency there they need some long term commitment to building up a better bus network, allowing the slow build-up of ridership before expecting it to meet the FAR. In the meantime, there’s lots they can do to make cycling safe throughout and boost the local trips by that mode.

      There’s often an assumption that changing the driving amenity will be politically difficult, but in fact that’s only because the media and some of our politicians allow the naysayers’ voices to be heard over people wanting children to be safe and our streets to be returned to community uses.

      Politically, we’re seeing around the world that politicians who ride out the first media-encouraged backlash are then rewarded for it.

      Most recent example is in Paris. Hidalgo has been radical but she hasn’t taken a political knock for it, with 30.2% of the vote – although the subsequent stages will probably be cancelled due to Covid.

    2. Many areas on the North Shore already have this pattern. There are a lot of cul-de-sacs, but often with walkways between them.

      For instance, the route I used to follow by bicycle between Birkenhead Avenue and Takapuna: https://goo.gl/maps/SiQHyHnD17R5zcYN8

      The main downside is that those paths are often pedestrian paths, so they often be awkward with a bicycle.

      We could have more of course. Eg. we somehow managed to build a bridge over the river between Verbena Road and Salisbury Road, without actually providing a walking connection between those streets. 95/5 rule — do doing 95% of the cost while getting only 5% of the benefits.

    3. The point is that you can get cars in and out of a neighborhood, just not through.

      There’s no lifestyle change actually required. If you want to drive everywhere, you still can. You’ll just be going the long way round compared to walking or riding. That’s how the Dutch do it.

      Manurewa has some layouts that are almost there as far as alleys and reserves as filtered links for walking and riding. What’s missing is the exclusion of motor vehicle through traffic to make the neighborhoods safer.

  9. Really good post, Heidi.
    Modal filters: the problem is the need for a Stopping Up order just to prevent private car through movement. Submit on the Proposed Rule Changes to include this, so it can just be done by a Resolution, same as any other traffic control.
    Easiest time to do modal filters is greenfield. Where are the clever consultants who work for developers?
    Your mapping looks credible for implementation stages, but true neighbourhoods need to consider the destinations (schools, shops, bus stops etc.). This won’t affect all blocks, but the neighbourhoods do need to represent ‘local life’ blocks.
    1 km as the ‘longest drive from home to arterial or collector’ is also a useful way to consider block size limit. It recognizes patience factor for ‘reasonable’ drivers to accept driving slowly. This may mean less than 1 km2 in some cases. It also means that the direct walking and cycling paths are a bit shorter, suiting accessibility for all.
    I looked at Bolton, UK for 20 mph zones about 20 years ago – it was feasible for almost the whole residential are of the town. Doesn’t have to be hard for most of Auckland, apart from the sprawling ‘car deserts’.

    1. Yes, neighbourhoods representing ‘local life’ blocks is, I think, the hardest part of applying the concept to Auckland. Harder than the density or the road layout itself. There are so many blocks with a single land-use.

      The biggest implication, I think, is that the main roads must be truly multi-modal; so we need to overcome the severance.

      1. I realised a while ago that when I ride my bicycle home, I don’t get within walking distance of a supermarket at any point (except for the start, but that is in a so-called commercial area). No town centre either. But plenty of houses.

        Our local Pack’n’Save has no houses within a 5 minute walk, and only a few dozen within 10 minutes. At least it has a bus stop behind the parking lot.

        An additional challenge particularly west of Glenfield Road is the relief. If you don’t follow the ridgelines (which have the arterials) the amount of height metres you have to do will be debilitating, even when walking, for many people.

        1. Yes. There are multiple reasons the cycling network needs to be on the arterials. That arterials are often on the ridgelines is one of them. That’s in the next post. 🙂

        2. Heidi, I would like to point out that a cycling network includes safe low-volume-and-speed streets as a fundamental. For safely feeding the cycleways, and for very local trips.

          A cycling network should be everywhere, accessible from all locations. And it should have a hierarchy, but when as automobile through-traffic needs to be always controlled and cut when needed; a cycling network should be mostly through permeable (but when it comes to pure pedestrian streets, they should be guests done by other means)

          A cycleway network is the main-route skeleton of a cycling network, and should go on arterials; and decoupled from automobiles in places like parks, converted arterials-to-cyclestreets and greeny as cycling routes should also be more dense than automobile main routes.

        3. Yes. I should’ve said, “there are multiple reasons the arterials need safe cycling.”

          There are many people who think if there are space constraints on the arterials that cycling can be put onto ‘the back streets’. In the post on the main roads, I’ll go into why that doesn’t work.

        4. The thing is, most of our arterials are kind of, just too narrow to fit everything. If only they made chains a bit longer…

          It would be cool to see the CFN actually materialize on Glenfield Road. Or to see the Dominion Road trams pulled out of the swamp.

        5. Arterials: if you can’t fit everything, choose carefully what you don’t fit in. This is why car dependence reduction is important – the point of the post.

  10. I found the most striking image (and something we may see a lot over here) the one where they put a playground on a street, and the street is so wide they could fit the entire (decent size) playground between the kerbs.

  11. “the bus network – will locals prefer fewer routes with far better frequency once the walking amenity is radically improved and there are sheltered seats along the way”

    Also with better parking facilities and safety for cycling.

    Also you can have low-volume director roads that loop back onto the same main road, and buses can use that fully, or partially while also following small busway shortcuts. You will need some protection at bus stops for sure with this set up. https://bicycledutch.wordpress.com/2013/08/08/making-a-1960s-street-grid-fit-for-the-21st-century/

  12. Excellent article!
    My view of suburban traffic environments changed markedly after I suffered serious leg injuries in an accident. Although I am fully able bodied now, it was extremely challenging getting around as a pedestrian for quite some time, and I developed real empathy for people that are less able bodied who have to negotiate through our suburban environments. My view was also fundamentally changed when I saw a child get hit by a car in a suburban area (not going really fast, but probably mid 50’s)
    Not only are lower speed and traffic calmed environments safer and easier for pedestrians to navigate, they are also much more pleasant spaces!
    I’d like to see speed limits on local roads reduced to 40kph maximum, as well as seeing widespread design approaches .

  13. Have to say it was really pleasantly surprising to see my TEDx talk as inspiration!

    The current administration of Bath (Liberal Democrats) stood on a ticket of introducing Low Traffic Neighbourhoods to tackle rat running and the climate emergency. The focus is very much on community led design and ownership. We should be getting multiple LTNs this year with more planned in the future years. Critical to success is not only the community but also getting the Local Authority Officers on board with the approach. It’s now pretty much in the DNA of all that they are doing and its very very cheap.

    It sounds strange but it is really important to focus on the community aspects and downplay cycling. Cycling just becomes something you can do on traffic free streets naturally.

    I’ve also developed an LTN crib sheet which might be helpful. https://docs.google.com/drawings/d/1W1hhJjXimoHplOQFVHtoA9IGlsSxOE-dTPywZCmIWTU/edit

    It might also be useful to look at the Oxford Local Cycling Walking Infrastructure plan https://mycouncil.oxfordshire.gov.uk/ieIssueDetails.aspx?IId=25575&PlanId=0&Opt=3 which has a number of key policies, one of which is covering the city in Low Traffic Neighbourhoods.

    Good luck! It’s going to be a long slog, but absolutely worth it.

    1. Adam, Thanks for coming on to comment. Wonderful to hear that you’re getting some LTN’s this year. Looking forward to seeing photos, and also the political process is really good to read about if someone has the time.

      I’ve seen the useful crib sheet before – great stuff! And will now peruse those other links. Many thanks, and keep it up!

  14. Very, very well written, and good comments, by just about everyone. Amazing. Where is this mythical place Auckland?! 😉

  15. A Modal Filter like the one in the bottom photo is needed in Library Lane, Albany. Evening peak hour traffic is dominated on that little stretch of road from motorists taking a shortcut from Albany Highway to Dairy Flat…

    I only moved to Auckland in 2019, so I don’t know a lot about the area, but it looks like it used to be a car yard, which would be fine for a shortcut; however, with four apartment buildings (the three Library Lane ones and the one beside it) plus another four or five set to be built as stage two of the Library Lane apartments, it would be an excellent idea to have it cut off from Dairy Flat Highway.

    That way, it can be used as a small residential street servicing the medical centre and chemist as well, instead of a shortcut that is backed up, blocking residents from getting home.

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