Following on from yesterday’s post on the “not so good” announcement from the NZTA, here’s the “really good” one.

On Friday the NZTA very quietly launched the Innovating Streets for People pilot fund. The announcement was so quiet they haven’t even put out a press release about it despite it having the potential to have a much larger impact on all New Zealanders than most projects.

In short, the programme is about the agency providing financial, organisational and technical support for tactical urbanism projects. Put another way, making it faster and easier to make our streets safer and more liveable. Here’s what they say about the programme:

Many of us in urban areas want to live in vibrant neighbourhoods, where we easily get to work, and access shops and services. We want to feel safe and comfortable moving around, in ways that are good for our health and take care of the planet.

Tactical urbanism can be used to make quick progress by testing and piloting projects to help demonstrate their value to the community.

This is fantastic news and exactly what we need to see. Already in Auckland and elsewhere we’ve seen a number of projects that are now case studies of the kinds of projects the NZTA are looking to support. These examples include:

  • The Sale St Intersection
  • The Federal St pop up cycleway
  • The fantastic High St footpath widening.

There’s a certain sense of irony that the team that developed and delivered most of these projects, the Auckland Design Office, are in the middle of being disbanded by the council just as their ideas start to get support from the NZTA.

Here’s a description of the sort of projects that NZTA will consider:

Projects could be anything from piloting a new walking or cycling facility to pop-up community-led street events, to trialling a low-traffic neighbourhood or reallocating more street space for people.

For example:

  • Interim intersection safety improvements (e.g. curve build-outs)
  • Projects to improve placemaking
  • Projects that reinforce the context of the street (business/economic activity areas, school traffic calming)
  • One-off events to help cities embrace other modes of transport
  • Regular play-street programmes that build community support for re-purposing streets
  • Low-traffic neighbourhoods that aim to reduce vehicle volumes (e.g. filtered permeability)
  • Piloting a cycleway-, pedestrian- or public transport-network.
  • Emergency bike lanes or footpath expansions to make more space for social distancing in response to Covid-19

We don’t want projects that create more space for cars, or those that are permanent in nature. Projects need to strategically align with both the Innovating Streets programme objectives, and local councils strategies and plans. They must also be able to demonstrate the value of using tactical urbanism to advance a future permanent change, and explain how they will move to permanent changes.

We like that they’ve been so explicit in the types of projects that will be supported and that this fund can’t be used for expanding car capacity. It leaves things in no doubt what the purpose of this is and again it’s great it’s coming through from the NZTA. We’re also thrilled to see Low Traffic Neighbourhoods are listed, as they are the most comprehensive way to calm traffic. And we reiterate our call to Council:

Can Auckland Council commission a low-traffic neighbourhood map for the whole city?

This would coordinate all the applications using this concept, so they work well together.

The package is exciting and its timing is excellent. This is an ideal way to harness the community’s COVID-awakened interest in how to use our public space better for safe walking and cycling.

It’ll be interesting to watch how NZTA uses and helps train practitioners in tactical urbanism, a technique really developed as a guerilla response to the lack of community-involvement and people-friendliness in mainstream transport and urban planning.

Innovating Streets projects seek to deliver:

  • Temporary, or semi-permanent, physical changes to streets
  • Improvements that test a permanent fix and prototype a street design
  • Activations that help communities re-imagine their streets.

While permanent solutions are vital to identify and aim for, their delivery and project steps are not part of Innovating Streets projects.

Already there’s been a huge positive response to the NZTA proposal on social media, particularly from a number of local board members around Auckland keen to see the tools used to change streets in their neighbourhoods. Because the temporary fixtures can always be reversed, this is an opportunity for local boards to try some radical solutions to problems they face.

There are more details on the NZTA’s page for the programme, including more details on the types of support the agency is offering to make this programme a success, as well as how councils and transport agencies can apply for funding.

This is only a $7 million fund, although the language indicates more could be available if needed. Either way it’s a stark contrast with the billions that are going to be sunk into traffic-inducing highway projects.

The Innovating Streets for People pilot fund (more than $7 million) will help councils create more people-friendly spaces in our towns and cities.

The pilot fund will provide councils with a 90% funding assistance rate (FAR) as well as capability building support for successful applicants, including participation in a community of practice.

To make the tactical changes permanent, the road controlling authorities will also need some money further down the track. If there isn’t already a budget allocated for this work, we can expect to see financial officers resisting improvements to a safe but ‘tactical’ state, preferring streets left in a dangerous but ‘finished’ state. To people tasked with balancing the books, tactical projects in a void of progressive strategy simply add stress to their jobs.

We have evidence before our very eyes that reducing traffic gives us clean air and speeds up vehicle travel times: for deliveries, for essential journeys by vehicle, and for buses. We have more safe options for crossing roads on actual ‘desire lines’, and less need to wait for cars before we can cross. And we’re reclaiming space for cycling.

Importantly, this better use of public space doesn’t need to be temporary. As the economy picks up again, we can accommodate the increasing number of trips by using space-efficient public transport and cycling. Any decision to instead return to car dependency, fumes and congestion is a decision to compromise our children’s health, safety, opportunities and chance of a low-carbon future.

We should be scrambling now to lock the improvements in. There are many ways to do so.

For those communities with progressive local boards, councils or road controlling authorities willing to take this opportunity, this could be the start of a journey into a better built environment. For those who don’t, at least there will soon be some good New Zealand examples of how to bring change.

This post was jointly written by Heidi and Matt

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23 comments

  1. This is brilliant! How do we get involved? Do we approach our local board members or can Auckland Transport?

    1. In the first instance, I would talk with your local community members to explore your shared concerns and ideas, and then approach the local board. If you don’t hear from them within a few days, I’d then approach the local councillor.

      I’m hoping no-one feels scared about the process – the deficiencies of our network are well acknowledged. Our safety situation is dire. These changes are needed. Everyone you talk to in Council should be sharing the same concerns. Remember they all have a legal duty to be planning for current and future generations.

    2. You don’t approach. You just do it, and hopefully something sticks. That’s the whole Guerilla element.

      1. It’s only councils that can apply for this money, so if you want your bit of tactical urbanism to be funded you *do* approach, and *don’t* just do it.

  2. I really enjoyed the video on Tactical Urbanism. Is this a thing that members of the public do in Auckland? Seems like it is just done by ADO and Panuku sometimes.

    1. We used to have street parties, and use chalk and furniture to reimagine the space, but then the authorities said we needed temporary traffic management plans, which were super expensive. $10,000 or so.

      There’s an annual placemaking week, and sometimes some fun things happen then: https://www.placemaking.nz/local-case-studies

      In my experience, people willing to get involved in action here are overly focused on ‘events’ and unable to get their heads around the changes needed to streets for everyday improvements. This is true of both the voluntary community leaders and the council officers tasked to support them. Events are preferred because the excitement of them can be captured in photographs to plaster reports with, lending an appearance of a nimble local government actively working to make the city more liveable.

      Trying to get some really simple built environment changes tells a completely different story. The support dries up. Community members are left doing all the hard work – many dozens of emails, meetings, decisions, redesigns, and it goes nowhere. A lot is resting on this Innovating Streets programme. If it fails to cut through the shit, all that will be left is guerilla activism of the original kind.

  3. Great news. Time to collect those discarded orange cones scattered everywhere and put them to good use.
    It will be lovely to see the creativity, immagination, fun and colours that will happen. We have been concrete and asphalt dominated for too long and its time for more people friendly places.

  4. I hope the council are genuinely supporting this.

    What I am worried is council upper management just use this as a short lived excuse to replace ADO.

    After those fund are used up they will terminate the program. Most people will forgot about it. .The bureaucratic empire back to status of quo.

  5. Perhaps someone could explain to me why people reject living in suburbia, where they can have their own green space at home, and parks/berms are commonplace, to move into a highly built up area absent of the above, only to then become so desperate for what they rejected as to repurpose road space for little pockets of pretend greenspace that suburban people take for granted?

    It would seem you can take the person out of suburbia, but you can’t take the suburbia out of the person?

    1. Perhaps someone could explain to me why people reject living in Cities and Inner City Suburbs, where workplaces, cafes, facilities, restaurants and every other amenity you can think of is, only then to become so desperate for what they rejected so that they get in their car and drive to strip malls where people have built ‘faux inner City lanes’ with chain cafes and restaurants lining them, or worse drive to the City they reject ot use its Theatres, Restaurants etc..then complain they they have to commute 1 hour to work in horrendous traffic from Suburbia.

      It would seem to can take the person out of the City but you can’t take the City out of the person.

      People have different reasons to live places Geoff, and not every one can lead this illustrious life you appear to live.

    1. So – get going and start your ideas up. NZTA have resources and are offering support. An assortment of different approaches can be tried in different places. For Year 1 they just need to be small enough bites to plan, promote and put in place. The results can then be reasons for doing more.

  6. This brings to mind an article in the paper.

    In it, a resident living on a street corner got tired of people driving down his street at speed , losing control near his corner and destroying his fence. The most recent incident had the car land on his lawn where his kids usually play.

    In response he placed two huge blocks of concrete on the nature strip. The council promptly ordered him to have them removed.

    I can understand the council not wanting to have a potentially dangerous situation on that corner but I’d argue that the drivers are already created the dangerous situation and the homeowner is simply protecting himself.

    What does it take for the council to take action? Does someone need to die before it becomes important?

  7. This time in lockdown should be a time of reflection, not only at a personal level, but also at a business level, and at a governance level.
    It is obvious that Covid 19 will change our world significantly.
    Getting back to “normal” should not equate, and will not equate to getting back to where we were before.
    So our planning, at all levels, must start by defining what is possible to retain from before, what is desirable to retain from before, and what we have right now we want to retain,
    I want to retain the lower atmospheric pollutants, and noise pollution. I want to retain the lower road death rate.
    I want to retain the greater freedom to walk, cycle, and would relish the ability to be just on our streets, without less cars in the way
    I would like less car dependency for when I am no longer able to drive.
    Given that already before covid 19 there was growing pressure on the provision of air travel, and cruise ship travel because of environmental damage, it is unlikely these industries, and those dependant upon them will ever return to their previous growth trajectories, or even resestablish previous levels. Remote working and conferencing has been given a huge growth burst, much of which is likely to remain depressing demand for both commuting travel and face to face business travel.
    Pre covid planning scenarios no longer valid.
    New scenarios are required.
    To do this, we need to go back to basics. What do we want, and what is achievable. And it will be different from BC19 (Before Covid 19). But now is our chance to define what differences we want.
    Our governing bodies should be working on, and evaluating these changes right now, not concentrating on returning to where we were before.
    BC19 was simply no where good enough.

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