Here’s the weekly roundup and this one more than most feels like it has a bit of a theme to it.
Road Deaths update
If there are any silver linings to come out of the lockdown it’s that with fewer people travelling there’s been much less death and destruction on our roads. So far, as of the 15th, just four people have lost their lives on our roads whereas by the same time over the previous four years, 9,13, 15 and last year 27 had died.
This lower loss of live was highlighted by Easter where for only the second time we had no deaths over the long weekend. The only other time that’s happened was in 2012 and that April was the lowest ever number of deaths in a month at 11.
As we head to level 3 and with many of the restrictions remaining in place, hopefully we’ll at least see these numbers remain low.
Making people-friendly permanent
Our cities feel profoundly different these days. The whine and roar of traffic has been replaced with the chatter of birds, the squeals of delighted kids, and moments of welcome silence and stillness. For all its sadness, lockdown is allowing us to imagine how our streets could look, sound and even smell like, and it’s forced us to prioritise what’s actually important. Our streets are vital, and they deserve attention well beyond this crisis.
Whether people are social distancing, or simply on a tight budget, it’s critical that people be offered easy access to safer and more cost-effective transport alternatives such as walking and cycling.
We don’t have to go back to business as usual when lockdown ends. We don’t have to accept the traffic noises that have become the soundtrack of our city lives. We can build more resilient communities, where everyone has equitable access to public spaces, and people can move around our cities – in times of crisis and of normality – without it literally costing the earth.
Overseas we’re seeing similar calls, such as this article in Wired.
Will Auckland Transport deliver?
Speaking of our streets, in a press release about the government’s funding for emergency funding for temporary cycleways and footpaths, Auckland Transport says in some places they’re seeing a 100% increase in the number of people walking and cycling.
“In the past two weeks we’ve seen a surge of individuals and families in their bubbles heading outdoors and making the most of the walking and cycling in their neighbourhoods, with some locations seeing a 100% increase in use compared to the same period last year.
“This is a good opportunity to deliver more active transport infrastructure for recreation, to support physical and mental health and to ensure appropriate social distancing on cycleways and footpaths as we move out of the lock-down phase.
“It will also help to future-proof our active transport network of cycleways, shared paths and footpaths, meaning that as the restrictions eventually lift, more people will have an alternative, healthy means to get around the city without adding to traffic congestion and carbon emissions.”
AT Chief Executive Shane Ellison says, “Auckland Transport and Auckland Council have successfully trialled tactical urbanism treatments like planter boxes and paint, in the city centre to create new cycleways and wider footpaths.
“Additional funding would enable us to quickly widen more footpaths in busy areas and deliver more separated cycleways so people can enjoy their streets and keep a physical distance at the same time.”
The funding could speed up the delivery of major projects like Access for Everyone in the city centre and the Safe and Healthy Streets programme in south Auckland.
“We are seeing more and more people walking and cycling in the local neighbourhoods during the lockdown because the roads are quiet and safe,” he says.
“We want this to continue after the lockdown and delivering quick, low cost footpath widening and temporary cycle lanes will give people more transport choice.
“AT will be applying for funding for several projects that we can get underway shortly after the lockdown ends.”
I certainly hope they’re applying for more than “several“, at the least it should be in the multiple double digits and that doesn’t include what should be no-brainer changes of shutting off Queen St to private vehicles.
The positive spin from the top of the organisation also doesn’t gel with what we’ve been hearing that staff have been telling the likes of local board members. In essence it sounds like they could be talking a good game publicly but behind the scenes are pushing BAU/do little approach. I’d be delighted to be proven wrong though.
Richmond can do it, why can’t we?
One of the reasons we have concerns that AT will deliver is that there are a lot of potentially simple solutions they could be implementing immediately to help. An example of what they could easily be doing comes from Richmond where the Tasman District Council have put up temporary speed limit signs to help remind motorists about people being out.
Signs along Wensley Rd in Richmond temporarily lower the speed limit to 30kmh and warn of pedestrians who may have to step onto the road to maintain 2m of social distancing during the coronavirus pandemic.
The placement of the signs comes after Tasman District Council Richmond ward councillor Dana Wensley on Tuesday raised concern about the safety of those pedestrians who had to step off the footpath, particularly near a blind bend with no cycle lane.
Council community relations manager Chris Choat said the signs were in place to remind motorists to look out for pedestrians and drive appropriately on Wensley Rd, which was a major arterial route.
“People will be stepping out into the side of the road,” Choat said. “Practically and quickly, it’s all we could do at this stage.”
Why can’t AT do similar in Auckland?
Add Oakland to that question
In another example, Oakland California have closed 74 miles (119km) of streets to through traffic to enable people to walk and cycle more safely
Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf announced Thursday that the city will be closing 10 percent of its roadways to vehicle traffic during the coronavirus lockdown in order to create more social-distancing space for people trying to stay fit and active. It’s an emergency measure called “”Oakland Slow Streets,” and will involve some 74 miles of streets — with enforcement efforts to be determined.
“Because of the reduction in car traffic we will be closing off a number of streets, so that bicyclists and pedestrians can spread out and exercise and take in fresh air safely,” Schaaf said Thursday evening during a virtual town hall, per the East Bay Times.
— East Bay Times (@EastBayTimes) April 10, 2020
Here’s the mayor talking about it
“We were seeing people walk into our streets to avoid passing people on sidewalks, we were seeing overcrowding in our parks, by closing roads to through traffic we are actually giving people room to social distance.” @CNN pic.twitter.com/rGz2nOOegF
— Libby Schaaf (@LibbySchaaf) April 13, 2020
Come on Phil Goff, how about the same thing here.
And how about this from France
France has decreed that post Covid lockdown "the country must have solutions in place to enable the bicycle to be the principal transport mode enabling social distancing" https://t.co/CvdUoqUndX
— citymobility (@citycyclists) April 15, 2020
Finally, this wouldn’t be allowed here but if we’re remaking our streets, why can’t we have some fun with it and incorporate art into our streets.