We’re living through some fairly extraordinary times of late but there there have been some silver linings. It’s been incredible to see families out together during this time. Normally quiet neighbourhoods are bustling with people walking and cycling. Even many normally busy arterials have until now been so quiet that families feel comfortable enough riding on them with their children. It has shown there is a huge latent demand for better walking and cycling facilities.
That’s why we’ve been critical of the response we’d been seeing from Auckland Transport and other agencies. As well the need to provide more safe space all the people walking and cycling, many places have been seeing more people on bikes than in cars, we should also be looking at how we can lock in some of changes. Afterall, getting more people using active modes on a more regular basis is part of the city’s and country’s goals.
So it was great to see on Friday that AT had started to roll out the first of what is hopefully many changes – I just wish they had communicated they were going to do it earlier.
Auckland Transport (AT) is delivering the first of a rolling set of initiatives on 20 roads and popular walkways across Auckland to assist with safe physical distancing when the country moves into Alert Level 3.
By Tuesday, 17km of temporary cycle space will be installed across the region.
Tamaki Drive (between The Strand and St Heliers Bay) will be the first location to benefit from the initiative, with the measures being installed on Friday morning where the pathways are narrow. Carparking on the sea side of the road will be temporarily removed and replaced with a wider space for people walking or cycling, giving Aucklanders the ability to keep 2 metres apart from each other’s ‘bubbles’.
AT is trialling these as temporary measures, providing the ability to adapt available space on the road to reflect their use by Aucklanders during different alert levels.
Here’s an example of what they’ve installed on Tamaki Dr. This is a good start from AT although it feels like it should be wider.
Also, the (initial) implementation was a little lacking with signs blocking it on a regular basis.
However. the advantage in this being done with such quick and cheap materials is that it is very easy to change and AT have apparently already told the contractor to do so. I also appreciate this is a bit of a learning experience for both AT and their contractors and so assume things will improve the more that they do.
The good news yesterday was that it appears they have learnt and on Oteha Valley Rd they’ve given cyclists a full lane each way.
On Oteha Valley Road, the extra space for those walking or using bikes is in place! One lane repurposed in each direction, 30km/h safe speed applied. pic.twitter.com/0CYTdWMq7F
— John (@johnage) April 27, 2020
Other initiatives to support the increased number of people walking and cycling across the city are also being rolled out. Signage and markings reminding those out and about to maintain physical distancing have been installed and most pedestrian crossings switched to auto-mated, reducing the need for people to touch the request button.
Included in the rollout for widened spaces are temporary emergency safe speed limits where applicable to increase safety for all road users. With more people driving to get to work and freight services returning to normal it is expected that roads will be busier than what they were at Alert Level 4.
Other locations Auckland Transport is installing new walking and cycling measures:
- Queen Street
- Quay Street
- Customs St/Queen Street intersection
- Ponsonby Road
- Oteha Valley Road
- Lonely Track Road
- Mangere town centre
- Otara town centre
- Manukau town centre.
AT will continue to roll out these temporary measures on a responsive risk based approach and is responding to local boards’ requests for safety-based interventions.
Auckland Transport is also reminding people who may return to using their car to be aware of vulnerable road users when they travel. More than ever people are using their road space to walk or use a bike, and as a collective Aucklanders can all play a role in keeping everyone safe.
I still wish they would put some signs up on traffic lights to let people know that crossings are on automatic. People are still pushing buttons because they can’t tell which intersections are and which ones aren’t. I also like how they’ve adjusted their safety messaging from last week.
What isn’t quite clear at this stage is what happens when COVID restrictions are lifted. Are AT going to suddenly rip out all these new temporary improvements and put an end to the bike boom, is parking cars along the waterfront going to be considered more valuable than safety? Alternatively, do AT start working to changes permanently. I think that over the coming weeks AT are going to need to explain what the process will be.
Queen St Closed to cars
One of the most exciting changes coming from both AT and the Council is that the Queen St works include first section that I understand will become bus and bike only. This first section is only between Customs St and Shortland St but it’s a start and hopefully should quickly extend further south. It seems we could be getting the first parts of the new City Centre Master Plan implemented much faster than previously thought.
The emergency response initiatives rolling out to support safe walking & cycling on Queen St, Tamaki Dr, Ponsonby Rd, Otara & Manukau centres, & schools are just an appetiser. Hang around for the main course – Innovating Streets and speed limits that don't kill. You'll be smiling pic.twitter.com/5oJTgd2qzl
— Chris Darby (@DarbyatCouncil) April 26, 2020
I look forward to seeing more of their plans for Queen St
Pick up zones
Councillor Chris Darby tweeted out these signs that will be rolled out
As fast as they can @AklTransport is rolling out local business pick up signage in anticipation of a big lift in online shopping and need for courier (and private vehicle) collections and drop-offs. pic.twitter.com/nCsNjIjdeH
— Chris Darby (@DarbyatCouncil) April 27, 2020
We’ve long been fans of the idea of open streets, also sometimes known Sunday Streets or as Ciclovia in the city that pioneered it, Bogatá, Columbia. The idea is a simple one, once a week turn the many of the streets in the city over to those on foot and on bike.
It doesn’t have to be a big organised street festival, like the few times we tried it here have been, just get the cars out and let people use the streets as they wish. The lockdown has given many of us a taste of that could look like.
It must be the sharrows pic.twitter.com/g6rDP0Qa9Q
— geogoose (@geogoose) April 26, 2020
— geogoose (@geogoose) April 27, 2020
We need Auckland Transport to start coming up with ways to enable these kinds of scenes to be seen everyday – and that’s something we’ll focus on a lot in coming weeks, months and years. But in the short term, how about we start by just opening streets every Sunday. By opening streets I don’t mean the heavily curated 1km like we’ve done before, but more like the now 120km that Bogatá does every week, and needs be spread across all corners of the city.