For a second time we’re working our way back down the COVID alert levels towards some sense of normalcy but that also means we’re once again missing a huge opportunity to change our streets for the better.

During the first lockdown, Auckland Transport reluctantly implemented some temporary measures to enable easier physical distancing and all but one, Queen St, was removed as soon as we reached level 2. AT were going to remove the Queen St stuff too to in a bid to appease a few retailers and it took a took a huge effort from dedicated Councillors to stop this – and this is despite the council having voted in late 2018 to get cars out within a year, it being supported by a multitude of council family strategy and policy documents.

This second lockdown, despite Auckland Transport having told us they had reflected back on the first time and learned lessons, we’ve seen nothing. Perhaps they thought it wasn’t worth doing anything if the lockdown was only going to be for a few weeks, perhaps they were concerned about the impact any measures would have on an already tight budget, or perhaps they just didn’t really care.

Hayden Donnell wrote a fantastic piece about this topic on Saturday for The Spinoff.

Dozens of major cities are building cycleways and pedestrianising streets as they adapt to the post-pandemic world. Hayden Donnell asks why Auckland hasn’t experienced a similar level of transformation.

All over the world, cities are transforming as they adapt to an age of lockdowns and social distancing. London’s Soho district has been almost completely pedestrianised, its carless roads now filled with restaurant tables. Dublin has twice pedestrianised its entire city centre. Oakland is closing 120km, or 10%, of its streets to cars. New York is closing 160km of streets. Hundreds of kilometres of quick-build cycle and footpaths are being installed everywhere from Melbourne to Athens.

In Auckland, Waitematā local board member Sarah Trotman filmed a video of herself complaining about the road cones marking a temporary bike lane on Ponsonby Rd. Partway through the video, a man called Glen appears to encourage people to steal the cones. He shouldn’t have bothered. They were removed just a few days later by Auckland Transport.

Trotman’s video from May is a bleak illustration of Auckland’s missed opportunity. Other major cities are already seeing the benefits of increasing the space for cyclists and pedestrians using fast, cheap, tactical urbanism. The changes have allowed restaurants and shops the room they need to stay open, while still doing the vital work of keeping customers apart. They’ve enlivened stagnant urban environments amidst the ongoing economic and social fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic.

….

But the changes aren’t extensive by global standards. That may partly be a symptom of New Zealand’s success achieving Covid-19 elimination. Our transition to alert level one came with a powerful pull to return to normal. People got back in their cars, and the Trotmans of the world started whining about having to look at our makeshift active transport projects. Little progress seems to have been made in the almost four months between the city’s first and second lockdowns. People got complacent. Perhaps local authorities did too. If the return of Covid-19 and another lockdown as proved anything, it’s that complacency was overly optimistic.

One thing that stood out to me was a thread in reply to the article yesterday from Councillor Pippa Coom. I’ve included the text below but click though for the images and links associated with it.

2. The emergency measures rolled out during the first lockdown provided the catalyst for the Innovating Streets project Ponsonby Road Te Rimu Tahi “returning P’rd to the people”. It’s now funded and has full support of the business association (win)

3. The extra pedestrian space on Queen Street is providing an important stepping stone to the wider city centre transformation coming via Access for Everyone (pic taken in Level 3)

4. Traffic road closures for vehicles on the lower section of Queen Street is now live in Google Maps. This was first suggested to AT almost 2 years ago as part of a package of measures to improve air quality

5. In addition to the new fast track applications for outside dining licences, AT is working on a process for businesses to be able to make use of on-street car parking spaces for parklets

6. There are still many frustrations. AT wasn’t ready with any plans for quickly creating additional space on the return to Level 3 restrictions even though there would have been obvious safety benefits on popular routes

7. The Cornwall Park Trust Board moved quickly to open up roads to walking & cycling but the same approach hasn’t happened in council managed parks. Auckland Domain would be a good place to start

8. AT was asked to “elaborate [in their SOI] on the potential for innovative & low-cost techniques to be deployed to achieve council priorities. Areas where this may apply include … active modes (building on recent momentum in walking and cycling).” No sign of this yet

Overall the transformation is work in progress and I’m hopeful the opportunities aren’t going to be squandered but Auckland sure does need to get a wiggle on. Thanks @HaydenDonnell for going on your search

It’s great that Pippa is highlighting the good stuff and trying to celebrate it. Yet at the same time it also highlights that to some degree, Councillors are having to play the role of advocate and cheerleader as opposed to decision maker. Of course some of that comes down to the structure of the council family but also as the recent CCO review found the lack of council oversight.

The review has also criticised political oversight of the CCOs, and found fault with the remaining agencies Auckland Transport (AT), Panuku Development, and Watercare.

The review, chaired by Miriam Dean QC found AT did not collaborate enough with council on transport strategy, and that its handling of smaller projects was far from satisfactory.

….

The review found the council’s role overseeing the five agencies was also problematic.

“There is insufficient face-to-face discussion and meaningful dialogue, between CCO’s and the (council) Governing Body,” it found.

One of the issues we’ve noticed is that often the council will made a decision or statement about an issue but it barely gets in the door at AT and most staff working on stuff don’t know about it.

We can only hope that as the council responds to the CCO review, it also helps in pushing AT to be more responsive to opportunities and change.

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40 comments

  1. Stuff also just wrote an article that the removing of parking rules means NZ streets will look like ‘Coronation Street’

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/local-democracy-reporting/300098597/driveways-driven-away-by-new-rule

    Ca’t make this s**t up.

    If they can’t get cars off Queen Street after all this time and the business are asking for any improvements to be moved then why do we keep focussing on areas that don’t want it? Same with Takapuna. Let’s start investing in areas that are asking for for investment and let those that push back on progress see what living in the past looks like.

    1. This is interesting.

      Between the two lockdowns we were visiting different developments in South Auckland basically every Sunday. One of the things that struck me is how… I guess I’d say claustrophobic they feel as places to drive. The only available on street parking was in intermittent parking bays in… I think all of the places we visited? Definitely the one by Wesley College, anyway. Quite the contrast to the massively over engineered roads familiar to most of South Auckland.

      I don’t know if the new developments were forced by some kind of planning process to be laid out like that or if it’s more like your article’s situation (i.e. developers building how they want to now that they’re allowed to), though.

      Positive signs… well, not your article. I mean, we also saw a pre-existing house in Papakura with iirc two bedrooms and five parking spaces according to the “for sale” sign. Even if it was three bedrooms, it’s ridiculous. This is a property that’s pretty central… about ten minutes from the train station by foot.

      1. Developers are constraint by costs so parking space is a premium and generally limited. New roads are generally 16m wide and existing ones are 20.1m which is enough space for two carpark spaces.

        Existing lanes are generally 3.5m wide where developers do custom design at 2.8m with sweep curves to again save space and costs.

        Planners also push for these outcomes and developers regularly concede. AT can’t force the same changes onto the public and generally the nimbys keep the status quo inplace!

  2. Then there is your hobby horse- automatic pedestrian crossing signals.
    Ponsonby Rd is actually a good example of a street that should have them -and did briefly in places- but suddendly no longer.
    This change required AT to make a definite decision to flick the switch back and do it.
    Proof that AT care only about cars and has no deep commitment to people.
    As you point out, our councillors sit around and post on social media how wonderful they are but don’t clip AT around the ears to do their job as if AT is nothing to do with the council. Missed opportunities we will never get back and a poor level of governance.

  3. One of the consequences of COVID-19 is certainly going to be the jettisoning of District Health Boards, whose management has been exposed as only being really good at making a fetish of trying to do more more less. They are an archaic organisational hangover from the era of neoliberal extremism, remnants of the CHEs that were set up as a step towards privatisation. The same can be said of Aucklands Super City. It’s organisational model is an abject failure. Setup under ACT leader Rodney Hide it’s CCO model was clearly designed for privatisation and it represents the dying gasp of using market extremism as a management model in NZ. Watercare and AT have bloated and obscenely overpaid executives who have failed in basic planning. The council itself is in a downward debt spiral, drowning in a level of debt that COVID-19 has made impossible to service and has a ultra-orthodox neoliberal mayor who made his name as an unquestioning acolyte of permanent austerity. Don’t expect any innovative thinking or rebellion against the archaic funding model for councils under Goff.

    Within the next decade Auckland City will go broke and it will require a massive government bailout. The only hope anyone can have for any sort of decent governance is that when that crisis happens the government of the day take advantage of the crisis to ditch Hide’s failed governance model and restructure the council to something more sensible with greater accountability (starting with more councillors with more power and also more power to the local wards) and better planning.

    1. Yes the public health system needs a dramatic overhaul. However Covid-19 has also exposed the Ministry of Health’s complete inability to manage the health system. This is by design as part of the early 90’s health reforms too, MoH is meant to only provide policy advice and funding.

      Consider how after the first lockdown Cabinet issued instructions to the MoH around regular surveillance testing of border workers. By the second lockdown the MoH still hadn’t implemented it but appears to have deliberately mislead the Minister by telling him that it had. This was only exposed by the media eventually asking the right questions.

      The DHBs are dysfunctional and need to be abolished but the MoH would need to be given a complete restructure too.

      1. Ministry of Health, Ministry of Transport, Ministry of business innovation and employment, Ministry of Education, all doing a terrible job IMO.

      2. Except the governments, including the current one.
        All are wedded to the “provider/funder” split, that means those who do the work are separate from those who pay for the work.

        This was supposed to be why we have both MoT and NZTA dealing with “Transport”, and of course why Ministry of Health and the DHBs.

        Clearly Covid19 showed up, and continues to show up the fallacy of this separation of powers argument, because all we got so far from Covid19 was Dante’s 7 layers of hell, dressed up as a “health system fit for the 21st century”.

        As for AT/AC its just a mini-me of the NZTA and MoT setup. And that means, its set up, to fail.
        And so far, its been an absolute, spectacular success in that department. In fact, you could, say, its only real success to date.

        On the SuperCity founding father, I have heard a story, from a somewhat reliable source, that the architect of the SuperCity recently moved to, and now lives in, Queenstown.

        I heard that someone about a month ago, came across someone who looked a lot like Rodney Hide, who introduced himself as “Rodney”, and who was charging a Nissan Leaf at the Oamaru free Electric Car charger, on his way to a stopover in Dunedin, then on to his newly bought house Queenstown. So, was it Rodney hide? Is he now a resident of Queenstown. Anyone know?

        So, maybe, could it be, as it seems, Auckland is now too much of a mess, even for its creator to stomach any longer?

        Seems odd, if true, though that the rat is running on board the sinking ship of “SS Queenstown” just as everyone else is deserting it. But maybe he plans a takeover and figures its the best time to do it?

        After all, they do have that former Whanganui mayor and fellow, rat, Michael Laws, who is now living down there these days too. I’m sure those two could cook up a mutiny of sorts.

    2. Austerity, you’ve got to be joking. Phil has carried on the path of Len and has borrowed to the debt limit and increased rates by multiples of inflation every year. They’ve presided over the CCO model for the last 10 years and along with the councilors have ultimately been in charge, although incapable. I doubt there will be a government bailout as the government has also just borrowed up to its neck to pay wage subsidies. With all borrowing maxed and the recession getting much worse what I think we’ll actually see is forced austerity from the council, no new projects, no change, cuts to service, 1930’s unemployment.

      1. The problem with Phil is the numpty’s in Auckland keep voting for him. Maybe if they restricted local body elections to property owners only things might change but they let any old man and his dog vote!

        1. It’s not the numpties that vote for him that are the problem, it’s the numpties that run against him. If your choices are John Tamihere or John Palino then you’re probably going to vote Goff.

    3. It’s also a good excuse to bring the airports back under central govt control, AIAL has been a disaster for AKL right from privatisation. AKL should have been sold to the Canadians or kept under public ownership.

  4. Is it just me or do those changes on Queen Street look really bad? Mainly the colours. I haven’t actually seen it in person yet, maybe it looks better?
    The tactical stuff has its place on roads where a proper makeover is hard to justify, but can’t they do Queen Street properly instead of that?

    1. I was hoping that was just an artists impression. What is the purple for? Does it mean something? Are you allowed to walk on it? Can you cycle on it? Must you cycle on it? And the biggest question of all – what were they thinking?

      1. Purple marks the edge of the bus stop and the ramp transitions, I.e the trip hazards.

        Yes it’s all a bit average for Queen Street. Bit after years of AT failing to do anything and half the council, local board and business association supporting them in failing, the best we get is one corner of the council with chicken feed funding doing termporary works.

        1. Ah yes, magenta- the international unnatural colour used to depict grade changes and whatever the hell that other bit is. Chosen to upset us because the red and blue cones are activated but our brain can’t do its normal thing and give us the colour in the middle as that is actually green but the green cone is not active so our brains make up that mess. Great choice.

    2. It looks worse in person. The giant white bricks and random planters, the cheap and nasty yellow plastic poles, the random loading zones and bus stops all offset from kerbs, there’s some cream/tan paint too. I really struggled to work out what was going on, there are pedestrian symbols painted in what I thought might be cycle lanes. Hardly anyone was using the space, just a few people trying to cross the road. Its just a shambles of a mess. Its certainly difficult to cycle down there, the traffic lanes are narrow singles and full of cars not going anywhere, and the cycle lanes are not straight or flat, and have random people in them usually trying to cross the road.
      Some more stretches of the K’Rd cycleways are now open too, and they’re not very safe either, and slow going. It was better when there were two traffic lanes, like Queen St.

      1. I take it you’re a cyclist? About k-road, if you’re already a confident fast cyclist then the lanes aren’t really designed for you. Lanes like that are more ideal for slower or less confident people, and to provide slower last mile access to shoppers / employees which is also important imo. Lanes like these really help to attract new cyclists. Do you mean they are less safe because people walk into them? I’m sure this is a behavioural thing that will resolve itself, and I’d rather hit a pedestrian with my bike than get run over by a car. But that’s just me. If you meant that a large 2 way cycle lane like Tamaki drive on one side would have been better, I agree but maybe there are other reasons that they went with 2, 1 way lanes here.

    3. I live and work along Queen Street and the colour is awful and very few people are using it to walk along. It does get used as an extra carpark from time to time though so at least it is getting some use.
      The only positive I can note is that cars cannot enter Queen Street from Fort Street. The only other change I can note is that we got rid of the buslanes.

    4. Central city is kind of in a bit of a limbo at the moment is my guess. They needed to roll out a semi permanent solution in order to pedestrianise the area a bit more to be in line with the goals that the council is trying to achieve. But with so much work already going on downtown, combined with the fact that the final decision on light rail haven’t been made yet, then they can’t do the much more attractive long term work on it. Admittedly they could have done a better job with the paint colour selection. What I don’t understand is why businesses want cars to still be allowed so much on queen street, it’s kind of crazy. Surely they realise that almost none of their customers arrive by car? And if they do then it’s straight to some car park building, not driving down queen street.

  5. The rise in the sales of large utes and SUVs is a danger to the environment. They are dominating sales and now make up more than 40% of NZ sales’ world wide they are the the second most cause of a rise in global emissions. In NZ 8 of the top 10 sellers are these vehicles. People are using them rather than walk or use PT.
    Drivers are seated in what they feel is more secure and safe position compared to my smaller car. They need wider roads and bigger parking spaces. The number of pedestrians and cyclists being injured is increasing world wide. (some info from the Guardian)

    1. Lucky the green party are in power eh! And didn’t Labour also pretend to care about the environment? Maybe “Let’s keep moving” is actually their campaign for more SUV’s? It’s certainly not a reference to light rail which seemed more likely to get built 5 years ago than it does now.
      Is there actually any party left to vote for (if we ever have an election)?

    2. If families are going to downsize to one car, then that one car has to do more. The shift to CUVs and SUVs is a predictable consequence of having less space for cars, ironically enough. They also offer more flexibility for electrification until manufacturers can roll out dedicated platforms and models at scale, so you’re stuck with the status quo for the foreseeable.

      1. Agreed but I think modern CUVs and SUVs are a bit of a red herring here, I wouldn’t lump them in with the lifted utes that JFamilton mentions that make up the bulk of those sales figures. How in the hell anyone might put the combined lifestyle / tax / perceived safety / self-image genie of fancy Colorados and Rangers back in the bottle is another story

        1. To quote Bob Jones (on carless days): If the government was serious about reducing the numbers of cars on the road, they should simply shoot every tenth motorist.

  6. Queen Street is becoming a stranded asset not much use for anything. Let it die and work from home.
    Spend money on Manukau better for the real powerhouse of the economy.

      1. Mostly essential workers out this way Joe. We keep the supermarkets stocked etc and distribute manufactured and imported goods from our warehouses throughout land of Aotearoa.

        1. Essential workers are obviously essential, but not sure if “powerhouse of the economy” is accurate (even terrible economies have essential workers). At the end of the day I imagine a fairly big chunk of rates money and economic output comes out of the CBD, I doubt it is being subsidised by Manukau.

  7. The thing that’s most annoying is that there are a lot of simple changes that they could have made and have been advocated for a long time (e.g. parklets). These things should have been in place years ago – the fact that weren’t then in place to help soften the blow for future covid restrictions is frankly embarrassing.

  8. ‘3. The extra pedestrian space on Queen Street is providing an important stepping stone to the wider city centre transformation coming via Access for Everyone (pic taken in Level 3)’

    One thing that continues to bug me…does anyone know why they are calling this pedestrian space rather than cycle space, or at least a shared path? If it’s not for cycling, why is it designed to look exactly like a separated cycle lane, and then where are the people on bikes supposed to ride in the new layout? For a brand new road layout I doubt the intention is to lump them into the general traffic/bus lane. Once again it seems cycling has been neglected in this design and planning for Queen St. If not, and the space is intended as a cycle/shared lane then it really needs clear marking and communication to indicate that. Otherwise expect cars to park in it like they have been due to confusion that could be easily cleared up with a few stencils and wider gaps in the posts.

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