Transport decisions and projects always involve tradeoffs and so no matter what decision that gets made, some people will be always unhappy with it. As such, Auckland Transport constantly gets a hard time from the media, the public and politicians on almost everything they do, though sometimes undeservedly.

Of course, this does make you wonder, if they’re going to be criticised no matter what they do, why don’t they just do the ‘right’, evidence based, international best practice thing’ anyway. At least you’ll make some people happy, rather than the compromise solutions they come up with that leaves everyone a bit annoyed and further weakening belief in them.

Yet if there’s one thing most people would probably agree on, it’s that AT’s consultation processes leave a lot to be desired and can often make things worse. Consultations are often poorly targeted, lack information and are just a box ticking exercise, in other words, a meaningless waste of time.

A good example of some of ATs consultation issues are epitomised in their current consultation of ‘Improvements to Ash Street and Rata Street‘. These two streets are an important arterial linking West Auckland and the central isthmus bypassing New Lynn.

They also have designs in places that encourage speeding, speaking from experience having driven along there a lot when I was much younger, and as a result they have a poor safety record – which is why AT are looking at them. They say:

Tragically, three people have been killed on these roads in recent years. A further 46 have been injured or seriously injured in the 213 crashes that occurred on these roads between 2014-2019.

To help prevent people from being killed or seriously injured, we are exploring road safety improvements on these roads.

Zoom Zoom – the Rata St racetrack

That’s quite a bad record and certainly something AT need to address. It’s also the first sign where important information is missing.

There’s no mention that these roads have long been on Auckland’s long-term cycle network plans, routes that will become even more important in the future with projects like Te Whau Pathway being developed. It is also considered a very important route under Auckland Transport’s new Freight Plan. On top of all of this it’s a very busy arterial carrying around 35,000 vehicles a day. These pieces of information are important as they help to give context, something critical when you consider the next bit of the consultation

Depending on the availability of funding, the types of improvements (PDF 316KB) possible could include:

  • Speed table (a raised section of road which aims to slow vehicles to a safe speed).
  • Traffic lights on a speed table (to make crossings safer by slowing vehicle speeds).
  • High-friction surfacing (skid resistant road surfacing which helps vehicles to stop quicker when braking).
  • Pedestrian refuge island (to provide pedestrians a safe place to wait when crossing the road in two stages).
  • Road surface texturing (imprinted textures on the road to signal drivers to adjust their speed).
  • Rumble strips and wider road marking (raised markings that make a rumbling sound when driven over).
  • Road safety signage (including electronic signs warning drivers to slow down and making them aware of pedestrians).
  • Broken yellow lines (no stopping parking restrictions).

Please note, some of these measures would require a small number of on-street parking spaces to be removed.

Knowing how much funding might be available for a project and also how much each of the interventions might cost is surely an important factor that should be communicated. Also it would surely be useful to highlight the effectiveness of each of these interventions. Even more useful would be to provide local and international best practice examples of what’s possible. Otherwise it’s a bit like that Henry Ford quote “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses“.

There’s also an element of AT should just be doing their job. Remember that time Watercare consulted whether to combine the fresh and wastewater pipes? Or when Vector consulted on whether the wires should be undergrounded? Oh that’s right, they don’t and they didn’t! Why should making our roads safe be any different? AT’s engineers are meant to be the experts and they have an array of tools and design guidelines to use to come up with what roads like this should look like. Why are they not using those to work out what the most appropriate changes are and then just delivering them?

Now I’m sure AT will talk about trying to bring the community along with them or something like that but as I mentioned earlier, they’ll be damned if they do and damned if they don’t. It’s almost certain there’ll be articles in at least local newspapers and in other places of people complaining about the changes, many them drivers from further afield who probably never even knew AT was consulting on it.

Furthermore, it’s worth noting that this is really just a pre-consultation consultation. After this one they’ll then go and do what they should have at the start and come up with some plans. Then next year some time we’ll get another consultation on those plans, and knowing AT, we may even get a third one before there’s any work on (or in) the ground.

Perhaps the thing that frustrates me the most about all of this is simply the lack of consistency about consultations within AT as it seems almost every consultation uses a completely different approach. In some consultations, like the recent St Heliers one, they go come up with plans, in this case with a series of locals and ignoring all of ATs own evidence and existing plans, and presenting it as a solution to be signed off. But in other situations, like this one, they effectively just give the public a piece of blank paper and say “what do want?

Then there’s the issue of language. We need to stop asking, for example, “do you want a cycleway?” and start saying, “we’re building a cycleway, what kind/colour dividers do you prefer?“.

Finally there’s the not insignificant issue that some consultations just disappear into a black hole as AT shy away from doing anything. A good example of this I understand is the Newmarket pedestrian crossing they consulted on in June but apparently gave in to the local caparking business association and cancelled any changes.

Doing a better job on consultations should be a critical area for AT to improve. Many of these see communities and advocates put in substantial amounts of time and effort to respond to them and this can be incredibly frustrating to do over and over again especially when the same issues, like missing or poorly designed bike or safety features, keep cropping up.

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42 comments

  1. Also, I must have missed the consultation on whether we are happy to have ever more people blasting through our local neighbourhoods, in undertaxed, supersized, planet eating, over-powered mobile living rooms with their attention distracted by TV-dashboards, directing them down our narrow residential lanes and past schools, for the further enrichment of gazillion dollar offshore tech companies.

    We all voted for that right?

    1. Urbanista
      I think you are hoping for the European approach where they go back almost to first principles with the SUMP (sustainable urban mobility programme) consultations. In this approach local government realises that the current method isn’t working; by tweaking it (adding more roads or car parks) it still won’t work; and that dramatic change is needed.
      Sadly we seem years away from that.

  2. Matt, Spot on. I have hosted numerous “engagement” sessions with AT. They send along some poor traffic engineer flanked by 2-3 PR /media specialists who are there to make sure the engineer doesn’t actually commit to anything. They do a powerpoint, listen politely to the few people who are hot and bothered about whatever the Proposal is and then go away having ticked the box that says “hosted three meetings with x organisation who represent 30,000 local employees”. NZTA are equally as bad.

  3. AT are the professionals who have studied to work in the field they work in. Whether they are good at their roles is not for me to say..but you wouldn’t get a plumber round to fix your pipes and have them start consulting with everyone in the house hold about the best way to fix it.

    1. The big problem is that we are much more engaged with HOW transport is designed than with water and power. For those we pretty much only care whether it comes out safely and sufficiently at the end and doesn’t look to shabby on the way.

      For transport, we USE the transport options given to us. Which means we ALL tend to have strong opinions what’s good and bad, and how it should be, making any decision (especially one that changes the status quo) something at least some people will get very bothered about.

      Which goes back to one of Matt’s point: When you have serious reasons for a change, and policies to boot to back the change, then you should just do it (inform, not offer choices). Otherwise you and your consultation just end up making a rod for your back.

      1. I don’t know if the distinction is that valid, Max.

        We’re pretty engaged with how water and power work, actually. And for so long we’ve been told to simply follow the rules about using rainwater or greywater. How many people wish the plumber had actually asked what height the shower rose she be put at? We’re pretty interested in whether we have power undergrounded, too. And fibre – if there’d been engagement at the beginning of that being rolled out, there might have been some efficiencies of doing one street of connections at once, instead of one house at a time.

  4. Right so they should stop asking and just do what you want? Maybe everyone with a different idea to yours think that should just do that instead.

    1. As I said above – YES, they should just do something when they have a clear reason for it (for example safety), and especially when they have a policy mandate (which they do) and if politicians have been voted in on these platforms (which they have). Offering choices is for things that don’t actively contravene your own stated policies or simply accept an ethically untenable status quo.

      In short “WHAT kind of cycleway?” and “WHAT kind of pedestrian crossing?” and “HOW should we slow speeds here?” rather than “Hey, should we do something here? You tell us what you’d like!”

      1. Yes. Consult about the details for local implementation, without compromising the things AT has responsibility for and that require big changes – bringing safety to the system, and enabling massive modeshift for climate, health and access reasons.

      2. Yes good point Max. Anyone with a different opinion to yours is being unethical. Good for you for letting them all know that. Ever wondered why Trump, Duterte, Bolsonaro and Johnson exist? It is because for years the people who control policy have told others their opinions are not valid or are unethical or wrong. Eventually those people stop expressing their opinions in public and vote for a populist. Maybe we are better off asking what people actually want and once in a while actually listening to them rather than telling them someone somewhere once wrote a policy on this so you are too late to even comment. To be clear I am no fan of AT, but some of their best work is when they start listening.

        1. But people don’t necessarily know all the possible options that might exist until they’ve read about it, experienced them, thought about them. This is precisely why Matt is citing Ford- people would ask for faster horses. AT engineers and planners *know* their stuff. They know what good design looks like – a 21st century one, one that is safe, equitable, climate-conscious rather than focused exclusively on fast transit. Engagement should also be an opportunity for education: this is the whole point of the piece (I think!). There is no “us” and “them”, in the end we all have the same goal of a safer, carbon-conscious, equitable city.
          (how you got to Bolsonaro is really very interesting)

        2. Surely local consultation should be used to uncover a local issue the experts have not thought about or they should know about. A kind of backup approach to uncover something not foreseen.

      3. “…We need to stop asking, for example, “do you want a cycleway?” and start saying, “we’re building a cycleway, what kind/colour dividers do you prefer?“

        So, only cosmetic consultation. TINA at the local level?

        Why does “consultation” exist?

        1. “Why does “consultation” exist?”

          Unfortunately most consultation projects exist to keep the Local Boards happy. Many of the local board members have no interest in what is happening in their areas until a “concerned citizen” complains, and wants to stop whatever the proposal is, by claiming, “No one consulted me about what colour the planter boxes should be!”

    2. So I think the difference is in this case, they already have the mandate to make the changes. There is always a balance between officials making decisions, and asking everyone exactly what they want. And when you have science and empirical evidence that in the end people would have better lives if you did this thing. Then it’s fair enough that they should go ahead and do it.

  5. It would be interesting to know more about the processes used to develop the great cycling infrastructure in places like Holland. Did it involve lots of consultation?

  6. I worked at AT for close to 10 years and recently left. In my opinion there are a lot of experts at AT who have great vision which is founded on evidenced based policy making for what AKL could become.

    However as things pass up the food chain i.e through ELT/CEO and then consulted with Local Boards and Business Association. Then finally Bob the NIMBY has his say the outcome is watered down and often incredibly poor.

    When NZTA were fixing the bridge they didn’t consult on what type of fixings or steel to use. We as the public trust that they are experts and let them make the call. To extend the analogy Air NZ Engineers would never do a snap poll before ‘take off’ to see what type of fuel injectors we should use…

    Why then do we allow the uneducated and misinformed to have such a strong voice when it comes to matters of public safety, increasing public amenity, valuing space (Special Vehicle Lanes, Removing Parking/Charging properly for parking)?

    Trump is the poster child for the elected career politician toddler driving the bus while the experts sit in the back and try to avoid calamity at every turn.

    Local Boards are made up largely of ill-informed self interested populists.

    Business Associations in particular need to be disbanded. Often a bunch of cronyistic, again, totally ill informed bunch of muppets that don’t serve their local communities at all.

    If i had a dollar for every time i heard that removing on-street parking would bring about the death of the ‘High Street; I would be a wealthy woman. The fact is it is quite the opposite and this based in researched evidence time and time again. Why then do we listen to these idiots. It’s a bit like letting your toddler eat ice cream for dinner.

    I mean FFS HoTC still campaigns with AT that cheap weekend parking will solve all ills and bring in the business. Wake up. Have you engaged with O’Connell Street Business to see whether they want to bring parking back. Does High St want their enhancement removed… A lack of cars should be your defining offering!

    The problem we face was summed up beautifully by Henry Ford. “If i had listened to my customers they would have asked for a faster horse”.

    We live in a car dependent nation where the vast majority cant imagine the changes that we need to address carbon, greater amenity, health outcomes, greater equity etc… the list goes on.

    We need to let the experts get on with it and stop cow-towing to all and sundry.

    1. Perhaps given your experience you could write a manifesto. You could outlaw freedom of expression so only people like yourself would be allowed to state their opinions. You could outlaw freedom of association so those pesky businesses associations could, as you say, be disbanded. You could outlaw elections to take care of those annoying elected boards. Maybe people push back on transport initiatives because they don’t want them. Maybe that is the difference between removing parking and welding steel on the harbour bridge. Maybe what people want actually matters.

      1. Of course we have to find the right balance, yes, we do not want to ban freedom of expression but also we do not want to prevent things like a pedestrian crossing going in to allow safe access to school because a local resident argues against losing “their” parking space on the road.

      2. FFS, miffy. Pull your head in. You’d hate to be an expert at the back of Trump’s bus as much as the next traffic engineer would.

        What you’re saying here in “Maybe people push back on transport initiatives because they don’t want them” is unadulterated ignorance. Read the evidence. People do want them. It’s local, vocal NIMBY’s who are a minority who kick back on these projects, and that’s got out of hand because AT and AC have let it.

        But your underlying message is worse – that somehow “freedom of expression of ignorance” deserves a higher priority than evidence-based protection of our children. Fuck that. The undermining of progress in transport transformation affects your children too, miffy.

        You have the ability to bring lots of different evidence to the situation. Stop letting your car dependence blind you to this aspect.

        And that’s not the way to treat a first time poster.

        1. Heidi neither you nor I would ever sit on that bus. But the debate we are having stems from differing views on what policy exists to achieve. My view is policy is how elected people control appointed people. It is the rules that limit managers choices. The problem starts when the people who write policy start to think it exists to limit the choices of elected people or that it exists to limit the choices the public can make or seek from their leaders. Policy isn’t legislation and nor is it rules. That fact a bunch of enthusiastic people might think it is doesn’t alter that simple concept. The easy things in transport were all done years ago. Now a gain for someone is often a loss for someone else and that means it belongs in the political realm and isn’t something we can trust to managers only. I don’t care about parking in Newmarket or St Heliers but that doesn’t mean other people shouldn’t care. If things are required for safety then by all means make that case but that doesn’t mean AT should make any change they wish just by claiming it is a safety improvement. Similarly I don’t recall anyone being asked to give a mandate that some forms of transport should always have priority in every case regardless of the circumstances. So I see nothing wrong with AT consulting and trying to find out what communities actually want.

        2. Surely there shouldn’t be any scenarios where we would be consulting on the relative importance people’s safe movement vs someone’s ability to store their private possessions on a road.

        3. Yes, throwing safety in there is a bit loaded. Even without that using roads for parking cars should only happen once all transport needs have been met. Roads are there to facilitate movement, storage is just a bonus if there is spare space.

      3. Miffy, Stop Projecting Bro!

        You’ve taken my comments and inferred a whole lot about me and my position. Truth is I tapped my comments out out on my smartphone and i didn’t have the time to finesse my statements. Will start work on the Manifesto when i get home after a 50 minute bus commute stuck behind all the 1.1 occupant cars.
        The above was a rant from someone who has worked within the belly of the beast for a long time. I see my burly bomb of a post induced sprat fish feeding though… Much like car parks induce driving… So therein lies another good analogy

        It is incredibly disheartening when a whole heap of research and evidence is compiled only to be ‘trumped’ by a whole lot of ‘I reckons’ from those that don’t actually have any idea; just an opinion and a hunch. Also it is generally a very small subsection of society doing the vast majority of ‘reckoning’ .

        This is of course – The free sausage roll brigade that have time on their hands to attend public meetings in the middle of the day (another pet consultation peeve) to discuss matters that will be implemented long after the vast majority of them are gone.. I’m not saying they don’t deserve a voice. Just at the moment they are the voice; and they want to Make NZ Great Again by not being innovative because the unknown is scary and anything to upset the very privileged apple cart upon which they sit can’t be condoned.

        I think removing car parks to not induce driving and calming traffic etc is just as important as what steel we use on the bridge actually. As although the health and safety risks might not be as obvious they are still there! Why does this kind of thing not deserve the mana and respect as a profession as to compared to fixing a bridge of flying an aircraft?

        1. “I think removing car parks to not induce driving and calming traffic etc is just as important as what steel we use on the bridge”
          Yes, and congratulations to the staffers who negotiated the Auckland Parking Strategy into existence. And what a disgrace that the decisions makers took the view that this is a policy that we are not bound by and we will do whatever we like.

  7. AT should be consulting at a broader, more conceptual level. The questions should be around what outcomes the community wants, i.e. what problems the community wants solved. The nitty-gritty of how best to achieve those outcomes should be designed by engineers based on best practice (which should itself be informed by international research).

    To extend the expert metaphors used above: If you want a new power outlet installed in your house you’d tell the electrician where you want it installed (the outcome), you wouldn’t expect them to ask what kind of wiring to use or where to run it.

    1. Don’t let an engineer near it until you’re down to detailed design. Transport planners, urban designers, landscape architects or even some architects are far better at understanding how to achieve the outcomes a community might want from their streets. Transport engineers are just Civil engineers who specialise in applying roading engineering standards. As a general rule they are fairly shit at human centred design. They struggle to see beyond the narrow range of options contained in the standard engineering drawings or traffic engineering codes and are rarely able to grasp the idea that a street needs to do anything other than move vehicles.

      1. I’m glad you said “as a general rule” – plenty of transport engineers are trying to do exactly those paradigm-shifting approaches you advocate for. Indeed, I was privileged to be one of three civil engineering trained practitioners in the team of five leading the first Urban Street Design workshop for the industry two weeks ago (and we were training a lot of other civil engineers in that first audience…)

      2. Transport planners and urban designers have given us Auckland’s urban form. I wouldn’t exactly call that group a bastion of great design either.

  8. The proposed changes is only trying to fix the symptoms.

    A different approach with widen footpath, with cycleway and single lane during off peak should be reinvestigated.

  9. Ast st/ Rata st deserves to have a cycleway.

    The proposed Te Whau pathway and Avondale to New Lynn ignores the northern part of the Avondale.

    To significantly improves cycling/walking catchment, Ash St is a prime candidate to have a cycleway connection to serve the northern part of Avondale.

  10. I’ve always said it is a lack of direction from leadership. Mayor Goff likes to talk about Vision Zero and then disappears when St Heliers gets up in arms about safety improvements. After that debacle its no wonder that AT is consulting on all and sundry. Even if they already have their own design in mind and arent bothered to actually listen to the ignorant masses.

    Like Miffy said, all the easy stuff has been done. Now it is about giving up parking and general vehicle lanes for PT and active modes. Even more, it is bus vs cycling infra and that is difficult to resolve. Don’t expect any help from politicians when the mob gets riled up. So just keep the status quo. Much less stressful.

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