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 leave 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.
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 AT’s 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 you 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
carparking 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.