The journey that Auckland is on, of renewal and regeneration, will continue well into the future. We’ve got a lot to do, with transport, power and three waters infrastructure in need of upgrades, a housing shortage, safety crisis and climate emergency to resolve. Plus our public places are in need of greater ecological and social health.
Construction, with all the disruption it brings, is unlikely to slow much in the foreseeable future. But there’s no need to be dismayed by this. There’s plenty to enjoy in the City of Cones. Walkability, after all, includes having new and interesting things to look at. For toddlers, pensioners, and everyone in between, the technology and techniques used in construction and landscaping can be as interesting to watch as any of humanity’s endeavours.
But throughout it all, we need to be kept safe from traffic.
Decades of car dependent planning have resulted in a safety crisis. The safety and convenience of people biking and walking has been eroded. In this already deficient transport environment, there’s no room for temporary works to make things any harder for people on foot or bike.
Nationally, a review of the Code of Practice for Temporary Traffic Management is underway, and as it’s responding to some tragic crashes, there will be a big focus on safety for roadside workers.
I’m interested to know, though, whether it will address and halt the common practices that so often ignore the needs of the public passersby.
For example, in leaving them with nowhere to walk?:
Is it going to address the problems we face with temporary traffic management signs?
Will guidance be clear that signs shouldn’t be placed to make it difficult to walk two abreast or manoeuvre a wheelchair? (Particularly when adjacent a perfectly good parking lane!)
Will the review place a more realistic upper limit on sign sizes, so that motorway-ready signs no longer dominate urban footpaths? (And does providing a general message like this warrant imposing on footpath users at all?):
And will it do anything about the equipment that just gets left around to trip people up?:
Fundamentally, could we turn the tables, and transform temporary traffic management into a practice with a different set of priorities? What would it look like if we ensured that walking and biking amenity – if affected by temporary work at all – are improved, rather than degraded?
This is possible – it just requires a shift in mindset. Currently, the Code of Practice for Temporary Traffic Management is better suited for state highways and open roads. There’s a healthy focus on worker safety, but there’s also a requirement to minimise traffic delays. This is what is out of date, irrelevant to multi-modal urban environments, and creating the problems which impact other users. It isn’t mode neutral – the calculations required in the Code are simply for vehicle delays; the delays to anyone else aren’t quantified and therefore decisions ignore them.
To address the climate emergency, modeshift to sustainable travel modes needs to be prioritised above minimising vehicle delays. And in adopting Vision Zero, the same thing holds: both Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport must eschew the myth that vehicle delays are a more important consideration during temporary works than safety for people outside of vehicles.
As Auckland Transport says:
We will get you there safely, as efficiently as we can. This is a shift from thinking we will get you there quickly, as safely as we can.
Construction is no reason to ignore the principles of the Healthy Streets approach which puts safety and amenity for people walking and cycling central to the decision-making processes. Construction’s disruption is understood, extensive, and able to be planned around.
Indeed, it is an opportunity. Disruption can be harnessed to demonstrate how change can improve liveability. If we rethink our management of temporary traffic management, looking well beyond current practices, we can use its disruption to create a discontinuity in travel behaviour.
This approach can enable permanent modeshift.
Take the example of leaving signs that are not in use on footpaths as tripping hazards.
One obvious solution is to use kerbside parks for storing this equipment. Parking is being repurposed all over the world, for waste and recycling bins, planter boxes for trees, tables and chairs for dining, and bike parking.
A simple, good looking standardised trailer or box to store temporary traffic equipment and get it off the footpath could greatly improve safety. Something like this bike parking unit could be designed to hold standard signage:
- raise public expectations on how to treat pedestrians and the footpath environment,
- help the public gain a wider appreciation of what kerbside parking spaces are useful for. This could lead to some great community initiatives or enterprises to meet community needs, and of course
- establish confidence that the walking environment is safe for all users.
And then there’s the challenge of where to put the temporary signs when they’re in use. In some environments, signs can safely be put on footpaths, without detracting from the walking experience. This occurs where the “street furniture / front berm” zone of the footpath is sufficiently wide.
The recently released Auckland Transport Design Manual’s Footpaths and the Public Realm gives a minimum width for this zone as 2.2 m or 2.8 m, which is ample for temporary signage. Wherever our streets need to be rebuilt as we upgrade our city, Council must ensure Auckland Transport provide these minimum widths for all zones – not just for the through route itself – or we’ll continue to see temporary signage presenting a hazard.
For now, though, we often don’t have those widths available, and so the contractors aren’t left with many options.
Auckland Transport need to find a way to resolve the situation.
Auckland Transport’s Generic Traffic Management Diagrams demonstrate some of the problems. Several of these diagrams guide contractors to create – in an urban environment – a deterioration in amenity and safety for people walking and cycling. As an example, this diagram guides contractors to close the footpath – instead of a traffic lane, and without safe crossing infrastructure to the other side – and to put the signs on the road shoulder where cyclists might ride.
This is not vaguely compliant with Vision Zero.
Christchurch City Council have a document called Best Practice for TTM Impacting Cyclists which has more useful suggestions:
In the Auckland context even these solutions will often not work; our cyclelanes and footpaths often seem narrower than those in Christchurch, and kerbside parking on arterials is often only available outside peak hours, if at all. We need to find our own solutions to radically improve safety, and the perception of it.
Parents need to know their children will be safe to venture out into the street network regardless of what changes have happened in the area since the parent was last there to see. Children, elderly people, and people with disabilities require a higher standard of safety planning than able-bodied, quick-reacting adults do, but our temporary traffic management system seems to assume “we can all cope” with a bit of amenity loss. No, some of us can’t.
If a solution that improves the active transport environment rather than degrading it requires putting signs in the road carriageway by narrowing or removing traffic lanes, that is what we need to do. Yet there are other solutions, too.
Could we make more use of existing poles for mounting temporary signage, or does this put signs so high that drivers would ignore them, like they ignore the signs on Queen St? (If so, why were they considered sufficient there?)
The solution I was wondering about last year was a stand that could straddle a cycle lane, or a footpath, and hold the sign higher up.
So in May last year I asked AT:
Could you please provide me with documentation showing the work AT has done to research and develop signage that can straddle the through-route zone of the footpath (or cyclelane) so that road signs can safely be put on footpaths or cyclelanes?
I thought Auckland Transport might be enthusiastic to tell me if this was an unworkable idea. And I was looking forward to finding out what they are developing instead.
Unfortunately, after the initial confirmation of receipt eight months ago, I’ve heard nothing from them. Even though I followed up in June and August.
Interestingly, when I asked a few advocates for photos of poorly-placed signs to use in this post, some people said they had given up on getting action from Auckland Transport:
Hah I stopped taking photos and now just move them.
This is bound to happen if people see hazards consistently and systematically ignored by the authorities during a safety crisis. But it is far from ideal. I won’t report on local examples, but here’s some guerilla urbanism happening in the US. The twitter thread (by Queen Anne Greenways) starts:
This is just so common I have almost given up
Two days later:
I finally moved it today
I made a helpful sticker to encourage safer sign placement in the future.
So should Auckland Transport wait for the review of the Code of Practice for Temporary Traffic Management? I don’t think they need to.
The Code isn’t a legal document that limits Auckland Transport. It is only a guidance document to help contractors meet the minimum legal requirements. Auckland Transport can require a higher standard. The personnel tasked with providing temporary traffic management are already required to close sites down if they are not safe. Auckland Transport can lay out an expectation of what “safe” traffic management means in a city struggling to get out of a safety crisis.
Making walking and cycling safer and more convenient in this way will not only prevent unnecessary injuries and death, it will encourage people out of their cars, and help combat climate change. And it’s something Auckland Transport can tackle now.