How is it June already?? Here’s our roundup for the week that was… and it’s a bumper edition, in honour of the long weekend. (Happy birthday, Your Majesty!)
Liberate the Lane: managing traffic – and expectations
Last Sunday’s Liberate the Lane rally (and subsequent bridge ride) attracted heaps of attention, which was precisely the point. As Chloe Swarbrick writes: “The point is to occupy space and time. The point is to make a point. It’s a spotlight firmly on the issue, and accountability for decision-makers neglecting their responsibility.”
Protests by their very nature are meant to be performative – and the response from Waka Kotahi was too.
Having known for months that this event was going to happen, they had traffic control at the ready. Lane closures on the northbound clip-on were announced in advance by Auckland Transport. This all meant that, on the day, most of the crowd understood what they were doing as an officially sanctioned crossing. (See Councillor Pippa Coom’s description of that moment here).
And yet, Waka Kotahi chose to leave the bridge in its standard configuration instead of switching to 3+3, meaning northbound traffic went down to two lanes. This may have been due to a difficulty with the lane-switching machine, but couldn’t have been better planned to maximise disruption and generate headlines about “traffic chaos”.
In practice, traffic seemed to slow down briefly as drivers noticed what was happening: northbound traffic slowed on the uphill and flowed down onto the Shore, and the opposite was true southbound.
This suggests a decent chunk of any congestion was not capacity-related, but due to rubbernecking from people seeing something they were just not used to seeing – which wouldn’t be an issue if people walking and biking across the bridge were an everyday feature.
The disruption also needs to be put into perspective. Take a look at Waka Kotahi’s Auckland/ Northland twitter feed which shows multiple events every day that generate disruption on the motorway network. For example, the morning following the event a truck crashed into the barrier through St Mary’s Bay blocking traffic.
SH1 NORTHERN MWY – 7:25AM
A crash is blocking the right northbound lane in St Marys Bay, between Fanshawe St and the Harbour Bridge. Merge with care to pass and expect delays this morning. ^TP pic.twitter.com/JtY2mBr27e
— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) May 30, 2021
And later that same day, a lane was suddenly closed for emergency road works. But no outraged headlines, of course. This is just traffic, as usual.
SH1 AKL HBR BRIDGE – 10:40AM
Due to emergency roadworks the left lane (lane 1 of 4) is currently closed southbound on the Harbour Bridge. Allow extra time until cleared. ^TP pic.twitter.com/k2K7ifOEQx
— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) May 30, 2021
It’s numbingly repetitive. By contrast, the tweet about Sunday’s event is one of their most widely shared updates of recent times, in no small part because of the fantastic photo.
SH1 AKL HBR BRIDGE – EVENT – 11:15AM
Due to an event, two northbound lanes are CLOSED. Please expect some DELAYS on your northbound journey. ^AL pic.twitter.com/nPuFRbsub4
— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) May 29, 2021
So what’s next? Waka Kotahi says it’s looking into things: “We’re listening, and we’ve been listening for a long time.” It has been a long time. As Bike AKL’s Duncan Laidlaw points out, “People have been waiting for decades – it’s now 12 years on from the first protest asking for a cycle lane.”
It’s also striking that Waka Kotahi say “health and safety” is their number one priority in this case. Meanwhile, in plenty of other projects all over the country, advocates still have to fight at every turn to include even basic safety features. And in this case – making space for active travel – if Waka Kotahi takes care of the safety, the health will look after itself.
As Councillor Chris Darby told RNZ: “There’s always barriers. If you turn away at the first barrier that faces you when you’re confronting the issues of transport in Auckland, you’ll never get anything done.” Sunday’s ride pushed aside several perception barriers: for example, it turns out the bridge gradient is easy enough for a child to ride over it. Now, make it safe.
You can sign the petition for a summertime trial of a lane over the bridge here.
Ordinary everyday outrage
A once-in-a-decade, traffic-managed, and fully pre-announced event that lasted less than an hour resulted in a few predictable headlines about inconvenience to the public.
It’s harder to find any outrage at all about the daily damage of people parking on footpaths, in cycle lanes or in our public spaces, breaking the rules on a regular basis by speeding, running red lights and all sorts of other activities?
Queens Birthday Rail Shutdown
Another long weekend, another shutdown of the rail network for upgrades and repairs. Buses will replace trains Saturday through to Monday. (Click to embiggen the pic below).
On Wednesday, following questions about the lack of seating at the recently reopened Lower Albert St Bus Interchange, Auckland Transport tweeted this.
@pippacoom Some limited seating is being provided, but we acknowledge that this is not what was intended for this facility. We continue efforts to secure budget to deliver the full shelter & seating outcome that we had hoped to see implemented from the initial opening. (2/2)^HS
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) June 1, 2021
Later in the day, AT clarified the situation.
Good news – this week seats are due to be installed on Lower Albert Street, until we can get more permanent facilities in place.
Our earlier tweet was incorrect- not everyone here was in the loop – sorry for the confusion! pic.twitter.com/M1MGYm6Zik
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) June 2, 2021
It’s good some seats are going in – but it’s incredible that they’ll just be temporary ones because AT doesn’t have enough funding for what was originally proposed. Lower Albert St is the busiest bus facility in the country, including the busiest bus route, the NX1!
Contrast this outcome with projects like Matakana Link Road, where somehow Auckland Transport found a way to make it four lanes wide instead of two as was originally planned and budgeted for. Maybe they could look down the back of the same couch for some change to make public transport easier and more welcoming? It’ll help meet those pesky climate targets…
Update: on Thursday afternoon, AT advised seats were going in. (Perhaps just the one seat, but gotta start somewhere…)
Building consent data for April was released this week and it’s another huge result with over 1,600 consents issued. That’s the fifth highest month on record and impressively seven of the top twelve months have been within the last year with another four of them in the five spots on the ranking.
Once again townhouses continue to be the most popular while single houses made up just over a third of consents. The results for April mean that on a 12-month rolling basis we’ve hit over 18,000 consents for the first time and 44% of these are townhouses, 36% single houses, 17% apartments and 3% retirement village units.
And here it is stacked. The question is like the opposite of limbo, how high can it go?
CRL Intersection Switch
Later this month, Wellesley St West will reopen to motorised traffic, while the Victoria and Albert intersection will close for a couple of years. (Both intersections remain open for business and active travel, although you might have to walk your bike.)
Speaking of the CRL: boring has now begun – and you can track the progress of the tunnel boring machine here, with some cool visualisations. Named in honour of Dame Whina Cooper, the machine is currently 19m along its underground journey.
AT School Projects
Good to see Auckland Transport cracking on with lowering driving speeds around schools to the internationally acknowledged maximum safe speed of 30kmh. They’re starting with four primary schools: Grey Lynn Primary, Glenfield Primary, Birkdale Primary and Summerland Primary, so one central, two on the Shore, and one out West. Nothing in South Auckland this round, but the announcement says:
Longer-term, and if successful, setting safe and survivable speed limits under the Safe School Speeds programme will be introduced to other schools across Auckland.
Two questions: how long is this “longer term” – how many Quality Life Years of our children will it take to get around to making all of their school zones safe? And, what exactly does “If successful” mean in this context – how does AT plan to measure this?
Who are cycleways for again?
A refreshingly clear photo story from Christchurch-based blog, Talking Transport. A reminder of what’s important, and essential reading for everyone who’s had a go on every social media channel this week.
Off the deep end
You’ve probably seen the photos of the aerial swimming pool between skyscrapers in London. But there’s a deeper story behind this “fantastical aquarium of captive high net worth individuals”, and it’s a cautionary tale about the balance of luxury housing and affordable housing in cities. A fascinating long read for your weekend – and fortunately, this feels like a mistake New Zealand is managing to avoid so far…
— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) June 1, 2021
Speaking of swimming
We're just not seeing the uptick in Swim To School day. I mean we handed out goggles, flippers and shark deterrent. Guess we're just not a swimming culture. pic.twitter.com/DmM754SfxM
— Tom Flood (@tomflood1) May 29, 2021
If SF designed playground equipment the way they design bike infrastructure. pic.twitter.com/shfp4NZpHK
— Drew McDaniel (@drewmcd24) May 31, 2021
PS Looking for another family-friendly ride this weekend? The Bike Rave will be rolling along the new Southern Path on Saturday afternoon, 5 June, . The ride culminates in a silent disco with the legendary King Kapisi on the mic and turntables. Dress up, light up, join the ride. Details and tickets here.
Transport Minister Michael Wood has confirmed the government wants to build a new separate bridge for cyclists and walkers alongside the Auckland Harbour Bridge.
“A stand-alone structure is the safest option that will not only provide a walking and cycling option for commuters but creates an outstanding piece of tourism infrastructure.”
In the mean time, Waka Kotahi would continue to work on how to provide safe temporary trials of using lanes on the existing harbour bridge for cyclists and pedestrians, he said.
The transport agency said the stand-alone crossing would cost about $785 million, though it also warned costs would need to be refined.
It planned to start the process of securing approvals later this year using the Covid-19 Recovery fast-track legislation.
Construction could begin at soonest in the middle of next year. It would take somewhere between two and five years to complete.
- Auckland Transport has got five years to create the approaches and wider network for cycling either side of this new bridge. As part of that, Auckland Transport will need to acknowledge and start working seriously on the CCMP’s Fanshawe St plans.
- If they can pull this off within five years as planned, it will involve improved processes and that will leave us in better stead for other work going forward.
- A temporary solution on the bridge is still on the cards, and if they do that properly it can demonstrate whether the cost of this bridge actually is required.
- Finally, it’s nice to have a figure for how much Waka Kotahi is prepared to spend to NOT have to make the best use of the existing infrastructure, as per their own Intervention Hierarchy. As tweeted here,
A new structure is a cost of #carCulture – not the #activeTransport users it will carry.
Auckland will never achieve the goal of seven per cent “mode share” for cyclists by 2030 to meet climate targets, without a link to the North Shore.
Meanwhile other NZUP announcements must be underway soon. Enjoy the weekend!