This is a guest post by Jessica Rose. Jessica is a member of the Whau Local Board, a sustainable transport advocate, and co-chair of Frocks on Bikes Auckland.
The exquisite corpse approach to city-building?
It’s critical that low carbon transport becomes the easy and obvious choice for most people within the next 10 years. That shift will require significant investment from local and central authorities.
Each department of Government, Council and its CCOs (Council-Controlled Organisations), holds an integral piece of the puzzle required to put this picture together. But the picture that is emerging looks more like an exquisite corpse: a game in which participants take turns draw one part of a figure at a time, blind to the other parts. The result suggests that “in this way, a strange, comical, often grotesque creature is born” which is funny on paper, but less so when what is at stake is the cities we live in, and the role they’re playing in bringing on Climate Change.
Trapped in our cars
Aotearoa’s Climate Change Commission recently released their recommendations (advice-and-evidence) for limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels of global temperature by 2030. The report sets out why urgent action is needed and defines the role of New Zealand within this. In the Auckland district, the majority of greenhouse gases come from road transport, and the lion’s share of this is from the little old domestic car (although they’re not so little any more.) If it were ever in question, you are not stuck in traffic: You Are Traffic.
But when most people hop in the car, they’re probably not actively trying to end the world for everyone and everything in it. There are legitimate reasons why so many people still reach for the car first.
A case study: St Georges Road, going UP
Take St Georges Road in Avondale. Tree lined, wide, with parking available along both sides of a two-way street, it could be a nice walk to the town centre, schools, entertainment and public transport (the Western Line train and frequent bus routes.) Within the next 6 months, a major connection in the walking and cycling network, the New Lynn to Avondale Shared Path, will open literally on its doorstep. This will bring LynMall and two supermarkets into the net of easily-accessed amenities and provide a connection, via the Waterview Shared Path and the Northwestern Cycleway, to the wider cycling network.
The proximity of these amenities and transport options has triggered high density development in Avondale: the street has been zoned THAB (terraced homes and apartment buildings.) As a result, Crown and private developers are doing exactly as the planners planned and the old single level houses are being transformed into higher density living.
The results of this intensification are impressive: Kainga Ora is developing 102 homes on a site that held 10; a private developer across the road is going from 1 to 19. The increase ratio for crown land holdings in other major urban development sites in Tāmaki Makaurau is based on a 1:3 model. These new modern homes will have low parking amenity to support the low carbon city. The intentions of the unitary plan are being met. In theory, with great cycling and public transport options, and low parking provision, the environment provides both carrot and stick to help ‘accelerate modeshift’ from driving.
Change coming in Avondale
Further afield, but within cycling distance if you’re brave, the town centre of Avondale is getting an exciting upgrade to go with the staggering intensification planned on the associated Paunuku land holdings nearby. This is set for construction over the next 4 years. Avondale Town Centre will soon be home to a new town square, library and community hub.
But how will people travel to and from the community centre? Solving this problem is out of scope for the contracted architects, and the joined up thinking just isn’t happening. The locals are asking for more car parking. Can you blame them? They might have the solution wrong, but they’ve correctly identified the problem: how are they going to get there?
Too bad for those who live on the west side of St Georges Road who, only a few hundred meters from the new community centre, have to cross at least one terrifying road if they want to get there by foot. For all the future residents of St George Road, there is no trigger to transform this corridor into one that is fit for anything other than driving a car down. The road is Auckland Transport’s, AT isn’t connected to the developments or the Unitary Plan, and there’s no requirement for them to make any changes to the way the road works, despite the significant transformation happening around it. With the needs of access to PT, walking and cycling, and proximity to amenity already apparently met, in future the only work that will be planned for this road is a like-for-like renewal.
Right now, the road is unsafe to cross because of cars barrelling down the wide, straight street at high speed. It’s difficult to see beyond the cars parked at the berms on both sides. Although the shared New Lynn to Avondale path will be near, it only overlaps with St Georges Road for a short section. There will not be a safe way to access it from north of the New KO development or south of the train crossing. From the middle of St Georges Road, it is an 850m walk to the nearest bus stop, and just shy of 1km to get to the train station. If that wasn’t enough, car crashes occur with frightening regularity on this stretch during school drop-off. How can we expect a local community to adopt low-carbon modes when they are being inconvenienced instead of incentivised?
St Georges Road and the urban area around it has been earmarked for density because of its proximity to trains, buses, bike paths and amenity. But the connections to those amenities aren’t fit for much other than driving a car on. Creating a bigger-picture plan is out of scope for the agencies working in the area, so no-one really knows what the picture is going to end up looking like.
How can we make it better?
St Georges Road already has everything it needs to be a delightful Healthy Street. There is a stretch where the overhead lines have been undergrounded and indeed the trees are flourishing. The corridor is wide: there’s room for micro-mobility to have its own space, and traffic could be slowed by narrowing the lanes. Buses do not travel this stretch so there would be no hazard for them if a raised table crossing or two were added for people to use. An Innovating Streets pilot would be a fast and easy way to test these changes.
In a sense, a kind of trial has happened. Auckland Transport and Kainga Ora coordinated to organise a concession for the construction workers’ vehicles causing road hazards and destroying the landscape, so that no one would get ticketed. It seems like a missed opportunity: what if, instead of exemptions, they’d provided a lock-up for workers’ gear and a pre-loaded HOP Card to get to site?
Road renewals, stuck in like-for-like
It is a street like this that was depicted in the Auckland Transport’s recent RLTP consultation when inviting feedback on the road renewals budget. However when I asked, in my capacity as a local board member, if this was what Auckland residents were likely to see in road renewals in practice, I was actually laughed at. That kind of transformation would be well out of reach cost-wise for Auckland Transport to fund alone, there are rules around locking renewals in like for like, and maintenance contracts that depend on this.
Nevertheless I did put this to Auckland Transport’s board, and asked them if we could roll the corridor improvements and road renewals into one bucket, so that all roads be considered for mode shift incentives at time of renewal.
Without that possibility, when St Georges Road comes up for renewal, it will already be locked into another decade of being car-dominated. Any change in road space allocation is not within the scope of a renewal project. But surely it doesn’t make sense to replace a road like-for-like when its population is set to change so dramatically. Remember – 121 new homes are replacing 11 existing, and with THAB zoning all the way up, that’s just the start.
Joining up the thinking
It’s not that there aren’t great ideas in our governing entities. But they’re too often happening in competition when they could be happening collaboratively. The Kainga Ora housing on St George’s Road and the Panuku Development in Avondale are obvious complementary projects. They’ve both had great masterplanning done. So where’s the planning to reorganise the car-filled space between them?