Welcome to the last Friday in June. Now may be a good moment to ask, did you notice anything in particular about our guest posts this month while Matt’s been on sort-of paternity leave?
Header image: Innovating Streets artwork by Pauly B. (Image: Hamilton City Council)
Absolutely positively better housing options
Bit of a rough week for Wellington with a Covid scare, but an epic win for brave young Councillors Rebecca Matthews and Tamatha Paul, who pushed back on advice from council officers about limits on new housing. In a long and frankly confusing meeting (during which it seems like several hours were spent debating re-orienting a handful of carparks on Lambton Quay), several amendments to the spatial plan were debated. The key outcomes:
- Reduce character areas as per the August 2020 Draft Spatial Plan, improving opportunities for density in Wellington’s inner suburbs. One of the biggest areas of contention was a last minute change to the size of the ‘Character Areas’ mapped in the Spatial Plan. The Character Areas overlay significantly restricts new development, so the Draft Spatial Plan released in August 2020 proposed reducing the extent of Character Areas by 70%. However, amendments announced in the last week proposed adding a significant chunk of Character Areas back in. In the end, Council voted 9-6 to return to the August 2020 version of the map.
- Broaden the size of the Walking Catchment around the City Centre from 10 to 15 minutes, and around railway stops from 5 to 10 minutes. These walking catchments will allow increased density within them.
- A proposal to remove height limits in the central city entirely looked like it might pass, but was voted down once Councillor Iona Pannett realised she’d accidentally pressed the wrong button. However, there will be a minimum building height of 6 storeys, and height limits vary from 8 to 28 storeys.
- Happily, Councillors voted unanimously to support for Universal Design in the Plan and to increase the number of accessible ground-level units.
Overall, it’s a good result for Wellington and the new Spatial Plan could play a big part in solving the housing crisis that Wellington faces. Neale Jones’ article on The Spinoff earlier in the week did a good job of explaining the challenges Wellington has ahead:
…over the last decade Wellington built fewer houses per capita than any other region, and as a result is now seeing the highest price increases in the country – up more than 20% in the last year alone.
Unfortunately, Tamatha Paul’s suggestion that the ‘Character Precincts’ be renamed ‘Colonial Streetscape Precincts’ was voted down 9-6.
Bus changes in the city centre
Bus routes are changing this weekend as CRL works shift things around. Wellesley St is opening again, and Victoria St is closing, which means that the North Shore, Outer Link and 101 buses won’t be dog-legging around Mayoral Drive any more. Looking forward to seeing what Wellesley St looks like after being closed to buses for 18 months? Well, a lot like… the old Wellesley St.
“they literally ripped up an already dysfunctional road to build a new subway station, knowing that when it was rebuilt back it’d require vastly more bus throughput and decided to build it back exactly the same”
— scoot! (@ScootFoundation) June 22, 2021
There’s some cool street art happening around the country as part of the Innovating Streets projects, often highlighting the history of the location, like this one in Manukau:
This work is titled "Te Taura Moana" referencing a chorus of Manu (birds) that flocked the Manukau Harbour. When our tupuna arrived, they heard chatter & thought people beat them to Aotearoa. pic.twitter.com/X2tftuGXid
— Deurbanising Wāhine (@people_weaver) June 23, 2021
While the tactical installations are designed to be temporary so they can be adapted towards permanent form, it’s surprising to see Hamilton’s already planning to reopen to cars a short section of street through a park featuring a high-profile mural by a local artist. This one’s been in place for a month and a half, and feels like it could have run through to spring.
Climate action heating up…
A Brussels court has ruled that Belgium’s failure to act on climate is a violation of human rights:
By not taking all “necessary measures” to prevent the “detrimental” effects of climate change, the court said, Belgian authorities had breached the right to life (article 2) and the right to respect for private and family life (article 8).
The NGO that brought the case, Klimaatzaak, hailed the judgment as historic, both in the nature of the decision and the court’s recognition of 58,000 citizens as co-plaintiffs.
Local lawyers are taking note of what this means for New Zealand, with law firm Simpson Grierson writing:
From a New Zealand perspective, the ruling is of interest in light of the Climate Change Commission’s recent report. The Commission has concluded that current government policies do not put Aotearoa New Zealand on track to meet the Commission’s recommended emissions budgets or the government’s own 2050 targets (see our FYI here). It remains to be seen whether this will mean that New Zealand will see an increase in proceedings asking the Courts to oblige central government to do more to reduce emissions.
Meanwhile in Wales: hell freezes over as Deputy Climate Change Minister Lee Waters announces a freeze on all new roading projects. Anything with ‘diggers in the ground’ can continue, but everything else is paused for review. Mr Waters told BBC Wales: “Transport generates something like 17% of all our emissions, so it has to play its part.”
… and good for the bottom line
The Climate Change Commission should have included health benefits in its calculations, say a high-powered group of researchers based at the University of Otago. While rising emissions are bad for us, climate action will be actively good for the economy, they say:
As we cut carbon, we’ll live longer, spend more money, take fewer sick days and work more productively. They say this effect could balance out the slightly slower economic growth modelled by the Climate Change Commission as we transition to net zero – in fact, the researchers think it’s likely the country will see a “net positive” gain to our GDP.
And speaking of the bottom line, and adding value: here’s an ad for a bank. Or is it an ad for low-traffic neighbourhoods? You decide:
This from Halifax shows that the environment provided by Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and the 15-minute city concept is really desirable. So much so they've based an advertising campaign on it.
Many people will watch and think: "I'd like my area to look like that".
And it could. pic.twitter.com/dIE2coXunc
— Adam Tranter (@adamtranter) June 18, 2021
Why does it take so long to build a bike lane?
A great read by Olivia Wannam at Stuff, this article looks at what’s getting in the way of the street changes that deliver what the public increasingly says it wants: climate action and healthier travel options.
University of Otago public health researcher Caroline Shaw has calculated [Wellington] builds about 2.1 kilometres of cycleway a year, on average. At that rate, it will take 134 years to complete a system that would rival the great European cycling cities, such as the German city of Münster.
[Researcher] Hamish Mackie wants politicians and community leaders to talk up the benefits – from the greenhouse gas we will save, to the mental wellbeing boost we will get by stretching our legs.
Often three-quarters of a community support green transport proposals, if surveyed, Mackie says. But the opponents get headlines. “They end up with a bit too much power.”
These are the kind of parallel routes we can get behind. From the Kainga Ora development under way in Northcote.
Dirty business, big noise
The Transmission Gully project gets muckier, with a contractor convicted and fined $70,000 this week for unconsented works and for discharging sediment into nearby waterways, causing major slips.
And in Christchurch, the noise from the new Northern motorway continues to impinge on nearby quality of life. Waka Kotahi debated not mentioning the specific noise measurements in a newsletter to locals, and says it “believes noise issues will be solved once low noise asphalt is added to the motorway in October.” (Those on the south side of town will get a reprieve from highway noise when the motorways are closed for filming in the first week of July).
Safer speeds surprise
In a welcome move, West Lynn village – which is home to two new raised table crossings, plus an unfinished section of semi-protected cycleway on Richmond Road that remains unconnected to a wider network – will have a new safe speed limit of 30km/h as of next Wednesday.
All town centres should be so lucky. How anyone thinks it’s okay (or indeed, expects) to drive at 50 km/h through a space like this is beyond us.
How to cycle across the Auckland Harbour Bridge…
Discussion continues about the stand-alone people’s bridge for tourism, walking, jogging, rollerskating, scooting, wheelchairs, pushchairs, oh and cycling.
Questions in Parliament this week about the BCR (benefit to cost ratio) of the proposed bridge produced numbers along the lines of .4 to .6, not so dissimilar from many a roading project, based on an assessment from January 2020. Waka Kotahi has since gone back to the drawing board to recalculate the benefits. But, as Green MP Julie Anne Genter points out:
the estimated BCR for a tunnel under the Waitematā Harbour, which was a National election pledge in 2020, had an even lower BCR of 0.2 – an 80 cent loss on every dollar spent on the tunnel.
And an OIA brought to light a proposal for a summer season of Sunday morning public ciclovia-style events on the bridge. While not quite the three month trial called for by Bike Auckland, it’s got a certain appeal as a way to introduce more Aucklanders to the ease and enjoyment of strolling or cycling over the bridge:
A report considered by Waka Kotahi’s board said two lanes on the western side of the bridge could be closed for events on Sunday mornings, leaving three lanes each way for general traffic.
The proposal seemed sufficiently firm for the paper to conclude that a “communications plan” would be needed, due to high public interest in the idea.
“Similar events held regularly in cities like Los Angeles, Bogota and London have helped to build public support for safer, more accessible streets,” the paper said.
“The Auckland Harbour Bridge is a significant landmark for Aucklanders and could attract people from across the city, giving them a safe and pleasant experience that would build demand for safer streets in their own neighbourhoods.
“This in turn could support the entire Auckland programme of cycling investment.”
You can see the full proposal in Simon Wilson’s article (paywalled) here, which also points out that the failure to properly apportion lanes on the bridge on the day of the recent rally seemed almost designed to make drivers angry.
In the meantime, here’s how to cross the bridge on a bike…
AT Fare Free Day
Mark your calendar for Fare Free Day on Saturday 3 July… a great way to hop on, hop off, and explore the entire public transport network of buses, trains and ferries* (*except Waiheke and Devonport ferries).
We are excited to announce that on July 3, will be a Fare Free Saturday to celebrate all things Auckland. All buses, trains and some ferry services will be free all day. We’ll be sharing more ideas of how to spend your Saturday ahead of time, so make sure to save the date! pic.twitter.com/npKoj2fC7N
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) June 21, 2021