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”

Street art

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:

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:

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.”

Parallel routes

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).

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    1. 2028, I mean fucking hell, the city is screaming out for congestion solutions and they cant even get the existing projects done

    2. This is a scandal and should be treated as such. Almost all of the decade one 2018 ATAP plans are now likely to slip out of Decade One. There’s no consequences for this, there’s always an excuse, there’s always a reason.

      Meanwhile, more people move to Auckland, the congestion and emissions get worse and the alternatives for driving for most just never happen.

      The house prices are one thing, but Auckland is at real risk of looking pretty much exactly the same in ten years as it does now, but just with lower living standards and higher costs. Given the choice, why would any young person stay?

      1. We have 3 offspring.
        3 months ago one of them took up a job in Melbourne. Last week another accepted a job in Melbourne. The third is still at University but has expressed interest in moving to the US post graduation (she was born there).

    3. I have a strong feeling that Waka Kotahi and AT build things gold plated at greatest cost rather than a well functioning basic asset.
      They accept the highest quote that uses the most concrete, the thickest amount of asphalt and the biggest structures.
      They just wont do simple low cost pop up bikeways. K’Rd bikeway cost $50million over a long 2 years. (yes I know some pipes had to be replaced)
      Otahuhu and Puhinui stations are huge and $70million. Otahuhu station, since having additions, has 500m of covered walkways and with large areas of concrete some since removed.
      The stations on the new CRL should be attractive and functional and not big $100million monuments.
      The 2km Eastern busway and bikeway taking 2 years to build are looking perfect with huge amounts of concrete everywhere. The road/path is about 100m wide total. The previous road has been dug out 1meter deep and filled with base materials and extra thick asphalt.
      Basic round abouts are costing $millions.
      Waka Kotahi haven’t sought quotes for the new harbour cycle bridge and possibly it could be built at half the price.
      They have built the 5km Norana Park bikeway for many $10s millions. It is mostly just me and a couple of others using it.

      1. The Norana Park bikeway is great – it just doesn’t go anywhere I need to go. It is at the very end of an excellent network so for those in the area makes a great way to connect through to Onehunga and the Isthmus cycle trails I would have thought.

        If it connected safely through to Otahuhu or Middlemore I am sure it would be even more widely used. I used to cycle from Mt Eden to the East Tamaki Highbrook area and liked the look of this new bikeway as a safer alternative. Sadly for my commute further East it just drops you in to the Favona area which at commute time is given over to massive trucks. This area is even scary on a motorbike let alone a bicycle.

        At the current build rate of 2km per year I’m not expecting an easy cycle to Highbrook any time soon.

    4. Why is the eastern busway such a nightmare to get done, its had political support from all parties, its shovel ready, the hard bit is done. And yet funding is yanked out from under its feet.

      Its such an easy political win too. Be seen to be doing construction projects etc. And all it needs is just over 100 million brought forward. Peanuts compared to the figures talked about nowadays.

      I guess the council is funding things that the central government are very unlikely to swoop in and do. But if they announce delaying of popular projects, they might get extra funding to do it.

    5. Have a look near the bottom of that stuff article. There is an image of a bike lane, a bus, and about 8 lanes of road. There is a lady waiting to cross, I bet she will be waiting a while. No wonder we have high house prices, all of our land is covered in tarmac, it looks like something akin to the great wall of China separating Pakuranga from Pakuranga.

    6. Taken from the linked article –

      “…Auckland Transport (AT) broke the news on Thursday to councillors as they approved the 10 Year Regional Land Transport Plan (RLTP) ahead of its final signoff by AT directors on Monday…”

      “…Auckland councillors had no statutory power to halt the RLTP’s progress to sign-off on June 28…”

      That, my friends, is as big and as brutal a giant f*ck off to democracy as you’ll ever see. AT who clearly told us all that they, not our elected representatives, get to decide how spend our money. Tell councillors on the Thursday before a Monday sign off and there is nothing they can do about it anyway.

      1. Yes, you’re absolutely right. At the very least, the months’ long process should not have ended like this – it was so rude on AT’s part. But also, there were other options to the last minute difficulties that were not explored, that could have been chosen instead.

        Also, no one’s done a sensitivity test on this RLTP to see what’s going to happen next, under various scenarios. And various scenarios are heading our way fast – climate, political and financial.

  1. In Wales “Transport generates something like 17% of all our emissions, so it has to play its part.” Meanwhile in Kapiti transport is estimated to create 57% of emissions. Roading projects dominate the district with more local roads planned by a council that declared a climate emergency and the extension of the expressway through to Levin and beyond approved. We are certainly not playing our part.

    1. We need this ASAP, the climate isn’t even my main point, it’s motorways hoovering up all this money that could provide safer solutions for rural highways across the country, could provide much higher capacity where we need it in the form of busway / rail, and we only get to spend this kind of money once. If in the future we didn’t continue such immigration, then there’s no opportunity to build much more infrastructure either.

  2. Is it possible to get any update or progress report on the 3rd rail line between Otahuhu and Wiri, or how electrification project is proceeding to Pukekohe? Or perhaps any of the other covid 19 fast track projects?

    Any news what is happening on the east-west route? Or the eastern busway (I understand there has been significant realignment and major works in July).

    1. Take a ride on the train and see the work being done at Otahuhu and Wiri. They are making good progress. Then the need to widen the route from Middlemore and south so they can fit in an extra line

  3. Bus priority has to be one of the most important things to get right all around the city, because as everyone says “I won’t get out of my car because PT is crap”. We have no useful train system, ferries handle a fraction of trips so buses are the only meaningful and viable PT system Auckland really has.

    How can AT not get this right in some of the main CBD roads? Who makes these decisions? it’s not even hard, just have full bus lanes on all of the major roads in and out of the CBD. Enforce those lanes with cameras and you will have a fast reliable bus network. i mean i guess it is hard look at how slow and crap lower Queen st still is – full of cars and parking still and taking weeks to add a few pavers and planters, and to what end. I’m just so over how crap the whole system is

    Every day now bus commutes get slower because of single cars blocking lanes, turning, dropping off people on sides of roads, U turns, etc holding up buses full of people who are trying to do the right thing and not drive.

    1. Too bloody right. The whole system’s grinding to a halt. And the aggression amongst the drivers! I hate sending my kids out into it. Like lambs to a fucking slaughter.

      1. Apparently the Connected Communities programme will fix this some time in the next decade (and put protected lanes on the arterials for people biking, scooting, and micromobilising…).

        At least, that’s what we’ve been told for the last few years. Not sensing a great deal of urgency around this one – the latest outreach is for community representatives to get together and come up with some ideas for New North Road. My idea is, just do it. https://at.govt.nz/newnorthroad

      2. As much as possible I use public transport to get to my work meetings. I didn’t know just how bad it is out there on the roads until I took a couple of trips this week.
        The first was to Epsom and I left a lot of time because I imagined that parking would be incredibly bad off Manukau Road. AT deserve a little bit of credit because the side street was P120, perfect for my requirements. But there were cars everywhere on the berm, with many of them in a significant state of disrepair – the berms, I didn’t pay attention to the cars.
        The second was a 6km journey on the Shore. On this limited journey I saw an accident on both legs. And little wonder. Drivers driving vast distances on the median strip, driving on raised medians, speeding, and various other incidents.
        Public transport is often slower, but far safer.

        1. I ride a motorcycle and its insane just how bad the driving is.

          A few days ago at 9:30pm (so in the dark) I suddenly found myself facing a car, passing another car that was driving, on a blind corner on a suburban arterial. The car being passed was doing at least 40km/h. Just an incredibly impatient following car putting road users at risk for almost no gain.
          Luckily I was driving defensively and as far away from the oncoming lane as possible.

          I have many anecdotes. Perhaps I should get a helmet cam.

    2. I’d rather have weekend bus lane operation than free fares. Try getting through Newmarket on a bus if there is an event at the domain. It’s faster to walk.

      Weekend free fares is a gimmick, especially considering the number of weekends the train has been out of action.

      1. I don’t think bus lane operation times are in competition with free fares, and in fact the increase in weekend ridership from free fares could elevate public requests for weekend bus lanes.

        Weekend free fares can attract people to public transport who otherwise don’t use it, or attract people to using public transport for more types of trips so they start to be less car dependent. It could be quite a good step for Auckland. I just hope they’re monitoring everything needed to be able to determine its effect properly.

        1. Heidi
          Weekend free fares might do many things. Gold card off peak free transport might have done some things.
          However, the overwhelming evidence is that neither of those have done enough. At best car mode share is stable and vehicle trips seem to be increasing.
          As others have written on this blog, cheap monthly and annual passes have made a real difference to decreasing mode share in many European cities. Why wouldn’t Auckland adopt a model that has proved successful? PT is only going to be successful is everyone is engaged: not just kids, or the elderly, or those on community service cards. As you have said the scale by which Auckland has to increase PT ridership is enormous. That is most likely to happen if the regular commuter is encouraged to take other trips using PT; the school student who uses the bus every day to go to school has a pass that enables evening and weekend use; that there are affordable passes so that a person can travel to the local shops, a cafe, the gym and library at any time for a low monthly fare, and can contemplate abandoning a second or primary car.
          I have visited these cities and the corollary to many people on PT is less car ownership; it is parking spaces that have been turned over to outdoor eating areas; there is little congestion; less pollution, and the streets are bikeable and walkable.
          That’s the kind of Auckland that I would like, rather than just facilitating some discretionary trips on the weekend, which may or may not change anything.

    3. I see a different Queen Steets to you Jerry.

      Single lane each way, generally blocked by buses because you cannot pass a bus at a stop and it seems to have become a lay up area masquerading as a bus depot otherwise, hence the super high particulate levels from their big diesel motors, recorded there.

      There are cars but few and anyone with half a brain avoids it like the plague because it’s so slow. What does it take the City Link bus to travel 800 meters? 20 minutes!

      Buses and AT’s legendary illogical, flow strangling traffic light phasing are ironically are the issue, not private motor vehicles.

      1. The pedestrian phases on queen street carry more people than any other phase, and delaying so many people would be bad for journey times. So honestly I’m happy with the phasing, but when you have such short vehicle phases, you really have to minimise the number of vehicles.

        Adding bus stop bypasses is bad for the busses because cars don’t let them back in.

      2. What’s slowing the buses down are two things:
        – the cars
        – the traffic lights, which are providing a whole lot of turning phases for cars.

        There are plenty of people still driving in Queen St. Fewer than there were because the road capacity was decreased but enough to congest it and hold the buses up. AT had the option to open the street for active modes and to buses at the start of the CRL works and cut the car traffic out. They didn’t.

  4. Something that has happened in the past weeks is the TBM at Mt Eden has slowly dissappeared underground and now they are around 800 metres from arriving at the new station at K’rd ;-

  5. “Colonial Streetscape Precincts” is a much better name. The Wellington Council seem to have wandered around Newtown judging houses by their facade. We made the mistake of putting the verandah back on our villa. like the houses either side. so now we are outside the apartment zone by three houses. At least it didn’t burn down in the recent fire.

    1. Even if they went ahead with that name, I can’t imagine that anything called ‘Colonial’ would still be called that 20 years from now.

        1. Or you could call it Ancient/modern Street . Ancient for the Homes and Modern for the road paving and utilities .

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