Last year Auckland Transport consulted on safety along Ash St and Rata St, a critical link from the west for public transport, freight, and cycling, as well as a busy local connection and a north-south severance through Avondale.
Matt wrote at the time about this “pre-consultation consultation” – in particular, asking why it was phrased as such an open question, given safety issues and safety treatments are so well understood.
The summary of public feedback came back a couple of weeks ago, and proposes a list of safety improvements:
In classic AT fashion, the plan is for multiple consultations. If they’d simply provided a best-practice solution from the get-go, it could have been a one-stage consultation process. As the Councillors complained to AT recently:
we believe that AT is over complicating processes where there is no requirement to re-consult on agreed political outcomes, plans and strategies.
And something else is missing here. A Twitter thread homed in on the glaring absence:
Just got an email from AT, in response to community feedback submitted on the proposed Rata Street & Ash Street safety improvements.
— Megan (@_mharvey) June 28, 2021
Auckland Transport has decided not to directly address safety for people biking, scooting, or otherwise attempting to use sustainable modes.
Remember, this was explicitly a consultation about road safety and was framed in these terms:
Tragically, three people have been killed on these roads in recent years. A further 46 have been injured or seriously injured in the 213 crashes that occurred on these roads between 2014-2019.
Ash and Rata have long been identified as a connector route on the planned Auckland Cycle Network.
This paragraph added 22 July 2021: The route is also noted on Auckland Transport’s fresh Cycle and MicroMobility Strategic Network, one of five “Future Connect” strategic networks – and for now, the only cycling strategy document on AT’s plans and strategies page. Thanks to reader Andrew for spotting this! Wouldn’t it be great if there was a clearer connection between strategy and delivery?
The original consultation asked specifically about bike safety:
• Your experience when walking, riding a bike or driving Ash Street and Rata Street.
• The parts of Ash Street and Rata Street you would like us to improve.
• Your feedback on the types of improvements we are considering
And the greatest volume of safety comments were about… cycling.
Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming majority (84%) felt unsafe or very unsafe riding on this route. (Keen to meet the brave dozen who feel pretty relaxed about it!) That’s an overwhelming call for bike safety treatments! So what reasons does AT give for its decision that “cycling infrastructure [will] not be installed along Ash Street and Rata Street as part of this project”? Let’s see:
Ash Street and Rata Street are defined on AT’s Future Connect ‘Cycle and Micromobility network’ as major connections. This safety project has investigated the feasibility of providing a suitable protected cycling facility. Due to physical constraints along the corridor and issues with removing street trees and on-street parking, the separate cycle facility cannot be accommodated in this project…
Space, the final frontier. But wait. This is a four-lane highway. What physical constraints? The letter to people who submitted on the consultation gives a couple of examples:
…along the corridor there are physical constraints that make it challenging to provide cycling facility along the route, such as the pinch point on the Whau River overbridge which requires significant widen[ing] and the frontage of the Avondale Racecourse.
As for the Avondale Racecourse frontage: not only are the weekly markets here one of the biggest attractors of bike travel, but also: housing is on the way for this coveted piece of land, making it a prime opportunity for integrated advance planning for meaningful mode shift.
There’s even more new housing coming at the eastern end of this route too – from Kainga Ora and Ockham, on the block bounded by Ash, Rosebank, and Great North Road. Hundreds of new residents, who’ll need adjacent roads to be healthy accessible streets, rather than the equivalent of shark-filled moats.
This Kāinga Ora development in Avondale looks fantastic. 246 homes! pic.twitter.com/Xxodvfoeot
— scoot! (@ScootFoundation) July 18, 2021
Back to the feedback summary: “The separate cycle facility cannot be accommodated in this project…
…and will be taken forward later as a separate cycle project when cycle improvement funding has been allocated.”
Hang on. This is explicitly a safety project. Why is AT able to invest here in the safety of people walking and driving – but not those on bikes? Are the dollar bills marked with invisible ink saying “not for bike improvements”, as AT’s staff have insisted is the case with road renewals?
If the safety budget is tight, why wouldn’t you use it to improve one of the most vulnerable modes? Especially given that adding protected bike lanes demonstrably makes the road safer for other travellers as well. (Don’t take it from me, take it from the scientists.)
And when will this specially earmarked “cycle improvement funding” magically appear? Well, the route is not in the Connected Communities Programme. It is on the RLTP list of projects for the coming decade, as a “corridor improvement”: see number 67 on the map below, identified in the key as “Safety Programme – Ash Street and Rata Street”. (“Active” routes are in green: 21 is Te Whau pathway and 23 is the New Lynn to Avondale shared path.) (Note: this paragraph was updated on 22 July 2021)
Does this approach – of ruling out safety for some road users, for now, for reasons – honour the AT Board’s commitment “in full and without question” to the recommendations of the 2018 Road Safety Business Improvement Review?
You know, the review that led to reorganising the whole agency around the key principles of a Vision Zero and Safe System approach, which includes:
providing facilities for safe enjoyable and healthy walking and cycling and separating these modes as much as possible from conflicts with motorized vehicles.
We interrupt this blog post for your regular reminder that protecting people from vehicles is driving infrastructure, and should be funded as such.
As put so well in the Ministry of Transport’s 2015 Future Funding Strategy:
Pedestrians are legally entitled to be on the road. Motorists have a duty to pay for the facilities needed to keep them safe from motor vehicles. Cyclists are legally entitled to be on the road. Motorists have a duty to pay for the facilities needed to keep them safe from motor vehicles.
So, the “good” news is that deciding not to deliver bike infrastructure now doesn’t rule out maybe delivering bike infrastructure sometime:
This project does not make it any more challenging for a suitable cycling facility to be delivered in the future.
In the meantime, we can have raised platforms and bike boxes at intersections on this route, as a little treat.
This safety project will make it safer for people on bikes. From our assessment, intersections are considered to be high risk locations between cyclists and turning traffic, therefore a number of cycling safety enhancements such as raised safety platforms and cycle boxes are proposed at these high conflict locations.
Oh, and there’s a bike path under way on the other side of the burb:
The soon to be opened shared path between New Lynn to Avondale will provide a parallel route for people on bikes and safe connection to the Waterview cycling facility. People on bikes will only need to travel a short distance from each end of the project area to access the new shared path.
Aha, the “parallel route” argument (as rolled out re Dominion Road): we meet again! First, this is a special argument that seems to only apply to people on bikes. You’re far less likely to hear: “There’s a footpath a kilometre away, use that!” or even “You already have a lane for cars – why do you need another?”
Secondly, compare the location of the two routes. They’re two sides of a long lozenge, and 1.5km apart at the widest point.
Of course the New Lynn to Avondale Path is a welcome development. But it doesn’t do the job for safety on the route AT asked about.
- What if you’re using Ash Street and Rata Street as part of your “short distance” to get to New Lynn to Avondale Path?
- How does the New Lynn to Avondale Path help anyone make local trips involving Ash Street and Rata Street?
- How does it help a family from, say, Nikau St, go by bike to the Avondale markets at the racecourse?
- Or what if you’re heading from west of the estuary towards the Rosebank Peninsula? (Which is its own inexplicable bike desert, despite being the spine of north Avondale and a connection to the NW cycleway and beyond.)
- Or, to cite research conducted in this very neighbourhood: how does it help kids get to the intermediate school, or anywhere they want? (Fun fact: the children interviewed for that study are in their mid-twenties now, and probably have children of their own.)
The letter to submitters concluded with some of the usual wording about Vision Zero…
AT wants to make our roads safer for everyone, including children, senior citizens, people with mobility issues and drivers. Our Safe Speeds programme is a key step towards our goal of achieving no deaths or serious injuries on our roads. We are guided by the Vision Zero approach to transport safety, which prioritises human safety. AT is committed to bringing down deaths and serious injuries to zero by 2050.
By 2050, the children in the 2009 Avondale Intermediate survey may be lucky enough to have grandchildren: will that generation finally have safe routes to school?
To put it plainly:
This project has not been guided by the Vision Zero approach. It doesn’t prioritise human safety. For the growing number of Aucklanders travelling by bike or scooter – which includes children, senior citizens, and people with mobility issues, and everyone motivated by climate, health, and budget – it completely fails to provide the promised safe system, let alone mode shift and carbon reduction.
If the AT Board and management are still confused by the despair and disbelief (from Council and the public) at the ongoing failure to provide healthy streets and comfortable cycling – and all the missed opportunities for quick wins! – consider this yet another example.
A post-script on speeds
This is a consultation about safety, yet it doesn’t include safe speeds – which are a proven way to improve conditions for people walking, scooting, biking. A Greater Auckland reader, Jak, recently commented that they’d asked AT exactly this question about this consultation:
“I ended up speaking with the AT staff about it, they said eventually that their research from NZTA shows that lowing speed limits alone is not enough and that physical infrastructure changes are needed as well. What was even more confusing is the manager of the AT consultation staff talked about blanket speed limit reductions as something that will happen at some point. Spending millions on every bit of road, then reducing speed limits, sounds backwards to me.”
As Heidi notes here, the paper that AT sent to Jak actually “supports the lowering of speed limits without having to make the built environment changes.” What are we to make of this?