Below is a section about berms from the Auckland Transport website, altered ever so slightly. Can you guess which key element has been changed?
Parking on berms
Residents are not permitted to park on berms. On rare occasions permission may be given but this requires an application to Auckland Transport for a licence specific to their circumstances. Read Auckland Transport’s Encroachment Policy. Parking in the road corridor can impact:
Parking can adversely affect visibility of pedestrians, street signs and reduce sight lines at intersections and driveways. It can also encroach into footpaths and impede pedestrians particularly those who are visually impaired or wheel chair users.
Parking can result in damage to utility services particularly lateral connections which are at a shallower depth. The presence of parked cars also creates challenges for utility operators when maintaining existing infrastructure or installing new infrastructure.
Parking on berms [has] the potential to cause discontent between adjoining landowners who have differing views as to what is appropriate and the look and feel of neighbourhoods can be compromised by parked cars that do not fit their environment. Most parking on berms is brought to our attention by complaints being made by adjoining landowners.
Parking on road reserve can blur the boundary between private property and public space and create an inappropriate expectation of ownership or control in respect to this public space by the landowner. An adjoining landowner has no more right of use of the road corridor outside their property than any other party.
Berms and kerbs are damaged by cars being driven and parked on them, requiring on-going maintenance. There is the risk that kerbstones will have to be re-installed, and the area re-sowed in grass at Auckland Transport’s expense.
As I mentioned, I did alter it slightly. AT’s website actually says all of the above NOT about parking on berms… but about planting on berms.
They don’t really make sense as arguments against planting. Every single issue mentioned above can be easily avoided – or is usually not really valid. By gardening the berms, gardeners add much needed biodiversity and beauty in the city, in line with Council environmental policy. In fact, residents would be providing green infrastructure in the face of Council’s failure to do so: the 2021 Long Term Plan proposes just one new street tree per 6.8 km of local road per year over 10 years. This is completely inadequate on so many fronts (social, public health, climate, environmental, aesthetic…).
But as a set of reasons against parking on berms? That list above pretty much nails it.
Even the reasons AT uses to discourage paving on berms apply equally to parking on berms:
Grass allows stormwater to soak into the ground and reduces the load on the city’s stormwater system.
Exactly: concrete creates a surface that’s impermeable to rainwater; and so does grass that’s been compacted by vehicles, especially if it’s been rutted or turned into mud during the winter.
Previous councils may have planted berms with trees which are compatible with services and drainage. Concrete surfaces would compromise the health of these trees.
Likewise, parked vehicles do damage to tree roots and compromise the health of the trees.
Why are we talking about parking and planting again?
We have an epidemic: all over Auckland, people are driving and parking on grassed berms – not to mention on footpaths, across driveways, in driveway aprons, over kerbstones – heedless of the damage they’re causing, and confident they’ll get away with it.
But rather than tackling this parking problem, Auckland Transport is cracking down… on berm-gardening. Again.
A resident of Torbay who’d planted her berm with wildflowers and fruit trees has been obliged to rip it out. facing fines of $340 per day (!) if she didn’t.
In a statement, Auckland Transport said berms needed to be easily accessible corridors for utility services.
“If you want to plant in the berm you need a permit,” it said.
“While Auckland Transport does not go searching for breaches of the berm planting guidelines, when a complaint is made, we are required to act.”
The agency said landowners needed to maintain private plantings but that was at risk of not happening if the land was sold or the person lost interest.
Then Auckland Transport would have to remove the plantings and resow the grass at their own cost.
Public response has quickly homed in on the irony: a citywide free-for-all of berm-parking goes almost entirely unenforced – despite complaints – whereas one complaint about a beautiful garden gets an instant crackdown.
It is incomprehensible that in Auckland if you use the berm to grow food or flowers then @AklTransport will take drastic action to remove it; but if you park a two tonne double cab ute on the berm AT will do absolutely nothing pic.twitter.com/z1eUZ9xAW7
— Russel Norman (@RusselNorman) July 30, 2021
The ongoing saga about planting on berms
In 2019 Simon Wilson wrote a good piece (paywalled) which laid out the permissible planting. Officially, you can only plant your berm if in your street the berm is hard up against your property line instead of on the (usual) roadway and kerb side of the paved footpath. You also need a permit, and you need to follow these rules:
• Low level planting (less than 300 mm in height) may be done between adjacent vehicle crossings or around mail boxes and street trees providing it does not encroach onto the footpath and does not exceed a total area of 2sqm
• Plants shall have a shallow root mass so they won’t damage any underground utilities.
• Ground cover shall not include loose materials such as bark, rocks or stones which can be displaced onto the footpath or carriageway.
Contrast that with this example from Brisbane:
Brisbane City Council’s given residents the opportunity to plant out the verge, with gardens that could be edible, they could simply be gardens to improve the aesthetics of the street. Council wants residents to maintain the 1.2m footpath for people to walk along, and also maintain safe viewing lines for traffic that’s going past. So as long as you take care of those requirements in the guidelines, you should be good to go.
The wonderful advantage of allowing residents to plant in the verge is that you’re empowering people to spend time with the neighbours on the street… and hopefully build a community garden that they can all be proud of.”
We get it, AT. Planting is bad; Parking is good
This sort of thing goes regularly unenforced…
…whereas this sort of thing could get you a letter demanding it be ripped out:
Here’s someone having a bet each way – nurturing some kind of portable lawn situation in the back tray of their ute…
while tearing up the berm grass, and creating a mudbath.
To be clear, these drivers are breaking the Road User Rule in multiple ways. They are not allowed to drive on “a lawn, garden, or other cultivation adjacent to, or forming part of, a road.” Nor are they allowed to park on the footpath (which includes the berm), drive or park in a way that creates a safety hazard, be inconsiderate to other road users, or cause damage. More information is here and here.
Here’s an AT vehicle:
And Auckland Council has exacerbated the problem. They won’t even ask their own staff to ensure “Council-branded” vehicles are parked in line with the Road User Rule. They instruct people delivering to libraries, or servicing public toilets, to just park as close as they need, as if they aren’t creating a regular hazard in doing so, and as if other solutions like hand trucks suitable to the task aren’t available.
Council also knew Auckland Transport were claiming “legal difficulties” about being able to ticket illegally parked vehicles on the road corridor as far back as 2012 – yet in 2015 they ceded control of even more of the public realm to Auckland Transport to manage! As a result, all the other public places that aren’t road corridors – like squares and parks – became victim to Auckland Transport’s mismanagement.
To sum up
But back to the interesting or beautiful gardens that Auckland Transport are making residents rip out – while allowing this wholescale destruction of our public spaces and berms by drivers:
- The lack of enforcement of the illegal parking stems from an obstinate refusal to test their (dodgy) legal opinion in order to care about the safety of our little ones.
- The misguided guidelines about berm planting are anti-ecology and blind to how social connections are made.
- The heavy-handed enforcement of rules about planting are disempowering and emotionally exhausting for residents trying to cope with the enormity of the climate emergency.
You’d think Auckland Transport would care about their reputation.
Is this picture related? Perhaps in more ways than one. I’m tempted to wonder if the street performances were deliberately chosen to reflect Auckland Transport’s handling of public spaces. And yes, even performers could be instructed to park legally when picking up their gear, instead of undermining the pedestrian nature of the place they’re trying to promote.