I hope everyone is doing OK out there in level 4 lockdown. My walks and bike rides around the city centre in the last week remind me of the original lockdown 17 months ago. Some things have changed since then, but most things haven’t. Sorry, were you wanting to see transformational change? You must have been thinking of the other C40 cities.

Maybe Auckland Council and Auckland Transport worked out some kind of plan for what to do if the city went back into lockdown. but the overwhelming impression I got (especially on day one of lockdown, 18th August) was that everyone just headed home for the night on the 17th and left the city centre to look after itself.

That first day was just really quiet, as all the days since then have been. Queen St was quiet on day one, with more cars than people and not many of either.

#APlaceForParking
A bit further down, past the latest iteration of streetscape changes that haven’t gotten us any closer to pedestrianising Auckland’s premier shopping street 33 months after the councillors unanimously agreed that this would happen, and it’s just grey grey grey.
On High Street, a few scraps of greenery cling to life in the planter boxes.

Freyberg Square, normally a happy and buzzing public space, was very still. In previous lockdowns, the two drinking fountains had been deactivated with safety tape wound around them. This time around, they were functioning and with no safety tape (on day one at least). It’s debatable whether this is better or worse – I’d vote for slightly better – but it adds to the vibe of everyone just having headed home.

#APlaceForPigeons

On day two I biked to Myers Park and saw that the playground there was taped off, so I guess at least one Council staff member had been out doing things. And traffic light phasing seems to have been changed remotely, so that the pedestrian phase goes automatically and there’s no need to push the button – but this fact isn’t advertised at many intersections.

Fort Street was free of cars, for a change. Unfortunately it was free of people too.

Māhuhu-ki-te-rangi Reserve, a nice little public space, has had the water to its pond switched off since roughly January last year, when the droughts started. Happily, there’s a bit of rainwater in there and ducks have maintained their occupation there most of the time. There are even 13 small ducklings at the moment! The neon lights strung through four of the trees, added in Matariki this year, have been switched off but will hopefully return once the alert levels drop.

The dog in this picture was quite cute, and the runner-up in my ‘Dog Of The Day’ competition; the winner was a very cute Chow Chow which I didn’t get a photo of. I think I only saw three dogs though.
But hang on, all is not lost, because there are 13 brand-new ducklings in the half-empty pond – check ’em out!

Another day, I walked to St Patrick’s Square, a public space which is theoretically quite lovely; revamped in 2009 and winner of the supreme award for landscape architecture. Unfortunately, it’s often clogged with cars because Auckland Transport don’t think they’re able to issue tickets for cars parking on this expensive paving. Bollards have been installed as an unattractive stopgap solution, and now bear the brunt of drivers who push their luck a little too far. Even a few days into level four lockdown, there were still four cars parked behind where I took this photo:

But it’s not all bad. Parts of the city centre are still pleasant with no one around; Britomart (props to The Britomart Company for still piping music through Atrium on Takutai when there’s almost no one around to hear it), Freyberg Square, the wonderful new wharf thingy by Viaduct Harbour which I somehow hadn’t seen until now. There’s so much grey in the city centre that I really do appreciate the (thoughtful) green spaces, and the harbourside areas. It’s good having fewer cars, even if the ones that are left tend to drive around at unsociable speeds, because 14 months after speed limits changed there have been almost no changes to transport infrastructure or ‘traffic calming’ measures.

Anyway, that’s the city centre. I like living here; but without the people, it’s not a place you’d want to visit; it won’t be until we’re back to level 2 or lower. Even so, I’m looking forward to the days ahead. I had unrealistic expectations of myself in the March/ April lockdown last year. This time, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus on parenting, going a bit slower, and getting a few bike rides in. Take care all!

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    1. There were some construction installations over to the right of that photo for a while recently, so it’s possible that a heavy vehicle hit the bollards rather than a car.

  1. ‘This time, I’m lucky enough to be able to focus on parenting, going a bit slower, and getting a few bike rides in.’

    That’s the way forward John.

    I went for a ride yesterday morning and changed plans to go along a road that has a motorway on/offramp on it, something I’d never dream of doing outside of lockdown as it’s a jungle of steel and exhaust fumes.

    Saw one car.

    I know we can’t do lockdowns forever, but man there are some nice little upsides that I enjoy.

      1. Yes, we should have just let lots of people die or suffer long-term health effects from the Delta variant, like in New South Wales and the US… *sarcasm*

  2. We are lucky that trees survive in some of those restricted places. Trees do best in a forrest situation and where they are not constrained by concrete and drains. I feel for their struggles against the street pollution.
    Sometimes tree roots are visible and drivers show no care and drive or walk on them.
    Unfortunately there are many who don’t care about the environment and would rather an extra car park than a tree.Some people are against trees and plants because they think bad people will hide behind them.
    The amount of concrete and asphalt used in Auckland is huge all over our 100 km by 50km sprawling city. Many homes have most of the land covered by concrete or black plastic and stones with a couple of token bushes.
    But in Auckland there are still a strong minority of people who volunteer for weedbusters, work in their garden, trap pedators, plant trees on our parks and reserves, pick up rubbish on their street, cleaning up polluted streams such as Oakley Creek, PuhinuiCreek and Tarata Stream, bringing back the fish.

  3. On my runs around the University area I have not seen any more people than last time.
    I’m easily able to run out on the road to keep my distance from others; still not many cars even on Symonds Street.
    AND, almost everyone is masked up, as I am when I’m not running.
    I’ve even seen skateboarders with masks on; very pleasing to see.

    1. Yes, I’ve found (where I am in the suburbs) people have been wearing masks and keeping distances, even in busy locations. Nice to see. People are more courteous than last time, I think. Well done everyone. But the lack of space to achieve this is still a problem.

    2. Still plenty of cars out here in the south. Good mask use among the que at the local drug dealer getting their cigarettes’. Last week we had 6 car trains now only 3 car trains also they ran 321 hospital bus on Sunday maybe on Saturday rail buses on the weekend so maybe they wanted more capacity to encourage distancing or in case people needed to access medical services. Occasional bus passenger most trains around lunchtime had a couple of passengers yesterday. Only a few walkers so not to hard to dodge them on my daily walk. My impression people are more worried and more determined than in previous lockdowns. Plenty of well filled freight trains.

  4. Te Mata Topaki is even more impressive at night.

    Waitemata Plaza is so much nicer since it was transformed from a paving desert.

    Not enough green in our CBD. Need more pocket parks

  5. Last time we had level 4 my work stopped for two weeks so I did all the jobs at home I had been putting off and even dug a vegetable garden. This time I have been flat out with work every day. More people have set up home offices so if anything things have gotten faster.

  6. Good reading from Genesis annual 2021 report.
    Our new offices in Auckland are in a 6 Green Star rated building, one of only nine in the country. It is more than a physical representation of our commitment to being a sustainable business.
    The move provided the catalyst to introduce initiatives that would reduce emissions, traffic congestion and enable active and shared travel. As part of the move we no longer provided staff carparks, removed company cars from salary packages and replaced our corporate car fleet with EV carsharing start-up, Zilch. In their place we provided a 25% subsidy for public transport, car-pool hubs in South and West Auckland, a free shuttle service from the eastern suburbs and with topend changing facilities to encourage staff to ride, run or walk to work.
    Our people loved it.
    Compared to the travel routines in our previous offices which had 205 carparks, we’ve seen a 50% increase in people taking public transport or using EVs, 102% increase in biking, running, walking or e-scootering to work, 81% of staff have signed up to the public transport subsidy and there are 984 less carbon contributing trips each week (petrol, diesel, motorbike), a reduction of 71%. Staff have collectively reduced
    carbon emissions by 158t per annum,so far.
    Proudly, we are also the first company in the southern hemisphere to add the new, fully electric, Fuso eCanter truck to our commercial fleet

      1. As a keen supporter of NZ business and a NZ shareholder Association member I listen to many good managers and CEOs who want a good environment and a friendly workplace. They report on all the issues. Diversity, emissions, sustainability, safety, risks,environment etc

    1. So, averaged across a whole year, their head office staff reduced their transport emissions by the equivalent of 20.6 minutes of their emissions from electricity production from fossil fuel sources? Fantastic, that’ll make a big impact.

      Sometimes office emissions don’t make as big a difference as the decisions made in those offices.

      1. If someone is making these kinds of changes in their life, being in this kind of building, commuting differently etc, then the decisions they make at work will be impacted too.

        I dont disagree, more could / should be done to de-carbonise the grid. But I think central government is the key player here. They have still never offered direct incentives to build renewables. The only things they’ve helped with is, adding the ETC who’s impact is minimal, and ramming through wind farm resource consents. Most of which didn’t get built and wasn’t the bottleneck in the system.

    2. Its a bit ironic their electric truck is carting LPG for home delivery. They have a large office next to the Hamilton transport centre so staff there have options to use public transport. There Auckland office is in Fanshawe street. Did I see a charging stations for electric cars with their name on it nearby.
      Maybe we should start a campaign for gentailers to sponsor electric buses. Anyway we needed their fossil fuelled electricity this winter. I agree with Jack the govt will need to offer incentives for renewables.

      1. “They have a large office next to the Hamilton transport centre so staff there have options to use public transport.”

        The only trouble is that they have about 200 car parks out front…. At least it will be easy to retrofit the at grade car park to a useful building in the future.

        1. The Hamilton building used to be a supermarket probably that is why there is so many car parks. When I saw the building I thought it must be their head office but sounds as though its in Auckland. I suppose it takes a lot of people to run a retail power company and a generating company all rolled into one.

        2. ep, it was a car park when Genesis took over the site. They could have built out the car parks with some useful land uses though!

  7. Makes me think of where I lived for a while. How is the situation on Hobson Street? Did AT cordon off a lane for more pedestrian space? Or better, did they cordon off 3 lanes?

    1. They changed absolutely nothing but there’s generally so little traffic that you seldom need to wait for more than one or two vehicles to cross the street anywhere you like. They also haven’t put the Hobson and Nelson crossings on automatic.

      1. And of course, 14mo after the AT speed limit change, the extra cycling and pedestrian safety measures for Nelson, Hobson and Fanshaw that the AT Board voted funding for haven’t even gotten to the stage that they are willing to show any concepts to Bike AKL. I have asked for them at every monthly meeting for the last 3 months, and its been the same no-show all the time – “still being worked on”.

      2. But low traffic volumes on an extremely wide road like Hobson or Nelson isn’t enough for safety for all users. Most people would still not be happy to let their 10-year-old go out for a walk alone. And the child would be torn between crossing randomly as others are doing, or having to take longer to get to the place of interest they’re wanting to go to.

        And yet, juggling wfh and work meetings with parenting means that letting that 10-year-old go out for a walk between Google Classroom meetings, to get away from the younger sibling who’s being annoying, is something families should be able to do.

        Only AT’s refusal to act means the situation remains dangerous for these residents. The lockdown is the time to trial some improvements there. In the face of the international research about how tactical Lockdown changes have led to sustainable transport improvements, AT position on this is ethically and professionally defunct.

        1. Yes totally agree Heidi. This isn’t the street environment that central city residents deserve. This is also the same area where all children have to cross multiple arterial roads to access any of the schools.

      3. Of course, Hobson, Nelson and Fanshawe have to be 40 km/h to fulfill WK’s requirement as motorway on/off ramps. and the funding for physical measures to support speed limit changes got choked on COVID budget. It’s going again now, but there aren’t easy answers for dead straight streets with high PT use. Current empty street conditions remind us that the best thing for slowing a car down is the slow car in front of it. Be patient – maybe you want to go faster than you should!

        1. “but there aren’t easy answers for dead straight streets with high PT use”

          Yes there are: really narrow traffic lanes and raised safety platforms. If you really don’t want raised safety platforms in the bus lanes, because you incorrectly believe that platforms mean uncomfortable rides, then add a kerb between the bus lane and the general lanes next to the platform.

        2. Streetguy, maybe you’re trying to say the same thing in a different way…? “Current empty street conditions remind us that the best thing for slowing a car down is the slow car in front of it. Be patient – maybe you want to go faster than you should!”

          In a robust system these things will help keep speeds down even when there’s no other traffic around: low speed limits, enforcement, habit of driving more slowly, the built environment.

          The street changes didn’t get choked on the Covid budget. Changes can be tactical and cheap and if the obstructive people slowing Queen St works down had been moved away into something more suited to their attitudes, the tactical works in the city centre could have moved to Hobson and Nelson by now, providing a far more equitable use of the targeted city rate.

          Meanwhile, AT are spending their budget on projects that are regressive; intersection widening and street widening, etc.

        3. raised safety platforms = crap ride in a bus. I know this every time I take a bus down my street. This is a fact. Not some imaginary concern.

        4. Ari. You are (I assume) correct about the bus ride on your street with the raised crossings making the ride uncomfortable.

          But that does not mean that speed bumps etc will always be uncomfortable in vehicles (especially busses). If the whole system is designed right then they are really no comfort issue at all, and serve an important purpose.

          The place for speed bumps is on 30km/hr streets. They should be designed so you can hit them at that speed and be comfortable, especially in a bus. (Some are built wrong for this too, but thats a different story)

          Currently mostly its 30km/hr speed bumps, on 50km/hr streets. Bus drivers dont really care that much about the vehicle, and ride comfort. They’re much more incentivised to meet timetables, so brake and accelerate hard, or just take the hit. Hopefully the streets in residential areas will all be speed limited to 30km/hr one day. And all the bumps will make far more sense.

          But your experience does not mean speed bumps are inherently uncomfortable.

        5. “raised safety platforms [on my street] = crap ride in a bus. I know this every time I take a bus down my street. This is a fact. Not some imaginary concern”

          Fixed that for you. There are speed bumps all over the world, including other parts of New Zealand, and other parts of Auckland that do not cause discomfort for bus passengers. I see that you also completely ignored the engineering approach I suggested that would allow buses to bypass the platforms.

          Heidi, I have to agree about the budgets. In particular, Hobson Street from Fanshawe to Victoria is incredibly cheap and easy to fix using tactical interventions. The whole thing just needs to be reduced to 2*2.8m traffic lanes with a bi-directional cycleway on the eastern side. This hasn’t been stopped by Covid related budget issues. It has been stopped by an unwillingness to take any space from cars whatsoever, even in the city centre where residents overwhelmingly support more balance streetscapes.

        6. For some context: in total about 8,000 people live on the city blocks to the left and right of Hobson Street. More than the entire suburb of Parnell. Most of whom have no easy access to any park. The least that could happen is temporary widening the footpaths with some cones.

        7. “Most of whom have no easy access to any park”
          Do you remember how the Council used to tell us intensification in the centre was better than greenfields development because all the infrastructure was already in place. Turns out what they really meant was very little of the infrastructure is already in place.

        8. The infrastructure is already there Miffy, you and your mates just keep building traffic moats to keep people away from the local parks.

  8. St Patrick’s Square today – six cars parked in the eastern part of the square, and three vehicles (including two huge Anerican-style utes) on the western side. My numbers from the other day didnt include the western side as I didnt check it

  9. I agree that things need to be done to make the CBD more pedestrian friendly.
    But one of the ‘elephants in the room’ is the homeless crisis. I know quite a few people who avoid or limit their walks in the CBD because of this.

    1. Our social welfare agencies should be doing more on this front, without having to rely on NGOs like the City Mission to fill in the gaps. However, independently of this, making the city more walkable* would significantly help. Because when there are more pedestrians around then the streets feel safer.

      [* footpaths in better condition, wider and straighter footpaths, better lit pedestrian areas, less on-street parking blocking sightlines, less illegal parking blocking footpaths, general implementation of CPTED principles etc.]

      1. Crime in the CBD is up considerably since pre Covid. I personally don’t think lighting and wider footpaths is going to put that much dent in personal safety in the CBD, especially at night.

        Heidi said “And yet, juggling wfh and work meetings with parenting means that letting that 10-year-old go out for a walk between Google Classroom meetings, to get away from the younger sibling who’s being annoying, is something families should be able to do.”

        I wouldn’t let my 11yr olds wander alone round the CBD even if there was no traffic within 100 miles. You’re not allowed to leave kids home alone under the age of 14, so why would it be responsible to allow 10yr old kids to wander around the CBD?

        1. So, do you actually have kids? If so, if you actually don’t ever let them out unsupervised you are probably stunting their development.

        2. You might want to read up on the law and it’s interpretation; Kidspot.co.nz is rarely cited in legal circles, try the Summary Offences Act S10B. I’ll accept there’s a subjective test in there. Allowing a kid to wander the CBD alone is a different set of facts to walking to school.

          And yes I have 3 kids. All doing well, thanks.

        3. Children have a right to exercise, fresh air, safety and independence from their parents. All of this – including the independence – is a requirement for healthy development, and is not restricted to just those times when they are walking to school. This is a city centre, where people live, and it should be liveable and friendly for children.

          You’ve used the term “to wander” in the same way people have used “to loiter” in regressive times, but those times are over. People may loiter. Children may wander. Society may thrive. How you choose to control your kids is irrelevant to the fact that AT and AC have created an unsafe environment.

          That Hobson and Nelson Streets remain in their current form is one of the most egregious examples of a lack of leadership and a collective Council umbrella group failure to act on safety, health, liveability and climate that the city has.

        4. Wander and loiter are different words. If you want to win points being the grammar police then you should have attacked my incorrect use of the apostrophe in “it’s”.

          Picture the headline:
          10yr old unsupervised child in a critical condition after accident on motorway offramp. Parents blame AT.

          “yeah right” #tuiIbillboard

        5. I’m not attacking your grammar. I try not to. I believe language is something for conveying ideas, and I generally try to see past slip ups in grammar or punctuation or spelling, for example. I make mistakes in English myself.

          I’m attacking your ideas.

          In cities designed for liveability children have independence.

          In Auckland, children are hit; sometimes they’re with parents and sometimes they’re not. In either case the fault lies with the system designers, and putting the blame on the parents instead is simply a way to resist a change in priority within the transport system.

        6. Are you really suggesting that parents can deputise their responsibilities onto the safe system designer?

          Unlike you or Roeland, I don’t profess to expertise in child psychology, but I can say with pretty decent certainty that my kid’s development is going to be seriously stunted if he/she is lying toes up on a mortuary slab.

          We obviously have different ideas about what parenting involves, what parenting standards are, and whether a google meet takes priority over parenting. How my parenting is a resistance to transport priority change is totally baffling. I’m not going to martyr my kid as a human judder bar to effect that change.

        7. Ain’t no way I’d let my 11 year old wander round the city.
          It ain’t the cars I’d be worried about.

        8. It’s not deputising parenting responsibilities onto the system designers, it’s requiring the system designers to step up to their professional responsibilities and codes of ethics. New Zealand’s streetscapes are deficient because of this sector belligerence and lack of ethical conduct.

          Cities can be and are designed for children’s independence, but Council, AT and WK have a whole lot of catch up work to do.

          Council policy is to return the streets to the people, making them liveable spaces again, part of the Open Space network where children can play and people of all ages can have healthy and social connections with other people.

          It’s helpful to develop the faculty of imagination. Hobson and Nelson Streeets do not have to remain the way they are. Streets that are dominated by traffic become unsafe in other ways, so fixing the traffic problem has many benefits.

          We can do this. Parents should not be forced into helicopter parenting when what’s needed is a change to the street and traffic environment.

        9. Following your logic: So if you go to the local swimming pool and your 10yr old drowns while you’re taking a work call then it’s entirely the swimming pool designer’s fault. The parent(s) shouldn’t be blamed.??

          Parenting isn’t a part time job.

        10. Wandering used to be normal but it has been out of fashion for a while.

          But you should still be able to let kids walk to a friend’s home or to the park. Or to school. Until the council starts making sure that you can actually do that in the city centre it will be difficult for families to live there.

          I’m not a lawyer either but that law as well talks about unreasonable circumstances and unreasonable time. You don’t have to literally supervise kids all the time until they’re 14.

        11. Hobson and Nelson St are traffic sewers. Poorly designed and creating poor outcomes in terms of modeshare, emissions, health outcomes, safety and social goals.

          Parenting is a hard job, and parents do deserve being relieved of whatever unnecessary burdens our deficient transport system has placed them under. It takes a village to raise a child, and providing a healthy environment is part of that work.

        12. If a child drowned in a swimming pool, we would absolutely blame the operator of the swimming pool. Most swimming pools actually allow 10 year olds to swim unsupervised because they recognise that children require independent experiences in order to properly develop social and mental skills.

  10. Well the problem is that a severe speed table and a gentle speed table cost essentially the same, but one kinda works and one kinda doesnt. The speed bumps that you don’t notice in a bus don’t really slow anyone else down and are pretty useless. Also a waste of money given the cost of installing something that doesnt slow anyone down.
    The speed tables on my street are very effective.

    1. How old are they? Recent (last 1-2 years) speed tables – the “Swedish” tables that have gentle downstream ramps – were specifically designed to reduce bus passenger discomfort while retaining good traffic calming impact. Tested for internal acceleration factors.

      [The passenger impact is also partly dependent on where you are in the bus compared to the axle position – but I forgot which parts are the ones with least impact]

  11. (am essential worker based on College Hill). Been loving the covid cycle commutes esp if working late. zero traffic, zero fumes, dry roads this week and a great way to destress. been setting some PB’s! 🙂

  12. I have asphat speed cushions on my road and they definitely slow the traffic down. Larger vehicles like buses can straddle them. Used all over the place in the UK and are highly cost-effective. Not in NZ though, only the best concrete speed tables will do.

    1. Asphalt cushions that can be straddled are no longer used in the UK because they are impossible to maintain.

  13. It’s good that nothing is happening. Auckland Council could suddenly pedestrianise all roads in the city centre effectively without consultation while everyone is focused the COVID emergency.

    1. Unironically yes. Lockdowns would be the perfect opportunity to implement tactical urbanism measures, pop-up cycleways, bus lanes & more pedestrian space across much of Auckland + other NZ cities.

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