It’s 2021, and Auckland Transport has proposed yet another “safety project” with no safety for people on two wheels… while wrapping it in wording about sustainable local journeys.
And because it’s 2021, the announcement got ever-so-politely ratioed on social media a few weeks back.
“We hope”. Hope is not a strategy. https://t.co/qlz4yaTLzl
— Ben Gracewood (@aotearoa_ben) August 16, 2021
When AT disbanded its cycling team in late 2018, the promise was that cycling expertise would be “embedded” across the organisation. As Bike Auckland points out, this project – and others like it which would set bike-hostile design in stone – suggests a better word might be “entombed”.
What’s the project?
The overall idea is to “improve accessibility and safety for pedestrians” via improvements on Mt Albert Road, at the intersection of Frost Road and at Hayr Road and Dornwell Road, next to Three Kings Plaza.
AT plans to rebuild two major intersections with new traffic lights and pedestrian crossings, improve footpaths, and relocate bus stops. At first glance, good – this is a diabolical intersection as it currently stands, and not just for people on foot.
But people on bikes? You can have a little safety, as a treat:
- Paint new sections of cycle lanes and advance stop boxes for cyclists to safely wait at the front of the traffic queue for the lights to change.
What’s the problem?
AT’s been consulting in this area since 2017, and the public has been asking for safer cycling the whole time. This ain’t it.
For starters, paint is not protection.
And hands up who uses advance stop boxes? Is it kids? New riders? Older people? The less confident people on bikes, to the left of this chart?
Nope, advance stop boxes on a road like this – with lots of traffic, including oversize vehicles and buses – are suitable for only a hardy souls in the highly confident range.Yet AT says, right there on the project page:
We want to make our roads safe for everyone, people walking and cycling, especially for our kids and senior citizens and people driving. Projects like this one around Mt Albert Road are another 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 over other measures like minor time saving.
But the design doesn’t cater to the people they say they want to help: kids and senior citizens, on bikes. Yet it could, so easily – for example, by reallocating some of the multiple turning lanes for general traffic, which are only there for minor time saving.
AT must know that this design isn’t Vision Zero. It’s neither equitable, nor safe, nor contributing to decarbonising our transport system.
How can AT ignore its own plans and policies?
According to AT’s Future Connect mapping portal (which contains an updated version of the promised Auckland Cycle Network), this particular location is a “major route”, to be delivered in the “First decade” (highest priority) and is “First ranked” on the cycle and micro-mobility deficiencies list – i.e. it’s extremely hazardous.
This is an intersection on a 50kmh arterial road – the type of location where most bicycle deaths and injuries happen, as noted in AT’s recent 2021 Road Safety Business Improvement Review.
And, traffic counts on this bit of Mt Albert Road are around 17,000 vehicle movements a day, meaning it’s off the top off this chart, and absolutely requires a protected cycleway, as per AT’s own Transport Design Manual.
This is basically a list for “thou shalt not ignore people on bikes here” – and yet, the design does.
To put it bluntly: failing to plan for people on bikes is planning for deaths and injuries.
By the way: cycling safety is also top of the list in AT’s Parking Strategy:
- Remove parking where it causes a safety risk for cyclists on the Auckland Cycle Network.
And AT has an overriding mandate for mode-shift – i.e., making the roads safe enough for all the people who are keen, but currently too scared, to go by bike. Which feeds into decarbonising the transport system, for which AT also has clear marching orders from Council.
So many red flags here – all pointing to a critical need to include life-saving design for people on two wheels.
And yet, somehow, computer says “nah”??
And doesn’t this design ride roughshod over local (and national) plans and goals?
There’s even more to be worried by here. This intersection is in the rohe of Puketāpapa Local Board – which has been working tirelessly and creatively alongside AT and other partners over the years, to build a local walking and cycling network.
This includes safe links to schools (including the huge Mt Roskill campus, with ~3500 students) and award-winning greenways through parks. Roskill is becoming rad for riding – a perfect spot, you’d think, to demonstrate proper bike-safe intersections on a busy main road.
As part of this conscientious planning, part one of the Mt Roskill Safer Communities scheme added raised crossings on Frost Road for pedestrians and cyclists, shared paths connecting the schools to the wider network, and upgraded alleyways with wider paths and better lighting (more about that here).
AT made a nice video about it, too:
On the road to decarbonising our transport system, Auckland Transport’s job is to deliver the changes our local roads need for safer active travel and low-carbon healthy neighbourhoods.
Leaving out bikes (and other micromobility) means this project locks in the very opposite direction of travel. It won’t help us get anywhere near zero-carbon by 2050, let alone 2030. And that’s especially unfair to children, who are legitimately frightened about the future.
So what’s the solution?
In an online webinar, a road safety engineer for the project said AT has met with Bike Auckland to discuss their suggestion for squeezing protected bike lanes into the design, and they’re “looking at the recommendations”.
When asked if this means protected lanes are now confirmed, the reply was that they’re “still doing the assessment”. Site constraints were also mentioned, including a power pole at Frost Road. So, no guarantees.
While Bike Auckland’s suggestion (over here) is one way to fix this proposal, it’s not the only one. Road reallocation is specifically included in the National Land Transport Plan 2021-2024 as a climate action:
Activities in the 2021–24 NLTP that will deliver on the climate change strategic priority include:
• Reallocating road space for shared and active modes to support more efficient, reliable and low emission movement of people and freight.
We also expect to invest in the following new activities in this NLTP to enable mode shift, greenhouse emissions reduction and delivery to government commitments:
• $111 million for Connected Communities to reallocate road space on key Auckland arterials for public transport and active modes.
If you want to have your say…
CLICK HERE to give feedback – by Sunday 19 September
- The proposed design ignores people on bikes and scooters, so it’s not Vision Zero compliant
- It drops the ball on climate obligations, by not enabling mode shift
- It ignores AT’s own ‘Future Connect’ priorities for Mt Albert Road
- It doesn’t match AT’s own Transport Design Manual
- It doesn’t deliver the Local Board’s vision for a walkable and bikeable neighbourhood
- This is a once-in-a-generation project – so AT must dig once and do it right
- AT has to include proper protected bike lanes… which might involve road reallocation
- Luckily, road reallocation is a recommended climate action strategy in the NLTP!
Basically, there’s room at this intersection for protected bike lanes and wider footpaths for better walkability. With road reallocation on the menu and Vision Zero the overarching goal, there are no constraints on getting this right.
P.S. Why does this keep happening – here, there, and everywhere?
This project – and other examples just like it – raises lots of questions…
- Do AT’s project teams check their work streams against all the master documents and key strategies before proceeding with design? If not, why not?
- Is there a screening process to sense-check all designs for safety for all modes?
- Is this an explicit trade-off between budget and safety – and if so, how is that possible within a Vision Zero framework?
- Is it a trade-off between “efficiency” for vehicles and safety – and if so, how is that possible within a Vision Zero framework?
- Do AT’s senior executives sign off on these trade-offs?
- Are project teams empowered to push back on those trade-offs, when they can see safety is being compromised?
Recurring examples like this suggest an organisational culture in which people who make everyday journeys on bikes just don’t count. And/or one where the leadership hasn’t fully empowered their people with the tools, guidance, and support they need to create effective (and ethical) 21st C streets.
— jack____y (@jack____y) August 26, 2021
It’s frustrating that in 2021, with a climate emergency breathing down our necks, our city’s transport agency can still struggle to follow its own clear, top-level strategies. And it’s beyond frustrating that so often, decent outcomes seem to depend on well-organised volunteers working after-hours to highlight basic issues.
Of course, another approach – and one being increasingly resorted to – is taking an organisation to court for failing to meet its legal obligations. With the climate clock ticking, every case is a potential test case.
But one step at a time. The good news is that AT still has a chance to get this one right.