This is a guest post by Chris Lange.
I live with my whanau in a quiet cul-de-sac street in Massey, West Auckland. At the request of fellow residents our street was lucky enough to be chosen to take part in Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s Innovating Streets for People programme. This programme aims to make it faster and easier to transition our streets to safer and more liveable spaces. Our role was as a Play Street which involved temporarily closing a small part of our street to non-resident’s cars to run several play street events.
Although these were temporary events, they have seen long term benefits for the local community. It has given our street a sense of connectedness with the place and one another. It is a daily occurrence for children from our street as well as neighboring streets to come together to play outdoors. It has become a shared space we enjoy together.
It was wonderful being a part of the programme right from the beginning. After trialing the first event it was clear there was appetite from the community for more. Local children were invited to share their ideas during the planning, then we set about implementing as many of their ideas as we could. Turns out they were event planning experts! By the time all the events were done we had done a wide variety of activities. This included lots of sports, a range of new toys, art, and fun with bikes. We even invited our local police to come show off their police car and got to play with the flashing lights.
As part of the initial programme, funding was made available to create a compact, raised planter box as a traffic calming measure, complete with a mandarin tree for the kids. Permission for this was checked with Auckland Transport and it was built, painted and planted over the course of the events mainly by volunteers, including many children.
For many months it performed well and was an asset to our street. So, you can imagine my surprise when I learned that AT was ordering it urgently removed, labelling our humble mandarin tree an ‘encroachment’ which was a ‘serious hazard to children’. Little did we know that according to some within AT our tree was not permitted outside the event times. It appears that miscommunication within and between the different organisations had occurred.
I completely understand needing to comply with the rules and enforcement of them, however this was not some rogue action, but families contributing to the ‘Innovating Streets For People’ programme to make our street a safer place.
Given the misunderstanding I felt it would have been appropriate for AT to work with Council and their partners to explore possible solutions. Attempts at this failed as AT insisted it be removed immediately threatening to escalate the situation to legal proceedings against those involved. I felt this was an unnecessarily hardline response. Under threat from AT, volunteers reluctantly dismantled the planter box and transplanted the tree.
This experience highlighted the inconsistency in Auckland Transport’s enforcement of the rules. Take a walk around our neighborhood and you will see there is no hardline approach to enforcement when it comes to rules for cars. Hopefully you don’t need to take a pram or wheelchair as every day our area is littered with illegally parked cars blocking our footpaths forcing children to walk into live lanes. The few unprotected cycle lanes we have are no safer as motorists commonly either drive or park in them. It really is the wild west as these daily and serious encroachments are largely left unchecked. Instead AT relies on individuals to spend their own time waiting on the phone to them for something to be done about it. There doesn’t appear to be any sense of urgency from AT to address these hazards.
This inconsistency is in stark contrast to AT’s Vision Zero goal of no deaths or serious injuries on our transport system by 2050. If our city is to achieve this, then we need AT to do much better with enforcing the current rules so that vulnerable road users are kept safe. As residents we should be expecting AT to not just say the right things but walk their own talk.
As for our community’s illegally parked mandarin tree, rest assured it no longer causes a ‘serious hazard.’ It has now been replaced with a parked car.