Once upon a time in November 2021, Auckland Transport asked for feedback on a proposal to add parking time-limits at some corner shops on Grenada Avenue in Forrest Hill.
At the bottom of the project page was a familiar bit of language about Vision Zero:
This is a common footer on AT’s webpages and emails; a steady drumbeat reminding us that safety is literally the bottom line for all operations.
It’s a handy way to keep everyone’s eyes on the prize – and what a prize! Vision Zero is about safety, but it’s also a “buy one, get one free” deal – it makes streets safer for exactly the sort of low-carbon trips we need more of. But wait, there’s more! Safer streets also mean more freedom for children, more options for accessibility, better mental and physical health overall, less noise and particulate pollution, longer-lived pets, and an inhabitable planet for future generations, etc.
And heck, even if your ‘bottom line’ is the one on the fiscal spreadsheet, improving safety and mode shift via every project is a wise use of resources. Why send a work crew out twice, when you could tick that extra box in one go?
In fact, it’s hard to think of a more effective way to keep AT’s work on track than repeating the Vision Zero principles everywhere. After all, AT’s own Safety Performance Indicators include: % of staff who can confidently explain what Vision Zero is and what it means for their role as well as % of the general public [who] understand and support the Vision Zero approach.
And AT’s Vision Zero action plan 2019-2021 says:
Culture and Transformation will partner with the Safety function to ensure that Vision Zero is part of AT culture and DNA, and build AT Vision Zero advocates
In short: AT should be confidently mentioning and aiming to deliver Vision Zero at every opportunity. Even small-potatoes projects like parking at the local shops. Right?
So what happens when the public understands that Vision Zero is now the bottom line, and asks for more of it? As folk on Twitter put it:
Why are Auckland Transport telling you to initiate contact with three different teams within Auckland Transport to investigate your ideas … when you’ve already told Auckland Transport what your ideas are?!
— Matt Leach (@Not_A_Yoga_Matt) January 17, 2022
Here’s AT’s formal response to public feedback on the project. (Public opinion is in bold; italics added in replies).
Concern that this proposal is inconsistent with the stated Vision Zero objectives and does nothing to improve the safety of walkers and cyclists at the dangerous intersection of Grenada Avenue and Blakeborough Drive. The Vision Zero statement is included in our consultation material to get the message across to all of our customers. We will try and word this differently in the future. The aim of this minor project is to address parking congestion by implementing time restrictions on existing parking spaces. This project by our parking design team did not set out to address road safety concerns.
Concern that increasing parking availability will increase the appeal of driving, leading to increased death and injury on the road. These changes are intended to support local businesses and customers as future development may lead to residents storing vehicles in the parking area outside the shops.
Suggestion of proposals consistent with Vision Zero principles:
- Adding cycle parking outside the shops.
- Adding cycle paths on Grenada Avenue and Blakeborough Drive.
- Narrowing the mouth of Grenada Avenue and installing a pedestrian crossing.
- Removing car parking outside the shops and making the car parking parallel to the street to prevent accidents from cars backing out of these car parks.
Thank you for your view on how the proposal could be consistent with Vision Zero principles. While these are all excellent ideas, they are mostly outside the scope of this minor project from the Parking Design team. There are other teams across AT that are involved in these sorts of projects. The Road Safety team look at speed reduction, the Active Modes team looks at cycle paths and cycle parking, and the Traffic Operations team looks at road layout alterations and pedestrian crossings.
If you would like any of these ideas investigated, please call AT on 093553553 or fill out a feedback form and someone from the correct team will be able to respond to you directly.
Suggestion to remove Vision Zero messaging in proposals which are not directly related to safety improvements. The Vision Zero statement is included there to get the message across to all of our customers. However, we appreciate how this may seem incongruous with some projects and will try and word this differently in the future for minor projects like this.
Now, at one level, you can appreciate the situation of the parking team and their comms colleagues. They’re just trying to deliver a minor project “in response to community requests to improve parking availability”. How does Vision Zero come in?
But it’s not too much to ask that an organisation’s overriding strategy be aligned across every part of the organisation. If the goal is to “ensure that Vision Zero is part of AT culture and DNA“, Vision Zero should be shaping every project. And even the tiniest budget, without exception, should reflect the strategy.
To quote some great New Zealanders:
“Do not think your single vote does not matter much. The rain that refreshes the parched ground is made up of single drops.”
— Kate Sheppard
‘We haven’t the money, so we’ve got to think.”
“We’re placing human wellbeing and liveability, for all, at the heart of our transport network… Vision Zero will come to life by putting he tangata at the centre of our transport system.”
Let’s take another look at the project and what it’s trying to achieve.
What’s here: A medical centre, a hair salon, a mower and chainsaw shop, a takeaways, a superette, a tutoring centre, and a pharmacy. In front of the shops are two mobility spaces (dating from 2016-2017) and twelve marked parking slots, plus parallel parking for around another eight or so vehicles on the paved off-road area that wraps around the corner. There’s also some parking behind the shops for half a dozen vehicles. And there’s an intermediate school a block away.
What’s not here: There is no bike parking, and no nearby bike infrastructure. There are no nearby pedestrian crossings or pedestrian refuges. There is no attempt to prioritise vulnerable road users: the paved parking blends into the roadway, and all corners feature extremely wide curves that make it easy for cars to swing round, and less safe for people to cross the road.
So what’s the problem this minor project is trying to solve, exactly? The stated aims are to “respond to community requests to improve parking availability”, to “address parking congestion”, and to “support local businesses and customers”.
In which case:
- Did AT survey local customers (of all ages) about how they currently get to the shops, or how they’d like to?
- Is AT currently enforcing poor parking, and will it guarantee enforcement of the time-limits on parking?
- Did the parking team consider adding bike parking?
- Did Vision Zero come up in the discussion at any point?
- And how about mode shift for climate action?
That last question is critical. Helping people switch from cars to walking, cycling, or scooting for short trips is essential to achieving the city’s carbon targets. But improving parking turnover at the local shops – without doing anything to address the car-first road design – just makes it more likely locals will keep jumping in the car to get to the dairy, the takeaways, the doctor, the pharmacy, the after-school tutoring session.
Note, too, the suggestion that adding P120 signs will help with “future development [that] may lead to residents storing vehicles in the parking area.” Will it? And is this how AT plans to address parking wherever there’s development in the city? If so, this isn’t small potatoes at all. This is a reactive systematic response that’s missing the opportunity to make a real difference.
It might sound like we’re loading an awful lot onto the shoulders of the dedicated parking team and a very minor project. Fair point. This is just about putting up some new signs, after all. Simple. Why make a fuss?
Because this one small example shows how very siloed AT’s processes still are – and how urgently we need the system-wide strategies to dissolve those silos.
Also: how inspiring it could be when that starts to happen.
Flip the script: how else might a “minor project” solve this situation? How could AT save their (and our) money and time by empowering its teams to break out of their boxes?
How about: sketch out the shape of a low-traffic neighbourhood for Forrest Hill, so people can start thinking about what’s possible. Coordinate with the nearby intermediate school, the shopkeepers and doctors, neighbours, service clubs, anyone keen to get involved, to discuss what to do with this particular corner.
Bring forward everything you’ve learned from Innovating Streets projects – the processes, and maybe even some of the leftover materials. Maybe even take a field trip to towns that have got the gist. And take a close look at how cities around the world are creating breathing room to help keep local businesses (and their customers) alive through the waves of Covid-19.
Shake loose a little of the safety budget, a bit of the climate action budget. Won’t take much – and besides, when was the last time this neighbourhood saw investment along these lines?
Then take some of that swathe of asphalt and turn it into a nice place for people. It doesn’t have to be fancy – just somewhere to sit and socialise. Because there’s definitely enough retail there to support a gathering place, and it can easily be developed over time. Food truck Fridays? Musical Mondays? Or just somewhere to sit and eat your ice cream after school?
There are some really great models for how to do this sort of project, in exactly this sort of location. The Fantame St project in Porirua springs to mind:
There’s still plenty of room for a couple of mobility parks, a couple of paid parks, a couple of P120 parks – and a couple of bike parks! And the rest of it can support a local version of a new vision. Tamaki Makaurau: the compact, active, accessible, healthy low-carbon city.
And repeat. All over the city. Micro projects for macro impact.
In other words, please don’t remove the Vision Zero messaging, Auckland Transport – keep it firmly on the page so we’re all on the same page! Do wrap Vision Zero into your wider vision for low-carbon neighbourhoods. And let that combined vision infuse every project, every team, every street you touch, everything you do, with more life.
In Sweden, Street Moves is helping residents replace their street parking with modular furniture, including customizable elements like planter boxes or bike racks. The ultimate goal? To make every block in the country healthy, sustainable & vibrant by 2030 https://t.co/j4eZInr4I1 pic.twitter.com/2yf5SSHoOu
— Happy City (@HappyCitiesTeam) January 18, 2022
My thanks to Heidi O’Callahan for her help with this post