Last Thursday’s meeting of Auckland Council’s Environment and Climate Change committee included an update on the Regional Streets for People programme. Councillors endorsed the programme, but not without a heartfelt discussion that brought home the costs of delaying what one councillor called “genuine streets for people” – in the context of the tragic death of a teenager, riding his bike to see his Nan.

Not many members of the public have the bandwidth to tune into these meetings; so we’ve transcribed some key moments below. The original video is here.

To refresh: Regional Streets for People is part of Council’s climate response package. It involves Council spending $3m over 3 years on tactical projects to encourage more walking and biking around the city.

[Note: this is separate from Innovating Streets for People, the nationwide Waka Kotahi pilot programme. To avoid confusion, the Auckland programme is set to get a new name – pending approval, it’ll be “the Vibrant Streets Programme, Ngā Tiriti Ngangahau”. But it takes a similar approach to ISFP, with adaptable techniques, a ‘pathway to permanence’, and a funding structure where Council funds 90% and Local Boards front with 10%.]

The seven projects that have made the cut: a programme supporting families to cycle in Puketāpapa; an e-bike trial in Māngere; a bike skills programme in Ōtara; a school cycleway link in Bayswater; a programme to support community bike hubs around the city; a safe streets programme for Konini School in Waitākere; and Open Streets events in Avondale.

Screenshot from Environment and Planning Committee meeting livestream, showing the projects proposed for Regional Streets for People support.

The discussion that follows the short AT presentation is where things got interesting.

It begins with Member Karen Wilson (from the Independent Māori Statutory Board) asking whether there was opportunity for mana whenua applications, e.g. marae-based projects, given that Māori outcomes are a key assessment factor. The response is that the process was targeted to CCOs and Local Boards, for reasons including the need for 10% co-funding and a pathway to permanence.

There’s agreement that this should be more conscientiously addressed in future; but at this point, Member Wilson indicates she’s leaning towards voting against endorsing the programme.

Next, Councillor Sharon Stewart asks (around 19:30) about the Konini School Safer Streets project, with a particular concern about materials. Will it involve orange hit-sticks and speed humps, Stewart asks, as seen in the Sunnyhills Safe School Streets project in her area? AT staff respond that they’re learning from every tactical trial, and that the project in question is working closely with the school’s own transport plan and will involve co-design towards an agreeable outcome.

Cr Stewart suggests the Konini School board visit her local project and see it, “before we install something that nobody wants.”

For context, here’s a video that gives an overview of the Safe School Streets programme, the materials used, and what children want. (You might also check out the Māngere West Innovating Streets for People project, which gave high school students the opportunity to learn about street design for NCEA credits, while designing and installing tactical safety treatments outside their school.)

Back to the meeting: Councillor John Watson then asks (around 27:40) about AT’s wider commitment to the goals of Streets for People, beyond the limited resources of this fund. He raises the example of AT chipsealing a bunch of cul-de-sac streets in his ward, thus making “a really active streetscape with people” that’s been “essentially compromised” and made less suitable for recreation. It’s a good question, and one we’ve raised before.

Councillor Josephine Bartley (31:20) asks what’s been learned from Innovating Streets about how to communicate “the big why”, to balance out people’s feelings of being “personally inconvenienced” by a given project. She notes how important it is to “help people see past the sticks in the road” and understand that these kinds of projects are about “saving people’s lives – no more cyclists getting killed, children being safe to walk and bike to school; big-picture stuff like saving lives as well as climate change.”

In response, there’s promise of a comms campaign, with Council leading the strategic storytelling, and AT leading project-specific comms that link into the big vision. Cr Bartley points out that councillors themselves will play a role in supporting this work, and the public as well.

Next to speak is Councillor Pippa Coom, Deputy Chair of the committee. She starts by saying she’s delighted to see the Konini School project on the list, as her eight-year-old nephew goes there and would love to walk to school more often. Then, with rising emotion in her voice, she continues:

I have to admit that I do find this all quite depressing, as this is just fiddling around while people are killed on our streets.

We all know that a young man called Levi James was the latest fatality, on his bike, off to see his nan.

And just the bigger crisis that we have around climate, the oil crisis that’s coming.

And here we have this little drop in the bucket to fiddle around on some streets, and complain about the hit sticks not looking nice, or whether a car park is being removed – when vulnerable people are dying on our streets, and we know that we have to have a network of safe streets that give people an alternative to driving around in their cars.

So, on the one hand, I’m really happy to see this [Streets for People programme] come to us. But it does just depress me that we are doing things in very very small little increments. And we’re nowhere near having “streets for people”, whatever we call this programme. Our streets are hostile places that are not suitable for the majority of kids in our city just to be able to walk and cycle safely, and for most residents to get around.

So I do think it’s great that we put this funding in the climate action package in the ten year budget, and it is there, and it is progressing. … [At the same time,] addressing my colleagues: I’m hoping that we’re all seeing the bigger picture and the importance. That we’ve got to make the big decisions, and decide whether we want to keep our citizens and our residents of Auckland safe by actually having genuine streets that are for people, and a connected-up network for walking and cycling and all the other kinds of e-mobility, including those who rely on chairs to get around.

Having said that, I do want to acknowledge – quoting the project team – this is an enabler programme. I recognise that. And it is part of the bigger programme. So, we can have a massive impact on how we do things in the future if we can show that these projects work.

And these projects do work if we are nimble, if we’re quick, if we use tactical urbanism, and if we use the tools that we have available. One of those tools is that we already have a Parking Strategy that says that we prioritise people on the street over parked cars.

And we know that Levi wouldn’t have died if we had actually implemented the Parking Strategy. Because he was doored, riding along.

So, [speaking through tears] I just want to make those comments… I wasn’t going to try to get upset by thinking about those vulnerable people – but I will end by thinking about my nephew who will benefit from this programme.

The Safe School Streets project in Grey Lynn: planter boxes, road art and orange hit sticks are used to slow traffic and make the street safer for local kids. Image source: Resilio.

The chair of the committee, Councillor Richard Hills, takes a moment to acknowledge the emotion in the room:

I know that was difficult, and I know that you have a very personal journey over deaths on our roads, and you’ve always been a champion for doing a lot more, so I’m sorry that you got a bit upset there, but it’s good to see emotion on our screens because that’s what we’re here for – doing things for our city, and actually fighting for them, even when it feels like it’s not working some of the time.

Grey Lynn School kids delivering treats to the construction crew on their project, thanking them for “keeping us safe”. Image: Pippa Coom.

Councillor Chris Darby, speaking from 40:30, concurs:

Look, this is a procedural decision here today, but listening to Councillor Coom I just – I’m touched… that raw emotion just so brings it home. We’re responsible for people living their lives in Auckland, and unfortunately we’re losing people. And it’s not just isolated. This is actually – these are ugly numbers.

Warrick Jones on Lake Road on the North Shore – it’s a year ago, almost to the day, since he was killed. A vehicle crashed into him – and there was a driver in that vehicle – and he was a rider on the bike, and he didn’t go home. And that’s subject to a police investigation, as is the current death, but look – I would just hope that we can all lend support to this [programme].

This is mapping the way forward. And we’re doing a lot of other work too, with reviewing our speed limits, which AT are doing at great pace now.

But without this work and cracking on the pace, we’re at risk of seeing more Aucklanders die. And I just, I just really felt for what Councillor Coom was making a plea for there.

Let’s just get on with this, please… I’m slightly lost for words myself, too. But top of mind is: people die. People that we know, as in last weekend’s death. We just cannot see that continue to happen at the rate it’s been happening. And it is quite a significant rate.

And this programme, in a small way, addresses that.

Planter boxes and speed bumps slow traffic on the way to Rutherford School in Te Atatū, as part of a Safe School Street trial. Image source: Bike Te Atatu

Councillor Richard Hills responds, thanking the speakers for their “continued advocacy as well, for programmes like these and for far greater change across Auckland Council and Auckland Transport in the way we do these things.” He points out that these safety and tactical programmes are not just effective, but ultimately embraced by the community:

The majority of Innovating Streets projects were successful, and are still in place. We never hear about that. We never hear the headline “school enjoys project that was put in” or “paint on the street and hit sticks DO make a difference.”

There are a couple of streets in my area where people are driving a lot slower because of the planter boxes and the plastic sticks… they may not be the coolest things, maybe not everyone likes them, but – they do help save lives, [and it’s] a lot cheaper than waiting for a massive intersection upgrade. [And it means] maybe there’s three more years of safety before that intersection upgrade comes.

These projects, yes they’re put forward by AT or Local Boards, but they will also help reduce those speeds and improve the safety and reduce emissions longterm. Because I know in areas where we’ve got the pedestrian crossings in, or other improvements, more people walk to school.

There’s one example of a pedestrian crossing I fought for, for a long time, in Hinemoa St. Businesses were against it and a whole bunch of people were against it, but the schools and ECEs in the area really really wanted it. A raised crossing, right by the little [community] centre.

And I’ve got these great pictures now that people send me, of the walking school bus growing and growing, going across that walkway.

And actually the businesses have enjoyed it, because people walk now straight into their cafe, across the road, instead of getting stuck on one side of the road and thinking oh, I’ll just drive on to the next town centre.

The source of the fuss: a raised crossing outside the community centre and cafe, which was won after a spirited two-year battle by the community and their representatives. (Streetview)

Those obviously take a long long time, but these sorts of [Streets for People] projects can be put in cheaply and quickly and with community backing them to get action quickly. Because we know that we are not getting the big projects that we need done quick enough, and we do have cycling and safety projects that need doing urgently, and we all need to continue to put pressure on.

But this small group of projects – that come from the bigger packet of climate initiatives we passed last year – will make a difference to these communities, and hopefully will continue to make people safer and ensure that they feel like there’s a choice to walk or cycle to their school, to their town centre, or around their neighbourhood.

In the end, Council’s modest Streets for People programme was endorsed almost unanimously, with Member Wilson expressing a change of heart and voting “for the greater good”, on the understanding that her concerns about partnership had been clearly taken on board.

The sole vote against: Councillor Sharon Stewart.

It was particularly powerful to hear Levi James’s name said out loud at the council table. In the week since his death, Auckland Transport has chosen not to comment, beyond this statement from a spokesman:

“This accident was an absolute tragedy. However, as there is a Serious Crash Unit investigation under way, we are not able to make any further comment at this time.”

The investigation will take time, and so will any inquest. It’s always “too soon” to ask what could have prevented a given death on the roads. But of course it’s always too late for that person and their loved ones.

So we thank the councillors who spoke up, and we make no apologies for asking for better, in the hopes this never happens again.

A ghost bike was placed on the Royal Oak roundabout this week, in honour of Levi James. Image source: Alec Tang

On that note, there is history here.

In 2018, Auckland Transport was told a project they had completed in Northcote created a serious safety risk, putting people on bikes at harm of being doored. When Bike Auckland pressed the point, Auckland Transport disagreed, claiming the safety audit was overstating the risks:

It is also noted that Auckland-wide there are on average two DSI’s [Deaths or Serious Injuries] per year across the entire network incurred by bike riders from dooring. We have almost 4 million recorded cycle trips per year and those are only where we have traffic counters. There are far more cycle journeys than this occurring on the Auckland road network. This would indicate that serious cycle crashes related to dooring are relatively uncommon across the network.

The post construction road safety audit identified a problem, near to the locations of cycle bypasses, from drivers opening car doors into the path of people on bikes. This problem was assessed as being of a serious nature, i.e. one that is likely to result in a death or serious injury (DSI) every couple of years or so. It was felt by AT that the problem had been correctly identified, however the severity of any collisions and their frequency in occurring has been vastly overstated. This could lead to solutions being developed that are disproportionate to the risk that they are trying to mitigate.

AT must repudiate this approach. It is not Vision Zero. As Bike Auckland said at the time: “dooring is a clear and present danger, and a single death or injury will be too many.”

Furthermore, AT must know that up to 80% of injury-causing bike crashes go under-reported (see also this Canadian study), and that near-misses are never officially recorded. Deciding not to follow the advice of safety auditors, nor of specialist advocates, puts the lives of our loved ones at the mercy of luck.

At the time, Auckland Transport also treated 400 individual submissions collated by Bike Auckland as if it was one vote in a referendum. As we saw last week, this approach to downplaying the public’s voice for bike safety continues today.

So if Auckland Transport were to turn over a new leaf, and act responsibly and respectfully, what would they do now? They can’t bring Levi back.

We call on Auckland Transport to immediately provide a fix on Manukau Road: remove parking, and install a protected bike lane. And then apply the principles of Vision Zero without compromise. Use the parking strategy – knowing it’s endorsed by Auckland Council – and start removing roadside parking wherever it endangers people on bikes.

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  1. “This accident was an absolute tragedy.” Accident? It’s one thing to say the word by mistake in conversation – followed by a correction. It’s quite another to use it in a prepared reply as the only official response to a fatal crash.

    Whether AT are deliberately indicating a departure from Vision Zero, or an indication that Vision Zero is so little understood that key communications staff don’t get it, that’s bad.

    Thanks to the councillors Coom, Hills, Darby, Bartley.

    1. Please call out AT every time the word accident is used. Crash, serious crash or fatal crash are the only words that should be used. If accident is used, the wrong people have drafted the statement.

  2. So sad.
    I grew up very close to Royal Oak roundabout. I’m 39. It has always to my memory, been an absolute nightmare (including for drivers). So 38 years of f##k all being done. Thanks Auckland Transport and all your predecessors.

  3. Thank-you for capturing this. Last week’s tragedy has impacted many people; my heart goes out to Levi’s family and friends.

    Thank-you also to the Councillors who voted for this package and for those who spoke up against the bureaucratic dinosaurs that sacrifice lives on the altar of traffic flow. This is only a drop in the ocean in terms of the change that is needed, but it is at least some progress.

    Like Pippa, I am pleased to see Konini on the list as my children attend there and the nearby intermediate. Surprised – as this is the first I have heard of this initiative, despite being actively involved in advocating for this. Councillor Bartley is right that we need much better engagement. Not comms – but meeting, listening, connecting with people, with communities.

    However; AT seem to be trying their best to delay improvements to Konini Streets. The school has been asking for safety improvements for years; parents have put together programme ideas and submitted them to AT. A key element would be adding a wider walk/cycle path in the relatively wide berms on Withers Road. In response, AT has:

    – Dug up and relaid a footpath on one site; but only widened them by c400mm.
    – Relied on Local Board discretionary to fund raised tables around the school, and delayed that project delivery on the way.
    – Taken requests (2019) for zebra crossings that support the walking school bus and creatively delayed their delivery as long as possible. On the project page here you can see that they have spent a year since a consultation re-drawing one zebra, in a new location, and then needing to re-consult due to the change in location. The plans are still not ready it appears, despite being RFT funded. AT appear to be burning through the Regional Fuel Tax fund in creative ways while delivering nothing.

    This year-long delay is for a proposal on the same road where a person was killed last year while AT sat on their hands delaying the Glen Eden Town Centre pedestrian safety upgrade. There are no safe pedestrian crossings for nearly 2km along this busy road.

    I suppose I should be grateful that our area is getting any investment at all, given how pitifully small the allocation of funds is.

    But I can’t help but think that one of my kids will be the next casualty after Levi.

    The emotional connection apparent in the Council meeting is what will see change happen. Holding AT to account needs all of us to get in behind our elected members. Council elections are looming. If you care about your kids, vote out fools like Sharon.

    1. @TIMR This is a tragedy… and more than a tragedy, it is built into our operating system that is the corporate-political-economy. It continues as before despite the tragic ‘killing’, not too strong a word, of many a pedestrian, cyclist and commuter on our roads, increasingly known as ‘stroads’ in progressive countries. This operating system is pervasive in our atmosphere, oceans, wetlands, rivers, and indeed our biome generally. We must demand Health and Safety for our cyclists, pedestrians, and for all our people and ecosystems upon whose health and vibrancy we in turn ultimately depend for health and safety in Auckland city and on the earth. Everything is connected.

      1. Tautoko, Brian. And TimR, your story is a potentially a guest-post in itself, what a story.

        We have so far to go – but it’s not for lack of community vision.

        1. “near-misses are never officially recorded”.

          How do we officially report near misses in Auckland. I could probably report 2-3 each time I ride my bike.

        1. Unfortunately, in my experience, the police will treat you as a timewaster even if you call to report someone deliberately (but unsuccessfully) attempting to hit you with a vehicle.

    2. Check “Speed limit changes in Auckland” to see where safety improvements are planned. Konini School is included there. Crossings over the busier roads are also needed. A year’s delay because someone didn’t like the first proposal says more about consultation and how it works than what AT tries to do.

      1. Yes, the 30kph proposal is good and welcome. The slow, ponderous approach to consultation is not. They’re making a good change; but taking a year to progress design is not good.

  4. Wow, so yet again it’s clear that everybody is wanting more progress from AT. Member Wilson’s concerns are that Maori weren’t given enough opportunity to use this fund. Councillor Watson wants AT to stop compromising active modes and recreation with their chipseal. Councillor Stewart’s concerns are that the materials used aren’t of a good enough quality. The other councillors want it all sped up. And Orsman’s article in the weekend was about all parts of Auckland wanting safe cycling.

    So what’s stopping AT? Why aren’t they doing what other cities do, and improve each street when it’s time for a renewal? Their excuses are worse than lame.

    Vision Zero never got in. They are absolutely not prioritising safety over traffic flow.

  5. I don’t see how the solution ultimately put forward by AT’s and/ or their consultant engineers at Royal Oak (given what was raised in submissions and what has subsequently occurred) can satisfy the engineering code of ethics. It seems like official complaints to the engineering nz body about members involved in these projects and starting putting pressure on the culture of the engineering profession more broadly.

    1. Good luck. Engineering New Zealand currently has a climate change denier on its board, who, supported by the Heartland Institute, set up a charitable trust to bring a vexatious legal case against NIWA that obstructed their research and cost them and the taxpayer several $ 100k. (For good measure I see he also makes a false claim on their webpage to be a Fellow of the IEE).

  6. Good grief. Are we really building zebra crossings across three lanes without blocking the middle one with a median island? I thought that stuff went out in the 1980s.

    1. It must be a bad bit of traffic engineering if you and I both think it’s bad. There is so much room for an island there too. Which daft engineer decided they needed a 20 m right turn bay each for two tiny residential streets?

  7. Parents started taking kids to school in cars a long time age, there were incidents of predator’s and lowlife endangerment, seems very rare these days. regarding deaths , crashes or whatever you like to call them, motorbikes seem the main victim. I personally know two people who were seriously injured on mopeds. With no analysis of police “crash” reports, statistics don’t really signify the actuality. Let’s face it, there are some real idiots on pushbikes, and still a small proportion of those “king of the road” drivers

  8. I am embarrased and ashamed that the only councillor that didn’t ‘endorse’ this programme was Sharon Stewart – my local councillor. However I am not surprised. Howick local board (and the NIMBYs it listens to), has developed a reputation for doing as little as possible in this area, sitting on money, procastinating and prevaricating about this topic for years.

    One silver lining is that I was motivated enough to actually go and listen to the whole thing, some public participation in democracy. Mainly to see if this article accurately represented the views expressed (it did) and to see if there was any justification for voting against (there wasn’t)

    It was hard to not conclude the councillor was voting against it because, as a similar scheme was installed on ‘her street’, she didn’t like the look of it.

  9. What a pity that raised tables are even needed. If our road transport system was properly under control and the many idiot drivers out there were made to obey the rules or else be prohibited from driving, then 25Km/h speed signs would be all that was required since every driver would obey them. Just like train drivers do on the railway.
    Unfortunately road transport is, and always has been, like the wild west. Vision Zero can’t come soon enough.

  10. This is one more reason we need a nationwide compulsory vision zero / net zero carbon design standard.

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