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.
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.
Everyone should be safe on the roads very sorry to be at the memorial ride for Levi James and for everyone who has lost their lives while on their bikes. pic.twitter.com/iDVdPumJ86
— Jo Bartley (@jobartleynz) March 11, 2022
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.