And so we roll into the last days of August, with spring in the air. Our header image this week: a night shot of Ngā Hau Māngere, the new old bridge which officially opens this weekend.
The week in Greater Auckland
Monday’s post by Heidi, Turning Over a New Leaf, launched the week by examining how the Transport Emissions Reduction Pathway (adopted by Council last week) signals the dawn of a new era. Will it put the ‘action’ into ‘climate action’? Time will tell.
On Tuesday, Matt covered the stop-start process of getting [some] cars off [part of] Queen Street.
Wednesday’s post by Matt highlighted the interesting items on the agenda of this week’s AT Board meeting.
And Thursday’s post by Jolisa highlighted the massive potential lurking in New Zealand’s per-capita bike ownership and riding skills.
The week in flooding (and the cost of road repair)
Had to happen: Aotearoa’s turn to star in other countries’ round-ups of “the week in flooding”, with awful scenes from Northland, Wellington, and the top of the South Island. Rivers burst their banks, roads and bridges were washed away, communities were cut off.
The numbers mount up. In Nelson alone, an estimated 1200 people were displaced over the weekend, and hundreds of homes have been red or yellow-stickered. It’s hard to capture the sheer range and scale of damage, but this thread of footage and photos by local journalist Naomi Arnold offers a glimpse:
And the rain arrives. Spent the last couple of days trying to clear the river and water supply of logs from last week’s deluge to avoid dams, but barely made a dent in the big stuff. pray for the roads & bridges of Nelson and the West Coast tonight pic.twitter.com/LmHcg6gGCX
— Naomi Arnold (@naomiarnold) August 16, 2022
And this slow-motion slip caught on video couldn’t be a timelier visual example of how climate change happens – to borrow a phrase from YA author John Green, “the same way we fall asleep [or fall in love]: slowly, then all at once.”
Climate change is coming for our roads, and this article from Bloomberg.com lays out the scale of what it’s going to cost. Spoiler: lots. Like, at least twice as much as transforming our transport system ASAP.
As the Prime Minister said on her visit to flood-stricken Nelson:
“At the moment we’re seeing these in quick succession – how many times have we all heard the words ‘one in 100-year event’? They are becoming more frequent. And that’s cause for us to plan, it’s cause for us to prepare.”
Auckland, city of… sponge?
One way to prepare is to make sure your city can soak up the rain when it arrives. Here’s a great article from the BBC, about “sponge cities”, which builds on a report by ARUP that found Auckland the spongiest of seven global cities, ahead of Nairobi, Singapore, Mumbai, New York City, Shanghai and London.
Our sponginess is more by accident than intention – even our underlying rock is permeable. But we’re vulnerable to tree loss and intensification, and let’s not even get started on all that tarmac. Urban wetland restoration work like the Te Auaunga stream can help.
Auckland became a relatively spongy city by chance. To remain so, it’s likely to need more projects like Te Auaunga, and to address some of the trends paving over its green spaces and toppling its trees. Worldwide, cities will need to find similar ways to work with nature to prevent flooding. In the process, they might also find connection and community in waterways and greenery that is welcoming for people and other creatures – like Auckland’s eels – alike.
Are we twice as climate-action-ready as we think we are?
An intriguing new study from the US found that “supporters of climate policies outnumber opponents two to one, while Americans falsely perceive nearly the opposite to be true.”
Wonder if the same is true here? Maybe we could move on from talking about “bringing people along” and just…go for it?
Life in low-traffic neighbourhoods
As Aotearoa gears up to deliver an antidote to climate anxiety in the form of car-light streets around schools and town centres, every day brings appealing examples from elsewhere of how they work – including some delightful bonuses.
In London, for example, people are feeling more confident about their pets, and local bistro owners are grudgingly admitting that they’re actually full to overflowing, not empty as they’d predicted.
Meanwhile in Croatia, a pedestrianised downtown (in place for two decades now) is a quiet revelation for visitors:
How’ bout us? How ’bout us, baby?
Simon Wilson posed a good question in last weekend’s Herald. While we’re waiting for bigger, bolder projects, where are all our pocket parklets? Despite early doubters who saw them as a front in some kind of ‘war’, they’re wildly successful everywhere they go:
…the bars and restaurants said no, wait, this works, and the city said okay, and now there are more than 3000 parklets in American cities, hundreds in London and thousands more in Europe and other parts of Britain.
We should have competitions, every spring all over the city, with prizes for the best new use of a stupid old car park. There’s still time to get it organised this year.
The article includes lovely photos of parklets that make you want to ask: two and a half years into “living with Covid”, how come we don’t have one of these on every block?? Great for cafes, great for kids, great for catch-ups with neighbours, adding a little al fresco frisson to your day.
Or, for anyone still nervous about converting scraps of street space, can we sell you on simple smarter uses of empty shopfronts?
Rotterdam city takes empty shops and rents them for a few years to turn them into bike parking to attract shoppers back pic.twitter.com/z8RBfjq9Sk
— Danny Williams (@citycyclists) August 19, 2022
The beauty of bollards
A gorgeous photo essay from the Social Life Project about the many uses of bollards. From simple posts to shapely sculptures to chunky separators, these hard-working pieces of infrastructure help humanise our streets. What can’t a bollard do!
What if: Symonds Street
This four-lane road that runs through the University of Minnesota is now a transit and pedestrian-only street. What was car space is now home to 16 bus routes and a single light rail line. More of this, everywhere. (2009 to 2015) pic.twitter.com/mdMI0E8Xup
— Hayden Clarkin (@the_transit_guy) August 19, 2022
Carpooling but for bikes
Los Angeles, like Auckland, is choked by traffic but has a great climate. In the absence of a proper cycle network, the city is testing a bike-buddy initiative for commuters, like school bike buses and bike trains but for grown-ups. Reckon it would work here too?
Though routes are charted out on the app, they are pre-vetted by “flow curators” — experts who are paid to design the safest route and then road-test it to ensure that conditions are as safe as possible for beginning riders.
There’s even a public art component of the project. Information about the length and routes of each ride, as well as weather and traffic data, will be collected and used to create what the team calls “interpretative cartography.” Riders will change the artwork in real time as they log more miles, creating an ever-evolving portrait of LA by bike.
Reduce, re-use, re….cycle
Still on the subject of cycling: Bike Auckland is bridging a gap by liaising with the police to find new homes for bikes that can’t be reunited with their original owners. (Hot tip: be sure to register your bike with 529 Garage so it can be easily returned to you if it’s stolen and then recovered).
As Gabriel Gati explained to Jesse Mulligan on the radio, the leftover bikes are often auctioned for small sums, or sent off to landfill. Salvaging any bikes that still have a useful life – via community bike hubs for repair as needed – gives free wheels to those who need them. Win-win, a virtuous cycle.
The interview also mentions the recent announcement by the Chair of the Board that Waka Kotahi does not plan to trial a micromobility lane on the Harbour Bridge. Bike Auckland remains keen to work with Waka Kotahi to show how the stated “safety concerns” can be easily addressed.
Will we ever get over it?
A corker of a read from David Slack this week on why Waka Kotahi continues to resist even trialling a lane reallocation on the bridge. He lists examples of cities where people can walk, jog and wheel freely from one side of the water to the other, then lays it out straight:
Thank you once again for absolutely nothing Waka Kotahi, and your dismal fealty to a way of life that may feel to you like the present and the future but is emphatically not.
There is a far better way to go, but we cannot have it while your tar-seal-splattered boot remains oafishly pressed on the oxygen tube.
We have the space ready to go, just like they did in New York and Vancouver.
But no, say the fossils at Waka Kotahi, too hard. No, can’t be done.
Do you have your ticket to the Bike Champions Forum?
Next Tuesday is curly questions for Mayoral candidates time. Auckland’s next mayor needs the leadership skills to front a city-wide programme of rapid street transformations. Winning over a Bike Auckland audience is the perfect warm-up… right? Should be fun.
Tickets are available here. Be quick! There are only 50 in-person spots left. You can also sign up to watch the event online.
Housing: are we there yet?
Data collected by Kiwibank shows how New Zealand’s housing shortage got much worse over 2014-2020, then has been improving in the last couple of years, and could be eliminated in the next year. We’d guess that Auckland might take another year or two beyond that, using similar data.
But what does it all mean? Measuring demand based on a constant number of “people per household” is a uniquely NZ way of doing things. Most countries have managed to build homes faster than the population is growing, so the number of “people per household” falls over time. We’d expect the same thing here, especially with an ageing population. For Auckland, it might take another 20,000-40,000 homes to get us back to where we should have been by now (e.g. with 2.9 people per household rather than 3.1). Rough figures, don’t @ us!
City Rail Link station names
Back in May, City Rail Link and Auckland Transport revealed the names they were submitting to the NZ Geographic Board (NZGB) for formal adoption. This week the NZGB have gone out for formal consultation, after making a few amendments, saying: “The Board has changed the names originally put forward, to ensure they are consistent with standardised written te reo Māori and to use the correct terms for official railway station names“.
The changes are:
- Waitemata (Britomart) -> Waitemata Railway Station
- Te Wai Horotiu Station -> Te Waihorotiu Railway Station
- Karanga A Hape Station -> Karanga-a-Hape Railway Station
- Maungawhau Station -> Maungawhau / Mount Eden Railway Station
You can read more about reasoning behind the changes and get links to make a submission here.
Taking travel down a notch
Interesting read from Resilience about the costs and unfairness of hypermobility for the few. What if we all had motorised travel allowances: how would you spend yours?
Imagine a luxurious civilization in which every person has a motorized travel allowance of 4000 kilometers every year, with unused amounts one year carried forward to allow more distant journeys, perhaps every few years. Imagine also that non-motorized travel is not tallied in this quota, so that a person who makes their daily rounds on foot or bicycle can use all or most of their motorized travel quota for those occasional longer journeys.
It’s true that a motorized travel quota of 4000 km per year would seem a mite restrictive to most people in wealthy industrial countries. But such a travel allowance would have been beyond the dreams of all of humanity up until the past two centuries. And such a travel allowance would also mean a significant increase in mobility for a large share of the global population today.
Itsy-bitsy teeny-weeny EVs
Jeremy Rose writes in the Spinoff about micro-EVs, which are increasingly popular overseas but currently not street-legal in New Zealand. Why? A four-seater electric car for less than $12,000 sounds pretty great, and a heck of a lot less damaging on our roads than those double-cab utes.
As the article says, quoting E.F. Schumacher’s 1973 bestseller Small is Beautiful:
“Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage – to move in the opposite direction.”
Cartoon of the week
Instant classic (and homage to the legendary R. Crumb) by the legendary Sharon Murdoch of Stuff.
You know urbanist discourse is maturing when your parents point you towards cool podcasts about it. This one from late 2020 is worth revisiting, because the question it poses is timeless: are car parks the ultimate dead space.
Meanwhile, Active Towns talks to Doug Gordon from The War on Cars about the war on car dependency.
And the most recent episode from The War on Cars looks at empowering all bodies on bikes.
Local bodies on bikes
When voting against the TERP on Friday, one Auckland councillor made a comment about climate-conscious candidates using petrol-powered vehicles to put up billboards for local body elections.
The point is, people work with the tools they have – and some of City Vision’s billboard crew got around by bike. It’s also good to see other candidates around the country finding creative opportunities to get their names out there.
Communities collaborating to calm traffic
A promising story from Tauranga, where a safety project on a busy school street is successfully reducing traffic and prioritising buses, walking and cycling, but has proved challenging for some. To help the project adapt and move forward, a community panel of a dozen people “of different ages and situations” is meeting regularly to work on solving aspects of the design.
They have an independent facilitator, access to any specialists and information as needed, and a reference group of 25 people to bounce ideas off. So far, it sounds like a productive meeting of minds:
“What this has done is brought a whole lot of like-minded people with different ideas and from different backgrounds to the table,” says Dan McLean. “It’s just trying to get a balance between one’s needs versus the majority of others.”
Cool job alert
Huh, looks like Aotearoa is in the market for a Prime Climate Minister? Well played, Greenpeace, well played.
The way we were…
Sad news this week of the death of Margaret Urlich, talented singer and style icon. This 1986 Peking Man video shows her in her prime, along with glimpses of Auckland as was. Mirror-glass buildings; free-running motorways and a glimpse of the off-ramp that blossomed into the pink path; and a largely lifeless inner city, save for the jazzy Cafe DKD (see chocolate cake recipe here).
The best Margaret Urlich music video was Peking Man's "Good Luck to You". 1986, Auckland pre-crash, Cafe DKD, golden hour skyline, sax solo, Marg and the lads look super cool and everything is sublime https://t.co/MLF6UBm8BY
— Robyn Gallagher (@robyngallagher) August 22, 2022
That’s it for this week; we’ll leave you with this thought for the weekend. If Auckland were a cocktail, what would it be?