Today, Auckland Transport is running two “community participation sessions”:
Through an independent facilitator, these sessions will delve into the pros and cons of options that physically separate cycle and vehicle lanes, incorporating your feedback and ideas, enabling us to collectively reach a solution.
The project under discussion is Upper Harbour Drive, where AT recently installed concrete separators (“tim tams”) to protect people using the existing painted cycle lanes. The tim tams came under fire mainly because some drivers have found it difficult to stay in their lanes; and some road cyclists ran into trouble in the early stages of the project.
Meanwhile, other people are asking why the protected cycle lanes have been kept so narrow when space was available to make them wider:
I rode to Upper Harbour Dr today to see what the fuss was about. Can anyone explain why there remain painted medians while the bike path is about 0.5m too narrow? pic.twitter.com/BfXhYEmYq4
— Michael Roth (@MobilityMichael) September 3, 2022
This post isn’t so much about the project itself, but about how AT will resolve it. The community sessions will be a measure of AT’s commitment to the Transport Emissions Reductions Pathway (TERP), which says:
Organisations need to stand firm and deliver to their stated goals…
Once strategic direction is consulted on and set, future consultation should focus on how, not whether, projects that support that direction are delivered.
Who’s in the room?
Are the participants for these sessions somewhat self-selected – through being vocal (even with AT actively seeking diversity)? Or are they drawn using a sampling technique, proportionally representative of demographics and geographic location?
Deliberative democratic processes prefer the latter approach if any recommendations, or decisions, are to be made.
If the sessions are structured to bring together vocal people from opposing sides, there’s a risk of focusing too much on resolving the conflicting views of individuals. Naturally, this doesn’t lead to the best decisions for future generations.
Perhaps the success of the sessions hinges on whether management is supporting staff to “stand firm and deliver to their stated goals”.
If so, the potential for a win-win solution here is great. The cycling team involved in this project includes some very knowledgeable and skilled people. Community leaders and other AT staff in the room will be able to observe – and practise – the leadership skills involved in discussing AT’s priorities and responsibilities. For example, they can bring the conversation back to the fact that our children need a city-wide all-ages cycling network that will enable the level of mode shift outlined in the TERP:
Above all, everyone must be clear on this point: “collectively reaching a solution” for this location does not mean people in the room get to override the city-wide transport strategy.
What led to the transport problems on this road?
Physical protection in the form of concrete tim tams is a safe and appropriate treatment for an urban street. These devices are working successfully in a number of locations throughout the city, such as on Nelson St and more recently on Ian McKinnon Drive.
The number and descriptions of crashes on Upper Harbour Drive suggest that drivers are hitting them after losing control of their vehicle, which implies distracted or impaired driving, and speeds that are too high.
Lower speeds could likely have prevented the crashes or reduced the damage. So a key task for managing this road is reducing speeds to an appropriate safe level.
So how did we get here? Why are speeds on this residential street so high they’re causing this number of crashes into kerbs?
Several organisations have contributed to the problem over the years:
- Auckland Council (and its predecessors) allowed housing development in the area, without providing the necessary funding and planning support to make the street environment fit for families to walk and cycle safely near their homes.
- Waka Kotahi built an expensive motorway nearby (the Upper Harbour Highway), and then changed Upper Harbour Drive from ‘state highway’ to ‘local road’, and handed it over to AT. What it didn’t do was responsibly modify the road to a standard suitable for a local street network before handing it over.
- Auckland Transport itself has neglected to improve this local road to reduce traffic volumes or speeds. Notably, it’s over four years since AT committed “in full and without question” to reviewing speed limits on approaches to all intersections, and “where appropriate” lowering them to a maximum of 50 km/hr. – Upper Harbour Drive is a prime example. This was an ‘action’ in the Safety Review programme to be undertaken in 2019, and I’ve reminded Auckland Transport about it specifically, several times, in meetings and in emails. If AT had set appropriate speeds on Upper Harbour Drive, supporting them with changes to help make those speeds intuitive, crashing into tim tams would not be a thing.
- The Police have been largely missing in action on urban enforcement of the vehicle speeds required to keep people on foot and bike safe. (Furthermore, the initial Police response to the installation of tim tams on this road was not appropriate for a road safety partner – it demonstrated a lack of understanding about their role in helping to deliver the government’s Road to Zero strategy and Emissions Reductions Plan.)
In an ideal world, Auckland Transport would have created an appropriate “road hierarchy” of local roads at the time the highway was opened, in order to reduce traffic volumes and speeds.
What would that look like? Roeland’s suggested solution, below, uses a “modal filter”, and means Upper Harbour Drive would serve as a connector or access road rather than an arterial. People on foot and bike, and emergency vehicles and buses, would be free to move past this point in the road:
This entirely orthodox engineering approach would have allowed locals to experience safer walking, cycling, and driving on the local roads, and a safer cycle route to the North Shore.
Without these treatments, the traffic grew (induced by the new motorway), and Upper Harbour Drive effectively became a parallel highway – while also serving as the key cycle route to and through the North Shore.
What can a cycling programme budget be expected to cover? And what’s not its role to solve?
The Minor Cycling and Micromobility Programme, which installed the tim tams on Upper Harbour Drive, was set up with the reasonable premise of:
making 60km of our existing cycle lanes safer for people to use. Across the region, we’ll be adding physical separation between the existing cycle and vehicle lanes, making Tāmaki Makaurau easier, healthier and more efficient to get around in.
In all these projects, the cycle lanes already exist – they’re legally “resolved” – and so protection can be added quickly and easily, at least in theory.
In principle, the programme will create neighbourhood examples of protected space across the city, offering the power of demonstration to a wide swath of the public. It had its origins in this Bike Auckland post, which crowd-sourced a list of potential projects. So the programme also has the potential to demonstrate AT keeping faith with the public, and benefiting from community input.
To give an idea of how the selected projects fit in, Matt created the following map. Red indicates the new programme. (There are a number of newer paths to be added now, too.)
Of course, the cycling network needs to be expanded and improved in many other ways across the city. But strengthening the existing network in this way is well overdue, because paint is not protection; David Lane should not have died riding in a painted cycle lane 11 days ago. Our tragic and rising numbers of casualties requires us to expand the protected network as fast as possible, in every way possible.
So it’s a worry that the programme is likely to continue to face hurdles created by existing deficiencies in the transport network. Speeding vehicles at Upper Harbour Drive is just the first. For example, Carrington Road is on the list: it’s a good candidate in that it connects two town centres, a railway station, and a major cycleway. But its existing painted lanes are narrow, and will be even more dangerously so when hemmed in with tim tams – unless space can be shifted from the painted median.
What will make or break the success of today’s workshops – and ultimately, the rest of the programme – is whether AT management acknowledges its responsibility for these challenges, and recognises that the programme is exposing them, not creating them.
These barriers to good, quick, easy protected cycleways are legacies of outdated planning, and they should have been resolved long before now. AT’s regular insistence that traffic flow should not be impacted has blighted the entire city. Even its most recent projects have been compromised in this way, despite clear benefits to everyone – whether walking, cycling, driving or just enjoying their local area.
The Minor Cycling and Micromobility Programme is simply a stop-gap measure until the rest of the organisation comes up to speed on the paradigm shift required for the TERP.
What needs to be done now?
AT can bring forward the “significant reform” that the Board committed to in endorsing the TERP.
Time to reform engagement: AT has too often caved in the face of vocal opposition to their plans, blocking our transport strategy from being realised. So it’s time for a different tack, and the Upper Harbour Drive project is a perfect opportunity, as the high media interest allows AT to visibly demonstrate their shift in approach, confirming that climate action is underway.
AT’s responsibilities are to all Aucklanders – current and future – so all upcoming projects need to follow the direction given by the TERP:
Transform engagement processes to better enable citizen participation in transport decision-making, using participatory models such as deliberative democracy
To avoid consultation fatigue, project engagement should focus on the details of delivery, instead of relitigating whether city-wide networks should be implemented if they have already been consulted on.
Time to reform planning: Some projects in the “Minor” programme will work as originally intended, but wherever the legacy problems do arise, the projects will need a mandate to use any of the following tools:
- Decently wide cycle lanes, which will often require:
- Reallocating road space: using flush medians, parking lanes and traffic lanes
- Modal filters, i.e. where appropriate, limiting which type of traffic can pass by a particular point
- Reshaping intersections for maximum safety (by removing slip lanes or reducing the number of traffic lanes, for example)
- In-line bus stops, as painted cycle lanes are often interrupted by kerbside bus stops
- Coordination with other programmes that deliver traffic-calming by changing the way general traffic can move about the neighbourhood
Upper Harbour Drive needs some of these tools, so now is a good time for AT management to demonstrate their support.
Time to reform funding: Will the cost of new engagement, new design and new installation for this project strip other areas of desperately-needed cycling investment? This is a huge concern for advocates, given the urgency of delivering the cycling network.
Essentially, the small cycling budget should never be expected to resolve all the systemic problems in our local roads. AT management will need to solve these problems using programmes funded from the “local road” activity classes. Otherwise, they’ll be once again stealing the lunch money to cover Dad’s gambling debts.
All in all, I’m optimistic for a good outcome from the community meetings. AT has made a great start with this description of the process it will be using:
We know we need to enable a choice for how people travel, and to make it safe for all road users – that includes motorists, pedestrians and cyclists of all abilities. The creation of protected cycle lanes, connected to form a network (just like the road network is for motorists) is critical in achieving the outcomes in Te Tāruke-ā-Tāwhiri Auckland’s Climate Plan.
I hope the AT Board is watching this process carefully. Project by project, reform can happen.