Welcome to Friday – again! Hard to believe we’re almost in June. Here’s our latest roundup of stories that caught our eye this week.
The Week in Greater Auckland
- On Monday, Matt covered the transport highlights from this year’s Budget.
- On Tuesday, Matt asked if the end is finally in sight for bus disruption
- Yesterday, Matt looked at some of the implications on other projects of the delay on the City Rail Link
Reminder on Karanga-a-Hape Station neighbourhood Consultation
A quick reminder that today is the last day to give feedback on the consultation for improvements around the Karanga-a-Hape station entrances. We covered it here and it looks great. The plan will see most of Mercury Lane converted into pedestrian mall, improvements for bikes and pedestrians on Canada St and East St, as well as improvements on Pitt St with bike and bus lanes being added.
The proposal should be supported.
The Spinoff have also covered it, and noted a rollcall of support:
The Waitematā local board, the City Rail Link and Eke Panuku support the renovations. Waitematā chair Genevieve Sage believes the plan will make public transport quicker, more reliable and generally seamless across the precinct. Other endorsements came from the Karangahape Road Business Association, City Centre Residents Group and Bike Auckland. Jamey Holloway – the GM of the KRBA – thinks the improvements will allow the precinct to maximise the Karanga a Hape station.
Swarbrick is also supportive of these “well overdue” upgrades.
Bikes for the Economy
Bike tourism continues to grow and grow – now imagine the gains if we really made our whole country cycle-friendly and leafier, including our cities:
Bike tourism continues to be a financial winner.
A new report from economist Benje Patterson shows at least $291 million was spent by bike tourists who cycled through New Zealand’s production plantation forests last year — Queenstown, Dunedin and Wānaka coming in the top six areas to attract visitor dollars.
“To put the estimate of $291 million of spending by bike visitors to production forests in perspective — total spending by visitors along the New Zealand Cycle Trail network was estimated at $951 million in 2021,” Mr Patterson said.
Pedestrians and cyclists wanting to go from Raglan’s town centre to Ngarunui Beach will soon be able to do so safely as the Town2Surf cycleway is nearing completion.
The shared path will then connect the town centre with Wainui Reserve via the pedestrian overbridge at Papahua Campground, the Marine Parade and Wainui Road. At the reserve, existing footpaths lead to Ngarunui Beach and the popular Te Ara Kakariki mountain bike track.
The council says the cycleway will reduce traffic congestion on Wainui Road and free up parking space at the reserve and in town.
The path is also said to improve the beach’s accessibility for people who come to Raglan via public transport and make cycling and walking safer along the way due to the separation of the path and the road.
Another case for more bike-friendly connections – this one isn’t so much about tourism but a lovely article from Tasman about the way cycling adds life and interest to the daily round:
Tasman district councillor Kit Maling bought an electric bike and committed to biking to work three and a half years ago.
The retired policeman often gets a buzz when he can get places quicker on his bike than a car.
Maling made the commitment because of his concerns about climate change and for his own health.
The 69-year-old boasts of recently biking from Richmond to Nelson City Council in 31 minutes, when online maps told him driving during in peak traffic would have taken 44 minutes. You can also see so much more from a bicycle than a car, he says.
Maling enjoys “doing research” on his bike rides. He recently counted 38 bicycles parked outside the Tasman Council building, which suggests 10 percent of staff bike to work. He rode the Baton River cycle trail recently and noted four logging trucks passed him, “all going nice and slow”.
And speaking of Tasman District Council, here’s a nice video in which kids ride and review the tactical bike lanes recently installed in Richmond, with support from the Streets for People programme and Transport Choices. More of this, please!
As well as hopefully the end of bus disruptions, it appears our buses will finally be getting protective screens for drivers. This is a welcome change after a spate of assaults on bus drivers. The screens were seen as part of a press event with Transport Minister Michael Wood.
Two buses in Auckland have a trial screen between the driver and their passengers, and some 200 drivers have tested it and been surveyed on their feelings, Wood said.
The response has been “overwhelmingly positive” but it’s important the trial continues to roll out slowly and that the screen is designed properly.
“I’ll just be really clear that our bus drivers do an enormously important job for us. We’re not going to skimp on the importance of their safety.”
If the design doesn’t account for glare or other safety issues, it won’t work, he said. There is no time frame in mind before the screens are installed across the entire fleet of Auckland buses.
Big dogs on buses
From last Sunday Auckland Transport have allowed large dogs to travel on buses too – previously the policy only applied to small dogs.
Big dogs will be allowed on buses from Monday in an eight-week trial by Auckland Transport.
Small breeds have been allowed on public transport permanently since December and now buses will be taking larger pets.
Dogs that do not fit in approved carriers can start travelling on Auckland buses from Monday and if the trial is successful the change will be permanent.
The animals will have to be using an approved muzzle and be always on a leash.
Te Huia hits 100k
The Te Huia train between Hamilton and Auckland has reached the milestone of 100,000 passengers.
Despite a rough start to operations with low patronage, multiple cancellations, and scheduling problems, the Te Huia train service to and from Auckland has celebrated its 100,000th passenger.
The milestone was hit on Tuesday morning with officials announcing it had hit its two-year passenger number target and was contributing to lowering carbon emissions.
Launched in early April 2021, after a $98 million investment by the Government, Waikato Regional Council, Hamilton City Council, and Auckland Transport, the service came under fire from the National Party’s transport spokesperson Michael Woodhouse who said the service should be scrapped after just three months.
In June 2021, an average of just 35 people were catching the 6.28am train from Hamilton on weeks eight, nine and 10 of the service.
But things had changed by July 2022, when a half-price public transport move by the Government and scheduling improvements saw Te Huia fill up rapidly, with weekday average passenger numbers rising to 217.
Now, according to statistics from Waikato Regional Council, more than 320 people use the service daily.
This data below shows two years, from April 2021 up until the end of April 2023. You can see that as soon as services started up again following the long COVID-related pause of late 2021, average ridership on weekdays has continued to improve. The spikes you can see are school holidays.
And while we’re on the topic of intercity rail, France has banned short-haul flights where trains are available. We’ve clearly got a way to go before that’s a viable proposal here, but one worthwhile working towards.
A ban on short domestic flights for journeys that can be completed in two-and-a-half hours by train was signed into law in France on Tuesday (local time).
Clement Beaune, France’s transport minister, heralded the decree.
“This is an essential step and a strong symbol in the policy of reducing greenhouse gas emissions,” Beaune said in a statement.
“As we fight relentlessly to decarbonize our lifestyles, how can we justify the use of the plane between the big cities which benefit from regular, fast and efficient connections by train,” he added.
For the ban to apply, the EU insisted the air route in question must have a high-speed rail alternative that makes it possible to travel between the two cities in less than two-and-a-half hours. There must also be enough early and late-running trains to enable travellers to spend at least eight hours at the destination.
And, somewhat related:
How far can you travel by train within 5 hours?
— Lior Steinberg (@LiorSteinberg) May 18, 2023
Lessons from Shanghai
Chris Bentley writes about the contrast between living in Shanghai and Auckland, when it comes to how people get around.
…cities large and small, around the world, have demonstrated that a robust public transport system – along with safe options for pedestrians and cyclists – is the only way cities can grow and provide equitable access and connectivity for all residents.
Is Waka Kotahi closing the Harbour Bridge too often?
Waka Kotahi is being accused of being too risk-averse after closing the Auckland Harbour Bridge on five occasions on Saturday.
The transport agency lowered its threshold for closing all lanes of the bridge after it was damaged by a truck crash in 2020, and Devonport-Takapuna local board member George Wood believes it is now over-reacting.
Concerned about the “mayhem” caused by repeated closures, he wants Waka Kotahi to review its procedures for closing the bridge or look at alternative solutions.
“It seems ever since that truck hit the bridge they’ve got the jitters and they’re so risk averse that I think their reasoning and the way they do it needs to be looked at,” he told the Herald.
Wood, a former councillor, said the successive closures on Saturday, when wind gusts reached 91km/h, were frustrating.
“It seems that it shuts and then a short time later it opens again. So have they got better systems they could put in place to actually monitor the gusts?”
The truck crash in September 2020 was caused by a 127km/h gust of wind. It led to the closure of some of the bridge lanes for more than two weeks while repairs took place.
Before the incident, all lanes of the bridge were closed if the perpendicular wind speed was averaging 100-110km/h and the oblique wind speed was exceeding 120km/h. Those thresholds were lowered to 90km/h and 105km/h respectively in October 2020.
This wouldn’t have anything to do with a desire to build another harbour crossing would it?
Housing policy in the headlines
A surprising U-turn this week from National’s leader in favour of sprawl is raising eyebrows, and also hackles. Henry Cooke takes a good look at what it means if Luxon is scuttling the bipartisan agreement on housing reform.
And in the Spinoff, Ben Gracewood fulminates about how West Auckland is booming with new housing despite a series of policy “dick moves”, yet languishes well down the queue for the necessary infrastructure to keep things moving:
We’ve done all the right things and materially contributed to housing supply (and driving down house prices) at the cost of our own convenience and amenity. We’ve taken one for the team and are crammed here in our dormitory suburbs while the other half of the team sip lattes and Lime around like nothing has changed.
More greenfields development will only make this worse. Watering down the MDRS now will lock this doughnut city in stone for another decade.
Meanwhile in Austria: a long read in the NY Times looks at how Vienna has become a renters’ paradise – with a passing mention of our own housing policies.
And if you want to know what people really value about neighbourhoods, look no further than this great article (the first in a series) from Christchurch.
There were a number of key elements that fostered the perfect living environment, University of Canterbury geography professor Simon Kingham said, including less traffic, green spaces (parks and reserves), blue spaces (waterways), close proximity to amenities, and living in a well-defined community where there were places for people to gather.
Streets with slower or less traffic helped create community, allowing neighbours to chat over the street, and kids to play outside safely, he said, while the parks and reserves were places where people could gather “and they’re often where they’re walkable”.
People were more likely to stop, talk and interact with others while walking as opposed to cycling, and especially driving, he said.
“I had this lovely quote in a project from someone” which said: “One of the things I like about my neighbourhood is that it takes a long time to get anywhere.”
And here’s a very timely article from The Guardian reminding us of the many benefits of Low-Traffic Neighbourhoods. It points out that critics of LTNs are using the same old denialist playbook as tobacco companies and climate sceptics, to attempt to distract from the growing wealth of evidence that LTNs are proving highly effective:
The Guardian’s Pollutionwatch column recently explained the “clear evidence” that low-emissions zones work. There is also a huge weight of evidence that electric vehicles cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Likewise, the largest-ever review of LTNs, published in January, found they “substantially reduced motor traffic on internal roads, without having much impact on motor traffic on boundary roads”.
Tweets and threads of the week
It’s good to see that AT is further improving the the NW Bus improvements, which weren’t looking like much of an improvement before.
Thank you for listening to our community and installing bike racks, bus shelter sides and seats at the new Te Atatu bus interchange @AklTransport and @WakaKotahiAkNth. This will make PT users much more comfortable while waiting for their bus, especially on a rainy day. pic.twitter.com/0RX2yExGao
— Brooke Loader (@BrookeLoader) May 25, 2023
Compare and contrast this to Kiwirail’s work on the Eastern Line, with what looks like only a handful of people at any one time.
From streets to meadows. Imagine your local town centre looking like this:
“We are very happy to see how Broad Meadow turned out. During the project, the number of people coming to Broad Street and staying was a big change – you could definitely see a noticeable difference. Broad Meadow had a clear impact on our business."
– Hakim, owner of Cafe Creme pic.twitter.com/qrCnV4g19b
— Jonathan Berk (@berkie1) May 20, 2023
And, also on the topic of street changes – here’s a great before and after.
So much can change in a year! Utrecht is converting its inner ring road into a city boulevard with more space for green and for walking and cycling. Motor traffic keeps only one lane per direction. More info (in Dutch) https://t.co/80EYTsh2mT pic.twitter.com/EVllDFov4K
— Mark Wagenbuur (@BicycleDutch) May 23, 2023
Now, that’s a bike gang. Volume up for this one!
One way to clear a bike lane:
C PIKÓ pic.twitter.com/Go6NNy98tB
— World's dangerest cyclist (@BiciBandido) May 24, 2023
Quite a stark difference here. Note that the local example (from Wellington) is part of an interim treatment that will eventually be formalised, presumably in a more aesthetically pleasing form.
A thread of Wellington boosterism. What would the Auckland equivalent include?
Lots of doom and gloom about the nation’s capital these days, but I think in 3-5 years’ time things will be much, much brighter in Wellington. Why so? Let me count the reasons. 1/
— Max Rashbrooke (@MaxRashbrooke) May 21, 2023
The issue with large vehicles:
From Mastodon: it is unfair to compare a modern pickup truck to a tank because the M1 Abrams battle tank has better forward visibility and is less likely to run over our kids than a street legal consumer truck. pic.twitter.com/HlIUYt7w6E
— @email@example.com (@dannyman) May 23, 2023
This would be a useful change for the government to require of Waka Kotahi:
Now law in Minnesota: Highway expansions can't move forward unless they are paired with projects that reduce driving by enough to keep the state on track to meet VMT reduction goals (current goal is 20% per capita VMT decrease by 2050). https://t.co/mNDa2zXhJH
— Steven Higashide (@shigashide) May 24, 2023
Have a great weekend.