Tis the winter solstice! The shortest day and longest night of the year. The good news: we’re on our way back to summertime. Here’s another roundup of stories to brighten up your Friday.

Our header image is from CRL and shows Waihorotiu Station lit up for Matariki 2024

The week in Greater Auckland

Greater things are possible!

An important research paper just dropped: it’s by Eleanor West, and called Up-zoning New Zealand: the localisation of a globally mobile policy idea. It’s a case study of the passing of the National Policy Statement on Urban Development (NPS-UD, 2020) and the Medium Density Residential Standards (MDRS, 2021), and asks: how did it all go so right?

To understand the success factors behind this big bi-partisan win, Eleanor spoke to a range of participants and observers, including central government politicians, civil servants, economists, journalists, and:

One former member of ‘Generation Zero’, one present member of the ‘Coalition for More Homes’, the editor of urbanism blog ‘Greater Auckland’, and the user behind an influential pseudonymous Twitter account.

Not to toot our own horn, but: the paper also highlights the role Greater Auckland played in advancing the conversation “and acting as a site of ‘encounter, persuasion, and motivation'”.

Anyhow, check it out – it’s a great read, and a good reminder of how progress happens. By our powers combined!

Feedback closing Sunday: ask AT to keep a raised crossing that protects thousands of us!

Once again, AT is seeking input on its $122m redesign of Carrington Road to accommodate the travel movements of thousands of expected new residents on the former Unitec site, and to provide better travel choices for the neighbourhood. It involves:

  • road widening to add bus lanes while keeping lanes for all sorts of driving movements
  • much-needed protected cycleways that will tie into those inside the new residential area
  • more crossings than currently exist, and raised tables at most side-street entrances.

However – due to AT leadership taking direction from the new government rather than its own research, the crossings on Carrington Road won’t be raised. Bizarrely, this includes the existing raised crossing that’s an integral part of the NW cycleway, one of the most strategic routes on the network.

This crossing was raised in 2019 specifically to make it safer, and currently sees a thousand cycle crossings per day. That’s 365,000 people on bikes per year. Add in pedestrians, wheelchair users, and other kinds of micromobility users, and that’s easily half a million humans a year already using this raised crossing.

So it would be a shockingly dangerous precedent for AT to literally lower its safety standards here. You can tell them that – and comment on other aspects of the design – via this handy pin-drop map.

Feedback is open until Sunday 23 June.  Bike Auckland has a good guide here and they’ve also made a great video that explains the raised crossing issue in a nutshell.

Experts and communities alarmed as government speeds away from the evidence

Speaking of safety: the proposed new Setting of Speed Limits rule is open for feedback until Thursday 11 July. It’s attracting a great deal of attention for its intention to raise speeds in cities and neighbourhoods back up to a blanket 50 km/h, with no carve-out for community support for existing safe speed zones, and time-limited exceptions only for a very short distance around school gates.

Newsroom points out the requirement for cost/ benefit analyses for any changes to speed limits, which would include factors like safety, travel time, and cost, which may have an ironic outcome:

ViaStrada principal transportation engineer and transportation planner Dr Glen Koorey said such an analysis would likely show lower speed limits were the way to go.

“I think there’s a lot that may stay put … I think that’s going to be a key argument for a lot of people, they’ll say actually, we’ve seen a safety gain so why would we go backwards?”

Also at Newsroom, a strong op-ed by public health experts Alistair Woodward, Dr Kirsty Wild, and Dr Jamie Hosking lays out the facts:

Permanent low-speed zones […] were supported by 78 percent of school leaders in Tāmaki Makaurau’s recent speed-management plan consultation and will be abolished if the new Land Transport Rule is adopted. [They] were supported by close to 80 percent for good reason: these are more effective than variable speed limits at preventing deaths and injuries, and cheaper to implement.

And in another banger at The Spinoff, Joel McManus asks why this government is so keen on localism in theory, but not in practice:

In the past few years, several councils reduced speed limits on central city streets or near schools. Some changes were required by Waka Kotahi, but many others were because local communities thought slower speed limits would lead to higher retail spending or fewer children being run over. Once again, that was the wrong opinion. The government is now stepping in to reverse every speed limit that has been lowered since 2020.

Speaking of local communities making their own transport decisions, too many councils are building footpaths, bike lanes and other things that aren’t roads. Like an exasperated parent of an unruly teen, the government had to step in again. The new GPS for transport funding restricts how footpaths can be funded and halves the money available for walking and cycling projects. It’s like giving your kids an allowance that they can only spend at the school uniform shop. Local communities will be empowered to make the right transport decisions for their local area, as long as it is a road.

The not-so-hidden costs of PPPs

Duncan Grieve at the Spinoff considers the government’s pitch for private-public partnerships (PPPs) as a way to build the “nice things” we want but can’t afford. From our point of view, the issue is less that it’s about “user pays”, and more that modern PPPs are just not a good deal for New Zealanders, given:

  • PPPs mean we end up paying commercial interest rates to foreign finance companies when the government could have borrowed the money cheaper – so, we’re paying more for the same infrastructure.
  • Shifting from a pay-as-you-go to a debt model is a one-time opportunity to do some major stuff – and it seems this government is determined to use it to lock in the most backwards-looking infrastructure.
  • We don’t currently have the industry capacity for the scale of infrastructure the government wants to build – so we need to import it at much higher costs, which makes these projects even more expensive.

A greater Great North Road is growing closer…

Good to see this update in the AT Board papers for June, saying that GNR construction is planned to start in October, exactly two years since it was suddenly paused on the brink of delivery. An unbelievable and pointless delay, given the degree of public support from over fifty community groups and organisations!

An upgrade is well overdue for this increasingly residential boulevard, and comes just in time to support upcoming developments in the neighbourhood, like this nice-looking update to the building on the corner of Scanlan St, as well as a planned 11-storey high-rise at the GNR end of Karangahape Road, set to be New Zealand’s tallest timber-framed building.

A planned revamp for the building at 137 Great North Road on the corner of Scanlan St. “The building, which has the working title of ‘Mist’, but is due to be gifted a name by mana whenua, will slot into this smart corridor where there are improvements planned to upgrade cycle routes and walkability.” Quote and image: RTA Studio

Back in the saddle in Tāmaki Makaurau

A nice read by Tony Hutcheson, who’s been reacquainting himself with how it feels to cycle in this city. He praises recent additions, like the Glen Innes to Tamaki Drive path, “an exceptional piece of work from Waka Kotahi and Auckland Transport in every regard”, and ye olde Pink Path:

The Pink Cycle Path, formerly known as the Nelson Street Off-Ramp, [is] a stroke of pure genius. I’d looked down on it often enough from K’Rd but riding along it you really get the feeling that someone (Max Robitzsch to be exact) really wanted to deliver for cycling in Auckland.

Plus some random nostalgic fun:

As kids we’d carry our bikes around the rocks from Milford, grab a massive ice cream from the dairy near the Takapuna boat ramp (fancy cafe now) and ‘ride’ back. This … was every bit as cool as I remembered. “You guys are mad”, “How much of this is ridable?”; I remember all the same comments from other trail users back in the day but now they were delivered in a tone and with a look that also said “You should know better”.

All the while I’m thinking, “I should do this more often”.

See you on the street this Thursday!

Dreams come true: Karangahape Road is pedestrianising the block between Queen St and Pitt St, 3pm – 10pm on Thursday 27 June for a Matariki party. More about the full programme of fun here!

It reminds us of this render from LandLAB’s 2016 concept design for K Road. Maybe one day all town centres will feel like this?

Bonus photo of the week

From the City Centre Residents’ Group via Twitter, gazing down into Britomart station.

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  1. The MDRS hasn’t been particularly successful in Auckland, though. Not only due to the constant delays to hearings and decisions on Plan Change 78, with the Ministers keep approving Council’s extension requested (which, in my opinion, were based on flimsy arguments). Council’s interpretation of “qualifying matter area”, where the MDRS does not have immediate legal effect, is problematic. It includes all of the Auckland Airport airspace designation, which wipes almost all of South Auckland and lots of lower Central Auckland, despite the airspace restriction being well above the 11 m height limit of the MDRS. It also includes all overland flow paths, which run through large swathes of older suburbia (due to less stormwater management in subdivision design back then). Neither of these are mapped on the PC78 planning maps. When then including everything on the PC78 maps (including viewshafts etc.) you are left with a very small percentage of properties that the MDRS can be applied to right now – especially since Council has determined that if any part of a site has a QM, then all of the site is in a QM area, even if the proposed dwellings are not within that part of the site where a QM applies (e.g. if the overland flow path is at the back of your lot, where you aren’t even proposing buildings, bad luck). Then to cap it all off, central government will make the MDRS optional and Auckland will jump on the chance to withdraw Plan Change 78 and leave us back with the AUP as it is now. The legislation should have been drafted a lot better, to remove the potential for Councils to use loopholes to their advantage. Not to mention that Auckland Council should have been taken to Court by the government for not applying the MDRS to the Light Rail Corridor!

    1. As a transport engineer though, I feel the removal of parking minima has also been enormously beneficial for urban development too, despite all the other concerns you raise above – and despite me as a transport engineer not getting to make money anymore writing endless reports as to why it is acceptable in a *city* to provide fewer than two car parks per dwelling!

    2. Auckland Council officers are grand masters of the art of delaying and complicating any Government initiative to the point where it is defeated. They did it with HAASHA and the Special Housing, they have done their level best to make sure Resource Consents have to comply with arbitrary rules rather than simply mitigate effects, and they have tried to ‘save’ Auckland from its own Unitary Plan. Of course they can make a complete dog’s dinner out of the MDRS and NPS-UD.

    3. My hope is still high for the original NPS-UD clauses.

      Wellington has fully implemented it, plus extras. Chris Bishop has told Christchurch no to any extensions, get those 6 story apartments zoned by the original deadline.

      Further Auckland exceptionalism would look bad I think. Especially when it comes to something Auckland should have been the leader on.

  2. Central government needs to butt out of local planning and let cities evolve as they want to. Just give them the means to do it and leave them alone.

    1. The irony though is that on planning, our cities / councils are often more regressive than national govt levels. “Leave them alone” hasn’t worked that well when certain interest groups / political schools of thought have a practical stranglehold on zoning policy at a local council level.

    2. Central government has a legitimate interest in planning laws as high housing costs result in demands for housing subsidies. In addition, local government elections have poor turnout, especially by younger people and by renters. It is reasonable for these groups to lobby central government to require policies that make housing affordable.

  3. Auckland Transport has no justification to remove the existing raised pedestrian crossing in Carrington Road. Their refusal to add more raised crossings is a big wet slap in the face to road safety professionals, disability advocates…and indeed anyone who wants to make it safer and easier to walk.

    Listen up, AT. You do not “balance” expert, empirical, peer-reviewed road safety studies with the tedious reckons of a few pub bores.

    How about sticking with evidence and accepting that, while you cannot please all the people all of the time, better streets make for a better city?

    1. “Listen up, AT. You do not “balance” expert, empirical, peer-reviewed road safety studies with the tedious reckons of a few pub bores.”

      I would not dare to call our transport minister a pub bore. I have no idea whether he’s an engaging person or not.

      He certainly has made it clear that on arterials (like Carrington) he doesn’t want to see any new traffic calming, and wants the old traffic calming removed. Auckland Transport is just acting as his delivery agency, ain’t it? That’s something else he keeps saying – just do what we want.

  4. “The government is now stepping in to reverse every speed limit that has been lowered since 2020”
    Little bit of a lie can we fact check please reading through the consultation document a lot of the 100-80 limits can stay and a lot of the lower shared zone limits 10,20 can stay as well.

    1. Read that as “every speed limit except some State Highway changes that may be kept”.
      See the Trump-like use of repeated lies to make a new truth – the only ‘blanket’ change is the one proposed by the Minister. All the changes under the 2020 Rule were robustly investigated, Benefit-Cost reviewed, publicly consulted and applied only where the need was shown.
      Or maybe the other ‘blankets’ are those thrown over the consultation comments that will come in from professionals like Glen Koorey and TRAFINZ, or over the head of the Minister as he chants, “Not listening, not listening…”

    2. Can you explain that a bit more? The consultation document says “speed limit reductions introduced since 1 January 2020 on local streets will be reversed. Speed limit reductions made since that date on arterial roads will be reversed. Speed limit reductions on rural State highways since that date will also be reversed, unless there is demonstrated public support to keep the lower speed.”

      There is a process for a consultation to retain the lower limits but the time frame (a few months early next year) is pretty tight and who can say what the outcome would be.

      However as I read Section 12.3 of the proposed Rule, if a council (or NZTA in the case of a state highway) do decide after consultation to keep the lower speed, then (except in the case of limits outside schools), then the lower speed will be retained.

      1. After consultation- repeat at public expense of consultation already done. Would be good if consultation did not need to be repeated. Bad enough having to pay for a huge lot of economic assessments under new rules to come up with the same result.

      2. The way I’ve read it from the classifications is the 30 zones that only about 20% of drivers seem to follow anyway will go into 50 depending on the road/support. Shared zones will stay at 10 or 20K rather than go back to 50 (makes sense). Rural roads that can be driven at 100 will probably keep their 80k limits depending on what the RCA wants to do but a lot of the ones reduced to 60 will come back to 80. Unsealed roads won’t go back to 100 will stay at 60 likely. Many 30 zones in cities likely to be 40 instead of 50. And windy rural roads can keep their 60-80 rather than back to 100. Definitely not “every” speed limit being reversed anyway.

    3. Nelson City reduced the speed limit of the CBD to 30km/h in late 2020 and under the government’s draft proposal there would be no grounds to reverse that change back to the old 50 km/h. Other councils have already come out saying similar things, that a lot of the changes made in the last four years will likely not fall into the category for reversal.
      The government is clearly got its sight set on a few state highways and a few local roads, located in targeted National electorates, and need this legislation to enforce the reversals, despite all the evidence showing reducing the speeds was the correct thing to do.

  5. ” the paper also highlights the role Greater Auckland played in advancing the conversation “and acting as a site of ‘encounter, persuasion, and motivation’”.”

    Meanwhile: “Experts and communities alarmed as government speeds away from the evidence”

    As I’ve said before: these kinds of blogs only have any real-world impact when the powers-that-be aren’t ideologically opposed to listening to them. When the politicians just decide something like “Bikes Are Woke” or similar nonsense, this blog is high and dry and spluttering until the political tides turn again.

  6. Might go up to 40 if it’s 30K in the city from the looks of the guidance. The main target with this proposal is obviously to get rid of any permanent 30k areas which isn’t a big deal as there wasn’t a lot of compliance anyway. And putting major arterials like Te Irirangi drive back to 80km/h from its current 60km/h. Anyway don’t see the issue here “economic impacts – including travel times – and the views of road users and local communities are taken into account, alongside safety.” If people are so confident there is strong support and sufficient evidence what have you got to worry about. Unless you know that there isn’t strong support and it does increase travel time despite all the claims.

    1. A lot of people get hung on strict compliance of lowered speed limits as if that’s the aim of the exercise but, back in the real world, the main aim is reducing the current observed speeds. E.g. in the absence of any other street/external changes, a 10km/h drop in posted speed limits often only sees about a 2-3kmh drop in observed mean speeds. Doesn’t sound much but collectively those little drops make a big difference to the reductions in casualties (as seen time and time again when it’s been done around NZ).

  7. How can you say it’s not the aim of the exercise when that’s what all the messaging from govt has been about. NZTA buying heaps of Redflex cameras in anticipation of the enforcement job at hand and they will start issuing tickets at a low tolerance. Yet when drivers got their licence 5K over was ok lol we have set people up to fail.

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