The Shared Path. Report on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods Out and we have a lot of work to do

Helen Clark Foundation Report is out on Low Traffic Neighbourhoods

Today the “The Shared Path – A RESEARCH PAPER BY HOLLY WALKER
VOLUME II: How low-traffic areas in Aotearoa’s cities can
decarbonise transport, save lives, and create the connected
urban communities we need in a post-pandemic future” is released by The Helen Clark Foundation.

The report was sent through to members yesterday and I have had read through it front to back. The report itself is made public today and I have placed a link below to it.

Opening Preamble

The report author Holly Walker of the Helen Clark Foundation gave this opening preamble to the report:

Everybody should be able to get where they need to go comfortably, safety, affordably, and in good time. We should all be able to travel in ways that protect the climate, reduce road deaths and accidents, and foster connection and community. Yet New Zealand has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world, private vehicles make up more than half of our transport emissions, and on average one person is killed every day on our roads.

We all had a taste of what our streets could be like with less traffic during the Level 4 lockdown, and people loved that they were quieter, friendlier, and safer for kids. We could have streets like this all the time, and there is a model for the change we need: the low-traffic neighbourhood. In low-traffic neighbourhoods, through-traffic is discouraged, it’s easy to walk and wheel, and there is space to play, talk, and connect. 

The report makes a number of recommendations for communities, councils, and central government to adopt low-traffic neighbourhoods at scale, including a nationwide strategy to decarbonise the transport system, a new legislative tool to make it easier to try out low-traffic projects, making reducing vehicle kilometres travelled part of our road safety strategy, and introducing city-wide transport emission reduction plans for councils.

-Holly Walker-

The cover page of the report

Although 25 pages long (reports do not need to be screeds and screeds of pixels like a Private Plan Change application) it succently puts the reason why Low Traffic Neighbours are needed and how they have worked here in Aotearoa and internationally.

It was noted when we were in Level 4 then Level 3 lockdowns owing to Covid that the streets and roads were much quieter and the quality of life had improved dramatically despite the economic disruption from those lockdowns. How so? The absence of cars in our streets and the ease of getting around via other modes particularly walking and cycling.

However, this utopia as it were would not last with the cars returning post lockdown and traffic now worse than ever (congestion has gotten worse). Rat running down residential streets has intensified and our Main Streets are choked full of cars as a consequence of everyone shopping local. These consequences lower the quality of our life in Auckland and have further consequences on the environment and our health.

To make matters worse Auckland Transport underwhelmed the City in rolling out any form of tactical urbanism during Level 4 lockdown. While international cities were rolling out instances of 70km or more of tactical urbanism in one sitting and in most cases making it permanent, Auckland Transport rolled out a measly 17km of tactical urbanism projects and proceeded to yeet them as soon as Level 4 was complete. To add insult to injury the Tactical Urbanism projects were confined to the Auckland Isthmus while the rest of the City got some signs and stickers. Put it this way, it made for some awkward questions and answers when I had to give examples of tactical urbanism being done in Auckland when I was doing my Tactical Urban short course earlier this year.

Fast forward to November 2020 and urbanism projects are being rolled out although at a very glacial pace from Auckland Transport and in part NZTA. South Auckland got five of the recent Tactical Urbanism projects including Papatoetoe West, and Manukau City Centre itself (see: Tactical Urbanism Reaches South Auckland! and STAND BY FOR ACTION: Tactical Urbanism Starting in Manukau City Centre Soon! )

The Concepts are pretty straight forward and follow what the report lays out:

  • Remove rat running out of residential streets, and Main Streets in town centres
  • Lower the speed limit
  • A functioning off peak transit system
  • Land use planning that is connected to our transport planning

Ironically none of the above need expensive billion dollar solutions but rather often what is known as quick wins. But quick wins unfortunately mean no expensive tenders for the big boys and no ribbon cutting ceremonies for the Mayor as the projects should be rolled out matter of fact like clock work at an industrial scale (so standardise, rinse and repeat) (so done as routine).

Proposed Main Street in the proposed Drury Town Centre (That is not how you do a Low Traffic Neighbourhood nor Main Street). Source: Kiwi Property.

That said any tactical urbanism projects should not preclude the community lest we want another Mangere Future Streets example where the Planners from the Isthmus came in and imposed a concept onto the community with no post implementation follow up… The situation is now resolved but the point being it should have never have gotten to the point it did in the first place with the community going hostile (they no longer are after community champions went into bat where the Council did not).

Feedback on the report

Feedback on the report was asked for and my only feedback is this: It is a very solid, well a laid out and easy to read report. It spells out the problem, the corrective action we need to take and examples of previous actions working well.

Consequently this means the report can be used as a very solid foundation in our toolkit to lobby Auckland Transport and Auckland Council to move a lot faster than are doing now. Because 5km/year of new cycleways, poor off peak frequencies, disconnected land-use and transport planning, rat running traffic is beyond unacceptable in the 21st Century (see: Noble Auckland Transport Commuter App Demonstrates What Auckland Already Knew – Our Transit System is Woeful and Reason for Poor Off Peak Transit Frequencies, and Freight Getting Held Up? Ask NZTA and Mayor Phil Goff for Stalling the $75m to make it happen )

Our Transport Agencies and Ministers are not up to scratch

I noticed this which is very alarming:

It’s surprising, then, that reducing VKT doesn’t feature in the government’s Road to Zero road safety strategy, which sets the ambitious and ethical goal of zero road deaths, and an interim target of halving the road toll in 10 years. To have a chance of success, the Road to Zero strategy should use every available tool. 

Driving less saves lives, but low-traffic areas aren’t on NZ’s road safety agenda

While surprising it actually is not. Not when the Minister for the Environment David Parker is on record saying that adding an extra lane to a highway reduces emissions and congestion despite international evidence pointing directly to the opposite. Adding that extra lane will add to VKT’s and drives the risk of crashes straight up! Furthermore our transport agencies still use Levels of Service, and the 85th Percentile both of which have been discredited by the NTSB over in the States itself as both methodologies put the emphasis on the flow at the expense of safety for every other user on the road corridor.

So the first thing we need to have done is to have the Ministers and all our transport agencies walk firmly away from Levels of Service, and the 85th Percentile right now! As soon as that is done we can finally get on top of reversing VKT’s thus reducing the carnage on our roads, and the ever increasing emissions from our transport system.

Speaking of which check this video out on how Levels of Service and the 85th Percentile when applied harm local communities:

If you survived that without rage quitting then well done. But it shows the reality we face – the belief that flow, and one more general lane will fix it despite the massive harm to communities it will cause.

But we can’t rely on individuals to drive less in a social and physical environment that doesn’t support it. 

Holly Walker – The Shared Path

That is a true and very clear statement. People take cues from the environment they are in. If the environment says drive then people will drive. If it says the opposite then they will do the opposite. So if the authorities do what the Transport Engineer wants to be done in the above video then yes people will drive, deaths and injuries go up, emissions go up, and quality of life goes down.

Remember: Transport begets land use, land use begets transport and both beget the user environment of a city!

So what to do?

The Low Traffic Neighbourhood

Planned low-traffic neighbourhoods are areas where through-traffic is discouraged. Instead, buses, trucks, and other vehicles stick to the main roads, and car access is reserved for residents, deliveries, and emergency services. Inside the low-traffic area, creative measures like wider footpaths, bollards, planting and new public spaces encourage residents to make greater use of alternative modes such as walking, wheeling or cycling for short local trips.

Driving less saves lives, but low-traffic areas aren’t on NZ’s road safety agenda

Your primary objective is basically stop rat running and also stop large trucks parking on residential streets. My road that I live on has the rat running problem as drivers are too lazy to continue down an arterial road to reach another arterial road. Some bollards cutting access off to one of the access road to my road, some speed tables at the road entrances, and some curb build outs to narrow the road to one lane would deter most rat runners while not interfering with the garbage truck. The solution is not expensive and can be rolled out inside a month but encouraging Auckland Transport to do this will be an interesting task.

Otahuhu Town Centre to get some intervention including lower speed limits. Source: Auckland Transport

But it is an example of creating a Low Traffic Neighbourhood in an area undergoing rapid intensification that backs onto a very large park and has lots of walkers and cyclists down it.

Another example is closing Osterley Way in Manukau to cars. Again this stops rat running through a high pedestrian and high amenity area of Manukau and forces the cars to circumnavigate the area on the main roads where they belong (see: #OurManukau Transform Work Continues. What Does Panuku have in mind for Osterley Way? )

Turning Osterley Way from a rat run into a high amenity pedestrian space linking the transit stations, MIT and the mall.

Finally a support measure for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods is a decent transit system nearby. 20-30 minute off peak frequencies, and transit times being longer than it would take to use a car is not the definition of a decent transit system. That is the definition of an inadequate transit system (see: Reason for Poor Off Peak Transit Frequencies, and Freight Getting Held Up? Ask NZTA and Mayor Phil Goff for Stalling the $75m to make it happen and Noble Auckland Transport Commuter App Demonstrates What Auckland Already Knew – Our Transit System is Woeful ) which will not support a Low Traffic Neighbourhood. Thankfully the solution for it straight forward and Auckland Transport are ready to go to expand the transit system. The hold up is Auckland Council, and NZTA signing the cheque for $75m/year to make it happen.

Brand new E Bus. Source: Auckland Transport

In the end the report spells out what needs to be down to create Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. None of the interventions to make it happen are expensive and most can be done using standardised but off-the-shelf tools and designs. Policy wise the policy is already in position given Auckland Transport has adopted Vision Zero. What is lacking is the will from Executive Management, and the Board of Directors to make it happen.

Because if I am waiting two years for 75 metres of yellow lines to be painted on Lambie Drive to allow a cycle lane to be complete then something is awfully wrong if we are following vision zero and other tactical urbanism interventions.

Remember:

Everybody should be able to get where they need to go comfortably, safety, affordably, and in good time. We should all be able to travel in ways that protect the climate, reduce road deaths and accidents, and foster connection and community. Yet New Zealand has one of the highest rates of car ownership in the world, private vehicles make up more than half of our transport emissions, and on average one person is killed every day on our roads. We all had a taste of what our streets could be like with less traffic during the Level 4 lockdown, and people loved that they were quieter, friendlier, and safer for kids. We could have streets like this all the time, and there is a model for the change we need: the low-traffic neighbourhood. In low-traffic neighbourhoods, through-traffic is discouraged, it’s easy to walk and wheel, and there is space to play, talk, and connect. The report makes a number of recommendations for communities, councils, and central government to adopt low-traffic neighbourhoods at scale, including a nationwide strategy to decarbonise the transport system, a new legislative tool to make it easier to try out low-traffic projects, making reducing vehicle kilometres travelled part of our road safety strategy, and introducing city-wide transport emission reduction plans for councils.

-Holly Walker- – The Shared Path

The report”

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