The ocean? You sure?

So in theory, you go down St Mary Street, in Auckland, facing the ocean. And at the bottom, you are really near the ocean, and also near the super active Winyard quarter. But, between you and the ocean, flows a mighty highway. And so you arrive at the bottom, and you are welcomed by a sound barrier and an information panel saying Discover Auckland’s Original Foreshore!

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The discovery is quite virtual, to be true. It shows lovely pictures of a past when the said foreshore was used by the locals for walking, sunbathing, navigating or swimming.

I couldn’t help imagine what the coast could look like, today, in the absence of the highway. A coastal promenade immediately came to mind, with active cafes and shops, and in the background some right density living and offices, with public spaces and walkable environments that encourage the access to the promenade. People would probably speak of how great it is to be living in such a pleasant neighborhood and yet be able to be in the CBD in 10 minutes by bicycle. New Plymouth did a great job re-owning its coast, and the success is seen in all the mentions the path gets as the local tourist attraction, but also by the numbers of people enjoying it and the diversity of users.

Now imagine Auckland had that, and then someone suggested building a highway there, right at the foreshore. I don’t know about you, but I would see protests, if that someone was invested with power, or wondering about how on earth you could imagine killing the goose that lays golden eggs. The idea would seem quite extreme, right?

The thing is, the infrastructure has been inherited, and probably accepted as part of the status quo. Maybe even seen as necessary, for the city’s functioning?

Experiences around the world show however that it’s never too late to re-imagine our environments! And that “extreme” or even “crazy” solutions can actually work, and rather well (look at Paris closing its arterials along the Seine, or the general movement of cities planning to ban the car from their centers, totally unimaginable 20 years ago).

To be continued… Fill the blank with your thoughts!

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Imagine what we could do

Imagine if a little side street, in a bustling neighborhood, was indeed treated as… a little side street. It would allow cars to access and park, and provide them with the necessary space, but not more. And with the leftover space? Well we could for instance provide for those who live there, and who could do with a little public space? or with a little green? some urban furniture for kids maybe? or a cafe’s terrace? The environment could also be friendly and accessible for all those who walk through the neighborhood (and maybe even encourage them to come more often, spend more time there, or visit the shops…). These nasty road signs could be gone too, and a continuous sidewalk would replace the existing 18 m (!) crossing.

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Pink strikes back, and leaves all that room to your imagination!

 

Efficiency, you said?

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In Auckland, the $30 million Te Atatu Rd corridor project was designed with the objective to “improve efficiency and safety” for an estimated 38,000 vehicles per day.

Improving for the cars, you say, in a city already choked by traffic? As if it was not bad enough, the design shows:

  1. a total lack of awareness of the pedestrians’ needs – all the pedestrians, including walking aid or wheelchair users, children buggy pushers, or just a fit 20-y-old temporarily on crutches
  2. 0 consideration for the pedestrian design guidelines
  3. a clear vision of who has the priority, on these “intersections”
  4. a carriageway design coming straight from the 60s, with a wide shoulder and a stripped median (approx. 5 m of gauge lost)

Thirty millions. Built to last… And designed so that a future retrofit of the footpaths will require demolishing the existing ones, and putting the carriageway on a well-deserved diet.

It’s pretty tragic.

Dangerous by design

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Pedestrian fatalities are stagnating in US, as they are in NZ. Bridget Burdett, Accessibility Specialist and Principal Researcher at TDG, reminded the fact lately, saying that “whatever we are doing, we are doing it wrong”.

The 2 countries are comparable by a strongly car-oriented environment. In the US, some 4,600 people die every year while walking, struck and killed by a driver. The inequity is strong, with poor communities experiencing comparatively more dangerous environments, relying more on walking as a cheap transport mode, but also having lower rates of insurance coverage, and suffering therefore higher consequences of crashes.

People walk along these roads despite the clear safety risk. This is not user error. Rather, it is a sign that these streets are failing to adequately meet the needs of everyone inĀ  community.

Dangerous by Design 2016 is Smart Growth America’s review of the epidemic of crashes involving pedestrians, in the US, and the cities’ and states’ action.

Without surprise, the recommendation is to (finally) take pedestrians into account, in the planning, design, and redesign. On major arterial roads (NZ has a lot of them, cutting through towns, neighborhoods and communities), they recommend better footpaths, better and safer crossings, and lower speeds.

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Need permission

In Auckland, in the busy/trendy Newmarket neighborhood, with bunches of shops and restaurants, you have free parking*, and as a pedestrian, you need to ask the permission to cross the parking entrance/exit! This is also meters from the light rail station but obviously traffic still has right of way.

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* Of course, there’s no such thing as free parking, it has land, building, maintenance and operation costs, that need to be covered by someone. And this someone is often everyone, through taxes. So if you don’t drive, you are basically subsidizing those who do!

Donald Shoup became a rockstar studying parking and its perverse effects (yes that’s possible!), highly recommended reading. Here you’ll find his brilliant free dessert analogy and info about his publications.

All equal?

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I would like to think so. Fact is, though, the left hand side moves along with a 2-t privacy bubble, possibly at speed, possibly threatening the right hand side, and possibly also using the public space and altering the environment for other users (if it was parked, and a child was to cross the street, he/she would have no visibility until stepping on the carriageway, for instance).

(Picture from unknown source)

Speed vs humans

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The evidence is over-whelming: speed kills. All residential areas, everywhere, should have max speed limit 30Kph/20Mph or less. No excuses. – Gil Penalosa

And lower speeds also allow people to cross the street and interact more easily, and provide environments that feel safer for cycling (and again, accessing the school, shop, or friends’ house).