What about that traffic jam last weekend at Cornwall Park! People came to see the cherry blossom. What they had to put up with was long queues of cars full of other people who had, yes, come to see the cherry blossom.
It's called Peak Auckland. You'll see the same thing in the grammar zone before and after school, and around many other schools too. People stuck in traffic because they believe it's more convenient to drive, because they assume they can drive anywhere and everywhere at any time, or because they believe it's safer. The principal danger being traffic.
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In defence of drivers, they do get a lot of signals that they're right. The organisers of the Sandringham Street Festival, which has been held every year for 20 years, were told by Auckland Transport (AT) to cancel the event this year.
The reason: there were events at Eden Park, there's a concert at Mt Smart, a cruise ship will be visiting, they don't like people walking on the road.
Okay, they didn't say the last one, but the others are so absurd they might as well have. A much-loved street festival, a neighbourhood event that most people will probably walk to, gets cancelled because somewhere else, kilometres away, other people are driving around?
Auckland Transport tells itself it has a "number one priority": safety. That's nonsense. It may be an aspirational goal, but the truth is, AT is almost entirely organised around one central idea: let the cars get through.
And its demonstrably not very good at it.
Maybe that idea sounds sensible. Few people can walk to Mt Smart or even Eden Park and public transport isn't good enough to help everyone. If you keep the traffic moving, the people in the cars will have a better time. It's not like pedestrians are different people from motorists: most of us are both.
But is it really sensible? If we had a more pedestrian-friendly city, how would our motorist selves miss out? Would there be more congestion, as the officials who canned the Sandringham event clearly believe, or would there be less?
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How do you create a city that genuinely favours pedestrians? And how do you ensure everyone benefits?
To do it, first and most important, you have to ask: what do pedestrians need? And then fit the rest around it.
IN A SMALL but significant way, they've started this week in High St. The bottom block, from Shortland St up to Vulcan Lane, has been transformed. A boardwalk has been installed on the west side, extending the footpath over the space that used to be allocated to car parks. Planter boxes line the outer edge. On the east side, some loading zone parks have been retained, but no other parking, and there is a new bike stand and more planters.
Cars can still drive through, but 13 parks have gone and pedestrians have room to move. As mayor Phil Goff said when he launched the project on Wednesday, when you walk down there now "you don't have to pull your shoulders in".
It's phase one, and it's a trial. In February the wider footpath will be extended further up the street, and there'll be more after that. When they widen the footpath outside Cornerbar in Hotel DeBrett, tables and chairs will clearly establish the changed nature of the street.
Cam Perkins, who heads up the council's City Centre Project Design team, has much bigger plans in mind. "The rest of the street and the rest of the city," he said on Wednesday. A dapper Australian with twinkly eyes and a bristly beard, he looked like he wanted to laugh and shout and run about.
With good reason: the future of High St has been in dispute for years. Then late in 2018 the council authorised the Auckland Design Office, to which Perkins' team belongs, to get cracking with Access for Everyone (A4E), its programme to make the city more pedestrian friendly. Trials were supposed to start in March, then August. Finally it's happening.
High St is the loveliest street in the city but retailers have resisted closing it to traffic, fearing that would scare away customers. The breakthrough came when Perkins spearheaded a new style of consultation. No more the endless cycle of proposals, angry meetings, more proposals, more angry meetings.
He started again with an approach called "co-design". What do you want to do? he asked. How could business be improved for retailers by improving the life of the street for everyone on it? You tell us how to make it happen.
"Co-design means the design outcomes are led by the people who use the street," Perkins told me.
Jordan Gibson, who runs the clothing store Checks, is one of those people. He talked about the importance of people being able to stop and look in shop windows, without jamming up all the other people walking past.
"And hospitality is so important," he added. "It's great for all the retailers, people can see at a glance that people enjoy themselves here. That's what the tables outside do for us."
Sheronika Chandra, from Hotel DeBrett, said they were "very excited" about the project, and excited too that it was happening with such little disruption.
"You compare it to O'Connell St, just a block away, which took so long. This was quick, they did it in three nights. And it's not permanent, it's a trial. They can play around with ideas."
Viv Beck of Heart of the City, the central city business association, said the real innovation isn't the wider footpaths. "It's the collaborative process. And the idea they can try things, if it doesn't work it's easy to change and make it better."
The raised wooden footpath has trapdoors to allow access to manhole covers. Perkins said the next iteration could be to make the whole thing easily moveable.
"We have to solve problems locally. Where will the rubbish go? The answer has to fit with the street, it might be different on another street. That's fine. We'll work these things out as we go."
While we were standing there talking a man came over and said he was the guy who waterblasts graffiti off the buildings. He wanted to know where he was going to park his truck.
Perkins talked to him. The answer would depend on when he did the work. He couldn't rock up in the middle of the day to do it, but he could in the early morning.
Previously, that kind of problem would have stopped change in its tracks. Now, it's something that needs a workaround, so they'll find one. The needs of a service worker are fitted to the needs of the pedestrians.
Beck pointed out they'd kept some loading zone parks and said they'd been experimenting with the council's parking building at the other end of the street too. "Some tradies, that's a good solution. Park there for the day and get to work. But others need to park closer. We'll keep working on it."
HIGH ST is on a walking route that runs from Customs St up through Fort Lane and Jean Batten Place, and after High St continues on Lorne St all the way to Rutland St and Aotea Square.
"These are our laneways," said Perkins. "They're the real thing."
But how much is that true? This isn't a pedestrian-friendly city, not yet. Wider footpaths, fewer car parks (and slower speeds) and planters on an inner city street: they're the easy bit.
What's going to happen on Hobson St and Nelson St? Twin one-way arterials leading on and off the motorway, they're also home to thousands of people, many of whom are children who walk those roads every day on their way to and from Freemans Bay School.
And what about Fanshawe St? It's another motorway access ramp, but it has a major bus station and it divides the very popular Victoria Park from the waterfront precinct of the Wynyard Quarter, which is filling fast with workers and residents. The pedestrian count on Fanshawe St is rising.
The use of all three streets has changed, and a pedestrian-friendly city would have responded to that, with wider footpaths, slower speeds and better ways for pedestrians to cross. Instead, the needs of people walking have come last.
The result: they're among the most dangerous streets in Auckland, especially if you're on foot.
RIGHT NOW in Auckland, half the deaths and serious injuries (DSIs) we suffer are to people hit by vehicles, the overall number has soared by 78 per cent over the four years to 2017.
Auckland Transport, responding to those stark facts, will decide on Tuesday whether to lower the speed limits on 828km of the city's roads. About 12 per cent of the total. The proposal has been widely consulted on and is part of a larger safety strategy that also includes road design, enforcement and driver education.
There are two options for Hobson, Nelson and Fanshawe: 40km/h or 30km/h. The AA opposes them both, saying they should stay at 50km/h because they're motorway feeders.
Ironically, when you allow traffic on a street like Hobson to speed and stop its way along, all vehicles end up delayed. Every car braking causes a compounding ripple back along the line behind. The best way to move heavy traffic is at a slow and steady speed, with phased lights. As it happens, that's best for pedestrians too.
Not all drivers grasp that, so AT has another stark fact to contend with. In its consultation, the roads for which most submitters wanted the existing speed limits kept included Tamaki Drive, the Coatesville Riverhead Highway and the Whitford-Maraetai Rd, along with Nelson, Hobson and Fanshawe Sts. All are among the most dangerous in the city.
It's almost as if the more dangerous a road is to pedestrians, the more some motorists want to keep it that way.
HOW TO MAKE A PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY CITY IN 10 EASY STEPS
1. Start with the needs of pedestrians and fit everything around them
The footpaths in Cornwall Park are rubbish. Why doesn't it have wide walking boulevards for families to wander along? Why are cars allowed to drive all through it?
One of the best things done for Auckland visitors was the road closure on Maungawhau/Mt Eden. You can slog up the steep road or wander around the hill on the gentle one, and both options are great. So is the vehicle-free summit.
Why hasn't that thinking been applied widely in the city?
Most "shared spaces" – like Fort St, Federal St and Elliott St – have devolved informally into a narrow roadway with wide footpaths. But those roadways are used overwhelmingly by Ubers, taxis and courier vans. Why do we have whole street systems for those vehicles? Why not, for example, just close Jean Batten Place?
If a shopping village like Sandringham wants to have a street festival, fantastic. It's the best use of a street, because the community values are enormous and we should treasure them. They should come first.
If big events threaten to clog up the streets with traffic, pile on the public transport. Rugby does it successfully with trains and buses to Eden Park, because the rugby union pays. That system desperately needs to be evolved.
Why aren't pedestrian crossings far more common at intersections? Because cars are prioritised. But why?
And what about Tamaki Drive? On fine weekends, there are pedestrians everywhere and the traffic clogs up completely. The traffic-management plan and the people-enjoying-themselves plan are simply to pretend it isn't happening. Just let people get stuck in traffic and hope no one gets run over. But people do get run over.
It's nuts. See below.
2. Involve street users in the planning
Don't do what Auckland Transport did in Mt Albert, with endless roadworks producing an unlovely and unwanted result. Use co-design principles: engage early, and give everyone – retailers, shoppers, locals – a genuine sense of ownership.
It's not a coincidence, by the way, that Cam Perkins and the Auckland Design Office are not part of AT. They're in the central council organisation. There's a working relationship between the two, but it's uneasy.
3. Take little steps and don't spend lots of money
Physically, the change on High St is tiny. But it will build support – where there are doubters, it's always better to show than tell. And if it works it will lead to something enormous.
At Sale St and Wellesley St, a corner busy with pedestrians and traffic, the ADO has used planter boxes and some paint to trial making a dangerous intersection safer. It's working.
In contrast, the rest of that Wellesley St block, under the control of AT, is a nightmare, with no crossings and many speeding buses. AT has done nothing about it.
AT has produced its slower speeds plan as a king-hit for 800km of roads because the legal processes are easier to manage that way. But it's poor politics. Show rather than tell, step by step, would have been an easier way to build support.
4. Trial and trial again
If it doesn't work, they can change it and change it again. It costs nothing to move planters around and sometimes no budget brings out the best creative thinking.
5. Customise the solutions for each problem
Service and delivery vehicles need to get in, so do tradies. That's fine. Work with them to create a plan. The key is not to let those problems dictate the project. You solve the problem of rubbish collection in the context of a pedestrian-friendly space; you don't decide that because you need to collect rubbish it has to stay a street for trucks.
6. Make the pedestrian zones wonderful
Get artists and designers involved. Don't leave the village street filled with ugly green paint and yellow glowsticks. You want everyone to want to spend more time there. The retailers want that too.
7. Make it better not to drive
Excellent public transport, good facilities to park away from the site, a good cycling network, good footpaths leading there. All of this is critical.
8. Promote the benefits
That would be safety, improved street life, more retail customers, more engaged communities, better public health and a more gentle impact on the planet. It's better for you, better for everyone else, and more fun.
9. Engage the politicians and officials
When ideas for building a better city die, their graveyard is usually the in-tray of some risk-averse senior official. Good politicians can help stop that happening.
10. Build community leadership
Want parents to stop driving kids to school? Get the school to take the lead. Want slower speeds in your village? Get the retailers onside. Want to pedestrianise the street? Work out where cars will go, because you can't just ban them or pretend they don't need to park somewhere.
A PEDESTRIAN-FRIENDLY city is a car-friendly city too. The reason is counter-intuitive, but simple. A pedestrian-friendly city requires excellent public transport, far above the level we have in Auckland now, working smoothly at peak times and serving all parts of the city at all parts of the day.
For reasons of cost, reliability, time, safety and convenience, taking the train, bus or tram has to become, for most people, more attractive than taking the car.
As that becomes a reality, far more people will migrate out of their cars. Which, paradoxically, will make the roads more efficient, thus enticing people back into their cars. Assuming clean-energy vehicle options become the norm, that will produce a seesawing balance.
But we won't get there by just building roads and pushing the needs of pedestrians down the list. That will only make everything worse. We have to put pedestrians first, and build around them all the support services we need to make it work.