On Monday night this week, Auckland Central MP Nikki Kaye called a public meeting at the Freemans Bay Community Centre, just down the hill from Ponsonby. The reason: residents of nearby Collingwood St are angry their street has been turned into a drag strip and they blame Auckland Transport.
"Our street," said David Drees, the self-confessed "main agitator" who got Kaye to call the meeting, "has become dangerous, noisy, there are maniacs flying up and down that street during the day and all night long. It's got so you can't go out on the street. You can't wash your car, all those things."
Goodness. But even allowing for perhaps a hint of hyperbole, Collingwood St, which runs from the Zambesi corner of Ponsonby Rd down through Freemans Bay, clearly has a problem.
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The reason is, ever since Auckland Transport (AT) put a roundabout on Franklin Rd, one block along, motorists have preferred to use Collingwood St as their through-route to and from Ponsonby.
Actually, the reason is Google tells motorists to use Collingwood St so all the Uber drivers go that way.
Or, the reason is Ponsonby drivers, impatient at having to wait for the traffic lights at the top of Franklin Rd, are rat-running through their own neighbours' side streets.
Or, the reason is AT put up a sign on Ponsonby Rd advising motorists to use the street.
All those things are true.
The meeting was fantastic. AT was represented by two staffers, both of whom responded with concern, explanations and assurances the problems would be addressed.
"We're not going to wait," said Ben Halliwell, AT's "elected member relationship manager". He said they were assessing the scale of the problem now and would move "relatively quickly". Although, he added, "We want to get it right and not make things worse."
The meeting accepted that.
Jared Plumridge was also there. He's AT's engineering team leader for the central city and the south. Plumridge said they could fix some things straight away, and mentioned a dangerous manhole bump in the road and the sign misdirecting traffic into the street. It had been put up on the wrong street and he apologised.
True to their word, that sign has now been removed and the manhole bump is being assessed.
But there's much more to do. Graeme Edwards, another of the leading agitators, called the problem "an unintended consequence of the Franklin Rd project". Because of that, he said, fixing it should be done now and paid for out of the Franklin Rd budget. The officials made it fairly clear that was unlikely.
Edwards has videoed the traffic in peak times at the start and end of the day. I've seen the videos. They suggest around 400 vehicles per hour use the street at peak time. Almost all of them go straight through.
In the morning rush, the attraction for them is twofold. First, as mentioned, cars heading north can avoid the Franklin Rd lights if they duck down Collingwood St. Second, when they do that, they come out at Wellington St, turn left, enter the new roundabout on Franklin Rd – and have right of way ahead of the cars coming down Franklin Rd.
Frankly, I think that's unbelievable. Commuters desperate to shave a minute or two off their travel time can't bear waiting in line, oblivious to the unpleasantness it creates for others.
It's not hard to identify the goal for Collingwood St: to make the street too hard for cars to use as a rat run.
That definitely means a speed limit of 30km/h and a more difficult entrance at the bottom of the street. Other options include:
• The top entrance is narrow and has a raised table crossing for pedestrians: make it even harder to get into than it is now.
• Speed bumps.
• A narrower carriageway.
• A partial roadblock, such as using planters to make the road one lane wide halfway down, so cars have to give way to each other.
• Use those planters to obstruct the sightlines, so the street doesn't look like a drag strip.
• Block the road completely in the middle.
• Put angle-parking down one side of the street, with two narrow vehicle lanes and a plaza-wide shared path down the other.
They don't have to do all that, and some of those ideas are expensive. The residents will need to come to a consensus on what they want.
Late in the meeting, resident Eve de Castro got up, introduced herself as a socialist, and asked if anyone would mind if she and some friends just put out some road cones and planters. "Guerrilla tactics", just for now.
Nikki Kaye jumped up straight away. "It's not acceptable for residents to take things into their own hands," she said.
But why? They'd get the job done. You go Eve, I reckon.
The astonishing thing is, making streets safer is Auckland Transport policy, under its Safe Speeds and Safer Communities programmes.
Safe Speeds, which will lower speed limits on 10 per cent of the city's roads, was adopted in October last year. But AT still hasn't started to implement it and Collingwood St isn't included. "There will be another tranche of streets," said Jared Plumridge. Good to know.
This isn't a case of Nimbys up in arms about some council plan in their neighbourhood. The locals support the plans, vigorously. But they still aren't happening.
Nikki Kaye said it was "unacceptable that Auckland Transport can't move quickly on safety". She's so right about that.
There are two more big problems for the people of Collingwood St. One is, AT has to decide where their street comes in the queue. Just this week it announced Safer Communities will be introduced in Mangere Bridge. Wider footpaths, especially near schools and the shopping village, raised speed tables and more, said AT's safety manager, Bryan Sherritt, so "children can walk around the village and get to and from school safely".
That's exactly what Collingwood St wants, but does it have a prior claim on danger spots in South Auckland? Does it have a prior claim on Ponsonby Rd itself, which desperately needs the cycle lanes that are nowhere in sight although they have already been approved?
The fact is, Collingwood St's need is acute: it has a crazy number of cars whipping through. But the other fact is, AT has an operational budget that isn't remotely close to what it needs to make our streets safer.
The second problem for Collingwood St is even bigger than that.
Consider this: in Graeme Edwards' video, a staggering 40 per cent of the cars heading north on that part of Ponsonby Rd make the right turn down Collingwood St.
A "No Right Turn" rule would solve the problem for the street entirely. But if all those cars had to queue at the Franklin Rd lights instead, there would be a massive tailback, seriously undermining safety on Ponsonby Rd and possibly causing chaos as far back as Richmond Rd.
The fact is, there are too many cars in Ponsonby and that problem can't be fixed by building more roads or rejigging the existing ones, however you do it.
So ... what? The video reveals almost all the cars on Collingwood St have only one person in them. Most of them, presumably, come from nearby Grey Lynn and the rest of Ponsonby. Most are heading for the city centre, 2km away.
Few people walk, although the routes for walking, along tree-laden streets and through Western Park or Victoria Park, are among the most beautiful in the city. And there are several excellent bus services.
Just yesterday the council decided to plan a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions in Auckland over the next 10 years. Seriously: why are all those people in Ponsonby still driving to work? What planet do they think they're living on?