The bermese question arose in Auckland when the new super-city Auckland Council, seeking to provide equal services to all parts of a region previously divided into 7 council areas, decided not to mow the berms anywhere as a measure to save $3 million/year.
A certain amount of outrage followed on behalf of those losing a service. Those who hadn’t had their berms mowed before carried on minding them.
In my street, I laid a small section of footpath years ago, which was removed when a hump in the road was lowered. There’s a footpath on the other side of the street, which I don’t use because of its nature: it’s more a series of vehicle access points with the surface angled for motorists’ convenience, and a flat section of pavement in between. Theoretically it’s designed for pedestrians, but actually it isn’t.
There are a few women pushing prams in my neighbourhood at the moment and they use the footpath on the steep road to the beach – travelling the easier, flat road surface would be dangerous. Of course, vehicles are quite often parked on the footpath to reduce the chance of being rammed on the roadway, though sometimes a footpath strip is left (but too narrow for those prams). The pram pushers can bump down on to the road, or put 2 wheels on the grass verge, to pass, but that’s alright because they don’t come this way too often, do they! Their kids will grow up soon and they won’t need the pram.
Several threads prompted this story, some brewing in the back of my mind for a while, others arising just this week.
I’d been pondering ways the council spends money which it might easily save, how equalisation can go either way (more service for those who had less, or less for those who had more, and how rural areas tend to lose out automatically on most of this service stuff), but also questions of traffic safety, the potential for greater savings, how and at what cost environmental or travel improvements might be introduced, and also the degree of acceptance of greater input from residents.
The easiest answer to all these questions is ‘No’ (exclamation mark optional). Once you get beyond that and exercise the brain, numerous options present themselves.
The US Dissent magazine’s website carried a story in December about a 4-year-old boy, AJ Newman, killed in 2010 when he followed his older sister from a narrow concrete median strip into a gap in traffic on a 5-lane highway. She saw the gap; he didn’t have one.
Their mother, with 3 children and an armful of groceries, was crossing from a bus stop to their apartment. The mother was charged with vehicular homicide because she had chosen not to walk about 500m to the nearest pedestrian crossing and 500m back along the other side of the road. After a national outcry the judge reversed the conviction which would have seen her go to jail, but she still copped a $US200 fine for jaywalking.
The Dissent article is about far more than the difficulties of a mother on foot, traversing changes in attitude to car v pedestrian over the last century, and engineering changes over the years which put pedestrians at further disadvantage.
It’s no accident that Auckland happens to be a world leader in reversing some of that advantage, showing how “shared streets” can accommodate vehicles & pedestrians in the same space. Some of these streets are “rat runs” for drivers trying to bypass slow points such as traffic lights, but I find I want to dawdle in front of these aggressive, rushing drivers while I’m happy to make way for motorists respecting the greater care needed in the shared environment.
This reversal – along with more frequent traffic-light phasing for pedestrians in the city centre and an array of street furniture which adds some relax to the city bustle – is part of the tweaking to give downtown Auckland a much friendlier feel, led by Auckland Council design office general manager Ludo Campbell-Reid (that’s a new title – he came to Auckland in 2006 as the former city council’s urban design group manager & design champion, after 2 years as Urban Design London’s chief executive).
Some of the changes are far more than tweaking – the shared streets don’t provide for parking, Queen St’s footpaths have been widened and foliage introduced, a crosstown greenway is to come, lanes will appear to give access through the middle of large blocks and, with all these changes, the retail & hospitality pictures are also changing.
Those changes, so far, have been in the city centre. A number of them would have been harder to introduce in suburban centres immediately but, as the altered cbd experience becomes accepted – that customers haven’t been driven away by the reduction in streetparking – there will be demand for similar revitalisation in suburban centres too.
None of that is going to change life for the lady pushing a pram along suburban side streets. However, there is opportunity for change, brought by the council’s greater cost awareness after a year of trying to hasten a construction start for the city rail link while simultaneously cutting the budgets of its local boards for a wide range of community projects.
Imagine, for instance, if the council went far beyond its decision to stop mowing streetside berms and decided to stop maintaining such wide sealed strips of roadway. Instead of 3-4 lanes’ width of sidestreet roadway, 1-2 might be converted at least partially to allow street trees maintained by residents, perhaps one lane for parking, leaving one lane for travelling – more slowly, giving way to oncoming traffic, and giving way to the lady with the pram.
Think how much onstreet parking costs – not just the price you pay to use it, but to have it there in the first place, and to maintain it.
In the main business districts onstreet parking is metered. Malls, which encourage greater vehicle use, provide free parking (which is paid for by the tenants and thus, indirectly, by their customers). Suburban streetparking is also free (paid for through rates and thus, indirectly, by property owners).
In all cases, somebody pays to provide the parking, but only those cbd meters are an overt charging mechanism. Think back to your suburban street: do we need that much of a parking lot? If the answer is ‘Yes’, is there a way to reduce the need? Can we travel differently? If we can’t travel differently because no alternative is available, how could an alternative be made available?
If you think these questions are entirely avoidable because you drive from your garage to work quite quickly, and you have a basement parking space provided at the office, and the little woman (this is a conscious put-down of the person whose need for a vehicle is likely to be greater) does the shopping in her own vehicle, which she also uses to cart the kids around to school, and to football practice, and to music lessons, think again.
The lady with the pram who grows up to become family courier might need her vehicle, but is the one parked in the office basement needed? Does that parking space have a potentially better use? If you & others got to your jobs by other means, how much less roadspace would we need? If you park in the road outside your suburban office or warehouse job, what has it cost (somebody) to provide the roadspace to get you there, and the parking space for the day?
I’ve been pondering these questions for my own purposes, but also as property & urban strategy issues.
Questions for my own purposes:
- The road to the motorway is jammed at peak periods
- The motorway is jammed for longer periods than ever before – the peaks are longer, start earlier (now before dawn) and traffic is heavier between peaks
- CBD parking is more expensive – up 50% in one hit last year
- Bus & ferry travel are partial alternatives – or maybe road travel becomes the partial alternative
- What is the most efficient use of time – paying attention in stationary or slow-moving traffic is tiring; can I use that time to read or write en route?
- If I use partial alternatives, how do I travel at non-commute times?
In the wider perspective, I am as much a part of the problem as the driver beside me on the motorway, and it’s been this way ever since the influx of vastly cheaper Japanese car imports in the 1980s changed the whole economy. From a tentative shift to becoming 2-car families, we’ve upgraded these vehicles to become our suitcases, our wardrobes, our private music boxes, our personal valet service. And, of course, we’ve made them bigger.
It’s a marvellous luxury for a very high proportion of a city’s residents to be able to travel everywhere in their personal carriages, but at no stage over the 30 years that this society-transforming lifestyle change has been under way have I seen comparisons that put this transformation & alternatives in full context.
It’s one thing to compare the cost of building a kilometre of road against the estimate for a tunnel beneath the central city, but it’s something else to compare the costs of motorway congestion, local road congestion, access connections (as in getting to a bus, needing more than one bus or connecting to a ferry), parking & vehicle ownership costs versus fares, development costs & values from intensifying use around central hubs, or the costs & values & savings from developing more intensively locally.
These are the kinds of information which might have been usefully fed into our knowledge base if we had not been so focused on doing one thing and ignoring alternatives. Even for the costs & benefits of developing the city rail link, much of the costing has been presented as if it would only be a transport route (and only a transport route connecting 3-4 stations), it would not be a transport route linked to any altered urban context, and it would not be a catalyst for any change.
The council funding propositions, out to public consultation this year, amount to penalties, and to greater penalties for greater use. Major users will be most affected, and they will try to pass the cost on. Are inflationary penalties the best way to fund infrastructure?
All of these questions are connected – these are just a selection:
- from building a rail tunnel to how much tar we need to park on in suburbia
- to how safely & easily the lady with the pram can make her way down a suburban pavement, or across an arterial route designed solely for the use of the motorised
- from the cost savings of not using public money to mow berms to the potential gain in private value of spending personal time to beautify neighbourhoods’ public spaces
- to the cost of building city office & apartment towers with or without parking.
Apart from ‘No!’ as the answer, alternatives include differences in how or where public money is spent, different options and very different costs for private development, the potential for access changes to induce provision of & demand for different buildings.
This story doesn’t stretch to the numbers – that’s something to work on, some of it within my capacity but mostly requiring others’ input.
But to give you an idea of a starting point, New Zealand spends $18 billion/year on vehicles, parts & fuel. We do that without considering whether the infrastructure we use those vehicles on is the best option. We just do it.
This story is about re-examining options, fully.
What I’ve written about above is within the bounds of current technology. It’s good to jolt thinking beyond that, as former Auckland City councillor Richard Simpson invariably does from his role as chief executive & executive director of the Spatial Industries Business Association Queensland.
In his latest news item he’s written about intelligent transformation, and intelligent transport systems: “Intelligent transportation, smart cities, integrative epidemiology, building information modelling, precision agriculture, robotics, big data analytics are all fusing & innovating inside this spatial primordial soup.”
While a councillor, Dr Simpson wanted to bring the International Society for Digital Earth to Auckland – not just for a conference but to make the city its base. The organisation held its 2006 summit in Auckland and 2012 summit in Wellington.
The Australian ITS summit & national electronic tolling conference (12-14 May 2015, Melbourne, on the theme of implementing connected mobility) is expected to attract 400 top national & international transport & technology policymakers, business leaders, innovators & investors.
Some of the topics illustrate how far we have to travel to get beyond our stunted thinking, which has stopped at the costs of a tunnel or a road – topics such as co-operative & automated vehicles, smart cities & new urban mobility, public & multi-modal transport, local government issues & initiatives, future freight and road pricing.
Links: Auckland Council, shared spaces
Dissent article, Injustice at the intersection
Spatial industry innovation key to intelligent transportation futures
Australian ITS summit & national electronic tolling conference, 2015
Attribution: Observations, Auckland Council website, Dissent magazine, SIBA.