14 September 2017

Tactical Urbanism

Tactical Urbanism might sound like some kind of guerrilla warfare. In reality, it’s just one of many tools helping to resolve Auckland’s traffic woes.


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The term arose in New York in 2010 when an urban planner introduced low-cost, pop-up design experiments for a positive impact in malls and street plazas.

48 hours, 48 days, 48 weeks – tactical urbanism starts with a temporary street development that is measured, refined and then a semi-permanent change installed to make our streets more pleasant places.   

In Auckland, we’re trialling giant oyster hued polka dots strewn along two intersections of Auckland’s Shortland Street. They look like an adult version of the board game Twister. Yet they have already shown to help calm traffic in the CBD’s laneways. The element of fun and surprise grabs drivers’ attention, heightening awareness of cyclists and pedestrians and slowing cars down.

A similar installation is planned for the Federal Street pedestrian zone says Kathryn King, AT’s Auckland Transport Manager for Walking, Cycling and Road Safety who is responsible for many visionary transport initiatives.

Kathryn explains, we’ve traditionally focused more on how fast cars can get from A to B. But having returned home from working in London where she was involved in a number of safety schemes for the environment, she’s been testing various ways of slowing down our city streets to protect vulnerable road users. 

“In London, we tried reducing the widths of roads and giving more space to businesses by removing parking and using that space for tables and fun things. We tested intersection changes on a temporary basis which is something particularly North American cities have famously documented.

“New York did amazing things, testing changes to the road layout. That’s certainly something we want to trial in Auckland and see what we can do in our own programmes but also supporting local boards and communities to test and trial different ways to improve journeys for people walking and cycling, getting actively around their neighbourhoods.”

Tied up with tactical urbanism is the concept of Vision Zero, which has, at its starting point, a no death on roads policy. The core principle of this Swedish approach to road safety is that life and health can never be exchanged for a cost benefit scenario. Vision Zero has proven highly successful, halving road deaths in Sweden in 20 years. And it’s taken off in over 50 cities across the US.

“Vision Zero in Auckland is thinking differently about the services we provide. Fundamentally it’s prioritising safety and reduction in harm on our network. If we’re making an investment, we look at how we can minimise the potential for harm given that people make mistakes on the network. If someone makes mistakes we don’t want to see that resulting in death or serious injury.

“It’s taking elements we know that result in death or injury and addressing them. Things like making sure our roads are self-explaining, that people understand the appropriate speed for the road they’re travelling on and reducing risky behaviours like not wearing a seat belt and drug and alcohol related behaviours.”

Auckland Transport’s key role in delivering Vision Zero is building a road environment that encourages safer behaviour and enables people to travel safely – so they can do things that are healthy, active, lower impact on the environment and encourage personal safety.

And the results? “Last year we had no deaths of children travelling to school and no cycling fatalities on our network. [Unfortunately we’ve since had one this year.] For sub-sets of parts of the way people travel, we’ve achieved zero. The target is about there’s no acceptable number of people being killed. We’re aiming to build a network that achieves that.

Those countries or cities that have been really successful like Sweden, have the best road safety records in the world because they’ve shifted their way of thinking and how they address road risk.

AT is into the third year of a $200 million investment in protected cycle infrastructure where safety measures are key. A lot of that is concentrated around the city centre and connections to it, given the amount of travel demand there is for the city centre. Overall there will be 50 km of protected cycle network delivered as part of that programme by 2018.

“It’s very significant,” says Kathryn, “much more than we’ve ever made in Auckland before. That’s a big game changer in terms of travel choice we offer for Aucklanders.

“Quite a few projects will open in the coming year. A lot of those improvements are for people walking. There are numerous new crossing facilities, wider footpaths, landscaping and so forth to make walking a more pleasant experience.”

In Mt Albert, for example, AT is helping to upgrade the town centre where pedestrian facilities are being greatly improved. Footpaths are much wider, accommodating trees and seats and landscaping makes it pleasant to walk in with separated cycle ways through the town centre.

The town centre links to cycleways along Mt Albert Road and Carrington Road which take people down to the north-western cycleway along the motorway. On the other side of the town centre, there’s access to a path that takes you in one direction to Mt Roskill to the airport in one direction and in the other toward Waterview and a path being built to New Lynn. The missing link that connects much of that opens in the first week of October.

As part of the walking and safety programme across the Auckland region, there’s a focus on journeys around schools.

We want to get people out of their cars and feel strongly that if you provide people with an option that’s pleasant, safe and enjoyable, they’ll jump at that opportunity.

Across our transport offering, we’ve seen big increases in people getting out of their cars into public transport. “With the investment in connecting up the network, people have access to safe connected cycleways, so they’re starting to use them. On the north-western cycleway where we’ve made lots of city connections in the last couple of years, we’ve seen a 44% increase in use.”

Aucklanders are clearly responding to quality choices available to them, confirms Kathryn. As they do so, more and more, we’ll see less cars on the roads, less pollution, fewer accidents.

Thanks to the visionary global ideas promoted by urban planners like Kathryn King, Auckland is rapidly advancing to become the fantastic, more liveable place we need it to be.

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