Smart City 1.3: Smart Transport & Shared Spaces

different-perceptions-of-home-based-workingOne of the proposals in my campaign in 2010, which I repeat in 2013, is to have what I now dub “market weekends”, where we close off the centre of the city, as we do during movie premières, during a couple of selected days in the summer. That way we get to enjoy the city more. It’s not a new idea by any means: Bruxelles and Amsterdam have done them for ages, which is where I first experienced it. Cars are permitted to depart the city but not re-enter till a particular hour, cyclists and pedestrians get to enjoy the inner city along with the shops and stalls can be put out for the weekend. – Jack Yan, Mayoral Candidate

There is a dangerous school of thought, a fundamental Green ideology, which exists in the Wellington City Council today. That is the blind policy that says not to invest any money, or thinking, in transport that is seen to benefit anything that is not public transport.

This has amounted too, for the wider Wellington district, a serious increase in congestion and resulting pollution. By my calculations we pour between 25,000 and 35,000 tonnes of pollution into the atmosphere, just from cars, as a result of traffic snarl ups, which have us sitting in jams for eighty seven hours a year. Just five hours behind Auckland.

I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with the types of transport that are suffering. Cyclists, cars, trucks, and mopeds. I also want to expand thinking into the idea of shared spaces in suburban centers and the central city.

Let’s start with the problems again.

First of all, we’re not investing in transport at all. We’ve not advanced it in this Council’s term. That, coupled with the fact that we have increased traffic and a declining public transport system, has seen congestion reach levels never seen before, particularly on the South and East sides of the city which intersect through the Basin Reserve.

Traffic is increasing because public transport service is declining, the number of taxis has increased, freight & passenger movements have substantively increased at the airport, we see more people living in the city, the new sports stadium at Kilbirnie brings massive traffic flows, and it is only set to get worse with the airport shutting a through road that saw flows diverted from the main East West route.

As people can’t afford public transport and the cost of fuel continues to ever so slowly creep up, we’ve seen a strong growth in mopeds and bicycles. That’s introduced some new problems because the current roads aren’t designed for two wheeled modes of transport. Accidents are on the rise as a result.

Southern to city traffic is a snarl of epic proportions both in and out of rush hour with a tangle of incomprehensible roads, signs, traffic lights, and a new supermarket adding complete chaos to the entire mix.

With more housing being built every week in the Southern and Easter Wards, the amount of traffic steadily increases. The buses coming from the South suburbs spend a large amount of time sitting in traffic. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of getting a trolley bus from Island Bay or Seatoun in peak traffic times, you’ll know that experience is at least an hour, if not more.

Bus lanes start and run for twenty meters, then stop for twenty meters, cycle lanes are either completely non-existent around the central city or deferred to bus lanes which is a complete recipe for disaster.

The increased freight to and from Miramar for the burgeoning film industry sees heavy truck movements on a regular basis.

The heart of this unholy mess is the Basin Reserve, which the Council has tweaked in this term with ridiculous results.

Newtown traffic from motorway or city has to traverse four lanes of traffic on the north side only two have to traverse to lanes of traffic on the south side. Cars get stuck across lanes, buses get stuck across lanes, the tail for Newtown at peak heads all the way back down and onto the Quays. Traffic trying to move east is caught in this gigantic morass and it is common to spend twenty minutes or more trying to negotiate the storm most times of the day.

The Basin does not just belong to Wellington City Councilors, though they would try to convince you otherwise, it also belongs to the other Councils in the region who rely on that transport corridor to support their traffic related movements from people, to tourists, to freight.

The Basin work, and other transport improvements have been held up by a complex and noisy lobby alliance that includes the Green Bloc city Councilors, the Mt Victoria Residents Association, the Save the Basin group, and a host of other interrelated local groups that are often all the same people and all under Green Party influence.

Then we have the Courtenay Place to Lambton Quay golden mile. Smelly brown mess more like.

One way streets merging with cross streets, bus lanes, more traffic lights and signs than a safety shop, bus only streets, pedestrians being bowled, unenforceable speed limits, and no real time parking information leading to a procession of cars circling this incomprehensible system (that’s if you can afford parking).

We have talked for decades about increasing the capacity of the airport, a necessary evil for the local economy. The current layout is a nightmare, the lack of progress is seeing streets of empty houses (and abandoned houses) around the airport while simultaneously being filled with hundreds of rental cars, and the traffic generated is horrendous. Here is a tip eastern suburb commuters. Get on the airport website and look for when the flights land close together. Leave home then. Because ten to twenty minutes later there is an armada of taxis and cars that flood into the city. The airport claims over twenty two thousand vehicle movements per day.

So what to do?

There are some inevitabilities, which certain lobby groups are simply going to just have to accept.

The first is that, while it is not optimal to build additional roads, it is inevitable that at some point, we will need more. That may not be now, in five years, or ten, however at some stage their will be a significant amount more population here and that will simply drive capacity up. It is probably impossible to fix the current Public Transport problems fast enough in order to get people out of their cars to cater for that growth.

We can’t be blind to that fact. We need to proceed down the path of making the necessary plans and gaining the necessary consents so that if we really need the capacity, we can move on it quickly, rather than running out of capacity and then being completely gridlocked for decades.

Another inevitable fact is that we need to do something about the Basin. It’s a total shambles most times of the day and just ignoring is not going to help. It drives traffic jams back onto the motorway and all the way out to the airport. Not to mention south to Newtown and the coast.

Next, we need to start collecting real-time data about traffic movements across the region. We can probably get that data from Google, free, without breaking any privacy rules, and, we could store that in our Community Cloud.

Here’s how it works.

If you run Google Maps on your smartphone, or an application (that Google just bought) called Waze, it tracks your movements in real-time. It then uses that data to feed live traffic information to its map applications to show where congestion is occurring. Waze also allows for information like road works, accidents, and police locations to be shown.

Google Now, a newer application, is working on alerting you in the morning before you go to work and before you return home, on congestion. It’s a little experimental, at the moment it tends to alert me when I am in the middle of a traffic jam as opposed to before I leave.

Putting that aside, better data about traffic will help on a number of fronts.

If we can get accurate, real-time flows, pushed out to people before they leave for work, or head for home, or out shopping on Saturday morning, then we change people’s travel behavior and the traffic effectively becomes self-regulating.

The problem isn’t that there are not enough roads, the problem is that there are not enough roads during peak times. So if we even out the traffic peaks and troughs, then we get more life out of the roads.

The data also allows city traffic planners the ability to better tune traffic flows through the traffic light system. Smoother flows from East and South to the city and motorway could be greatly enhanced through better traffic light management.

That, coupled with Teleworking, which we’ll get to later, should allow car and freight movements’ better use of the roads.

We have a problem with taxis. Wellington now has approximately 1,500 of them since the industry de-regulated. That doesn’t sound like a lot, however when you consider they move like a pack around the city during different times of the day, they create a lot of congestion. For example, peak hours that taxi pack moves back and forth from the airport as travelers arrive and depart. During the day, they clutter up the central city picking up shorter length, cross city fares.

We need less taxis, however in order to get to that state, we need alternatives.

We need more of the Flyer buses (which provide about the best service for public transport in Wellington, including free Wi-Fi) should be made available. Park them up right outside the exit doors of the airport and when they are full, send them on their way.

Consider more use of taxi vans. Again, give them priority at the exit gate.

Rather than talking about increasing cycle ways, we actually need to do it. There is enough room around the city to create cycle lanes that are for cyclists. This current Council has gone on and on about bicycles, to the point where they are almost a dirty word, and actually hasn’t increased any services for them, at all. Like public transport, if we want to see people using bicycles, then we need to make it easy and safe as opposed to the complete mess we have at the moment.

I think that the creation of Shared Spaces will also go a long way toward naturally slowing traffic and reducing accidents. Studies have shown that the more warning signs, lights, pedestrian crossings, and other safety systems you put in place, the higher the rate of accidents. I’m not going to get into why, that’s well established Accident Theory and those of you who are interested can read James T. Reason.

Shared space seems to work in the revamped lower Cuba Street, but I don’t think it’s feasible for major thoroughfares used by buses. Wellington’s CBD is cramped between the hills and the harbour; much of it is actually reclaimed land. Shared spaces may be an option for suburban areas, however.

Willis Street, the site of several pedestrian accidents, actually needs enhanced separation between the pavement and road – the buses almost scrape past pedestrians, because there are no buffers – such as car parks, or loading zones. I would advocate the installation of planter boxes in Willis Street, with narrow gaps (if any) for pedestrians so they are more conscious when leaving the safety of the pavement.

Shared space areas abroad – such as Exhibition Road, in London’s South Kensington – are in cities where there are more roads, which can be used by buses and trucks. Unfortunately, that’s a luxury that our restricted CBD doesn’t allow – other than a few examples such as Woodward and lower Cuba Streets. – Nicola Young, Council Candidate Lambton Ward

Shared spaces work well in smaller suburban areas and at the center of towns. First proposed in 1991, it suggests that by creating a greater sense of uncertainty and making it unclear who has the right of way, drivers reduce speed, and everyone reduces their level of risk compensation; i.e. the increase or decrease their risk mitigation based on certainty.

There is a story that (may be urban legend) about how the first shared space was developed.

The engineer had a very popular four way intersection in the middle of a city that had many accidents. So; he removed the traffic lights in the run up to it, removed the roundabout, the bollards, all of the warning signs, the road markings, and the curbs; effectively leaving an entirely blank space where the intersection used to be.

Then, legend has it, he shut his eyes, and during rush hour, walked backwards through the intersection, obviously to no ill-effect.

Wikipedia notes that: “The introduction of such schemes have had positive effect on road safety, traffic volume, economic vitality, and community cohesion where a user’s behaviour becomes influenced and controlled by natural human interactions rather than by artificial regulation.” – [2]

The shared space at lower Cuba has been pretty good but I worry for the shops down there as I am not convinced we are getting pedestrians heading down there. Foot traffic is lower. You could argue that the sunlight isn’t great there, and that we would experience a better shared space if we had chosen a west–east route. Generally, again, I am in favour of them based on my experiences of them in Sweden and Denmark (though it must be borne in mind that they have a lower road toll per capita and the standard of driving is higher) and that we need to be selective of the roads we choose so that pedestrians can genuinely enjoy the experience. – Jack Yan

This shared space philosophy could be put in place in areas of high traffic and pedestrian mix. Targets could be Courtenay Place, Lambton Quay, and the bus run between the two. Suburban centers that suffer high accident and congestion rates would also benefit.

Finally, the one thing that could make the most difference to the traffic snarl, is Teleworking. Even if people choose one day a week to work from home, the overall effect is massive, with an average 20% commuter traffic reduction.

This requires a few things from Council, not least of which is lobbying the large telecommunication providers to bring up there UFB and VDSL deployments. It doesn’t matter which technology, it only matters that it is quick, and responsive.

The Council should lead by example and start putting the policy in place for its own staff. In addition, working with the Wellington Business Groups and ICT Industry Groups, run a campaign to promote the idea.

We can lighten the load on the roads that we have by expanding the wifi network and changing the culture surrounding teleworking. We just have to use the roads more smartly. – Jack Yan

Clear, scientific evidence shows that people who work from home work longer, are more productive, are happier in themselves, and organisations that have a teleworking policy see far less turnover in staff.

The hardest part of introducing teleworking is breaking the old boys “command and control” management style in organisations which assumes that if they can’t see their staff sitting at their desk, they are clearly not working. These dinosaurs need to retire or change, as the evidence points to the contrary.

The trick with transport is to understand that it’s not capacity that’s an issue, its capacity at peak times that causes problems. By providing real-time data to people, implementing shared spaces, and pushing teleworking, we’ll see a normalisation of traffic. At least for a while.

The basin flyover should go ahead, and while they are at it, they should also bury the motorway bypass underneath Taranaki Street. It was a naïve, Green, decision that saw the bypass tunnels removed from the design. It’s rendered the bypass next to useless.

Like it or not, as the city grows, we will need more roads, so we should plan for those now. Burying our heads in the sand, as this administration has done, will only create a disaster in later years.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: