Cities are where most people in the world live and New Zealand is no exception. But cities are not inevitably carbon-producing hot spots. Urban design can make them sustainable, economical, pleasantly liveable and walkable. The section in Drawdown on Walkable Cities describes four criteria that encourage people to walk (or cycle) rather than drive their cars.
A journey on foot must be useful, it must feel safe and comfortable. Ideally, it should also be interesting, taking the walker through an environment that invites contemplation – birds in a tree, flowers in a garden, the chance encounter with a friend. Cycling’s priority is for safety.
A project in Mangere Central, Auckland, has recently won an award for its achievement of such an environment. Called Te Ara Mua Future Streets, its success was recognised by the NZ Transport Agency and Cycling Action Network who gave it the supreme award for their Bike to the Future Awards 2017.
Forget road signs stipulating speed limit, bouncy speed hubs and white lines. Think wider footpaths, more trees – on “community islands” that encroach into road space – and an ambience less of tarmac than of greenery. We’re talking Self-explaining Roads (SER).
The concept has its origins in Holland. The aim is that different classes of roads should be distinctive and within each class features such as width of carriageway, road markings, signing and use of street lighting would be consistent throughout the route. Drivers would perceive the type of road and instinctively know how to drive because the environment effectively provides a label for the kind of road. There would thus be less need for separate traffic control devices such as signs to regulate driving behaviour.
Such an approach uses simplicity and consistency of design and is already used for the highest road classes such as motorways. The key to SER in suburban areas is the distinction between through, or collector roads and those which are purely local. These have a target speed of 30km/h. A pilot project in the Auckland suburb of Point England achieved a 30% reduction in crash numbers and an 80% reduction in the costs associated with crashes.
Community involvement was an important part of the selection of Mangere Central as a follow-up project. The aim was to make local trips safer and easier after consultation with those who knew the streets best – the local people. Contributing organisations included the Mangere-Otahuhu local board, Auckland Transport and researchers from Ora Taiao, the New Zealand Climate and Health Council.
The area is bounded by George Bolt Memorial Drive (which leads to Mangere airport), the South-western motorway and Massey road. Improved cycle and walkways within this boundary include separated cycle lanes on both sides of Mascot Ave and raised pedestrian crossings near Nga Iwi School and at the Mangere town centre. Trees planted on community islands will improve air quality as well as slow traffic. Critics unhappy about the loss of parking space may well reap health benefits from the need to park further away from their destination.
The long term aim is for a quieter, greener, low carbon suburb in which healthier people enjoy exercise and interaction.