Update: This is a pretty detailed analysis and a long read. If you haven't got time I've now posted a shortened version.
The design options for The Parade are now posted on the Love the Bay website. You have until 9pm Sunday 28 May to provide feedback.
In this blog I'll be assessing the carriageway design options against the design statements. I'll be doing this at a global level, rather than option by option. That's partly because of space and time considerations but also because the key themes and issues are consistent across multiple options. In fact, there are issues that are really only revealed by comparing the options against each other. I think it's useful to analyse these issues at a higher level first before drilling down to individual options. Analysing the options in this way also acknowledges that they are not discrete or set in stone. As explained on the Love the Bay website the designs are not exhaustive, but rather are intended to illustrate a range of feasible options for The Parade in order to prompt discussion and provide context for feedback. The process is not tied to just these options and our job in providing feedback is not to try and whittle down these options to just one. This is not a vote and the designers at Tonkin & Taylor are looking for quality not quantity of feedback.
Hopefully this analysis might also help you to provide your own feedback on the options. Even if you disagree with me you can use this analysis as a straw man to conduct your own. After all, the more feedback on the options, and the higher quality it is, the better for the process overall.
Before looking at the options themselves I think there's an issue with the design statements that needs to be addressed. As I pointed out in my previous blog Love the Bay - back on track! there's at least two key design statements that I think aren't fit for purpose.
The first is the design statement that deals with safety:
It is safe for pedestrians, safe for cyclists, safe for motorists, safe for children, safe for the elderly, safe for people with disabilities, safe when exiting/accessing vehicles while parked, safe for exiting driveways, safe for parking, safe at intersections
The problem with this statement is that it doesn't differentiate or prioritise between different types of users. It simply states the obvious, that all users should expect a minimum standard of safety. However, it offers no assistance at all in regard to whether certain users need to be prioritised because they are more vulnerable than others, or more likely to be at risk. Neither does it consider whether there are certain users who should be made to feel even safer than others, or simply more comfortable, to achieve a policy goal such as increasing active transport use. For these reasons I am suggesting that as long as an acceptable level of safety is in place for everyone the safety of pedestrians and cyclists should be prioritised above motorists because of their vulnerability and the higher level of risk they face. I'm also taking it as given that the safety of children, the elderly and people with disabilities is the highest priority within each of those groups but that, for example, the safety of a motorist with a disability is not a higher priority than a cyclist without. This prioritisation is consistent with NZTA guidelines and the safe system approach, and also Wellington City Council's sustainable transport hierarchy, which is central to the Urban Growth Plan and the Low Carbon Capital Plan. For the purpose of this analysis it's this revised design statement that I'll be referring to.
The second statement that I find problematic deals with the need for separation:
There is clear separation between fast moving things, slow moving things, and parked things (motorists and fast cyclists / slow cyclists and pedestrians / parked cars)
The problem with this statement is that it only considers speed and doesn't account for vulnerability or traffic volumes, as I fully explained in my blog Love the Bay - back on track!. It also fails to consider something incredibly important in relation to speed. There is a much greater range of speed differential between pedestrians, cyclists and motorists than simply fast and slow. Pedestrians typically move at an average speed of around 5kph and would very rarely get above a speed of 10kph, at which point they are jogging. At the other end of the scale cars in an urban environment typically drive at, or close to, the speed limit of 50kph, occasionally dropping to speeds lower than that. Bikes typically travel at a speed of around 20kph on the flat but depending on the rider can easily range between a constant speed of 10kph and 30kph, and on hills can go even slower or faster than that. It's actually a key part of the utility of bikes that they suit such a wide range of users and needs. However, this means that bikes and their riders can't be categorised as just being fast or slow. Also, the speed at which bikes typically travel, between 10kph and 30kph and an average of 20kph, puts them right between the top of the range for pedestrians and the bottom of the range for motorists. Essentially, most bikes are going too fast to be sharing with pedestrians and too slow to be sharing with cars as I've illustrated in the graph below. The graph also highlights the issue of vulnerability and the vast difference in mass between pedestrians and cyclists, and cars, trucks and buses (which weigh a minimum of one tonne and can go up to 15 tonnes or more).
For these reasons I'm suggesting that this design statement be revised to simply say that there should be clear separation between pedestrians, cyclists and motor vehicles. For the purpose of this analysis it's this revised design statement that I'll be referring to.
To aid this high level analysis I've also created the following document which shows the six cross sections for the carriageway options side by side (four new plus the current and the original). I find this a much easier way to compare the options against each other and spot consistent issues or themes.
The first point to note is the continued dominance of cars over other modes. In every single option cars are allocated the most space, particularly when parking and median strips are included. Highlighting this issue isn't just abstract, tree-hugging, "cars are bad" rhetoric. My family owns a car and we use it quite a lot. However, it needs to be acknowledged just how dominant the private motor vehicle has become in our urban transport ideology and infrastructure so that a greater degree of status quo bias than already exists doesn't creep in. Cars are currently so far ahead in their dominance that if we are sincere about wanting a 'balanced' transport network walking, cycling and public transport need to be prioritised for a long time in order to get even remotely close to equity.
The table below quantifies how this issue affects The Parade by showing the amount of space that's dedicated to a specific use under each option. It's sorted by the average amount of space allocated to each use across all the options to give a sense of which uses are consistently consuming the most space:
On average cars consume nearly three times the space of pedestrians and cyclists when parking and median strips are accounted for. There's also a much greater range of space allocated to pedestrians and cyclists across the options than there is for cars. The range of possible outcomes for pedestrians goes from no dedicated space at all under option 2c up to 5.2m of dedicated space under options 2e (current) and 2f (original). The range of possible outcomes for cyclists goes from no dedicated space at all under option 2c up to 3.6m of dedicated space under options 2b and 2e (current). However, the range of possible outcomes for cars only varies from 6m to 6.4m, or from 9.8m to 11.8m if taking into account parking and median strips. This reinforces the view that dedicated space for cars is considered not-negotiable, while dedicated space for pedestrians, and cyclists in particular, is a 'nice to have'.
In terms of dedicated space the best option for each mode of travel is:
If your eye is immediately drawn to option 2b it should be. Looking purely at dedicated space the two options that appear to have the best mix of 'something for everyone' are 2b and to a lesser extent 2e. Option 2b is the best possible option for cars (moving and parked) and bikes. It's also the second best option for pedestrians. Option 2e (current) is the best possible option for pedestrians, bikes and parked cars and the third best option for moving cars (but only 40cm less space than the best option). If we decide to prioritise pedestrians and bikes above cars then the current layout (option 2e) should be preferred.
Option 2e (current) in action
There's also an over reliance in the options on shared paths as a panacea. Three of the four new options - 2a, 2c and 2d - all rely on shared paths. Shared paths are a poor solution for both cyclists and pedestrians because they lower the level of service for both modes. As explained above they do not align well with either of the design statements regarding safety and separation because they mix pedestrians and cyclists who are potentially travelling at quite different speeds. Remember, an average pedestrian is travelling at 5kph while an average cyclist is travelling at 15-20kph. Options 2b, 2e and 2f are the only three options where pedestrians and cyclists don't have to share the same space. This further strengthens the case for options 2b and 2e, or some variant of, to be considered the preferred options.
Options 2b and 2e are also the only options that provide full separation for bikes. Bikes are required to ride in unprotected lanes in three options (2a, 2d and 2f) and fully in the traffic lane in option 2c. There are multiple issues with on-road bike lanes:
The multiple problems with the on-road bike lanes in options 2a, 2d and 2f can be neatly summed up by asking a very simple question: if it's not OK to walk it, why is it OK to cycle it? Cyclists are just as vulnerable to motor vehicles as pedestrians so if you wouldn't want to walk on the road between parked cars and moving traffic why would you expect cyclists to bike there? Options 2b and 2e (or some variant of), which separate cyclists from moving traffic completely, make another strong showing here.
It also sticks out like a sore thumb that only one option - 2a - even considers a reduction in the amount of parking. This is despite council data that shows parking occupancy on The Parade is in the region of 50-60%. It seems surprising that the removal of at least some parking doesn't feature more heavily among the options especially when parking would score very low against the design statements. In fact, it's noteworthy that the design statements make no mention of needing to preserve the current amount of parking, or even retain a minimum amount of parking, except at the shopping centre. Parking uses up a large amount of space that could be used for mobility. It also interrupts sight lines, which creates safety issues, and creates visual and physical clutter. Even The Economist magazine recently pointed out that cars are parked 95% of the time and parking is mostly "a public resource being allocated highly inefficiently".
I realise that some residents rely on street parking but if we are really saying parking is more important than safety or mobility then I think we've got our priorities wrong. The fact is that the parking occupancy stats indicate parking could be removed from one side of The Parade without creating a huge problem. There are also tools such as residents' parking schemes and the rise of park-sharing apps that could help mitigate the impact.
Unbelievably, in option 2a the space freed up by removing parking on one side is allocated to a median strip but it could be much more usefully deployed to make the footpaths, bike lanes or traffic lanes wider. If completely removing parking from one or both sides is just too hard for people to swallow then at the very least it should be possible to remove selected car parks to improve visibility at intersections and driveways, and reduce visual and physical clutter, which aligns very well with the design statements.
The re-introduction of median strips to options 2a and 2f (original) is also very disappointing. In my view median strips and right hand turn bays generally reflect an old-fashioned attitude that traffic flow is more important than anything else. This is a view that simply isn't necessary or appropriate in a modern suburban environment. When it's been proven that narrower traffic lanes slow traffic down and make streets safer overall narrow lanes should be considered a feature in the suburbs, not a problem.
Let's also not forget that Wellington City Council's own policy is to reduce the number of private fossil fuelled vehicles on the road. This recently published and well researched article End of the road? Why it might be time to ditch your car argues that "peak car is upon us, and with it comes the opportunity to choose new models of urban transport that better match our current needs for quality, sustainable living". So when one of the design objectives is for The Parade to "accommodate all current and future users" that's the future we should be planning for.
Prioritising traffic flow also isn't consistent with a more progressive view of how urban environments can be designed to make them more liveable and people-friendly, a desire that is reflected in many of the design statements. The 'futurementary' below from Bike Te Atatu is a brilliant example of the kind of 'complete streets' or 'complete community' that we could be aspiring to be in Island Bay if we had the vision, imagination and optimism.
In summary, options 2b and 2e seem to provide the best mix of 'something for everyone'. Out of all the options they provide the greatest amount of dedicated space for pedestrians (2e), cyclists (2b, 2e), moving cars (2b) and parked cars (2b, 2e). They don't require pedestrians and cyclists to share space and they provide cyclists with full separation from moving traffic. This includes not requiring cars to cross the bike lanes to get to street parking. Options 2b and 2e also retain parking on both sides of the road. However, this is one area where the options could be developed further. Removing some parking could create more space for pedestrians, cyclists and moving cars. It could also increase visibility and reduce visual and physical clutter. Overall, options 2b and 2e both appear to be well-aligned with the key design statements and I'd like to see the designers focus on a design that builds on the best elements of both of those options.
If time permits I'll try and blog about the other elements of The Parade sometime over the next two weeks. If you are pushed for time to give feedback I suggest focusing on the carriageway options first and Options 2b and 2e in particular. The carriageway options will dictate what you see on the ground along the bulk of The Parade and if we get that right then to a large extent many of the other elements will fall into place.