Federal Street: tactical urbanism works!

Federal Street: tactical urbanism works!

Bike Auckland

In March 2018, a trial project popped up on Federal St in the central city. With the CRL works happening on Albert Street, little old Federal St offered a parallel through-route for walking and for biking – except that it was a one-way street

So the Auckland Design Office and AT added a contra-flow bike lane using planters and rubber ‘armadillos’, as well as colourful paint at intersections, and a new pedestrian crossing on Wyndham St.

That unreal moment when the real thing looks like the render. The clue that it’s real: the chaps painting the planter boxes! (Image by Marcus Pillay, Auckland Transport)

After six months, AT invited public feedback, and a review was undertaken (by Mackie Research) which gathered data to compare with a baseline study from June/ July 2016. Both the feedback report and the evaluation can be seen here.

In general, people liked the contra-flow cycleway, the new pedestrian crossing and the better lighting, while the colourful dots were more polarising – you either love ’em or you hate ’em, and there’s still an element of confusion about who gives way to whom.

Intersection with Wolfe Street. The “Shortland Street polka dots (first used there) are to increase intersection awareness for drivers…

Next steps include addressing the pinch point between Rydges Hotel and the Court; and looking at adding a disability parking space. Parking bays have been shifted by 1m to improve access to the parking building at #65. Meanwhile, the planters (and plants) will get some extra love – including reflective tape for better visibility – and the road surface paint will be freshened up.

Some other interesting findings of the follow-up study:

  • driving speeds dropped, not just on Federal St but nearby streets too (the 85th percentile speed dropped by 5.5%)
  • traffic volumes dropped too, although this is likely due to the CRL works
  • pedestrian volumes more than doubled!
  • bike trips were up, especially in the uphill contra-flow direction
  • more consistent and predictable behaviour was observed, with fewer conflict points

The follow-up also interviewed pedestrians, cyclists, and people from businesses on the street, who overwhelmingly found the street safer and more appealing than it had previously been. Also worth noting: “For business respondents, the street upgrade was mostly positive, with no bikelash (as seen following the implementation of some other cycleways).”

The main issues, especially as far as businesses were concerned, were to do with the planter boxes: “picking them up, realigning them, sweeping up dirt.” (In other words, the main issues were to do with vehicles running into the planter boxes!)

Interestingly, it also became clear the planter boxes were serving as an unexpected amenity for people waiting outside the Court building, both “as seats (as no seating is provided elsewhere), and as ashtrays.” In other words, people are quick to find a way to make unwelcoming public space more comfortable and functional. Related: the bike lane was also observed being used by pedestrians as extra walking space – again, that makes sense, given the narrowness of the footpaths on Federal St.

We’d conclude from this that people, as well as projects, are tactical!

Mackie Research also joined forces with Sensibel to gather user real-time responses from people riding along the street. This is a very handy way to discover issues that people might not recollect in tranquility, later, when they’re filling in a feedback form. You can get a sense of that real-time experience in the map below.

Feedback from people on bikes on Federal St, using the Sensibel device. (From Mackie Research’s evaluation of the Federal St project)

Another discovery was that – as you might have expected – people on bikes don’t necessarily travel the full length of the street, but pop in and out,  and tend to use three zones in particular. In other words, the street is not seen as an isolated ‘route’, but is part and parcel of a wider network of streets and destinations. It’s almost as if people on bikes are… people, who want to, y’know, go places!

Common routes and destinations for people on bikes along Federal St. (Mackie Research follow-up report)

Overall conclusions? As the Mackie report reminds us, the goal of the project was to create a sense of place on Federal St to offset the nearby CRL works –and in that regard it’s been enough of a success to recommend that the changes be made permanent when possible. That includes features such as a formally lower speed limit, better signage, and a raised crossing on Wynyard St. As a demonstration of nimble approaches to placemaking, the Federal St project is not just a pretty face: it’s solid proof that Auckland is more than ready to get tactical.

Header image by Marcus Pillay (Auckland Transport)

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