The Wheels of the Status Quo go round and round (on Auckland’s roundabouts)

Dec 04, 2020
The Wheels of the Status Quo go round and round (on Auckland’s roundabouts)

Bike Auckland

When we first saw the consultation for a roundabout upgrade at Blockhouse Bay Road (closing 11 DEC), we had a severe feeling of “Deja Vu”. Placing the zebra crossings on various approaches on raised tables for better pedestrian safety, but leaving everything else essentially untouched?

Blockhouse Bay roundabout upgrade - artist's impression
The current consultation for BLOCKHOUSE BAY ROAD – raising zebra crossings, but keeping the multi-lane roundabout unchanged. Missing the forest for the trees.

Didn’t this look very similar to another roundabout which is infamously unfriendly to people not in cars? Well yes – the proposals are pretty identical to what Auckland Transport proposed in September 2019 for Royal Oak Roundabout, and which we criticised for not going nearly far enough.

ROYAL OAK ROUNDABOUT – Same issues, same lack of responses going to the heart of the problem.

After being so disappointed with the Royal Oak proposals, we spent a good chunk of time advocating in late 2019 and early 2020 for the below proposal, or something similar – use of tactical urbanism to trial taking the roundabout down to a single lane on the circulatory. This would have made it much easier to walk and cycle here, and also freed up space for a small public plaza by limiting the Campbell Road approach. Bus lanes on the approaching arterial roads would ensure that public transport could keep flowing well (or possibly even better) during the trial.

Our Royal Oak proposal back from 2019 – Tactical Urbanism: an approach that remains totally against Auckland Transport’s DNA.

Despite our attempts to get this looked at seriously, our proposal (and our limited champions within AT) were ignored in favour of much more minor changes. AT came back with a proposal for trialling taking one single dual-lane approach down to a single lane, at only one road. We explicitly told AT this was not worth their time and the political pushback, as that wouldn’t move the dial with the roundabout itself staying multi-lane. In any case, it has now been a year and nearly a half since the consultation, and nothing has happened (we are told decisions are imminent, but are not hopeful).

So here we have, now, at Blockhouse Bay Road, an almost carbon-copy example of the same changes proposed. Essentially add raised tables / zebras, and call it a day.

Why? Because that doesn’t take away traffic lanes, and thus is sort of acceptable to the Status Quo defenders.

Do we think the changes AT are proposing are bad? Not at all – they would significantly improve pedestrian safety, including making it less likely that children are being hit by drivers, as has happened at the Blockhouse Bay roundabout before. So raised tables are great. But they still involve spending a good chunk of money, effort and political capital on improving one of the symptoms of car dominance, while leaving the core issue alone. This roundabout won’t be changed again for a decade or two afterwards. Well, that is is like putting out the fire on your roof while saying that dealing with the gaping holes in the roof can come at sometime later.

This is despite Vision Zero, despite the Climate Emergencies declared in Auckland and now New Zealand. This is despite tactical urbanism offering ways to trial such more substantial changes in a way that allows AT to take some of the heat out of the usual opposition.

Multi-lane roundabouts are some of the worst possible designs for people on bikes, for people on foot, for town centres, for Auckland. Until Auckland Transport acts to change that, all these tweaks are just doctoring around the edges. Positive, but also a bit like throwing crumbs at a hungry person and saying “sorry, we can’t spend more, but there’s long term plans which are much more ambitious, just you wait!”.

We appreciate this blog is not a message of positivity as we often try to convey – more one of concern, frustration and exhortation to do better. But we need you to keep telling AT this is not good enough.

Click HERE to submit and tell AT (before 11 DEC):

  1. The proposal doesn’t go far enough to make cycling and walking safe, because multi-lane roundabouts are inherently unsafe.
  2. AT should trial taking the roundabout down to a single circulatory lane with tactical urbanism approaches.
  3. The raised table zebras are supported, but should be across single lanes

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