Local Board transport priorities good for business

I prepared this report as an attachment to my February 2012 monthly board report


I attended the Auckland Walking Seminar hosted by Auckland Transport on 2 December 2011. Buried within what appeared to be uninspiring programme that gave no hint at the relevance of the seminar to an audience far wider that the usual collection of transport planners, engineers and advocates, was an excellent presentation by the key note speaker Dr Rodney Tolley.

The purpose of this report is to highlight Dr Tolley’s presentation and in particular the findings from  the recently published discussion paper Good for Business – the benefits of making streets more walking and cycling friendly. What the paper shows, using examples from all over the world, is the tremendous value in investing in good walking and cycling environments.

The benefits of making streets more walking and cycling friendly

By way of introduction Dr Tolley outlined why walking isn’t just about transport. It is about access to facilities, spending time in a place and the use of public space.  Every journey has a walking component but historically the importance of walking has been ignored by planners and politicians.

However what international cities are now recognising is that a good walking environment is a pre-condition for an economically healthy city. It means higher rents, adds value to the area and creates economic benefits.  The discussion paper written by Dr Tolley asserts that a well-designed, quality street environment that promotes walking, cycling and public transport is good for business.

A range of relevant points were made by Dr Tolley and covered in the report:

  • A high proportion of all retail expenditure comes from local residents and workers.
  • Space allocated to bicycle parking can produce much higher levels of retail spend than the same space devoted to car parking.
  • Many car-borne shoppers are “drive-through” shoppers, stopping to pick up one item on the way to their eventual destination, rather than people for whom shopping is their main purpose for visiting the area.
  • Retailers overestimate the importance of the car for customer travel and underestimate the value of spend from those who arrive by means other than cars
  • The more “walkable”  an area the higher the value of the surrounding property
  • Two thirds  of Generation Y say they would like a more walkable environment (many of whom are travelling less by car)

As concluded in the report retail vitality is best served by traffic restraint, public transport improvements, and a range of measures to improve the walking and cycling environment. . There are many ways improve the walking and cycling environment including lowering speeds, shared footpaths, reallocating space and taking a “complete streets” approach so that the design allows for safe access to all users. Possible streetscape enhancements highlighted by Dr Tolley can be low cost and easy to implement such as creating “parklets” on streets using existing car parking spaces.

The report brings together the evidence around the financial benefits to retailers and residents with compelling statistics that will be of interest to all business people and planners.   For example on Lygon Street in Melbourne it has been estimated that 1 car space generates $27 of spend per hour whereas 6 bike park spaces generate $97 per hour. What the evidence also shows is that investment in pedestrian and cycle friendly improvements is incredible value for money.

For recent projects in the UK the average BCR is estimated to be 19:1(and this is without factoring in all the possible environmental benefits such as the reduction in air pollution).

What this means for Auckland

Dr Tolley’s report is of huge relevance to Auckland at a time when investment in shared spaces is underway and promises to be taken much further if outcome 9 (A walkable and pedestrian-friendly city centre) of the Draft City Centre Masterplan is adopted. The new enhanced streetscape environments are already having a positive impact. Pedestrian activity on streets that have been designed as new shared spaces such as Elliot and Lorne Streets have increased between 50 and 140% (Auckland Transport media release). The NZ Herald recently reported that the makeover of Fort Street is pushing up rents and creating retail interest in the area. At the same time there is continuing resistance from retailers and businesses who remain unconvinced of the benefits.

However as Dr Tolley highlighted those parts of the city that fail to restrain traffic to the detriment of shoppers such as Ponsonby Road (four lanes of traffic) and High Street (narrow footpaths to allow for excessive on street parking) will struggle to retain their retail vitality without embracing a different approach to the design of the streetscape that welcomes pedestrians and cyclists.

Local Board priorities – good for business

As well as putting the spotlight on the benefits of street scape investment in the city centre, Dr Tolley’s presentation reinforced that we have got the balance right in our Local Board Plan. Within our priority “Connected, health transport options” are proposed projects and initiatives that will be good for business across the Waitemata local board area. As detailed in the plan we support innovative approaches to reduce traffic congestion and enable walking and cycling. We want to ensure that our street environment is constructed in a way that allows people safe and easy movement and enjoyment of their environment . We therefore support the expansion of shared spaces and making streets like Hobson and Nelson Streets pedestrian friendly.

Two projects in particular should reap economic benefits. We are advocating to Auckland Transport to develop and deliver masterplans for Ponsonby Road and Richmond Road taking a “complete street” approach.

Seminar for business

As a follow up to these findings I will be working with Auckland Transport and business associations to host a seminar that is directed at retailers and businesses interested in learning more. It is timely for our business people to be presented with the evidence about how much benefit is to be derived from taking a fresh look at street design.