(see also Oral Submission)
Living Streets Hamilton congratulates the Hamilton City Council on its signing of the International Charter for Walking, and its interest in the activities of Living Streets Aotearoa.
To achieve real results in terms of Hamilton living up to the ideals of the Charter, Living Streets would like to be involved in a partnership with the City to plan for future pedestrian projects within Hamilton
We would like to address a number of issues which are directly connected to several of the “Community Outcomes” detailed in the draft 2007/2008 plan, and will discuss them under the relevant headings provided in the Draft Annual Plan.
“SUSTAINABLE AND WELL-PLANNED”
Pedestrian issues are of particular significance in areas 1.1, 1.2, 1.4 and 1.5
Living Streets Hamilton sees the removal of physical and psychological barriers as a first priority to assist in the growth of walking and cycling within the city. These barriers currently stop Hamiltonians from walking as a first choice of transport mode particularly for short journeys. It is well-recognised that people will not walk if they feel unsafe or threatened, and there are a number of major reasons why many people presently do not feel safe walking our streets. Some of the barriers that concern us are as follows:
1. Major roads with no safe crossing points, or very widely separated crossing points that cause unacceptably large time delays.
Notable examples within the central city and neighbouring suburbs include Boundary Rd, Five Cross Roads, Heaphy Tce, Peachgrove Rd, Hukanui Rd, River Rd and Memorial Drive, Clyde St, Grey St at the Cobham Drive end and of course the notorious Cobham Drive itself near the Hamilton Gardens. Roads such as these, with no safe crossing points, divide the city up into areas that people cannot get out of or into safely unless they drive. These barriers stop people from routinely walking to destinations that may only be a few hundred metres away, and contribute to an enormous amount of unnecessary traffic congestion.
Living Streets accepts that the provision of pedestrian crossing points is neither cheap nor simple, but the costs of congestion from people not able to walk or cycle are higher. Walking or cycling is a much cheaper and healthier option than the use of private motor vehicles that require the endless construction of new roads to accommodate ever-increasing quantities of cars. Now that climate change and global warming is an established fact, the need to reduce fossil fuel consumption should be a major priority. Hamilton could be a leader in making the environmentally healthy option (walking or cycling) easy and safe within the city.
2. Crossing points that are light controlled but still in direct competition with vehicles.
Almost all major intersections that have light controlled pedestrian crossings provide them as the very hazardous “turning traffic give way to pedestrians” variety. These are frightening both to pedestrians and to well-meaning motorists. Even with the best of intentions, a motorist can fail to see a pedestrian step out onto a crossing if the motorist is distracted by other traffic. Pedestrians live in fear that they will be genuinely overlooked and injured as a consequence. This stressful situation could be avoided by ensuring that no turning traffic is able to move at the time the pedestrian crossing light is activated for that side of the intersection
3. Isolated and concealed alleyways, gully paths and underpasses.
Many of these should provide excellent pedestrian shortcuts and help people in their decisions to make short trips (to school, to work or to the shops) walking rather than vehicular excursions. Notable examples of “perceived to be unsafe” paths include the gully walkway between Balloch St and Ranfurly St. This should allow residents of the Ranfurly St/Casey Ave/Tamihana Ave area to easily get to the Heaphy Tce shops without ever needing to venture on to Boundary Rd. Instead, because of the overgrown and isolated feel of the pathway, many women in particular will not use it and will not allow their children to use it either. For pedestrians there is safety in numbers. If shortcuts like this could be improved by cutting back surrounding foliage to offer a clear line of sight, adding lighting (possibly solar-powered battery operated?) and plenty of signage, and maybe even in the early days a surveillance camera or two, it is likely that usage would increase markedly and the safety of the area would remain high. Another notably unpleasant example is the wet, isolated and difficult-to-negotiate underpass under Cobham Bridge to link the east side of Cobham Drive to the Hamilton Gardens. Not only is the path inaccessible to the disabled and to pushchairs because of the steps, it is dark, threatening-looking and covered in graffiti. Few people would willingly go there on their own. Lighting, removal of foliage and better drainage would all help, as would removal of the steps. Here particularly, a surveillance camera might help prevent vandalism and improve public perception of safety.
Useful Projects that could help improve Hamilton’s walkability
Living Streets would like to encourage and try to assist in the development of the Walking School bus projects. School traffic is well recognised as a major contributor to the appalling congestion on some city roads at peak hours of day. During school holiday periods the traffic subsides to minimal levels. Observations have already been made to this effect by the safer routes coordinator and her research teams, and could be corroborated by anyone who lives near roads affected by the problem (Heaphy Tce, Boundary Rd and Hukanui Rd/Peachgrove Rd are excellent examples, where traffic is blocked in all possible directions on a regular basis). One of the major problems for walking school buses is the lack of adults who are available to act as ‘drivers’. Living Streets would like to support the scheme and lend its weight to efforts to recruit new volunteers.
Walk-to-work groups might be tried. The ‘safety in numbers’ factor could help here, just as with the use of currently neglected paths. Some informal research carried out at the Mosque roundabout on Boundary Rd by Living Streets members late in 2006 definitely suggested that pedestrians get far more respectful treatment by motorists in terms of being able to cross busy roads if there is a large group rather than isolated individuals. The idea of having some company while walking might also make the prospect much more appealing and encourage previously reluctant walkers to give it a go.
Slow Streets approach: The following reference relates to the development of a “slow streets” approach for residential areas in the UK. This article outlines in a brief and readable form a system in which pedestrians are recognised as the most important users of residential streets, and notes the finding that when streets were made wider and with maximum visibility for motorists, the motorists actually behaved more riskily. It proposes that streets themselves be designed to control traffic speed, and that the speed limit in residential areas should be at or below 20mph (32 kph). It may also be worth considering the value of education campaigns to encourage respect for other road users (eg giving way to and allowing pedestrians to cross) in comparison with the known large costs of improved infrastructure which allows motorists to have less rather than more consideration for other road users (eg bike lanes, where motorists can presume that anything that goes wrong is somehow the cyclist’s fault for not staying in the right place).
Encouraging Community involvement in planning new projects: Living Streets has recently (April 12, 2007) held a very constructive meeting between local Hillcrest residents and representatives from Foodstuffs regarding the closure and reconstruction of the Hillcrest New World supermarket. This had been a subject where a great deal of animosity had been expressed because local people had not been consulted, and they felt that their local village had been needlessly disrupted. When we approached Foodstuffs, they were very happy to come and talk to local people about their concerns, and they took very seriously a number of issues, many relating to pedestrian safety around the site, which local residents raised. This was all positive and helpful, but could have been much more so if the meeting had been engineered earlier in the planning phase – then there would have been much more chance for local knowledge to be incorporated in the design process. While council may have no direct jurisdiction over the usage of sites such as the New World supermarket, it may be able to facilitate negotiation between the developers and the locals at an early stage of resource consent applications, when compromise can be effectively made. Most developers don’t want to antagonise local residents, and the trouble that often arises may be due to lack of consultation rather than malice. Living Streets would like to be recognised as an interested party and advocate for future community infrastructural projects.
“VIBRANT AND CREATIVE”
Section 2.6 is of particular concern here: “has an attractive and lively city centre.”
While Hamilton has some truly lovely spots in the central city, it also has some awful ones, which are particularly unpleasant for pedestrian traffic, as noted below.
Making our streets more interesting. Walking is a lot more fun if there are interesting murals, bits of sculpture, interesting garden plots, pleasant places to sit…. Some of Hamilton’s streets are dreadfully faceless and some are positively intimidating.
The vertigo-inspiring experience of crawling along at the foot of the Garden Place Wall is not one that many people choose to have on a regular basis! Similarly the blank wall presented along the side of the new Warehouse building further along Anglesea St is totally unattractive and does not encourage foot traffic.
Some of these areas could potentially be transformed by quite simple and cheap measures, such as planter boxes, and street art (we do have Wintec with a well-respected Media Arts school right there in the centre of the city. Some of our public spaces could become teaching material, or project sites!) The comparison between Casabella Lane and the Wintec wall is fascinating. With more Casabella Lanes, Hamilton could become a beautiful city that attracts visitors into its central business district: a place to be walked around and explored, rather than a place to be driven through en route to somewhere else.
Safety issues could also be improved by making the central city more attractive and walkable. At present many people perceive the central city as the preserve of gangs of youths whose behaviour is less than desirable, and they prefer not to contemplate walking in the city at night. With more pedestrian-friendly lanes and attractive areas, the increased numbers of users would probably tend to inhibit the antisocial activities of the minority, and allow more Hamiltonians to reclaim their city after dark.
Section 3.3 lies at the heart of pedestrian considerations: “it is not too big and not too small, providing everything that makes life convenient without the problems of other cities”
- Experiences in Canada and elsewhere suggest that people will in fact pay considerable premiums to live in a ‘village’ environment, where all basic amenities are available within walking distance. This should not be the privilege of a few wealthy citizens. With sensible forward planning, everyone should have a local shopping village nearby.
Future subdivision developments within the city need to take into account the needs of the residents by including reference to walking, cycling and public transport links as part of any proposal.
“SAFETY AND COMMUNITY SPIRIT”
Sections 4.1, 4.2 and 4.5 are all of significance. Developing a sense of community cannot happen if impassable roads, nasty alleyways and dark corners isolate people. Points 1 to 3 made in our suggestions under the “Sustainable and well planned” section also apply here. The more accessible we can make our streets, the more we will deter petty crime (too many observant eyes out and about, and too many people who know each other and can recognise strangers), and the more people within local communities will get to know and trust one another. Walking allows direct contact with neighbours in a way that no other form of transport can, and social networks grow from familiarity. It is interesting that often the most effective neighbourhood support schemes operate in very small streets, where people can easily walk the whole area and get to know each other well.
“HEALTHY AND HAPPY”
Sections 5.1,5,2,and 5.3 are of particular relevance, as they relate to the ability of all citizens to access and participate in leisure activities and also to access places of enjoyment such as public parks and playgrounds.
Hamilton has some beautiful resources: the Hamilton Gardens, Claudelands Park, the entire river walkway system, Hamilton Lake walkway, the University gardens and many more. But many Hamiltonians can’t get at them because they are cut off by uncrossable roads, limited public transport or dodgy damp gully paths where they feel unsafe. By making our city pedestrian-friendly first and foremost, we can vastly increase the chances that more Hamiltonians will get out there and get active, thus improving their health and wellbeing. Happier, healthier Hamiltonians has to mean a happier, healthier city.
We totally agree that sections 7.1, 7.2 and 7.3 are essential in ensuring that Hamilton has a bright future for all its inhabitants. Living Streets Hamilton would welcome the chance to be involved in any possible ways in working with council and local community groups to make Hamilton a vibrant, accessible, pedestrian-friendly community. Planning before the event is always easier than retrofitting walking and cycling routes. Once again Living Streets Hamilton wish to be recognised as an advocacy group for walking. In that role we hope to be able to contribute positive suggestions to ensure that all new developments provide for walking and cycling as viable and sustainable transport options within Hamilton City.