Local folk: Bryce Pearce

Local folk: Bryce Pearce

An urban lifestyle is what drew Bryce Pearce and his family from their ‘quarter acre’ paradise in Te Atatu Peninsula to an apartment in Kensington Park. The move strengthened Bryce’s strong views about connectedness and the need for an integrated public transport system. He spoke to Terry Moore about town planning and why he thinks Penlink is a bad idea.
 
Some people see me as anti-car, which is strange as I’m a mechanic by trade. What I’m interested in is finding the right mode for the task: sometimes it’s walking, a bike, bus or driving – we need to enable all the modes with proper planning.
 
I have been living in Kensington Park for 18 months with my wife and our son. Our move here was part of a journey towards a less suburban lifestyle. We came from a 1300sqm section and Californian bungalow in Te Atatu Peninsula. It was all about renovating a house and building a big garage – sometimes you think you want something, but actually it doesn’t feel right ­– at least that’s how it was for me. We lived on a residential road that had very fast traffic travelling along it and Auckland Transport wasn’t interested in doing anything to make it safer. Residents asked for a raised crossing to slow cars going into a zone near the local school but got nowhere. So my son had to stand on the side of the road on a wet day and wait for ages for a chance to cross a very busy road to school. By contrast, I see Kensington Park as a great example of town planning because of proximity to facilities such as a town centre, schools, parks and the beach. Around here you often see people on bikes or walking back from the supermarket with their shopping. Roads have been built narrow so it’s safe for pets and for my eight-year-old son to ride his bike around the neighbourhood. It’s all really connected. Not everyone will live like this in the Auckland of the future, but a significant portion of residents will see it as not only a better way of using limited land resources, but a better way of living. Here we can sit on the deck and have a coffee or a beer and chat with neighbours – it feels like a proper community. I think our suburbs have lost that, which is one thing that guided me towards my interest in town planning/urbanism and transport. I work from home but also have to drive to film locations, where I work on health and safety. Generally I’m lucky to be travelling out of peak hours but when I do get stuck in traffic I wonder how people do it every day. There is a better way.
 
I have been involved in Cycle Action Auckland and also Bike Te Atatu, which was a bunch of parents trying to transform their suburb into something awesome. Bike Te Atatu been going about three years and I understand its gaining some traction now. Auckland Transport is helping to fund a coordinator for other suburbs to set up their own ‘bike burbs’ and I hope to do something like that here in Orewa. We have always approached traffic planning in New Zealand with the idea that where there’s congestion we need to widen the road or build more roads. But the fact is that no city is able to find its way out of congestion by building more roads. As soon as you build a road, it fills up with traffic. Anyone who drives out of Whangaparaoa or Silverdale at peak times knows that it stops at Oteha Valley Road. You would save yourself just five minutes by going down Penlink, on Auckland Transport’s own figures. When it’s first built, you get big savings in travelling time, but in five years that advantage will all be gone. We have to look at other ways.
 
I think Auckland Transport did a really poor job of consulting on the new bus network – it did not give enough options. It was a missed opportunity to really sort out public transport around the Coast. The biggest cost on buses is drivers’ wages and inefficient routes are not making the best use of that money – for example, the bus goes from the end of Whangaparaoa Peninsula to the city, taking basically an hour and when it returns, it’s empty. That’s good for commuters, but expensive. If Auckland Transport had gone out and offered an all-day service at 15 minute frequencies, which is accepted internationally as a standard for public transport, that would have been a better bang for the transport buck. You could run the Northern Express into the Silverdale Centre every 15 minutes and then into town, with buses from Orewa and Whangaparaoa to connect with it in Silverdale and it would be ideal. As it is, it’s going to be half-hourly, so the cost of running that service will reduce what can be offered locally for the rest of the day. The Silverdale Centre would be a better hub than the park and ride and that’s what Auckland Transport should be working towards – at the moment they say they can’t use Silverdale Centre as a busway because of traffic issues, yet they’re bringing buses along the highway which is where things are most congested. There is also no walk-up to the park and ride, whereas at the Silverdale Centre you have shops, schools and other facilities. At the same time, there is a lot to like about the new bus network. It will mean that at peak times I can catch a bus from Puriri Ave and it will take around 50 minutes to get into town from walking out the door. Where it failed is the frequency of the service so that it can provide for people travelling around the Coast as well as for commuters. I’ve worked these things out by observation, asking questions, making submissions and reading lots of books including Human Transit by Jarrett Walker and books by Jeff Speck and others.
 
Penlink started as a two-lane road, but has grown into this four-lane monstrosity. The traffic projections show that two lanes are enough to cope, and of course way cheaper to build. A better option would be to run bus lanes up the centre of Whangaparaoa Rd where the median is – this still allows cars to turn. Most of the road wouldn’t need to be widened, but car parking along the side would have to go; that’s not ideal on an arterial route anyway. A bus lane along Penlink is a terrible idea because Penlink sits half way along the peninsula. It means that providing that link into town for anyone commuting from the Army Bay/Gulf Harbour end of the peninsula will be expensive because you’re splitting the service. It would come at the cost of more frequent buses right along the peninsula into Silverdale and Orewa, which residents and people who work locally (non commuters) need. So it’s more efficient and cost effective to route public transport through Silverdale. There is no doubt that lights are needed at the Silverdale St intersection with Hibiscus Coast Highway, and a 60kph speed limit down the highway. It’s not a State Highway any more and people need to be able to cross the road to go to the pub other than via an underpass. It’s about building a liveable centre.
 
If the question is: ‘how do you connect businesses and people without building new roads’, then the answer is public transport and urban design. I was surprised to see the Plaza defending Penlink, as if it’s built those shops may struggle to find tenants, other than the supermarket, as Penlink brings Albany closer. Whereas intensifying development around The Plaza, so people can live and shop there, as well as providing a bus interchange down Main Street, would help secure its future. That connected development is what’s happening in Manly Village and the same applies to Orewa. I would hate to see more buildings the height of the Nautilus on the beachfront, even though aesthetically I think the Nautilus looks fantastic – it’s not just a square box. But six storeys through the Orewa town centre seems about right, with a bigger terraced house zone to allow more people to live there with walking access to the town centre. That’s good for business. If you can walk to a local bar on a Friday night and not have to worry about driving, surely that’s a good thing and that’s being played out all around the world. Instead of allowing high rise development on the beachfront, Council should be buying those properties as a natural defence against sea rise. They took money from things like selling the Mad Butcher’s Block – why was that not spent on purchasing properties along Orewa beachfront? I was opposed to Countdown and New World expanding so much – supermarkets are not ‘anchors’, the beach is the anchor and always will be.
 
I started putting regular congestion maps on Twitter, which highlighted what most people know anyway ­– that the worst areas in peak hours are where there are a lot of intersections onto Whangaparaoa Peninsula, such as around The Plaza, at Vipond Rd and Red Beach Rd. As for safety in a Civil Defence emergency, I had a very close look at Whangaparaoa Rd and there is a 600m long stretch that doesn’t have an alternative route. That doesn’t justify the expense of Penlink. You could make safety improvements on that stretch of road to diminish the chances of a crash, but in the end when things like that happen you have to cope as best you can. There are no guarantees. If you choose to live on a peninsula, as I did at Te Atatu, you take into account the potential risk. Where we are in Kensington Park, tsunami would be devastating – we live with that.
 

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