The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

7 Aug 2016

Why is walking in Auckland so awkward?

Back when I started this blog I made this handy flyer to remind myself how you’re supposed to get around in Auckland.

A handy reminder

Things are improving, slowly, but they’re also coming from a deeper low than I first realised. There’s this deeply ingrained assumption everywhere that you normally drive, while walking is some obscure corner case not really worth catering for.

Let me count the ways walking is awkward around here:

The traffic law

I’ll start with something unique. Unlike Weet-Bix, this one is truly Uniquely Kiwi:

Pedestrian give way rule

Yes, at intersections pedestrians must give way to any car traffic, whether it comes from the main or side road, and whether or not it’s turning. That is, ummmmmm… quite unusual.

Other countries give some degree of priority to pedestrians. Usually they have at least priority over turning traffic when walking along a main street. Europe achieves this by painting zebra crossings everywhere. In the United States—the place where the term “jaywalking” was dreamt up!—pedestrians have priority by default.

Not in New Zealand. At every side street, you have to use your 360° spider-sense to look for oncoming cars.

Zebra allergy

There is this park in Western Springs, which is really popular in the weekends. You see a lot of young parents with their strollers over there. But after parking or getting off the bus you first get to cross Great North Road:

Stroller trap

In other words, you can start your walk in the park by dodging cars with your stroller. Fun!

Incidentally, there are a few town centres where you do have zebra crossings—on the Shore, Birkenhead and Milford spring to mind. They also happen to be the nicer town centres around there. What a coincidence.

Traffic lights

Have you ever had the impression that those pedestrian buttons at traffic lights don’t really work? You’re partially right. In a car, if you arrive halfway the green phase, you may continue. But as a pedestrian you have to wait around for the next green light. You see the odd signalised pedestrian crossing, but a lot of them will make you wait an eternity before giving green light.

If you’re really unlucky the council thought that 3 crossings was quite enough, thank you very much, and you get to do all three to continue on your way.

Some final suckiness before you may enter the Lightpath

Cars Shall Turn Freely

What makes crossing side streets even more exciting is the ridiculous amount of highway engineering going into our crossings.

Tamaki Drive / Ngapipi Road intersection

This rather infamous wart sits along Tamaki Drive, and it stands out as being a barrier to an otherwise fine cycle route. How do you cross that sweeping 40 m radius turn? At least this one is going to be fixed.

Hurstmere Road / Killarney Street intersection

Here's one in Takapuna. Similar thing, but here that slip lane to the left doesn't have a stop line. It looks like you’re supposed to merge, at full speed, with traffic along Hurstmere road, like on a motorway!

And that side street is just a small local street!

All so those poor cars don’t have to slow down too much when turning. In case you’re still walking, better hone that spider-sense.

About car drivers

Here’s a question to anyone driving a car:

You just turned out of your driveway, and 100 m in front of you, you see a guy crossing the street on foot. Do you:

(A) Slow down until he finishes crossing the street;

(B) Accelerate as usual. That guy just has wait, even if he happens to be standing in the middle of the street.

The default answer over here is … (B) ! It’s just ghastly. Even when driving, you just don’t get used to the way people run off the street as you approach.

Perhaps this is the Kiwi version of the running of the bulls in Spain. And we can enjoy it every day.

But why?

I really don’t know. I guess getting around in any other way than driving is considered weird over here.

But promoting walking to a ‘normal’ way of using a street is an often forgotten step in a lot of other plans, like promoting public transport or promoting living in smaller houses and apartments. You can’t take the bus if you can’t walk to the bus stop. And living in an apartment gets quite claustrophobic when getting out is this unpleasant.

And now, someone please explain to me how a city where walking is marginalized like this, ends up calling itself the most liveable city in the world?

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