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Scorching Bay, Wellington

Scorching Bay, Wellington. Credit: Wellington City Council.

Great street design helps make our existing towns and cities great places to live, work and play but wholescale upgrades have long timeframes, are expensive, and face a wide variety of barriers.

Like many countries around the world, Aotearoa is at a critical stage in deciding how best to respond to the challenges our urban centres are facing. Many cities have declared a state of climate crisis, are grappling with unacceptable rates of crashes on their streets, and urgently need to improve public health. People need tools to adapt their streets at a pace that matches the scale of these challenges.

By testing innovations in streets with communities before committing to major investment, road controlling authorities can have more assurance that they're getting the direction of change right. Testing also enables communities to get a sense of what their streets could be like, to input to changes in an iterative process and make more informed decisions.  This technique of employing fast tactical changes is well-evidenced and has the potential to deliver significant safety benefits in a short time frame.

Figure 1. Innovating streets process diagram

About the Innovating Streets programme

The vision of the NZ Transport Agency’s Innovating Streets programme is to make it faster and easier to transition our streets to safer and more liveable spaces.

We aim to help the sector plan, design and develop towns and cities by providing a toolkit of techniques specifically targeted at retrofitting streets to reduce vehicle speeds and create more space for people.

We are improving the support we offer to councils involved in street innovation by providing draft guidance that will be tested through several live case studies. This support package will make it easier for councils to deliver:

  • temporary, or semi-permanent, physical changes to streets
  • improvements that test a permanent fix and prototype a street design
  • activations that help communities re-imagine their streets

This guide aims to demystify the process of transitional design, of testing changes and provides a growing body of evidence from cities around the country. It provides low-cost options for improving the vitality of our centres and making spaces that work harder for our communities.

The guide is a work in progress and the tools, case studies, monitoring and evaluation and legislative changes will be updated as we progress.

Who the guide is for

The Innovating Streets guidance is primarily for professionals: council staff, consultants, politicians, and those who are mandated to deliver streetscape projects.

However, it also seeks to support community groups or members of the public who are thinking about change in their local streets.

Before getting started

Innovating Streets is an umbrella term for any project that seeks to:

Use quick, lower-cost and temporary techniques to deliver positive people-centred changes to streets

 

This can include tactical urbanism, ‘trying through doing’ for consultation, fast changes to streets, and activations to help people think of their streets differently.

The Innovating Streets guidance separates projects into three types:

  1. Pop up: 1 day to 1 week
  2. Pilot: 1 week to 12 months
  3. Semi-permanent: A number of years.

While a permanent solution is vital to understand and aim for, its delivery and project steps are not covered in this guide. Similarly, large-scale pilots and those in higher-risk road environments are not covered. These will be covered in the Transport Agency’s Complete Streets Guide, currently being worked on.

Why use an Innovating Streets technique?

The first question is: why use a temporary or interim technique rather than a standard process?

Reasons include being able to:

  • test different treatments in real life, and learn with data and evidence, which work best, for example,
    • Installing a variety of different design options for an overall treatment and seeing what works best for people, either simultaneously in different locations or sequentially over time
    • Having a discrete temporary installation in an area of a larger project, such as an intersection, driveway or village centre
    • Running an interim initiative (or several) in the lead-up to a major redevelopment of a space, which informs people’s decisions about what it should be like once the permanent change is made
  • draw readily on locals’ experience of what will work
  • centre the public debate on how to achieve the desired objective with the street, not whether it’s worth doing at all
  • bring forward installation of treatments much sooner after the initial conception of the project
  • gather data ‘live’ and highlight differences between people’s perception and reality
  • have a conversation about important issues like what makes a street ‘work’, who are its ‘users’, what is ‘safe’, what ’improvement’ means.

Safety first

Before starting on your project, you need to be clear if a temporary approach is appropriate for your project given its environment. Many Innovating Street projects are directly aimed at safety improvements, but no matter what the objective, safety needs to be front of mind at every stage of the project.

Overall, it is important to retain perspective of the risks and understand the benefits of the street changes your project will test. Our research found that ‘safety’ and ‘risk’ are often used as generic reasons not to innovate. It’s important to find the balance of managing real risk appropriately. This draws on your organisation’s commitment to innovation, and is important in project design and also in engagement and communication.

Seven factors for innovation success

This guide is devised for lower risk streets, where there are already, or you are trying to achieve, slower traffic speeds and lower volumes of traffic.

Most suitable for Innovating Streets projects Less suitable for Innovating Streets projects
  • Streets with an operating speed of <30km/h or,
  • Streets where a design change aims to result in an operating speed of <30km/h.
For example:
  • Main shopping streets
  • Residential streets
  • Laneways
  • Shared space streets.
  • Streets with an operating speed of >50km/h, or
  • Streets with a posted speed above 60km/h.
For example:
  • Rural roads
  • Arterial roads
  • Rapid transit or busy public transport corridors.
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