A month ago, I did something that is now highly illegal and has caused our planet a lot of problems. That thing was travelling. I flew over to New Zealand and attended the Transportations Group Conference. Over 200 people from across New Zealand and other parts of the world attended. Luckily, the conference was held the week before the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions came into place for both Australia and New Zealand.
The theme of this years’ Transportation Group Conference was Equity in transportation. Firstly, I would like to thank AITPM for giving me the opportunity to attend the conference on behalf of the organisation. The conference was incredibly informative as it enabled the attendees to be able to listen to the presentations about initiatives and projects currently happening across NZ. Whilst I was there, I was delighted to hear delegates in NZ express their interest in attending AITPMs upcoming conference. I have come away from the conference reflecting on how I can ensure my projects can be evaluated from an equity lens and feeling very inspired and eager to apply and share these lessons learnt to my clients and others that I work with.
Here are some of my highlights from my time in Christchurch at the conference.
One of the keynote speakers on the first day of the conference was Hon Julie Anne Genter Associate Minister for Transport. Towards the beginning of her presentation she posed the question of “What do we want our transportation systems to deliver?” and responded saying, “for towns and cities that enable our people to thrive; this means not just building big infrastructure for the sake of it.”
She brought forward the need to rebalance transport funding, highlighting that for many cities around the world, including NZ, that for the past 50 years transport infrastructure has been focused on cars and trucks. This has consequences for equity, as it focuses on long, single purpose journeys, to and from work and requires people to have access to a private vehicle and be able to drive. Sound familiar? For transport to become more equitable for all people, planning must start putting more weight on shorter multipurpose trips
David Sim, a creative director from Gehl Architects, gave a very interesting talk about how human behaviour is influenced by the urban environment. He shared many case studies from European cities of how small and subtle changes in public space, public and active transport design have created a sense of community. He highlighted that good public space gives a reason for people to explore and enjoy their time travelling from A to B either from interacting with others on the streets or simply enjoying waiting at the bus stop because bus stops are great people watching locations.
Tactical urbanism is when low cost, temporary changes are made to the built environment to improve safety and amenity of the space. It is not a new concept however due to the recent disruption in travel behaviour by Covid-19 restrictions, it is a tool that is being used by many cities including Auckland to give more space for cyclists and pedestrians. Prior to this NZTA was already funding initiatives which were aiming to transform streets to safer and more liveable spaces, through temporary techniques and tactical changes. Kathryn King spoke about Waka Kotahi NZTA Innovating Streets programme, which is a fund that helps create more people-friendly spaces. It was great to hear how positively the community has responded to the changes in the street design, such as parking removal, as initially there was push back due to perceived impacts.
Two Innovating Streets projects in Auckland: a) Sale Street extended kerbs b) High Street widen footpath
A highlight of the second day of the conference was going on a Transport and Place Making Walking Tour with Ryan Reynolds (not the actor) from Gap Filler. As it was my first time to Christchurch, I learnt a lot during this about how the city faced, and is still facing, several challenges in revitalising the city centre after the devastating earthquake in 2011. The earthquake resulted in the city centre closing for four years. This closure meant many people who were living in the heart of the city moved out and those businesses relocated, causing the city life to diminish. Gap Filler is a creative social enterprise that came about after the earthquake to help with disaster recovery. It’s aim is creating interesting and interactive places, working with communities in both the public and the private sector. This tour explored several social enterprise experiments and public amenity projects that had been done in the inner city, with the developer of the new residential housing, to help create central city residential communities. Project included a detour bike path for commuters to travel on different terrain, community tool shed, bouldering wall and spray can graffiti walls for youth activities.
Another highlight included a tour of recent cycleway infrastructure implemented across Christchurch by Emily Cambridge (image 5) and I also enjoyed the “cafe learning session” which was indeed a conference session, although a different format, that included one presenter to a round table of about 6 where they pitched their topic, idea or question which then was discussed (Image 6).
Image 5: Emily Cambridge (Transportation Group, Beca), Rachel Kohan and Melissa Winter (Bay of Plenty Regional Council)
Image 6: Ben Frost presenting at the Learning cafe.
I had a great experience at the conference, and truly have become a more informed transport professional for having attended. I would like to say a big thank you to Gemma Dioni and the Transportation Group for welcoming me and thank you again to AITPM for giving me this opportunity. I’m looking forward to growing the relationship between the institutions and I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to apply next year for the NZ Study Tour award.