Tactical Urbanism auckland
Photo by Auckland Council

Tactical Urbanism – quick, cheap solutions for Auckland's pedestrians and cyclists

Declan Weir says tactical urbanism could make it easier for people to walk and cycle around Auckland.

Weir, a recipient of the J H Aspinall Scholarship,  has just completed his dissertation; ‘Unlocking the potential of tactical urbanism for active transport promotion in Auckland’.

Active transport is physical activity as a way of getting around, including by foot, bicycle and other non-motorised vehicles.

If we want more sustainable, healthy, friendly and fair cities then active transport is crucial. But it only thrives in urban areas with planned streets and infrastructure that make travel safe, comfortable and pleasant for users.

Declan Weir

In the past, Auckland’s transport planning has focused on car traffic flows over the needs of active transport. This means the city's street network offers little safety, comfort or appeal for people who are not in cars. And so, Auckland has low rates of walking and cycling.

However, the city now has a strong mandate for change. The climate crisis is creating a strategic will to promote walking and cycling. But the conventional tools and approaches that Auckland uses to plan have failed to create quick change.

But there is a solution. Both overseas and in Auckland quick, cheap and light ideas for creating 'people-centric' streets are growing in popularity. These ideas are known as 'tactical urbanism' interventions.

Tactical urbanism is low-cost, temporary changes to cities that change the way people move around and engage with public space. People can implement them quickly using low-cost materials while councils plan bigger, more complicated infrastructure. They can overcome the intransigence of conventional planning - delivering immediate improvements to walking and cycling networks. Some examples include painted crossings, street-surface art, kerb extensions and planter-box protected cycleways.

Weir's research asks how we can support tactical urbanism to improve walking and cycling in Auckland. He contrasts the city with Burlington, Vermont which has used tactical urbanism successfully. There, the council found that people did not want to walk or bike because of poor infrastructure and safety concerns. So, it created an action plan for quick-build improvements that used low-cost materials.

These action plans let people experience low-cost improvements before committing to long-term capital upgrades. Within 18 months Burlington finished five quick-build street projects that made it easier to bike and walk. Using cheap materials like pot plants and plastic bollards, it increased its total bike lane network by 23 per cent.

Weir says that Auckland’s current framework presents significant barriers to people who want to use tactical urbanism to get similar results.

Weir cites the busy Broadway-Teed St intersection in Auckland's Newmarket as an example. Thousands of pedestrians cross the road each day without a signalised crossing – a high-risk spot with large volumes of often speeding traffic.

A report to Auckland Transport (AT) recommended a cheap tactical urbanism intervention. It suggested extending the no-stopping zone either side of the crossing by 5 metres on either side so walkers could better see oncoming traffic. And the pedestrian crossing zone would be painted with red polka dots to create the visual impression of the need to slow down. Similar polka dots had slowed most traffic in other areas of Auckland by 5.4 per cent.

Unfortunately, says Weir, AT dismissed the tactical crossing from its workstream in August 2019. Instead, it proposes to build a permanent, signalised crossing which will take at least a year to construct and will cost $200,000 - eight times the cost of the proposed tactical intervention.

Weir says there were several reasons for AT abandoning the tactical crossing. The biggest factor was NZTA’s onerous requirements for trialling and approving the new ideas. This would have extended the project timeline from three months to at least two years.

He says international case studies show you can streamline the process for city planners and citizens who want quick, cheap changes. This could unlock Auckland for pedestrians and cyclists and move the city towards a more sustainable, healthy and friendly transport network.


You can read Declan Weir’s research, which the Walking Access Commission provided scholarship assistance for, on the Commission website  

Tactical urbanism project on Sale St, Auckland. Photo credit: Auckland Council.

Tactical urbanism project on Sale St, Auckland. Photo credit: Auckland Council.