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How polka dots are helping resolve Auckland’s traffic woes

Polka dots are usually reserved for clothing items, Dalmatian dogs or a game of Twister, but they’re increasingly cropping up on the roads of Auckland’s CBD as part of a ‘tactical urbanism’ plan to help with the city’s traffic and construction hot spots.   

Tactical urbanism was coined in New York in 2010 and is a term used to describe quick, cheap and often temporary projects that aim to make a small part of a city more lively or enjoyable.

Some examples include pavements-to-parks, open streets and guerilla gardening. In Auckland, the council is engaging in another type: Polka dot décor for the roads.

It says the polka dots are intended to create a slower, safer environment by standing out against the otherwise bland charcoal background and grabbing drivers’ attention, which in turn will heighten their awareness of cyclists and pedestrians and cause them to slow down.

On Federal St, construction is currently underway to improve the pedestrian and cycling facilities,so polka dots will be installed along sections of the road to make it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to cross it until a permanent upgrade of the road is complete.

As well as this, a blue-coloured cycle lane will allow cyclists to ride safely in the opposite direction on the one-way street.

The tactic is a low-cost, quickly installed design, as well as one Auckland Council has experimented in the past. It rolled out a trial of the polka dots on Shortland St last year when safety concerns were raised about pedestrians trying to cross in that area.

Auckland councilor Chris Darby said the polka dots are an out-the-box way of make traveling through the centre of the city safer.

“We want our city centre to be attractive and easy to get around. There is a lot of construction happening throughout the city, and instead of this being a challenge, we want to use this time as an opportunity to try something new and innovative,” Darby says.

“Projects like the Federal St upgrade give us a chance to try something new and see how it works before we commit to a permanent solution, and it gives people a more attractive and safe area to walk and cycle around.”

Other examples of these tactics around the world include a neighbourhood in Vancouver, Canada, where a crosswalk was decorated with rainbows and studied as part of an experiment by Happy City author Charles Montgomery.

The move was so popular with people that it became a permanent fixture, with visitors reporting feeling 40 percent happier at the rainbow intersection than they did at a normal intersection a block away, as well as 60 percent more likely to want to meet friends there.

They also said they believed that if they lost their wallet there, they were much more likely to get it back if a stranger found it.

In Bogotá, Colombia, one of the city’s poorest districts has used road paintings, polka dots and planters to mark a route between a kindergarten, school and park, with the goal of making the city easier to travel in for children, as well as reducing traffic speeds.

Construction of Federal St’s cycling and pedestrian areas is expected to be complete by late March, while a development on the corner of Federal St and Victoria St West is expected by to be complete by April.

After this, Auckland Transport manager for walking, cycling and road safety Kathryn King said feedback would be collected from road users, pedestrians and cyclists to see whether to make changes to the design and layout – a similar process used in other urban cities around the world, such as Melbourne and New York.

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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