Street Smart (Winter 2020)

From the front...

Winter 2020

I am currently feeling very grateful that we live in a country that responded promptly to the health crisis sweeping the world with a measured, yet firm response that has enabled us to return to business faster than many other countries. Like everyone, I’m really hopeful that our success in fighting COVID-19 as a nation continues. On the surface, many view New Zealand as a resounding success. The envy of our neighbours. But before we can breathe a collective sigh of relief, I ponder a question – does our well-managed response to COVID-19 mirror the same level of planning in other facets of our economy?

To enable us to grow and remain competitive on the world stage, our infrastructure needs to support an increasing level of productivity, particularly in high growth areas such as Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown. This requires a strategic long-term, integrated plan that this recent crisis has exposed as a weakness in our national planning arsenal. COVID-19 has highlighted that local government can sometimes be disconnected from the national perspective through policies that are not appropriate in a time of crisis. There is a real opportunity to improve our resilience through big picture thinking at a national level and planning for the future now.

With that in mind, COVID-19 has made us rethink how we live in so many different ways – our homes, where and how we work, how we commute. With the lockdown came a sense of quiet, slower pace of life and birds returned to our cities. The waterways, air and roads cleared. There is hope that growth and increased productivity can occur without the negatives of increasing pollution and carbon emissions.

At Abley, we recently launched ‘FlexAbley’, a flexible working arrangement designed to support our employees to achieve a good work-life balance. It has the additional benefit of helping to reduce our carbon footprint as an organisation. Our team are ergonomically set up to work from home as required, and we make sure everyone stays connected with time in the office together and regular social activities. We are trying our best to be sustainable without forfeiting productivity – change continues, and with robust planning hopefully the positive outcomes we have experienced from this crisis will remain. 

Keep safe and stay in touch,

Steve Abley 
Chief Executive

walking, active

Helping to create more walkable places

Abley have completed research for Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, delivering a walking level of service framework that will help enable smarter decisions for pedestrian-friendly towns and cities.

Walking level of service was defined as a measure of the walking conditions of a street environment from a pedestrian experience viewpoint. It follows a framework based on factors that are important to pedestrians, so that these are all considered within the planning, design and operation of the transport network.

Qualitative research was undertaken to inform the development of a pedestrian level of service framework for New Zealand. The framework and an accompanying online assessment tool was developed in collaboration with transport practitioners. Together, these form the starting point for a consistent approach to measuring and evaluating pedestrian level of service in urban areas of New Zealand.

The framework is applied to street families within a movement and place functional street classification. It consists of 19 metrics that contribute to five pedestrian level of service outcomes. The framework includes both safety and amenity drivers that are fundamental to people walking, and supports network-wide assessments such as the development of a One Network Framework and Network Operating Plans, as well as street level scheme assessments and individual pedestrian treatments.

The proposed assessment tool, once validated, will support smarter decision making around street environments to encourage walking, and ultimately contribute to more liveable and vibrant communities.

The research report will be published by Waka Kotahi in the coming weeks.

Ann-Marie Head
Associate Director, People and Places


Innovative app takes top prize

Abley’s Web and Software development team won first place for Oceania at HERE Technology’s virtual hackathon #HackForBetterDays.

Held in May 2020 across the Asia-Pacific region, 50 teams took part in the competition, with 800 participants across 20 different countries. The challenge required teams to use location and other disruptive technologies to build innovative solutions to respond to society’s current and future needs following the impact of COVID-19.

Through rapid prototyping, our agile team developed an app called “Solitude”. It was created using the HERE platform and live data from Uber Media, augmented with Abley’s unique combination of transportation and geospatial expertise. With social distancing an effective measure to reduce the spread of COVID-19, we wanted to find locations and services in the community where other people weren’t – places of solitude, free from crowds and queues.

By using mobile location data to identify quiet and busy areas, Solitude enables users to easily find out how busy their favourite places are before they leave the house, or even find alternative quieter venues they didn’t know about before.

Solitude allows users to search for different types of destinations and gives each one a rating of how busy it is in real time. The user can identify busy locations at a glance, find out more information about potential destinations and quickly figure out the best way to get there. 

Delivering training to Australasian practitioners

Following the release of the updated edition of the Austroads Guide to Traffic Management, two training webinars were delivered by Ann-Marie Head and Jeanette Ward recently, with over 1,750 registrations from across Australasia and beyond.

The first webinar, Pedestrian Planning Concepts, focused on the diversity of people that influences planning and designing for walking, how to plan for walking, and the selection of appropriate methods and tools. A key message was that walking is a healthy, sustainable, and equitable travel mode that also provides first mile/last mile access for many journeys. This means we need safe, accessible and enjoyable walking facilities that enable liveable places.

The second webinar, Measuring Pedestrians – Survey and Audit Methods, explained the value of measuring and auditing walking activities and environments, the measuring process and various technologies that can be used, and also types of audits that can be used. Measurement is important because understanding pedestrian movement and activity (or lack of it) is essential in order to effectively plan for pedestrians and to ensure we create places people enjoy and value.

Project examples are used throughout both webinars to illustrate and reinforce the content. The updated edition of Austroads Guide to Traffic Management incorporates research and recommendations from a project our team undertook in 2018 and 2019.

Webinars can be a highly effective way to deliver training modules. If you would like to discuss your transport training needs, please contact Ann-Marie Head or Jeanette Ward for more details.

Jeanette Ward
Technical Director, People and Places

Ann-Marie Head
Associate Director, People and Places

augmented reality image showing shipping containers at a port

Augmented Reality in times of crisis

As COVID-19 rumbles on around the world, there is a recognition that despite the disruption, life must go on. 

The need to deliver projects, to share common understanding and to work together remains the same. A detailed 3D photo realistic model can provide a simple way to understand large industrial, multi-functional sites like seaports and airports.

Viewing a model on a flat screen monitor lacks depth and prevents engagement. Augmented Reality (AR) using a 3D model allows the user to become fully immersed in their environment. The demos you often see are of a single building model, but these lack the context of their surroundings.

During lockdown, Abley’s spatial and data team were implementing ArcGIS Enterprise at Ports of Auckland. Not being able to be on-site inspired us to start looking at other ways of ‘being at the Port’ without actually being there.

Abley has a strong relationship with Aerometrex who has built impressive 3D models for Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in Esri mesh format. Their models are stunning and with a resolution of 5cm can be used widely.

By using FME’s AR transformer, our team was able to convert their models into files compatible with the FME system. Before long, we had developed an Augmented Reality model of the Port that could drop us next to the cement silo and enable us to virtually explore the Port from the comfort of our office. After ‘finding one’s feet’ in the virtual world, navigating through the digital environment of AR is as easy as doing it in the real world. AR has become VR.

Planned future iterations of AR modelling will include spatial layers from enterprise GIS to create a digital representation of industrial sites and complexes that extend far beyond the boundaries of individual buildings. This means that regardless of the weather, location or global pandemics, employees will still be able to interact with and understand their environment.

Auckland office expansion

With rapid growth of our Auckland-based team and needing additional hot desks for our visiting team members, we realised we needed more office space.

Fortunately for us, the neighbouring tenants at 70 Shortland Street moved out in early 2020, so we took the opportunity to expand our office to the whole of Level 1. With an additional 14 desks, we now have capacity for 35 people in our Auckland office, more meeting rooms and a larger communal space for our team to enjoy.

If you’re in the area, do pop in and see the team in their new space – you can be sure the coffee machine will be on and the team are always keen for a friendly game of table tennis if you’re up for it!

Improving DOC roads

Abley is helping the Department of Conservation (DOC) improve road safety and visitor experience when travelling to key tourist destinations and recreational areas all over New Zealand.

In terms of length of its roading, DOC is one of the largest road controlling authorities (RCAs) in New Zealand, managing roads ranging from two-way sealed roads to back country 4WD tracks. DOC’s road network is a small component of the infrastructure it maintains, besides walking tracks, huts and forests, yet these roads provide an essential transport link to many popular tourist and recreation destinations.

Abley developed a framework for assessing the safety risk of DOC roads. Generally, crash risk on roads is assessed through previous crash data and proactive data collection like personal and collective risk and Infrastructure Risk Ratings (IRR). It is difficult to accurately estimate the number and severity of crashes on DOC roads due to a large proportion of crashes being under-reported, the very low traffic volumes and the short length of individual corridors that make up the DOC road network. Therefore, Abley developed a proactive risk assessment framework that does not rely heavily on crash data to assess the risk of future crashes on the DOC road network.

The visitor experience is also important to DOC. Abley developed a Journey Management Plan to help DOC improve information for people travelling on DOC roads. This involved an assessment of the current visitor experience and suggested key improvements, such as producing better information about DOC roads, regular assessment of the customer experience and improving signage and way finding information.

Now’s the time to explore our own backyard. DOC destinations are divided into four groups – icons, gateways, local treasures and back country networks. We challenge you to discover one icon, one gateway and one local treasure destination in your region.

Todd Davis profile image

Meet the team: Todd Davis

With 20 years’ experience in the spatial field and almost five years at Abley, Todd has seen his work evolve considerably. Paper maps used to be part of his daily work. It has now been a decade since Todd made his last paper map.

Beyond “going digital”, there has been a shift in emphasis towards facilitating the flow of data between systems, so that decision-makers can gain easier access to better information. Data sources and destinations include API’s, databases, Excel spreadsheets, web pages and automated text/voice message. Todd played a major part in making these changes to Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team’s (SCIRT) GIS system, winning a range of national and international awards for his work.

Today, Todd is focused on data integration and systems. He is one of only two people in the world to hold both Esri Enterprise and FME Server certifications. FME has allowed Todd to implement both spatial and non-spatial processes quickly into a range of different organisations including our own, enabling analysis and solutions that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago.

Todd is involved in many projects internally, acting as a sounding board, developing a bespoke requirement or providing quality assurance. He also works on major projects with a number of large clients including Fulton Hogan, Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, Statistics NZ, Transpower and Department of Conservation.

Outside of work, Todd enjoys spending time with his wife, kids and cat. A next-level DIYer, Todd is currently building an FME process that will automate his home’s electricity plugs and air-conditioning and to monitor his soon to be installed solar-panel inverter.

Todd Davis
Technical Director, Systems and Data

Creating communities in Auckland

Our Land Development team provides independent transport and traffic advice for developers and planning authorities, including Auckland Council where we process around 140 consents per year.  

It’s always exciting when a consent is granted and construction starts, especially for larger or nationally significant projects.

A significant project we worked on recently is the Kāinga Ora Northcote development. Kāinga Ora are building 40,000 new homes in Auckland over the next 15-20 years on brownfield sites.

At Northcote, approximately 1,500 homes will replace 310 existing dwellings, along with a new town centre, greenways and parks. Made up of a mixture of state and market housing, the development will meet the needs of a range of demographics.

The Northcote development has been split up into stages and sections. Our team contributed to a significant stage that has included a new vested road and a number of dwellings and townhouses. Construction has now started for this stage and the new road is nearing completion, as seen in the image above.

The high-density nature of the development, with an increased number of vehicle crossings onto a vested road, made this a complex consent. The high number of vehicle crossings meant it was important to ensure adequate safety for pedestrians by assessing sight lines and gradients. This required us to delve into Auckland Transport’s design standards to ensure compliance, while also providing our specialist transportation advice and experience to our client.

Beyond Northcote, our team reviews many resource consents on behalf of our clients, and is also involved in a number of Transport Assessments and Integrated Transport Assessments. Our unique perspective as reviewers for Councils gives us the ability to foresee issues that may arise in the consent stage and address them early on.

We are excited to see new developments by Kāinga Ora come to life and proud to play a role in ensuring they meet the needs of their future communities.

Shendi Mani
Transportation Engineer

Abley team photo Dec 2019

Join our team

We are always on the hunt for talented professionals to join our award-winning team.

If you have transportation, spatial or software development skills and experience, and you are looking for an exciting new opportunity, we would love to hear from you! 

View our careers page for more info.