Lower Hobson viaduct to go!

Out of all the exciting plans and strategies for Auckland’s future that we’ve heard about over the past few days, perhaps the one proposal that gets me most excited is the prospect that the horrific Lower Hobson Street viaduct might be demolished. You know the one: We have done some pretty horrible things to our city over the years (Mayoral Drive, Nelson Street, Victoria Park flyover etc.) but I struggle to think of a more horrendous piece of infrastructure than this viaduct: particularly because of its prime waterfront location and the fact that it’s right next to the historic Tepid Baths building. Along with the “traffic wall” of Fanshawe and Sturdee streets and the ‘concrete jungle’ of the downtown carpark, this viaduct absolutely ruins this important corner of Auckland’s city centre.

Which is why I’m so excited to read in today’s NZ Herald that one of the first key projects for the Council over the next three years is likely to be the removal of this hideous thing:

The lower Hobson St flyover should be removed to create a plaza near the Tepid Baths and keep motorists away from the waterfront, say city planners.

The draft city centre and waterfront masterplans both advocate demolishing the concrete flyover, which takes motorists from Quay St on the waterfront on to Hobson St or Fanshawe St.

Ironically enough the viaduct is actually a fairly recent addition to our streetscape, being built in the late 1980s or early 1990s from memory. At the time it might have been a key route for port traffic heading to the Northern Motorway, but the spaghetti junction upgrades of a few years ago mean that it’s now vastly oversize and does little more than encourage traffic onto Quay Street.

Exciting renovation/redevelopment plans also look in store for the downtown carpark:

The masterplans also call for the council-owned Downtown carpark, with 1900 spaces, to become a commercial office tower with shops, cafes and restaurants at street level and some carparking.

Currently, the flyover and carpark building blight the area, obscure views to the city from the waterfront and are a barrier to pedestrians, say the planning documents.

It has always seemed a bit strange to me to have such a prime piece of waterfront real estate wasted on being a carpark (although this seems to be a common theme in Auckland). Something like the picture below seems a vastly improved urban environment for this area: I just really hope this becomes a reality.

Auckland Council shuns sprawl

Some detail on critical elements of the Auckland Spatial Plan are starting to emerge in the media, although the Plan itself won’t be released for consultation until September 20th. On Monday the ‘Element Magazine‘, which was included in the NZ Herald, noted the following about one of the key issues the spatial plan will face – whether Auckland grows through intensification, sprawl, or a mix of the two (and what kind of mix):

Element magazine questioned the mayor on the sweeping changes proposed in the Auckland Plan and his intentions to drive growth of the sprawling city back into the core of the region by innovations and incentives.

Firstly, we asked about the Metropolitan Urban Limit, an invisible line around the city, which has been repeatedly breached by previous councils keen to develop rateable greenfields. “We’ll pretty much maintain it,” he says. “But what we’re recognising is that over the next 30 years we’ve got another million people coming at us. So not only have we committed to that sense of a compact city and not overly allow sprawl, but we are going to have to provide another 400,000 housing units of different types over the next 30 years.

“We’ve calculated that we could probably do 300,000 within the present urban boundary.” Element magazine readers online recently voted urban sprawl second only to traffic congestion as the most pressing issue facing the region. Asked specifically if the intention is to ring-fence large parts of Auckland, Mr Brown says: “Yes.

“We’re looking basically to construct greater intensification, get a bit of height around some of our transport nodes.” Asked if the Plan will use incentives or penalties to drive change, Mr Brown says he backs Aucklanders to make the right choices once they are given the options. “This generation coming through now and those in their 30s and 40s mostly have travelled, mostly have done gap years, mostly have had their OE. They have lived in cities overseas and like what they see, are used to living in apartments and terraced development – unlike me and my parents, who were raised in the quarter acre Kiwi paradise – so they are looking for choice. So it’s not about walloping them and forcing them into situations. It’s about putting up options for them and allowing them to make the choices they like.”

An NZ Herald article on Monday provided a bit more detail on where the Auckland spatial plan will direct development over the next 20-30 years:

The draft, which goes out for public comment next month, calls for a quality compact international city centre, including the waterfront and city fringe centres Ponsonby, Three Lamps, Karangahape Rd, Parnell and Grafton.

The major metropolitan centres will be Takapuna, New Lynn, Manukau, Albany, Papakura, Sylvia Park and Westgate.

Only limited growth is flagged for the town centres of Howick and Devonport and for local centres Grey Lynn, Kingsland, Mt Eden, Mission Bay, St Heliers, Titirangi and Valley Rd.

Satellite rural towns due for upsizing are Pukekohe, Warkworth and Helensville.

There are no real surprises there. What will be interesting is to see whether any change is made to this map, which appeared in the Auckland Unleashed discussion document: I think the northwest area will probably survive, as may the area immediately south of Drury and between Flat Bush and Takanini. I’m not so sure about the area west of Papakura as a growth area – so watch closely whether that stays or goes. Other changes from the map above to what seems to now be proposed include a greater emphasis on New Lynn rather than Henderson,  Sylvia Park rather than Panmure, while Papakura, Takapuna and Westgate all seem to be ‘upgraded’ in the more recent proposal.

So while there may be some urban expansion in the Auckland spatial plan, it seems that the Metropolitan Urban Limit will be kept intact and most future development focused within those limits. Brian Rudman discussed this in more detail in his Monday column:

Today it is Mayor Len Brown versus Prime Minister John Key. With the release of the Draft Auckland Plan, Auckland Council has thrown down the gauntlet to the Government.

Senior National Party ministers have long fought against Auckland’s old regional growth strategy, based around a metropolitan limit designed to stop urban sprawl into the surrounding farmlands.

They claim it forces land and housing prices up and want it abolished – or at least made more flexible.

The new draft plan defiantly endorses the previous policy, declaring a top priority will be to “realise a quality, compact city”, preserving “a large rural land mass both north and south of its urban heart”.

It was a proud affirmation of past policy, and the Government wasn’t best pleased.

I’m very glad that the Council has taken this position, as it’s incredibly important for Auckland’s future that we do focus on intensification rather than sprawl – to ensure that our infrastructure investment is as efficient as possible. It seems that the government is rather unpleased though:

On Friday, at a meeting between Cabinet ministers and Auckland councillors, sources say the ministers couldn’t stop browbeating the councillors over the error of their ways.

“Quite intimidating and smalltown,” said one.

Fronting the critics was Environment Minister and Nelson MP Nick Smith, backed by Transport Minister Steven Joyce and Whangarei-based Housing Minister Phil Heatley.

Mr Joyce let rip last November waxing lyrical about the quarter-acre section, saying the challenge for Auckland’s spatial planners will be “not to impose their ideal Auckland on us, but allow for an Auckland that reflects the varied ways in which the people of our biggest city already choose to live”.

He found it “amusing” that where density had increased it was not along transport corridors “where the central planners said it would”, but instead “in the beachside suburbs”. The comment was something of an own goal, suggesting that if the growth strategy restrictions on urban expansion were to to be relaxed, urban Auckland would spread inexorably up the coast towards Whangarei.

The Auckland Spatial Plan was initially designed to bring Auckland Council and Central Government much more onto the “same page” when it comes to growth, transport and other priorities. As it seems they differ on such a fundamental issue (as well as obviously disagreeing on transport priorities) one wonders what impact the Auckland Plan will actually have. I am glad to see Council standing up to the government though – after all, Auckland knows what’s best for us.

Wynyard Tramway extended to Britomart within three years

It’s heartening to read in today’s NZ Herald that plans are advancing quite quickly to extend the Wynyard Tramway loop over the Viaduct Harbour and to connect with Britomart transport centre in the relatively near future.

Waterfront Auckland planning and design manager Rod Marler said the carnation-red heritage trams were a great short-term attraction for capturing the imagination and emotions of Aucklanders but the tram tracks, future-proofed to take light rail, offered a bigger opportunity along the waterfront.

The tram extension is expected to cost $8.1 million plus the cost of a new crossing, which is expected to be a lot less than the $47.3 million cost of an earlier plan for a permanent bridge across the Viaduct Harbour.

Auckland Council transport chairman Mike Lee said extending the trams less than 1km to Britomart would increase their value as a tourism attraction, picking up cruise ships visitors along the way.

Mr Lee, who as chairman of the Auckland Regional Council championed the $8 million set-up costs of the Wynyard Loop, said he favoured another crossing for trams as close as possible to the new $3.7 million pedestrian and cycling bridge across the Viaduct Harbour.

Work on laying tracks to Britomart could start at Christmas, and the project could be completed in about a year, he said.

I’ve always had some reservations about the tramway loop being so isolated from the rest of Auckland’s transport system – although I certainly understand that building the loop as quickly as it has been constructed was only possible because the connection to Britomart was pushed back into becoming a future project. Once the trams are connected to Britomart the opportunities are endless: continue along Quay Street and Tamaki Drive to St Heliers (much like the F & Market in San Francisco) or head up Queen Street and then along Dominion Road with modern light-rail vehicles as a way to cope with increasing public transport demand along that critical corridor?

In terms of the first step, to link with Britomart, I also like the idea of building a second bridge to carry the trams, rather than trying to rebuild the existing pedestrian bridge to do that job – as the new bridge could probably be a fair bit shorter and could be quite narrow if it doesn’t have to be shared with pedestrians. A very short second bridge on the eastern side of Te Wero island is probably going to be necessary as well, because of clearance issues with the old lifting bridge.

The tram plan forms part of a “Waterfront Plan” that the Waterfront Auckland CCO has been formulating. It has a number of great ideas:

It contained a lot of relatively inexpensive “quick hits”, such as a $9.2 million walking and cycling boulevard from the Auckland Harbour Bridge to Teal Park, and expensive “aspirational” projects, such as a new island off Westhaven Marina, built from dredgings, where people could live on boats.

The plan includes many projects already proposed, such as the boulevarding of Quay St from lower Hobson St to Britomart Place, creating a 4.25ha headland park at Wynyard Quarter, building a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf and a $4.4 million upgrade of St Marys Bay beach.

New ideas include a salt-water pool at the end of Queens Wharf similar to Sydney’s Andrew (Boy) Charlton Pool, a wharf extension at the end of Wynyard Quarter for historic ships and waka, and spending $700,000 to tear up the bland paving at Waitemata Plaza to create a green space in the Viaduct Harbour.

Another idea is to extend the Halsey St wharf outside the Viaduct Harbour for a new sheltered water space that could be used for dragon boat racing and other recreational activities.

So many great plans. So many great ideas. This is an exciting time for Auckland.

Guest Post: Why are there cars on Queen St?

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine

Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.

People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.

No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.

It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.

And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.

If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.

Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.

More detail about the City Centre Master Plan

I’ve discussed the City Centre Master Plan a few times on this blog previously, as it’s a pretty exciting document which seeks to transform Auckland’s City Centre from the car dominated place it is now to a truly world-class downtown, dominated by people rather than vehicles. An article in today’s NZ Herald provides a bit more information on what will be in the plan, which goes out for public consultation at the same time as the draft Auckland Plan: on September 20th.

A copy of the draft Central City Plan, marked “not to be distributed”, includes plans for temporary road closures of Queen St, then at lunchtimes within three years, followed by a staged rollout of a “shared space” where drivers have to thread their way around pedestrians.

An earlier proposal to close parts of Queen St to traffic has been abandoned because it “might be an unnecessary and overly expensive step”.

I’ve come around to also believing that a shared space might work best for Queen Street, at least in the shorter term. The article continues:

Projects that could occur over the next three years include the first steps to remove vehicles from Quay St and turn it into a waterfront boulevard, revamping Queen Elizabeth Square outside Britomart and building a cruise ship terminal on Queens Wharf.

A bit further out, there are proposals to turn the multi-lane, one-way motorway feeders of Hobson and Nelson St into “welcoming” two-way, tree-lined avenues, restore the St James Theatre and redevelop the downtown carpark as a commercial building.

The draft masterplan places a strong emphasis on making the city more pedestrian-friendly and having fewer cars, although there has been strong opposition from many businesses and property owners who fear the focus on pedestrians over other transport modes would have severe economic consequences.

One idea is to turn the abandoned Nelson St motorway off-ramp into a park connected to a new walkway-cycleway, much like New York’s High Line – a park built on abandoned railway lines above the streets of Manhattan.

Another radical and expensive idea is a land bridge over parts of Stanley St with the possibility of tennis and basketball courts, five-a-side pitches and a swimming pool to improve the connection between the city and Auckland Domain.

There are some really great ideas in there. The Hobson and Nelson street plan is remarkably similar to what I’ve been talking about for a while now, while the downtown carpark redevelopment is exciting too – particularly as it involves demolishing the Lower Hobson street viaduct: a horrible urban blight.

The final details of the City Centre Master Plan will be discussed at the Wednesday meeting of the Auckland Council Future Vision Committee. Looking through the agenda to that meeting reveals further detail of what will be in the Plan. Here’s a brief summary: It’s easy to come up with a million good ideas about how to transform Auckland’s city centre into the kind of place that the City Centre Master Plan envisages. And to an extent, the plan does have “a lot of good (and expensive) ideas”. But also, quite crucially, a number of ‘key interventions’ are also highlighted – some of which are pretty quick and cheap to implement.

Eight key initiatives are proposed by the Master Plan:

  1. Uniting the waterfront and the city centre – The north-south stitch
  2. Connecting the western edge of the city to the centre ‐ The East‐west Stitch
  3. Queen Street Valley CBD and retail district ‐ The Engine Room
  4. Nurturing an innovation and learning cradle
  5. New public transport stations and urban redevelopment opportunities at K Road, Newton and Aotea Quarter – Growth around the City Rail Link
  6. Connecting Victoria Park, Albert Park and the Domain as part of a blue – green park network The Green Link
  7. Connecting the city and the fringe – City to the villages
  8. Revitalising the waterfront water city

There are some great ideas proposed, like a linear park along a greatly narrowed Victoria Street, closing off Queen Street more often for events, better pedestrian connections across Grafton Gully, the aforementioned two-waying of Hobson & Nelson streets as well as turning Quay Street into a ‘boulevard’ within the next few years.

Priority projects, and their timeline for implementation, are outlined in the table below: I really hope this Plan can become a reality.

High Density Sprawl – not an oxymoron?

The most commonly cited characteristic of urban sprawl is its low-density. In fact, density is often used as the sole way of determining whether a city is sprawled or not – and (following on from that) whether a city’s urban form is conducive to public transport or not. However, you only need to look at a comparison of the density and auto-use of many different cities around the world to see that things might be somewhat more complicated than that: Overall city density is actually, I think, a fairly poor indicator – except at the extremes – of whether a city is dominated by urban sprawl and whether it has a form that works well for public transport or not. The digram below illustrates this point fairly well, assuming that each dot on a map represents a certain number of people, you have two places with the same overall density which are actually vastly different environments: But even then, I think that what I consider to be “urban sprawl” has much more to it than simply what density an area is – even if what we’re looking at is a small part of a city.

A good post on the New Jersey Future blog highlights this issue further:

Low density is certainly one of the dysfunctions of New Jersey’s (and the nation’s) dominant development pattern since 1950, but it is not the only one. Separation of uses – keeping homes, stores, and workplaces each in their own segregated zones, distant from each other – and a lack of connectivity in the local street network (with lots of looping streets and cul-de-sacs and a lack of direct through-routes) also contrive to make it hard to get around without a car. These other two factors can force people into their cars for most daily activities even in neighborhoods with high housing density.

This, of course, means that we can have ‘non-sprawled’ urban areas, even where the density is not particularly high:

Conversely, a mix of land-use types (residential, employment, shopping, etc.) puts a variety of activities – not just a variety of buildings all housing the same activity – in close proximity, shrinking the distances among multiple types of destinations. And a well-connected, grid-like street network ensures that physical proximity actually translates into easy accessibility by offering multiple, direct routes among destinations. That is, it means short as-the-crow-flies distances are also short walking, biking, or driving distances that may not require a trip out onto the regional highway network. And of course, putting dense, mixed-use, well-connected neighborhoods near transit creates yet another option for getting to desired destinations that are farther away.

Los Angeles is given as a good example of a city characterised by large amount of high-density sprawl, with the following paragraphs coming from here:

But if we measure sprawl by population density, LA would not sprawl at all. In fact, it would be the least sprawling urbanized area in the country. How can Los Angeles be so dense and yet also exhibit so many characteristics associated with sprawl, including high levels of car travel (both in per capita and absolute terms) and low rates of walking, bicycling and transit ridership?

… density by itself—the simple ratio of population to square mile—is not a very useful way to measure sprawl. What matters is the distribution of density, or how evenly or unevenly an area’s population is spread out across its geographic area. If we look at the density distribution in Los Angeles, we notice that its suburbs are much denser than those of other large U.S. cities, such as New York, San Francisco or Chicago. These high-density suburbs compensate for the comparatively low density of LA’s urban core, and, in so doing, increase the average density of the area as a whole …

The LA region’s combination of high, evenly distributed density puts it in an unfortunate position: it suffers from many of the problems that accompany high population density, including extreme traffic congestion and poor air quality; but lacks many of the benefits that typically accompany more traditional versions of dense urban areas, including fast and effective public transit and a core with vibrant street life. Los Angeles has, to borrow a term coined by urbanist William Fulton, “dense sprawl.”

As Paul Mees reminded us last week, Auckland’s population density is relatively high – at least compared to other Australasian cities: Auckland’s higher than expected population densities might somewhat be the result of development in parts of the city like Ponsonby and Royal Oak that I wouldn’t consider to be “high density sprawl.” However, some of the more recent development in areas like Botany seem to fit the definition of high density sprawl almost perfectly:

 At least with these places there are some shops across the road. Pity the road’s a 6-8 lane megahighway, about as uninviting  environment for pedestrians as you’ll ever see. Just down the road in Flat Bush, we have arguably an even better example of high density sprawl, as here there are very few shops anywhere near these new apartment buildings. I tend to think the best definition of urban sprawl is the type of urban development that promote car dependency. And while Auckland may be reasonably high density compared to other cities around Australasia, we certainly have an urban form (as well as a transportation system, obviously) which significantly contributes to our auto-dependency. Solving that issue will involve a lot more than simply raising urban densities.

Tracking Auckland’s buses

An excellent new blog about public transport issues in Auckland has been started up by Suresh Patel. One of the most fascinating elements of the new blog is that it allows us a bit of an insight into some of the inner workings of Auckland’s public transport system, because Suresh is undertaking a Teacher Fellowship scheme, looking into the effectiveness of new technologies used by Auckland’s public transport systems. Suresh has some fascinating insights into how our current public transport systems utilise various forms of technology, in particular how buses are tracked around Auckland.

In a recent post, we are provided with a really interesting look at the RAPID system, which is used to provide bus drivers with an idea about where their bus is compared to where it’s scheduled to be. Not only are bus drivers aware of this, but the offices of the various bus companies are also able to, at a glance, see whether their buses on the road are running ahead, on or behind schedule. This is encapsulated in the images below, at a zoomed out and more zoomed in level: Suresh explains the pictures above:

The colours denote how the vehicle time is running according to schedule. Yellow means the bus is on time, green indicates the bus is ahead of time and a red triangle signifies a vehicle running behind schedule by more than a predetermined number of minutes.

You’ll notice there are a lot more red and green shapes. That’s because the window for a bus to be considered ‘on time’ is very small. Riding around on buses it is very easy to see why it’s difficult for drivers to stick to the schedule. All routes have a built in buffer to allow for slight delays. Therefore if all is going well and there are no hold ups or few passengers a driver can easily get ahead of time.

However, during peak times (when this screen shot was taken), it is common to see a number of buses held up.

Interestingly, as will be fairly obvious by looking at the geographic location of the triangles, this is for a bus company not yet using the HOP system, yet we’re still able to get all this information. Clicking on an individual bus also provides even more detail:

 Suresh explains this screen in a bit more detail too:

For privacy reasons I’ve blocked out the Passenger count and Route number. The Passenger count tells how many people have boarded the bus for this trip. This information could be useful to decide whether a service requires additional buses or may need to be modified in some way.

At the bottom of the screen you can see the ‘Late time’. In this case the bus is running 8 minutes and 6 seconds behind schedule. The time is highlighted red because the delay is outside the acceptable limit.

Overall I must say I’m pretty pleasantly surprised by the level of sophistication that we see behind the scenes in the tracking of our buses. This is certainly a vast contrast to the “self reported” reliability statistics for bus operation that we see showing up in all of Auckland Transport’s monthly reports.

One wonders whether we might be able to see, report in the future, some indication of the percentage of bus services that arrive at their destination within 5 minutes of what was scheduled. It would also be good to have contract payments (after all the vast majority of bus services are publicly subsidised) linked to on-time performance statistics too. We might then see the bus companies pushing really strongly for better bus priority measures I would imagine!

Overloading Albert Street

One consequence of the recent bus route changes has been to shift even more bus routes onto Albert Street – as the 020, 030 and Inner Link have been shifted off Queen Street, while the 005 has been shifted off Hobson Street and Queen Street. At first glance that is not a bad thing: Albert Street has bus lanes while neither Queen nor Hobson streets do – so these routes should enjoy faster travelling times than they used to. However, it has seemed to me after a few days of observations, that Albert Street is really getting to the point of being tremendously overloaded in terms of the number of bus routes it has to handle. Furthermore, Albert Street’s bus lanes aren’t actually particularly high quality.

The map below shows in green the extent of the Albert St bus lanes, as far as I can ascertain. While they are reasonably continuous, major pinch-points exist around the corner with Victoria Street for southbound vehicles and around the Customs Street intersection for northbound vehicles. Having so many West Auckland buses turning right into Victoria Street, then using Hobson Street to get up to Pitt Street, rather than just going straight up Albert and Vincent Streets, is a bit bizarre and probably slows then down a lot. But ultimately, I think by having most buses from West Auckland, the North Shore and (now) the Western Bays all using one route in central Auckland is problematic. Particularly because, unlike Symonds Street, its bus lanes aren’t of a particularly high quality either.

Another weakness of Albert Street is that it has no bus stops between Wyndham and Wellesley streets on its souther side: a core part of the city centre where people can’t even get on the bus. This is due to the stupid slip-lanes in both the two blocks, which not only destroy Albert Street’s urban form, but also narrow its roadway width and prevent the location of any bus stops.

 In short, we’re asking too much from a street that, while in some respects is pretty good for public transport (in terms of its proximity to many high-rise buildings where people work and less conflict with pedestrians that Queen Street) is certainly not ideal.

There are two steps that I think should be taken to improve this. The first is to send all those West Auckland buses up Albert & Vincent streets, rather than take the huge dogleg via Hobson Street. This should speed up their trips times quite a lot. The second is something I’ve been talking about for a while now – to shift all the North Shore buses other than the Northern Express to travel via Wellesley Street – along a route somewhat similar to this (though I haven’t yet resolved how to turn them around at the university, so let’s just set that issue aside for now): Dedicating Albert Street to West Auckland buses, while making Wellesley Street the main route for North Shore buses, should also help make it easier to understand Auckland’s bus system – along with the obvious advantage of providing a direct link between the North Shore at the university (with some buses extending to the hospital, Newmarket and potentially beyond). But perhaps most importantly, it would ensure Albert Street can operate more efficiently for all users, as it wouldn’t be quite so overloaded.

Our street network working against us

The City Rail Link (CRL) is a vital project for the city however as we know the government commissioned review has rejected the business case for it. While many of us know that the review has many flaws, some of the recommendations made about how to improve the BC for it are sensible, in particular the need to get more people using the existing rail network. Some of the more commonly suggested ways to increase patronage are things like better feeder buses, more park and rides and also having higher residential density around stations. Of course there are downsides to each of these, feeder buses can be costly to run, park and rides take up a lot of space or are expensive if built as a parking building and we still get a lot of people that complain about the idea of having higher densities, especially the fear of increased traffic in the area.

One thing that isn’t often discussed is about making it easier to walk (and cycle) to train stations. Thinking about this I thought it might interesting to see just how accessible the area around my local station is.  Most people are only likely to walk for a maximum of 10 minutes to catch a train and this probably equates to about 1km so how far does this get us? For this I decided to use my local station, Sturges Rd, as it is not next to a town centre it has very few places that would naturally attract patronage so it is key that it is as easy as possible for people to get to.

The red line is the rail line, the red shaded area represents the area 1km from the station (yes there is a big bite out of the bottom but that is because that area is so close to Henderson station) and the blue lines represent how far someone could get by walking for 1km in any direction away from the station, this includes all roads and any pedestrian only areas like alleyways etc. Most of the area around the station is pretty flat so walking/cycling to or from it is not hard.

Of course we are never going to get every single house in the red area to be within a 1km walk of the station however due to the poor road layout there have been some serious gaps allowed to develop. Probably the worst of these is just to the northeast of the station with the houses around Te Kanawa Cres. Some of these houses are as close as 400m to the station yet someone would have to walk for over 1km just to reach it.

Cycling of course has the ability to extend the reach of the station and these residents could ride a bike but it is hardly the friendly place to cycle in Auckland. It would require riding along a busy four lane arterial or on skinny footpaths as the streetview image below shows and when they get to the station there isn’t really anywhere safe to leave bikes for the day (yes there are a couple of bike loops installed but they are all very exposed and it is no surprise that no one uses them).

One thing is the station does already have a park n ride and a decent one at that at about 170 spaces, perhaps two or three of them could be converted into a covered and secure bike storage area?

Issues of accessibility like this are all over the city and it’s hard to say what the best solutions are as they will be different in each case. In some cases the removal of a couple of houses could be all that’s needed to give a lot of people much better access to local stations while in others it might just be something more simple making the existing access safer and more pedestrian friendly.

No further explanation needed

Hat tip to Robin Hickman via Twitter: