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Observing Fort Street

During my lunch break today I headed down to see how the Fort Street shared space is working. The weather was good so I spent around half an hour watching how the place works. Overall I was pretty impressed by how the area works. People generally have the confidence to walk down the middle of the street, the cars generally travel at a slow speed (around one in four went a bit fast for my liking) and the mix of pedestrian and cars, a kind of glorious chaos, actually seems to work. It’s also interesting to see how the area is starting to change as a result of the shared space. The Kebabs on Queen and Sumo Sushi stores you can see in the photo above have pushed seating out onto the street.

What the Fort Street shared space highlights though is how bad pedestrians have it in other parts of the city. Not far behind where this photo was taken is the corner of High Street and Shortland Street, an incredibly busy intersection for pedestrians but with no traffic calming measures for vehicles zipping down the Shortland Street hill. It’s only a matter of time before something goes wrong there. Plus the bizarre nature of High Street, with its narrow (and generally overflowing with pedestrians) footpaths so we can provide a handful of on-street parking spaces.

For future shared spaces there is one thing that I think could make them better, and that is a noisier road surface. Not only would this slow drivers down (nothing like a rough noisy surface to slow you down) but it would also ensure that when you’re walking down the middle of a shared space in the same direction as vehicles you’d actually be able to hear them come up behind you, rather than feeling somewhat unsettled and constantly looking over your shoulder to see if there’s anything behind you. I’m not quite sure how you could achieve such a surface that’s still comfortable to walk across – while ensuring the noise isn’t so loud as to annoy people in the area, but I think it’s worth looking into.

I think the shared spaces will be really popular as the weather improves. It certainly felt like a really nice place to enjoy my lunch.

34 comments to Observing Fort Street

  • Stu Donovan

    I ate lunch on Elliot Street and had similar thoughts – the street environment was fantastic compared to what it was like before. Look forward to seeing more of the same on High and Fort Street.

  • Feijoa

    I also think these shared spaces are a great improvement. Sometimes I wonder if they should be posted as 20 km/h limit, for the 1 in 4, but maybe that goes against the whole concept. CCTV to catch and prevent illegal parking and, increasingly, charge the delivery trucks and cars that are smashing up the street furniture would be an improvement too.

    But they’re working. As the weather has improved Elliot St has been getting really busy and traffic is very light so quite a nice and lively environment.

    • Ingolfson

      “Sometimes I wonder if they should be posted as 20 km/h limit”

      A 10 km/h speed limit was discussed, but was seen as encouraging drivers that 10 km/h was OK (!) – rather than them having to accept that sometimes they have to go even slower.

  • Matt L

    I really enjoy the new shared spaces and I get a sense that most other people using them really enjoy them as well, people are already claiming the space which is great and I have had little problem with cars at all. I think they have already been a success but I think they will come into their own during summer. Hopefully this will put the pressure on for more to be done. The addition of the outside seating for the food outlets (the sports bar also has the same seats) is great and helps to further claim part of the street away from cars.

    Also as a note, Kebabs on Queen put a special on during the construction which was obviously to keep the business going. All kebabs or rice meals were $5 and having visited there from before the upgrade I can say they were much much busier and had had to hire more staff to keep up with the demand. It was obviously a good move for them as they have kept the price the same even though the construction has now finished :-)

  • Sam

    The shared spaces are great- although I think it would have been nice if cars had to follow a slightly indirect path along the street, encouraging them to slow down more and mingle with pedestrians more- a well placed extra tree or two would have this effect.

    I see they are measuring traffic along Fort Street – I would be very interested to see the difference between original traffic flows and current.

    I know i would be more expensive, but would cobblestones provide the noisy, bumpy surface requested above? They’re nice to walk on, and visually attractive, especially in more heritage areas I would think.

  • “Plus the bizarre nature of High Street, with its narrow (and generally overflowing with pedestrians) footpaths so we can provide a handful of on-street parking spaces.”

    I’d suggest an audit of every on-street parking space in the CBD and each inner suburb and if it can’t really justify it’s existence and it isn’t the best use of the space it should go (ie it could be used by a bus, a cycle or a pedestrian, or it could be better grassed, paved or with outdoor seating). The ones on High Street for instance, but hundreds more too.

    • And of every free left turn…..

      • arnie03

        I know this is on the council’s to do list (remove the free turns), but what is to stop them from sending out a road marker to track down as many free turns as possible and paint a crossing on them? A simple interim measure…

        • Ingolfson

          Safety. Putting zebra crossings where they should not be (such as on free left turns) will actually kill a few people. People step out without looking, because they suddenly have priority, and drivers, well, they think THEY have the right of way…

          A good interim measure (but also not exactly cheap) would be to put raised crossings over those free left turns. Like at the turn left from Remuera Road into Broadway.

          • arnie03

            I disagree. Most are shaped with pram crossings and can handle crossings without additions. There is no difference to the free turns at Symonds St/K Road and K Road/Queen St apart from the crossings on the later. If you are going to go to the extent of raised crossings you might as well just remove the free turn instead.

  • Rtc

    I’d like to see a trading scheme for parking places – if you build 100 you need to remove them from elsewhere, this could include paying the council money to remove on street ones or buying carparks in other buildings and removing them.

  • SteveC

    I spent a while watching Elliot St last week and agree with Sam, drivers should be made to follow a tortuous path to encourage them to slow more, they seemed to be travelling a little too fast,

    one thing I did note and it mirrored what happended in Cuba Mall in Wellington, pedestrians seem to stay close to the old footpath, whether due to force of habit, to be close to the shops, or to shelter under verandas, I’m not sure, anyone else notice this behaviour?

    • James B

      I think a lot of pedestrians simply don’t want to be in the way. I don’t generally walk right down the middle, but somewhere closer to the old footpath in case a driver comes along. Having said that when crossing the middle I take my time as if I am on a footpath. I think that is the essence of what a shared space is. Rather than create a new footpath in the middle of the street, the purpose is to prevent the street from acting as a barrier to accessing each side of the street.

  • James B

    I saw one car go way to fast through Fort Street. I mean he was probably going 50+ which I consider way to fast even for the non-shared spaces around the city. He didn’t even blink when he entered the shared space. Lucky it was a horribly, yet dry day. So no one was around. If it had been a nicer day he would have taken out someone. Braking hard on that surface would almost certainly result in a skid. Apart from that though most people have been pretty good. The most interesting thing is having a little dance with a car when you stop to let them through, they wave you across and suddenly neither of you knows quite what to do.

  • Bryce

    I know people don’t like parking buildings but I would prefer another couple of those, built in a way as to not be too obtrusive, and then remove a lot of the street parking. Even once the public transport system is, hopefully, built to the extent we want to see there will still be people who need to use cars on a regular basis.

    • Stu Donovan

      Auckland has an over-supply of car-parks already, so better to just remove the car-parks methinks. There’s also a lot of on-street capacity in most places at most times of the day, so demand will just shift to those places.

      • Bryce

        Read Jeniffers reply down further. Cars parked on the side of the road cause problems for cyclists and pedestrians. Why not remove them to their own ‘house’? I say get rid of roadside parking in the CBD altogether aside from areas of 2 min parking.

    • Scott

      I think its simply cost. Casual (hourly) street parking is generally cheaper than parking in buildings (especially at night). I think it should be the opposite way around.

  • I agree it seems to be working nicely on Fort St, but it’s an absolute disaster down on Britomart Place, at the end of the new Takutai Atrium.

    They’ve gone for the cobbled approach to try and slow cars down and allow pedestrians to cross the road, but it’s just not working. We cross there each day and it’s incredibly unsafe. They seem to have added some temporary bright coloured posts or whatever you might call them, to form an island in the middle of the road, but it’s still not enough.

    What was wrong with a regular ‘ole crosswalk here? Drivers are completely ignoring the new cobbled area and just hooning over it!

    • Scott

      Im pretty sure cars have right of way in that area, hence the higher speeds. It does look a lot nice now, but i found it much easier to cross before the upgrade, as there was a nice painted median to wait on in the middle of the road. (I come off anzac ave so the yellow poles are a little out of my way).

      • Raffe

        I walk across this regularly from the Takutai exit. Some cars behave appropriately, others don’t. More signifiers may be required, such as judder bars at either edge of the cobbles, a formed island in the middle of the road,, a narrowing of the carriageway, or a lowered 20kph speed limit sign.

        When constructed, they should have raised the cobbles to the level of the pavement at either side to signify to drivers that they did not have priority – I would think there is more pedestrian traffic across there each day than cars.

    • James B

      I think part of the problem is the proximity of the two intersections. This means that cars are often queued on each side of the road. If you pedestrianised Quay Street from Britomart Place to Hobson Street you could eliminate one set of lights and remove a queue. You could also add a pedestrian crossing half way along the road phased to the intersection with Customs Street.

    • Tim

      I’ve been itching to post on this disaster for a while, good to see it raised. Like Admin I’ve taken some time to observe this space, got some interesting photos and videos for Auckland Transport if they want them. I recommend any student of urban design to grab a coffee at one of the spots under Westpac and watch…..it’s educational.

      Whoever conceived and approved this street treatment needs some serious help, because it seems to do everything that we don’t want to do with street spaces. It’s ambiguous who has priority, but not in a good way, just downright dangerous.

      It has a surface treatment that seems to infer something different from a normal vehicle street, including the rumbling surface Admin wants to see more of, but it’s aligned and dimensioned for high speed. It’s four lanes wide, no provision for pedestrians and nothing making drivers slow down AND a side road joining which flicks out large numbers of trucks from the Countdown and car parks. In theory the space is treated just like the other Britomart forecourt, Queen Street, but it just goes to show how the same treatment can fail badly when different factors apply to the space. In this case the majority of the traffic is cars and trucks rushing around rather than slowly maneuvering buses, the form of built enclosure around the space is totally different, and the surrounding pedestrian network offers significantly lower level of service for peds.

      I find the only way to negotiate this space is to just step out and eyeball the drivers, like a shared space, but totally expecting (and having experienced) the type of confrontational face-off conflict that we really don’t want in shared spaces. Other people react in a wide variety of ways – there are a lot of people crossing from the station and from the new car park and gym – and lots of the situations that occur are really very close calls.

      I’m kinda hoping that it is an experiment, because if it is intended to be a permanent treatment then something has gone badly wrong. At the moment there’s a set of flimsy plastic bollards out in the middle of the road as a temporary island – they have already been there before from memory, although the space has only been in this form for a few months. All sorts of interesting vehicle movements happen around these bollards, especially dodgy right-turners out of the Countdown exit using the wrong side of these bollards.

      Overall – it sucks as the treatment for Britomart’s second exit.

      It feels like it needs vertical calming elements urgently, ideally some trees in build outs, and reduction in the number of lanes, and narrowing of lanes, at the points of entry to the space from Quay and Custom Streets.

      • Ingolfson

        “In theory the space is treated just like the other Britomart forecourt, Queen Street”

        Actually, I HATE QE II square as a pedestrian. Gosh, there are so many buses there, it feels frightening to cross. A big raised crossing along the middle would help. Would have to be pretty wide though, to allow buses to go across without too much passenger discomfort, and space is already so at a premium there. Can’t really see how the city centre master plan can envisage changing this to a nicer area, though either – the buses HAVE to go somewhere central.

        As for Takutai – I don’t think it is an experiment. I think it’s just not received much thought at all!

  • Jennifer

    I tried cycling down High Street a couple of days ago and it was an evil experience. Half the parking needs to go at least, and I hope it’s high on the list to be considered for shared space, or pedestrianised.

  • LucyJH

    High Street is so bizarre. Why such narrow footpaths? And why is parking so important to the success of the businesses there (which mainly seem to be cafes and high fashion shops – i.e., not the kind of place you need a car to carry away your heavy purchases after popping into the store for 10 minutes) but not to the shops on Queen Street?

    • Ingolfson

      Because it was rebuilt in the mid-or-early 2000s, when the rabid “we need parking or our shops will die” thinking was everpresent. Now at least, there’s counterarguments.

    • Bryce

      High St actually has a parking building really close by that works well. We use it often. Park the car and wander the whole area at our liesure. On street parking is not required other than for short term service vehicles.

  • Bryce

    Oh, and we take the car because it takes 40 or so minutes to get to town on the bus vs 15 in the car. (return trip – 30 mins or 1 1/2 hrs – hmmmm)

  • Ingolfson

    You are missing my pointarnie03. Installing zebra crossings generally has a NEGATIVE effect on pedestrian safety. According to NZTA’s own pedestrian manual, installing zebras on average leads to a 10% increase of pedestrian crashes. Installing them on slip lanes is just adding to the hazard, because drivers are busy checking the road they are wanting to merge with, and do not observe pedestrians as well as they could.

    Increasing pedestrian priority (which is a good thing) should not come at the expense of pedestrian SAFETY – not even at low cost. Say no to flattened pedestrians! [Even if they had right of way]

    And installing a raised crossing is still a lot cheaper than reshaping the whole intersection (which in many cases they would have to do, to accommodate the left turning flow at the main stop lines).

  • Cornelius

    Fort St is a massive improvement and you can already see the positive effect on the business there. However I believe it will only show it’s full potential once Queen st. is closed off from through traffic. There is still far too much traffic feeding through here, mostly from people turning off Quay st, looping round to go left up Queen st. Purely because they can, not because it’s a route to anywhere. Be great if they could just close the exit out to Queen st. One big bench or planter box should do it :)

  • Cornelius

    Oh, and whats the deli-o with Police parking here. Are they exempt from using the space for long term parking? I often see the cruiser or Paddy Waggon sitting there all day. Not like there isn’t a big, ugly parking lot right next door!

  • Julian

    Sounds like Fort Street should include elements of Emerson St in Napier: http://g.co/maps/gkbdg

  • Charles

    I saw a moped rider screetch to a halt in front of the signs for the shared space on Fort Street. The rider stood there for well over a minute trying to understand whether she was allowed to ride through or if she had to turn around. Not even a couple of cars stopping behind her and then pulling out and going around her was enough to convince her that she could ride through.

    And on a side note, Julian, I wouldn’t want to wish Napier’s Emerson St on anybody else. It’s hideous.

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