Follow us on Twitter

Boulevards – the best of both worlds?

Urban transport is a tension between the “through” and the “in”, as I have described many times before on this blog. We need to shift people around a city, but often that process of shifting them destroys the quality of the city itself. A motorway is the most obvious example of this – all ‘through’ and no ‘in’. But many of our main roads are arguably even worse, because we want to be locating more people and business along these routes (especially if they have high frequency public transport), but the heavy traffic and completely ‘through-focused’ street environment makes these places incredibly unattractive to live, work, visit or shop.

Take Pakuranga Road for example, this isn’t the most inviting urban environment you’ll come across: Six lanes of traffic, narrow footpaths, the noise and pollution putting off any street activity. On-street parking is restricted at peak times – although it doesn’t really seem like the kind of road you would want to park on any time of the day. The residential development is generally low density, shielding itself behind large fences, walls and hedges, from the street.

At first glance, Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn, New York City, doesn’t look particularly different to Pakuranga Road. A similarly large number of lanes and probably a similar number of vehicles carried:

But if you look a bit closer, at the sides of Ocean Parkway, you can see that it’s not just a normal road – it’s a multiway boulevard. The slip-lanes on each side create an interesting combination of allowing a lot of speedy through-traffic in the middle but access and a nicely buffered area to the houses. Looking at the houses that front Ocean Parkway, it’s fairly obvious that they’re much more valuable than what fronts Pakuranga Road. Despite being a very busy road, Ocean Parkway is still very much the kind of road that people want to live along: There are two boulevards like this in Brooklyn, built in the late 19th century and described in superb detail in the excellent The Boulevard Book, by Allan Jacobs, Elizabeth MacDonald and Yodan Rofe. Ocean Parkway is the longer of the two, cutting a huge north-south swathe across Brooklyn: Another city that has plenty of boulevards, and is in fact most famous for them, is Paris. We often think of Paris as such an incredibly different urban environment to Auckland that there’s not much point trying to emulate too much of what is there, but it’s interesting to see how they have managed to combine very busy roads with retaining a quality built environment. Two boulevards that are looked at in some detail in The Boulevard Book are shown in the map below:

Avenue de la Grande Armee is a continuation of the very famous Champs Elysees to the northwest, and carries an incredibly high 92,000 vehicles a day (compared to around 60,000 on Pakuranga Road, New Zealand’s busiest non-motorway road). This is what the main roadway looks like: Not a particularly welcoming looking street at first glance, but remember this road carries half again as many vehicles per day as the busiest non-motorway road in the whole of New Zealand. But once again, if you glance towards the edges of the road you can see some pretty high quality buildings. Look closer and this is confirmed – not only are these your typically nice Parisian buildings, but they’re also being put to fairly high-rent uses. Of course the wide road, the slip-lane, the wide footpaths, the two rows of parked cars and so forth take up a lot of space. The width of  Avenue de la Grande Armee is a pretty mighty 70 metres from building to building. This is twice the width of Pakuranga Road, measured front fence to front fence.

But not every Parisian boulevard is as extremely wide as this. Just around the corner we have Avenue Marceau, which is 35 metres across from building to building. This boulevard is one of my favourites: 

The traffic lanes on the main roadway are split into three in one direction and a bus lane in the other direction, but it could be split any way really. The slip-lanes are really narrow, but theoretically could be narrowed further  for wider footpaths by only having one row of parking:It’s hard to imagine a better way of using a 35 metre wide street, in terms of being able to shift traffic, provide a buffered place for pedestrians and local traffic, provide some nice trees, a good pedestrian environment and generally create a high quality place that’s desirable for people to live, work, visit and shop in. As I noted above, probably the only change I would make is reducing a bit of the parking and increasing the footpath width.

To be realistic, it’s difficult to imagine too many opportunities in Auckland to “retrofit” these kinds of boulevards. It may be possible along Pakuranga Road, if we ever decided that it was important to turn that road into more of a corridor. However, in the parts of Auckland to be developed (and, whether we like it or not, there is likely to be quite a lot of urban expansion over the next 30 years in Auckland) these type of roads could play a really important role. Ormiston Road in Flat Bush is an obvious candidate, the Mill Road corridor proposed to link Papakura and Flat Bush could be done similarly. Hobsonville Road and the old State Highway 16 through Westgate, West Harbour and onto Hobsonville may also suit becoming this type of boulevard – being both important regional routes (though thankfully not to the same extent they are now) but also roads we really want to encourage urban activity on.

Traffic engineers will probably scream over the complexity of intersections, but The Boulevard Book explains in nice detail that complexity generally leads to greater safety as people are careful. This type of road, in the right location, seems to be a great way of achieving that seemingly impossible dream: “to shift a lot through without destroying the in“.

23 comments to Boulevards – the best of both worlds?

  • Andrew J

    Seen a few egsamples of this around the Northern Suburbs of Melbourne. Think this works so much better!

  • DogOfTears

    Yeah, Melbourne is quite good at these types of roads – look at St Kilda Road, for a good example. It’s a major thoroughfare, but the residential buildings/properties that line it are some of the most sought-after in the city.

  • DogOfTears

    … and Pakuranga Road is a disgrace. As was mentioned on this site some time ago, the suburbs east of the Tamaki River are some of the worst-planned in Auckland. Even by Auckland’s standards, if you live in Howick/Pakuranga/Botany/Flatbush and don’t own a car, you’re screwed – PURELY BECAUSE this area was “planned” and developed (back in the 60s/70s) with only the private motorcar in mind as far as transportation was concerned. You see this in the “spaghetti-against-a-wall” suburban road systems, and in the monstrous arterial roads, which – like Pakuranga Rd – are de-facto motorways! It’s nice living on big, cushy sub-divisions, but when you’re cut off from the rest of the city, have to walk 20 minutes to the nearest dairy and have to fear for your life when you ride a bike, it’s a compromise, to say the least.
    I was surprised a few weeks ago when I read that, under Mayor Robbie’s 70s railway plan, an Eastern Suburbs railway line was to constructed with stations in both Pakuranga and Howick. If only…

  • dan carter

    The obvious issue here is that in that 35m in paris you have 3 lanes of traffic, on pakuranga rd you have 6. Yes can make it nicer buy converting lanes to parking and planting, but then you need a new way for howick to connect with the rest of the city (like a SE rail line – not cheap)

  • Matt L

    This is one of the areas where I think AMETI’s focus on building a busway from Pakuranga to Botany is a bit misguided. There is little potential patronage along Te Rakau Dr so it would only serve buses from around botany and when the RTN is eventually hooked up to Manukau via Te Irirangi Dr and we have no indication of when that will really happen, probably not in the next 20 years.

    By comparison the north east around Pakuranga Rd is almost completely residential so would be ideal for Busway/very very high quality bus lanes with routes that spoke off from there.

    • I think that’s a very interesting matter you raise Matt. The extent to which we support the AMETI busway because of a “thank goodness we’re at least finally getting a decent piece of PT infrastructure out east” sentiment rather than a “this is the exact right piece of PT infrastructure for this part of Auckland” is a matter that probably requires further discussion and debate.

      I think it can be made to work, but it will need a lot of thinking about land-use integration and the reworking of bus routes.

      • Matt L

        I don’t think that Pakuranga to Botany RTN is a bad thing, just wonder if it should be the priority over getting better PT to an area where there are more people who would immediately benefit.

        • Pak Highway needs to lose two general lanes to buslanes, but to get that to work they will need somewhere to go and that means the new Tamaki crossing, bus privilege, and the Panmure interchange should be built first.

          Especially as this area is up there with the North Shore as being home to not only angry drivers who will resent any decrease of road access but also brain dead local politicians who will fight this on their behalf – both at the local level and in WGTN. Like the North Shore.

          Of course the south eastern rail line with feeder stations is the best answer to making these suburbs work but has no chance anytime soon so PT will have to be built incrementally.

          Also I do think that the AMETI plan does offer an interesting future for Botany to become a transport centre- especially once the idea of continuing the Manukau Line there too gets more momentum.

          All so frustratingly slow though….

  • Geoff Houtman

    I can’t stop looking at the beautiful 5 and 6 story buildings along the Paris avenues that people are clearly keen to live in.

    Perhaps this type of intensification could work in Auckland?

    They would probably have to be beautiful buildings though…

    • 5-6 levels of development is dependent on not requiring much off-street parking, so therefore needs the kind of superb PT Paris has. It doesn’t make financial sense generally to build between 4 and 7 levels, because the cost of underground parking and elevators cannot be properly recouped until you have 8+ levels of development to get your money from.

      • Geoff Houtman

        That seems to me like yet another good reason to get superb PT in this town.

        How do one apply the pressure though?

      • Matt L

        That’s not really the case from what I have seen, the apartment I used to live in up near the corner of Symonds St and Khyber Pass had commercial buildings on the ground floor and then 4 floors of apartments above it, it also had lifts and underground car parks. The car parks might have been a bit cheaper to construct than other places because the site sloped away from the road so there wouldn’t have been as much to dig out. There were 60 apartments and they were even of a decent size and the worst thing about it was that the appearance wasn’t that great but the fact there is a cluster of these types of apartments means it must be possible to make some money off them.

        • Geoff Houtman

          The Citta ones right?

          They are on good PT routes, nice to hear they have decent size, but, of course you’re right- they are nothing to look at.

          Which begs the question; how much desirability is bestowed upon a building by it’s exterior?

          The acid test would be having developers build two buildings side by side, one Paris like, one Citta like- then see which building sells out first and which building’s on sell prices have a higher value.

          I can only see one half of that experiment happening though…

          • Matt L

            I was in the Madison which is next to the Citta, we had a two bedroom apartment which was 70-80sq but was laid out very well, it had two very large bedrooms and two bathrooms (each with a shower and toilet) which were separated by the kitchen and lounge, it even had two carparks. I would class it as a mid range apartment in terms of quality and firmly believe that if we had more like it that they would be popular, unfortunately we have an over abundance of crappy small places that has given the rest a bad name.

  • Anthony

    Melbourne is full of roads like this, as is China.
    The slip roads are good for separating scooters & bicycles from traffic, as well as vehicles accessing local properties.
    As access to & from the slip roads is generally only at intersections, through traffic flows relatively smoothly only having to negotiate merging traffic at intersections.
    As a pedestrian, it’s a long way from one side to the other, especially at intersections, where the slip lanes become part of the central highway to allow merging or bus stops, consider 1+2+2+1, 2+3+3+2, 2+4+4+2. Crossing mid block is often impossible, as there can be concrete barriers or fences separating the slip roads and central highway.

  • Hello! I collect pictures of multi-way boulevards on this tumblog: http://stroadtoboulevard.tumblr.com/

    Please could the people who mentioned the multiway boulevards in China send me some photos and gmpas links via twitter @neil21 or here? Also keen for examples anywhere else in the world.

    I was excited to learn about St Kilda in Melbourne, which I didn’t know about. http://goo.gl/maps/qyTXV I can see it’s nicely landscaped, but IMO the access lanes fall into the same traps as the Californians, when you compare it to the Paris boulevards:

    1. It’s too wide, so I imagine cars travel fairly quickly along it
    2. The parking is on the sidewalk side as opposed to the verge side, which presses up against the pedestrians more. At least they should allow and encourage parking on both sides of the access lane.
    3. The zoning code evidently sets really deep setbacks, leaving the pedestrians stranded in open space. I prefer the ‘cosiness’ of the parisian midrise.
    4. A driver doorzone bikelane is dangerous madness
    5. At intersections there is no pedestrian bulb, again encouraging cars to travel straight through at dangerous speeds, instead of crawl along
    6. The access lane is at street level as opposed to at pedestrian level

    Some of these are perhaps debatable aesthetic points, but I think the psychological result of width=speed is pretty well established.

    Anyway, would love to hear more about the pedestrian/cyclist/driver experience of St Kilda!

    Thanks!

    Neil

  • Jonathan

    Hello my name is Jonathan I’m a recording artist from Ottawa and I’d like to know if possible I could use this image as a cover for the reverse side of my upcoming full length feature. Thank you.

Leave a Reply