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“Locking in” Vic Park Tunnel’s benefits

The additional southbound lanes over the Victoria Park Viaduct, made possible through the construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel, open to vehicles today. John Roughan’s NZ Herald editorial can barely contain his excitement at this prospect, largely because (he hopes) it will get rid of queue jumpers holding up traffic through St Mary’s Bay. While I must admit a small part of me is hoping for the motorway opening to be yet another congestion catastrophe, this is generally a motorway project that I have supported because it is aimed at eliminating a bottleneck, rather than simply adding capacity and creating a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.

One of the biggest potential benefits from this project was highlighted in the comments section of my previous post on the motorway opening: that connections between the northern motorway and the Port would become more attractive, removing cross-CBD traffic from Customs, Quay and Fanshawe streets. In many ways, this benefit of the project is similar to how the biggest benefits the Waterview Connection proposal will bring is through a reduction in local traffic on roads like Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay, Sandringham, Dominion and Richardson roads.

While Google Maps suggests that someone travelling between the North Shore and the Port/Parnell area would utilise the motorway system, rather than travelling through the heart of town, congestion on and around the viaduct (back to the harbour bridge for southbound traffic, the incredibly slow ramp signal for northbound traffic before it joins SH1) means that much of the traffic takes the red route instead: When the Victoria Park Tunnel is open to its full complement of three lanes for northbound traffic, and any teething issue for southbound vehicles have been resolved, we should see a reduction in through traffic away from the red route (and hopefully also away from Customs Street). However, as with the Waterview Connection, the Hobsonville deviation and the Manukau Connection, the reduction in vehicles on local roads is only likely to be temporary – thanks to induced demand. If there’s way less traffic on Quay Street and Fanshawe Street, then vehicles using other congested routes will shift back to these freer flowing streets. Motorway traffic may also shift back onto the local roads as some people find them to be faster. Over time, if we don’t make some interventions, we could end up back where we started – but now with a congested wider motorway and congested inner-city streets. Such an outcome would undermine what should be one of the biggest benefits of the Vic Park Tunnel project: the removal of traffic from CBD streets to free up more space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.

However, if we’re smart we can avoid such an outcome. And, for once, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to actually achieve some real benefits if we move quickly. The City Centre Master Plan proposes to significantly increase pedestrian priority along Quay Street by reducing vehicle capacity – exactly the kind of intervention that’s necessary to dissuade vehicles back onto Quay Street once it’s a bit quieter: It’s also a golden opportunity to get rid of the horrific Hobson Street viaduct: Fortunately, this is also given consideration in the City Centre Master Plan: Completion of the Vic Park Tunnel may also be a golden opportunity to look at reallocating a bit of roadspace to buses along Fanshawe Street so we can actually complete the Northern Busway. At the moment we find ourselves in the stupid situation of having citybound buses take as long to complete the last few hundred metres of their journey as they did to get between Constellation and Akoranga stations – something we spent hundreds of millions on speeding up, to go and undermine our investment simply because we can’t be bothered putting bus lanes along remaining sections of city streets.

The key point is that we have to move quickly in advancing these projects to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ to really lock in the benefits of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. If we stuff around for a few years then we will lose this window, and implementing projects that reallocate roadspace away from vehicles will be that much harder.

17 comments to “Locking in” Vic Park Tunnel’s benefits

  • tc

    Luckily it is seen as a key project by the mayor and Ludo and we’ll see changes over the new couple of years – watch this video for more info

    http://www.franklin-live.net/site/player/713.html

  • Jeremy

    Its also ridiculous that anyone living in the city/ponsonby area cant access that section of the motorway to get to the Port without either travelling across the bridge or to Western Springs to access an on-ramp.

  • tc

    The closure of the Wellington on ramp is a good thing and adding an additional ramp would be ridiculous and expensive – catch the bus, or drive to the urban disaster that is union street.

  • Geoff Houtman

    Still a bit worried about the look of the last picture-

    Giant grey plaza, minimal green, no wet weather cover (Rain (n) See “Auckland”) and apparently no shadow effects from the giant glass tree-building to the North of it.

    Bad drawing or bad design?

    • Stu Donovan

      Shadow effects from a building can’t be worse than those caused by the flyover ;).

      But otherwise I agree with you: The area is large/important enough to warrant something slightly more interesting than quality paving and pretty planters.

      How about a giant asphalt statue of Steven Joyce, the Colossus of Roads?

    • tc

      It’s purely an illustrative pic whipped together by someone for the Auckland Plan, it’s far from being an actual plan.

  • Kevyn

    You are right to be worried about induced traffic if the city streets aren’t reorganised to restrict total traffic volumes to thir current levels. But most of the induced traffic research I have read points to their needing to be suprressed demand either for travel or housing/workplaces due to the the pre-existing congestion. Unless there actually is suppressed demand for cross town travel on these downstreets then th only source for induced traffic will be if the reduced traffic and/or removal of the Hobson St viaduct triggers an increase in apartment or office capacity in the area and the short term needs of property developers are subsidised by more rate payer funded road capacity. The steps you are advocating are a radical departure not so much because it doesn’t pander to the needs of car drivers but because it doesn’t pander to the preconceptions of property developers. Be wary of property “investor” groups challenging this new appraoch the same way they did with the Christchurch city centre plan – they just don’t seem to get the notion that the computer revolution has made most CBDs rdundant and so the old process of shops and offices displacing inner city housing needs to be reversed to preserve the remnant land values and provide an increasd consumer catchment for the remaining inner city shops (ie recognise and copy the key driver of suburban malls).

    • I would say there is some suppressed demand that avoids driving through the CBD because of congestion. Especially at peak times.

    • Kevyn beware of making the lazy assumption that computers or indeed any other technology has rendered CBDs redundant. This was the predicted outcome of postal systems, the telegraph, the telephone, the fax, the mobile, the computer, and now the internet. Er? hasn’t happened yet. Is Manhattan bust? Do Americans have computers? In fact we are all urbanising frantically worldwide, and computing more and more. The only real observable threat to to existence and vitality of the CBD’s of cities worldwide is where we have handed them over to dominance by automobiles… So much so that those who believe we should continue privileging vehicle movement always have to end up arguing that the CBD is a worthless place. See the ironically named Cities Matter blog. Or we can take the other view, that they do in fact matter, including the CBD, in fact matter vitally for our prosperity. This is argued strongly by Harvard economist Ed Glaeser in Triumph of the City.

      Here is, for example, a sensible response to this fact: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/01/plan-make-drivers-hate-downtown-dublin/896/

  • Willuknight

    No, I don’t think the flyway should be demolished. A much better use of the Hobson st ramp would be to turn it into an aerial garden, just like the New York High Line (http://www.thehighline.org/) albeit smaller.

    • While I like the highline concept, in this location the viaduct is just too dominant and needs removal. The old Nelson St offramp is a better location for a pedestrian park.

  • Jarvis

    If we reduce capacity for cars on Quay Street through wider footpaths and boulevard planting car users will follow the line of least resistance and end up bringing Customs Street to a standstill. If you discourage car travel further back on Fanshawe Street, traffic will find another route and create congestion there. The fundamental issue is what choice do Aucklanders have? We must upgrade our PT infrastructure first before we start reducing capacity on our roads. In fact if Quay St is upgraded before the CRL is built (which requires Albert St and part of Customs Street to be closed temporarily) where on earth will central city traffic go?

    • Geoff Houtman

      Good point Jarvis.

      You have to give people the carrot before you bring out the stick.

      At least that way people have a choice.

      People really like having a choice.

  • Kevyn

    Patrick, I was a systems analyst in the 1980s when this process began in earnest in New Zealand. Computer systems allow records to be concentrated in a single national CBD, or two if there are separate political and corporate capital cities (in much the same way that trams made it feasible to concentrate record keeping in CBDs 100 years ago). The justification for spending huge amounts on computerising records was that it would make the armies of file clerks and acres of file cabinets redundant and/or able to be located on cheaper land in marginal electorates (like Upper Hutt).That process was helped along by the new-right economics giving corporate raiders free reign to buy up successful regional companies and agglomorate head office functions in Auckland, Sydney or whichever corporate capital was most attractive to the egos of the raiders.

    It is lazy to confuse the CBD and the central city which is what the Chch property investors are still doing. It is also lazy to cherrypick research that shows a correlation between the demise of these second string CBDs (eg Boston, Manchester, Birmingham, Christchurch) and reduced CBD activity whilst ignoring research showing equal or stronger correlations with housing policies, car affordability and, of especial impostance for department stores, the increasing average distance from middle income housing to the CBD shops.

    Unfortunately detailed statistics have never been kept of the amount of file clerks and computer networks to allow statistical testing of the correlation between computerisation and central city prosperity, however for the four cities mentioned above the demise of the CBD relative to the wider city began at least a decade after the roads were changed to “improve” access to the CBD, whereas the shift of commerce from CBDs to satelite commercial hubs happen in the same decades.

  • Kevyn

    Oops, 2nd para, 3rd line should have said “reduced CBD pedestian activity or accessibility”

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