Aotea is the original name of Great Barrier Island, Motu Aotea, and the name of one of the Maori Great Waka and the harbour where it first landed. It is also the name given to the what is likely to become the most important station on Auckland’s metro system.
Anyone who has followed the arguments for the City Rail Link here will be used to us stressing the importance of a decentalised network. How a key benefit of the CRL is that it will liberate the system from its current structural focus on Britomart and all the limitations that this network shape causes. How the through-routing and the new services and stations of the CRL will unlock the existing spare capacity in the rail network that is currently dormant. These are the main ways in which this project will be transformational of Auckland’s very shape.
So it may seem a little strange to see me picking out another station as the prima donna. Well bear with me, because I don’t see how it can avoid becoming so prominent, and I don’t see this as a problem. But I am concerned that whatever we build here doesn’t limit its great potential as the primary place for people from all over the entire region to enter the CBD. In other words this station needs to be designed to be able to grow with the network.
Here is a description of the CRL station as currently planned; on this previous post. You can see it will be the most centrally sited station, the closest to the middle of town, the Universities, to the restaurants and other ‘delights’ of Sky City, Aotea Square and its cinemas and and of course all the employment and business in the heart of the CBD. So I am picking it to quickly rival Britomart for patronage from the existing lines and the next planned line to the airport. All will have direct services passing through here. It’s going to be mad busy, will flood these city streets with people and life and will therefore be an interesting design challenge.
But it is looking a little further ahead where we can see the dangers of underestimating the sheer numbers who could be using this station.
Here is the latest plan for Wynyard Quarter by Architectus. The east west spine of this plan opened last year to enthusiastic reception. Many people drove down there and parked on the currently empty sites to use the new promenade. The first of the new office buildings is currently under construction; a new headquarters for the ASB Bank.
All of those new buildings and streets are planned to contain little or no car parking. Many of these sites right now are carparks, and will steadily be replaced by buildings. There is no chance at all that this new area as well as the rest of the expected growth of the city can be served by growing the numbers of cars entering into the city, as there is just nowhere for any additional roading to absorb this growth. Nor will the streets be able to take the vast numbers of extra buses that this kind of development would require if we try to rely on that mode alone either.
This area in particular is really an island cut off on its southern boundary by the extremely busy Fanshaw Street, and with nowhere to add any new road capacity. Now, we’ve got a bit of time to get this right but the fact remains that the only plausible answer to meeting this area’s needs and making the whole scheme viable is to provide the kind of system that can move thousands of people around the clock without adding further to the already full streets.
Luckily there is a plan: A new line from the North Shore to an underground station in the heart of Wynyard Quarter possibly running north/south under Daldy St, that then heads on to, you guessed it; Aotea Station.
There are various options for this line, where it stops on the Shore, what kind of train it should be. But almost all schemes call for it to meet the CRL on separate platforms running perpendicular and below the proposed CRL Aotea platforms, probably under Wellesley St. So Aotea is not only likely to be the busiest CRL Station but also to be the main point where North Shore users access the city side of their own line as well as a very busy point of transfer between lines.
Nick argued here for this line to be a Light Metro system like the extremely successful Vancouver Sky Train, because this will be by far the most cost effective system to both build and to run, especially as it would need only minor changes [and some track] to run on the existing Busway. There are ways to stage the construction of this line, first going to a bus Interchange Station at Akoranga and ideally Takapuna, later extending it up the spine of the Shore from Akoranga replacing the busway with faster trains that slip under the harbour to leave the bridge to car and trucks. Here’s one example that Josh put together last year:
There are many fantastic advantages for Shore residents and the whole city with this plan. The speed and certainty that people will be able to move between these places and then onto further destinations on the rest of the network or by switching to buses will be revolutionary for Auckland. The constantly growing busway already shows that the demand is there from the Shore and the development of Wynyard Quarter and the location of Aotea Station mean that there will be no lack of demand from the city side either.
Of course crossing the harbour will be expensive but with this technology it will considerably cheaper than building any kind of new road crossing and of greater benefit because there is just no chance to accommodate any additional vehicles in the city or the local roads of the Shore.
It may seem that I am looking too far ahead. Not even the current North Shore Councillor appears to believe this is possible or desirable, let alone all the big men in Wellington. But I am certain that once the new trains and especially the CRL has transformed Auckland into a true metro city the disinterest of many in areas not currently served by rail will change to a desire to have their own access to the system too.
Really looking further ahead there is the option of extending the line out of Aotea Station and across the city under the University to link up with the Eastern Line at the old railway yards and then even out to the car jammed neighbourhoods of Pakuranga and the rest of southeast Auckland across the Tamaki River [another of Nick's suggestions]. Here’s a map with a whole range of potential options for Auckland just to show what we could do if change our priorities. The black lines may remain bus routes, and the Blue Line out west is more likely to be a busway for a good while too. While it is not clear what we will choose to do in the future it is important not to close off those choices by assuming that the conditions of today are permanent.
One thing is pretty clear and that is that Aotea Station has the potential to be very very busy and very very useful. Best not to undercook it from the start.