Auckland has started taking a few small steps to transform the CBD the the introduction of shared spaces around the city and unsurprisingly they have been a huge success. However since the Fort St one opened just over a year ago things have gone quiet on rolling upgrades out to more streets, presumably so that things like the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) could be completed confirming that street scape upgrades were still the plan going forward. Now that the CCMP has been adopted O’Connell St seems set to be the first street off the blocks for an upgrade and the council is consulting on it now with it due to close at 5pm on Friday so if you want to have a say, make sure you do so before then.
Before going in to my thoughts on the project, here is is a reminder of what O’Connell St looks like at the moment, as you can see there the street is lined with cars and the footpaths are extremely narrow, hardly the most pedestrian friendly place around.
Interestingly surveys underdaken indicate that 80% of people who park in the street aren’t doing so to visit local businesses which helps to poor cold water on the argument that parking is needed to support the businesses, What’s more all of the pedestrians questioned had go there on foot, even if they had driven to the city as they had parked elsewhere. So here is the background given for the upgrade:
This project is part of the implementation of the City Centre Masterplan and the 10-year CBD Upgrade programme to transform city centre streets and open spaces and create the world’s most liveable city. The cost of upgrading O’Connell street will be about $4.367 million and funded by the CBD targeted rate.
The proposed upgrade of O’Connell Street aims to create people-friendly streets where people can shop, sit, relax, linger, dine and spend time. When complete, the upgrade will provide more footpath space, high quality paving across the width of the street and modern street furniture including lighting and public seating. It is proposed that O’Connell Street continue to be a one-way, northbound trafficked street with widened footpaths, kerbs and a carriageway.
And here is how the draft design is described:
O’Connell Street is part of a network of narrow streets and laneways located to the east of the Queen Street valley in Auckland’s city centre. Just 10m wide, the street is strongly characterised by the architectural quality of the buildings that line it and stands out as a rare example where the original built form from the 1920s has remained largely intact through to today. As well as being a boutique retail destination within the city centre, O’Connell Street retains a strong commercial character also.
It is an increasingly popular destination for people – whether as a destination or through route to elsewhere – and has shown growth in foot traffic of 115% over the last two years. Around 5,000 pedestrians access O’Connell Street on an average weekday and approximately 1,350 vehicles use the street each day.
O’Connell Street was identified as having significant potential for transformation and it was therefore included in the programme of city centre streetscape upgrades.
- To capitalise on opportunities for transformation, the upgrade of O’Connell Street aims to:
- Provide greater pedestrian priority throughout the area and more space for people
- Create a distinctive and popular destination
- Support business and residents by providing more space for outdoor activities
- Better connect the area with the surrounding network of streets
- Create a high quality, sustainable streetscape.
And some what it would potentially look like:
The biggest issue I have with this is that the existing street layout is being retained, just with a little less parking. I would have much preferred to see a shared space rolled out. Seemingly anticipating this the council has given tried to address this.
The narrowness of the street (which is just 10m wide) poses considerable challenges in designing a street that provides space for people and outdoor activities while retaining space for other necessary functions, such as vehicle routes for traffic and loading and parking areas for service delivery. A thorough assessment of a number of design options, including various shared space designs, were assessed against the project’s objectives and the need to retain certain street functions. Through this process it was determined that a conventional streetscape upgrade would deliver the most usable space for pedestrians and outdoor activities and
therefore the best benefits for the people and businesses that use O’Connell Street.
This is because the use of kerbs prevents vehicle traffic from encroaching on footpaths and areas designated specifically for people. The absence of kerbs means that when space is limited vehicles could move into these pedestrian areas and thereby compromise the usable space available to people and outdoor activities.
The draft design therefore proposes a conventional street layout which incorporates kerbs and significantly widened footpaths (from 1.6m to 2.8m on the eastern side of the street and up to 4m on the western side) to achieve the maximum usable space available for seating, outdoor dining and other street activities. The additional space provided by kerbs and widened footpaths would provide more space for outdoor use than could be achieved in a shared space layout.
To be honest, I think this could be another case of the council chickening out on doing the right thing. The whole point of the shared space concept was to make better use of narrow streets so to now say that a street is to narrow seems odd. The street only has ~1350 vehicles per day use it of which most are probably just there looking for a car park, if they really wanted to maximise space for pedestrians they wouldn’t have retained the vehicle lane and parking/delivery bays. It is only 110m between Shortland St and Chancery St so an option surely would have been to close the street entirely to vehicles and make it a pedestrian area. A loading bay at the entrance to the street each end would mean only a 50m walk for any deliveries and providing it was designed to allow it, emergency services vehicles would still be able to use it for access if needed.
Also at 10m wide, the street the street is also about the same width as most of High St yet in the CCMP they show pictures of High St as a shared space and I realise that isn’t a formal proposal but shows it is possible. Saying O’Connell is too narrow means that High St is as well.
Both O’Connell St and High St are certainly much wider than some I encountered in Europe which were shared streets. This one in Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como probably takes the prize for the narrowest yet it still worked fine and was lined with shops and people as well as vehicles stopping for deliveries.
I will certainly be putting in a submission not supporting what is proposed and suggesting that at a minimum it needs to be a shared space, if not full pedestrian zone to really make it an interesting and exciting place. Its probably also worth pointing out that there are no vehicle entrances off the street. Lastly one thing I do find weird about the whole thing, the brochure says that Auckland Transport would like the feedback on the proposal but the consultation is being done by the council. This is odd as every other consultation that AT is involved with is done directly through them.
*Additional analysis here: http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/09/13/a-further-look-at-oconnell-st/