Despite the critics, Auckland’s city centre is probably in better shape than it has been for decades. Foot traffic is high, new streetscape improvements continue, Queen Street is clearly still extremely “hot property” and the place just feels vibrant. Looking into this steady, almost sneaky, transformation of downtown over the last ten years or so, I went searching for what seemed to possibly be the cause. Clearly one of the parts of town that has improved the most during this time is around the Britomart precinct, which is a lot to do with Britomart train station. So improved public transport is clearly a candidate. But, for some reason, it also feels like we’ve slowly managed to claw back the city centre from vehicles – little by little, bit by bit.
This ‘clawing back’ hasn’t just been through the flagship shared space projects, but also through little tweaks here and there – like the double-phasing of pedestrian crossing signals on Queen Street, like some of the small infrastructure improvements which make life just that little bit nicer for the pedestrian. Sure, there’s still a long way to go but it feels like things are certainly a lot better.
In looking for some quantification of how traffic to the city centre has changed in this time, a report to the September transport committee provides some really useful numbers using the annual “screenline survey”, which has tracked public transport since the late 1980s and modal splits between PT and private vehicles since 2001. Looking first at public transport usage, we can see that the number of people using PT to enter the city centre during the AM peak period has increased massively over the past 11 years, up from 21,000 to 33,000:
The next thing to look at is modeshare between public transport and private vehicles (other screenlines take into account walking and cycling but the CBD doesn’t for some consistency reason). Yet again we can see that over the past decade the proportion of vehicular trips into the city centre has significantly swung towards public transport:
The graph below shows the growth in public transport use over the past decade and splits it up by mode. You can see that all the modes have grown well, but particularly we have obviously seen massive growth on the rail system.
But getting back to my earlier points in this post, what is really fascinating is not just what has happened to public transport use for trips to the CBD over the past decade, but also what’s happened to car trips. Using the PT patronage totals and the modeshare totals we can compare the number of car trips to the CBD in 2001 with today.
The number which clearly jumps out the page at me is the massive drop in private vehicle trips to the city centre over the past decade: over 6,100 fewer vehicles in the AM peak – over 15% fewer vehicles all up wanting to enter the city at peak time. This is illustrated in the graph below:
With a typical arterial road (with regular intersections, like what happens in the city) able to cope with around 600 vehicles per lane per hour, this is over 10 lane-hours worth of roadspace that has been completely freed up.
I still don’t think we’ve yet taken advantage of this simply massive reduction in traffic in the city that has happened over this time. Put simply, we now probably have a vast excess of roading capacity compared to what we need and it’s about time we put that to better use – like a pedestrian space along Quay Street, bus lanes on Customs and Wellesley Street, closing Queen Street to general traffic and building that lovely linear park on Victoria Street. We’ve done the hard yards in terms of removing the traffic to make these improvements possible – now let’s cash in on all that hard work to make the city centre the heart of truly the best city in the world.