It has now been three months since Janette Sadik-Khan visited Auckland and showed us how easy it was to create a more liveable city by making things better for people to walk and cycle around, and best of all we could do this really quickly and cheaply.
Since the excitement of that time their has been some positive noise about some cycleway projects such as Karangahape Road and Nelson St, however there is so much to do around the city in the pedestrian realm. So now I am going to look at a number of really simple and cheap things we can do around the city to make things much better for people.
The first place I am going to look at is the Britomart precinct. This has become an immensely successful area over the last decade, revitalising a formerly very rundown and seedy area, preserving a large collection of heritage buildings, with a few sympathetic additions. However the streetscape is still very plain, and the design prioritises cars, even though walking is the dominant mode of travel through the precinct. While it is better than many areas of the city, there is still much to be done.
Pedestrians should really be the priority throughout this area, however the road layout still gives priority to cars, and several streets are used as rat runs. In the medium term we could look at pedestrianisation and shared spaces in this area, however with limited budgets and uncertainty about bus movements this is best left for the longer term. So therefore I am going to focus on easy and cheap improvements.
The East-West site link is probably the most important, linking the station to the atrium of the Westpac building through Takutai Square. For some unknown reason this link is totally devoid of zebra crossings, which would prioritise pedestrians, slow cars and improve safety.
Zebra crossings could be added to all three of these roads tomorrow with tiny cost, yet make things so much better for people walking in this precinct. Zebras with raised tables should also be added to all the side streets, such as the corner of Galway and Commerce Streets.
In a slightly longer timeframe consideration should be given to closing at least one of the north-south links to through traffic. These streets are much busier than they should be because of rat-running and cars circling for parking. At least in the short term, Commerce Street is important for bus movements so that will need to stay. Gore Street is probably the most likely candidate, the main use of the area seems to be taxis illegally parking in the median.
While Britomart Place has some traffic calming in the use of lane narrowing and pebbled surfaces directly opposite the Westpac atrium, the two ends at Quay St and Commerce St are totally oversized, and for 4 lanes so every turn movement can have their own lane. The slip lane from Britomart Place to Beach Road is also very dangerous and should be removed as a priority.
The area could be narrowed substantially, with traffic lanes roughly halved. The narrowing would be best done on the western side, which would allow popular places like Mexico, Brew on Quay and several cafes to expand their tables over more of the pavement, and provide more room for pedestrians. This can be done without any expensive reconstruction in the short term, just by allowing planters and tables to cover part of the existing road.
This rather crude drawing shows how much space could be freed up for people and street life, while still allowing 2 lanes of traffic through the area.
There is also one change that could benefit people cycling. If you are cycling from the (rather pathetic) bike racks at Britomart you can head east along Tyler St. However heading towards Britomart there is no obvious direct legal option, and people are forced to cycle the wrong way down Galway St between Commerce and Gore Street. If this section was flipped this would make things much easier.
Another option is the provision of contraflow bike lanes. These are used with some success in Adelaide, the use of which in their laneways was noted recently by the excellent Cycling in Christchurch Blog. If flipping the streets was not possible for some reason, then these could be installed to allow cyclists to travel east-west through the area.
All these changes suggested would help ensure Britomart could continue to be an exciting area and further enhance its reputation as a great place to be.