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The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.

This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:

  • Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
  • Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements

linear-park

linear-park-renderlinear-park

Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:

  1. The Green Link
  2. Aotea Station Public Realm

The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.

Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.

The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:

CEWT Preferred Option

Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:

CEWT Victoria St

Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:

lower-vic-st-final

Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.

pedestrian-circ

Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those  that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.

albert-to-queen-plan

aotea-portal-axio

hobson-to-albert-plan

albert-to-federal-axio

So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:

ped-volume-study

 

In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.

The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:

linear-park-connections

And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and  how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:

network-change

 

cycle-strategy

The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.

And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.

linear-park-vision

 

 

69 comments to The Victoria St Linear Park: Why it is vital, but not really a park.

  • Brian

    Why the heck does Auckland Transport think all these roads need to be so wide? The city is working fine at the moment even with so much capacity having been removed.

  • mfwic

    Thank you Patrick. That was very informative. As one of the unreconstructed and obdurate engineers I called the Linear Park a ‘Brain Fart’. As your post shows it is not a park at all, it is a wide footpath with a bit of landscaping. Seems like a good idea to me. I wish to formally change my position. Calling a wide landscaped footpath a ‘Linear Park’ was a brain fart.

    • Nick

      Good on you. Yes the linear park is a really stupid name. To me, the fact that it connects Victoria and Albert Parks is meaningless and totally irrelevant to the people that will use it. But it’s a great design for a street.

      • mfwic

        I agree it would be great to have wider footpaths and decent landscaping. But given the shade down in there they should probably avoid tall canopy trees. Tree ferns would be ideal, wheki, but maybe they won’t like that much wind.

        • TDog

          Oh god don’t start talking like that we’ll end up with more nikau….. Tall deciduous canopy would be great. Maybe not in our lifetimes

        • I think you’re overdoing the shade argument, it’s actually really sunny on most of Victoria street through the middle of the day. A tall canopy of deciduous trees sounds great, shade in summer and light in winter.

          • Brutus Iscariot

            They’ll never plant another deciduous tree on public land in Auckland again – the arboreal racists will see to that,

          • Bruno

            I would advise against deciduous trees on a steep hill for one big reason – unless the path is cleaned multiple time a day, the leaves can become incredibly slippery (especially when wet). They also end up blocking drainage inlets and gutters. And lovely Kowhai are possibly the worst, first by dropping flowers, then leaves, then seeds!

          • Warren S

            There is definitely a case for deciduous trees in the city i.e carefully selected deciduous trees to provide welcome shade in the summer, but allowing warming sun in the winter. And regretfully the otherwise suitable native, pohutukawa, has a very destructive and therefore costly root system

    • RHarris

      I like the term linear park. It creates the sense that it is not a concrete jungle but a pleasant space to spend time in. In reality, yes it is a just wider landscaped footpaths.

    • Stuart Donovan

      where one sits
      in this terminological tussle
      replete with snarks about parks
      is borne not out of ideology
      but transport technology
      and whether you agree
      that pedestrian glee
      is worthwhile.

  • A Linear Park or a People’s Boulevard?
    What is in a name they say?

    In any case it will be good to get the City Centre Master Plan going again after it stalled for a little bit

  • RHarris

    I look at these plans and it’s a no brainer that Auckland should be creating these streets as soon as possible. Auckland should be a city of great streets. Streets that act as great people spaces. There are so many great promenade examples around the world and Auckland embarrassingly has none. I only wish Auckland Transport shared this vision. Ridiculous they are not.

  • Why not keep the basic design, but A) Replace the two traffic lanes with grass, and B) Replace the bland grey paved area, with coloured bricks? Every redesigned street in Auckland thus far has been bland and grey. The city needs more colour, and more green space, trees, and gardens. Real gardens, with colourful flower beds, not just a few flax bushes.

  • Ben

    Have any of these AT Road Engineers ever been to Britomart during rush hour? The pedestrian areas are chock full. Even the de facto Elizabeth Square gets busy, before and after they closed it to traffic.

    It is estimated (or as history tells us, underestimated) that the Aotea Station will the busiest in NZ. It will be insanely busy, busier than Britomart today. And we all know that popularity leads to sky rocketing usage, so year by year usage will keep increasing.

    AT’s plan to put a 4 car lanes outside the entrance to the most busiest foot traffic in the whole NZ is an accident waiting to happen. Whether AT likes it or not, people jaywalk across the CBD. Heck, I’ve seen so many near misses around Lower Queen Street. Image this with 4 car lane and thousands of pedestrians.

  • Matthew W

    It looks good.

    Regarding buses (and I am not proposing this for Victoria, at least not unless all general traffic was removed), could a series of one way bus routes been considered in the CBD? Bus capacity is an issue and we all know bus capacity significantly higher (order of magnitude) where passing at stops is allowed. To get sufficient room though for 2 way with passing on a given road is difficult though. But allocating single lane 2 ways is a very common design. By having 2 parallel streets with one way bus in opposite directions, you end up with multiples of the capacity of single lane two way on both streets. N-S the obvious pair is Albert/Queen (and maybe also Hobson / Nelson). E-W Wellesley, Customs might be the ticket. This way you get very high capacity and high quality bus without needing to take over streets in doing so – allowing more place-making good stuff to occur.

  • Mr Plod

    Great post thanks, Patrick. Has me wondering why one branch of the Council can get it so right, another branch actively undo their good work and then we need a councilor to ‘leak’ the info to a blogger in order to get the shenanigans some public air time. A high priority for Mayor Phil; “Align your people towards the future”

    • Call555

      Unfortunately there is a lot of dead wood in all levels of council which undoes the good work most council staff. Hopefully Phil Goff can remedy this, a purge if you will. You have sections of council pulling their hair out trying to deal with others (Resource consenting and parks to name a couple of problematic departments).

      • Well, indeed. But this is a clear case of AT completely ignoring the very good and thorough work done by Council staff. So less about Council deadwood than AT unprofessionalism, siloed-thinking, and, frankly, arrogance.

        Agree that the new Council needs to very firmly remind AT, at all levels, that they are a Council Controlled Organisation. Needs a culture change, too much group-think, insufficient openness to other disciplines, and a narrow and dated idea of the wider purpose of the organisation.

        • Realist

          And while the legislative set up the Council has inherited isnt great, they still hold the $$$! AT cant do anything without Council funding, which to my mind means they MUST implement the will of the Council. If we’re getting silo thinking, or the wrong projects built, that is due to weak leadership on the part of Councillors.

        • SDW

          It may also be a case of them ignoring their own reports and evidence called as part of the NOR process.

          Their evidence notes that the CRL works will be consistent with the CCMP and they also produced an urban design framework which certainly wouldn’t result in a scheme which prevents the creation of the linear park if the principles contained therein are followed (and was stated they would be in evidence). AT are required as a condition of consent to act in general accordance with all information submitted as part of the NOR process.

  • Dgd

    With Aotea station predicted to be the busiest in NZ the entrance/exit to the linear parked Victoria Street look interesting. However, I’d imagine many people will be coming from or destined to Queen St.. Thats a walk up the hill from Queen St to the station entrance on Victoria then stairs/lift down to the station level. What about an entrance at Queen St level in Victoria St with a level walkway, or moving walkway that gets nearer the station level and avoids the hill climb then descent. Nice for the mobility impaired or restricted.

    • That’s a very short walk and not much incline to the Vic St entrance, which is then level with station concourse. Then escalator down one level to the platform. It is impossible to remove this last step as you have to get over the rail line. It really couldn’t be any easier. Even if there was an entrance on Queen St it would have to go up and down exactly the same amount.

      • Dgd

        The incline appeared from that last image marked ‘Future’ to be significant. Perhaps just an image perspective issue but the Aotea entrance seems to be at 3rd floor level of that Queen Street corner building.
        More important though to get the Victoria Street linear park sorted out

    • Nick R

      Actually its the other way, from the Victoria entrance you have to go up a bit further to the concourse (i.e. you have to cross over the tracks) then an escalator down to platform level.

      You could do the entrance level from Queen St but it would be a case of going into longish foot tunnel then up some long escalators to the councourse. I guess there is some value in a covered escalator ride instead of walking up the street, but not a huge gain.

      • From memory the tracks are basically level with Queen St so to get to the platform you’d have to down first and into a long concourse and then up to the platform. If the carpark site ever gets built then it will almost certainly have access through it so people could use elevators in that

        • Dgd

          So its the design of the station with centre island platform that prevents a level Queen Street to the platform pathway, well at least the up platform.
          Can’t help thinking that a direct access platform from Q would probably be the busiest as I imagine the large proportion of passengers go to and come from the Q direction.
          Then with some creative track switching reverse use of this platform for inbound morning peak peak traffic.
          While we are cut and covering tunnels then get a couple of track flyovers/unders to facilitate this and a 3rd track to help with train movement.

          • Aotea will be peak on both sides of the platforms at the same time, in both peaks, The southern and western lines will be on one side, and the eastern and onehunga on the other.

            Given the tight constraint on width, and the high volumes using both sides, an island is the most efficient arrangement.

  • Alex B.

    My favourite bit about this post is the “Queen Street LRT and Pedestrian Mall”

    Can we please have Victoria Pedestrian Mall instead of a linear park. It would be amazing to have a Big-City-Fountain at the Victoria/Queen intersection. One can only dream.

  • Warren S

    Great post Patrick. The interesting thing about Auckland is that once you climb out of Queen Street, most main routes follow the ridges. The route between Vic. Park and Albert Park is rather more up and down, across the ridges with a bit of a bend at the Nelson Street intersection. This is a great opportunity for a people dominant (as opposed to cars) route, on an east – west axis at right angles to Queen Street. This axis has been identified for its potential.
    The trick will be to make it work and in my view because of the undulations, there has to be visual cohesion the entire length of the route, so that it can be experienced as a whole. And I am sure this can be done while still providing for likely vaster pedestrian numbers accruing at the eastern end.
    Even though I haven’t been there, can we take a cue from Las Ramblas in Barcelona?

  • Ossu

    There are going to be so many people walking on Victoria that I think Elliot street should be closed. Cars trying to force their way through will be a really hassle for pedestrians.

    • Sailor Boy

      Or just closed at the Wellesley Street and Queen Street ends when we turn those into transit malls. That way no traffic is going through Elliot Street, they are all going to Elliot Street.

  • Royce

    Reopen the tunnels under the University and connect to the Grafton Gully cycleway.

  • Carl

    i always thought the light rail should have a spur that left queen (running south), went up Wellesley to Federal St, cut through Federal St (by the casino) to Victoria and back down Victoria to queen street to head north, then the heritage trams could run in a circuit from Wynyard to the centre of town and be useful (and link with the Aotea Stn) – San Francisco have done this sort of thing well – this arrangement would not cost much in addition

    • In other words; go nowhere, or rather back where you came from? Why?

      • Sailor Boy

        Surely the same outcome can be achieved, with far more side benefits by running a LRT line from the universities to Wynyard via Wellesley. Hopefully when we get that North Shore line.

    • Gibbo

      If your going to use the heritage trams, then go all the way along Victoria st, up College Hill and head to Motat. I’m sure the heritage protecting peoples of the area will welcome the return of some heritage to their area.

      • Matthew W

        “If your going to use the heritage trams, then go all the way along Victoria st, up College Hill and head to Motat.”

        Good idea, just make sure it is a one way trip.

  • Bring in Japan right now there’s another allergy that strikes me with this. There are only 3 entrances to the station – although the diagrams suggest direct access to Skycity hotel and planned NDG building might happen too. This will really focus pedestrian movements through these few entrances. Most stations here have entrances on every corner of an intersection. Aotea should really have more entrances to help disperse the crowds. At the least there should be one build into the council head office

    • Nick R

      One spot I though could use an entrance was the top of Durham St, at the bottom of the bluestone wall they are shifting a bit. have an entrance there that is effectively the extension of Durham St. It would require about 80m of underpass to reach the end of the concourse, but they are digging up that whole stretch regardless.

  • Frederick

    “Promenades that go from no place to nowhere and have no promenaders. … This is not the rebuilding of cities. This is the sacking of cities.” Jane Jacobs

  • Realist

    Great project. Cant wait to see it in reality.

  • I don’t get the proposed cycle network. Where there are roads and footpaths, there should be provision for cycling. Unless studies have been done and cyclists only use the applicable streets that have been laid out in the plan?

    • Matthew W

      Yes its quite silly. I think some people have an obsession with drawing network maps. Like the ATAP “important roads” map.

      • Peter Nunns

        Street design guides (statutory or non-statutory) and road codes should be written and implemented in a way that allows most streets to be safe / comfortable for a range of users.

        However, when seeking to make specific investments in new cycle facilities, it’s important to have a map setting out where you will focus on. It makes consultation easier and can help break down internal silos. For instance, when AT was consulting on the renewal of Franklin Rd, the fact that it hadn’t been included in the previous cycle network maps gave opponents a wedge to argue that cycling wasn’t *really* a priority for Franklin Rd. The final design does include (imperfect but still useful) cycle facilities, but it took longer than needed.

        • Matthew W

          Yes I was going to comment that a network is better than what has gone before which is isolated token cycle lanes in a desert of roads.

          However (depending on the counterfactual) it seems to me your example actually is an argument against maps – as they define where something is not a priority as much as they define where something is a priority. My counterfactual to a network map would be a set of principles to be applied to street upgrades based on road types. In this way all roads will get appropriate safe cycle infra when upgraded in accordance with established principles. 50kph roads get separated cycle lanes, quieter streets get 30kph treatment, etc. The key is these would not be “nice to have guidelines” but would be fundamental in establishing design criteria for any project. In a similar way the NZTA bridge manual sets out its design expectations for new bridges. To deviate from this you need to get a specific departure approved by NZTA and have a very good reason for doing so.

          • Peter Nunns

            Yes, agreed. Hence my comment about street design guides. The challenge with those is that they need to be statutory and widely understood in order to work well. This can take a while to achieve, though.

            In that context, a map showing where you’ll focus investments in the short to medium term can play a useful role. It’s perhaps not ideal, but it’s a pragmatic response.

  • What impact would the stopping of cars in Queen St from Mayoral Drive down to Quay St do to this scenario? Opening up the old creek down the middle would be very interesting, with the Dominion Rd tram going up/down either side of it

  • Roger W

    OK.
    I’m confused.

    18 trains per hour at 750 people is something like oh, 12,000 per hour.
    2 hour peak morning and evening is ~50,000 people

    And they only expect an average of 2,000 per hour for 10 hours a day?

    How does that make any sense?

  • mfwic

    So I am hoping the whole thing goes ahead. But I suggest a new name. “The Great Wellesley Street Circular Park” seems like a good option on the basis that it isn’t on Wellesley St, it isn’t circular, it isn’t a park and it isn’t that great either.

  • David B.

    I really like this plan. There’s not much info on the Albert Park end, but I know that this three-way intersection is quite confusing and dangerous for pedestrians.

    I wonder if we could pedestrianize Kitchener St between Wellesley Street and Victoria St (around the art gallery), and just have the two narrow traffic lanes going up Victoria St E. and continuing up Bowen St. That could create a better connection from the CBD to Albert Park and simplify traffic movements in the area, as well as creating the possibility of a nice artists precinct in Kitchener St..

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