Queen St is Auckland’s spiritual and commercial heart but it’s also one of the most unique streets in the city. For the most prominent part, the over 1km from Mayoral Dr to the harbour, there is not a single vehicle destination on the street. There are no carpark entrances, no loading docks and no lanes that cannot be accessed by another route. As such, with the exception of deliveries/couriers, any vehicle using this stretch of road is doing so to get somewhere else.
Around a decade ago the old Auckland City Council started an upgrade of Queen St to make the street more people friendly. This included upgrading and widening the footpaths, the addition of double the number of pedestrian phases at intersections, mid-block crossings and a 30kph speed limit. Some short term carparking and loading bays were retained to appease retailers because at the time many of the changes were considered controversial and plans for bus lanes were dropped. The benefit of hindsight suggests the upgrade was timid and a lost opportunity, especially with the much bolder changes the city has seen over the last five years.
At the time of the upgrade the council estimated there were about 46,000 pedestrians, 40,000 bus passengers and 25,000 people in vehicles. Heart of the City now have fantastic data on pedestrian numbers thanks to automated counters located around the city and they show pedestrian volumes of around 60,000 per day, sometimes more. For example, on Friday 1 April the counter outside 210 Queen St (eastern side) recorded 36,128 people passing by.
Queen St ©Patrick Reynolds 2015
I’ve long wanted to see what impact the upgrade had on vehicle numbers but amazingly it appears no traffic counts had taken place since 2004 (it’s so old the data isn’t on ATs public Traffic Counts spreadsheets but I have an old copy). That changed last week after AT finally conducted one and were kind enough to share the results and there is a fascinating amount of detail. The count was from Wednesday 16th March to Tuesday 22 March and was taken between Victoria and Darby Streets. It’s also worth noting that the results from March may have been affected by diversion of traffic as a result of CRL enabling works.
Back in 2004 in the same spot and almost exactly the same day (14 Mar – 20 Mar) the counters recorded an average of 10,300 vehicles using Queen St in each direction over a seven-day period. By comparison counts this March show vehicle volumes are down 48% to an average just 5,300 per direction per day, far more than the predicted 15% reduction in volumes.
The new data is such that it can be broken down to 15 minute intervals for each direction for each of the seven days. The busiest single hour for either direction was on the Friday 18 March at 16:45-17:45 when 401 vehicles were counted travelling southbound. Remember though that this is over two lanes so that suggests even at its busiest, Queen St is moving just 200 vehicles per hour per lane.
The graph below shows the average volumes over the week although I’ve just kept it hourly so it stays readable.
As mentioned earlier, lowering the speed limit on Queen St to 30kph was one of the changes made as part of the upgrade. Included in the data is a breakdown of vehicle speeds. For vehicles traveling northbound, 22.3% (7,971) exceeded the speed limit while the 85th percentile speed was 31.5kph. The numbers for those going southbound are quite different though with 47.8% (16,312) exceeding the speed limit and the 85th percentile was higher at 37kph. The most extreme speed captured was one vehicle on the Saturday afternoon that was recorded travelling southbound 80-90kph – another four at other times were 70-80kph. The speeds are shown on the graph below with the red line indicating the speed limit.
The data also gives a breakdown by vehicle classification. In total 91.9% of all vehicles were classified as cars or light commercial vehicles while 7.3% were classified as medium or heavy commercial vehicles. I’m not sure what the other 0.8% is made up of, I’m assuming they couldn’t be classified properly (I’m sure some of you engineer types can tell me what CL14 is).
One thing the data really does highlight is the spatial differences between modes. In this part of Queen St the corridor is around 27.5m wide. Of that the four lanes of the road take up 12.8m (47%) while the footpaths on each side are each around 5m wide. The remainder of the space is split between carparks and seating/trees/bus stops as can be seen in the first picture. Using an average occupancy of 1.2 people per vehicle it suggests that more than four times the number of people are walking down Queen St than are in vehicles. It also suggests that based on the width dedicated to each mode, that each metre for vehicles is moving around 1,100 people per day while each metre of footpath is moving almost 6,000 people per day.
Using the data available and the vehicle occupancy suggested above, I’ve put the graph below together to highlight the difference between people in vehicles and people on foot. It compares the volumes on a Friday which will be why the volumes remain fairly high at night.
The big unknown is the impact that public transport has on Queen St. The CityLink buses run every 7-8 minutes for most of the day and are often very full. The numbers being moved by bus along Queen St could be much higher than all other vehicles combined. I’m sure AT could easily pull the information from the HOP system. The bus lanes that are soon to be installed on some sections of Queen St are not only well overdue but given the number of PT users be a much fairer and more rational use of the space.
If AT’s light rail plans go ahead Queen St will be transformed into a transit mall which will be fantastic for both PT users and for pedestrians as it will mean dedicated space for PT and more space will be able to be allocated to pedestrians (and hopefully cyclists too).
Lastly while looking for some information on the Queen St upgrade for this post, I came across the links below which make for interesting reading.
- This one explaining the proposals includes Heart of the City calling for parking subsidies for visitors while the AA call slower speeds and bus lanes “very sensible and reasonable”.
- A selection of comments to the Herald on the proposals. Most are fairly supportive of a people only space or a transit mall type situation but there are a few doozies in there.
- This op-ed from a CBD property owner which can be summed up as him saying vehicles should have priority
At the Santa Parade just over a week ago one thing I was extremely happy to hear was that Auckland Transport left Queen St open for people for a few hours after the parade instead of squeezing thousands back on to the footpath so the road could be reopened to what would have been a significantly fewer vehicles like they’ve done in previous years. That allowed people attending (or just in the city) to make use of and enjoy the extra space and given the chance, people took it. This video is from reader Geogoose as he walks (I assume) up Queen St about an hour after the parade had finished.
Just to highlight the impact the Santa Parade has o pedestrian volumes, here are the pedestrian councils from Heart of the City’s automated counters showing that outside the Civic pedestrian volumes peaked at over 4,000 people in an hour and that’s just one one side of the road.
Well done to Auckland Transport for leaving the road open to people for longer this year. In future why not close the street for the day – although I’ll accept that might be hard during the CRL works.
On the day that the Sydney Morning Herald runs an intelligent editorial showing a grown-up attitude to the disruption that comes with important infrastructure builds…
The Herald remains a strong supporter of the light rail project to run through the inner city and eastern suburbs, and urges the Baird government to prosecute the case forcefully for the line.
Construction of the project, due to start on George Street in October, will be painful and frustrating. Mistakes will be made, and they must not be excused.
But any conception of the transport needs of central Sydney must begin on the basis the status quo is unsustainable.
That status quo represents an over-reliance on bus transport through crowded city streets.
The streets are so crowded that the buses are unreliable. They consistently fall behind timetable well before they have left the city and entered the suburbs.
…AT has released more LRT images:
Note in both images all cars are gone, and there is a sort-of cycle lane, that in practice will really be part of the big shared space, yet indicated. Personally I think this is a good arrangement for this pedestrian dominated place and means that it is a slow speed and take care place for riders. The parallel routes of Nelson and Grafton Gully are for getting places at pace; good crosstown cycling connections will be needed to link these all together.
This would be a spectacular upgrade to the Queen St valley in terms of access but even more so in place quality. And just at the right time, or at least the proposal certainly isn’t ahead of the need; downtown is booming and development is spreading up the hill. We will be able to taste the sea air again in the city! I just can’t wait to get the fume-belchers out of our main spine.
Also from a purely transport capacity angle this will add a whole new access point for people into our uniquely motorway severed City Centre, as currently buses have been restricted on Queen St to the local access only City Link, and the AirBus, because of the unattractiveness of too many diesel buses in core pedestrian places. Adding Queen St to those other two north-south streets of Albert and Symonds as a route to move high volumes of people, while reducing the total bus numbers.
As the SHM goes on:
The Herald does not support any one mode of transport over another. In a metropolis like Sydney, trains, buses, the private car, light rail, cycling and walking all obviously have their role to play.
But the government should invest money in the mode of transport that fits the particular need of a particular space and of a particular travelling public.
And in central Sydney, the use of a growing number of buses to get people to and from work is no longer fit for purpose.
Without major changes to the city – without replacing some of those buses by new rail links – it will be impossible to increase the frequency of bus services to those areas not served by rail.
This argument represents much of the benefits inherent in the CBD light rail project down George Street, as well as the North West Rail Link and its eventual connection to the inner city.
This is exactly the situation Auckland finds itself in; the City Rail Link for connection to and through the core and the further out West, East, and South, and buses upgrading to LRT when capacity limits are hit on surface routes elsewhere. Including, in my view, across the harbour from Wynyard in tunnels to a balancing North Shore network, instead of the bloated and destructive third road crossing. Or a bridge, either way it would be direct, fast, and way way cheaper than NZTA’s current, yet last century, plans:
Light Rail Bridge
All up it renders Queen St just like Bourke St in that other Australian city:
Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014
I have requested an image of Dominion Rd LRT too, so will follow up with that and other info in the days ahead.
This is an image from Mark Bishop. We’ll be running a number of these over the coming weeks.
These images were developed by merging together various historic black and white photographs (all from the “Sir George Grey Special Collection” – Auckland Library) with contemporary colour photographs taken at the same location.
The black and white photographs were taken between the years 1900 to 1940, and cover a number of areas of the city and the outlying suburbs. The colour photographs were all taken in early 2015.
The intention of these images is to use photography to help show how much has changed – or not changed – over almost one hundred years by focusing on locations that are familiar to Aucklanders.
It is interesting to think that the people, horses and trams seen in these images passed by around a century ago where we walk and drive today.
Corner of Queen Street and Wellesley Street looking east. Black and white photograph (Feb 1903) from “Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W1051”
On Thursday the Herald reported the latest on Auckland Transport’s plans for Light Rail across the isthmus which came following an update to the Council’s Infrastructure Committee. From the presentation online there doesn’t seem to be much new other than what we’ve already seen and unfortunately the meeting wasn’t one filmed under the council’s new webcasting service so we can’t see exactly what was said.
What the Herald picked up on was that cars may be removed from Queen St.
Cars may be squeezed out of Auckland’s main street as the city’s transport authority looks to modern trams to move growing throngs of commuters.
Auckland Transport chief engineer Steve Hawkins warns there will be insufficient space in much of Queen St for general traffic to co-exist with trams running in each direction every few minutes between the waterfront and Dominion Road.
“For the section between Wellesley St and Customs St, we would essentially have just light-rail vehicles and pedestrians,” he told Auckland Council’s infrastructure committee.
But he said allowing cars to keep using Queen St south of Wellesley St “would be possible” and there would be enough room for a traffic lane each side of tram tracks along routes such as Dominion Rd and Fanshawe St.
Far from being a problem this is probably the ideal outcome and would turn the main people focused part of Queen St a transit mall – like as seen in many cities overseas.
Shared Space wit modern Light Rail, Angers, France
The key reason this is even possible is that there isn’t a single need for a car to even be on that section of Queen St. Take a walk along it and you’ll not find a single driveway opening out to the street until you get south of Mayoral Dr as the buildings that do have carparks all have entrances to them on side streets. In addition none of the side streets north of Wellesley St are dependent on access from Queen St and so blocking them off would not remove access – maybe just affecting how some are accessed.
Making such a change would deliver big benefits to the up to 60,000 pedestrians that ply the street every day. It would enable the removal of both the Wyndham and Shortland St intersections which means less chance of having to stop and wait for a traffic phase. At Victoria St the existing intersection could be significantly improved due to it being simplified. No turning traffic means the lights only need to flip between a North-South transit movement and East-West car movement. Perhaps even more important than these changes to intersections is it would also allow the footpaths to be extended further giving more space to the thousands walking and/or allow for some dedicated cycle lanes.
Such a change would also tie in with our growing network of shared and pedestrian only spaces with the light rail acting as a people fountain giving them even more life.
Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.
Of course LRT being electrically powered also means those pedestrians aren’t being subjected to emissions from petrol and diesel powered vehicles – although of course electric buses are certainly a possibility in the future.
The only question really should be why wait?
Because of the factors mentioned above there should be no reason why we couldn’t quickly implement a transit mall even using just buses until such time as the tracks are ready to be installed. Combine that with some temporary place making to make use of the space that’s freed up and we can trial the impacts.
The only major issue that I think would need to be dealt with is that of deliveries and emergency vehicle access – neither of which should be too hard to sort.
One of the great things about Auckland Anniversary weekend a month ago was the closing down of Queen St outside Britomart and parts of Quay St. I personally found it great and loved so seeing so many people in the city centre enjoying themselves. The council have put together this video discussing the opening of the street for people and the reaction to it.
I’ll be looking more into Auckland Transport’s announcement that it’s considering installing Light Rail down some of the central isthmus streets during the week. In the meantime the suggestion that trams could be back on Queen St reminded me of these images. They come from Cornelius Blank who created them in 2011 in the lead up to the City Centre Masterplan.
For me one of the most exciting possibilities from the idea is that Light Rail could finally be the catalyst to transform Queen St into a transit mall. One of the aspects of Queen St that people often forget is that between Mayoral Dr and the water there isn’t a single need for a car to be in Queen St. There’s not one entrance to a carpark or service lane or road that can’t be accessed by some other method. The only need for vehicle access is for emergency services and perhaps deliveries.
So instead of four lanes of traffic we could have two lanes for tracks – which could also used by emergency services and delivery vehicles in the early hours of the morning and the rest of the space taken up to expand the existing footpaths. One of the best things about this is that generally the centre of Queen St is filled with sun so I for one would love to be able to stroll up Queen St without being in constant shade.
If you took out the Customs St sign most people probably wouldn’t realise they were looking at Auckland and would think this looks like quite a nice place to visit. Another idea could see some of the space used for decent cycle lanes
Further up Queen St this is how it could look outside the Civic where again the extra pedestrian space would be most welcome.
And going further up Queen St north of Mayoral Dr how about this with a grassed corridor like seen in many other cities with trams.
Some of these ideas seemed to flow through to the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) where some similar images cropped up.
In fact the CCMP even includes this suggestion for a tram network.
The fact that council documents suggest light rail in the city centre makes Len Brown’s seeming unhappiness over AT looking at it all the more odd. On Friday while launching the LTP he was clearly not very warm to the idea – perhaps thinking it stole from some of his LTP limelight. He was quick to point out that people shouldn’t get their hopes up as it’s the politicians who will make the decisions and that this isn’t something on the council’s agenda. Perhaps he should be reminded of his own council’s plans.
The annual Santa Parade is coming up is just under 3 weeks on Sunday 30 November. This is the one-day a year when families and children are really welcome in our CBD.
As part of this Queen Street, Albert Street and many surrounding streets are closed, supposedly from 12pm to 4pm. The parade itself goes from 2pm to 3.30pm. Families are encouraged to head down to Aotea Square after the parade where Santa’s Party keeps the festivities going with a stage set up.
Before and after the parade people are allowed the much too rare pleasure of walking along Queen Street freely, and the volume of people attending means huge numbers of people are in the streets before and after the parade.
Santa Parade 2013: Queen Street, soon after the parade passes
However rather than encouraging people to stay around the organisers, council and the police want to rush everyone off the street as soon as possible and get the roads open to traffic.
Santa Parade 2013: Clear away, cars must be let free!
Police cars with lights and sirens crawl down Queen St, and police officers yell at everyone to get off the road with their loudspeakers. Really a very unpleasant end to what should be a happy day.
Santa Parade 2013: The police officer in his car is yelling at the crowds through his loud hailer.
By doing this the police are actually endangering people, as huge numbers of people are forced into narrow footpaths. This shows an extremely warped sense of priorities. The entire point of this seems to be to open the street to cars as quickly as possible. Last year the area outside Aotea Square was open to traffic less than 30 minutes after the parade finished passing. This is especially bizzare as 100’s of families were heading this way to go to Santa’s Party.
Santa Parade 2013: Very soon after the parade passes, dreary normality resumes. Note the volumes of people on the footpath.
An obvious thing to do would be to keep Queen St closed all afternoon, and have some sort of street festival. The Federal Street party on Friday was a huge success, although very much an adult focussed event. The afternoon of the Santa Parade would be a great day to run a family and Christmas themed street party. The traffic management costs are already largely covered by the parade, so the extra cost should be minimal.
It may be too late to do a properly organised street party this year. However there is no reason at all why the authorities should rush to open Queen Street. How about leaving it closed until 6pm or 7pm, and allow the crowds to stroll and shop. A few entertainers and characters could easily be added to give the street a bit more life.
Santa Parade 2013: ready made crowd for a street festival
A separate issue that comes up is in regards to transport. The Santa Parade has a long held tradition whereby parking in council buildings is free for the day. This seems perverse when the organisers are warning of traffic chaos. Why not use the revenue and make major public transport services to the event free instead?
Santa Parade 2013: Northern Express post Santa Parade. Huge queue caused by manual payments.
A few extra services would probably be handy too, as Sunday timetables are still stuck in the dark ages for every public transport service apart from the Northern Express and Links. Last year the trains were actually free, although Auckland Transport did not even advertise this in advance! The only special public transport that was organised last year was the Northern Express, and this was done well as usual. However the need for people to pay one at a time while in a very long queue meant that boarding was very slow. Making the services free would make them much more efficient.
So how about it Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. By turning the parade into a street party, and providing free public transport, the Santa Parade would be cemented as the premier free day out for Auckland families.
Stuart’s 100 continues:
5: A Traffic-Free Queen Street for Christmas
What if Queen Street stayed closed to traffic after the Christmas Parade?
Every year for one Saturday in November Queen Street is closed to traffic for one of Auckland’s greatest traditions, the Christmas Parade. Wouldn’t it be great if we started a new tradition: keep the street closed to traffic for the rest of the day?!
Queen Street as the crowd disperses just after the Christmas Parade, 2013
Why would you want to chase away 100,000 + people as soon as the parade is over? Encouraging them to stay a while could be a great boost for city centre retailers to promote Christmas shopping in the city. It could also be a quick win to pilot future changes to Queen Street.
Traffic Free Christmas Shopping Day Oxford St London.
Urban designer Stuart Houghton has set himself a personal project of coming up with 100 ideas for improving Auckland at the rate of one a day. He is Tweeting them here: @HoughtonSd
Discussing this project with Stuart he said that “I see the city is getting better and better and growing up fast, but everywhere I look as I move about the city I am struck by ideas big and small for how Auckland could be improved. I see this as a positive thing.”
In this task he has been inspired by Jan Gehl the Danish urbanist who famously said:
“How nice it is to wake up each morning in a city that is a little bit better than it was before”
Stuart has kindly agreed to allow us to run them here over the next 100 week days, here’s #2, enjoy:
2: Whitcoulls Queen Street
What if Whitcoulls Queen Street actually was a flagship book store?!
New Zealand has quite an impressive family of long-established national retailers (think Farmers, Whitcoulls, Glassons and Hallensteins). Many of these brands are well over a 100 years old and have a presence on every main street and shopping mall in the country. So why is it that so many of them have such shameful stores in the central city? Right where you expect a flagship store. You know, one that showcases all the best the brand has to offer and maybe unique offerings not found in the everyday stores elsewhere? Is it that their retailing model has become so suburbanised that they have little interest in being part of the new action downtown?
Farmers, which started on Hobson Street, has closed its mediocre Queen Street store and no longer has a presence in the city at all. Last year Whitcoull’s Queen Street underwent a not insignificant renovation that sadly seemed to remove even more traces of the grand old building it occupies and provide even less reasons to visit for those in search of actual books and magazines (now banished to the top floor) as opposed to children’s games and toys.
While some, such as Glassons, have developed new exciting flagship retail spaces in central Auckland and Wellington, others seem seriously out of touch with the changes happening in our central cities. When will they start being more in sync with the new life happening in urban NZ?