There was a good article a few days ago by Brent Toderian in Toronto’s Metro News highlighting that if you use the “math of city-making”, which is often at odds with the way cities have developed over the last 60+ decades, you can build a better city. Brent has visited Auckland a few times to work with the council on planning issues and has talked at a number of Auckland Conversations events including here in 2013 and here a year later.
Here are some of the examples he uses in his article.
- A common political argument is that bike and transit riders should “pay their own way.” A study in Vancouver however suggested that for every dollar we individually spend on walking, society pays just 1 cent. For biking, it’s eight cents, and for bus-riding, $1.50. But for every personal dollar spent driving, society pays a whopping $9.20! Such math makes clear where the big subsidies are, without even starting to count the broader environmental, economic, spatial and quality-of-life consequences of our movement choices. The less people need to drive in our cities, the less we all pay, in more ways than one.
- Another study in Copenhagen (where the full cost of transportation choices are routinely calculated) found that when you factor in costs like time, accidents, pollution and climate change, each kilometre cycled actually gains society 18 cents!
- A recent American study suggested that compact development, on average, costs 38 per cent less in up-front infrastructure and 10 per cent less in ongoing service delivery than conventional suburban development, while generating 10 times more per acre in tax revenue. Many cities overbuilding the suburbs are putting their fiscal future at risk — and that’s before the bigger picture costs are even included.
- Over the last decade, Canadian cities like Calgary, Edmonton, London, Halifax, Regina and Abbotsford have been doing the hard math on the real costs of how and where they grow — not just up or out, but how smarter design choices save costs. The resulting math has been powerful — tens of billions of dollars more of public cost for car-dependant suburban growth than for smart infill — and I haven’t even yet seen such a study that includes all the full and life-cycle costs of our growth choices. Once these shocking numbers are revealed, municipal leaders can’t “un-know” them, no matter what political ideology they live by.
Want more examples? There’s math showing that replacing on-street parking with safe, separated bike-lanes is good for street-fronting businesses. That crime goes down as density goes up. That providing housing for the homeless actually saves public money. That you can move more people on a street when car lanes are replaced by well-designed space for walking, biking and transit.
There are of course many others we’ve seen and covered over the years, including many local studies that have shown the same results as above. Do you have any city math favourites?
Vincent and Pitt, Thursday 5:49 pm. Every corner occupied with people wanting to cross, including eight on this silly little delight of a ‘pedestrian refuge’, or nine if you include me, as I stepped back into the vehicle priority slip lane to take the shot, including at least one genuine princess. There appears to be one vehicle using the intersection and another a long long way in the distance up Pitt street.
Auckland Transport have a lot of work to do to fix the dated modal priority that dominates City Centre streets as it is no longer fit for purpose. This design dates from a time when very few lived in the city, fewer worked there and those that did didn’t stay on to recreate in the city either. It is also from before the time that the economic and social value of well designed walkable streets were so well understood. People not in cars need more space and time afforded to them from the people that control this critical part of our public domain. The value of this in supporting the modern urban services economy and the social well being of everyone is overwhelming.
After all transport infrastructure is simply a means to economic and social ends; not an end in it self.
I’m not an urban designer or an architect – economists are famously bad at that sort of thing – but I do pay attention to the way places are built. Some places work well for people, and some places don’t. That matters.
A few weeks ago, I spotted a few interesting conversations (in Transportblog and on Twitter) about how we approach urban design issues. I thought they were worth highlighting as they pointed out some important distinctions and challenges we face in pursuing good design.
First: in a response to a study on the health value of architectural features that encourage social contact (eg porches, stoops, etc) that Kent posted in a recent Sunday reading, reader TimR made an astute comment about the need to get better at measuring outcomes from urban design. Good design has a value – but it’s often misidentified or left unmeasured:
As Tim points out, we need to distinguish between design and aesthetics, which are two very different concepts. As I understand it, good design is, first and foremost, about functionality. If it looks good but doesn’t work well, it’s not well-designed.
Another way of saying this is that good design has objective and measurable benefits, while the benefits of aesthetics are subjective, or “in the eye of the beholder”. Health outcomes are a good start – well-designed urban places tend to enable and encourage walking and cycling and encourage incidental social contact between neighbours and passers-by.
One example I’ve been thinking about recently is the Owen G Glenn Building at the University of Auckland. While it looks impressively monumental from the outside – especially from the motorway, as in the view below – it’s unpleasant to be in. Lecture halls and classrooms are hard to find, the hallways often feel like they’re closing in on you, and, paradoxically, all the common spaces feel cavernous and exposed. The building’s design provides me with a small, but occasionally decisive, inducement to stay away from talks or meetings being held there – a sign that the building is not supporting its educational mission.
Second, Twitter users and occasional Transportblog commenters Frank McRae and Stephen Davis made some interesting points about the same basic issue – how we distinguish between aesthetics and functionality. They were responding to this tweet critiquing the design of some apartments in Otahuhu:
Frank observed (fairly but a bit too acerbically) that buildings usually have a practical aim – to house people or provide space for businesses and other organisations. In that context, we should judge them on how well they meet housing needs, rather than fulfill subjective aesthetic goals:
Stephen had a more expansive take on the issue, pointing out that we need to be attentive to the overall urban context for buildings:
He goes on to observe in a series of tweets that:
I’d say the vast majority of Auckland buildings are prettier than the streets they’re on already. Better than we deserve.
As an example:
I think Stephen’s idea of a “sliding scale of responsibility” for place-making is a good one. Urban streets are the largest, most widespread, and most influential public spaces in a city. They set the context for what happens around them. If we want better urban design, and buildings that make us better off, we need to start with the street.
What do you think about the value of urban design?
Britomart extension taking shape
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
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:
- The Green Link
- 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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:
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:
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:
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.
This is a guest post by our most august regular reader Warren Sanderson.
Over many years I have developed a dislike for what the concentration of motorway/roading only expenditure is doing to our cities and particularly Auckland. This heavy concentration on roading expenditure with ever widening multi-lane roads is promoting unsustainable car dominance and frequent severance of neighbourhoods from parts previously closely aligned. In other words, it is not doing much for “quality of place”.
I have been reading Transport Blog regularly for some years now because of my interest in architecture and city design and why some cities have so much more appeal as places to visit and live in than other cities.
And over the years Portland is frequently mentioned and photographed in Transport Blog as one of those desirable urban places for living.
So seeing that Portland was the only North American west coast city of any significance that I hadn’t visited, it was time for my wife and me to go.
But first I have to confess to recently attaining 80 years of age. I didn’t aspire to reach this age – it just crept up on me. And going forward there can’t be many advantages in reaching 80 but the reason I mention it is twofold:
When entering the U.S. this time they did not want to fingerprint me or make me take off my belt and shoes when going through security. The terrorist potential of 80 plus’ers must be considered low. My ‘young’ wife however, who in any event would cause far less trouble than me, got the full treatment.
The second advantage, although one only needed to be 65 for this, was one of nomenclature. We were not merely ‘pensioners’, not even ‘senior citizens’ but were ‘Honoured Citizens’ (Generation Zero take note!) and as such were entitled to half cost of the already modest cost of public transit on the TRI-MET System.
Upon arrival the volunteer information staff at Portland Airport quickly provided us with a ‘Journey Plan’ to the Benson Hotel in Downtown Portland. Other volunteer staff watched over our ticket machine purchase and another directed us to a substitute bus – all so friendly. Because the light rail line was undergoing maintenance a free shuttle bus took us to Kenton N Denver where we transferred to light rail for the remainder of the journey.
And wow! The cost for each of us was $ US 1.25. Unhonoured citizens pay double. If you choose to go by taxi I am told the cost is $ US 39 – 40.
On this basis, Auckland Airport, New Zealand Government policy, NZTA and AT together, have enormous scope/margin for improvement and it is fair to say that the travelling consumer with the lack of alternatives in Auckland, is being totally ripped–off, both financially and by insipid policy.
Our hotel was the Benson Hotel. It was well located on the corner of SW Oak and Broadway. I am not sure when it was built but it is impressively Edwardian in character and especially in the lobby area.
From the picture you can see that a considerable portion of the façade is red brick and visually set on a solid base. It was designed to impress which is nothing less than you would expect from Simon Benson, the original owner.
The Benson name crops up frequently in Portland. Benson made a fortune in the timber trade and then moved on to other ventures, activities and also to philanthropy. He gifted land including impressive waterfalls for state parks along the Colombia River Gorge. In Portland itself, he donated the ‘Benson Bubblers’ (a complete water system) that you can see on so many street corners. See picture below –
Portland’s street pattern is mainly organised on a grid system. Because each block is of fairly small dimension the city is reasonably pedestrian friendly. Most crossings do not have a beg button but don’t let your attention stray as there is no pedestrian buzzer. As a pedestrian you need to keep watch or you will miss your turn.
With some notable exceptions the buildings are not usually more than 5 or 6 storeys in height. Many are pared back Louis Sullivan Chicago Style which I find aesthetically pleasing – c.f. our General Building on the corner of Shortland and O’Connell Streets.
And yes, in Portland there are many buildings both older and more recent that are faced in brick. Portland has a high winter rainfall just like Auckland and brick certainly evokes the feeling of shelter and warmth far better than ever grey concrete can do. See pictures below –
On my return to Auckland I am pleased to note that Ockham’s new Bernoulli Gardens apartment development at Hobsonville Point will offer a European brick façade with some white relief and contemporary detailing. I hope this is a trend and that architects and builders stop trying to con us all, that we are part of the Mediterranean.
Let us return to the reason for visiting Portland – that is to use and explore their light train transit system.
Well wow! It is so easy to use – even for strangers. We walked three short blocks up to Pioneer Courthouse Square and purchased a number of HR (remember Honoured Citizen) Day Pass tickets at $ US 2.50 each. They need to be validated before use, at the little machine at the train stop. In the centre of Portland itself the trains run each way a street apart but with the aid of the TRI-MET System Map you soon get used to it.
For our first trip we took the Beaverton train westwards which soon enters a long rail only tunnel under the Washington Park hills before arriving at the Beaverton Transit Centre. We then took the Hillsboro train which comes on the same route but continues much further out to Hillsboro where Saturday Market was in full swing.
The light rail train goes fairly slowly on its tram style rails in the city but goes much faster on its railway style rails once it is on its own dedicated way a little further out.
On another occasion we went south crossing over the Willamette River on the much noted Tilikum Pedestrian and Rail only Bridge to Milwaukie.
On our final day we returned to the airport, initially part way by bus because of the maintenance and the rest of the way by light train from the Gateway Transit Centre – again the cost was $ US 1.25 each.
TRI-MET advertise that 45% of commuters and 45% of students use Transit every day and I understand that in Portland 6% of commuters bike to work each day compared with .5% of commuters in the U.S. nationally.
Not everything in Portland is perfect however. On the eastern side of the Willamette River there is a plethora of freeways flanking the river. You only have to go to the 30th floor of the U.S. Bankcorp Building to obtain a great view of the city and of these motorways including entries and exits snaking and weaving on the far river bank. Many are elevated like our motorways in the sky at Auckland’s Waterview and frankly all are rather ugly.
And then there is the question of stigma – the belief among some that only lower status people use transit. For example, when checking in for our departure at the airport, I commented that we had used Portland’s excellent public transit system to reach the airport and the attractive airline girl replied “Yes, it is very cheap but you get some funny fellow travellers”.
I thought about this comment afterwards and to a very limited extent had to agree with it on that particular route. In the other direction to Beaverton and Hillsboro all passengers had seemed ‘very normal’ so I guess in large measure, passengers are reflective of areas transit serves. Furthermore the latter route goes through a long tunnel because of the natural barrier of the Washington Park hills which may make driving at peak over more winding roads a less attractive alternative, thereby upping the patronage.
Maybe too, the overcoming of the significant natural barrier of the Washington Park hills, would in turn, appear to be an indicator of success for light rail from the new Aotea Station under Auckland Harbour to the populous North Shore.
So bring it on.
I can’t wait !!
This is a guest post submitted by reader Harriet.
Town Centre Upgrade
We talk so much about how to make the CBD more pedestrian friendly by removing general traffic, and concentrating on public transport and active modes instead, but do we do this enough for our town centres? For the CBD we talk about traffic calming, diverting and even removal of cars for places like Queen Street, so why don’t we apply the same logic to our town centres?
Town centres for the most part sit along main arterial roads. As Auckland has expanded outwards, and over time became more auto focused, these roads have increasingly become through routes for people driving past, rather than functioning as places. Let’s think about the CBD. Is Queen Street a through route arterial or is it focused on access? Policies especially since the 90’s have encouraged motorists to use orbital routes by reducing the speed limits on Queen Street, Barnes Dance crossings, and street upgrades to encourage pedestrian access. In the future Queen Street could become a pedestrian mall with LRT (Light Rapid Transit, or light rail). In a way Symonds Street, Albert/Nelson/Hobson are like western and eastern ring roads. Most motorists therefore freely elect to use these orbital routes. So can applying the same principles to our town centres which presently have radial through roads and instead change it up investing in orbital routes instead which will allow traffic to still flow around, but leaving our Town Centres free for people. Could this be a win win?
Mt Albert was once a strong historical town centre with access to the old tram network, it has now fallen into decay. The local board has lately fought for revival and DART has brought an upgraded station but people still flock to St. Lukes Mall or the CBD. Anyone who has been to Mt Albert can see that New North Road is used as a through route for people driving to New Lynn, Avondale and further afield, not for people coming to Mt Albert. New North Road thus has been upgraded for this purpose being a dual carriageway through the town centre, not including the protected parking on the station side and on-street parking on the other side. Traffic lights are phased for vehicle flow and the walkways remain decayed and cracked. All this creates a seriously unfriendly environment for pedestrians and shoppers. The new town centre plan really does little to change this. It keeps the same amount of lanes, not adding in any real cycle or bus priority with really token improvements to aesthetics.
Tram heading to Mt Albert
What if we treated Mt Albert the same way we would treat Queen Street, or even the ways other cities would treat their own versions of Queen Street? What if we wanted our town centres to be destinations, not another set of traffic lights? What if we wanted to create great town centres for people without even hurting traffic flows? It’s possible, if just like the CBD here and in other cities we think orbital not radial.
Here is my alternative proposal. If we rail-bridged the Woodward Road level crossing (which needs to be done regardless) and if we diverted New North Road down Carrington Road and Woodward , we would remove one level crossing and create a bypass of Mt Albert Town Centre. From the Woodward Road/Richardson Road intersection to the Mt Albert Road/Carrington Road intersection there would be a section of road completely free from general traffic. The area especially on the NAL (Western Line Side) is mostly post-war low density retail, light industrial, re-purposed warehouses and a service station. If we pedestrianised the old New North Road this would leave enough room for cycle lanes, shops to re-purpose the old walkways into outdoor space and of course plenty of space for pedestrians. If up-zoned to allow mixed use and higher density this would create plenty of area for apartments, offices and retail right next to Mt Albert Station and a future light rail terminus for the Sandringham Road LRT, all without drastically affecting traffic flows. Traffic instead would use the orbital route or potentially switch to SH16 when the upgrades including Waterview are completed.
Objections would be:
- Parking (always parking) – Study after study has shown that retail owners greatly overestimate the amount of customers who come by car compared to active modes and PT. That after improvement to active modes & PT more customers tend to visit not less. Also, with more residents as part of the mixed use potential development, there will be a larger base of local shoppers who can simply walk to the centre.
- Bus Access – In the long run, before 2023, it is possible to have both Sandringham Road LRT which could potentially terminate at Mt Albert and likely to have the CRL with potentially 5 minute frequencies to Henderson and the City plus a 3 train per hour crosstown service. We are moving to a best practice bus network which would mean there will be significantly fewer New North Road buses after the CRL, as well as Electric Buses which will be more Town Centre friendly due to less pollution both noise & air. In the short run buses could use the Town Centre with strict rules on idling & speed restrictions.
- It will create a negative outcome for some on the new orbital route – Perhaps in some ways, however, the proximity of the town centre and increased transport options would likely increase their property values and they would have access to the improved town centre. Also, Woodward Road is busy at present and the removal of the level crossing would be of great benefit to the residents.
- Wouldn’t it be better to just reduce the traffic? Possibly. However, I wanted to show a win-win situation where through motorists wouldn’t realistically be affected travel wise and the local people would have their town centre returned to them. Who doesn’t love win-win?
If we think orbital and not radial is it possible we could have a Swanston Street in every town centre in Auckland, such as Kingsland, Mt Eden, Glen Innes, Sandringham, Avondale, New Lynn, Ellerslie and more?
Is it possible that with a little creative thinking, town centres can become great places just like CBDs or like Santa Monica Promenade? What do you think, any ideas of your own? Also, let me know in the comments if you would like this to become a series as I do have ideas for the above.
Santa Monica Promenade
I made a little Tweet Storm Saturday morning on an issue that’s been on my mind about driverless cars and the City:
Here’s the link to the very good video produced by the Ryerson City Building Institute in Ontario, Canada: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=R1B9z8ituS8&feature=youtu.be
There are of course many other issues, not the least of which being this technology’s utility for Transit services. But interestingly as a result of my tweets I was sent this link from the US Highway Admin on the very subject of aviation standards versus road standards. Because, let’s face it, the standards are wildly different: 38,000 people were killed directly by auto-dependency last year in the US, that’s just in crashes, that doesn’t include those dying of respiratory diseases, or from the way driving makes people fat and sad, also leading to earlier death from the diseases of inactivity.
I have an additional thought too. At what point will the near perfect safety performance of driverless cars lead to human driving becoming illegal? I suspect this is an almost inevitable consequence of this technology. Likely to start in certain areas then be extended. Perhaps what Google et al are ultimately doing with Autonomous Vehicles will lead to a redefinition of the conceptual link between cars and freedom in American culture?
This is a Guest Post by David Shearer MP.
NB we welcome guest posts from anyone, all are judged on their individual merits and relevance. It is always good to hear what politicians of all flavours would like to see happen in our cities, especially when they are neither campaigning nor just complaining.
Western Springs through new eyes
MP David Shearer
Recent talk of a stadium on Auckland’s waterfront costing hundreds of millions is all very well, but how about seeing an old treasure through new eyes and planning for the future of Western Springs. With the amount of use the area gets, I can’t think of better bang for the ratepayer buck.
At the moment Western Springs is a collection of disparate elements – but it could be a beautifully-designed whole. It’s crying out for it. Think about what’s currently there:
The Auckland Zoo is in the middle of a $120million overhaul, projected to attract a million visitors per year within the decade – and it’s already pulling in 700,000.
MOTAT has new leadership, great ideas, 250,000 visitors a year and an abundance of prime land. It also has a bold architectural plan, conceived by the late Ian Athfield, awaiting funding and action.
There’s the speedway, the Western Springs soccer club, the Ponsonby Rugby Club, and the Auckland Performing Arts Centre (TAPAC) – each one a drawcard in its own right.
Add to that Pasifika, Auckland City Limits and other concerts, not to mention the thousands of families of all ethnicities who stroll around Western Springs Park on weekends, enjoying the special ecological features and Meola Creek.
Taken together, it’s a huge chunk of urban land, possibly the most-used in Auckland. Eden Park gets much more attention and has far fewer people using it.
As Auckland’s population increases, our open spaces will become increasingly more precious. Preparing for that means seeing and treating Western Springs as a destination.
Part of that is understanding the area as an ecological whole. To the west of Meola reef is a volcanic lava flow that extends right out into the harbour. In the other direction it extends across Meola Rd into Western Springs. Its waterways flow through to Chamberlain Park and beyond. Together, it’s a wide greenbelt, an environmental treasure that could do with the kind of design that will help Aucklanders really use and enjoy it from one end to the other.
I’m a fan of living bridges linking our green spaces. A cycle and pedestrian bridge across Meola Road could link these two parts. Another to cross the multiple road lanes of Great North Road and the North-western Motorway into Chamberlain Park would enable an uninterrupted ‘green ride’ through these landscapes.
Western Springs and environs showing potential locations for new cycle and walking links
At the moment, every big event within Western Springs needs a special transport plan. The place buzzes – yet it can be inconvenient and inefficient to get to resulting in congestion and parking chaos.
Surely it qualifies for smart modern infrastructure and transport. In the short term, at the very least, the Great North Rd bus route should be upgraded, with expanded timetables servicing Western Springs, the zoo and MOTAT.
The area is actually handy to trains, though at the moment you wouldn’t know it. Baldwin Ave Station is close and an improved pedestrian/bike route between Western Springs and the golf course would connect people to it and go a long way to addressing the access problems that now exist.
Meanwhile, the Zoo, MOTAT, TAPAC and other parts are currently atomised, focusing on their own individual development, simply because there’s no big-picture plan for them to work within. Could light rail help? What about a pedestrian/cycleway underpass at St Lukes? Could the vintage tram route be expanded to make the trams truly functional and useful?
Our waterways – like Meola Creek – have been taken for granted over decades, parts of them neglected and built-over, but they’re still there, waiting to be rediscovered and cherished by a new generation of Aucklanders.
The waterways are the living link between all these areas: Chamberlain Park, Western Springs and the Harbour. The water runs down from one of our precious maunga, Mt Owairaka to the sea.
I’d like to see urban designers grappling with these issues: pulling the disparate parts together into a modern, user-friendly precinct.
The natural environment is unique and should be preserved and enhanced: cycle ways, pedestrian paths, water flows and thoughtful, effective public transport.
The local communities, and the many using this space are passionate about it and should have a big say in the form of the design. That enthusiasm was able to save the Pohutukawa grove on Great North Road opposite MOTAT last year. It was a lesson in how well-loved the area is, and how invested locals rightly are in it. They are best insurance against lazy design.
With the City Rail Link on its way and a safe network of cycle lanes slowly taking shape, it feels like Auckland is growing up.
But perhaps – in reaching for more big, expensive projects – we’re at risk of overlooking some of the beauty that’s already here.
I think it’s time for Auckland’s planners to look at Western Springs with fresh eyes and deliver us a precinct that will be another jewel in Auckland’s crown.
Possible cycle and walking connections to Baldwin Ave Station. Existing NW cycleway in blue, Potential links across the golf course and bridge across SH16 and Gt Nth Rd, purple, and Linwood Ave and St Lukes Rd in red.
Postscript: The purple routes above are consistent with the masterplan the Albert Eden Local Board published recently, below, among other things these would improve the walk/ride potential for Western Springs College and Pasadena Intermediate enormously. The red route, which needs upgrading, is the obvious way to connect the train network to both the permanent attractions of MOTAT and events at the Park, although then the problem that AT/NZTA designed the new supersized St Lukes bridge with only half a thought for any user not in a vehicle then does come even more glaring than ever: