AT’s Albert St preliminary design

On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.

Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.

The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.

The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.

The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.

Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.

The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.

But those trees disappear outside the district court.

Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.

 

The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:

  • The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
  • There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
  • Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
  • Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
  • The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
  • Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
  • The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
  • While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St

While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.

One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.

there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.

I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.

Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.

Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:

  • bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
  • bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
  • the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
  • bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
  • bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.

Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.

In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)

To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.

Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?

Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.

The plans for Albert St after the CRL

The City Rail Link is now under construction and will see most of Albert St dug up in the process of building the cut and cover tunnels. That presents Auckland Transport with a great opportunity on what is effectively a blank slate to reinstate it to a much higher standard than exists now. The Auckland City Centre Advisory Board (ACCAB) have endorsed spending $20 million from the City Centre Targeted Rate towards doing just that. A presentation to the ACCAB last week showed their latest design. But there are some major concerns about the design from the council and their comments suggest the CRL team have been operating too much in a silo.

Albert St has a bit of space to work with and as is 27.4m wide from Quay St through to Wellesley St, although that is narrowed by the lanes on the two blocks south of Wyndham St. At the same time there’s a lot to fit in there, especially as once the CRL is finished it will likely see a lot more people walking along it. It has also historically been the main route for buses from the western side of the city and while the CRL will reduce the need for some buses, the slots freed up will be needed for more services, especially from the Northwest as that area continues to develop.

So the first big issue that is raised in the presentation is the need to accommodate buses. There are two basic options discussed, inline bus stops where the bus stop is within the lane and offline bus stops where the stop is beside the lane so that it doesn’t block it, allowing for more buses to use the route. AT say the capacity of an inline bus stop is about 53 buses an hour while offline bus stops are limited by the number of stops that can be added. The trade-off is of course space.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-bus-capacities

AT say the predictions for bus numbers mean offline bus stops are needed along the corridor. That of course will impact on how wide footpaths will be. I’m not sure what the LRT scenario refers to.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-bus-predictions

The upgrade of Albert St will happen in two phases. The section north of Wyndham St (C2) will be build following the completion of the current works – which extend that far – while the section south of Wyndham St (C3) will happen after the main works, that include the Aotea Station, are complete.

The design for the C2 works are shown below and are more advanced than the C3 works later in the post.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-wyndham-to-quay

 

The Lower Albert St section (north of Customs St) will be bus only.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-lower-albert-st

There aren’t any detailed images for the section between Customs and Wolfe St but it appears the classic traffic engineers have got hold of the plans with dedicated right turn lanes and either bus stops or car parking narrowing down the footpaths.

Between Wolfe and Swanson St things get wider again and includes the addition of a number of trees.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-swanson-to-wolfe

Here’s a visualisation of the street here. The presentation talks about a number of the environmental and design features included.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-swanson-to-wolfe-visualisation

Between Swanson and Wyndham the footpaths narrow again to accommodate the offline bus stops in each direction.

Next up is the section south of Wyndham, the C3 section which contains the challenges such as the split level lanes on the eastern side.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-wellesley-to-wyndham

There are some good things happening here with one of the biggest being the lane that accesses Durham St West. I believe the historic Bluestone wall is actually being moved as part of the CRL project as is needed to create space for the tunnels. That has the benefit of allowing for a wider footpath up at the road level which AT’s plans suggest will be between 2.71m and 2.94m in width, currently it’s only about 1.7m wide. AT’s plans also seem to make it safer to cross to that footpath with raised tables. In addition, the two carpark bridges will be removed so they won’t be spewing cars out onto that footpath. An image of the narrowed lane suggests it could be a shared space too.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-durham-st-wall

The drawing showing just north of Victoria St shows one potential issue though with ventilation for the tracks being built into the footpath, which itself is not all that wide. These could potentially be quite large and unpleasant for pedestrians and is a bigger issue given the constrained nature of this section of road.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-durham-st-exit

On the other side of the Victoria St intersection there is the issue with the planned NDG porte cochere that I raised recently.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-aa-building

In the image above you can also see the space in the middle of the street, this is planned to be for skylights into the station. There will be seven in total referencing Matariki.

The section to Wellesley shows the eastern side next to the Crowne Plaza will be made much better for pedestrians although will still be narrow at the southern end thanks to the service lane exit and the dedicated right hand turn pocket. It’s not clear why this turning pocket is even there given how busy this area is bound to be with people.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-crowne-plaza

Mayoral Dr outside of the main station entrance remains virtually unchanged.

The last part of this presentation to cover is Victoria St and it’s here where things get really concerning. The drawings show fairly narrow footpaths on the southern side for what will be one of the busiest people part of the city and it seems that has happened in the madness to try and accommodate four lanes of traffic. This is very much a case of cars being put before people.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-victoria-st

Even worse is it appears AT are completely ignoring the formally adopted City Centre Master Plan which calls for Victoria St to become a linear park linking Albert Park and Victoria Park, the Governments Urban Cycleway Programme which shows Victoria St as a key east-west route and even their own internal studies on space allocation – which is shown below.

CEWT Victoria St

Hell even AT’s formal visualisations of the station entrance show this, as do these plans.

Aotea Station - Victoria Entrance

Given the plans presented to the ACCAB are meant to be the most recent it is very concerning.

Below are the proposed widths of the roads mentioned above.

city-centre-advisory-board-presentation-albert-st-widths

The presentation notes feedback from the council and an internal AT review was expected to be due back before the ACCAB meeting. As such the Council’s Design Review Panel report is also included in the meeting agenda and it is extremely critical of the designs the CRL team have come up with. The report covers in a fair amount of detail the council’s views on the design and includes some fairly concerning comments, including that the CRL team have been working in a silo over the design.

Albert Street- between Wyndham and Quay Streets- has been through a rigorous design process, informed by a consulted Reference Design (ADO, 2014-15) and Detailed Design (Boffa Miskell, 2015). However, the current design developed since October 2015 has been developed without consultation external to CRL and AT Metro. The current design is a remnant of the former Detailed Design- but lacks design cohesion with long indented bus bays, turn lanes and an imbalanced single block of street trees.

and

However, of much greater concern for the Panel is the pending approval of the C3 Reference Design in the next month. C3 for Albert Street includes the section between Wyndham and Mayoral which was not investigated in Reference Design and Detailed Design process, nor sufficiently consulted. The structure of the C3 contract is a $1.6bn design-build, limiting Council’s ability to inform the streetscape design.

This is significant as this scope includes the two eastern side slip-lanes, the median skylight features, footpath train station vent structures, Crowne Plaza access and direct interface with two major developers, NDG and Sky City. However, of greatest concern is the interface design with Aotea Station and its resulting effects on the pedestrian space on Victoria Street and Wellesley Street. The plans depicted at the panel review are the first Auckland Council has seen the implications of AT’s preference for Victoria Street as a four-lane street. This is not a view supported in the 2012 City Centre Masterplan which is the council family and politically endorsed plan for the city that should be referenced by CRL. For instance the implications of shifting the Aotea Station closer to NDG requires further study. The 4 southeast “pinch point” at the Wellesley Street intersection is currently the city centre’s most dangerous. The Panel is not comfortable with the resolution depicted in the current design.

As mentioned, there is a lot more detail in the report. Overall they summarise their feedback as:

Despite an initially bold and collaborative design process, the current Albert Street design reviewed by CPDRP is underwhelming and requires effort to get back on track to avoid returning to the austere and utilitarian condition where the street started. Furthermore the design falls short on achieving many of the project objectives as presented in the briefing report.

Ouch.

The minutes of the meeting note:

  • the CRL Project Director noted there will be plenty of opportunity next year (2017), once the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board has reconvened, to address any concerns in the public realm design, under both the C2 and C3 contracts
  • the CRL Project Director invited the board to have 2 representatives to attend the monthly CRL urban realm steering meetings

That doesn’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence that AT will actually make any improvements.

Porte Cochere 2 – Pedestrians 0

While looking at Auckland Transport’s website I found they’d uploaded a number of plans relating to the City Rail Link (the same place I saw the K Rd image from this morning’s post). One of the documents showed the plans for Albert St after the CRL has been completed. The image below shows the section between Victoria St and Wellesley St and highlights what I think is a major issue, the pedestrian environment.

As you can see the future NDG development like the existing Crowne Plaza next to it have large Porte Cochere’s sucking vehicles off the street potentially at speed and all in an area where there is likely to be a lot of pedestrians following the opening of the CRL. The NDG one is made worse by also being the access to the service lane that currently exists. It appears the pedestrians who are in the area might be restricted to some narrow footpaths.

albert-st-porte-cochere

It probably would have been better just to have required that both porte cochere’s be joined up and made into a lane with some activation between that and the street rather than what has been proposed.

If you can’t remember, this is what the NDG building is meant to look like

ndg-centre-1

And here’s a close up of the vehicle entrance – although I guess the people who made the rendering weren’t so focused on the detail of things like the traffic direction

ndg-centre-2

We haven’t heard anything about what’s happening on the NDG development so as much as I want to see that parking crater filled in, in some ways I hope it doesn’t go ahead and the next plan for the site can improve this situation.

The Future Design of Albert Street

Albert Street is going to be a mess for a few years while the City Rail Link is constructed and a report to the councils Auckland City Centre Advisory Board highlights that we can expect it to be reinstated looking better than it does now. The section involved is only that affected by the enabling works which is everything north of Wyndham St. They say there has been over 12 months of design and consultation to come up with the current plans which will create “a high-quality urban street which functions as a key bus corridor while providing improved pedestrian access and amenity“.

The history so far:

  • July 2014 – brief completed
  • August 2015 – consultant team engaged – ACADO
  • March 2015 – concept/reference design completed
  • April 2015 – brief updated to support findings from reference design work
  • May 2015 – consultant team engaged – Boffa/BECA
  • July 2015 – draft developed design completed for review and further feedback
  • August 2015-September 2015 – final amendments made, final option prepared for sign off
  • September 2015-October 2015 – Albert Street detail design/tender drawings

The developed design is below, if differs slightly from the reference design we saw in April with the biggest change seeming to be the lane layout of the downtown development – although there may be other changes that can’t be seen due to the low res image.

Lower Queen St and Albert St public realm Sep 15

Below are the key design outcomes that AT have come up with.

Albert St Key Design Outcomes

Most of this is good although a couple of potential concerns stand out. One being the last point that the section of Albert St between Customs and Quay Street will be bus only except for local traffic. That combined with some of the images below suggests that there will be access to underground parking in the middle of the bus interchange.

The other main concern is that there will be no segregated cycle provision. The street on these sections is very wide and my personal observations is that a lot of cyclists use Albert St to get up from Quay St up to the middle of town. It seems that having a cycle facility at least on the uphill section would be useful. It seems based on the latest image from AT on their planned city centre cycle map that they instead want cyclists to use Federal St which long term will be a shared space.

Below are some images of what’s proposed.

On the Wyndham to Swanson section the biggest difference is the wider footpaths. Currently there is space southbound for the bus stops and a separate bus lane however now it seems that will be combined in one lane. Similarly there is currently a separate right turn lane Northbound into Swanson St which will in future be combined with the general traffic lane.

Albert St Design - Wyndham to Swanson

On the Swanson to Customs Section there are a couple of notable differences to what exists now. The wider footpaths take over the parking/loading zone space outside Quay West building and the northbound bus stops are concentrated opposite this rather than split between that location and just south of Wolfe St

 

Albert St Design - Swanson to Customs

And here is an image of what it would look like – although it seems the traffic are on the wrong sides of the road.

Albert St Design - Swanson to Customs - graphic

And a prettier version from April.

Albert St post CRL

The section between Customs and Quay St where the bus interchange will be. As mentioned earlier you can see there appears to be an entrance to an underground carpark on the eastern side – where one exists now – although it appears not one further north to the HSBC building carpark. Perhaps this suggests the HSBC carpark with views overlooking the harbour will be redeveloped as part of the mall redevelopment.

 

Albert St Design - Customs to Quay

Albert St Design - Customs to Quay - 1

 

Albert St Design - Customs to Quay - 2They say the next steps are:

  • Tidy up plans, create supporting illustrations for communications. – September, October 2015
  • Get formal agreements for funding from relevant and various sources – October, November 2015
  • Complete and agree canopies to lower Albert (Downtown development surrounds) working with Precinct, AT, AC, ACPL combined. September, October 2015
  • Present design to relevant PCG’s, Committees, Boards for information. September, October 2015
  • Complete detail drawing as part of tender document for C2 contract. September, October 2015

It’s good to see some progress and the report notes that the advisory board have previously endorsed in principle the allocation of about $7 million from the City Centre Targeted Rate to go towards the street improvements.

Lastly it might be a while before they start focusing on it but I’m really interested to see how they’ll deal with the two sections south of Wyndham St which have service lanes narrowing the road space available.