Britomart precinct quick wins

It has now been three months since Janette Sadik-Khan visited Auckland and showed us how easy it was to create a more liveable city by making things better for people to walk and cycle around, and best of all we could do this really quickly and cheaply.

Since the excitement of that time their has been some positive noise about some cycleway projects such as Karangahape Road and Nelson St, however there is so much to do around the city in the pedestrian realm. So now I am going to look at a number of really simple and cheap things we can do around the city to make things much better for people.

The first place I am going to look at is the Britomart precinct. This has become an immensely successful area over the last decade, revitalising a formerly very rundown and seedy area, preserving a large collection of heritage buildings, with a few sympathetic additions. However the streetscape  is still very plain, and the design prioritises cars, even though walking is the dominant mode of travel through the precinct. While it is better than many areas of the city, there is still much to be done.

Pedestrians should really be the priority throughout this area, however the road layout still gives priority to cars, and several streets are used as rat runs. In the medium term we could look at pedestrianisation and shared spaces in this area, however with limited budgets and uncertainty about bus movements this is best left for the longer term. So therefore I am going to focus on easy and cheap improvements.

The East-West site link is probably the most important, linking the station to the atrium of the Westpac building through Takutai Square. For some unknown reason this link is totally devoid of zebra crossings, which would prioritise pedestrians, slow cars and improve safety.

20140627_101004

Commerce Street

 

20140627_101435

Gore St

 

20140627_104640

Britomart Place, looking towards the disaster of Scene Lane

 

Zebra crossings could be added to all three of these roads tomorrow with tiny cost, yet make things so much better for people walking in this precinct. Zebras with raised tables should also be added to all the side streets, such as the corner of Galway and Commerce Streets.

20140627_101406

Galway and Commerce St

In a slightly longer timeframe consideration should be given to closing at least one of the north-south links to through traffic. These streets are much busier than they should be because of rat-running and cars circling for parking. At least in the short term, Commerce Street is important for bus movements so that will need to stay. Gore Street is probably the most likely candidate, the main use of the area seems to be taxis illegally parking in the median.

While Britomart Place has some traffic calming in the use of lane narrowing and pebbled surfaces directly opposite the Westpac atrium, the two ends at Quay St and Commerce St are totally oversized, and for 4 lanes so every turn movement can have their own lane. The slip lane from Britomart Place to Beach Road is also very dangerous and should be removed as a priority.

Britomart Pl 4

Britomart Place – 3 southbound lanes for one quiet street

The area could be narrowed substantially, with traffic lanes roughly halved. The narrowing would be best done on the western side, which would allow popular places like Mexico, Brew on Quay and several cafes to expand their tables over more of the pavement, and provide more room for pedestrians. This can be done without any expensive reconstruction in the short term, just by allowing planters and tables to cover part of the existing road.

Britomart Place map

This rather crude drawing shows how much space could be freed up for people and street life, while still allowing 2 lanes of traffic through the area.

There is also one change that could benefit people cycling. If you are cycling from the (rather pathetic) bike racks at Britomart you can head east along Tyler St. However heading towards Britomart there is no obvious direct legal option, and people are forced to cycle the wrong way down Galway St between Commerce and Gore Street. If this section was flipped this would make things much easier.

Another option is the provision of contraflow bike lanes. These are used with some success in Adelaide, the use of which in their laneways was noted recently by the excellent Cycling in Christchurch Blog. If flipping the streets was not possible for some reason, then these could be installed to allow cyclists to travel east-west through the area.

adelaide-laneways-4

Adelaide Laneway – c/ Glen Koorey, Cycling in Christchurch blog

All these changes suggested would help ensure Britomart could continue to be an exciting area and further enhance its reputation as a great place to be.

Electrification officially turned on

Yesterday the switch was officially flipped on electrification of the Auckland rail network  - well at least the on the section into Britomart. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to make it so am relying on reports in the media and from others who were there. Firstly the official release from the government

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee welcomes today’s switching-on of overhead lines into the Britomart Transport Centre as a milestone for Auckland’s transport network.

“Electrification is a key element of the government’s focus on supporting a cohesive, efficient transport system for Auckland,” Mr Brownlee says.

“Today is a milestone for three projects which represent a total $1.7 billion government investment – the upgrade of the network to enable 10-minute peak frequencies (Project DART), the Auckland Electrification Project, and the purchase of 57 new electric trains.”

Mr Brownlee says while Aucklanders made 10.7 million trips by rail across the city in the year to January 2014, the upgraded and electrified network, along with new electric trains, will encourage many more people to take the train.

“This will play a big part in tackling congestion, and will also substantially increase the size of the rail fleet, providing spare capacity for future growth,” Mr Brownlee says.

“I want to commend KiwiRail, Auckland Transport and TransDev Auckland for their efforts in deploying safety and protection measures across the network, and safety education.

“It is particularly pleasing to see children learning rail safety in the classroom, which will help them keep safe around our rail network, both now and in the future.

“The government is investing around $1 billion a year on roads and public transport to meet the transport needs of Auckland’s growing population and to improve the transport system’s contribution to economic growth.”

It’s sad to see the government are still bundling together the spending on project DART, funding for which was approved long before they were in office (as was electrification funding). Of course they don’t do the same thing when talking about roads otherwise they would would be constantly talking about $4 billion they are spending on the Western Ring Route alone before you consider all of the other upgrades that have been happening to the motorway network over the last decade or so.

On to more positive things. At these types of PT events we’ve become quite used to hearing government politicians mention the PT project then proceed to talk at length about the efforts to upgrade the cities roading network. John Key’s speech ditched  that and he actually spoke very positively about the importance of it. Here’s some quotes from his speech:

“There’s nothing magical about Aucklanders using public transport,”

“If it’s there and it’s efficient they will use it.”

“So today I think is part of the solution to making sure that we can grow as a city, cope and do well and to do that if we want Auckland, and indeed New Zealand to be efficient and competitive on the world stage we actually have to have good access to public transport”

Here’s some tweets from Patrick who was at the event

Many readers love to blame the government for a lack of investment in PT, particularly around the CRL. I’ve long thought that John Key and the real problem is those who give him advice on transport, namely Steven Joyce and Gerry Brownlee, something highlighted by the Fran O’Sullivan from the Herald last year after the government agreed to the CRL (but obviously not the timing).

Our friends from Generation Zero were also at the event pushing for the Congestion Free Network.

There was also an interesting bit of timing with this announcement. Professor Peter Newman is in town and he is a man who was instrumental in getting the Perth rail network electrified and extended and has long suggested we do the same.

Lastly the countdown to the first services is now definitely on and with  the first normal services starting to Onehunga on April 28, a mere 26 days away. Now people are seeing the trains out and about, plus with AT now advertising them I think the excitement for these trains will only keep building.

EMU Newmarket from AT

Photo of the day: Britomart pedestrian tunnel

While I do use this entrance from time to time when the weather is really bad, I like so many others much prefer to cross outside of Britomart.

Photos are credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Photo of the day – Takutai Square

http://www.flickr.com/photos/eyeonauckland/10694144046/

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Barring up Britomart

Most of you are probably back at work today after what I hope was a good break and probably trying to ease back into a usual routine as slowly as possible. If you are a person who normally catches the train to work that routine is almost undoubted still disrupted thanks to the rail network still being closed north of Newmarket on the Onehunga, Southern and Western lines while closed north of Westfield on the Eastern lines. In those places the network is being kept closed so that work can continue on getting the rail network wired up for electrification. The focus this shutdown has been on getting Britomart and parts of the Eastern line wired up.

Probably the main problem with overhead electrification is the visual impact of it – although in a way it kind of acts like an advertisement of a high quality PT service at the same time. Personally I have found that in most places the impact hasn’t been too bad and the installation is certainly far less intrusive than some other overhead systems I’ve seen. However when it comes to the visual impact, Britomart and the Eastern line across Hobson Bay are arguably the two most challenging sections and the ones where people are most likely to complain. I was out yesterday and so made a slight detour to see how work was progressing.

Eastern Line

The reason I think this section is difficult is that I suspect there are some local residents between Quay Park and the Purewa tunnel for whom any change to the visual landscape will be unacceptable. Along this part of the route it isn’t just houses primarily next to the rail lines that would notice changes but quite a lot all around the bay and the view in the area often plays a large part in property values.

The wires themselves were only installed as far east as Judges Bay however the masts extended all the way past Orakei station (I decided not to both going further as had other things to do). My feeling is that while the wires weren’t installed yet, the masts showed that the visual impact on the area probably isn’t going to be too significant. For example looking from Ngapipi Rd for example across Hobson Bay they certainly didn’t seem to be an issue.

I didn’t get any photos of this section but Luke C got this one looking across Judges Bay. The visual impact across the causeway is similar to what the masts around the Pt Resolution Bridge look like in this shot.

Electrification masts - Judges Bay - Luke

Britomart

Britomart is of course a completely different challenge. One of my favourite things about the station is how open and light part of the station is; it’s like a giant cavern. The risk with electrification is that it the infrastructure makes the station appear cluttered and I understand it has been something the project team have been very well aware of. I remember talking to someone involved with the project a few years ago and they said that early on they were putting a lot of effort in to the station to ensure they got it right.

One of the decisions that was made was that instead of running wires into the station – like across the rest of the network – instead a solid bar system would be used that removes the need for catenary wires thus reducing clutter. The system will also be used in the CRL tunnels once those are built meaning a smaller sized tunnel can be used compared to what would be needed to support catenary wires.

Now that the infrastructure is going in we can finally see what the station is going to look like. Here are a couple of photos of the works although they didn’t come out that well.

Electrification in Britomart

Electrification in Britomart 3

Next week the trains from everything but the eastern lines will return to Britomart, it will be interesting to see what passengers think of the changes.

Photo of the day – Te Ara Tahuhu Walkway

Photo is credited to oh.yes.melbourne

Photo of the day – Britomart concourse entrance

The entrance to the underground concourse from Queen Elizabeth Square to Britomart. Personally I much prefer walking out of the front doors of Britomart and crossing the road rather than use this (unless it’s really pouring with rain).

Photos is copyright to Sydney

Photo of the day – Atrium on Takutai

The Atrium of the Westpac and Ernst & Young buildings. The eastern entrances to Britomart are down the stairs/escalators to the left and right.

Photos is copyright to Sydney

Photo of the day – Britomart haze

The haze at Britomart from the diesel fumes. I can’t wait for the day when we only have electric trains stopping at the station.

Britomart Haze

Speaking of electric trains, reader Gianfranco sent me these photo’s showing our second electric train being unloaded yesterday. Have also heard that testing on the first EMU is going well and they have even had it up to just over 122km/h – although the trains won’t run that fast with passengers on board.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

A single electric train would be able to carry more people that all of the cars in that last photo (at normal occupancy rates).

Photo of the day – Takutai Square

Photos are copyright to Sydney and Craig.