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City Centre Masterplan Update

Just over a week ago the new Auckland Development Committee held its first meeting. This committee inherits the work of the former Auckland Plan Committee, which largely was taken up by the work on the Unitary Plan. However the cessation of the main body of that work means this committee can now look a wider range of projects. Responsibilities of the committee include the Unitary Plan, Special Housing Areas,  Spatial Plans and City Transformation Projects.

The meeting agenda included a wealth of information with updates of progress on a wide variety of the City Transformation Projects, which cover town centre upgrades, CBD upgrades and legacy greenfield projects like Westgate, Flat Bush and Hobsonville. This post will focus on updates in regard to projects featured in the City Centre Masterplan, as this is the first time we have a comprehensive progress update since the plan was released.

Quay Street Upgrade

As we have highlighted before Quay Street is a real missed opportunity for the city, and having 6 lanes of traffic here is totally over the top.

The Concept Plan should see public consultation in 2014. There was a low quality screenshot included, but it doesn’t really give anything away in regards to the final form of the street.

Quay St

There is some exciting news though in regards to some low-cost place making exercises, and the Albert Street parklet looks like it was the first of these.

Deliverables 2013/14

“early initiative trials of concept including Placeman, bike event, temporary street furniture, park-let and safety upgrades.

The update notes $25 million was set aside in the LTP, mostly for 2016/17.

Upper Queen Street Cycleway & Gateway upgrade.

 Upper Queen St

The Upper Queen Street motorway over bridge is currently a very miserable windswept place. It is also well over-engineered for the traffic volume it carries, with 3 lanes in each direction. Strangely it even has parking on the bridge itself. However it will all change in the is project which is linked to the Grafton Gully Cycleway project. This is programmed for construction in 2015/16 at a cost of  $1.5 million.

Bledisloe Lane Upgrade

Bledisloe Lane is the covered walkway than runs between Wellesley Street and Aotea Square, and helps build on the lane way network as is opposite Elliot Street. Currently is a rather dark and uninviting thoroughfare.

Bledisloe lane

A concept design has been delivered. The construction should start early 2014, and last 6 months. The total cost will be $3.6 million.

Freyberg Place Upgrade

 Freyberg Place

Freyberg Place currently allows cars through at the northern end which is very strange, and negatively affects the whole space. The render shows that car access will totally disappear which is fantastic, as there is no need for cars to short cut through here at all. Will be built 2014 or 2015 at a cost of $2 million.

Upper Khartoum Place

Upper Khartoum 

This is the gateway to Auckland’s fabulous Art Gallery, and is in somewhat of a rundown state. It is currently out to tender, construction should start in 2014. Note that the Women’s Suffrage memorial is being retained as part of this redesign, as this has caused issues with previous upgrade proposals.

O’Connell St Upgrade

O'Connell St

Costed at $4 million, construction should commence in early 2014. Initial designs for this upgrade showed a very unambitious upgrade, with only minor changes. However public feedback meant that a shared space appears to be the outcome.

Victoria St Linear Park

 Victoria St

Victoria Street is a somewhat uninviting streetscape, and the 4 lanes seem unnecessary considering the also wide Wellesley Street is the next block south. The long term plan is to turn it into a Linear Park to link Albert and Victoria Parks which will provide a high-quality East West Link in the mid-cty area, and that is sorely needed.

Again a concept design for was delivered in October. Construction should start in late 2014 or early 2015, and will be delivered in stages out to 2017. First stage will cost $4.7 million, with total cost of $24 million.

 

Overall is great to see that a number of exciting projects are likely to progress over the next few years, continuing to improve on the massive gains we have seen in the CBD in recent years.

Where do the children play?

Back in 1970, the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens put out a song, and it went a little something like this:

I know we’ve come a long way,
We’re changing day to day,
But tell me, where do the children play?

I live in the CBD, and my considered response to this rhetorical question is: where indeed? To my knowledge, there are just three playgrounds in the central city: one at Myers Park, one at Wynyard Quarter and another nearby at Victoria Park (let me know if I’m missing any). And, as we were all reminded recently, Myers Park is not without its problems.

CBD playgrounds

 

Despite some great public spaces in the CBD, there are not many places where your kids can have a slide or a swing. The CBD is just not very family-friendly, and outside of events like the Santa Parade, children are actually quite a rare sight. The situation is improving – Wynyard Quarter and Britomart have revitalised the waterfront area, and there seem to be more families wandering around the bottom of town. Even so, we’ve got a very long way to go, if the CBD’s population is going to double in the next 30 years and if those people aren’t just going to be more students and DINKs (double income, no kids). So come on, Auckland Council, let’s get a few more playgrounds around the central city. How about, for starters, one in the Vector Arena/ Quay Park area, and one midtown – maybe Freyberg Square, where there’s already a Pumpkin Patch store?

Here’s what the CBD’s population currently looks like:

CBD pop by age

 

Of course, there’s a big bulge in the 20s – not surprising, with the universities and nightlife. There are also a lot more CBD residents in the early-30s range; after that, people seem to get the heck out of dodge and go and procreate somewhere else.

If you look at the under-14 population, it’s interesting that there are a few young kids in the 0-4 age bracket, and almost none at school age (5-14). I wonder why this might be?

Schools

According to the Ministry of Education’s Directory of Schools, there are more than 2,500 schools in New Zealand. That’s about one for every 1,800 people in New Zealand.

The Auckland CBD, with a resident population of 22,000 people – to say nothing of its working population of 90,000 – has just four schools: ACG Senior College, ACG New Zealand International College, Mindalive, and Kadimah. There are no state primary schools in the CBD (Kadimah is an integrated school, with a Jewish emphasis) and most central city residents have to take their kids to school in inner-city suburbs: Parnell or Freemans Bay. This reinforces car dependency, because it’s pretty hard to get your kids to those schools any other way except by car.

There are billions of dollars invested in the CBD, with plenty of public and civic facilities of regional importance. It’s strange that you can do just about anything in the central city, except take your kids to school there.

If the central city is going to grow, central government is going to have to come to the party, with school facilities. This won’t be cheap – high land costs and a lack of outdoor space for physical education will see to that – but it’s a necessary step.

From one-way to two

City engineers have turned our downtowns into places that are easy to get to but not worth arriving at. – Jeff Speck, Walkable City

A few weeks back I prepared a cross section of the cbd that revealed an interesting land value gap that seemed to correspond to the disurban environment caused by the mini-motorways of Hobson and Nelson Street. In an upcoming post I will look more closely at these streets, in particular their potential for redevelopment, but for now I wanted to compile some background material on the history of one-ways.

Land value gap. Auckland CBD.

Understanding one-ways first starts with the design paradigm that required them. One of the few studies on the subject, “Downtown Streets: Are We Strangling Ourselves On One-way Networks?”, by Walker, Kulash and MacHugh, sets the stage:

For many years, traffic engineers were mandated to “move as much traffic as possible, quickly as possible,” often resulting in degradation of movement for other modes of travel. The unequivocal movement of the motor vehicle through a downtown network was of paramount concern; all other modes of travel took a back seat. Effectiveness of the network was measured by the amount of delay a motorist would encounter on a given street segment or intersection during either the morning or afternoon peak hours.

The authors document the typical transition of American downtowns beginning with the ‘pre-Freeway era’, where streets served a multitude of users and modes and most of the city’s cultural, social and civic activities took place in the historic centre. During this time most of the workers lived within a short distance to work as well (think Auckland streetcar suburbs).

Looking south along the west side of Hobson Street from Fanshawe Street. ( ‘Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 4-2052′)

The ‘Freeway Proliferation Era’ encouraged city workers to move farther from their work.  ”As downtown workers began to seek out less expensive housing in the suburbs, the mode balance on downtown roadways that had existed for years began to move toward facilitating the speedy entrance and exodus of commuters. Downtown streets began to be converted to one-way travel to facilitate this expedient movement into the city in the morning and out in the afternoon.” Below is an example of the technique used to accommodate traffic into and sometimes through a cbd/downtown.

Typical solution: one-ways. Charleston, South Carolina. (source: Meagan Baco)

The Post-Freeway Era reached its peak in the 1980s, when corporate offices chose to locate in suburban edge settings. In addition to the one-ways, increasing traffic also gobbled up surface and ground floor real estate in the form of parking which contributed to “blighted, empty streets and boarded-up storefronts, devoid of life after 6 pm.”

Multiple-lane, high speed, one-ways. Land use responds with the highest value: parking.

Finally, the Reemerging Era is where we are today with an increase interest in both residential and business activities locating in traditional city centres. This urban renaissance has lead to a proliferation of one-way re-conversions beginning in earnest in 1990 according to student researcher Meagan Baco.

As urban observer Alan Ehrenhalt notes, in the Return of the Two way Street, cities across America are coming to the conclusion that one-ways should go as documented in this story from Vancouver, Washington:

In the midst of a severe recession, Main Street in Vancouver seemed to come back to life almost overnight. Within a few weeks, the entire business community was celebrating. “We have twice as many people going by as they did before,” one of the employees at an antique store told a local reporter. The chairman of the Vancouver Downtown Association, Lee Coulthard, sounded more excited than almost anyone else. “It’s like, wow,” he exclaimed, “why did it take us so long to figure this out?” A year later, the success of the project is even more apparent. Twice as many cars drive down Main Street every day, without traffic jams or serious congestion. The merchants are still happy. “One-way streets should not be allowed in prime downtown retail areas,” says Rebecca Ocken, executive director of Vancouver’s Downtown Association. “We’ve proven that.”

In addition to Vancouver, Washington, ‘hundreds’ of North American cities have already made one-way conversions, including: Baton Rouge, Berkeley, Dallas, Green Bay, Portland, Sacremento, San Francisco, San Jose and Miami. The success of these efforts are increasingly being documented, like this story from Canada:

“It was somewhat controversial at first, but I would say now that, without exaggeration, people are 90% in favour,” said Brian McMullan, the city’s ebullient young mayor. A prominent local businessman came up to me the other day and said, ‘I didn’t support it from the start, but this is the best thing you’ve ever done.’

This brief post does not address the traffic and street design dynamics of one-ways that make them so dangerous for pedestrians and repulsive to urban life.  Instead, I thought it would be best to document how common the practice of retrofitting has become and where it sits in a historical context. Taking a different look at street design, mobility and accessibility (Link v Place) questions the entire premise of our modern transportation planning (What’s the point). It is increasingly becoming evident that designing our city, streets and neighbourhoods for people (as opposed to cars) provides significant value and resiliency.

From the first report mentioned above  I recreated an interesting diagram that depicted the premise that there is a “livability” dividend that can be realised if we are prepared to sacrifice a few seconds of time from a vehicular trip.  Turning one-ways back to two, like shared spaces, signal priority for pedestrians, and providing for transit and cycling is increasingly being seen as a “no-brainer” for cities intent on remaining relevant in the 21st century.

New paradigm: modified from Walker, Kulash, MacHugh.

 

The CBD is the future of employment

An interesting Australian article highlights something that has perhaps slipped under the radar of many – that a huge implication of economies in countries like New Zealand shifting away from manufacturing and more towards knowledge industries is a likely changing of the geography of employment. The Australian Federal Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, notes that Australian cities are facing increasing competition from growing cities in Asia, while at the same time facing the aforementioned shift in employment types. Let’s pick up a few key paragraphs:

 Albanese noted that Australian cities will continue to face competition from a growing number of larger cities in the region.

“That puts a major incentive in dealing with how we position ourselves in our increasingly urbanised and increasingly affluent region,” he said. “Our cities have to be more productive. Productivity isn’t everything, but in the long run it’s nearly everything.”

Albanese added that the changing nature of cities will mean more need for inner-urban medium density housing as work increasingly shifts away from outer urban areas toward city centres.

“In terms of economic functions, our cities are shrinking in on themselves,” he said. “The forces which drove the spread of our cities in the post-war period, predominately manufacturing, are being replaced by knowledge industries – the banking, legal, insurance and myriad of other business services.”

Albanese pointed out that the changes will continue to influence the shape of cities in Australia.

“Whereas manufacturing plants which are traditionally located on the city fringe or in industrial zones, the job-rich knowledge industries tend to concentrate in the heart of our cities,” he said. “As the State of Australian Cities reports, this trend is seeing more and more workers commuting into our city centres.”

There’s a bit of a myth (perhaps another one for our list) that Auckland’s city centre is somehow dying and becoming increasingly irrelevant as employment disperses wider and wider throughout the region. Furthermore, there are often quotes that only 13-15% of Auckland’s jobs are within the motorway ring that’s generally used to define the CBD. Yet as Matt showed in a recent post, the city centre and its fringe is actually still by absolutely miles the largest concentration of employment in Auckland. Furthermore, as shown in the map below, by far the greatest concentrations of employment – in terms of jobs per hectare, are in meshblocks located in the CBD:


There has long been debate between the Council and Central Government over the future projections for employment numbers in the city centre, which seems to be quite critical to how well the business case for the CRL stacks up. If we follow the trends that are increasingly seen in Australia – and which just seem pretty logical as our economy transitions more and more to a post-industrial state – then a reconcentration of employment downtown seems likely (and also incredibly desirable in terms of economic productivity). Which, of course, makes the case for CRL even more compelling.

Return of the walking city

..The City is never complete, never at rest. Thousands of witting and unwitting acts every day alter its lines in ways that are perceptible only over a certain stretch of time. -Spiro Kostof


Looking south along Queen Street from corner of Customs Street showing the Waitemata Hotel (Sir George Grey Special Collections, Auckland Libraries, 1-W519)

I was inspired by Patrick’s recent transit dividend post where he documented the laneways around the Pacific and Matt’s people buy stuff and wanted to look a little closer at the things happening on the street which to me are fascinating and representative of a highly dynamic urban ecosystem. In particular, over the last year I believe I have witnessed Auckland’s return as a walking city. Recall that before Auckland was conventionally considered a “car city”, it was a streetcar city, a walking city, and a water city, and of course many combinations of these all, and somewhere in there an airport city and PT city.

Melbourne Laneway (source: Patrick Reynolds)

Melbourne’s famous laneways are a fantastic story. They are symbolic of an urban transformation that the city has undergone over the last 20 years. Especially interesting to me is that these laneways weren’t built into the modern block structure. Instead they were introduced over the years by what urban scholar Arnis Siksna argues is an largely predictable process to provide better performance. Siksna studied (pdf) cities across North America and Australia and concluded that areas with high intensity of pedestrian traffic performed best with a short block system (a “pedestrian mesh”) of between 50-70m. Melbourne, like many other Australian cities, was designed with much larger block sizes closer to 200m. He documents that over time these over-sized blocks are predictably broken down, through “successive uncoordinated actions of individuals”, to facilitate a more efficient land pattern, one that provides better circulation patterns and more potential lot frontages.

Modifications to original block layout of Melbourne, Modified from Siksna (1996)

Auckland also has many examples of areas with short blocks,  laneways, and arcades on some of the larger blocks. The real transformation in Auckland  is occurring at the street frontage level- with the emergence of micro retail. While Melbourne’s laneway system developed over decades, this retail transformation and adaptation is occurring over night.

People rule: slow traffic, short crossing waits (20-30 secs.), frequent transport

There are several major shifts which have spurred this phenomenon. First, and most important, is the accommodation of pedestrians. This has been done through major signal timing and street crossing improvements, slower traffic speeds, and increased pedestrian mobility via a web of new shared space laneways.  Second, is the increase concentration of pedestrians using the street as a conduit to and from public transport. And finally, the challenging urban retail environment itself has been adapting to the competition from both web-based and more suburban retail models.

According to Heart of the City there are over 25,000 people walking along Queen Street every day. If you have been downtown recently no doubt you have experienced the days with thousands of people walking shoulder to shoulder on footpaths while cars trickle down Queen Street. In one of my previous posts I suggested that streets are a platform for exchange, and nestled in a highly connected (laneways, short blocks, layers of transportation) create the most valuable real estate.

Retailers “plugging in” to the value of the street, Auckland

There couldn’t be a better example of the free market “plugging” into the value of the street, remember People Buy Things Not Cars. Using a scientific metaphor the micro retail trend, like it’s international counterpart the foodcart, is capitalising on the value of the street by increasing its surface-to-area ratio. Here’s wikipedia:

An increased surface area to volume ratio also means increased exposure to the environment. The many tentacles of jellyfish and anemones provide increased surface area for the acquisition of food. Greater surface area allows more of the surrounding water to be sifted for nutrients.

And how does a property owner increase surface area? In Melbourne, they broke down large blocks. While this was described as providing an efficiency for movement,  I’m sure the business owners weren’t so altruistic, instead they were more likely attempting to “acquire their food”. In Auckland, it’s more of an effective increase of surface area by finely breaking down the store front space. Here’s what businesses looks like trying to plug in the value of the street. This crepery (below) measures 105 cm across its front. Most other shops are about 3 metres. At that dimension we are entering the domain of Venice, Italy store fronts which have a typical dimension of 3 metres. Yes, that Venice that is a car free city.

Pedestrian scale, Auckland (photos: Scot Bathgate)

As prominent urban designer Jan Gehl notes:

When buildings are narrow, the street length is shortened, the walking distances are reduced, and street life is enhanced.

This concept of store front variety is one among many urban design imperatives that is often turned into a endless list of guidelines, codes and regulations. For example, buildings should be placed on the street edge, have transparent glazing, not be too wide, have a diversity of uses, etc. It is my theory that these reasonable outcomes don’t create vibrant cities, instead they are the outgrowth of them. What creates vibrant cities is the existence and especially the accommodation of people within a traditional urban street network supported by various transportation options.

Surface-to-area, maximising the value of the street. Queen Street, Auckland.

As an extreme example, imagine a property owner choosing to provide parking in front of his store which would obstruct the other 25,000 people on foot. Or imagine a property owner who would allow a large monotonous land use like a bank take up excessive store front space and create a dead space. With the return to the pedestrian city these urban design issues become moot, since no one would jeopardise their premium real estate asset which is the street frontage.

Instead, what I think will happen, and largely what is already happening, is that the city centre will becoming increasing re-scaled for people on the street. The outcome will be closer to what typically could be considered traditional, almost European-type urbanism, what has traditionally only occurred on High Street. This means increasing micro-retail uses. Also, large office uses will be wrapped internally with street-serving business. This is typically how old theatres such as the Capital on Dominion Rd address the street, by a narrow passage allowing  users into a large internal space but not wasting surface area unnecessarily.  At some point there will be undoubtedly be increasing break-down of city blocks to further access property value of the street,  just as what happened in Melbourne.

Micro retail: a dynamic and resilient urban model

The amount that the city has changed over the last year is remarkable. As someone who can’t wait for things to change, and has all but given up on formal planning, it’s exciting to see how much change is occurring on its own.  While some of it is due the impressive physical improvements of he public realm, most of it is an outgrowth of thousands upon thousands of individual choices, many of which are facilitated the provision of public transport and by simply accommodating the people that are already there.

The Steady Transformation of Travel to the CBD

Despite the critics, Auckland’s city centre is probably in better shape than it has been for decades. Foot traffic is high, new streetscape improvements continue, Queen Street is clearly still extremely “hot property” and the place just feels vibrant. Looking into this steady, almost sneaky, transformation of downtown over the last ten years or so, I went searching for what seemed to possibly be the cause. Clearly one of the parts of town that has improved the most during this time is around the Britomart precinct, which is a lot to do with Britomart train station. So improved public transport is clearly a candidate. But, for some reason, it also feels like we’ve slowly managed to claw back the city centre from vehicles – little by little, bit by bit.

This ‘clawing back’ hasn’t just been through the flagship shared space projects, but also through little tweaks here and there – like the double-phasing of pedestrian crossing signals on Queen Street, like some of the small infrastructure improvements which make life just that little bit nicer for the pedestrian. Sure, there’s still a long way to go but it feels like things are certainly a lot better.

In looking for some quantification of how traffic to the city centre has changed in this time, a report to the September transport committee provides some really useful numbers using the annual “screenline survey”, which has tracked public transport since the late 1980s and modal splits between PT and private vehicles since 2001.  Looking first at public transport usage, we can see that the number of people using PT to enter the city centre during the AM peak period has increased massively over the past 11 years, up from 21,000 to 33,000:

The next thing to look at is modeshare between public transport and private vehicles (other screenlines take into account walking and cycling but the CBD doesn’t for some consistency reason). Yet again we can see that over the past decade the proportion of vehicular trips into the city centre has significantly swung towards public transport:

The graph below shows the growth in public transport use over the past decade and splits it up by mode. You can see that all the modes have grown well, but particularly we have obviously seen massive growth on the rail system.

But getting back to my earlier points in this post, what is really fascinating is not just what has happened to public transport use for trips to the CBD over the past decade, but also what’s happened to car trips. Using the PT patronage totals and the modeshare totals we can compare the number of car trips to the CBD in 2001 with today.  
The number which clearly jumps out the page at me is the massive drop in private vehicle trips to the city centre over the past decade: over 6,100 fewer vehicles in the AM peak – over 15% fewer vehicles all up wanting to enter the city at peak time. This is illustrated in the graph below:

With a typical arterial road (with regular intersections, like what happens in the city) able to cope with around 600 vehicles per lane per hour, this is over 10 lane-hours worth of roadspace that has been completely freed up.

I still don’t think we’ve yet taken advantage of this simply massive reduction in traffic in the city that has happened over this time. Put simply, we now probably have a vast excess of roading capacity compared to what we need and it’s about time we put that to better use – like a pedestrian space along Quay Street, bus lanes on Customs and Wellesley Street, closing Queen Street to general traffic and building that lovely linear park on Victoria Street. We’ve done the hard yards in terms of removing the traffic to make these improvements possible – now let’s cash in on all that hard work to make the city centre the heart of truly the best city in the world.

Auckland’s Place Premium

In a recent post I graphically represented the land values throughout the Auckland city centre as a function of their “frontage value” which generated some surprising results. The exercise revealed a place premium associated with real estate located in the lower Queen Street valley. Besides being physically central, is it also highly accessible with small blocks, a concentration of intersections, a multiplicity of transport options and a topography that naturally puts people in close contact with each other, essentially, the structural ingredients of good urbanism.

Street Frontage Value: From Green (Low) to Red (High)

The low value around the motorway was something I expected since the street grid is clipped and local places are no longer connected to surrounding areas and thus have a reduced place value. Of course the physical conditions of noise and traffic also repel human activities and further contribute to lowered land values.

Most interesting to me is how severely property values drop off away from Queen Street, in particular on the western side of the city. To use the convenient collar metaphor, it looks as if the city is being strangled and oxygen is only getting to one part of the brain. Part of this is likely caused by the motorway itself, but it is compounded by the local facilitation of the motorway– essentially the mini-motorways– of Hobson, Nelson, and Fanshawe Streets (to name but a few).

Here’s a cross section look at the land values I mapped previously. Note the extremity of the values drop-off on the western side, from a high of 12 down to 4, only over three or four short city blocks. Also, note the consistent drop-off in values on the eastern side. It makes sense that if the centre maintains a real estate premium, than values would fall away further from it. It would be useful to compare this property value “fade” with other cities to determine if this is typical of a city centre this size. What if the motorway wasn’t strangling the city, would land values be higher further away from the centre?

Cross section of land values across Auckland’s city centre

There have been many ideas proposed to span the motorway via caps and bridges. Besides being excessively costly they would have to be implemented in numerous places to be effective. Also, on the perimeter we are dealing with reduced land values, mostly due to the motorway, but also since by definition edges can’t be centres, and the centre is where the highest land values are.

Below is the same diagram with a line drawn on the eastern side of the city centre to track the property value decline. This line was mirrored onto the western side. The green area, in my opinion, is the greatest opportunity. While no doubt some of the drop-off is due to the physical topography, far more is a function of an anti-urban street network and neglected public realm. The great news is that the City Centre Masterplan has proposed to remedy this situation by two-waying Hobson and Nelson Street, and by bringing  the western side of the city closer to the Queen Street valley via a green boulevard, among other things.

Comparing land values on either side of Queen St

The other massive opportunity of course is the City Rail Link (CRL). By inserting stations into low land value areas, there would be the effect of raising property values with “tent poles.” The land values of the stations would be directly influenced by their new found proximity to the most valuable land in the city.

To recap, there remains a place premium in the lower Queen St valley due to its central location and its high level of local and regional connectivity. Property values are highly influenced by proximity to this premium location as witnessed in the above charts. Public realm improvements that remove barriers of access to the centre, such as the one-way street couplet system, will raise land values by bringing parts of the city closer to the centre, and the CRL will effectively put places right next to the highest land values, thereby spreading land values across the city centre and beyond.

 

Federal St upgrade announced

The council has finally released plans to create a shared space on part Federal St in conjunction with SkyCity. The upgrade has been proposed for some time and originally was going to be paid for by SkyCity and built in time for the RWC in return for getting the right to build another larger skybridge across the road. A number of people didn’t like the idea of the air bridge so the plan got delayed and the casino eventually gave up on that plan and have worked with the council on just the street upgrade. This will see Federal St between Wellesley St and Victoria St upgraded along with the plaza around the base of the Sky Tower. The objectives are that it:

  • integrates with other city centre upgrade and transport projects
  • provides an intimate, high quality pedestrian-focused street that encourages pedestrian activity
  • supports local businesses and attracts investment by providing an appropriate level of vehicular movement and servicing activity
  • is a distinctive destination entertainment precinct with a unique mix of retail, cafes, restaurants and entertainment venues
  • provides a high quality, attractive, safe and durable streetscape.

The plan is being jointly funded by the council and SkyCity at a total cost of $10m however it hasn’t been mentioned how much is coming from each party. The plans include:

  • a shared space streetscape environment be introduced between Wellesley Street and Victoria Street
  • maintenance of the current one-way direction of traffic flow (south to north)
  • long-term bus/coach parking areas be removed
  • introduction of a signalised pedestrian crossing at the intersection of Wellesley and Federal Streets.

Consultation is now open till 5pm November 16. Its good to see this project moving forward and I’m pleased that a shared space has been proposed, unlike what was done with O’Connell St. It would however be nice to also see some upgrade love being shared to other parts of Federal St, the section between Victoria and Wyndham St is particularly horrible while the section to the north of St Patricks Square, including the side streets of Swanson St and Wolfe St could also be vastly improved into quite a nice corner of town.

O’Connell St upgrade, another cop out?

Auckland has started taking a few small steps to transform the CBD  the the introduction of shared spaces around the city and unsurprisingly they have been a huge success. However since the Fort St one opened just over a year ago things have gone quiet on rolling upgrades out to more streets, presumably so that things like the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) could be completed confirming that street scape upgrades were still the plan going forward. Now that the CCMP has been adopted O’Connell St seems set to be the first street off the blocks for an upgrade and the council is consulting on it now with it due to close at 5pm on Friday so if you want to have a say, make sure you do so before then.

Before going in to my thoughts on the project, here is is a reminder of what O’Connell St looks like at the moment, as you can see there the street is lined with cars and the footpaths are extremely narrow, hardly the most pedestrian friendly place around.

O’Connell St looking North

Interestingly surveys underdaken indicate that 80% of people who park in the street aren’t doing so to visit local businesses which helps to poor cold water on the argument that parking is needed to support the businesses, What’s more all of the pedestrians questioned had go there on foot, even if they had driven to the city as they had parked elsewhere. So here is the background given for the upgrade:

This project is part of the implementation of the City Centre Masterplan and the 10-year CBD Upgrade programme to transform city centre streets and open spaces and create the world’s most liveable city. The cost of upgrading O’Connell street will be about $4.367 million and funded by the CBD targeted rate.

The proposed upgrade of O’Connell Street aims to create people-friendly streets where people can shop, sit, relax, linger, dine and spend time. When complete, the upgrade will provide more footpath space, high quality paving across the width of the street and modern street furniture including lighting and public seating. It is proposed that O’Connell Street continue to be a one-way, northbound trafficked street with widened footpaths, kerbs and a carriageway.

And here is how the draft design is described:

O’Connell Street is part of a network of narrow streets and laneways located to the east of the Queen Street valley in Auckland’s city centre. Just 10m wide, the street is strongly characterised by the architectural quality of the buildings that line it and stands out as a rare example where the original built form from the 1920s has remained largely intact through to today. As well as being a boutique retail destination within the city centre, O’Connell Street retains a strong commercial character also.

It is an increasingly popular destination for people – whether as a destination or through route to elsewhere – and has shown growth in foot traffic of 115% over the last two years. Around 5,000 pedestrians access O’Connell Street on an average weekday and approximately 1,350 vehicles use the street each day.

O’Connell Street was identified as having significant potential for transformation and it was therefore included in the programme of city centre streetscape upgrades.

  • To capitalise on opportunities for transformation, the upgrade of O’Connell Street aims to:
  • Provide greater pedestrian priority throughout the area and more space for people
  • Create a distinctive and popular destination
  • Support business and residents by providing more space for outdoor activities
  • Better connect the area with the surrounding network of streets
  • Create a high quality, sustainable streetscape.

And some what it would potentially look like:

The biggest issue I have with this is that the existing street layout is being retained, just with a little less parking. I would have much preferred to see a shared space rolled out. Seemingly anticipating this the council has given tried to address this.

The narrowness of the street (which is just 10m wide) poses considerable challenges in designing a street that provides space for people and outdoor activities while retaining space for other necessary functions, such as vehicle routes for traffic and loading and parking areas for service delivery. A thorough assessment of a number of design options, including various shared space designs, were assessed against the project’s objectives and the need to retain certain street functions. Through this process it was determined that a conventional streetscape upgrade would deliver the most usable space for pedestrians and outdoor activities and
therefore the best benefits for the people and businesses that use O’Connell Street.

This is because the use of kerbs prevents vehicle traffic from encroaching on footpaths and areas designated specifically for people. The absence of kerbs means that when space is limited vehicles could move into these pedestrian areas and thereby compromise the usable space available to people and outdoor activities.

The draft design therefore proposes a conventional street layout which incorporates kerbs and significantly widened footpaths (from 1.6m to 2.8m on the eastern side of the street and up to 4m on the western side) to achieve the maximum usable space available for seating, outdoor dining and other street activities. The additional space provided by kerbs and widened footpaths would provide more space for outdoor use than could be achieved in a shared space layout.

To be honest, I think this could be another case of the council chickening out on doing the right thing. The whole point of the shared space concept was to make better use of narrow streets so to now say that a street is to narrow seems odd. The street only has ~1350 vehicles per day use it of which most are probably just there looking for a car park, if they really wanted to maximise space for pedestrians they wouldn’t have retained the vehicle lane and parking/delivery bays. It is only 110m between Shortland St and Chancery St so an option surely would have been to close the street entirely to vehicles and make it a pedestrian area. A loading bay at the entrance to the street each end would mean only a 50m walk for any deliveries and providing it was designed to allow it, emergency services vehicles would still be able to use it for access if needed.

Also at 10m wide, the street  the street is also about the same width as most of High St yet in the CCMP they show pictures of High St as a shared space and I realise that isn’t a formal proposal but shows it is possible. Saying O’Connell is too narrow means that High St is as well.

City Centre Master Plan on High St

Both O’Connell St and High St are certainly much wider than some I encountered in Europe which were shared streets. This one in Bellagio on the shores of Lake Como probably takes the prize for the narrowest yet it still worked fine and was lined with shops and people as well as vehicles stopping for deliveries.

I will certainly be putting in a submission not supporting what is proposed and suggesting that at a minimum it needs to be a shared space, if not full pedestrian zone to really make it an interesting and exciting place. Its probably also worth pointing out that there are no vehicle entrances off the street. Lastly one thing I do find weird about the whole thing, the brochure says that Auckland Transport would like the feedback on the proposal but the consultation is being done by the council. This is odd as every other consultation that AT is involved with is done directly through them.

*Additional analysis here: http://transportblog.co.nz/2012/09/13/a-further-look-at-oconnell-st/

The City Centre Master Plan – Part 1

The final version of the Council’s City Centre Master Plan was released, with relatively little attention, a couple of weeks back. There’s a fairly flash little website associated with it here, or if you’re patient you can download the whole 33.2 MB document here. In essence, the Plan seems to be a huge attempt at making Auckland’s city centre a more pedestrian friendly place and, as a result of that, a much nicer place to live, work and visit.

The document is pretty lengthy and has a lot of interesting stuff which relates to transport. That means I’ll need to take a few posts to go through it all – consider this Part 1, which looks at overall elements of the Plan and a number of interesting diagrams which relate to how transport will work in the city centre in the future.

Here’s the Plan’s overall vision:

A lot of connections to how we manage transport in the city centre here. Early on there’s an interesting map perhaps confirming for the first time the approximate route of North Shore rail on the city side: clearly connecting with Aotea Station underneath Wellesley Street.

Another useful diagram highlights the changing modeshares between public transport, active modes (walking and cycling) and driving that will need to occur by 2041 – simply because there isn’t space in the city centre to build mode/wider roads. I must say I’m somewhat surprised the number of vehicles entering the area at peak time isn’t likely to fall further – I guess that’s thanks to the City Rail Link as without the project most of the streets would be bus only. Ironically one of the likely impacts of the CRL is to make it possible for people to drive to the city centre, as without the rail tunnel most streets are likely to need to be for buses only or at the very least have single or double bus lanes along them.

Another diagram that caught my attention relates to speed limits, proposing that most of the city centre becomes part of either a 30 kph or 40 kph area. This is a great idea:

The main public transport diagram shows that light-rail (of the dinky tram variety I assume) will be considered as a way of linking the city centre with its surrounding suburbs. The primary cross-town bus corridor definitely looks like it shifts to Wellesley Street:

A lot of the devil will be in the detail – how much will the Plan’s vision be taken into account in things like improving the pedestrian friendliness of Stu’s favourite intersection? To what extent will the potential of Aotea station be realised in the location of its entrances and exits? How long will it take for Quay Street to be transformed from a six lane superhighway to our premier waterfront boulevard? Will the powers to be have the courage to put bus lanes along Customs Street, even knowing that might lead to congestion?

One thing is pretty clear throughout the Plan, which I will expand upon in future posts, and that is the utter reliance this vision for the city centre has on constructing the City Rail Link.