Auckland is currently experiencing rapid and profoundly positive change and nowhere is that more evident than in the city centre. What’s more the speed and scale of the change is only increasing with billions of dollars of mostly private investment about to be pumped in. While some of the change we’ve see has been driven by legacy councils and plans, since 2012 the council has been guided by the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) which is a 20 year vision for the area.
The CCMP pulls together a range of ideas and projects for how the city centre should be improved. Lots of pretty pictures on things to do are one thing, the council also needs to be able to show that positive change is actually happening like the suggested it will. As such the CCMP contains a range of measures across nine different high level outcomes.
- Outcome 1: A vibrant and engaging international destination – an iconic destination and ‘must do’ for the international visitor to New Zealand
- Outcome 2: A globally significant centre for business – the Engine Room of the Auckland economic powerhouse with a vibrant and vital retail and commercial core.
- Outcome 3: A city centre that meets the needs of a growing and changing residential population.
- Outcome 4: A culturally rich and creative centre – a window on the world where all of Auckland’s many cultures are celebrated.
- Outcome 5: An exemplar of urban living – with a wide choice of high-quality residential options.
- Outcome 6: Hub of an integrated regional transport system – well connected to its urban villages.
- Outcome 7: A walkable and pedestrian-friendly city centre, moving towards zero pedestrian deaths or serious injuries as a result of vehicle collisions.
- Outcome 8: An exceptional natural environment and leading environmental performer.
- Outcome 9: World-leading centre for higher education, research and innovation – the hub of creative and innovative products and services.
For the first time the council have reviewed the measures and how performance has been against them. The results are being presented to the Council’s Development Committee today. The council say
The report shows that nine of the 17 headline measures are meeting or exceeding targets; two measures are slightly below target, while the rest are awaiting further data. Of the seven supporting measures, the three where data is already available are exceeding target.
Below is a quick dashboard showing how the city is performing.
The full report can be found here from page 29. It also breaks down where they’re getting the information from for the report. Here are a couple of the measures above in more detail.
Population is growing well above expectations.
More and more people are entering the city not in a car – note this doesn’t include people walking and cycling which would shift the number of non-car users over 50%.
As mentioned the review also looked at the measures themselves not just the outcomes. As a result of that they removed some measures and while some make sense, a few of those measures removed are a little disappointing. For example, they removed the measure “Reduction in pedestrian waiting times at intersections” which is a shame as far too many of our intersections are outright hostile to people, even some in the city.
Overall it looks like the city is doing ok and given everything that’s going on in the city centre or is planned too, those measures will only likely improve further.
Transforming an entire city centre is no quick and easy task. In 2012 the council adopted the fantastic City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) which laid out the vision for Auckland’s city centre over a 30 year period and identified a huge number of potential projects. The Council’s City Centre Integration Team (CCIG) which is made up of staff from across the wider council family have been tasked with turning that vision in to a reality. As such they are creating frameworks for a number of areas within the city centre which are intended to bridge the gap between the strategies and reality. Almost exactly a year ago we saw the first of these frameworks – The Downtown Framework – emerged looking at the area north of Customs St. Now it’s the turn for the core of the city centre – Aotea.
The area surrounding Aotea Square is home to some of Auckland’s most prominent art, civic and cultural and entertainment buildings – many of which have played a big role in the cities heritage. The map below highlights some of these
The core of the plan seems to focus on the area within the solid red line on the map above the wider framework area looking at how the Aotea Precinct interfaces with the other frameworks that will be developed over time.
One of the big drivers for change over the coming decades will be the huge level of public transport investment that will be going in which will make it easier for significantly more people get to or pass through the area as part of their journey. The key PT projects are highlighted below and Aotea will be one of the best connected locations in Auckland.
In addition to the big transport investments is a recognition of the need to improve walking and cycling connections. Just where those will be are better shown on some of the detail below.
Within the area four general areas have been identified as having development opportunities and all around the edge of the precinct with Mayoral Dr and Albert St. They are shown below
Site A: Aotea Station/West Bledisloe
Once the CRL has been finished this is likely to be one of the hottest pieces of land in Auckland. Currently it’s a carpark for which the entrance combined with the entrance to the Civic Carpark it totals up six lanes of driveway that pedestrians need to cross. As the document correctly says “this prominent site fails to contribute to the public realm quality of the area or the growth node ambitions”.
The framework is proposing two new buildings plus the CRL entrance could go on the site with new lanes between the buildings and alongside the western edge of the Bledisloe building. The document says developing the site could provide up to 28,000m² of lettable space.
Site B: Aotea Centre
This site has already been in the news this week as one of the Council’s CCO’s want to re-clad the building in bronze coloured stainless steel. In addition there is talk of expanding the building itself to provide more studio space and practice rooms. The aspect most interesting to me is the creation of a new pedestrian link direct from the Cook St/Mayoral Dr intersection through the centre and into Aotea Square.
Site C: Civic Administration Building and Surrounds
The Civic building was originally meant to have additional wings on its western and eastern sides but they were never built. That has left a lot of space surrounding the Civic building with potential for development.
Site D: South Town Hall
Ever since Mayoral Dr was ploughed through the area in the 70’s this area has been a carpark. The desire is to better improve connections between Aotea Square and Myers Park so it is proposed to build a courtyard along with a 5-8 storey building. The courtyard will tie in with plans to improve the Mayoral Dr underpass which are expected to be completed mid to late next year. With the courtyard there would be a series of linked public spaces all the way from K Rd though to Victoria St. The council also own the site up to the corner of Mayoral Dr and Queen. They suggest either another building could go there or something else like Spanish-style steps up to Queen St.
The map below shows the potential development of the area along with some of the new pedestrian/cycle links that have been proposed. Through all of them you can see there is a desire to finally start activating the edge of Mayoral Dr, something that’s long overdue and likely to help in over time making Mayoral Dr less of the mini expressway it acts like.
Consultation on the draft framework is open till 22 October.
I’ll be looking more into Auckland Transport’s announcement that it’s considering installing Light Rail down some of the central isthmus streets during the week. In the meantime the suggestion that trams could be back on Queen St reminded me of these images. They come from Cornelius Blank who created them in 2011 in the lead up to the City Centre Masterplan.
For me one of the most exciting possibilities from the idea is that Light Rail could finally be the catalyst to transform Queen St into a transit mall. One of the aspects of Queen St that people often forget is that between Mayoral Dr and the water there isn’t a single need for a car to be in Queen St. There’s not one entrance to a carpark or service lane or road that can’t be accessed by some other method. The only need for vehicle access is for emergency services and perhaps deliveries.
So instead of four lanes of traffic we could have two lanes for tracks – which could also used by emergency services and delivery vehicles in the early hours of the morning and the rest of the space taken up to expand the existing footpaths. One of the best things about this is that generally the centre of Queen St is filled with sun so I for one would love to be able to stroll up Queen St without being in constant shade.
If you took out the Customs St sign most people probably wouldn’t realise they were looking at Auckland and would think this looks like quite a nice place to visit. Another idea could see some of the space used for decent cycle lanes
Further up Queen St this is how it could look outside the Civic where again the extra pedestrian space would be most welcome.
And going further up Queen St north of Mayoral Dr how about this with a grassed corridor like seen in many other cities with trams.
Some of these ideas seemed to flow through to the City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) where some similar images cropped up.
In fact the CCMP even includes this suggestion for a tram network.
The fact that council documents suggest light rail in the city centre makes Len Brown’s seeming unhappiness over AT looking at it all the more odd. On Friday while launching the LTP he was clearly not very warm to the idea – perhaps thinking it stole from some of his LTP limelight. He was quick to point out that people shouldn’t get their hopes up as it’s the politicians who will make the decisions and that this isn’t something on the council’s agenda. Perhaps he should be reminded of his own council’s plans.
Today’s ‘on this day’ post comes from 2012.
The additional southbound lanes over the Victoria Park Viaduct, made possible through the construction of the Victoria Park Tunnel, open to vehicles today. John Roughan’s NZ Herald editorial can barely contain his excitement at this prospect, largely because (he hopes) it will get rid of queue jumpers holding up traffic through St Mary’s Bay. While I must admit a small part of me is hoping for the motorway opening to be yet another congestion catastrophe, this is generally a motorway project that I have supported because it is aimed at eliminating a bottleneck, rather than simply adding capacity and creating a bottleneck elsewhere in the system.
One of the biggest potential benefits from this project was highlighted in the comments section of my previous post on the motorway opening: that connections between the northern motorway and the Port would become more attractive, removing cross-CBD traffic from Customs, Quay and Fanshawe streets. In many ways, this benefit of the project is similar to how the biggest benefits the Waterview Connection proposal will bring is through a reduction in local traffic on roads like Mt Albert, Blockhouse Bay, Sandringham, Dominion and Richardson roads.
While Google Maps suggests that someone travelling between the North Shore and the Port/Parnell area would utilise the motorway system, rather than travelling through the heart of town, congestion on and around the viaduct (back to the harbour bridge for southbound traffic, the incredibly slow ramp signal for northbound traffic before it joins SH1) means that much of the traffic takes the red route instead:When the Victoria Park Tunnel is open to its full complement of three lanes for northbound traffic, and any teething issue for southbound vehicles have been resolved, we should see a reduction in through traffic away from the red route (and hopefully also away from Customs Street). However, as with the Waterview Connection, the Hobsonville deviation and the Manukau Connection, the reduction in vehicles on local roads is only likely to be temporary – thanks to induced demand. If there’s way less traffic on Quay Street and Fanshawe Street, then vehicles using other congested routes will shift back to these freer flowing streets. Motorway traffic may also shift back onto the local roads as some people find them to be faster. Over time, if we don’t make some interventions, we could end up back where we started – but now with a congested wider motorway and congested inner-city streets. Such an outcome would undermine what should be one of the biggest benefits of the Vic Park Tunnel project: the removal of traffic from CBD streets to free up more space for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport.
However, if we’re smart we can avoid such an outcome. And, for once, I’m fairly confident that we’ll be able to actually achieve some real benefits if we move quickly. The City Centre Master Plan proposes to significantly increase pedestrian priority along Quay Street by reducing vehicle capacity – exactly the kind of intervention that’s necessary to dissuade vehicles back onto Quay Street once it’s a bit quieter:It’s also a golden opportunity to get rid of the horrific Hobson Street viaduct:Fortunately, this is also given consideration in the City Centre Master Plan:Completion of the Vic Park Tunnel may also be a golden opportunity to look at reallocating a bit of roadspace to buses along Fanshawe Street so we can actually complete the Northern Busway. At the moment we find ourselves in the stupid situation of having citybound buses take as long to complete the last few hundred metres of their journey as they did to get between Constellation and Akoranga stations – something we spent hundreds of millions on speeding up, to go and undermine our investment simply because we can’t be bothered putting bus lanes along remaining sections of city streets.
The key point is that we have to move quickly in advancing these projects to take advantage of the ‘window of opportunity’ to really lock in the benefits of the Victoria Park Tunnel project. If we stuff around for a few years then we will lose this window, and implementing projects that reallocate roadspace away from vehicles will be that much harder.
While there has been little progress ‘on the ground’ when it comes to reallocating roadspace on Auckland’s ‘east-west’ city centre streets to fully take advantage of what the Victoria Park Tunnel provided, the “CEWT Study” released by Auckland Transport last year proposed an exciting and much more sensible future for all these streets, with Victoria becoming a walking and cycling focused linear park, Wellesley becoming a bus corridor, Quay become a pedestrian focused boulevard and Customs… well, seemingly doing everything.
Yet during some of the debates about Queen Elizabeth II square it appeared as though there are some strong supporters of retaining a car focus to the city centre, even on Quay Street. Crazy ideas, like undergrounding the road at a truly massive cost, were also bandied around. How about we just let the motorway network do its job at moving people past the city centre?
The council’s City Centre Master Plan contains a huge number of great ideas for making the city centre a better place to live work and play but it’s far from the first document looking at the subject. Our friend Darren Davis has recently come across a document from 1971 called Central Area Proposals outlining a number of ideas from the time. Some were good ideas, some odd ideas and some terrible ideas. Of these some were implemented and others not. The ideas also don’t appear to be a cohesive set of projects and so some of the ideas clash with other ideas.
One interesting fact from the document was that mode share to the central city was about over 50% PT, walking or cycling , a similar level that we’ve only just achieved again.
And from the files that didn’t happen, pedestrianising Queen St
This idea seems to be about getting people out of Queen St, presumably so there’s more space for cars and parking – although the image is shown with pedestrians at street level too. It certainly wouldn’t go with the idea of closing Queen St to traffic above.
Closing K Rd to traffic but presumably providing more parking.
Wellesley St elevated over Queen St which would have destroyed the Civic corner and made a hostile area for pedestrians under the over pass.
Mayoral Dr sold as a tree lined boulevard linking up green spaces in the city. Implementing this wiped out a significant chunk of CBD property
An extension of Mayoral Dr all the way to Quay St on the eastern side of the CBD. With option 1 of this we wouldn’t have had an O’Connell St to make a shared space on and the Britomart area would have been severed by a massive road.
And perhaps the granddaddy of bad ideas an elevated motorway along Quay St – the idea was first proposed in the 1955 master transportation plan but thankfully none of these proposals ever happened.
I’m not sure when this image is from but it gives an idea of what it may have looked like, some more shots here and here
Thankfully we managed to dodge at least some of these bullets which if implemented might have been enough to well in truly kill the city centre.
Thanks for the images Darren
Over the weekend the latest shared space in the city was completed, on O’Connell Street. This joins the growing network of shared spaces with Lorne Street, Elliott St, Darby St, Fort St and the also recently completed Federal Street. I would argue that O’Connell Street is the best one yet. The new paved look beautifully matches the scale of the street and period buildings. The street is also all activated frontages with no parking buildings that cause issues on some of the other spaces at peak times.
O’Connell Street on late Sunday afternoon
A great feature is that all of the benches have little historic stories in the street. Several focussed on how the area was viewed negatively for so long. Another bench notes how the street was widened by 50% in the 1920’s, with buildings from the 1840’s demolished for this to occur. However this can party explain the wonderful character of the street.
O’Connell St on Monday lunchtime
Even though the street had been a construction site for 6 months until a few days ago, the street was buzzing with people yesterday lunchtime. A couple of cafes on the street had already set up tables on the street, and I’m sure more will follow. People we also sitting on the benches reading or otherwise relaxing. Overall had a wonderful atmosphere.
For a comparison, this is what O’Connell Street looked like at the start of the year.
A contributing reason for the great atmosphere was that workers were still touching up a few small things, therefore street was still closed to general traffic. However as soon as barriers were removed even briefly, people drove through, and straight away someone was taking advantage of the free parking on offer. I understand later in the afternoon the street was fully opened for general traffic and there were some issues with cars driving too fast.
It is worthwhile pointing out that their are no vehicles entrances on the street, and no carparks. Therefore the only reason cars need to be on the street is for deliveries, which certainly are essential.
This sign from the end of the street makes clear that deliveries should occur between 6am and 11am. So therefore after 11am their are no reasons for cars to be on the street at all. So we really need to ask the question as to why general traffic is allowed at all. The only use is as a rat-run, or for people circling around looking for parking, both pointless activities. So why not shut the street from 11am everyday, or even better have bollards to allow deliveries only between 6am and 11am, so no general traffic is allowed at all. This will not mean any money has been wasted, but will allow the full potential of the space to be used everyday.
The 2013 Census results showed very strong population growth in Auckland’s city centre. The four census area units of Auckland Harbourside, Auckland Central West, Auckland Central East and Newton grew from 19,116 usual residents in 2006 to just under 28,000 in the 2013 census. However, the number of people under 15 years of age living in these four census area units is still pretty low – with only 1,068 being recorded in the 2013 census – just 3.8% of the population. This is far below the proportion of under 15s across the whole of Auckland, which sits at 21%.
This situation is not unusual internationally, with many cities struggling to attract families with children to live in their downtown cores. The reasons for this are – to some extent – fair obvious: a lack of schools, a lack of space for outdoors play (at least private space) and I imagine a bit of remaining stigma around downtown as an appropriate place to raise children.
Yet there are good reasons why we should want families with children to live in the city centre. Strong communities need a wide variety of residents, people downtown have a huge active transport modeshare to work and therefore take pressure off the transport network, people and families living in the city centre give it a liveliness that continues 7 days a week, not just in business hours. But how can families with kids be attracted to living in a part of the city which seems so unusual and (to some) seeming unnatural?
Vancouver is an excellent model here, as over 5,000 kids now live in their downtown and the proportion of the downtown population that is under 15 is on the up:
The CityLab article linked to above explores some of the deliberate steps Vancouver has taken to increase the downtown area’s attractiveness for families with kids:
Units: For starters, Vancouver required developers to set aside of share of high-density housing units for families—typically 25 percent, according to Langston. That means at least two bedrooms, one of which should have play space for toddlers designed into it. (Oh, and thick, thick walls.) Since families might not want to live on the 16th floor, the city suggested grouping family units closer to street level, often in multilevel townhouse-type structures that form the base of more traditional residential towers. This ground-level clustering makes coming and going easier and gives children peers in neighboring units.
Buildings: Family-friendly buildings need a few architectural quirks that towers for singles might not: bulk storage space for things like strollers or toys, better nighttime lighting in common areas, corridors that can fit a tricycle. They also need secure, safe play spaces—ideally ones that can be seen from inside the units or from a designated supervision area. The spaces should maximize sunlight and be made to withstand “the rough and tumble of children’s play,” according to Vancouver’s guidelines. You have to love a government document with lines like this: “Opportunities for water and sand play are especially important.”
Surrounding areas: Vancouver also realized that not all parts of the city were as family-friendly as others. It instructed developers to choose sites within half a mile of elementary schools, daycare centers, and grocery stores, and within a quarter mile of transit stops. Safe walking routes—ideally separated from high-traffic arterials—were also important. Langston writes that the city went a step further and actually required some developers to build or fund community facilities (such as daycare centers or parks) if none already existed, and even to designate sites for schools.
It seems like creating a more family-friendly city centre requires a number of pretty active interventions on behalf of the Council. Partly through its investments in public realm improvements, safe walking routes and community facilities but perhaps more so through clever regulations and incentives for developers to provide housing typologies and facilities themselves which attract a wider range of households to the area.
Streets safer for kids to play – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne
The city centre part of the Unitary Plan contains some provision for bonus floor area provisions – based around heritage protection, encouraging residential dwellings, public open space, artworks and through-site links. Perhaps, to truly encourage families with children into the city centre these rules over time need to be further expanded to deal with issues such as the provision of childcare or other family-focused facilities.
The Ministry of Education also need to raise their game by providing a Primary School within the city centre, which along with the City Centre Master Plan‘s vision of a people-focused city centre would go a long way towards increasing the diversity of the population and really bringing families and kids into the heart of Auckland.
Wynyard is one of the few places designed to let kids play in the city – Photo by oh.yes.melbourne
Wynyard includes lots of family friendly features – Photo by Patrick Reynolds
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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 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
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
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 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.
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.
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:
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?
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.
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.