Santiago de Chile is home to some 6m+ souls, its origins date back to the 16th Century, and it has south American largest, and still expanding, Metro system. But, like almost all cities coming out of the 20th Century, its city centre streets have been allowed to be dominated by vehicles, with all of the disbenefits this brings. Happily, this is now changing, and attracting a lot of positive attention, as this Streetfilms film describes:
This is a great model for the Auckland City Centre, where it will be even easier to achieve, and is in fact already underway, as the current trends in both declining vehicle mode-share and rising Transit and Active mode-share show. We have so far sort of bumbled into this success, with some parts of local government leading it and some resisting it. And the time is now perfect for the city to at last make this a conscious and consistently worked towards process.
In my view it is past time to implement clear policy to support the already reducing vehicle numbers using city streets, in order to allow their re-purposing to higher value and higher capacity uses; walking, cycling, and Transit. And as for place quality as well, as streets, now more than ever, offer greater value as more than just movement engines, or just as car storage facilities, but to support the all important urban services and travel economy.
This of course needs to be executed at detail and over time, by highly skilled urban designers and transportation professionals, with skill, sensitivity, and rational analysis. For as in every city all streets have competing uses, and these must be balanced and prioritised cleverly.
But the is nothing about that process that obviates the need for clear and conscious over-arching policy to guide these decisions. And that policy must be to build the successful city for this age: The more prosperous, people-focussed, greener, and more equitable 21st Century walkable transit rich city.
Vincent and Pitt, Thursday 5:49 pm. Every corner occupied with people wanting to cross, including eight on this silly little delight of a ‘pedestrian refuge’, or nine if you include me, as I stepped back into the vehicle priority slip lane to take the shot, including at least one genuine princess. There appears to be one vehicle using the intersection and another a long long way in the distance up Pitt street.
Auckland Transport have a lot of work to do to fix the dated modal priority that dominates City Centre streets as it is no longer fit for purpose. This design dates from a time when very few lived in the city, fewer worked there and those that did didn’t stay on to recreate in the city either. It is also from before the time that the economic and social value of well designed walkable streets were so well understood. People not in cars need more space and time afforded to them from the people that control this critical part of our public domain. The value of this in supporting the modern urban services economy and the social well being of everyone is overwhelming.
After all transport infrastructure is simply a means to economic and social ends; not an end in it self.
This is one of a series of posts I intend to do about about the city streetscape we ought to be able to expect as a result of the CRL rebuild.
This one will describe the Council’s plans for inner western Victoria St, around the CRL portals, because it seems they are not well understood, especially by some at Auckland Transport, based on the recent release of a proposed design from the CRL team that appears to completely ignore the agreed streets level outcomes. In further posts I will:
- Consider this problem; transport professionals dismissing place quality outcomes as frivolous or unnecessary, or as a threat to their authority, as a professional culture issue.
- Have a close look at some of the bus routes through the City Centre, as these are often highly contested by multiple parties, and have a huge bearing on road space requirements
Last week Councillor Darby sent me a whole stack of work done by the Council on the Linear Park, I will reproduce some of this here, but I urge everyone interested to follow the links below; there’s a huge amount of multilayered work showing how the proposal was arrived at and just how important it is:
- The Green Link
- Aotea Station Public Realm
The first point I would like to make is that I am talking here about the finished outcomes not the interim ones that need to accommodate work-rounds of the street disruption caused by the construction of the CRL. This is about the early 2020s; what is best for when the CRL is open and running, when the new buildings going up, and about to go up, in the city are occupied, and the pedestrian demands are many times greater than currently. It may seem a long way off, but contracts are being agreed now, and if we aren’t careful we will find ourselves locked into poor outcomes that will prove expense to fix. And, remember, this is dividend time; when the city starts to reap the reward of all the expense and disruption of building the CRL itself. This is an important part of why we are doing it: to substantially upgrade and improve every aspect and performance of the whole city as possible, including its heart. Transport infrastructure is a means to an end; not an end in it self.
Second is to suggest that it has been perhaps a little unhelpful that Council called this reclamation of city street a ‘Park’. I can see why they have, this is a repurposing of space from vehicle use to people use, and it does offer the opportunity for new high quality design elements, which is similar to what happens in a park. But I think this undersells the full complexity of what is happening here. There is a great deal of functionality and hard rationality in this scheme, as well as the promise of beauty and the city uplifted.
The place to start is the CEWT study [City East West Transport Study]. This set a very rational and ordered taxonomy of the Centre City east west streets, concluding that Victoria St’s priority will need to shift to a strong pedestrian bias, be the only crosstown cycle route between K Rd and Quay St, and enable a reduced but still efficient general traffic load:
Note that east west bus movements are kept to Wellesley and Customs Sts. This greatly helps Victoria St’s space location as shown below. It is becoming clear that AT now want to return buses here. I believe this is a very poor idea, and will unpack why in a following post. So many poor place and pedestrian outcomes follow directly from trying to get both buses and general traffic trough inner Victoria St, and it is still a very hard street to try to shove buses through in terms of their own functionality, and that of the other general traffic. As well as leading to the total deletion of the only Centre City east/west cycle route. Here is how it was shown in CEWT:
Now turning to the newer iteration from the docs linked to above. The key issue is that the sections of the ‘Park’ around the station entrances on Victoria are focussed on pedestrian capacity rather than place amenity:
Not a park as in a verdant garden, but largely hard paving for efficient and high capacity pedestrian movement under an elevated tree canopy. Very much an urban condition tailored to met the massively increased pedestrian numbers that we know will be here. Particularly from the CRL itself, but also from the rapid growth and intensification of the whole city centre as it builds up around them, and of course the considerable bus volumes on Albert and Bus or LRT on Queen St. At the core this is simply classical ‘predict and provide’ that surely even most unreconstructed and obdurate of engineers can understand. Meeting projected pedestrian demand; not just an aesthetic upgrade, though why we wouldn’t do that while we’re at it, I can’t imagine.
Because this station sits directly below the greatest concentration of employment in the whole country, as well the biggest educational centre, retail precinct, hotel location, and the nation’s fastest growing residential population, we can expect these entrances to immediately be very busy. The plan on opening is for there to be 18 trains an hour each way through this station all with up 750 people [or even 1000 when really packed] alighting and another load boarding, all milling a round; waiting or rushing. And mixing on the streets with all the other people not even using the system. This will make for a very busy place. Their will be thousands of people walking around here at the peaks. Many more than those that use the entire Hobson/Nelson couplet in their cars over the same period. This will need space. Furthermore urban rail systems are very long term investments, what may be adequate for the first few years of the CRL is unlikely to sufficient for the years ahead, let alone decades. There is a clear need for the space for this human traffic to be generous to begin with, to err on the side of spare capacity. This really is no moment to design for the short term, once built that tunnel isn’t moving.
So has any work been done to picture this demand? Yes. Though to my inexpert eyes this looks a little light:
In particular the pedestrian traffic heading north, ie crossing Victoria St looks underrepresented. There will be no entrance to the station on the north side of Victoria street. Everyone heading that way has to come out of one of the east/west exists and crossover at street level. The document above does at least point out the pinch points between the exits and buildings on Victoria. And it is these that AT must be planning on squeezing further to get four traffic lanes back into Victoria St. One lane comes from deleting the cyclists, and the other must be from squeezing pedestrians passing the stations entrances. Just don’t AT; therein lies madness, very expensive to move a station entrance once built. And frankly a 5m width here between hard building edges is already tight and mean. Somewhere in AT the old habits of not really expecting people to turn up and low use of the very thing the agency is building seem to have crept back up to dominate thinking, and all for what? Vehicle traffic priority. The most spatially inefficient use of valuable street space in the very heart of our transforming city.
The extra wide pedestrian space that the Linear Park provides doesn’t just have value immediately around the station portals. Stretching up to Albert Park and the University beyond to the east and up on the flat plateau of western Victoria St offering a good pedestrian route to the new offices and dwellings on Victoria St West and Wynyard Quarter beyond. But as the distance increases from the big sources of pedestrians then the condition of the amenity can become more place focussed and more planting and ‘lingering’ amenity can be added, yet it will still need to primarily serve these Active Mode movement functions well:
And it is important to acknowledge this is a ‘substantial change’ from present condition. The Council recognise, and it is impossible to disagree, that there is nothing to be gained by trying sustain the status quo here. The CRL is brings huge change to the city and how it is used and this needs to be reflected in very nature of our streets as well as in our travel habits:
The Centre City Cycle Network is hopelessly incomplete without some way to access both the Queen St valley and Victoria Park from the Nelson St Cycleway. And if not on Victoria then where? Not with all the buses and bus stops on Wellesley St.
And lastly, other than the never fully successful Aotea Square there has been no new public realm in the City Centre since the Victorians set out Albert, Victoria, and Myers parks. There are now many more people living, working, and playing in the city than ever before, and other than repurposing, or burying, motorways, or demolishing buildings, the streets are the only chance to provide quality space for everyone. This is so much more valuable than slavishly following last century’s subjugation to motor vehicle domination. We know better than this now. Vehicles will fit into whatever space we provide and people will flood the rest. And the later is the more valuable street-use for a thriving, more inclusive, and competitive, and sustainable urban centre to lead the nation this century.
Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.
But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.
Why Are There Cars on Queen St?
This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine
Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.
People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.
No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.
It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.
And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.
If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.
Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.
And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.
Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.
Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:
- Pedestrians in all directions
- Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
- General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs
And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.
So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.
Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.
Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…
In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.
Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?
‘…Five Years, what a surprise’
Cranes. Lots of cranes on the Auckland skyline at the moment. Many of them are building apartment projects, especially in the shot below.
I particularly like this view because it shows that an area that long been dominated by one type of dwelling; detached Victorian houses, is now getting this resource complemented by a good volume of a different kind of dwelling. This is especially important as these old buildings have recently become extremely expensive through both further investment [massive upgrades] and good old fashioned scarcity plus neighbourhood desirability. So more people and different kinds of households are now entering this lovely neighbourhood with its existing infrastructure and great proximity to the city.
While the prices of the apartments reflect these qualities of the location [naturally] and therefore are not as cheap as those out at the end of the motorways, they are still easily under half the price of the surrounding done-up detached houses, and even many that are entirely uninhabitable. And therefore will help to add to the range of price points in the local market as well as the total number of dwellings.
Additionally, and something that’s dear to my heart as an existing resident of the area, all these additional locals mean new and better local amenity; more cafes, restaurants, and employment opportunities as more businesses move in to serve them [all three of my children work locally]; essentially more choice and vibrancy, because there’s simply more people on the streets. And it means that our neighbourhood will earn the right to better social services too, like more frequent bus services, street and park upgrades, and more funding for cultural events. In particular the new intensity along Great North Road is making a strong case for this route to both to be upgraded to a real boulevard, and to one day perhaps providing sufficient demand for the transit route west here to be upgraded to Light Rail.
It is especially pleasing too that these new apartment buildings are clearly better designed and built than those of the last boom in the mid-2000s. And what are they displacing? Car yards. Low land value, slow turnover carparks; what could be better?
This is picture that makes me a very happy urbanist and an even more happy local.
Along with the important issue of local point to point access of new cycling and walking infrastructure, as discussed in this cross-post with Bike Auckland [remember to submit by Thursday, especially if you are local] there is also the issue of increasing access to important Transit stops, especially RTN Stations, to improve their value. Below is a screen grab from MR Cagney’s excellent ‘Catchies’ work on Auckland’s existing RTN Station catchments. The shaded circles describe a 1km ‘as the crow flies’ diameter from each station, the coloured blobs show the actual 1km reach once street and walkway patterns are added. These then are a sort of visual description the difference between catchment theory and practice on the Auckland RTN.
Both Meadowbank and Orakei Stations exhibit some of the most limited catchments on the whole network [comparable to ferry wharves, which are by nature only half a circle] both are particularly severed from their potential local catchments by natural and artificial phenomena. In Orakei’s case development immediately around the station, much better and more frequent bus services, and increasing local road suitability for cycling and walking, are the answer to increasing its reach. For Meadowbank however, only one of those options is available; it will never have a major bus service because it is in a secluded valley away from the road network, and nor is the surrounding land able to be developed. The only way to improve its performance is to improve its walking and cycling connections, and here with the GI to Tamaki cycleway there is surely the opportunity to do just that.
Orakei, Meadowbank, and Glen Innes Stations on the Eastern Line
Especially to reach across the valley to Selwyn College in particular.
The Pourewa Valley section of the GI-Tamaki Shared Path. The Selwyn College playing fields are visible above the Path as it kinks away from the rail line.
The new shared path does offer potential connections up the valley and even though they will be beyond the classic Station 800-1000m catchment range, I have little doubt they would be used as the experience of starting and ending the work or school day with a walk or ride through the verdant Pourewa Valley is pretty attractive. Additionally the bus or driving alternative can be subject to congestion especially through the natural pinch points of our folded topography. The utility of network will of course increase dramatically once the CRL is open too; what a great way for people in this neighbourhood to get to Eden Park for example.
The Eastern Line is a tremendously fast and competitive option as shown by the modal comparison chart for Panmure below, but the reach of its stations certainly need work. Panmure itself has now got great bus connection and Glen Innes is currently in a walking and cycling improvement work programme.
Sylvia Park pretty much only serves the mall and desperately needs new connections to the east:
With work all these stations could add even greater value to the network, now that the train service, at least at the peaks, is frequent and high quality. The Eastern Line has been a star improver since electrification, but it still has capacity for more of its stations to push up the leader board. This can only be achieved with detailed work to remove the very real barriers to entry all along the network. Even a secluded and arguably poorly placed station like Meadowbank can be improved when an opportunity like this Shared Path comes along.
It’s a perfect storm really. The CRL works plus other street and building works are combining with the recent sharp increase in pedestrian and bus numbers to pretty much infarct the Central City at any time of the day. The City-sandpit is not going to get better until the CRL is actually running in 2023, which seems a very long time away.
Sure some important improvements loom large; the Wellesley St bus corridor and better stations and priority on Fanshawe St will clearly help. But it’s also certain that both pedestrian and bus demand will continue to rise because 1) the number of people living, learning, and working in the City Centre is growing rapidly and is likely secular* 2) PT uptake is currently running at about 3 times population growth across the city.
Time and Space
In the medium term AT is keen to add Light Rail in a ‘surface rapid transit’ pattern down the length of Queen St, which certainly would add significant high quality PT capacity on a route that, aside from the CityLink and Airbus, is not used much for PT, nor does it provide substantial private vehicle volume [properly understood, and executed well, LRT on Queen offers new capacity on a route that is currently hiding in plain sight]. This is a good plan, but like CRL, not a quick one. It’s only just begun its battle for believers in Wellington. And anyway, delivering this system would involve even more street works and therefore further disruption, which alone could significantly stand in the way of it happening in the near term. So sorting Centre City street allocation should be front and centre of AT’s senior management group’s attention. Perhaps, in this sense, the CRL works are a test of this group’s attention to detail and creativity?
It seems plain things have to be done now and probably every year until the big PT improvements are finished ready to do their heavy lifting. Bus vehicle supply is clearly a problem which is being addressed, albeit in a Dad’s Army kind of way. But other operational issues must follow too.
AT and AC need to immediately address the allocation of roadspace and signal settings in City Centre. Currently both exhibit legacy private vehicle privilege over other modes, which is completely at odds with the strategic direction of the city centre and the efficient running of all systems. Crossing cycles and crossing opportunities have improved for the dominant mode: pedestrians, but this has been been additional to other priorities rather than substitutive. The throughput of people and goods on these streets is not what it could be; there are simply too many space eating cars preventing higher capacity and value transport modes. Cars are given too many options and too much cycle time at critical intersections, which in turn requires more road width to be used for dedicated turning lanes.
Streets in the city centre are increasingly inaccessible for truck and trade vehicles and, importantly, also for emergency vehicles.
Our pavements and crossing cycles are pumping ever more people through on that brilliantly spatially efficient mode; walking, as can be seen in the shots here. Less visible, of course are the numbers of people in the buses. In the photo above we see 12 or so buses. As it’s the afternoon peak they’re likely almost full so together will be carrying approximately 500 people. The cars maybe a total of 10-15 people. So why is so much space dedicated to cars?
Buses that are not moving are not only belching out carcinogenic diesel fumes for us all to inhale, and C02 to help fry the biosphere, but they are also wasting our money; buses stuck in traffic cost more. On proper bus lanes or busways, buses can do much more work. Average speed on the Northern Busway services, for example, is 40kph, whereas other buses average 20kph. Faster buses not only cost less to operate but they also attract many more (fare paying) passengers because they are more useful.
AT really need to make some clear decisions about private vehicle priority in the city centre. Right now it’s a dog’s breakfast that is neither working well nor reflects policy.
The City East West Transport Study highlighted the importance of east-west traffic movements between the north-south routes of Symonds St in the east and the unlovely couplet of Hobson/Nelson in the west. Queen St is actually not that important for private vehicles, it is cut off at each end by Customs St and K Rd, neither of which supply it with either motorway traffic nor major bus routes. Outside of Hobson/Nelson all motorway traffic from the rest of the city arrive perpendicular to Queen before heading across the valley to parking structures, and the major bus routes likewise all are on either side of it, save some recent additions and the Airport and City Link service. The critical mode on Queen St are the pedestrians, and the cross town vehicle movements that need to traverse the street, albeit briefly. Driving along Queen St needs to be diminished as it is largely pointless [no vehicles entrances on Queen St], and because it disrupts these more valuable movements.
So what can be done ***immediately*** to assist the east-west direction without compromising pedestrian movement on Queen and it’s smaller parallel routes?
The obvious first step would be to remove the near useless right turns at Wellesley and Victoria. Restricting general traffic to straight ahead and left hand turns would greatly simplify the cycles to only three: Ped Barnes’ Dance, east-west traffic, and north-south traffic each running concurrently. Clearing these intersections more efficiently and reducing the addition of pointless traffic onto Queen St a little. Such an arrangement will likely happen post-Wellesley Street bus corridor so why not make it happen now?
Two other moves on smaller streets would help too. The right hand turn out of Lorne St looks particularly disruptive for its utility, and using High St to exit the Victoria St parking building is still a terrible thing and really needs fixing, too much space is stolen from pedestrians there and the resultant traffic blocks the mid block of Victoria St East.
High St 4:32pm
Anyway it is policy to get the cars off Queen St one day, so why aren’t we working more deliberately towards that in increments? Do we really have to wait for Light Rail to achieve this? Let’s get the important east-west road priority happening along with complete bus lanes on Queen St as a way to prepare for the glorious future; because for the foreseeable, glamorous or not, buses will have to do most of the heavy lifting in the City Centre.
A strangely people-free picture of a future lower Queen St.
- secular = Economics (Of a fluctuation or trend) occurring or persisting over an indefinitely long period: ‘there is evidence that the slump is not cyclical but secular’
It’s the last day of 2025 so it is a good time to run through the events of the last ten years in Auckland. A decade of profound transformation for New Zealand’s largest city. A coming of age.
This is Part 2 of a 2 Part scenario. Part 1 here.
Global megatrends mean local megachange, and Auckland is fortunate to have been well placed and nimble enough to largely come out on the positive side of these forces. We have seen the global trends of the first decade and a half of the 21C accelerate over the last decade, particularly:
- Migration: Internationally another great age of people movement is clearly underway.
- Urbanisation: Both the developing world and the OECD nations have continued to urbanise and cities have become the economic force of our age.
- De-Carbonisation: The urgent need to reduce carbon emissions everywhere and in every way has been an increasing issue.
Transport- the city shaper
CRL, LRT, Road Pricing, Carbon Tax, AMETI, Harbour Crossing battles, electric buses and ferries, the de-carring of the city, the Bike Boom. Transport, along with the housing reset, really has been the story of last decade
The momentum gained from the Alignment Process between the Council and the Government at the beginning of this decade helped lead to the doubling of PT trips to around now 160m per annum. This is around about 80 trips per capita, which is still at the low end internationally, so there is clearly still plenty of growth to come.
The big news was of course the long awaited opening of the CRL. The rail network was straining at the leash, the delivery of additional trains helped of course, but the critical limit at Britomart made for overcrowding issues and unmet latent demand, pax was struggling up against the 30m mark, and that was really only made possible by strenuous measures to shift movement to off peak trips by improving frequencies and span, and discounting fares. Ridership is now again growing at a meteoric rate, as expected, jumping 25% over the last two years to well over 40 million annual trips. It’s been like a dam bursting. Night trains, trams, and buses are proving popular too.
But perhaps even more important has been the uplift to communities connected to the rail system, especially along the Western Line. Places as diverse as Morningside, Avondale, and Glen Eden are buzzing with new building, business and activity as a result of the new accessibility and the freer rules around parking and density. And more than this it already clear that the greatest change brought about by the CRL has been a reinvention of the very idea of Auckland into a sophisticated multifaceted Metro-City of diverse but connected communities that is truly fresh and transformational. Of course this has not gone unnoticed around the world with Auckland now firmly on the must-include list of those breathless taste-setting magazine and blog sites that busy them selves with such issues. Auckland really is competing with much bigger and better placed cities now that the quality of its built environment is catching up with that of its natural one, and the great diverse quality of our society. No-one misses the old car-drenched City Centre; young people can barely believe what it used to be like. The continued tourism boom is a very real testament to this, especially the data showing constantly rising length of visitors’ stay in the city before out to see the beautiful rest of the country.
The recent completion of LRT-1: Dominion Rd right through the now gloriously car-free Queen St is also profoundly popular, like the CRL now it is open and booming, complaints around construction disruption and from the small number of drive-everywhere diehards has withered away and, like with the CRL, now it’s hard to find anyone who claims to have been against it; success has a million mothers. No wonder the plan to extend this system across the harbour and to the Shore has proved unstoppable and after an intense debate between tunnel or bridge, is now in the detailed design stage. The extreme cost, limited utility, and appalling environmental effects of the old road crossing plans having been shelved for now. Of course they may be revived but that is only likely once the whole of the fleet has been converted to EVs, a change that is underway, but that is taking longer than many hoped Even though the recent Carbon Tax is of course speeding that transition up.
Now that Light Rail from downtown to Albany [and Takapuna] is about to be underway the debate about the RTN to the Airport is getting more intense. The prospect of a LR line spanning Airport to Albany is of course proving popular north of the harbour, balanced by those that see the clear utility of connecting the power of CRL and the rest of the booming rail network through Mangere to this important anchor. Especially as the popularity of the first LRT line means the current vehicles are already often full without this longer extension. Resolving this is urgent however as everyone including government agrees connecting the country’s gateway with an RTN is urgent, and is agreed it will be the next major infrastructure work after the Light Rail Harbour Crossing in Auckland. The urban motorway building age is now firmly behind us.
And now that NZTA has taken over ownership of the nation’s rail lines making this one agency now truly responsible for all land transport and not just roads, a funding mechanism without arbitrary mode constraints has been created. The change to GPS-based time variable road charging and the transformation of the old Fuel Excise to a Carbon Tax has secured income to the National land Transport Fund. While also improving the price signals to all users of our transport systems, resulting in a sizeable increase in efficiency, especially the noticeable drop-off in peak time driving demand. I guess there really were a whole lot of journeys clogging our roads last decade that could easily be taken on another mode, or another time, or even not at all!
The transformation of the busy bus fleet to electric vehicles is gaining pace, and all the more urgent as the completion of the AMETI busway and the upgrade of the North-Western bus shoulders to busway status from Pt Chevalier west has driven the continued growth of bus numbers. Not building a dedicated Busway as part of the massive Western Ring Route works has now achieved ‘what were they thinking‘ status as people can’t believe the politicians, planners, and engineers were so stupid not to have built it when they had an easy opportunity to do so. It is now being worked on urgently to provide quality transit options to the rapidly growing areas of the North West. The only current issue now is when the busiest routes can be added to the Light Rail network, or converted to E-buses.
As in so many cities across the world the bike boom has of course been both sustained and welcome, squabbles over street space notwithstanding. Cycling and walking now make up more than 20% mode-share in morning peak to the City Centre, greatly straining cycleways and footpaths. Happily now shared paths are a thing of the past and both Active modes are being supported with their own routes. E-bikes are everywhere now, and there’s even a kiwi designed brand on the market. And of course the SkyPath is insanely popular and world-famous, like the Highline many cities globally are looking to copy this approach and attach similar additions to existing bridges. The duplication on the west side is now underway as well, the only debate being whether to separate pedestrians and cyclists as they do in Sydney, or to keep both as mixed-use but one-way. Property prices in Northcote are now matching St Marys Bay, as this new access especially to the hospitality centre of Wynyard Quarter proves just so valuable.
The Urban Cycleway Fund started by the Government in 2014 proved immensely successful and popular leading to successive governments extending and expanding on it. The completion of the trunk and city centre routes proved vital in building ridership and support for quality bike infrastructure to be expanded across the wider city and out through suburbs. The big issue is now many of our existing core routes are struggling with the demand and transport agencies are busy working to widen or duplicate them.
The ride-share business is of course booming, with the carshare free parking spaces and regulations to include them in all new developments with parking proving an important incentive. Uber, Lyft, and the expanding rental market is growing the proportion car journeys in non-privately owned vehicles. Car and licence ownership per capita continues to slide. Driverless technology has advanced impressively but the prospect of fully autonomous vehicles having run of our streets is proving to be endlessly stuck in legal tangles. The transition to Electric Vehicles is also taking longer to occur than many hoped, as the old fleet shows surprising persistence. Interestingly it is the fleet operators that are driving most of the demand in this area, especially truck and bus operators. The trial of freight lanes on the motorways also looks likely to be the most cost effective way to both increase safety and efficiency in the important freight and delivery sector, and prepare for higher degrees of automation of these machines.
The expanded ferry services across the harbour are also proving popular, especially with the new wharf at Wynyard Pt, as is the new private water-taxi business, giving anyone near a jetty or wharf a lift uber-like, just a tap of the App away.
Conclusion: Auckland 2025
The trials of growth and of becoming such a clearly desirable place to live continue to be the biggest problems for Auckland, issues of inclusivity, of access to the city for all in the broadest social sense are the major problems that balance an otherwise healthily diverse and largely socially mobile community, offering a considerably increased range of options for living, working, and playing in this changing century. It is riding the global shift to the urban services based economy, and proving adept at adapting to the technological and social pressures of our age. Auckland is becoming one of the most dynamic, successful, and beautiful small cities of the world. Auckland offers great access to the now more protected countryside, is still of course is made up of relatively low rise suburbia formed last century, now augmented better connected and more intense local centres, and the buzz of the vertical and newly peopled and vibrant Centre City. As has happen periodically in its short history, Auckland has taken another sudden jump and changed character, and in this case very much for the better: The sleepy seaside city has awaken, to take its singular place on the edge of the Pacific century.
NB: This ‘History of the Next Ten Years’ is a scenario, not a prediction, a possible future, perhaps even a probable one, but that depends on decisions and made now and in the near future…discuss…
‘The best way to predict the future is to invent it.’
I’ve left this a bit late; today is the last day to get your feedback in on some quick fixes coming to P Rd. But it doesn’t take a moment to choose between the two near identical options and just a few moments more throw a word or two it in as well. Go here.
In general AT and the Local Board are to be commended for the proposed changes as they will enable the street design to better follow the development of a new depth to the Ponsonby Rd strip; the noticeable lift in intensity throughout this area from Ponsonby Central and other places where the retail and hospitality now reaches further away from P Rd itself: Trading activity here is now much more 3-D and there are simply many more people.
Option 2. Fullsized PDFs here
What is at stake and why does this matter? Ponsonby Rd is one of Auckland’s many urban centres that all deserve the same kind of improvements, the same re-tilting back towards providing better amenity for people and granting less space and free-reign for vehicles. So everything I say here about Ponsonby Rd is also true for other areas, adapted to local conditions. Additionally Ponsonby Rd can act as a leader in this change, because it has that kind of role in our city, it is an early adopter kind of place; the forces driving change are evident here earlier and more powerfully than other areas.
The importance of this cannot be overstated. Small nudges can lead to big improvements; if only we could get our institutions to lead instead of follow on these issues, or at the very least be more responsive. In practice traffic engineering’s inbuilt methodology of ‘predict and provide’ with regard to anything other than vehicle traffic actually becomes; ‘lag and reluctantly catch-up’ and only when forced to. This has become an unhelpful conservativism that is a tremendous brake on placemaking by those controlling our streetscapes. I get the tradition of technical conservatism inherent in other branches of engineering, for example in structural engineering, but this is an unhelpful carry-over into street design, a field that ought to have input from both spatial designers and engineers, but without the later having a veto over final outcomes. A subtle shift in the pecking order around street design could unlock a great deal of potential in our city.
For example take the intersection of Ponsonby with Richmond and Picton [below]. This used to have a Barnes Dance crossing, like there still is at the top of Franklin Rd. It now has pedestrian movements concurrent with vehicle traffic movements complete with every variety of arrowed turning manoeuvres across pedestrian flows. Simple observation shows this to be overly complicated and delaying for the ever increasing numbers of pedestrians. A small group of locals approached AT through the local board about this and got the following response:
Certainly it doesn’t have consistently high pedestrian levels; it does gets quiet here around 3am, but it sure as hell has very high numbers for an intersection outside of the City Centre, and is surely busier than the Franklin intersection. The shot below was taken on a sunny Saturday in December so shows it at a peak, but similar levels are not unusual through the day. And the schools remark is double curious, first it is an odd criteria for what is primarily a shopping and hospitality area, but also it fails to spot that this intersection pretty much exactly triangulates Richmond Rd School, Auckland Girl’s Grammar, and Freemans Bay School; students for all three certainly travel through here. And note there is absolutely no claim that what we are requesting might be unsafe in AT’s view, we can only assume [it isn’t stated] that they are, as usual, privileging driver time over pedestrian time, assuming there may be additional delay for some drivers with a Barnes Dance? They can’t deny that there would be greater clarity for all users with a Barnes Dance.
Happily the writer also added this:
but then this:
More positively AT are now catching up with reality on the issue of the side streets off P Rd. We have long campaigned for raised pedestrian tables on these, and at last they look like they’re coming. Fantastic. The footpath on this long spine is the key public realm here and is appallingly fractured by continuos carriageway that gives all priority to the one or two occupants in any vehicle over the often multitudes on the pavements. Might is right, is what the current street design says to us all. We look forward to seeing this solution at the tops of all these lovely narrow Victorian lanes eventually. A consistent and clear communication to us all when driving that this is a people place first and foremost.
The other great opportunity is to continue the existing street-tree amenity along the length of the area. These are of inestimable value; living proof of the old urban design truism:
‘Whatever the question; the answer is almost always a street tree’
In particular a row of trees is proposed for the over-wide Mackelvie St. This is good, the street needs compressing and enlivening now that it has many more attractors further down it. It has a new laneway through to Richmond and is soon to get another through to Pollen St as well. However it is my view that trees should not be in the middle on the street as proposed but rather on the eastern side where there are already hospitality businesses with outdoor chairs and tables. This means that people could sit under them on the widened pavement and they wouldn’t constantly be being pruned by passing trucks. They would be able to be enjoyed physically as well as visually by people. The second raised table probably ought to move up to connect the two laneways too.
There’s plenty of width here to narrow the carriageway in order to draw pedestrians down into this newly activated zone of retail, hospo, and laneways. But the trees should, in my view be where the parked cars are on the left in the above picture, not in the middle of the street, moving the parking out to where the silver car is now. Those power lines could surely be undergrounded too.
Ponsonby Rd; A car-topia by design, yet an increasingly people rich place in spite of this.
Lastly this is a set of minor changes and it has to be mentioned that the issue of cyclelanes has been kicked down the road for later. The addition of new parking on Ponsonby Rd is not helpful for cyclists as this a street with a growing reputation for dooring incidents. The number of riders is increasing noticeably. There is a lot of additional parking coming to new buildings in the area and we feel this plan fails to take a sufficiently holistic view of the whole area and this new supply in particular into consideration. An issue for future action.
Below is what I added to my preference for Option 2:
Ponsonby Road Improvements
For both options:
First general context; as a local, who uses the street everyday with all modes, I am astounded by the rapid and sustained increase in activity everywhere in the area currently. Especially people on foot, but also on the road; driving and cycling, and stepping on and off the buses. I don’t believe that the physical environment is at all appropriate any more. The auto-domination of the entire width of P Rd is not helpful. A whole lot of additional parking is coming with Vinegar Lane which will further increase attempts to drive through what is increasingly a people rich environment. While 40kph limit is good the street design doesn’t support it.
The most important public realm here is the long fabric of footpath, it’s kind of like the biggest organ of the human body; the skin, an overlooked but vital resource. This needs improvement in duration, connection, and quality. So fixing the constant breaks at the side streets with raised tables is a vital and urgent upgrade. This will at last support the pedestrians’ right to the street for at least the length of the slim width they are currently allowed. Its virtual extension across the carriageway is also desperately needed. This is why we support the return of the Barnes Dance to Richmond/Picton.
Street trees offer so much all users, the gaps in their appearance on P Rd and side streets need filling at every opportunity, especially anywhere people might linger [everywhere]. Shade and beauty are glorious utility.
Mackelvie St is currently over-wide, and needs compression to be more attractive to users, to draw people down to the attractions away from P Rd, to the new laneways and other businesses. The narrowing of the carriageway is good, however I really think the new trees would be far better down the southern side of the street where the carparking currently is, instead of the middle of the street, as there are already cafe table on the pavement here, and the increased width and new shade would be fantastic for users of the hospitality businesses here. This seating faces north and is blistering for the times of the year there are leaves on the trees. And this would help these businesses, this may not be what the owners say, retailers seem to often be extraordinarily fearful of change, and to misunderstand what us customers are drawn to.
Right hand turning into and out of MacKelvie needs looking at in more depth, and may need restricting.
The second raised table in MacKelvie should align with the new laneways, ie needs to be higher up the street.
Cycling gets new parking but no where to ride but for us over-confident types; this will need to be addressed soon; the numbers are rising fast. Until then how about at least some sharrows on one lane each way on P Rd?
I am concerned that the increase in on-street parking on P Rd is a step backwards and will create problems later when more long term improvements are proposed. Quick fixes are great; but keep an eye on the longer term.
In summary: The raised tables are great, any increase in street trees is fantastic. Until proper bike lanes are added I think sharrows in the outside lanes on P Rd would go a small way towards legitimising the ever increasing cycling there…..all good for a quick fix, and I look forward to further improvements.
Thoughts of Sydney are inseparable from images of its harbour:
It’s naturally beautiful, but also much of what has been added around the harbour increases its appeal, particularly the Opera House and the Bridge:
The bridge is not only beautiful, and massively over-engineered, but also is an impressive multitasker; trains, buses, general traffic, pedestrians, people on bikes. All catered for.
Despite that when looking at the bridge its mostly covered with cars in terms of moving people the general traffic lanes are the least impressive of the three main modes, as shown below in the am peak hour:
It is its multi-modality that makes it truly impressive, some 73% of the people entering Sydney on the Bridge from the Shore at this time are doing so on just one of the train lines and one bus lane; a fraction of the width of the whole structure. So not only does it shame our Harbour bridge aesthetically it completely kills it for efficiency too.
The Bridge has always been impressively multi-modal as the first toll tariff shows, and it carried trains and trams from the start:
In 1992 it was supplemented by a pair of two lane road tunnels that up the cross harbour tally for this mode to match the number coming over by train [bridge plus tunnels = 12 traffic lanes], but that wasn’t done until the population of the city had hit 3.7 million. The high capacity systems on the bridge saved the people of Sydney and Australia from spending huge sums on additional crossings and delayed the date they were deemed necessary by many decades. But anyway, because the additional crossing is just road lanes it only adds around 10% extra capacity to the bridge. To think that the government here and NZTA are seriously proposing to spend multiple billions in building a third Harbour Crossing in Auckland with the population only at 1.5m, but not only that but they are planning to build more capacity for the least efficient mode; more traffic lanes.
The evidence from Sydney shows that what we need to add next are the missing high capacity modes. And that we clearly aren’t using the existing bridge well enough. Our bridge was never designed to carry trains, but it does carry buses, and currently these could be given the opportunity to carry even more people more efficiently. And that very opportunity is just around the corner. In 2017 or maybe even next year the alternative Western Ring Route opens, described by NZTA like this:
The Western Ring Route comprises the SH20, 16 and 18 motorway corridors. When complete it will consist of 48km of high quality motorway linking Manukau, Auckland, Waitakere and North Shore Cities. It will provide a high quality alternative route to SH1 and the Auckland Harbour Bridge, and take unnecessary traffic away from Auckland’s CBD.
Excellent, always great to invest in systems that take unnecessary traffic away. And there is no better way to achieve this than to make the alternatives to driving so much quicker and more reliable with dedicated right-of-ways. Here is the perfect opportunity to achieve that, the opening of the WRR should be paralleled by the addition of bus lanes right across the Bridge in order to lift its overall capacity. And at the same time perhaps truck priority lanes on the sturdier central lanes should also be considered, so the most important roles of highways, moving people and freight efficiently, can be more certainly achieved. Although the need for that depends on exactly how much freight traffic shifts to the new route [as well as the rail line and trans-shipping via Northland’s new cranes: ‘New crane means fewer trucks on the highway’]. Outside of the temporary blip caused by the building of Puhoi to Warkworth [much which will be able to use the WRR] heavy traffic growth on the bridge looks like it is predominantly buses.
Meanwhile our transport agencies should be planning the next new crossing as the missing and much more efficient Rapid Transit route. Cheaper narrower tunnels to finally bring rail to the Shore; twin tracks that have the people moving capacity of 12 motorway lanes. Here: Light Rail or super efficient driverless Light Metro are clearly both great options that should be explored:
But before all of this there are of course those two much more humble modes that can add their invigorating contribution to the utility of the Bridge, walking and cycling, Skypath:
The famous cycle steps on the northern side, there are around 2000 bike trips a day over the bridge [despite the steps]:
And there they were right at the beginning:
First Crossing of Sydney Harbour Bridge. Photo by Sam Hood.