I have just returned from an extremely dispiriting experience. A room full of people including representatives from Local Boards, David Shearer the local MP, and many extremely frustrated members of the public were attempting to discuss the fate of the St Lukes Pohutukawa Six with a bunch of engineers from AT, NZTA, and the private sector. To no avail.
The meeting [which apparently wasn’t a meeting; but I’ll come to that later] was run by AT’s Howard Marshall, who despite an unfortunately arrogant air for such a role at least had the courtesy and courage to introduce himself, unlike the rest of the state and city apparatchiks and their subcontractors [who, for example, was the white haired man sitting with the public who summoned Marshall mid meeting into a whispered private conference from which he emerged even more defensive and inflexible?].
Marshall was determined that no discussion would take place, the commissioners had spoken, and as far as he was concerned that was all that mattered. A degree of self-serving pedantry that we have seen before on this matter. So here was a room full of the public faced with a public servant who somehow decided that the best way to get this beastly business over with was to define it out of existence; ‘this is not a public meeting’ he droned, over and over. The word ‘Kafka’ was soon being muttered in the row behind me as he answered very specific questions about the placement of lanes with his view on the metaphysics of this non-meeting.
But faced with the relatively straight-forward question about process he reached for new technique: ‘Could’, he was asked, ‘AT change its mind about destroying the trees if it found another way to deliver sufficient transport outcomes?’
Perhaps he was malfunctioning? Or was it just an absurd question to put to a Traffic Engineer? Could their work ever be improved? How could that be; look around this city – is it not an image of heavenly perfection? Or rather was he caught between admitting that they don’t have to do this, which is clearly true, AT change their minds frequently enough, and knowing that he was supposed to the hold the line against even the slightest hint that AT could stop this action by any means short of an order from the Environment Court? Yes.
This all would be funny if weren’t for the miserably disingenuous document we were all given at the start of the non-meeting [presumably not-written and not-printed].
‘AT regrets’, it solemnly intones, ‘that the trees will be lost’ [lost; how careless!] ‘but a major benefit is that they will make way for cycle lanes to the motorway overbridge and for an extended buslanes and bus priority measures in Great North Rd’.
Ahhh so that’s it. It’s all those cycleways and buslanes… I see now, multi-laned bus priority and proper separated cycle lanes in every direction then? Marshall doubled down on this saying that the project is all about the great cycling, walking, and Public Transport outcomes.
Now really this has to stop. This is actually just lying. Shocking. Brazen. Barefaced lying; do they think we can’t see? Well in fact it is a bit hard to see. There was some considerable disagreement in the room about just how many traffic lanes we are getting across here. I make it 19 through the guts of it, including off ramps, and true, one of these is, briefly, a bright stripe of green for buses. One. The Traffic Engineer next to me thought he got to 17. But either way to characterise this project as anything other than a giant clusterfuck of autodependency is clearly wildly inaccurate. This is beyond double-down, this is gazillion-down. As is clear from the plan above, and despite the careful rendering of the gardening in rich tones to leap off the page and distract from the orgy of tarmac, the overwhelming majority of this part of the planet is now to be expensively dedicated to nothing but motoring. The World’s Most Drivable City. Place-Breaking.
There is, it’s true, proposed to be a new ‘shared path’, which of course is a footpath for both cyclists and pedestrians, where the six Pohutukawas are currently. A wide footpath is exactly what there is now, but under the limbs of those glorious trees. So how is a new one with only new smaller trees nearby an improvement? And why do they have to move it to where the trees are now? It couldn’t be because of the new double slip lane that AT insist on putting where the existing path is, could it? [never once mentioned by Marshall]. To claim that trees have to go for the ‘cycle lane’ [which isn’t even a cycle lane], but not because of the extra traffic lane is beyond disingenuous and is. really. just. lying.
All AT Experts Agree.
And as is clear from the following Tweet sent by the trees themselves, if it was really a matter of just finding space for a shared path then of course it could go behind the trees either through the car park as a shared space, or where there is currently mown grass under the trees. Not difficult to spot and design for an engineer of any competence, surely.
They must have considered this because our text informs us ‘AT would not proceed with the application to remove the trees… if there had been any other viable option, but all AT experts agreed that there was not’ Oh dear. Was this option considered he was asked? Of course, waving his hand dismissively saying it was presented to MOTAT and other local stakeholders that carparking would have to be removed to achieve this and apparently they all agreed that that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Delivered with the pained expression of a man explaining obvious things to a group of dimwitted children.
Fox in charge of the chicken coop. It is clear that this process is, frankly, rubbish.
Consider now how the pedestrian amenity in this ‘upgrade’ is to become more glorious by the removal of a direct route across Great North Rd. Once complete, any motorist lured to the lagoon of parking between the new Supersized SH16 and the new Supersized Great North Rd [or other actual pedestrians] will have to make three separate applications to the beg-buttons for permission to migrate from island to island to get to MOTAT or Western Springs. Should take about a week; or perhaps people will feel the hopelessness of this fate and either chance a gap in the traffic or just hurl themselves under a passing SUV….
So I call bullshit, AT, on any claim that this plan does anything except facilitate and promote further motorised vehicle use, and I don’t include buses in this. That they are intermittent buslanes on GNR hardly makes it a PT oriented project. That is the very least that the duplication of this road with SH16 should have long ago provided. Where is the North Western Busway: The Rapid transit line for this route for all those new citizens in the north west? The amenity that we know is the best way to keep the demand on the motorway from tripping into overload [from both the success of the Northern Busway, and theory]. Of the billions being spent on this massive project a couple metres of Kermit on GNR doesn’t give AT/NZTA any kind of figleaf to hide their Kardashian-scaled tarmac-fest behind.
But I digress, it is of course beyond AT’s engineers’ reach to fix the whole scope of the SH16 works, but still do they have to display their professional myopia quite so thoroughly on the small section of this massive but conceptually retrograde project in their care? And lie to us, and god knows to themselves, that they are really building a great new world for cyclists, pedestrians, and PT users?
‘Making travel by cycle and bus more efficient and convenient is consistent with AT’s drive to encourage Public Transport use. This will bring long-term benefits as more people choose alternative modes of transport to the car.’
Butter wouldn’t melt.
The withholding of one short traffic lane on GRN is all that is needed.
The double slip lane onto the bridge is not worth losing these trees for, but even if it were, why are there three east bound lanes opposite? Two lanes turn from the bridge city bound onto GNR, and two lanes continue straight trough the intersection from west on GNR, one a disappearing buslane. That each of these traffic light cycles needs to leap from two lanes to three looks like mad super redundancy to this observer. Or at least having only two lanes for the length of the double slip lane opposite looks like a reasonable compromise as it would mean we could keep those trees. It’s just the reduction of this massive scheme by one lane for a short distance that resolves the issue. Can they really not manage that? Can they not see how this would also help conceal the full extent of the over-build here; would improve their project on every level?
But of course here we get to the real issue. I accuse those responsible for this outcome of professional incompetence. For they certainly are exhibiting it. What I mean, I suppose, is that they are being incompetent humans, more than incompetent traffic engineers. For in the extremely reduced definition of what they consider to be their job; maximising vehicle traffic flow through the monotonic provision of ever more lane supply and minimisation of ‘friction’ [anything, like pedestrian crossings, trees, whatever, to slow vehicles], they are efficient enough. But really should this job so defined ever exist? In isolation, that is, of course we want and need dedicated engineers, but can we as a city, as a species, afford to allow them this crazy disassociation of their task from the rest of life? Everyone gets benefit from those trees, not least of all those thousands of vehicle users that pass by them, or park under them. And they are now the only bit of civility and glory in an otherwise overkill of pavement. They are irreplaceable. And valuable beyond the dubious virtue of providing traffic flow predicted to be there, in 2026 no less, based on traffic models that are constantly shown to be wrong. Do these men see their job so autistically that they only value that tsunami of tarmac at any cost?
By rights these trees should still be there when both Mr Marshall and I are compost, our constituent atoms returned to make other life forms, in the great mystery of it all. They are a link to those people of The Great Depression who planted them, and even further back to when these trees and their cousins dominated this land. They are an invaluable link with the past through the present and into the future. How can it be that we grant people the right to blithely cut that link for one more lane in a world of nothing but traffic lanes?
The annual Santa Parade is coming up is just under 3 weeks on Sunday 30 November. This is the one-day a year when families and children are really welcome in our CBD.
As part of this Queen Street, Albert Street and many surrounding streets are closed, supposedly from 12pm to 4pm. The parade itself goes from 2pm to 3.30pm. Families are encouraged to head down to Aotea Square after the parade where Santa’s Party keeps the festivities going with a stage set up.
Before and after the parade people are allowed the much too rare pleasure of walking along Queen Street freely, and the volume of people attending means huge numbers of people are in the streets before and after the parade.
Santa Parade 2013: Queen Street, soon after the parade passes
However rather than encouraging people to stay around the organisers, council and the police want to rush everyone off the street as soon as possible and get the roads open to traffic.
Santa Parade 2013: Clear away, cars must be let free!
Police cars with lights and sirens crawl down Queen St, and police officers yell at everyone to get off the road with their loudspeakers. Really a very unpleasant end to what should be a happy day.
Santa Parade 2013: The police officer in his car is yelling at the crowds through his loud hailer.
By doing this the police are actually endangering people, as huge numbers of people are forced into narrow footpaths. This shows an extremely warped sense of priorities. The entire point of this seems to be to open the street to cars as quickly as possible. Last year the area outside Aotea Square was open to traffic less than 30 minutes after the parade finished passing. This is especially bizzare as 100’s of families were heading this way to go to Santa’s Party.
Santa Parade 2013: Very soon after the parade passes, dreary normality resumes. Note the volumes of people on the footpath.
An obvious thing to do would be to keep Queen St closed all afternoon, and have some sort of street festival. The Federal Street party on Friday was a huge success, although very much an adult focussed event. The afternoon of the Santa Parade would be a great day to run a family and Christmas themed street party. The traffic management costs are already largely covered by the parade, so the extra cost should be minimal.
It may be too late to do a properly organised street party this year. However there is no reason at all why the authorities should rush to open Queen Street. How about leaving it closed until 6pm or 7pm, and allow the crowds to stroll and shop. A few entertainers and characters could easily be added to give the street a bit more life.
Santa Parade 2013: ready made crowd for a street festival
A separate issue that comes up is in regards to transport. The Santa Parade has a long held tradition whereby parking in council buildings is free for the day. This seems perverse when the organisers are warning of traffic chaos. Why not use the revenue and make major public transport services to the event free instead?
Santa Parade 2013: Northern Express post Santa Parade. Huge queue caused by manual payments.
A few extra services would probably be handy too, as Sunday timetables are still stuck in the dark ages for every public transport service apart from the Northern Express and Links. Last year the trains were actually free, although Auckland Transport did not even advertise this in advance! The only special public transport that was organised last year was the Northern Express, and this was done well as usual. However the need for people to pay one at a time while in a very long queue meant that boarding was very slow. Making the services free would make them much more efficient.
So how about it Auckland Council and Auckland Transport. By turning the parade into a street party, and providing free public transport, the Santa Parade would be cemented as the premier free day out for Auckland families.
51: La Rambla Reina?
What if Queen Street could feel like Auckland’s answer to La Rambla?
Despite its tatty $2 shop reputation, Queen Street has been quietly undergoing a significant urban renaissance over the last seven or eight years. This dates back to the $40million plus streetscape upgrade which saw much of the on-street parking removed, all bus services except the Inner Link and Airbus relocated out, widening and decluttering of footpaths, new high quality flagstone paving, street furniture, lighting, the now signature nikau palms and not the least, the double-phasing of the much-loved Barne’s Dance crossings. Importantly, allowance was also made by the former Auckland City Council for additional opex expenditure to maintain this significant investment including much higher spec street cleaners operating on a daily cleaning and maintenance schedule.
Good things take time and in the seven or eight years since this major disruption and change it is easy to forget how far we have come. Queen Street retail is currently experiencing very dynamic and wide-ranging change as leases end, landlords upgrade spaces and new and established retailers locate and relocate and try new things.
Meanwhile, pedestrian numbers have increased hugely, reflecting the big growth in employment numbers, city centre residents and visitors over this time. As well as this big influx in pedestrian numbers, general traffic in Queen Street is far lower than before the upgrade. This means, at present that in any given block of Queen Street between Customs Street and Aotea Square, there is an average of around 45,000 – 60,000 pedestrians per day and just 7500 vehicles per day in any one block.
These changes all add up to a street that is not only far more pleasant than it was before but with pedestrian foot traffic that ensures it truly functions as the principal pedestrian backbone and main thoroughfare of the city. It is by far both the fastest and most pleasant way to get anywhere around the city by foot before branching off to the east or west to one’s destination.
On the back of this there seems to be a growing appetite for more far-reaching change. Opinions seem mixed on this. Priorities may be better placed elsewhere and the time for this might not be just yet – perhaps lets allow Queen Street to continue to evolve and flourish off the back of the investment – but in the future it seems there is good scope to make further changes to Queen Street to become a more people-centric place and pedestrian spine at the heart of the city.
Queen Street could become Auckland’s very own answer to Barcelona’s La Rambla – a river of heaving humanity that builds in energy as it flows from the Karangahape Road ridgeline down to the sea. On the best sunny summer days, or the (irregular) occasions where we get to close it off to traffic, it often feels a little like this already. But it could be like this all the time. A truly memorable city street we could be all proud of. Wouldn’t that make for a better Auckland?
Queen St during Diwali October 2014
Stuart Houghton 2014
50: Auckland at the Crossroads
What if intersections were nice places to be?
Much has been said already on this topic on the blog. The place qualities of intersections in Auckland have typically been destroyed where a sole focus has been placed on through traffic capacity and flow.
This matters because intersections tend to be important places for other things than just vehicular traffic. The health of a busy street or neighbourhood could be measured by the state of its intersections, and sadly, in Auckland, the vast majority of signalised intersections are in a very poor state for anything other than people passing through in cars.
Wouldn’t Auckland be a much better place if intersections could – at least in the most modest ways like providing ample room to wait on the corner and taking less time to cross to the other side – become much nicer places to be? We need some more modest and readily achievable goals; quick fixes for intersections could be one of them.
Stuart Houghton 2014
48: The Forgotten Triangle
What if the forgotten triangle behind Shortland Street was more than a parking lot?
Continuing the series on forgotten or underutilised spaces within the city, the steeply rising wedge of land between Shortland Street, Albert Park and Princes Street is certainly a stand out example of well-located land that should be valued and utilised for much more than just parking. Certainly, when one looks at historic photos of this part of the city, it is obvious that this area used to packed quite densely with a much more diverse array of buildings and activities than can be found there now.
Looking west over the Chancery Street area from the former Grand Hotel in Princes Street, 1902. (Auckland Council Heritage Images Online).
It is actually quite crazy that this forgotten corner of the city has not been developed for more intensive and higher value uses, if you think about the location, just one block from both the A-grade office space of the corporate towers on Shortland Street and the high value retail of High Street, and bounded by what is a beautiful historic central city park.
The following is a simple four-point plan that is just a start to indicate how the potential of this part of the city could be reconsidered:
- Improve the legibility, crossing opportunities and attractiveness of walking links through the area to Albert Park and the universities on the hill;
- Develop high rise residential towers fronting Kitchener Street similar to the Metropolis tower and Precinct Apartments between Lorne and Kitchener Streets that capitalise on the outlook over the park and up high gain light, air and relative serenity above this quiet part of the city;
- Rediscover and develop the forgotten laneways of Fields and Bacon Lanes, Chancery Lane, Bankside Street and Cruise Lane as back street extensions to the High Street District with opportunities to open out and activate the backs of Shortland Street towers into a gritty but interesting neighbourhood;
- Make more use of the Bowen Park extension of Albert Park as a great public open space in its own right, reflecting its north-facing qualities and great views back to this part of the city skyline.
Stuart Houghton 2014
*For a bit more on this area there is this previous post -PR
It has now been three months since Janette Sadik-Khan visited Auckland and showed us how easy it was to create a more liveable city by making things better for people to walk and cycle around, and best of all we could do this really quickly and cheaply.
Since the excitement of that time their has been some positive noise about some cycleway projects such as Karangahape Road and Nelson St, however there is so much to do around the city in the pedestrian realm. So now I am going to look at a number of really simple and cheap things we can do around the city to make things much better for people.
The first place I am going to look at is the Britomart precinct. This has become an immensely successful area over the last decade, revitalising a formerly very rundown and seedy area, preserving a large collection of heritage buildings, with a few sympathetic additions. However the streetscape is still very plain, and the design prioritises cars, even though walking is the dominant mode of travel through the precinct. While it is better than many areas of the city, there is still much to be done.
Pedestrians should really be the priority throughout this area, however the road layout still gives priority to cars, and several streets are used as rat runs. In the medium term we could look at pedestrianisation and shared spaces in this area, however with limited budgets and uncertainty about bus movements this is best left for the longer term. So therefore I am going to focus on easy and cheap improvements.
The East-West site link is probably the most important, linking the station to the atrium of the Westpac building through Takutai Square. For some unknown reason this link is totally devoid of zebra crossings, which would prioritise pedestrians, slow cars and improve safety.
Britomart Place, looking towards the disaster of Scene Lane
Zebra crossings could be added to all three of these roads tomorrow with tiny cost, yet make things so much better for people walking in this precinct. Zebras with raised tables should also be added to all the side streets, such as the corner of Galway and Commerce Streets.
Galway and Commerce St
In a slightly longer timeframe consideration should be given to closing at least one of the north-south links to through traffic. These streets are much busier than they should be because of rat-running and cars circling for parking. At least in the short term, Commerce Street is important for bus movements so that will need to stay. Gore Street is probably the most likely candidate, the main use of the area seems to be taxis illegally parking in the median.
While Britomart Place has some traffic calming in the use of lane narrowing and pebbled surfaces directly opposite the Westpac atrium, the two ends at Quay St and Commerce St are totally oversized, and for 4 lanes so every turn movement can have their own lane. The slip lane from Britomart Place to Beach Road is also very dangerous and should be removed as a priority.
Britomart Place – 3 southbound lanes for one quiet street
The area could be narrowed substantially, with traffic lanes roughly halved. The narrowing would be best done on the western side, which would allow popular places like Mexico, Brew on Quay and several cafes to expand their tables over more of the pavement, and provide more room for pedestrians. This can be done without any expensive reconstruction in the short term, just by allowing planters and tables to cover part of the existing road.
This rather crude drawing shows how much space could be freed up for people and street life, while still allowing 2 lanes of traffic through the area.
There is also one change that could benefit people cycling. If you are cycling from the (rather pathetic) bike racks at Britomart you can head east along Tyler St. However heading towards Britomart there is no obvious direct legal option, and people are forced to cycle the wrong way down Galway St between Commerce and Gore Street. If this section was flipped this would make things much easier.
Another option is the provision of contraflow bike lanes. These are used with some success in Adelaide, the use of which in their laneways was noted recently by the excellent Cycling in Christchurch Blog. If flipping the streets was not possible for some reason, then these could be installed to allow cyclists to travel east-west through the area.
Adelaide Laneway – c/ Glen Koorey, Cycling in Christchurch blog
All these changes suggested would help ensure Britomart could continue to be an exciting area and further enhance its reputation as a great place to be.
Just over a month ago I was out at Manukau City, at the open day of the new MIT, which doubles as Manukau station. This is a brilliant facility, with world class integration of land use and transport. If you haven’t been out to check it out, you really should. Very impressive coming up the escalators from the station and straight into the concourse of the campus. If you haven’t been there my fellow blogger Patrick has a post with an excellent photo essay of the new campus.
After looking at the campus I decided to go for a walk around the wider area. Note the whole time I was within the Manukau Metropolitan Centre, and less than 800m from the station entrance. This is an area with a wide variety of shops, apartments, restaurants, offices and services including a large Westfield Mall, courts, MIT and AUT campuses and Rainbows End.. It would certainly be reasonable to expect people to walk from the station (soon to be joined by neighbouring bus interchange) to any of these areas, following the route I took. Would also be very reasonable to walk between any of these activities which is what would usually happen in an urban environment. Manukau is also one of the premier Metropolitan Centres outlined by the council in the Auckland Plan and Unitary Plan, so the pedestrian environment should be of a high standard.
However unfortunately what I found was just plain awful, dangerous and embarrassing to roading engineers everywhere (yes I know there are good ones, but your colleagues are largely responsible). These are the 7 photo locations overlaid on a council aerial photo.
This is Great South Road. Almost adjacent to Westfield Mall. Totally out of scale for what should be an urban street, especially considering there is an 8 lane motorway 200 metres away!
This is on Lambie Drive, within 400 metres of Manukau station, and is on what might seem to be an obvious walking route from the station to the Supa Centre, which contains a large amount of big box retail shops. But no consideration given to anyone who might want to go shopping who does not have access to a car (or even chooses not to drive!).
But it gets more embarrassing. Half way along this missing footpath are a few pram-ramps longing for a footpath. Great ‘future proofing’, but ridiculous that the footpath didn’t follow.
This is the roundabout at the corner of Cavendish and Lambie Drives. Like many roundabouts in suburban centres it is designed for speeding truck and trailer units. This of course means usual cars travel very fast around the roundabout. To get the other side one pretty much has to run to the island. People that are elderly or infirm, well, too bad. If you want to visit the Red Cross(!) on the other side of road, get a taxi!
This is Davies Avenue. Doesn’t look anything out of the ordinary for Auckland. However this is a brand new street, that has just had a large amount of money spent on traffic calming. However that calming still required 2 turning lanes, and no zebra to allow people to safely cross the road.
This is Manukau Station Road. Up until 5 years ago this was Wiri Station Road, and also State Highway 20. This meant people on the motorway at Manukau needed to drive along here to head towards the airport. However this has been bypassed by a large motorway, 300m to the south. However no attempt has been made to calm the road to match the vastly reduced traffic volume. Probably could close half the road and it would be fine. While this road may be ok in an industrial area, once again this is a few hundred metres from the station and mall. There is also a very good reason to walk along here, and that is Rainbows End, just out of sight to the right of the picture. Only 500m from Manukau Station, and could be good patronage generator. However no chance when people have to walk along a miserable highway that barely caters for pedestrians.
This is the main entrance to Rainbows End, looking back towards the mall. While there is a signalised crossing, there is only a pedestrian crossing on one out of 4 of the intersection legs. Again what should theoretically be an obvious walking route is awful for pedestrians, and thus encourages more people to drive.
If Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are serious about making Manukau one of the key Metropolitan Centres in the region, they really need to fix totally unacceptable pedestrian environments like this. I would also hope that Auckland Transport realises fixing these issues would help drive public transport patronage, by increasing the reasonable walking catchment. Acceptable walking distance is heavily dictated by the form of the urban environment, and in places this bad people will be put off walking 100m. Sadly Auckland Transport seem to totally ignore walking as a mode of transport, and don’t bother fixing these type of environments.
Some readers of the blog may also be interested in what it is like to cycle around Manukau. The Regional Cycle Network suggests there is a great connected cycling grid, however I can tell you it would certainly be worse than walking. I’ll blog those pictures next week.
For a couple of years now Heart of the City has been providing pedestrian counts at a number of locations within the CBD. They are delivered thanks to a growing network of automatic pedestrian counters which means a huge amount of detailed information is available from them rather than what is available from someone standing on the street counting people. I first wrote about it back in March last year. One of the reasons this is so important is the old adage that “you can only manage what you can measure”. For so long the only thing we could easily measure was vehicles and so it was easy to justify new and improved roads often at the expense of other users.
Heart of the City have now taken things a step further, there are more pedestrian counters and they’ve now launched an interactive map that allows people to easily see the results.
Click on one of the counters and you get a quick glimpse of the result and can see how it compares to last year.
By clicking on the View Graph button they now provide a much greater level of detail too including counts by the time of day.
You can also create a comparison chart of multiple sites and the data is available daily, weekly, monthly or annually.
Overall this is a fantastic resource that Heart of the City have produced and they should be congratulated for making it so easily accessible. It would be fantastic if Auckland Transport did the same with their automatic cycling counters and even their PT data.
The top of High Street is interrupted, dominated, and devalued by the double-laned exit from the Victoria St car parking building.
The footpath on the east side is frequently blocked by impatient drivers….
…while on the west side it is so narrow that the high numbers of people there are forced onto the oversized carriageway with the jammed traffic.
A classic example of the prioritisation of the driver over the walker. Some traffic engineer has greedily taken way too much of this public resource for only one type of user.
Furthermore the floods of traffic that this sadly over-expanded vehicle store generate lead to gridlock at the intersection as it is really too close to both the Queen St and Kitchener St intersections for the sudden volumes that this exit at times produces [people still tend to head out all at once].
At the very least the cars could be rationed out the exit by taking it down to one lane, but much better would be to move the exit up the hill onto Kitchener St where the entrance is.
No problem adding an exit to this entrance here with a bit of reworking, the left hand space used to be the entrance before it was doubled. And AT would then have to sort out this intersection and its poor pedestrian phasing.
And best of all the High St ground floor could be repurposed for a human use: It’s the kind of hip industrial concrete interior that Prada love, but failing that: A pool hall, dingy nightclub, dungeon? ….. PingPong centre!
Anything would be better than that gapping maw and adjacent pissoir, and on the street that has pretensions to being the country’s preeminent fashion shopping strip. Well I suppose it did have those pretensions until the retailers there threw their coat hangers out of the cot and stopped it becoming a shared space, and now the action has gone elsewhere….
Note how wide those lanes are at the intersection; really they could be car width, and the rubbish truck could just hog one and a half lanes occasionally. Until of course the car park exit is gone and High St becomes the Shared Space it obviously ought to be.
This is a guest post [as promised!] by CAA‘s Max Robitzsch
As shown in the previous photo blog
, NZTA and the Auckland Motorways Alliance (thanks!) recently allowed Cycle Action and Transport Blog the chance to walk over a surplus part of our motorway building boom.
Both of our groups have some interest in what you might call “urban archeology” (it comes with the terrain when you are trying to understand how a city is shaped) – but we didn’t just go there for the view.
Auckland CMJ: Abandoned Lane in red
Instead, we were keen to see – you guessed it – how this could become Auckland’s evolution of the New York City High Line
concept. A new walk- and cycleway to one of the currently least walkable and cycleable parts of our City Centre.
The Nelson Street ramp became surplus for motorway use when a new ramp was built some years ago – but the costs involved in tearing it down means it is still there, and not going anywhere. It was at a time proposed to serve as a bus depot – but a year or two ago, it was agreed by AT and NZTA that it would make a great future link in the Auckland Cycle Network – connecting the Northwestern and other routes entering the City Centre from the south and west to the western parts of our downtown and waterfront, along a Nelson Street cycleway.
As you can see in the map above, the off-ramp and Nelson Street are both shown as red lines – future “cycle metro” routes (a route that is either fully off-road – or protected from traffic with physical separation). It goes from Upper Queen Street Bridge along Canada Street (or more likely in practice, along Canada Street, East Street and Galatos Street) onto the off-ramp, and then travels along Nelson Street to the waterfront.
Now, as Patrick has noted in his previous post, walking / cycling on the off-ramp is more pleasant than we thought – mainly because you are above or away from traffic noise and fumes for most part, rather than directly next to it. But it isn’t really the beauty of the route that is interesting here (that’s more for engineers and people who like looking at flyovers and skylines…).
The ramp-over route is useless without somewhere to go. So if it gets built, it really needs to link to a cycleway on Nelson Street itself, to give that transport-blighted area some human scale. Because who really cycles on Nelson Street at the moment? The numbers are so low, we might just as well treat them as rounding errors on two wheels – very brave rounding errors, but irrelevant nonetheless.
So it’s great so see that Auckland Transport has seen both the need and the opportunity for this cycleway, and included this route in their planning maps. But we know how long these kinds of projects take – years if you are lucky. Decades if not (still waiting for the Wellesley Street East walk and cycleway link to the Domain…).
And while this is a high-profile project that will appeal to many, it is likely to languish for quite a while before getting built, despite being prioritised highly in AT’s overall cycle project list. Funding is tight, bridges are expensive, even short ones like the one shown below (Day Street overbridge design produced by our good friends at Matter, for NZTA).
So we started to think. Could this link be done a lot more cheaply, a lot more quickly? And yes, we think it can. As a pilot project.
The most difficult part is right at the start. It’s no use if the ramp is a dead end – so how to get onto it from the south? And on the cheap?
What we came up with was that the best place to start from for a pilot project was not at the very southernmost end, near Canada Street or Galatos Street, where we would have to build a pretty sizable structure to get across a large gap of several motorway lanes underneath. Nor would a temporary bridge at Day Street as above be easy (unless of course, NZTA is willing to lend us one of their bailey bridges?).
We found the solution to our issue in Newmarket, back when the new train station was built a couple years ago. At that time, a company called Layher built KiwiRail several access ramps down to temporary platforms south of Remuera Road. Below, you can see an image from their company website – essentially, these structures are simply strong scaffolds with wheelchair-accessible ramps on them.
What Cycle Action Auckland is proposing is that we construct such a scaffold ramp down from K’Road overbridge, to the old Nelson Street ramp. It would require a minor reshuffling of one of the overbridge bus stops, and creating a gap in the side of the K’Road railings to attach the ramp to.
But importantly, it could be done without having the temporary ramp be above any live traffic lanes. The old off-ramp is almost 8m wide. So we can easily build a, say, 3m wide ramp directly in the centre of the off-ramp below, with no part having over (or getting anywhere close) to the edge of the southbound SH1 traffic lanes one level further down.
It might cost us a bit to buy/rent that scaffold, but it’s likely to still be a steal compared to the permanent construction needed to access it from Canada Street or Day Street, which are going to cost us many millions (remember, time IS money here – if we wait until we get the money, we will have lots of time…).
So now we are down on the old off-ramp, and now it gets cheap as chips. We can leave adding artwork and seats and planting to beautify the ramp later (or make it into a community initiative!). In the meantime, we simply cruise (or walk) northwards along a gentle incline towards Nelson Street.
At that intersection, we add a new signalised pedestrian / cycle crossing over the eastern side of the intersection of Nelson Street and Union Street.
Why? Because the current Nelson Street off-ramp, to the west of the old one, doesn’t allow right turns into Union Street. So whenever that ramp runs, you can also run a signalised walking / cycling crossing in parallel on the right-hand side – no long discussions with the traffic control people about whether we can afford to lose precious car capacity. We simply sneak through in an unused part of the signal cycle!
And on Nelson Street?
We propose to create a two-way, planter-box protected cycleway on the eastern side of the road, at least as far as Cook Street (but ideally going even further north). The design would look similar to the below example from Vancouver, in Dunsmuir Street. It can be installed overnight for the total cost of a couple dozen planter boxes (reusable for our next temporary cycleway – after this one gets made permanent a few months or years later).
But won’t that create traffic issues on Nelson Street? After all, there’s lots of cars moving along there in the peak hour. Won’t NZTA and AT have concerns, and won’t we have to run an extensive traffic model and somehow increase the size of the intersections?
No. Apart from the fact that we have been told that Nelson Street modelling has shown that the street CAN take some reduction in capacity without causing the (roading) world to end, what we propose is actually pretty limited again.
We propose to run the cycleway along the current parking lane, which means that no “throughput capacity” is lost at all until we get to the Cook Street / Nelson Street Intersection (where the right-hand through lane would have to become a through-and-right lane).
We can achieve this while losing barely more than 10 car parks over a stretch of 250 meters, because most of that street is already no parking. We might even be able to fit in one or two loading zones on the very wide footpath / verge (some sections still have ~6 m left before reaching private property).
So again, it is easy (if we keep some spine, and don’t give in to the “removing some car parks will doom the area” crowd). And if it leads to traffic jams because we lose 80m of dedicated right turn lane into Cook Street? Well, it won’t – but that’s the benefit of a pilot project. If it doesn’t work, you haven’t sunk millions into it, and can just modify the design as needed.
To summarise, Cycle Action Auckland thinks that the time is ready to throw down a Half-Nelson. We need some movement, some breath of fresh air – and a showcase project to prove that Auckland can be fast, flexible and at the front.
We can do all that, and give the western City Centre a new cycleway in the next 10 months, rather than in 10 years.