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.
For me, a new house or apartment doesn’t truly feel like home until I begin to fill it with books. Books serve as familiars and friends: re-reading an old favourite can bring me back to places, people, and feelings that I had filed away in my memory, while encountering a new book is like befriending an interesting stranger.
Books are also heavy, especially after you’ve filled a few shelves. So they are not suited for a transient lifestyle: they require a stable home (or a strong back).
Just as I associate books with home, I also associate bookstores with cities. I grew up in the low-density suburbs east of San Francisco, around the time when Amazon was undermining the retail model of big bookselling chains. To get to a really excellent bookshop, you had to go to a urban place.
Bookstores play a key role in my first memories of urban places. My dad and I would take periodic trips into Berkeley to get dinner and do a bit of shopping. We’d spend an evening browsing the big bookstores on Telegraph Avenue – the late, lamented Cody’s Books, and the four-storey Moe’s Books, which (for me at least) sets the standard for a great second-hand bookshop.
This was a window into a different world: strangely-drawn comic books filled with odd concepts (not superheroes!); translated versions of obscure Latin American novellists; the cast-offs from hundreds of postgraduate philosophy papers. And the place was different too: shops were open later (and catered to a more diverse range of glass vase enthusiasts); the streets were laid out on a grid; the buildings were set closer to each other. People were around in the evening.
This, too, felt like home, in a different way than the footpathless suburbs did.
Later on, after moving to a city, I discovered that books were a good fit with the two quintessential urban transport modes: walking and public transport. (Especially in the pre-smartphone age.) Having a book takes some of the pain out of an unexpected wait for a bus, and occasionally starts conversations once you’re on the bus. Reading while walking is a bit more challenging but can be done with practice – provided you stop at intersections.
One of the small joys of my current job is that I work on O’Connell St, with two of Auckland’s best bookshops within thirty seconds of my office. Used bookseller Jason Books is next door on O’Connell St, while Unity Books is just down the way on High Street. I visit both on a regular basis. Sometimes I go in to look for a specific book, and find it; other times I leave with an unexpected purchase (or nothing at all).
It wouldn’t be that hard buy books online instead, and it would probably save me money. But I keep coming back because I value bookstores as places. It’s a much richer experience to browse for books laid out on shelves and tables than to search through an online catalogue. A good bookshop will draw your eye towards books that you otherwise wouldn’t have found – “hey, look over here!” They’re also places where you can run into people.
Unfortunately, the streets outside my office also present a major contrast in terms of place quality. The shared space on O’Connell St is a pleasure to walk on: even with a bit of car traffic and delivery vans parked up, it’s spacious and safe for people on foot. And, especially with summer coming on, it’s busy with people walking, talking, or sitting down for a coffee.
High Street, on the other hand, is an abysmal, congested mess. Most of the space on the street is given over to a small number of low-turnover parking spaces, while people on foot must clump together on narrow footpaths and jostle slowly past each other. As the vast majority of the people using the street are walking, this represents a major impediment to efficient transport: we are seemingly sacrificing the needs of the many on foot for a small number of people in cars. (And it makes it hard to read while walking on High Street, as I have to pay too much attention to people in close proximity!)
Due to the pedestrian congestion, I spend less time and money on High Street than I’d like to. Oddly, a lot of the businesses on High Street have apparently campaigned against a shared street, which seems like self-sabotage given the great numbers of people walking up and down the street and the tiny number of people driving or parking.
I would never, ever drive to buy books (or anything else) on High St, but I would walk out the front door and window-shop a lot more often if the environment was better for walking. A great bookshop deserves a great urban street, and vice versa. Get behind it.
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’
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.
Last week I had some work in Sydney and while there I was able to grab a quick look at some aspects of that beautiful city. I want to start with Light Rail because Sydney has one line in operation, and is about to start another much bigger project next month, and one that is strikingly similar to what AT is proposing for Auckland. Similar in that it upgrades at capacity bus routes, links significant residential and commercial areas with the heart of the city from areas not covered by other Rapid Transit, links event locations with a major transport hub, serves some big tertiary institutions, and most importantly that it will be the catalyst for pedestrianising the main city street. For like AT’s Light Rail plan for Queen St Sydney’s also comes with the opening up of George St for pedestrians.
Below are some shots from my quick ride on the somewhat curious Dulwich Hill Line. This is mostly on the route of the old Metropolitan Goods Line, extended past the old docks of Darling Harbour for the tourist trade and terminating at the city end at at the busy Central Station. This is where I got on on a weekday morning, so heading against the flow, you’d think.
It arrives at Central on one-way loop to an elevated stop at the main concourse level of the Victorian train, Sydney’s largest. I assumed this was a built originally for Sydney’s previous trams, and so it was. The earlier system was largely about distributing into the city centre from this terminus station, but as Sydney grew a number of previously terminating lines were extended through to new underground stations in the central city and through to the bridge and across to the North Shore. The logical and very successful upgrade for a terminating city edge station, just like Britomart. In addition to the new Light Rail line they are also now planning the third underground city rail route and second rail harbour crossing: the new Sydney Metro.
The lovely CAF Urbos 3 arrived full and left full. On this evidence it looks like it could do with additional frequency.
It runs on city streets till Darling harbour then uses the impressive cuttings of the old Metropolitan Goods Line. So the route was not selected because it is necessarily the best place to run Light Rail, but because it was available. Very much like Auckland’s passenger rail network, and many new or revived urban rail systems globally [See Manchester Light Rail, and the London Overground for example].
This business of running services where there happens to be an existing route can of course lead to poor results if there isn’t a match with the surrounding land use, and this line at first did not perform as well as hoped. But that all changed with a the extension to a good anchor; Dulwich Hill rail station [opening 2014], and intensification along the route. It is now booming.
John Street Square Station with apartments and very urban open space above.
Heading back, and full again; mid morning on a week day.
Approaching Central on Hay St, crossing Pitt. Smart bit of kit.
There are obvious parallels with Auckland everywhere you look in Sydney, it is after all, pretty much just a bigger better version of a similar urban typology: a new world anglophone Pacific harbour city. It can be argued that Auckland is at a comparable point of development that Sydney was at decades ago, and while that doesn’t for a moment mean we should slavishly follow what happened there, there is much that can be learned from this city. There are a number of interesting projects underway in Sydney now, like the new Metro, which is introducing a new separate and fully automated rail system to complement the existing network. This is certainly an option for Auckland in the future, especially for upgrading Rapid Transit to our North Shore. The same universal urban forces are in play here as there, as can be seen with Light Rail in Sydney now: It is is working well simply because it delivers on the classic necessary conditions for this mode:
- Good land-use match: intensification around stations
- High quality right-of-way: mostly grade separate or has signal priority
- Strong anchors at each end of the route: train stations in each case, and destinations along the way.
- High standard of vehicle and service [sufficient frequency yet?]
The key lesson here is that if any of these conditions are missing steps must be taken to change them, as they did here. And that it is possible to exploit existing rights of way so long as there aren’t other barriers to change, especially to more intense urban land use around stations. Now that in Auckland we are well on the way to fixing the major vehicle and frequency standards on the rail network it is the development around stations that needs work. Especially as we only need to look at the improved performance of stations like Manukau City and Sylvia Park to see, yet again, how closely linked landuse and transport always are.
Looking ahead to the next Light Rail route in Sydney it is pretty certain that this will perform even better because it is designed around need not just route availability. It is hard to disagree with Alan Davies here when he writes:
There are literally hundreds of existing light rail systems in the world. The value of some is questionable, but Sydney’s proposed CBD and South East Light Rail line looks like it’ll be among the best.
And Davies, the Melburbanist, is often skeptical about high capex Transit systems, often questioning the value of ones in his own city.
I reckon that this is probably true for the proposed Auckland Light Rail programme too, with two provisos: That land around the stops is zoned for more intense use, and like in Sydney, that the through-routing of the current terminus station is at least funded and underway first. That’s the first fix.
The Auckland City Centre is entering a phase of profound change. The rest of this decade it’ll be undergoing a more extensive and disruptive renovation than your average Ponsonby villa. The designers and financiers are at work and the men and machines are are about to start. The caterpillar is entering that difficult and mysterious chrysalis phase; what kind of butterfly will emerge?
Some of the probable additions to AKL’s skyline [image: Luke Elliot]
If even half of what is proposed gets underway almost every aspect of the centre city will be different.
Precinct Property’s 500 million dollar total rebuild of the Downtown centre and a new 36 storey commercial tower is confrmed to start next year. The 39 storey St James apartment tower is also all go [with the re-opening of the ground floor to the public soon]. An apartment tower on Albert and Swanson has begun. There are a huge number of residential towers seriously close to launching some of which are 50+ floors. These are on Victoria St, Customs St, Commerce St, Greys Ave and more. The biggest of them all Elliot Towers is rumoured to underway next year. Mansons have bought the current herald site and said to looking at residential there. On the same block 125 Queen St is finally getting refurbished bringing much needed new commercial space in the city [+ about 1000 new inner city workers]. Of course the Convention Centre and its associated hotel will start too. Waterfront Auckland have announced new mid rise apartment developments and a new hotel beginning as well. This list is not by any means exhaustive. Auckland is now a builders’ boom town. And it will resemble nothing other than an enormous sand pit for the next few years.
Regardless of the forms of these buildings they are going to have profound impacts at street level; flooding the footpaths with people, stimulating more and more retail and especially hospitality services. Add to this the disruption of the works themselves, for example later this year the first stage of the CRL is going to start. Digging up everything from Britomart through Downtown, up Albert St to Wyndam St. If the proposed Light Rail system goes ahead that will mean the [no doubt staged] digging up of the whole length of Queen St and other places, Dominion Rd, Wynyard Quarter. Street space is becoming more and more contested. Driving in the city is going to get increasingly pointless, most will avoid it. But unlike last century that won’t mean people won’t come to the city. One, because it’s become so attractive with unique retail offers, unrivalled entertainment attractions, and a fat concentration of jobs. Two, because people are discovering how good the improving Transit options are becoming, so why bother driving. And three, because increasing numbers are already there; it’s where they live anyway.
And that Transit boom is going to continue, or even accelerate. Britomart throughput is now running at 35 000 people daily, when planned it wasn’t even expected to reach 20 000 until 2021 [see below; the blue line is still growing at that angle; it is now literally off the chart]:
Why is this happening? A lot of people in wider Auckland still think the city is unappealing or unimportant. Aren’t we spreading new housing out at the edges? Aren’t new businesses building near the suburbs in those business parks? Well ironically one of the reasons so much growth and investment is happening in City Centre is because those same people, the ones that prefer their suburban neighbourhoods to the city, don’t want any change near them. The City Centre is one of the few places that it is possible to add new dwellings or offices at scale, and because it is a very constrained area with high land value this can only be done with tall buildings. The more suburban people refuse to have growth near them the more, in a growing city, investment has to concentrate where it can, and in Auckland that means downtown.
Auckland’s first electric tram 1902
Auckland is still spreading outwards and businesses are growing in suburban centres, but these areas are not appealing or appropriate for all people and all businesses, and nor are they sufficient; the City Centre is growing by both these metrics too, and at a greater pace. The 2013 census showed that AKL city is the fastest accelerating place to live in the entire country, growing at over 48% between 2006-2013, and currently the city is experiencing a new shortage of office space and an interesting reshaping of the retail market. The education sector is also still strong there, with Auckland Uni consolidating to its now three Central City sites and building more inner city student accommodation. City growth is strong and broadly based: residential, commercial, retail, and institutional.
There are risks and opportunities in this but what is certain, outside of a sudden economic collapse, is that the City Centre will be a completely different place in a few years, in form, and in terms of how it will operate. And the signs are promising that what we are heading to is an almost unrecognisably better city at street level than it has been in living memory.
What is happening is simply that it is returning to being a city of people. Ten of thousands of new inner city residents, thousands of new visitors in thousands of additional hotel beds each night, hundreds of thousands of workers and learners arriving daily from all over the wider city each day too. All shopping, eating, drinking, and playing within the ring of the motorway collar. Auckland is moving from being one of the dullest and most lifeless conurbations in the world to offering a new level of intensity and activity. Well that is certainly the possibility in front of us now.
Auckland has had boom times before, and each of these leave a near permanent mark on the built fabric of the city [the Timespanner blog has examples in great detail]. So it matters profoundly what we add to the city this time. We are at the beginning of the opportunity to correct the mistakes of the postwar outward boom that came with such a high cost for the older parts of the city. By forcing the parts of the city built on an earlier infrastructure model to adapt to a car only system we rendered them unappealing and underperforming, and the old city very nearly did not survive this era. Only the persistence of some institutions, particularly the Universities, enabled it to hang on as well as it did. The car as an organising device is ideal for social patterns with a high degree of distance and dispersal. It is essentially anti-urban in its ability to eat distance but at the price of its inefficient use of space; it constantly fights against the logic of human concentration that cities rely on to thrive. It not only thrives on dispersal, it also enforces it.
Queen St 1960s
But now the wheel has turned and cities everywhere are booming on the back a of model much more like the earlier one [see here for example: Seven cities going car-free]. This old-new model is built on the understanding that people in numbers both already present in the city and arriving on spatially efficient Transit systems providing the economic and social concentration necessary for urban vitality and success.
This seems likely to lead to a situation more or less observable in many cities world-wide where there is an intense and highly walkable and Transit served centre surrounded by largely auto-dependent suburbs. Melbourne, for example, is increasingly taking this form. And, interestingly the abrupt physical severance of Auckland’s motorway collar might just make ours one of the more starkly contrasting places to develop along these lines. A real mullet city: one made up of two distinct patterns.
Bourke St Transit Mall, Melbourne 2014
Frankly I think this is fine, it could make for the best of both worlds. Those who want to live with the space and green of the suburbs can continue to do so but are also able to dip into a vibrant city for work, education, or especially entertainment, on efficient electric Transit, ferries, and buses when that suits. A vibrant core of vital commercial and cultural intensity sustained by those who choose to live in the middle of it 24/7. The intensity of this core plus any other growing Metro Centres [will Albany really become intense? Manukau City?] meaning the sprawl isn’t limitless and the countryside not pushed so far away that it is inaccessible. Auckland as Goldilocks; not all one thing or the other; neither all suburb nor all city. People will use or ignore which ever parts they want, and soon members of the same households will be able to indulge their different tastes without some having to leave the country.
What are the threats to this vision? Well we do actually have to build the Transit, this means completing the CRL soon as is possible, and ideally replacing a good chunk of the buses with higher capacity and more appealing Light Rail. To connect these two halves; the success of both the centre and the region it serves depend on it. But also we have deliver a much better public realm on the streets and especially at the water’s edge. We have to retain and enhance the smaller scale older street systems to contrast with the coming towers, like we have at Britomart and O’Connell St. All these moves require leadership and commitment and an acceptance that the process of getting there will be contested and difficult.
I have no fear that people in the wider city won’t be happy to choose to leave their cars at home for some journeys, especially into the city, then jump back into them for others across the wider city or out of town. After all it’s happening already. This is not then a bold prediction, merely the extrapolation of current trends. And it is the trend that tells us more about the future than the status quo. More of this:
CPO Lower Queen St 1960s
AKL Grafton Gully 70s
*This is a guest post by regular reader and occasional contributor, Warren Sanderson.
RAIL AND THE CITY – Shrinking Our Carbon Footprint While Reimagining Urban Space
Unlike Paul Mees‘ book ‘Transport for Suburbia’ which deals in depth, among other things, with what went so terribly wrong with Auckland’s transport planning in the second half of last century, Roxanne Warren does not mention New Zealand once. Her book is almost totally focused on the transport problems of the United States but she does refer frequently to Europe and Japan where transport policy has been handled so much better.
But don’t let the concentration on US problems put you off. This is a great read for anyone who is unhappy with what auto dependency does to the liveability of our cities and especially here in Auckland.
I like the organisation of this book. It has a preface in a tight precis form plan which sets out exactly what it is going to say and then chapter by chapter gets on with it, in a fluid and engaging style. And there are extensive references at the back of the book.
I enjoyed particularly her comment on the basic reasons for rail’s practicality and popularity, including the operational, aesthetic and permanence advantages for the city. This includes standard surface rail or light rail. Furthermore a public preference for rail has been revealed in surveys and generally attributed to a smoother and faster ride and to rail’s permanent presence – a preference that has been reflected in increased property values around stations.
The last chapter deals with the question of climate change and the desirability of shrinking the very large footprint that we are placing on the earth. While always keen to reduce a personal footprint, I find it hard to get worked up about the science of climate change. What astounded me however, was the idiocy of the US tax cum subsidy set–up as outlined. Fossil fuel have benefited from a full century of subsidies and the oil industry in particular receives generous tax breaks at every stage of the processes of exploration and extraction. Ditto for corn ethanol i.e. food for our cars rather than for people. These subsidies create market distortions that encourage wasteful consumption and undercut the position of clean energy, while effectively exacerbating climate change.
The author points out that regardless of general resistance to change, population increases and migratory trends toward cities, thus increasing congestion in cities, is making ever more obvious the need for a more rational use of urban space and for more compact and sustainable forms of mobility, namely, walking, cycling and transit. She reports that the common wisdom that has it, that only ‘progressives’ (read lefties) favour the support of public transport which denies the movement of prominent conservatives in support of passenger rail transport for the reasons she cites in Chapter 3.
I believe that MOT/NZTA/AT should not employ anybody who has not read this book by a deadline date of 30 April this year. Why? Books like this were not around when many of the older hands commenced work. We need big changes in our transport policies and the government and these three institutions are charged with operating in our best interest. Yes, change is needed……………and fast. This is an excellent read.
Finally, about the author. Roxanne Warren is an architect and principal partner in Roxanne Warren Architects in New York. Her prior experience included a period with I M Pei and Partners but since 1999 she has dedicated her time increasingly to advocacy of Vision 42 which is a proposal for ‘River to River’ low floor light rail in a landscaped auto-free 42nd Street, New York.
42nd St LRT route
Warren Sanderson 2015
Following on from this morning’s post on some of the central city Victorian streets I thought a little look back would be useful; so here is Vulcan Lane just before the City Council bravely excluded cars from it in 1968, as a result of a campaign by retailers in the area keen to improve its appeal as a shopping destination. Coming up for 50 years ago!
Vulcan Lane 1968
From the Sir George Grey Special Collections at the Auckland Library. There’s also this excellent blog post with more images and further history including how it got its very cool name. Tracking the story of the street is to follow fashions in street design through the 20th century. In the 20s there were calls for widening, then one-waying, and finally in 1964 27 retailers petitioned the Council to close it to traffic. $13,000 was voted for this in 1967:
Plenty of ‘foremen’ on the job.
Even further back; upper Vulcan Lane in 1919, a lovely sterograph image [hauntingly like a De Chirco painting]:
Upper Vulcan Lane 1919
The existing central city Shared Streets are clearly an overwhelming success, particularly on the east side where they are starting to form a coherent network. The most recent addition, O’Connell St, has the advantage of connecting to the long-pedestrianised Vulcan Lane. In fact it appears that the reverse might be more accurate: the newly vibrant O’Connell St looks like it is dragging life and trade up into the top half of Vulcan, the part that has long been much quieter than the section between High and Queen.
From O’Connell towards the top of Vulcan Lane
To the north the Fort Lane/Fort St/Jean Batten Pl network has been completely transformative; drawing a new flow of people up from the Bus, Train, and Ferry Stations and new attractions of Britomart – only for the Shortland St/High St traffic barrier to interrupt this natural movement.
High St through to Fort Lane
However the novelty of the Shared Streets in a city that has spent half a century building itself on an auto-priority model is still too much for some drivers, and getting it through to this group that it’s time to change away from an expectation of a parking space right outside their destination in the central city still requires work. This is true especially as this expectation is already illusory, and simply leads to pointless circling hoping for that dream parking space: a poor outcome multiplied.
To really reinforce that these key city streets are not appropriate for the same level of private vehicle access as suburban ones, in my view, it is necessary is to spread the typology further, and to join it up into a natural network of Shared and Pedestrian-only streets of high civility. My hunch is that the ‘network effect’, where the value of a thing is multiplied by its connection to more of its kind, the sum being more powerful than the parts, is just as applicable here as in say a Transit system or a road network. This is hardly surprising as even though the driver may experience these streets as a restriction, to that same person once out of their vehicle, they are a liberation. Therefore the understanding of this being an especially privileged place for people will be reinforced through its completeness; and it will both attract more pedestrians and encourage those over-optimistic drivers to just park a little sooner and join the walkers. As of course the only way to enter the buildings on these Victorian streets and to shop, consult, or socialise is on foot, as a pedestrian. So here I’m co-opting the motorway boosters’ slogan: It’s time to complete the network.
This observation is all the more powerful when we consider that the beginning is the hardest time for these places: the small number of scattered examples have to live in a world still totally drenched in vehicles, where drivers are used to virtually complete access to any horizontal surface as a matter of course, and with a natural right to dominate all other uses. Join these these examples up and watch their success multiply off the scale.
First a simple tweak: To optimise the functionality of the new O’Connell St Shared Street, all that is probably needed is a reversal of the one way flow on Courthouse Lane to uphill, and make the western section of Chancery St one way towards Courthouse Lane. This maintains the same vehicle access to the street network here for deliveries and the Metropolis Building, while no longer pouring vehicles into the top of O’Connell St which simply incentivises its use as a rat run. Additionally, the planned pedestrianisation of the little Freyberg Pl Shared Space can’t come soon enough.
Clearly now High St is overdue to be added to the existing Shared Street network [see images to follow]. With that then comes the obvious move to join up these Shared Streets with Jean Batten and Fort St by adding lower Shortland St from just below Fields Lane to Queen St to the network. Currently lower Shortland St is part of the unnecessary Queen St rat-run for far too many vehicles, in particular private vehicles; in other words, drivers with no destination on these busy streets but rather using this very core of our city – our busiest and most valuable pedestrian streets – as a vehicle short cut.
Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High
And to really make all this work, Centre City Integration must grasp the moment and remove general traffic on Queen St from Customs St to Wellesley St. Leaving it for pedestrians and Transit, just like Bourke St in Melbourne. As is promised to us in the City Centre Master Plan with this seductive image:
Queen St, City Centre Master Plan
Bourke St, Melbourne
But do we really have to wait for Light Rail for this to happen, can’t it work with buses first? In fact if we’re going to be digging up some part of the street for the tracks wouldn’t it make sense to get the traffic out first? Certainly the City Link would operate much more efficiently, and imagine the improvements to cross town traffic and pedestrians through the removal of those turning cycles at each intersection? It would probably in fact improve East/West traffic flow on Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. The few vehicle entrances on Shortland St are all at the top of the hill and there should be no encouragement for drivers using these to go down the hill to enter the Queen St valley street network. And the best way to achieve this is simply to remove Queen St from the general traffic network. There is, after all, not a single vehicle entrance off this spine, only pedestrian ones. It will still be needed for Transit and delivery and emergency access; but no private car ever needs to be there.
The control [specified times?] of delivery and trade vehicles [too easy for these to get general parking wavers- even without specific projects] and the rights of taxis are interesting issues in which I can see value of various positions. But one thing I think is absolutely obvious; the rights of the private car user to these streets is the lowest priority because they are the source of least benefit and the greatest dis-benefit. It is their numbers that squeeze out people, delay service and emergency vehicles, and occupy valuable space that otherwise can be better used for transactions both economic and social.
There are literally dozens of parking buildings just away from these streets up either side of the valley and the richest abundance of public transport options anywhere in the entire nation. Furthermore very few fridges are sold here, and indeed any purchase that is bulkier than a book, a frock, or a belly-full can surely be delivered. Most transactions appear to be inter-human, and many sales consumed on the spot, or at least are not much more difficult to carry than a suit or a pair of shoes.
Like the other recent improvements to our city – better train, bus, and ferry services, and new cycleways – these Shared Spaces will only continue to improve, to add more value, as their improvements are embedded and extended. Or, to express this idea negatively, the Shared Streets will never be more traffic afflicted and compromised than they are now, while they are more surrounded by auto-priority ones. The same as the core Rapid Transit network will only continue to improve as more services and connections with other layers of the system develop. The Network Effect.
Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.
Now that looks like a real shoppers’ and diners’ paradise; an actual Heart of the City, a zone that can be marketed as having a real point of difference from either suburban big box retail or the motorised strips of Newmarket and Ponsonby. But still, those notoriously conservative creatures, retailers, probably won’t get it till it’s done.
O’Connell v High, Feb 2015:
Earlier posts on High St:
On the Victoria Street end; how to deal with the parking building traffic.
On some retailers’ determination that their only customers are cars.
The great intensive street pattern of the area so damaged in the 1980s and the previous debate about O’Connell St.