A fairly common theme of annoyance with the way Auckland operates that was raised in my “Pet Peeves thread” seemed to be the lack of respect paid to pedestrians within Auckland’s CBD. A few examples of comments in that thread:

From rtc:

I think one of my biggest peeves in Auckland is the free left turns that almost all roads in the city have, and of which maybe 2% have zebra crossings. Many of these are downright dangerous and really hammers home the message that the car has priority over anyone on 2 legs.

From The Trickster:

The pedestrian crossing just by The White House on Queen St – when I have time to press the button, pop into the dairy, purchase something and have a brief chat with the owner before wandering out and still having to wait 30 seconds before I can cross on the light, well tells you something about priorities.

From Nick R:

High St oh High St! What a nightmare. At one point on the western side the gap between the shop front and a street pole is about two feet! Ok I realise this is Auckland we are talking about and car parking is up there with oxygen and potable water, but does this narrow laneway in the historic part of town really need parking up *both sides*?! The ironic thing is on a busy sunny lunchtime it becomes a defacto shared space as pedestrians are forced out into the roadway. And don’t get me started on the square having a road across it. Why?

I had a chat with one of the urban designers on the Queen St upgrade, she spent months battling the road engineering team who wanted to do the same thing for the intersection of Queen and Mayoral. Apparently they just could concieve not having a full multi lane intersection with left turn lanes and traffic islands. The engineers were convinced that if the didn’t do the intersection to the standard in their engineering manuals it would become filled with crashes and injured pedestrians. Somehow they didn’t catch on to idea that designing an intersection on the main street of the metropolis so that people can drive through it as fast as physically possible might be a bad idea for crashes and pedestrian safety.

From George D:

Why can’t they lower the speed limit on Symonds Street to 40 and give greater priority to pedestrians with more crossings with better phasings? It goes right through a university with 50,000 students, and right past one with 20,000, and goes right past the court – all of these are important public institutions. Now that the motorway extension is there, the excuse that they used to use – it’s necessary because the motorway hasn’t been built – no longer applies.

Compared to Auckland’s suburbs (particularly the newer ones), of course the CBD is fairly pedestrian friendly, and there certainly are a lot of people who walk around the inner-city streets. Yet it seems that there’s a general opinion that things could be much better, and in fact should be much better.

Let’s have a look at a few photos of inner-city streets – firstly in Auckland and then in a few Australian cities. Here’s Queen Street in Auckland:queen-st-auckland And now Queen Street in Brisbane (which is also the main street of that city):queen-st-brisbane Next we have Bourke Street in Melbourne, a major inner-city shopping street:BourkeStMall2 And finally, Pitt Street in Sydney:pitt_street_mall_sydney While Auckland is certainly making progress, with the current “shared streets” project, I think perhaps the most depressing thing is that the two street of Auckland with the most potential for pedestrianisation of becoming ‘shared spaces’ – High Street and Queen Street itself – were upgraded in recent years yet fully kept their traffic. Furthermore, where spaces in Auckland’s CBD are car dominated, they are really really car dominated. Hobson Street is perhaps the worst example:800px-Fire_Engine_On_Hobson_Auckland Yup, that’s a one way street which is around 6 lanes wide. Surely we can do better than this? Surely Auckland deserves better than having its main street being a four lane highway, and many of its other inner-city streets being massively wide multi-lane oneway streets that actively encourage people to drive at 60kph or more along them.

Surely the CBD is for people. Why can’t we make it a more people friendly place?

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  1. What is interesting about Bourke St in Melbourne is how the tram line and the pedestrianised space work so well together. If this was a bus lane, even a trolley bus lane, you would lose the great atmosphere of this street.
    I have seen this at work in varied European cities as well, such as Nice and Berlin and others.
    This is another positive of trams that cannot easily be measured in a BCR, but a wider approach to looking at the benefits would show what a difference it can make.

  2. Nick R’s point sounds depressingly familiar.

    Strikes me that organisational culture explains a good deal about why the inner city is such a rotten, macaddemmed mess.

    Of course, money equals power and that’s as true in local government as it is elsewhere. So who, traditionally, hold the biggest departmental budgets? It’s nearly always the road builders.

    Which in turn means you get a whole heap of decisions made by competent – if maddeningly risk averse and conventional – blokes in their fifties. None of whom live anywhere near the inner city.

    Combine that with a dominant political faction who are also from the suburbs and you start to see why things are they way they are.

    I think that mentality is changing for the better – just not anywhere near fast enough for my liking!

  3. This is the main shopping street (Meir) in Antwerpen (Belgium), my home town: http://www.op-reis.com/albums/antwerpen/fotos/antwerpen-meir02.jpg
    There is a underground tram underneath.
    And here is the main drag in Brussels (Nieuwstraat): http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/3/3f/Brussel_Nieuwstraat.jpg
    Coincidentally or not, both are the blue properties in the Belgian version of Monopoly (http://nl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monopoly#Straten_in_het_Belgische_Monopolyspel).

  4. Of note is the fact that Melbourne is also in the process of fully removing cars from it’s other main street, Swanston St. This a no-brainer given that it is both the busiest cycle route in Australia and one of the busiest tram routes in the world in addition to being very heavly used by pedestrians.

    I’ll also point out that the small regional Victorian towns of Ballarat and Bendigo have pedestrian main streets, despite having only a basic bus service and a lot of car use.

    I have been to many cities worldwide that have the same, be they rich or poor, excellent transit or not. For example, Buenos Aires, Bogota, Sao Paulo not to mention just about every city in South East Asia has copious zones where cars cannot go. Did anyone mention New York is pedestrainising Times Square?

    Come on Auckland, I have yet to hear a single valid reason why Queen St needs even two lanes of traffic on it, let alone four!

  5. Queen St store owner:

    “If you take away the street we’ll lose all our business and won’t be able to get our goods delivered”…

  6. I wouldn’t take cars away from Queen St at night, it would become a dead zone and potentially quite dangerous. This is what happened in Swanston St when the mall was first built. They opened it up to cars at night. All you need to do with Queen St is narrow it from 4 to 2 and widen the footpath. Same with Ponsonby Parnell Rds and Broadway

  7. Well they have declared that policy on Swanston St a failure and are now getting rid of the traffic lanes. The dead zone concept was just wrong, it is well patronised by pedestrains and trams at night.

    Maybe Queen St wouldn’t be so dead at night if it were an nice place to go to, i.e. without a four lane highway up the middle. It will still have it’s cross streets every few hundred metres anyway. For sure those boy racers ad a bit of colour to the place but it isn’t exactly what most people would call safe and pleasant.

    Queen St is too wide to work well as a fully pedestriann space. I think it should be restricted to just two bus lanes in the middle. This would allow the intersections to be smaller and more people friendly as there would be no need for turning lanes. Also this would improve traffic flow considerably on the remaining streets, as the intersections would have only two phases, one for pedestrians and buses moving north-south and a second for pedestrains and traffic crossing east west. Albert street could have it’s bus lanes removed and be marked with four general traffic lanes as the main north-south street for traffic. In my opinion Albert is better suited to this role, and the local urban environment would be less affected.

    I think they have it the wrong way around: A four lane arterial on the central shopping and entertainment street that has no driveways, carparks or loading zones, and then they put the bus lanes on the parallel street that has little pedestrian attraction but is full of driveways, parking buildings and loading docks!

    How about prioritising the street with pedestrain facilities for pedestrians and public transport users, and turning the one that has all the car based facilities into the highway?!

  8. Queen St in Brisbane works fantastic as a pedestrian Mall.
    It is so busy it has the highest shop rental in Queensland and possibly Australia, So much for the shop keepers losing shoppers!
    It was also a 4 lane road, which works great as a pedestrian mall because you can build bars, news agents and performance spaces in the middle. See the picture above with Jimmys Restaurant in the middle of the old road.

    Pedestrianising Queens St Auckland should be the goal and a good time to do it will be in conjunction with the CBD Rail loop getting constructed.

  9. You should probably update your map showing how much space is taken by the motorway to include the motorways that are Hobson and Nelson.

  10. Ha good point George. I note that Brian Rudman has an excellent article in today’s herald about how terribly Auckland treats its pedestrians.

    Nick, I like your idea actually of making Queen St the pedestrian/PT corridor and Albert St the arterial. One issue is how long it takes buses to traverse Queen St at the moment, but I guess that’s due to complicated traffic light phasing and the lack of bus lanes – both of which could be fixed by your idea.

  11. It just makes sense to me of you look at the amenity, the usage, the location, the accessibility… it’s all back to front!

    If you had just the two traffic phases you could have the main north-south traffic flow (the primary traffic flow of buses and pedestrians) on the ‘green’ say two-thirds of the time, and the cross traffic and pedestrian flow the remaining one third of the time. This way buses and people would have almost unrestricted access up and down the street because of the lengthy green signals, buy because there are only two phases, you would still be able to walk or drive across the street more often than at present. This does mean losing the popular ‘barnes dance’ all-cross signal, but I think the payoff would be more than worth it.

    Plus people could fairly safely cross the busway mid block (unless it was very busy), as the roadway would be only about 7m from curb to curb and the sightlines up and down the street would be excellent.

    Also as the intersections would be much smaller in area, there would be more road side edges on the cross streets in close to Queen. These would be the ideal location for loading zones, taxi ranks and mobility parking spaces. Plus the closure of Queen St to general traffic would render the smaller side streets culs-de-sac, which could be converted into pocket parks and mini squares where they meet Queen, with angle parking, loading zones etc a little further back (I’m thinking the bottom of Fort and Shortland here, and Wynyard).

  12. Wouldn’t it make more sense to pedestrianise High St, which is already at the right scale? Queen Street would be a dim canyon even without the traffic, not that I’d complain. Deliveries might still require some overnight access.

  13. Yeah overnight access would work. I think I’m most fond of Nick’s idea of a 2 lane bus only street (which will hopefully eventually become a tram line).

    Queen Street in Brisbane is fairly wide too, but because shops, fountains, seating and other stuff pops up in the middle of the road it doesn’t seem too wide.

    High Street should be a no-brainer.

  14. Part of the problem is the widespread yet bizarre belief that in a city of a million or more it should still be possible to get in your car, drive to the centre of town and find a parking space. Never mind that this is a huge waste of space in the CBD. See also the gripes of the recent Fair Go programme on parking complaints in which a presenter carped about Auckland being much more expensive to park in than Christchurch, where he was from. Comparing apples and oranges there, I would’ve thought.

  15. As long as you don’t have minimum parking requirements (which fortunately the CBD doesn’t have), over time generally the market will determine an appropriate level of parking provision. I think that over time higher land-prices in Auckland’s CBD will lead to less parking provision – especially less surface level provision. That would do wonders from an urban design perspective as empty sites used for parking are a real blight on our city.

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