It’s really not a contest when one asks what are the two most horrible streets in Auckland’s CBD – clearly the answer is Nelson Street and Hobson Street. If one were to really choose between the two I would probably say that Nelson is just a little bit more horrible than Hobson Street – because there’s literally nothing on it of interest, whereas Hobson Street has a few nice buildings such as St Matthews in the City.
Both streets are effectively extensions of the Southern and Northwest motorways – and are high-speed (supposedly 50kph speed limit but I don’t think anyone drives at 50kph down Nelson Street in particular) one-way streets. They have at least 4 lanes of traffic all heading in the one direction (sometimes 6 lanes if you count turning lanes), and drivers tend to get involve in mass drag races off the line, making both roads extremely scary for pedestrians – and generally overall resulting in both streets being very very unpleasant. The photo below is of Hobson Street, and gives a good idea about its width and general pedestrian unfriendliness. The reason these streets are this way is because of what happens at their southern (or “top”) end. Nelson Street is effectively a continuation of off-ramps from both the Southern Motorway and the Northwest Motorway; while Hobson Street is effectively a big onramp onto both these motorways. Each road is wide enough to feel like a motorway, and as a result cars tend to drive along them as if they’re still on the motorway. I would be interested to know how many pedestrian, cyclist and vehicle crashes/injuries/deaths there have been on these two streets. Probably a fair few I would think.
So what can be done about it? In my opinion most of the problem arises from the simple fact that one-way streets this wide are a really bad idea. Sure, they help shift a lot of traffic very quickly, but this is the CBD we’re talking about! There are a lot of people living, working and undertaking activities in this area. The central city should be a place for people. Yet at the same time I am realistic, and realise that these streets play a fairly important role in the distribution of traffic in central Auckland – although with CMJ upgrades over the past few years there are now alternative ramps heading to and from the city to the south and the west from Wellesley Street, which is in the very heart of the CBD. So we can’t close these ramps.
However, what I think we can do is make both Nelson and Hobson Streets back into two way roads, and reconfigure the ramps at their southern end (only a relatively minor reconfiguration is necessary) so that Nelson Street becomes directly linked in both directions to the Southern Motorway, while Hobson Street becomes directly linked in both directions to the Northwest Motorway (this is far simpler than the vice-versa). The rearrangement would be done as shown below: The red coloured onramp – from Nelson Street to the Southern Motorway, would pass underneath the blue ramp and the retained Hobson to Northwest Motorway onramp. The blue Northwest Motorway to Hobson Street ramp effectively just needs to be straightened from the existing alignment that curves it to Nelson Street. As far as upgrades to spaghetti junction go, this is pretty damn basic.
What this would allow us to do is create two quite nice boulevards, perhaps with planted medians, wider footpaths and a generally more pleasant pedestrian environment. Furthermore, this might actually result in better traffic flows – particularly during the afternoon peak as all the outbound vehicles would be split across two different roads rather than all being concentrated onto Hobson Street. It would be pretty easy to ensure that both streets were two lanes wide in each direction, plus a median – as we do have six lanes of space to work within.
Obviously I don’t see such a change happening any time particularly soon, but at the same time I don’t think we can write off Hobson Street and Nelson Street as forever being as horrible as they are now. We should do something to improve them, and this is my idea for how that could be achieved.