A few months back I explored the idea of turning Nelson Street and Hobson Street, probably the most horrible streets in Auckland’s CBD, from massive six-lane wide onramp and offramp extensions into two way boulevards. A few discussions since then that I’ve had with various people indicate that I’m definitely not the first person to think of this, and that actually there’s potentially a growing level of support for what would be a great, but pretty dramatic, change to the transport functioning of the western part of Auckland’s CBD.

What has further reinforced my feelings that we need to do something to make this Nelson/Hobson area more pedestrian friendly, and just a more inviting place to be, is some data that blog commenter Luke has put together on population densities within the Auckland CBD, this is shown in the map below (the darker the colour, the higher the population density): This is done at what’s called a “meshblock” level, which is about as “zoomed in” as it’s possible to get census data. What this shows (and once again let’s remember that this is 2006 data and things are likely to be even more the case these days) is that a significant number of people live around Hobson Street and Nelson Street, particularly in the upper and lower parts. At the moment these poor people not only live in “chicken-coop” apartment buildings, but whenever they want to walk anywhere they’re confronted by a six lane superhighway. Something like this:The lane layout could be changed to something like the following: The middle could be a painted median or, probably more preferably, planted up to create something more like a boulevard feel.

If we decided that we wanted to one day build the Northwest Busway, and need to get it from SH16 down to Britomart, you could even put bus lanes along this road: Of course the “tie-in” with the motorways at the southern end of Nelson Street and Hobson Street will be the trickiest part of the project, but at the same time in many ways I feel that this is where many of the biggest benefits could be felt. I don’t actually think it’s advantageous for road traffic to have all the traffic heading to the motorways stuck on Hobson Street, similarly Nelson Street always ends up seeming as though it’s hugely under-utilised for the amount of roadspace available. Making both streets two-ways would mean that each would link in with one particular motorway: Nelson with the Southern Motorway and Hobson with the Northwest Motorway.

All you’d need is some small realignment of a couple of the ramps, and one small bridge structure – as shown in the map below: While obviously I’m no huge expert in designing onramps, offramps and other roads, it seems as though this would work OK. It would certainly be fantastic to have both Nelson and Hobson Streets back as “normal roads”, rather than two massively oversize traffic sewers as they are now. Heck, they’d become useful bus routes in and out of the city too.

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  1. Ludo was mentioning this as something they wanted to do when talking about the Federal Street shared space project – so it’s definitely being considered. It’s a shame it wasn’t tied in with the CMJ upgrade in which all these ramps were altered/rebuilt.

    I don’t agree with all those left turning slip lanes being kept however.

  2. This would make a big difference and would be great to see, funnily enough when I was driving along Hobson St yesterday I was thinking exactly about this issue after watching lots of people running between stopped cars to cross the road. I think it would also benefit traffic by separating out the motorways, at the moment if one is busy, particularly the southern with its ramp lights, it then affects traffic heading to SH16 as people try to get in the faster moving lanes then block it up by trying to merge up by Pitt St.

  3. The area would probably be one of those places where left-turning slip lanes are fine – because we aren’t going to get the buildings on the southern side of Union Street / Pitt Street back…

    Talking of this – why not tie it into reducing Pitt Street’s lane numbers?

    And yes, definitely needs more than a flush median. At least make it flush for 10m, then 10m tree island, then 10 m flush… that would allow right turns into properties and still allow median planting.

  4. Your proposal would change two one-way interchanges in to two two-way interchanges. Why not aim for a reduction in capacity and consolidate to a single two-way interchange? Pick Nelson OR Hobson, make it two way, and have both directions interface with the motorway. Then take the other street, make it two way, and remove its interface with the motorway and making it just a normal Auckland street. As well as making one street a bit better and the other a lot better, it would also remove some complexity from the country’s most complicated stretch of motorway.

    (I’d make Nelson the single motorway-interfacing street of the two, mainly because it is further to the edge of the CBD. But Hobson might be a better choice depending on the layout of the motorway ramps.)

  5. Obi, that would be politically impossible at the present time as it would involve halving the road capacity to the motorways. By boulevarding both streets you at least maintain the same nominal lane capacity leading to the motorways, so it has a good chance of being acceptable to local government, NZTA, Wellington and the great unwash car driving masses. People will still complain about extra traffic lights and longer intersection phasing and all the rest.

  6. That would make a lot of sense obi, you could then sell or lease some of the land left over where the present on ramps are. Sadly Nick R I think you are right, it would be extremely difficult even to get the road two-wayed let alone, shock horror, removing access to the motorway.

  7. And while you’re at it let’s flatten that vile ‘pohutukawa flower’ nightmare, or better blow it up along with the idiot engineer who foisted it on us…. [apologies to all you fine engineers out there who don’t attempt to make artworks but rather strive to make beautiful structures and elegant solutions in your work]

  8. Oh it’s bad, worse than bad; it’s illustrational, it’s instead of a tree in a place where there could be a tree. The Melbourne work you link to is much better, at least it is of a scale and strength that can be experienced from a car. And it is ‘disruptive’ it is an unusual and unexpected moment on the motorway, offering, however briefly, an opportunity for reflection on the forms we build for ourselves. Least you feel I am getting too off topic, this is relevant, there has been a terrible tendency for decorating lumpen civil engineering work instead on the building of elegant forms in the first place. NZ Motorways and bridges used to better than they are now [Pukeko bridge excepted], like the lovely ‘W’ shaped bridge structure on the way into town on the Southern. Now we get largely prosaic ‘post-and-beam’ forms with a facile outline of Rangitoto like some apologetic figleaf. It’s one thing to build the cheapest least elegant form that your talentless number crunchers come up with, but please don’t add to the insult by then covering it depictions of flora and volcanoes. Why do we have this crazy idea that only the natural world looks good and if we just copy a bit of that no will notice the eight lane motorway? Concrete can be very beautiful if allowed to be itself; fluid, strong, elegant. Apologies for the rant, just that there’s not that much to look at when you’re stuck on the motorway, oh at least we’ll soon have another set of prisoners looking back us trapped in our cars…..

  9. My girlfriend lives just along from that Melbourne work, I have the misfortune of experiencing it very frequently. Maybe it is of a scale and strength that can be experienced from a car, but it’s totally out of scale for the local neighbourhood of historic terraced housing. As if an elevated motorway extension wasn’t bad enough for Flemington they have to top it off with a series of enormous primarly colour sticky uppy things to dominate the skyline.
    So maybe it’s fine for the people barrelling through the neighbourhood, but tough luck for those that live there.
    Far from an opportunity for self reflection on what we build ourselves, I see that as a insulting reminder of what others force upon us.

    The latest think in Melbourne is coloured plastic panels along freeways, and very brightly coloured over bridges. Like you say I guess they are somehow trying to disguise the eight lane freeway, or at least make such a spectacle out of it that you forget it is a huge concrete barrier and start to believe its interesting.

  10. I cycled down Nelson Street yesterday evening and experienced firsthand how unfriendly this area is (and yes it was also a really hair-raising experience even wearing a frock). I strongly support your proposal to turn Nelson and Hobson streets into two way boulevards. It is embarrassing to Auckland that we have allowed these motorways to cut through the CBD for so long. I would also suggest that we don’t overlook how easy it would be to include cycle lanes in the plans (especially uphill as Hobson Street provides the most gentle incline from Downtown). In fact what about installing a contra-flow cycle lane on both roads immediately? It could be done very cheaply and quickly- with a bit of imagination!

  11. Hi Pippa, I don’t wear frocks but I can still imagine what you mean! Two way boulevards would do so much to improve that corner of the city, plus as you note it would make the addition of cycle lanes much easier (or bus lanes for that matter).

    I do wonder if contra-flow lanes would be a good idea though, on what is effectively a five lane motorway extension all going the same way. A major problem would be motorists making right hand turns across the cycle lane. You’d also need to alter the traffic lights with cycle phases.

    The problem with any of these proposals is the impression (valid or otherwise) that they would reduce roadway and/or parking capacity. Brave is the politician in Auckland that proposes to remove lanes to plant trees or get rid of parking to put in cycle lanes!

    1. But Nick in a few short months it will be the CCO making those decisions. Their unaccountability could be a good thing after all!

  12. Uhm, so the new mayor of Auckland will have lots of very public fights with AT – just like Mike Lee vs ARTA? Not sure if I want to applaud that scenario…

    Oh, and Nick, I see little problem technically with installing kerb-separated cycle lanes (two-way, New York Style) on Nelson or Hobson. It is indeed more a political issue.

  13. I agree Karl, it would be technically simple to recover some road width, build kerbs to separate the cycle lanes and put in cycle phases on the traffic lights, just not politically simple.

    Admin, naturally the unaccountability swings both ways. If we go right back to the fifties the decision making around building the motorways or expanding the railways was seen as a technical issue for the specialists to resolve, not a political issue for the people to be concerned with.

    I hope we aren’t going back to that, where the layout of a road is purely a technical issue to be solved by traffic engineers?

  14. Well, by now it is generally agreed that urban designers and city planners should have a stake too, so one hopes the balance (even if left to the technocrats) would be better. That said, our cities should be a reflection of our democratic choices, so of course the elected representatives should make the final call on the big picture, even if they infuriate us experts at times.

  15. The true shame of this situation is that Hobson & Nelson Streets are only busy around rush hours on weekdays.

    The central two lanes of Hobson & Nelson Streets should be turned into one-way express commuter lanes.

    The remaining lanes (two per side), protected by planted buffer strips, would be a shared space for slow local traffic, cyclists, car parking (after hours), cafe seating (weekends) and perhaps buses. (They would run north and south).

    (can i attach images here somehow? i’ve got this in 3d)

    1. That’s common in Europe having through lanes in the centre and local traffic seperated along the edges. It looks really nice as well and means that you don’t have cars wooshing past you at a million miles an hour.

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