The “Future Vision Committee” of the Auckland Council today looked at a draft of the “International City Centre Master Plan“. The Master Plan has some exciting ideas about shaping Auckland’s city centre to be a much more attractive location for people to live, work and play. A particular emphasis of the Master Plan is on improving pedestrian amenity and increasing the amount of pedestrian space in the city. For example:

It does seem that the Council wants there to be less emphasis given to the “throughput of cars” on inner-city streets:

Regular readers of this blog will know that I’m a huge fan of pedestrian improvements. In fact, probably the main reason I’m a public transport advocate is because I think it enables us to improve our cities while still allowing people to get around. And here lies the issue when it comes to implementing the grandly titled “International City Centre Master Plan”. Without doubt, it wants to dedicate more roadspace to pedestrians, cyclists and also probably to general open space.

Yet at the same time, the Master Plan also wants more people working and living in the city centre, helping to drive a more prosperous and successful Auckland economy through many of the agglomeration benefits detailed in the CBD Rail Link business case. It is this fundamental conflict between improving the quality of the city centre and getting more people in and out of it, which necessitates projects like the CBD Rail Tunnel. As I noted in a blog post a few weeks back, we could try to squeeze all those extra people onto buses – taking up most of the city centre’s streets with bus lanes and many hundreds of buses during peak hour. But that vision of the city centre’s future doesn’t really co-exist easily with that outlined in the city centre Master Plan.

One thing that did jump to mind when reading through the proposed Master Plan is whether its impact on the CBD Tunnel business case has been properly taken into account. If you look at the table below, you can get a better picture of what I mean: The key figures I’m interested in are trips made by those in private vehicles, because the changes proposed in the Master Plan are likely to result in a reduction in capacity for private vehicles wanting to enter and leave the city centre during peak times. It would seem that what is projected is that the current figure (around 35,000) would increase to the following levels:

  • Around 42,000 by 2026 and 50,600 by 2041 if the tunnel isn’t built. That’s a 23% increase in traffic by 2026 and a 47% increase in traffic by 2041. Not only does this seem in direct conflict with everything the Master Plan hopes to achieve, it actually just doesn’t seem possible – how can you fit almost half as many cars again on a roading network that you’ve actually probably made smaller? Such an outcome sounds a lot like gridlock to me.
  • Around 40,500 by 2026 and 39,500 by 2041 with the tunnel. This is a smaller increase, obviously, of 18% by 2026 and 14% by 2041. While the difference between the two scenarios is obvious – and equates to a pretty massive effect of the rail tunnel (getting 10,000 cars out of the central city at peak times compared to if it weren’t built) – I sitll wonder whether the vehicle numbers are over-estimated by the modelling, simply because the changes to the roading network in the city centre proposed in the Master Plan simply weren’t anticipated by the business case.

Over the past few weeks I have visited both Sydney and Wellington for reasonably extensive periods of time. One thing that has impressed me about both cities is how relatively ‘unclogged’ with cars their city centres seem to be. In Sydney I suspect this is because most people are travelling underground on the rail network, while in Wellington the excellent bus system – plus the reliance on the rail network once again has enabled most of the inner city streets to be relatively quiet in terms of vehicle numbers. Auckland’s multi-lane inner city arterials – seemingly constantly clogged up with vehicles – make for quite a stark contrast! If we are to grow the city centre, but at the same time also improve its amenity, pedestrian friendliness and attractiveness – then in my opinion there is little alternative to building underground rail projects.

Having 47% more traffic entering the city centre by 2041 just doesn’t seem like a viable option. It actually sounds more like a nightmare.

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  1. This is excellent to see, assuming it makes it off the presentation slides and onto our streets. The previous policies of dedicating the bulk of space and priority to people in cars doesn’t make sense and cannot cater to a growing population.

    The crossings on Queen Street between Wellesley and Wyndham Street have been a great improvement to the inner city and reduced significantly the time it takes for most people to get about. This approach should be replicated across the CBD (and eventually wider as demand grows).

    Why haven’t these improvements already taken place at the major pedestrian crossings like Queen and Customs and Queen and Mayoral Drive? With the numbers of passengers getting off North Shore buses on Albert and Victoria Streets, the crossings towards Queen Street need looking at fairly urgently too.

  2. Very astute and bang on. Auckland Council really need to be more explicit about linking ped strategies to PT business case.
    Likewise re (relatively) carfree inner cities. I also suspect that with better inner-city PT a lot more people would park and ride on the CBD periphery. And with fewer cars downtown and therefore less messy traffic light phasing, the buses / trams would move more quickly, i.e. a virtuous circle instead of the walking-speed chaos we have now.

  3. While there is no doubting Wellington has done some better things than Auckland, I wouldn’t describe them as “relatively unclogged” of cars. In fact, I think Wellington has some serious decisions to make, and fast.

    Much like the debate about Queen St, I can’t see why anyone (other than emergency and delivery vehicles) needs to drive through Lambton Quay. Even PT for that matter. The “Golden Mile” could be a fantastic people-only boulevard.

    In fact, the similarity with Auckland doesn’t end there. Like Quay St, a six-lane motorway separates the city from the capital’s waterfront (though there is an overbridge near the Frank Kitts Park).

    I’m not sure Wellington would be where I am looking for ideas on how to reduce vehicle traffic through the CBD….

    1. I think both Auckland and Wellington have good parts and bad parts. The Wellington waterfront is more cut off from the city than ours. Cuba Mall is great and shows what High Street could be. But Lambton Quay is terribly crowded. Especially when it is raining and people are forced to shelter. Courtney Place should be bus only and maybe closed at night. Behind Manners Street are some terribly shabby streets.

    2. “The “Golden Mile” could be a fantastic people-only boulevard.”

      Bob Jones was proposing this at one stage and talking about standing a group of people at the last council elections. In the end he didn’t, but I don’t know why or whether he endorsed any candidates. I don’t think he explained where the existing public transport should go except I got a general feeling that people would be better off walking around their CBD rather than taking the bus.

  4. It’s interesting that Wellington is NZ’s gold standard for public transport, particularly rail, when by international standards it’s actually pretty average. I was down there this weekend just been, and the group I was with were staying at Bucket Tree Lodge which, for those who don’t know it, is right adjacent to the J’ville Line, a couple of stops south of Tawa. Close enough that we heard all the electric trains, and the freight trains rattled the windows. One of the guys, who travels a lot for his job, observed that “You have to wait quite a while between trains here, don’t you”, at the half-hourly frequency of train services during the weekend.
    Although that’s streets ahead of what Auckland has to offer, it struck me that we really do seem to be merely aiming to be as good as Wellington rather than as good as places overseas that have stellar public transport systems. It also made me realise how truly abysmal the rail service in Auckland is.

    1. Actually, Tawa is on the Kapiti line, not the J’ville line. 😀 But your point stands. In some ways Auckland is already better than Wellington PT-wise, eg. cross town services. (Try getting from Porirua to the Hutt and see what I mean.)

      1. Do you blame them for trying to make it hard to escape Porirua, though? 😛

        More seriously, try getting to Onehunga from anywhere that’s not along the rail corridor, or out west. I live in Ellerslie, and were it not for the train I would have no options to use public transport to Onehunga. Given that they didn’t cut any bus services when the Onehunga line opened, that means that a year ago I wouldn’t have had any choices whatsoever other than getting to Newmarket in order to catch one of the buses that travels back south – get the wrong bus, and it would be quicker to walk.

    2. Matt – halfhourly is about right for the weight of demand they get at the weekend, and during the interpeak as well. A train coming into Wellington on a Saturday might be two-thirds full at the point it arrives, but it starts near-empty out at Waikanae. A fifteen-minute frequency service could be run from Porirua, or Plimmerton at a pinch, but am not sure what difference that would make to demand.

  5. On a positive note the first of the shared spaces has been finished and is generally pretty good. We now just need more like that.

  6. I would like to see a pedestrian / cycle bridge from Ponsonby to the Domain and then onto Auckland Uni, so you don’t have to walk / cycle down & up hills.

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