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.