One of the best things that has come out of the creation of the Auckland “Super City” Council so far has been, in my opinion, the fundamental reconsideration of how Auckland should work. In documents like the Auckland Spatial Plan, the City Centre Master Plan and the forthcoming Unitary Plan, we have the opportunity to completely reanalyse the plans and policies that will guide and shape Auckland’s future. While a lack of plans and policies has never been a problem in Auckland, now that we have one Council it seems like there’s a greater opportunity than ever before to actually see much of what is talked about in these voluminous documents actually becoming reality.

In particular, I have been excited to see the significant emphasis that Auckland Council is putting on making the city centre a better place – a true heart for the entire region. More and more, it seems that there’s growing recognition at both political and officer level within the council, that the key to making the city centre work better is making it a nicer place for pedestrians – even if that comes at the cost of reducing a bit of road space. This is a fundamental shift away from decades of planning in Auckland, which has typically given 90% of its consideration to cars and about 10% consideration to people. It is no wonder that, for example, the Ministry of Transport’s review of the City Rail Link project could not begin to comprehend that it might not be a smart idea to run 200-300 buses an hour along many of the main streets in downtown Auckland.

However, transforming Auckland’s city centre will not be an easy task. We have seen decades of planning decisions that have alienated and sidelined pedestrians. Mayoral Drive slices a giant gash through the urban grain of the city centre, Hobson and Nelson Streets act like defacto motorways, Queen Street has some of the highest pedestrian counts anywhere in the country – but for some bizarre reason is still a four-lane highway. High Street provides so much space for parked cars that its pedestrians can barely fit on its narrow footpaths. Not to mention the abomination of Quay Street, slicing the city off from its greatest asset – the harbour. It’s somewhat difficult to know where to start in fixing such a giant mess – but at least it seems that we’ve finally made the decision to start somewhere (in the form of the various shared spaces that have opened recently or are under construction).

Obviously the process of transforming Auckland’s city centre will be a lengthy one. And that’s fine. Copenhagen’s city centre has taken decades to be turned from an uninviting car dominated area to the pedestrian focused highly popular downtown that it is today. Inevitably there will be a mixture of large projects and smaller ones that contribute to this transformation – from the City Rail Link down to simple things like not designing intersections in ways that actively try to kill pedestrians. While we obviously need a great looking vision for the plans to all aspire to, I think we also need to be careful to ensure that not every step along the way is enormously expensive and time-consuming. Otherwise we might not get anywhere for a long time.

A reader of this blog directed me to a series of photographic mockups that he has put together to provide some of the ‘great looking vision’ for the future of Auckland’s city centre. While these look fantastic, perhaps what I appreciate just as much is the fact that there’s a mixture of big ticket projects (like light-rail up Queen Street) and more simple things, such as a fairly basic two-waying of Hobson and Nelson streets. Let’s start with those streets first – here’s an overview of his idea: I’ve noted before how much of a big fan of protective cycle lanes I am – because they not only make cyclists safer, they critically ensure that cyclists feel safer. Here’s a before and after of what Hobson Street could look like:

As you can see the changes are fairly basic. There are no huge shifts in the curb lines, which means that costs could be kept down as services wouldn’t need to be relocated. There’s probably something of a debate over whether on-street parking of a wide median (potentially planted for a boulevard effect) is desirable, but what’s shown above could potentially be an interim solution to a more boulevard like long-term solution. They key point is that we get a two way road, we get good cycle lanes and we can do it pretty cheaply.

Turning to Queen Street, the vision for the section between Mayoral Drive and Karangahape Road is pretty exciting: Once the Wynyard Tramway has been extended to Britomart, and we start to think about light-rail as the possible long-term option for the Dominion Road situation, perhaps the obvious connection between the two is via a tramway along Queen Street. I quite like the idea of having its tracks grassed, as it introduces some nice greenery to the city centre – at least in this section of the street. Further down it might not be as appropriate. A before and after is shown below: A before and after of Queen Street next to the Civic Theatre looks pretty exciting too: Another potentially exciting corner of Auckland’s city centre is around High Street and O’Connell Street. This always seems to me to be one of the most distinctive and authentic parts of central Auckland, perhaps because its built heritage remains more intact than in most other areas, perhaps because it has a fineness to its urban scale that is generally not present elsewhere. The many smallish buildings, the narrow streets, the character. Of course, this could be further enhanced – as shown below: Credit to Cornelius Blank for allowing me to share these images.

I think we do need to dream big when it comes to transforming the city centre. But we also need to be realistic – with much of the Council’s spare cash likely to be spent on projects like the City Rail Link and possibly rail to the Airport over the next 10-20 years we need to be looking for ways to improve the city centre at relatively low cost. That’s why I like simple approaches to two-waying Hobson and Nelson street: they might have a chance of happening. Or why I like focusing improvements to pedestrian amenity on the small lanes – because they’re probably cheaper than repaving the whole of Queen Street, for example.

It would be really interesting to see what things will be like in 20 years time.

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  1. It really hurts to look at these. It hurts because I know I may have to wait decades to see anything like this. I hope I am wrong.

  2. What is the blue-with-yellow-spots structure in the Civic Theatre after image? Is it attached to the buildings or is it a tram stop?

    “Not to mention the abomination of Quay Street”

    I don’t see why Quay St is a hard problem to solve. Just close it. Make the main west-east traffic flow via Fanshawe, Customs, Beach, Tangihua, and then Quay adjacent to the port facilities where it doesn’t matter if the link between the city and harbour is interrupted. There would obviously be more traffic on Customs St, but it would open up the whole waterfront. You could also close down some of the streets at right angles to Quay St.

    1. Its a tram stop, what you suggest for Quay St is what I have thought for some time also, the big problem is it that its easy to say, but there would be a lot of stiff opposition to it from some. One thing that we could do as a quick win is narrow it to a single lane each way and ban port trucks from it. It is not pleasant when you have trucks carrying containers or other goods to/from the port trundling along there.

  3. I loved these images when I saw them this morning, it would really help to make the city centre a much nicer place. I would like to see a planted central median on Hobson St and Nelson St as I think that really helps to break down their bulk plus provides excellent pedestrian refuge making it much easier to cross the road. When I lived up near Khyber Pass I always found the planted median up there made the crossing so much easier.

    1. Agree with planted median if it is grassed with tall trees, not a barrier to prevent pedestrian crossing like in most places in Auckland.

      1. Make the median barrier wide and have a foot path and two cycle paths on it. Convert all the intersections into a Barne’s Dance. This would make provide a safe place for cyclists and provide pedestrians with a nice walk under some trees in the heart of the city.

  4. These mock-ups look great. I really like what looks like Wellesley Street as a shared space by the Civic — there wouldn’t be many vehicles at all in the area if Queen Street was trams and foot traffic only.

    I was just writing about an even easier/cheaper quick-win, to extend the ‘straight through’ pedestrian crossing phase at city intersections, over on the CBT forum:
    Pedestrians and Customs Street
    Small improvements to the traffic lights would make a massive improvement in the time it takes to walk places in the city. Traffic engineers have traditionally set up the lights to be so biased towards drivers over pedestrians it just seems crazy we accept it, especially since there would be no need for traffic lights and their delays if it weren’t for motor vehicles.

  5. However, to be entirely honest, I don’t think most of these should proceed without the rail link. It has to happen first. When I think about Sydney or Melbourne, I see their inner cities and know that the number of people on a pedestrian street I know that more 3/4 of them came in on trains and trams. Auckland’s bus services are not sufficient – and importantly they’re not suitable for long distance trips.

    Auckland will have 2.5 million people by mid-century. We have the chance to get things right.

    1. More than half of all people entering the CBD come by PT – why should we wait another 10 years to provide them with more space to walk around. Also, once people arrive and park their cars they too become pedestrains.

    2. I know some people just aren’t willing to wait that long for change. For instance, I saw two boy racers driving in convoy the wrong way up Nelson Street on Sunday, proving the street can easily be changed to bidirectional (but hopefully with some notice for people used to it being one way).

  6. If light-rail is installed on Queen, and I don’t see why not, then it should be converted into a Melbourne-style boulevard with no car access, or car access limited to one or two small segments (if necessary). Best way to do things.

  7. I take it these are not from an official Auckland Council publication – it would be revolutionary for Auckland Council if they were! Also Patrick R has an article in Metro this month on the pedestrianisation of Queen St. Very timely.

  8. Great ideas and i am all in favour, however until the public transportation into Town improves it is just going to cause chaos

    Our offices are on Quay Street and i HAVE TO get on the motorway to head south otherwise it takes over 90 mins to get home (which is crazy when the train station is less than 5 mins walk), but it often takes 30 mins to get from the bottom of Hobson to the Top between 5pm and 7pm, closing lanes is only going to make this worst…

    1. Is it that you live 5 minutes from a train station or work 5 minutes Britomart, if the former then I don’t see the reason why you can’t catch PT, if it is the latter then it is a case of AK needing better feeder bus routes.

      Also this proposal isn’t about reducing the number of lanes on Hobson and Nelson St, it would just be about changing their allocation so the north and southbound traffic is split between the two. I would suggest that it would actually help traffic, the reason for this is with a 5 lane like Hobson St there is a lot of weaving that goes on as people jostle for position, this is less so on a smaller st. Also I live out west and if I am driving I have noticed that often Hobson St is completely full of cars but that SH16 isn’t, it seems that the issue is often people heading south getting in the western lanes and trying to push in to the southern lanes up by the onramp. Two waying these streets would require changes to the onramps but overall I think this proposal would actually help traffic

  9. “I take it these are not from an official Auckland Council publication – it would be revolutionary for Auckland Council if they were!”

    Wait, they’re not? Ah nuts. I’m loving the shared-space Queen Street image in the Flickr set. Please let that last one happen before I’m too old to walk unaided.

  10. This could and should happen within 10 years. C’mon Len Brown, make it happen – we voted for these types of changes.

    1. Yes. Unfortunately in New Zealand “ten years” means ten years until the first work is actually done to start it, and then another series of years before completion. There’s no reason for this to be the case, other than political dislike or laziness towards a particular project or policy initiative.

      1. Money doesn’t grow on trees, guys. All this work would fall under “local roads” and “PT” (the LRT) – and NZTA / MoT has just cut the funds for these again. So if this is to proceed, we either need a new national government, or Council needs to stump up MAJOR funding 100% on their own.

        Auckland is big, but not that big that it can do every desirable project going on their own, in a country where taxation is very centralised.

        So from Council’s perspective, if this doesn’t happen (whether in 5, 10 or 20 years), doesn’t need to have ANYTHING to do with indifference or laziness.

        1. I’ve noticed lately that the reduction in the local road budget seems to be biting as there are quite a few potholes around the place now.

        2. Skimp on maintenance, and you are headed straight for 3rd world conditions. If you can’t keep up your assets, then all the fancy new motorways are just Potemkin Villages.

  11. if they place trams in the middle of the street that may mean introducing Melbourne’s already confusing hook turn rules. Nice though

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