This post is about the other critical break at the heart of Auckland’s RTN network: the Waitemata Harbour. The one that needs to be addressed after the City Rail Link mends the first one. Some may think that I’m getting ahead of myself here but I think it is important to look ahead so that near term projects are future-proofed and so that our thinking is kept open to all sorts of possibilities.
The power of the CRL is also in some ways its limitation, well certainly in the minds of its detractors, because much of what it achieves occurs on the already existing rail network. It is after all primarily just what it is called: A Link; outside of the Centre City it doesn’t expand the reach of the network directly but rather joins the currently separated ends of two long systems together to allow the true capacity and frequency of the whole network to be realised. This is what is so powerful about the project but is also so easily overlooked.
Don’t get me wrong, the CRL is clearly the urgent transformative move for Auckland; the ‘killer app’ if you like, because it will provide the necessary core to the Rapid Transit Network that will, with the new bus network it supports, transform Auckland into being a viable Transit City as well as a driving one. A transformation, already underway, that will enable more people in more of Auckland to function effectively without having to always drive. At once improving their efficiency and that of the whole city. It is a step change; the key to Auckland’s new urban future, enabling high quality growth and is the best way take pressure off the existing sunk investment in the road network so it keeps working well as the city grows.
But also let’s not forget that by solving the constraints of the current rail network it also invites its expansion to whole new areas, and that there is still another ‘Link’ that the system needs.
Clearly the relatively simple and obvious extension of the Onehunga line through Mangere to the Airport should follow swiftly after the CRL. But it is the next opportunity that I want to discuss here and one that the representatives for the North Shore really ought to have their sights set on too: A North Shore Line; converting some or all of the Northern Busway to rail and crossing the harbour with rail tunnels to connect this part of the RTN via a new station at Wynyard Quarter to the existing network.
We have shown that the growth in demand across the harbour is not in traffic but in Transit. But also any addition to traffic volumes entering the city would contradict everything the Council is working towards to improve the quality of life and place in the city as well as its economic intensity. So the next expansion in capacity across the Harbour needs to connect the break in the RTN between the southern end of Northern Busway and the Isthmus-only rail network. And this would be as shape changing as the CRL itself as it would bring much closer together currently separated parts of Auckland. It is also the other major move to make Auckland into a true Multi-Modal City.
Discussions of cost, funding, and even the route on the Shore are outside of the scope of this post, have been addressed elsewhere on this site and will be again in the future. This is an exploration of future possibilities. I am also assuming that electric rail is clearly the technology to take in tunnels under the Harbour not the more expensive, more dangerous, and lower capacity of buses. Argue if you must but it looks like a slam dunk to me, and I’m sure that will be even more certain post-CRL.
I have in the past written about the possibility of the elegant and efficient Cross patterned two line network [below]: The Southern Line heading to town would after the new Parnell Station cross Grafton Gully above the traffic on a viaduct then enter a tunnel into Constitution Hill and head under Albert Park to connect with the CRL at Aotea Station before heading to a new station at Wynyard Quarter and across the harbour to the Shore. Albany to the Airport, with Wynyard Quarter, the heart of the city, and Newmarket in between.
Here’s a full city wide Rapid Transit Network adding future Busways to a pretty complete rail system, by Matt:
There are a number of options for staging this line, especially at the Shore end, and even at the city side where the connection to the line at Parnell could be put off and the line run as a self contained Shore/City route at very high frequencies. And there is even a fairly lively debate among the editorial team here at the blog about the competing merits of a cheaper Light Metro system or continuing with the same kit we are about to get in order to integrate the Shore Line with the existing network. What I’m about to look at doesn’t depend on either system although the connection to the line at Parnell would require compatibility one way or the other. That’s a debate for another time. But here is another version based on Matt’s plan above:
What I want to look at here is the future City connection for a Shore Line because the opportunities and the constraints are considerable. In this post I outlined how the midtown CRL station Aotea will replace Britomart as the most popular on the whole network and how the station design in a constrained footprint will have to be able to handle much much higher numbers of people than we see at our busiest station today.
Here is a detail of the CRL alignment map showing the Aotea Station footprint:
In recent discussions with the Council’s head of Urban Design Ludo Campbell-Reid he mentioned that the new owner of the empty site between Elliot and Albert St is keen to integrate the station exits into the retail floors his proposed tower which will bring people onto the new shared space of Elliot and Darby Streets and level with Queen St at the Station’s northern end. There will of course be exits further west for those heading up hill [maybe even up to the coming Federal St shared space and Sky City] and at the southern end on Wellesley Street where the Council owns property on two sides of that intersection.
Here is a rough schematic of ‘The Cross’ that I did for that earlier post:
A closer look at this idea and it is pretty clear that inserting a station somewhere under the University or Albert Park would not only be almost impossible and very expensive but also unnecessary [it is the stations that are really expensive on underground lines rather than the tunnelling]. Not least of which because the distances between the stations are too short but also because the balance of the demand is really further south than the point indicated above. There is no doubt that the Universities are a huge generator of Transit traffic and it is important for the city that we meet that demand as efficiently as possible, but the key word in that sentence is Universities, plural; the growing AUT campus is much closer to Aotea Station than it is to the northern end of the University of Auckland. And if we can inch some Aotea Station exits across Queen St we can not only help serve this market well but also help deal better with the likely pedestrian flows at the peak hours. And not only will it have to cater for transfers between the lines but as it is also clear that Wellesley St will continue to be the main crosstown bus route so this placement is well placed for connections between modes too.
Here’s my suggestion for alignment of the North Shore Line platforms at Aotea:
As you can see I have biased the overlap between the two lines by bringing the Shore Line platforms east under Queen St. They are offset enough that you could give it its own identity; say Wellesley St or Queen St Station. Or Horotiu, after the Taniwha and his stream the Waihorotiu that runs under Queen St. Or just call them platforms 3 + 4 at Aotea. No matter, the point is that there are some really good reasons to orient the station like this. Because to add another busy line to this station some serious people management is going to have to take place.
Happily here the Council has also already done a great job with another of its shared spaces:
Not only is there already a big pedestrian plaza here that can absorb those Transit riders but it is really close to a lot of attractors. The tower at the end of the street is an AUT building with the rest of the campus up behind, the always busy Library is on the left, and of course the surely-to-be-restored St James on the right. Also there’s the wonderful new Art Gallery, the Civic back across Queen, and of of course the other University also just a little up the hill. Add the Town Hall, Q-Theatre, and the Aotea Centre and at last we really have the cultural amenity for a true and vibrant Civic Centre. Just not yet the transport amenity.
But not only that impressive list of destinations but also there are some underperforming sites ripe for revitalising. Chief among those being the St James. But there’s also the building you can see a corner of in the shot above just behind the guy taking a photo with his phone:
The 1965 head office of the ASB by the wonderfully named Beatson Rix-Trott Carter & Co architects. The Queen St frontage still houses a branch of the ASB and a kebab shop, but the other sides are lifeless and unused except as access to some 58 car parks [10 more than the limit- a variation granted in 1996] that have been rammed into 3 ex-office floors above the shops and accessed through those rollers doors opening onto Lorne St. I can only assume that the basement is currently unused.
Here’s the thing: The back end of this building is the perfect location for the eastern entrance to a busy cross town underground Rail Station. The removal of that parking inside this building would greatly enhance the shared space as they are the only traffic generator on this street outside of deliveries. The building itself could do with an upgrade and I’m sure the owner would make the calculation that having tens of thousands of people everyday right in their building is much more valuable than the return on 58 car parks.
It’s actually a pretty nicely detailed building if you look past the abuses, bronze windows and they took the granite all the way round to the back. Well except where those nasty rollers are now. This could scrub up well at street level, and then would certainly be able to accommodate development above too, a cafe on that podium and all sorts of retail opportunities on the currently car violated mezzanine and 1st and 2nd floors and either upgraded offices or apartments above. Just no parking. This is a good solid example of midcentury boxy corporate modernism awaiting rediscovery and a new life.
Its unactivated Lorne St side already faces a lively plaza especially since the upgrade and traffic de-privileging. There is in fact lots of unusually wide pedestrian amenity on both sides of Wellesley St at this point:
So not only is there also space for a station exit on the northern side of Wellesley but arguably it’s already there! I’m reliably informed that the now unused underground women’s loos are pretty flash inside. Surely there’s a way they could be incorporated into another exit?
The building on the left in the shot above, the ex-Contemporary Art Gallery, is about to be developed into highend retail and an article discussing its prospects bragged about a one day pedestrian count around here of 16,526 people [Wednesday Oct 17]. I think we can send that number a great deal higher in ways that can only be good for the commercial and cultural vitality of this end of town. And make the old ASB building more useful as well as more valuable, and wouldn’t it be great to see this whole block including the wonderful St James sparked back into life?
And interestingly in that Library on the shared space I found this plan for an inner city underground rail system. It’s from the 1965 De Leuw Cather Report, the famous one that proposed both a Rapid Transit system and expanded motorways for Auckland but that has suffered from half of it being ignored ever since. And look where that station is, close:
Interesting that they named that station ‘Civic-Centre’ because despite all the millions spent by various Councils on driving amenity in this area to try to make a Civic Centre around the Town Hall [Mayoral Drive, the twice built underground car park] it has really only had any kind of success since Auckland’s recent Transit and pedestrian revolution started to take off this century. People, on the streets, and in quantity, are key to vibrant and successful urban places.
And here’s the whole region in that same report, look at that North Shore Line, not bad:
And since we will soon have finished building all the motorways we’ll ever need it’s clearly time to get on with fixing the missing complementary Rapid Transit network.