Polemic:

The existing central city Shared Streets are clearly an overwhelming success, particularly on the east side where they are starting to form a coherent network. The most recent addition, O’Connell St, has the advantage of connecting to the long-pedestrianised Vulcan Lane. In fact it appears that the reverse might be more accurate: the newly vibrant O’Connell St looks like it is dragging life and trade up into the top half of Vulcan, the part that has long been much quieter than the section between High and Queen.

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From O’Connell towards the top of Vulcan Lane
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O’Connell

To the north the Fort Lane/Fort St/Jean Batten Pl network has been completely transformative; drawing a new flow of people up from the Bus, Train, and Ferry Stations and new attractions of Britomart – only for the Shortland St/High St traffic barrier to interrupt this natural movement.

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Jean Batten
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Lower Shortland
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High St through to Fort Lane

However the novelty of the Shared Streets in a city that has spent half a century building itself on an auto-priority model is still too much for some drivers, and getting it through to this group that it’s time to change away from an expectation of a parking space right outside their destination in the central city still requires work. This is true especially as this expectation is already illusory, and simply leads to pointless circling hoping for that dream parking space: a poor outcome multiplied.

To really reinforce that these key city streets are not appropriate for the same level of private vehicle access as suburban ones, in my view, it is necessary is to spread the typology further, and to join it up into a natural network of Shared and Pedestrian-only streets of high civility. My hunch is that the ‘network effect’, where the value of a thing is multiplied by its connection to more of its kind, the sum being more powerful than the parts, is just as applicable here as in say a Transit system or a road network. This is hardly surprising as even though the driver may experience these streets as a restriction, to that same person once out of their vehicle, they are a liberation. Therefore the understanding of this being an especially privileged place for people will be reinforced through its completeness; and it will both attract more pedestrians and encourage those over-optimistic drivers to just park a little sooner and join the walkers.  As of course the only way to enter the buildings on these Victorian streets and to shop, consult, or socialise is on foot, as a pedestrian.  So here I’m co-opting the motorway boosters’ slogan: It’s time to complete the network.

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O’Connell St

This observation is all the more powerful when we consider that the beginning is the hardest time for these places: the small number of scattered examples have to live in a world still totally drenched in vehicles, where drivers are used to virtually complete access to any horizontal surface as a matter of course, and with a natural right to dominate all other uses. Join these these examples up and watch their success multiply off the scale.

Programme:

First a simple tweak: To optimise the functionality of  the new O’Connell St Shared Street, all that is probably needed is a reversal of the one way flow on Courthouse Lane to uphill, and make the western section of Chancery St one way towards Courthouse Lane. This maintains the same vehicle access to the street network here for deliveries and the Metropolis Building, while no longer pouring vehicles into the top of O’Connell St which simply incentivises its use as a rat run. Additionally, the planned pedestrianisation of the little Freyberg Pl Shared Space can’t come soon enough.

Clearly now High St is overdue to be added to the existing Shared Street network [see images to follow]. With that then comes the obvious move to join up these Shared Streets with Jean Batten and Fort St by adding lower Shortland St from just below Fields Lane to Queen St to the network. Currently lower Shortland St is part of the unnecessary Queen St rat-run for far too many vehicles, in particular private vehicles; in other words, drivers with no destination on these busy streets but rather using this very core of our city – our busiest and most valuable pedestrian streets – as a vehicle short cut.

Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High
Vehicle dodgeball on lower Shortland and High

And to really make all this work, Centre City Integration must grasp the moment and remove general traffic on Queen St from Customs St to Wellesley St. Leaving it for pedestrians and Transit, just like Bourke St in Melbourne. As is promised to us in the City Centre Master Plan with this seductive image:

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Queen St, City Centre Master Plan
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Bourke St, Melbourne

But do we really have to wait for Light Rail for this to happen, can’t it work with buses first? In fact if we’re going to be digging up some part of the street for the tracks wouldn’t it make sense to get the traffic out first? Certainly the City Link would operate much more efficiently, and imagine the improvements to cross town traffic and pedestrians through the removal of those turning cycles at each intersection?  It would probably in fact improve East/West traffic flow on Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. The few vehicle entrances on Shortland St are all at the top of the hill and there should be no encouragement for drivers using these to go down the hill to enter the Queen St valley street network. And the best way to achieve this is simply to remove Queen St from the general traffic network. There is, after all, not a single vehicle entrance off this spine, only pedestrian ones. It will still be needed for Transit and delivery and emergency access; but no private car ever needs to be there.

The control [specified times?] of delivery and trade vehicles [too easy for these to get general parking wavers- even without specific projects] and the rights of taxis are  interesting issues in which I can see value of various positions. But one thing I think is absolutely obvious; the rights of the private car user to these streets is the lowest priority because they are the source of least benefit and the greatest dis-benefit. It is their numbers that squeeze out people, delay service and emergency vehicles, and occupy valuable space that otherwise can be better used for transactions both economic and social.

There are literally dozens of parking buildings just away from these streets up either side of the valley and the richest abundance of public transport options anywhere in the entire nation. Furthermore very few fridges are sold here, and indeed any purchase that is bulkier than a book, a frock, or a belly-full can surely be delivered. Most transactions appear to be inter-human, and many sales consumed on the spot, or at least are not much more difficult to carry than a suit or a pair of shoes.

Like the other recent improvements to our city – better train, bus, and ferry services, and new cycleways – these Shared Spaces will only continue to improve, to add more value, as their improvements are embedded and extended. Or, to express this idea negatively, the Shared Streets will never be more traffic afflicted and compromised than they are now, while they are more surrounded by auto-priority ones. The same as the core Rapid Transit network will only continue to improve as more services and connections with other layers of the system develop. The Network Effect.

Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.
Shared and pedestrianised streets now, left, and a complete network, right.

Now that looks like a real shoppers’ and diners’ paradise; an actual Heart of the City, a zone that can be marketed as having a real point of difference from either suburban big box retail or the motorised strips of Newmarket and Ponsonby. But still, those notoriously conservative creatures, retailers, probably won’t get it till it’s done.

O’Connell v High, Feb 2015:

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Earlier posts on High St:

On the Victoria Street end; how to deal with the parking building traffic.

On some retailers’ determination that their only customers are cars.

The great intensive street pattern of the area so damaged in the 1980s and the previous debate about O’Connell St.

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30 comments

  1. When compared to the results of O’Connell St it’s impossible to say that High St represents any kind of ideal situation that should be aimed for. The street needs some urgent JSK style interventions until it can be properly upgraded. Urgent attention is also needed to the crossing between Jean Battern Pl and High St. That’s a serious accident waiting to happen.

    1. totally agree – JB place to High St – it’s like a barnes crossing with cars crossing in all directions as well.

  2. Fantastic post Patrick, I agree with it from start to finish. And I find this sentence very persuasive: “now that looks like a real shoppers’ and diners’ paradise; an actual Heart of the City, a zone that can be marketed as having a real point of difference from either suburban big box retail or the motorised strips of Newmarket and Ponsonby”.

  3. That last image highlights one subject that isn’t being addressed particularly well: the necessity of service vehicles for deliveries and repairs. High St has a lot of these sorts of vans and light trucks, and they’re not necessarily being allowed for under a shared space model.

    1. The last image shows how near impossible it is now for delivery vehicles to get through because of the ever bigger and bigger private vehicles blocking High St. Spend some time in the Shared Streets and you’ll see it’s easier for the necessary traffic. It isn’t people that are holding up trade vehicles, it’s the cars. The driver of that truck actually leant out the window to fold back the mirror on the white SUV in order to fit through.

      Alternatively I had a discussion with the driver of a very large truck using O’Connell and grumpy about the change, he didn’t have a destination on the street and should have been on the wide carriageway of Fields lane, when i ask why he didn’t use that he ‘I’ve always driven down here, mate’.

      Change is the one constant thing in cities yet we are largely creatures of habit…

      1. It’s not about getting through, it’s about stopping. Nobody wants vans and trucks in the middle of a narrow shared space, but when you remove parking for service vehicles it impacts businesses. Running halfway up a parking building to grab tools every ten minutes is hardly ideal.
        Elliot St is large enough to capacitate service vehicle mixed-use, but High St and O’Connell St aren’t.

        1. I don’t quite understand your logic? O’Connel Street with no parking is somehow now too narrow for service vehicles c.f. before when it had two lanes of parked cars? Regardless, placing the convenience of the occasional tradie doing some work above the interest of the thousands of pedestrians and financial wellbeing of all the shops seems slightly out of kilter.

        2. Anyway, we’re well past the debate as to whether Shared Spaces are a good idea, they’ve been shown to be a huge boon to all shop keepers on every street they’ve been implemented. The debate now is how quickly will council roll them out, the debate has long shifted from whether car parking is a good use of precious space on inner city streets. I’d read some of the research that’s been reported here by council et al on the success of the shared space.

  4. … a simple quick win would be regular late pm early evening closures on O’Connell to allow people to experience the car free environment – eating at the bistro with traffic passing 1 metre away is not conducive to a healthy appettie

    1. Very good point. Close it after 6pm when all the rat runners have done their dash. The Council needs to grasp incremental changes and not see everything as needing a wham, bam, thank you ma’am grand opening and then move on to the next project.

      Constant incremental improvement is the key. From recent conversations and presentations from AT, I think they are slowly getting this.

      However, one really disappointing thing is that AT still seem to not be grasping the concept of trials (unless it is in favour of vehicles – i.e. Grafton bridge taxi trial). It seems to be all or nothing and an AT person the other day told me he didn’t see the value in trials.

      This was just after we had a big conversation about the objections to the removal of parking in Auckland and the Armageddon predictions of retailers. There is no point blasting ahead with a big project regardless of objections or (worse) scaling it right back (a la Beaumont Street) because of objections not based on any real world evidence but just assumptions and anecdata. That is exactly what trials are for.

      He hadn’t even heard of the trial closure of Time Square and the subsequent outcry that the trial be made permanent – including from the retailers who saw a massive leap in revenue. If NY had continued with an all or nothing approach to Time Square, I am sure the retailers would have killed it dead with their pro-driving assumptions.

    2. Could do trial run on Friday nights, where most shops in city will open late.
      To make it more successful:

      1. Most retailers on city already open late on friday.
      2. Trains and bus in city will be free/or heavy subsidised on that night with extended hours and frequencies.
      3. Auckland council set up some special festivals/events on that day near that area (like 2015 Auckland day weekend)
      4. Loosen restriction for street performers
      5. Set up area for outdoor food stalls and gift stalls in the middle of queen street
      6. Put up some promotion campaigns

      I envisioned the streets will be very vibrant, retails full of shoppers, a great pub life and families will bring children for the festivals.

      The upcoming lantern festival is a chance to plan something like this.

  5. Hey Patrick, would you be able to do a post on what the timelines and processes involved around closing Queen Street would be? I’d assume you’d need to have a trial period e.g. carless/bus-only weekends so people can get used to the idea, etc before proper implementation – is there a chance you could get something up outlining the steps that would need to be taken?

    1. There are lots of potential implementation strategies from the trial/incremental advocated by Goose above to the top-down big bang change of the kind that would come with say the rebuilding of the street when laying tracks.

      It looks like a double strategy may be best: the incremental is clever, allowing for adjustments and adaptions and is politically subtler as is a way to avoid unnecessary confrontations exaggerated by fear of change and the tendency of some who are consulted feel betrayed when their view is not followed to the letter. But the increments must be working towards a big picture strategy.

      We have had some really good incremental changes on Queen long ago; the double pedestrian phases and raised mid block crossings have incentivised lazy drivers to use other routes, and ped numbers have shot up as the environment improved. And the Shared Streets themselves. But I would like to see a sort of continual process of de-carring. You know: what gets fed, grows.

      How about removing the turning options into Queen, especially from Vic and Wellesley? Optimise these as east west routes as in the CCMP? Positive for both traffic and peds. The bottom of Wynyard could be closed to general traffic? Temporary closures for weekends or events are great for testing and experimenting.

      This is presumably Centre City Integration’s raison d’etre; I’m sure the professionals are working hard on this, only risk I see is if they freeze while waiting for big moves like the CRL or LRT. Everything really relies on everything else but something has to be done next…. can’t all happen at once nor wait for the king hit.

      1. Agreed – it sounds like most people would accept having cars off Queen as somewhat inevitable, so I’m hoping there’s something in the pipeline to let people see what it looks like in practice.

  6. Also badly needed is Lorne Street between Victoria and Wellesley. Perhaps your map would benefit from being extended southwards as it could then show the gap to the shared spaces of southern Lorne and Rutland.

    1. Agree, though probably then warrants looking at the reuturn to the two-ways on Kitchener…?

      Kitchener has a very big parking building smack in the middle and leads directly to the Vic St parking building too. But two way it and traffic slows but also is a direct way out of these buildings to the m’way onramps of Wellesley to Grafton….

      Ideally too there’s an old 60s building half way up Lorne that should have its parking turned into a more valuable use….

  7. My understanding is AT are opposed to pedestrian crossings on lower Shortland Street because pedestrian counts are TOO high and hence would slow down cars too much. It’s bizarre single-mode behaviour from them. Crossings are declined because of insufficient pedestrian numbers (although when pushed AT usually only have car counts) and when they do have pedestrian counts and admit themselves the numbers easily justify the priority they turn around and say it’ll have too great an impact on cars. AT really is a dinosaur.

    1. This just completely supports my view that the answer is to stem the flow of the lowest value volume of these vehicles completely and Shared Street it. We don’t want or need many of those vehicles in Queen, and we don’t want or need them in lower Shortland. Lower Shortland can be like the Queen St end of Fort. What AT need to accept, even if against their religion, is that sometimes it is their job to restrict or disincentivise vehicle traffic. Vehicle volume is controllable, they actually do it all the time, though usually in the other direction, ie they are mostly in the business of driver encouragement. But that age is over, they now have a subtler task, to judge where and when to shape the environment for each of these goals in turn.

      To my mind rediscovering lower Shortland as a place is one of the great prizes that comes with getting cars out of Queen. As I said a few years ago here: http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2011/08/30/guest-post-why-are-there-cars-on-queen-st/

      Yet in terms of an incremental step a crossing here while we wait for the permanent fix would surely begin the process by encouraging drivers to not bother using this route. The lawyers of upper Shortland will learn to head up, and the circling parkers will finally get it that it’s better to duck into the first parking building near the m’way off ramp and join the street party on foot…. Worth a thought CCI?

      1. It all just needs to be done as soon as possible. Even if incremental trials with removable planters or removable bollards just for confidence building. All the roads listed and full cars off Queen St below Mayoral Drive. Even if started Thurs to Sunday Night as a trial? Pedestrians counted, even clients in shops counted on a website and comments freely given by retailers and customers. Marketed even if initially on news etc, start with some special attractions in middle of Queen St. What is there to lose especially when all the shared spaces have been triumphs and looking at historic photos, looks like a sure thing, then times square etc. As you say not many fridges to buy down there, and cars don’t have credit cards, but pedestrians do.

  8. If you announced a no-car policy (emergency and delivery vehicles aside) tomorrow for lower Queen St, who would possibly object?

    As your 2011 article exposes, there aren’t any parking buildings or other buildings cars need to access. There aren’t many on street carparks. Its not a vital corridor really. It just seems to be a place for cars, private ones anyway, to cruise along for nothing more than a look around.

    This shouldn’t be that hard. This should be low hanging fruit that further highlights the ridiculous opposition to a shared space in places like High St. AT should be nailing these ones down so that High St has no choice but to relent.

    1. Who would object?

      -those who fear change
      -those who so identify with driving that they see any such change as ‘a war on the car’ [Brewer]
      -a few very vocal retailers who only want to focus on one kind of customer [the one most like themselves]
      -and those used to using this rat run

  9. As much as I love shared spaces, I do feel that we need a decent number of 10-min car parks in the area. About once a week I finding myself dropping off a last minute order to a store or picking up an item or person. This is typical ‘city business.’ If this is too much to bear (because space on streets is too precious), then the solution would be to require car parking buildings to have conveniently-accessible areas (near the entrances) where the public can park for 10 or so minutes without incurring a $15-$20 fee. (For example the building on Kyber Pass). Often the best areas of a car park building are “reserved”. And the unfair prices condone ‘circling’ behaviour. If the assumption is that “you shouldn’t be driving to the CBD in the first place” then I say to that, “nice theory.”

    1. Absolutely, but just not in the Queen St valley, all over the rest of the Central City there are on-street parks and all of them are free for the first ten [or is it 15?]. But having said that, couriers are pretty handy, especially those nippy dudes on bikes, for quick deliveries and pick-ups.

    2. As Patrick says, all the parking meters now have a ten minute “grace period”… AT are doing some good work to make the central city parking system more responsive, get longer term parking into the buildings and leave the streets available for the short term/ in-and-out stuff.

  10. A couple of the photos highlight the need to maintain a link from O’Connell St to Commerce St, a set of monumental steps + a small park would help maintain the connectivity and ensure that the sight lines and sunlight were also protected. This needn’t prevent other development on the site in fact it would be good to tie it in with a future development of this wasted space (as long as that development isn’t another car park).

    1. Consent was given to build a car park here last year IIRC, however, nothing has eventuated in the interim, so whether that’s been shelved who knows.

  11. I’m not too sure about making Queen Street north of Mayoral Drive, like Bourke Street. Imo, it should be more like Swanston Street as it would lessen the need for dedicated cycling infrastructure on Albert Street.

    If High Street retailers don’t like the shared space plan as it removes all carparking, maybe this blog and AT could come up with a “comprise solution”. For example, the road could be raised to footpath height, one side of parking would be removed, the other side would be reconfigured to become loading zones and 30m/1hr parking. Maybe we could do the same with Federal street as it isn’t as successful as the other shared spaces.

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