An interesting idea emerged yesterday from the Uptown Business Association for improving the southern end Symonds St. It’s an area I know well having formerly lived in an apartment right above this part of Symonds St for a number of years.
Upper Symonds St above Auckland’s CBD is being eyed as a largely pedestrianised zone – above shallow vehicle tunnels – when trams return to the city.
The Uptown Business Association has produced a conceptual design for the “greening” of what is one of Auckland’s main traffic bottlenecks.
Under the design, by local architects Pacific Environments, traffic heading from any of five directions could pass beneath a new pedestrian precinct through which the only other motor vehicles would be trams, vans or trucks servicing shops and restaurants. That would free the intersections of New North and Mt Eden roads, and of Khyber Pass and Newton roads, for pedestrians and cyclists as well as trams.
Business association manager Gary Holmes said it would create a popular community focal point for the more than 700 businesses and thousands of residents based around Eden Terrace, Grafton and Newton.
“The main problem for Uptown is that currently it is dissected by a number of major arterial roads which join at the central point of the business district, greatly reducing the opportunity for any cohesion or sense of community,” he said.
The business association has come up with its proposal as a way of encouraging people from new mixed residential-commercial developments around the Mt Eden rail hub, to spend a few minutes walking up the hill to Symonds St.
Mr Holmes acknowledged the proposal would mean the loss of parking but said making the precinct more pedestrian-friendly would counteract impacts on businesses.
“At the moment, they have a race track going past their front doors – this will slow people down,” he said. “This area has been neglected for a number of years, and this is a way to redeem that.”
His association intended spending $20,000 to $30,000 in each of the next two years or so on firming it up or considering alternatives, during which financial estimates should emerge.
Pacific Environments managing director Peter Eising said the proposal offered just one potential solution for the area’s redevelopment, but the challenges it faced meant visionary thinking was required.
I think it’s great that the business association are trying to think about how they could redevelop the area to be more people friendly and having lived there I certainly think this part of Auckland has a lot of unrealised potential. I’m not entirely sure the concept they’ve come up is all that realistic or practical though. For starters sinking the roads into a trench would be horrendously expensive and given the image shown would likely cost hundreds of millions. Given all of the other priorities in Auckland I can’t see this one ranking highly on the list. Tunnels such as these also present other issues such as the portals at each end to get the road back to the surface and the need for expensive ventilation, fire and other safety systems. Also to be considered is that currently Symonds St and Khyber Pass are a key route for trucks carrying over dimension loads from the port – I’m not sure if that would change with light rail.
Thinking about how the area could be improved a couple of things immediately spring to mind.
- The part of Symonds St north of Khyber Pass is quite wide by Auckland standards, in some places around 35m between buildings. This provides a lot of opportunities to make better use of the space for all modes. Light Rail plus improved walking and cycling options could easily fit in alongside general traffic lanes that have been calmed to reduce the chances of people speeding.
- The intersection of Symonds St and Khyber Pass is an oversized nightmare for people not in cars. This could easily be scaled back to again slow cars and make it safer – in fact I remember from my time in the area frequently seeing and hearing accidents at this intersection. They could start by removing the high speed slip lanes. Of course the intersection never used to be this size, it was widened around 15-20 years ago. The image below shows how much it has changed
With the business association keen for improvements then perhaps the next step could be for AT and the council to look at what could be done to at least temporarily improve the area. Perhaps they could put into practice some temporary changes to see what works.