Queen St is Auckland’s spiritual and commercial heart but it’s also one of the most unique streets in the city. For the most prominent part, the over 1km from Mayoral Dr to the harbour, there is not a single vehicle destination on the street. There are no carpark entrances, no loading docks and no lanes that cannot be accessed by another route. As such, with the exception of deliveries/couriers, any vehicle using this stretch of road is doing so to get somewhere else.
Around a decade ago the old Auckland City Council started an upgrade of Queen St to make the street more people friendly. This included upgrading and widening the footpaths, the addition of double the number of pedestrian phases at intersections, mid-block crossings and a 30kph speed limit. Some short term carparking and loading bays were retained to appease retailers because at the time many of the changes were considered controversial and plans for bus lanes were dropped. The benefit of hindsight suggests the upgrade was timid and a lost opportunity, especially with the much bolder changes the city has seen over the last five years.
At the time of the upgrade the council estimated there were about 46,000 pedestrians, 40,000 bus passengers and 25,000 people in vehicles. Heart of the City now have fantastic data on pedestrian numbers thanks to automated counters located around the city and they show pedestrian volumes of around 60,000 per day, sometimes more. For example, on Friday 1 April the counter outside 210 Queen St (eastern side) recorded 36,128 people passing by.
I’ve long wanted to see what impact the upgrade had on vehicle numbers but amazingly it appears no traffic counts had taken place since 2004 (it’s so old the data isn’t on ATs public Traffic Counts spreadsheets but I have an old copy). That changed last week after AT finally conducted one and were kind enough to share the results and there is a fascinating amount of detail. The count was from Wednesday 16th March to Tuesday 22 March and was taken between Victoria and Darby Streets. It’s also worth noting that the results from March may have been affected by diversion of traffic as a result of CRL enabling works.
Back in 2004 in the same spot and almost exactly the same day (14 Mar – 20 Mar) the counters recorded an average of 10,300 vehicles using Queen St in each direction over a seven-day period. By comparison counts this March show vehicle volumes are down 48% to an average just 5,300 per direction per day, far more than the predicted 15% reduction in volumes.
The new data is such that it can be broken down to 15 minute intervals for each direction for each of the seven days. The busiest single hour for either direction was on the Friday 18 March at 16:45-17:45 when 401 vehicles were counted travelling southbound. Remember though that this is over two lanes so that suggests even at its busiest, Queen St is moving just 200 vehicles per hour per lane.
The graph below shows the average volumes over the week although I’ve just kept it hourly so it stays readable.
As mentioned earlier, lowering the speed limit on Queen St to 30kph was one of the changes made as part of the upgrade. Included in the data is a breakdown of vehicle speeds. For vehicles traveling northbound, 22.3% (7,971) exceeded the speed limit while the 85th percentile speed was 31.5kph. The numbers for those going southbound are quite different though with 47.8% (16,312) exceeding the speed limit and the 85th percentile was higher at 37kph. The most extreme speed captured was one vehicle on the Saturday afternoon that was recorded travelling southbound 80-90kph – another four at other times were 70-80kph. The speeds are shown on the graph below with the red line indicating the speed limit.
The data also gives a breakdown by vehicle classification. In total 91.9% of all vehicles were classified as cars or light commercial vehicles while 7.3% were classified as medium or heavy commercial vehicles. I’m not sure what the other 0.8% is made up of, I’m assuming they couldn’t be classified properly (I’m sure some of you engineer types can tell me what CL14 is).
One thing the data really does highlight is the spatial differences between modes. In this part of Queen St the corridor is around 27.5m wide. Of that the four lanes of the road take up 12.8m (47%) while the footpaths on each side are each around 5m wide. The remainder of the space is split between carparks and seating/trees/bus stops as can be seen in the first picture. Using an average occupancy of 1.2 people per vehicle it suggests that more than four times the number of people are walking down Queen St than are in vehicles. It also suggests that based on the width dedicated to each mode, that each metre for vehicles is moving around 1,100 people per day while each metre of footpath is moving almost 6,000 people per day.
Using the data available and the vehicle occupancy suggested above, I’ve put the graph below together to highlight the difference between people in vehicles and people on foot. It compares the volumes on a Friday which will be why the volumes remain fairly high at night.
The big unknown is the impact that public transport has on Queen St. The CityLink buses run every 7-8 minutes for most of the day and are often very full. The numbers being moved by bus along Queen St could be much higher than all other vehicles combined. I’m sure AT could easily pull the information from the HOP system. The bus lanes that are soon to be installed on some sections of Queen St are not only well overdue but given the number of PT users be a much fairer and more rational use of the space.
If AT’s light rail plans go ahead Queen St will be transformed into a transit mall which will be fantastic for both PT users and for pedestrians as it will mean dedicated space for PT and more space will be able to be allocated to pedestrians (and hopefully cyclists too).
Lastly while looking for some information on the Queen St upgrade for this post, I came across the links below which make for interesting reading.
- This one explaining the proposals includes Heart of the City calling for parking subsidies for visitors while the AA call slower speeds and bus lanes “very sensible and reasonable”.
- A selection of comments to the Herald on the proposals. Most are fairly supportive of a people only space or a transit mall type situation but there are a few doozies in there.
- This op-ed from a CBD property owner which can be summed up as him saying vehicles should have priority