This is a guest post submitted by reader Harriet.
We talk so much about how to make the CBD more pedestrian friendly by removing general traffic, and concentrating on public transport and active modes instead, but do we do this enough for our town centres? For the CBD we talk about traffic calming, diverting and even removal of cars for places like Queen Street, so why don’t we apply the same logic to our town centres?
Town centres for the most part sit along main arterial roads. As Auckland has expanded outwards, and over time became more auto focused, these roads have increasingly become through routes for people driving past, rather than functioning as places. Let’s think about the CBD. Is Queen Street a through route arterial or is it focused on access? Policies especially since the 90’s have encouraged motorists to use orbital routes by reducing the speed limits on Queen Street, Barnes Dance crossings, and street upgrades to encourage pedestrian access. In the future Queen Street could become a pedestrian mall with LRT (Light Rapid Transit, or light rail). In a way Symonds Street, Albert/Nelson/Hobson are like western and eastern ring roads. Most motorists therefore freely elect to use these orbital routes. So can applying the same principles to our town centres which presently have radial through roads and instead change it up investing in orbital routes instead which will allow traffic to still flow around, but leaving our Town Centres free for people. Could this be a win win?
Mt Albert was once a strong historical town centre with access to the old tram network, it has now fallen into decay. The local board has lately fought for revival and DART has brought an upgraded station but people still flock to St. Lukes Mall or the CBD. Anyone who has been to Mt Albert can see that New North Road is used as a through route for people driving to New Lynn, Avondale and further afield, not for people coming to Mt Albert. New North Road thus has been upgraded for this purpose being a dual carriageway through the town centre, not including the protected parking on the station side and on-street parking on the other side. Traffic lights are phased for vehicle flow and the walkways remain decayed and cracked. All this creates a seriously unfriendly environment for pedestrians and shoppers. The new town centre plan really does little to change this. It keeps the same amount of lanes, not adding in any real cycle or bus priority with really token improvements to aesthetics.
What if we treated Mt Albert the same way we would treat Queen Street, or even the ways other cities would treat their own versions of Queen Street? What if we wanted our town centres to be destinations, not another set of traffic lights? What if we wanted to create great town centres for people without even hurting traffic flows? It’s possible, if just like the CBD here and in other cities we think orbital not radial.
Here is my alternative proposal. If we rail-bridged the Woodward Road level crossing (which needs to be done regardless) and if we diverted New North Road down Carrington Road and Woodward , we would remove one level crossing and create a bypass of Mt Albert Town Centre. From the Woodward Road/Richardson Road intersection to the Mt Albert Road/Carrington Road intersection there would be a section of road completely free from general traffic. The area especially on the NAL (Western Line Side) is mostly post-war low density retail, light industrial, re-purposed warehouses and a service station. If we pedestrianised the old New North Road this would leave enough room for cycle lanes, shops to re-purpose the old walkways into outdoor space and of course plenty of space for pedestrians. If up-zoned to allow mixed use and higher density this would create plenty of area for apartments, offices and retail right next to Mt Albert Station and a future light rail terminus for the Sandringham Road LRT, all without drastically affecting traffic flows. Traffic instead would use the orbital route or potentially switch to SH16 when the upgrades including Waterview are completed.
Objections would be:
- Parking (always parking) – Study after study has shown that retail owners greatly overestimate the amount of customers who come by car compared to active modes and PT. That after improvement to active modes & PT more customers tend to visit not less. Also, with more residents as part of the mixed use potential development, there will be a larger base of local shoppers who can simply walk to the centre.
- Bus Access – In the long run, before 2023, it is possible to have both Sandringham Road LRT which could potentially terminate at Mt Albert and likely to have the CRL with potentially 5 minute frequencies to Henderson and the City plus a 3 train per hour crosstown service. We are moving to a best practice bus network which would mean there will be significantly fewer New North Road buses after the CRL, as well as Electric Buses which will be more Town Centre friendly due to less pollution both noise & air. In the short run buses could use the Town Centre with strict rules on idling & speed restrictions.
- It will create a negative outcome for some on the new orbital route – Perhaps in some ways, however, the proximity of the town centre and increased transport options would likely increase their property values and they would have access to the improved town centre. Also, Woodward Road is busy at present and the removal of the level crossing would be of great benefit to the residents.
- Wouldn’t it be better to just reduce the traffic? Possibly. However, I wanted to show a win-win situation where through motorists wouldn’t realistically be affected travel wise and the local people would have their town centre returned to them. Who doesn’t love win-win?
If we think orbital and not radial is it possible we could have a Swanston Street in every town centre in Auckland, such as Kingsland, Mt Eden, Glen Innes, Sandringham, Avondale, New Lynn, Ellerslie and more?
Is it possible that with a little creative thinking, town centres can become great places just like CBDs or like Santa Monica Promenade? What do you think, any ideas of your own? Also, let me know in the comments if you would like this to become a series as I do have ideas for the above.