Exactly five years ago last month, August 30th 2011, my first ever blog post ran on Transportblog. While I am astonished it’s already been five years, what’s really astonishing is what we, my colleagues here, you the readers, and the growing force of friends and allies elsewhere [shoutout to Generation Zero and Bike Auckland especially], and of course the many good people official roles, have helped achieve in Auckland in this time. We have certainly raised the discourse on urban issues and influenced some real outcomes, for the better. Exactly what we set out to do, and what we continue to strive for.

But there is one thing that has still remains unfixed and that is the subject of my first post, which is reproduced in full below.

Why Are There Cars on Queen St?

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds and was originally published in Metro magazine

Queen St, from the water to Mayoral Drive, has an unusual and unexpected feature for a city street in Auckland. It’s easy to miss but it’s true: There is not one vehicle entrance to a building from Queen St. Not one car parking building, not one loading bay, not one ramp to an executive garage under a tower block. The only way to enter a building from Queen St is on foot. There are a few very short term road side parks among the bus stops and loading bays, but really every car in Queen St is on its way to and from somewhere else. And so slowly.

People often talk about traffic with words like ‘flow’ as if it is best understood as a liquid, when really what it is actually like is a gas. Traffic expands like a gas to fill any space available to it [which is why it is futile to try to road build your out of congestion]. There are cars in Queen St simply because we let them be there, like an old habit we’ve never really thought about. l think it’s time we did.

No traffic moves well on Queen St, certainly not the buses, it is usually quicker to walk from the Ferry Building to the Town Hall than to catch any Queen St bus. Emergency vehicles get stuck, deliveries battle their way through. It is clear why there is traffic on the four east-west cross streets of Customs, Victoria, Wellesley, and Mayoral. These are essential through routes to and from motorways and parking buildings. But they too get held up by all the turning in and out of the intersections with Queen St. Because as it is now the lights have long and complicated phases to handle every possible car movement and the growing volume of pedestrians.

It seems likely that simply by removing the private car from the three blocks from Mayoral Drive down to Customs St the city will function so much better. The intersections of Customs, Victoria and Wellesley, will be able to have much better phasing for both pedestrians and the cross town traffic, as well speeding the buses as they would effectively be on bus lanes all the way up Queen St. Air quality in the Queen St gully would improve immensely. The bottom of Shortland and the newly refurbished Fort streets will become the sunny plazas they should be. Inner city retailers should see the benefits of the Queen St becoming a more appealing place to be in and the cross town traffic flowing better will make car use more viable.

And there will the space to convert the smoky diesel bus routes into modern electric trams to really make the most of this improvement and speed even more shoppers and workers to and from the rest of the city.

If we’re brave enough to take this all the way up to Mayoral Drive we get the real chance to link the new Art Gallery, the Library, and St James area across the Queen St divide to Aotea Square, the Town Hall and the new Q Theatre. A chance to really build a cultural heart at this end of town.

Furthermore it could all be done with a few cones, signs, traffic light changes and a media campaign. At least to start.


And I still believe that AT/AC are not addressing this issue as well as they should. Waiting for Light Rail to improve our city’s main street lacks leadership and strategic focus, and may well even turn out to be risky to the approval that project. It will, I believe, help the argument for Light Rail here to show that Queen St isn’t a necessary or desirable place for general traffic, and that its continuing reduction is far from negative for commercial performance in the City Centre, by actively encouraging its departure. We know that the last restrictions had way better results than anticipated, halving the amount of vehicle traffic and boosting the much more valuable pedestrian numbers and economic activity, see here.

Queen St volumes - Total

Since my post above AT have recently added partial bus lanes to the two lower blocks, which is good, but not much in five years. I would like to see these lanes continue through to Mayoral Drive. I really think this valley needs to be addressed strategically, and not just reactively, which after all has been well studied by AT, e.g. The City East West Study, CEWT.

Adding north/south of Queen St to this mix we get a hierarchy like this:

  1. Pedestrians in all directions
  2. Transit north/south on Queen and east/west on Wellesley and Customs
  3. Deliveries
  4. General traffic east/west on Mayoral, Victoria, and Customs

And above all of this is the plan to remove all general traffic from Wakefield St north to be worked towards; to continue the current trend.

So improving the Queen St intersections by removing right hand turn options matches this hierarchy perfectly, in particular at Victoria St. This is now a more difficult idea since the Link bus turns from Queen here, but the turn could be made bus only. Victoria St is currently narrowed by CRL works, and will be permanently reduced in width by the Aotea CRL station entrance which will be in what is current road space. So getting drivers used to both the narrowed Victoria St and out of the habit of turning here is surely a strong plan.

Now of course AT are getting pressure from angry motorists over the CRL works, and seem to have responded to this by dropping the double pedestrian cycle from the big Barnes Dances on Queen. This is clearly counter productive to the strategic aims. Instead if they removed right hand turning at Victoria this would improve the adjacent Victoria St intersections for all users and enable either concurrent crossing on Queen or allow the double Barnes Dance phases to be restored. Then there is the festering sore that is lower Shortland St, which clearly has just been shoved into the too hard basket.

Oh and now I discover I have written about this in 2013 too: Clusterbus, Busageddon, Busapocalypse…

In short there are ways that AC/AT could be advancing their strategic aims in the centre city before Light Rail is begun, but they don’t seem to be doing this. I think they should.

Will I be banging on about still in another five years, or can the city grow up already?

‘…Five Years, what a surprise’

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  1. This is a good idea and one that seems to get almost universal backing. Start with Sunday events, move to midnight Friday – midnight Sunday and then go the whole hog over a course of six months.

    1. Yes, I seem to remember even John Banks supporting it – something like a gazzilion years ago?

      The addition of bus lanes earlier in the year didn’t seem to result in any yelling from the usual directions (surprisingly). Good canary for what’d happen if we implemented more de-caring, I think.

      1. Yes the incremental approach works, but the pace is hopelessly galacial. Own it and do it.

        Light Rail will be an easier sell to the perma-sceptics in Wellington if there is no traffic to ‘disrupt’ there anyway.

        1. Best chance of getting Govt support for light rail (or any kind of rail) is to change the govt next election. The current crowd are perma-anti.

          1. Change to who? What did the last Labour (supported in power by the Greens) government do for rail (any rail) in New Zealand?

          2. You asked that question the other day and received an answer, go back and look at those answers instead of trolling a new thread.

          3. If you are talking to me Sailor Boy can you refresh my memory as to what the answer is? I have asked this of lots of people that see changing the government (without saying to who) as the answer to all transport problems but I don’t recall getting an answer.
            Dave was the one that brought politics into this but failed to tell us what it is that any government including or being supported by any party has done for rail anytime in the last 60 years, maybe even longer.

          4. Ted you asked it about a week ago, are you having memory problems or is it that you ask questions and ignore the answers?


            Also why would the next (minority) Lab gov be identical to one that ended 9 years ago and had different personnel, especially as they will have very pro-PT (Greens) and pro-rail (NZF) likely partners? The world has moved on a great deal since then.

            But also having said that without Project Dart and the Northern Busway, both lead and funded by the last Lab gov, there is no chance AKL would have electrification, and now the CRL underway.

            Try to remember this answer.

          5. Sorry Patrick but I didn’t read that as an answer just more of a statement supporting that there has been Government support of rail for a very long time. The very pro-PT (Greens) and pro-rail (NZF) do not like each other, the last time NZF was called on to support a government it was on the condition that the Greens were not part of it. Yes things change as do personnel but the public purchase of KiwiRail did nothing for rail and only allowed Toll to fund the expansion of their trucking fleet.

            This was a question directed at Dave and last time Bruce from statements they have made, neither have answered the question.

            This post is not a political one and is about the Otahuhu rail station, if that is the right term for what AT are building there and in other places around Auckland. It will be good to see how it all works out once this site is up and running and where we go to next.

          6. What a painfully contrived answer. You didn’t like the answer so you ignored it and the wrong person said it so you act as though it hasn’t been answered?

            This is what the labour government did for rail.

            “Err? Project DART, setting the scene for electrification; public purchase of KiwiRail; and for the record the Northern Busway.”

            And national.

            Held electrification, which had already started, up over three years, held CRL in limbo for four years, built several bridges in the way of airport rail, progressed NoR for AWHC without a rail component closed NAL, Gisborne Napier line, and for the record are currently building the end of the NW motorway so that a busway is almost impossible..

          7. Ted please don’t lecture me about what is appropriate content on a blog I, in part, run.

            Anyway all transport issues are ultimately political so it is important to be accurate about all political parties positions, policies, and past achievements. Furthermore we welcome all good policies from every political direction rather than backing one tribe or another. The current government, for example, has changed a great deal, and for the better, from their earliest positions, as evidenced by promises to funding the CRL and actual budget for urban cycling, and in general so have all other parties. Except ACT. In fact the change this century has been fast and strong; a very real case of a rising tide lifting all boats. All opposition parties have better policies than the current governing parties and are, to some degree, in a bit of a bidding war for being able to claim ‘best’ offer in this area.

            The trend is clear, so it is likely that the next parliament will be ready to move even further for much better urban transport outcomes. Not least because the ignoring of Climate Change that is the current policy is clearly unsustainable and transport sector is our biggest emitter.

          8. Ok Sailor Boy again the public purchase of KiwiRail did nothing for rail, it only allowed Toll to fund the expansion of their trucking fleet.
            The Northern Busway is not rail as mentioned in the question.
            Auckland electrification and the CRL were coming it didn’t matter who was in government at the time as both were AT (council) projects not governments ones, sure they both required government funding but they would have still happened without it.
            Also note the NAL line has not been closed or even partially closed, I traveled on part of it just last week. The Gisborne Napier line while currently unusable is not officially closed and if you saw the damage you may even wonder why there is even talk about fixing and reopening it.
            Nothing else you have mentioned it about rail, PT yes but the question is about rail.

            Again this post is not a political one, it is a transport one specifically about the Otahuhu rail station. It will be good to see how it all works out once this site is up and running and on to the next transport hub.

          9. Patrick it was in no way intended to be a lecture, you Matt and others do a great job with this blog it is just whenever someone comes up with ‘change the government’ as an answer to anything it would be nice if they would say to who and why.

            I’m not against changing the government but would prefer to change for the better rather than just for the sake of change.

          10. @ Bigted “This was a question directed at Dave and last time Bruce from statements they have made, neither have answered the question.”
            Sorry, I have only just seen your postings..

            @ Bigted “Change to who? What did the last Labour (supported in power by the Greens) government do for rail (any rail) in New Zealand?”

            Change to a Lab/Green govt of course. National have done their 3 terms of damage and we are long overdue for some new ideas in transport.

            Agreed, there is the problem of NZ First not liking the Greens (as used to be the case with Labour), and it remains unknown whether King-maker Winston will usher in another National-led govt, or turn and support Lab/Green. A lot remains unknown, but what is known is that the present National-led govt have been completely uninterested in funding public transport while splurging a vast amount on poor-business-case roading. This in my view has to be stopped.

            The former labour govt’s achievements in funding and supporting public transport have been well-outlined by others.

          11. Dave you mentioned changing the government to get the “Best chance of getting Govt support for light rail (or any kind of rail)”. The last governments support of Aucklands PT projects is nothing more than the currents governments and the last Labour lead government possibly did the most damage to ‘rail’ (you mentioned changing the government to get support for rail) since the Labour government did in the 80s. Buying back the trains from Toll did nothing and possibly even made it worse (for rail as a whole) when the government already owned Ontrack, the best policy for rail is that of NZF that will separate off infrastructure, something that effectively brings back Ontrack that the last Labour government mashed back into Kiwirail trying to go back in time to the NZR days, this did as much (if not more) harm to rail in New Zealand than carving up the railways corporation did in the 1980s.
            Toll took that money the government gave them for the trains to double their trucking fleet, so what has that done to improve rail in New Zealand?
            The last time any government put any significant amount of money into rail was during the late 1970s (a National government) followed by making a huge portion of the workforce redundant in 1979 only to re-employ most of them less than a week later.
            Changing the government needs to be a change for the better not just for the sake of change, yes John Key is an arrogant third term (Helen Clarke also fell into that trap) PM but is a change giving us anything better. NZF being king maker has just as much chance as returning a National government than it does as giving a new multi party government (hopefully Andrew Little would be able to hold them together) that has so many different policies that we really don’t know what is in store for us.

  2. Hopefully LRT will be in ACAP solving the issue once and for all, especially if Prodcomm advice followed and Land Value Capture allowed.

  3. I don’t think I had reason to drive on Queen St in the last 25 years until the Vogons started digging holes for the CRL. At one point they closed most of Victoria Street so the contractors had somewhere to park. I dont know why so many trucks were parked when there was only one man with a wheelbarrow working on the site.

  4. I agree totally with the sentiment. But what happens with service vehicles? Its not always practical to say they have no access during the day and I know from personal experience when I was a courier in London if you make it goods vehicles only they use it to rat run?

    1. Delivery and service providers have much better access without general traffic dominating the street and the curb-side. As do the even more important emergency vehicles. Congestion, remember, is traffic congestion. Both your package and your defibulator are going to get to you quicker in the City Centre with fewer drivers aimlessly circling there…

      This is a win/win/win. Those who currently insist on driving themselves through the heart of the city will kvetch until it occurs to them that it’s more rational to use Transit/Active there. This will occur sooner the more the city is honest in its acts and communications. Pandering to this group, pretending we can have a better and more prosperous city while maintaining SOV everywhere, is a strategic and tactical mistake. As it is an impossibility. AC/AT need to own this fact.

  5. Still harping on about this dead duck idea.

    The area that should be pedestrian only is on the narrow roads behind Britomart. This burgeoning area already has low traffic and is really coming along nicely. Finishing it off by making it pedestrian only makes 1,000 more sense than taking cars off Queen Street.

    Incidentally Adelaide tried something similar by blocking off one of their main roads. The resulting area is so big it has no atmosphere and the shopping was crap. Hopefully we will learn from this rather than applying blind ideology as Patrick is doing.

    1. Actually, both make sense.

      But how would taking out private vehicles impact queen set shopping when there is practically nowhere for them to park there anyway? The cars are going through and bypassing it for somewhere else (even if it is to somewhere else to park and walk back to shop).

      Seems a warped prioritisation – private vehicles not even stopping there over transit dropping shoppers there, deliveries, cross-town traffic and emergency vehicles.

    2. I was in Adelaide during their fringe festival earlier in the year and the pedestrian mall was great, the shopping is still good and the atmosphere was pretty good.

      I’m interested to hear what others think of the city, although it is a little slower paced than what I’d expect out of Auckland, but things do change when you invest appropriately.

    3. Queen Street is still going to have buses or trams, so it’s not just going to be a big open space. It would be similar to Bourke Street in Melbourne. That’s not what I would call an empty place without atmosphere.

      But it is true that you have to avoid the big empty space effect. A few months ago the city of Brussels found that out the hard way.

      1. Add cycle lanes as well.

        Big empty space just because we take out cars cruising for kicks, while all other users remain? Concern trolling.

  6. Listening to the radio commentators, I realised a lot of people still thinks build more roads and add more cars is the way to go. Removing cars would have resistance.

    Unfortunately the general public still doesn’t get it, so the politicians will have a hard time proposing this.

  7. Ha! “Blind ideology”; so you do have some self-insight after all.
    I have just returned from a trip taking in two of the world’s great cities (London and Tokyo) and some lesser ones (Dublin, Belfast, Leeds.
    ALL of them have pedestrianised large areas and have plans to expand.
    I was in Tokyo on Sunday and the main street in Ginza (Chuo Dori) is closed on weekends. It was a very pleasant stroll.
    London has pedestrianised a lot of Soho and is expanding this.
    The centre of Dublin is one gigantic building site at present as O’Connell Street and surroundings are having a new tram line installed (LUAS). I caught one of the existing trams and I really felt like I was in a modern 21st century city, so unlike some of of the paleolithic car-centric ideology still extant in Auckland.
    The rest of the world is investing heavily in PT: it’s time for Auckland to move on from archaic thinking.

  8. I started tracking your blog in the early days and was impressed with your vision then; it’s even better now. It’s influencing politics.

  9. Yes, the should just go ahead and kick out private vehicles on weekends. It makes plenty of sense. Especially now when everyone knows there is so much disruption in the place. They would all get used to it and then you add in fridays and then the rest of the week. Private traffic is a liquid and will people will always just find another way to get around.

  10. To be clear, I’m not debating whether SOVs should no longer be tolerated on Queen St, that’s long ago settled, it is AT policy, it is both the necessary accompaniment of the Light Rail plan and the best thing about it (not that AT are much good at either understanding or selling place quality outcomes). And this is clearly the direction all the rapidly improving cities are moving globally. The 1950s city driving priority model is entirely dead, even if a whole lot of middle management seem to have yet to read the memo.

    No, this is a post how to get there, not where we’re going. And in that I believe the best course is not being taken; they are not taking the opportunity offered by the disruption to previous driving access on city centre streets from the CRL and other works. This is an opportunity to squeeze the flood further, to change habits; after all most resistance to change is just; resistance to change. Most people take a while to accept change even when it’s a clear improvement, and there’s always a good 10% contrarians stuck down the opposite end of the bell curve from the early adopters, who will never accept anything changing ever. And they don’t all live on Northcote point. But most are also rational, and will adapt and change with good inducement.

    This is about the tactics to suit the strategy. Saying, sorry, we’ll get t back to how it was as soon as possible, here we’ll cut the pedestrian cross time for you, is to head in the wrong direction. IMV.

  11. Charles de Gaulle is said to have claimed his success in politics came from applying three rules; 1. Stay in with the out. 2. Exploit the inevitable. and 3. Don’t get stuck between a dog and a lamppost.
    AT are positioning themselves fairly and squarely between said dog and lamppost by waiting for the arrival of light rail and not exploiting the inevitability of the disruption in the current CRL work to get change underway NOW. None of their constituent Queen St users are happy with the half pie arrangements and as Patrick clearly shows it is the private motor vehicle that should be least favoured with buses, pedestrians and cyclists given better access and flow.

  12. There is no reason for private vehicles to be on Queen Street at all – buses yes, taxis maybe, and delivery trucks could be restricted to after hours – but all private vehicles are doing is using Queen Street in order to get from point A to point B, and that is not what the commercial heart of a city should be used for.

    1. There is absolutely no point allowing delivery trucks after hours (there is no one to deliver to) but there are potential problems with allowing them during normal hours like using Queen st to avoid the traffic on other routes.

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