An emerging trend in cities is to increasingly go car-free, primarily in city centres. This is primarily related to being able to provide more space for pedestrians, cyclists and transit while also reducing emissions and improving the health of residents.

In some cases it’s limited to certain vehicle types, in others certain streets and one of the most ambitious is in Oslo where they plan to ban all cars from the city centre in 2019.

Given the trends starting to build around this, it feels only a matter of time before the question gets asked about making Auckland car-free. This isn’t to say we should be going car-free in the next few years but the desire to do so in the future is a possibility and so something we should remember when thinking about the future. If we decide we want the city centre to be increasingly or fully car-free, it will be for the same reasons that these other cities are.

While we tend to focus on the how we deal with the tens of thousands who travel to the city centre each day, and who can be relatively easily counted as they cross the motorway moat that surrounds the city, what is often overlooked is the rapidly increasing population of people living within the city itself. The city centre is the fastest growing location in Auckland, and possibly all of NZ with Statistics NZ estimating that as of mid-2016, the population had increased by over 11,000 in just two years to reach almost 47,000 people. That’s more than was expected in the Council’s City Centre Master Plan by 2032, what’s more, with all the development underway in the city right now and on the horizon, that number is only going to continue to increase.

The people living in the city have been a critical factor in helping the city to become a more vibrant and interesting location, a far cry from the 6 o’clock ghost town it once was after all the workers scurried home. More people living in and around the city centre in the future will only help to further improve the area but we need to support these residents by providing more public space and making easier for them to get around. Addressing how we use our road space will be critical for this

On top of the resident population, the city centre is the single largest and most dense cluster of employment in Auckland, home to over 111,000 jobs while the universities and other education providers are estimated to account for over 60,000 students.

I don’t know the exact most recent numbers but indications from Auckland Transport suggest that normally, over 80,000 people cross the motorway noose to enter the city centre every weekday during the AM peak (7-9am). Of this just under 40,000 do so either driving or as a passenger in a car. Interestingly this number has remained relatively static for at least the last 15 years while the total number of people arriving has increased significantly, meaning that all the growth to the city every morning has come from growth in transit and active modes. What’s more it means those non-car modes now account for over 50% of all trips to the city each morning. Of course, many more people enter the city centre at other times of the day too and it’s been estimated in that past that over 200,000 people visit the area every day.

Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t suddenly expect everyone to stop driving to the city centre. For one thing, we know from the likes of March Madness that there simply isn’t the capacity yet on our transit networks to cope. The City Rail Link will undoubtedly help with this but that alone won’t be enough and so we’d also likely need other projects too, in particular the core of the proposed Rapid Transit Network including vastly improved links to the Dominion Rd/Airport, the Northwest and the North Shore. In our view, we really need to get this core network in much faster ATAP proposes.

Along with or after building out the RTN, there is always the question of how fast we might change our streets. Do we go for the ripping the plaster off quickly method like Oslo and do the entire city centre in one go or do we incrementally work towards that.

The good news is know there is plenty of opportunity and capacity to make significant changes to how we use our streets without having to wait for a lot of big projects to be completed. For example, the City Rail Link has seen significant amounts of road capacity removed from Albert St and parts of Customs St and yet Auckland Transport’s monitoring shows almost no impact to travel speeds. That raises the question of whether we actually need to return these roads back to the way they were or even to the scale proposed post-CRL and also just how many other roads could we scale back to being more people friendly.

One on that list would of course be Queen St which would be made a transit mall with the installation of Light Rail (although it could be done before that)

Another would be on Victoria St and the linear park which is vital for moving the massive numbers of people exiting the City Rail Link but which Auckland Transport wants scrapped and four traffic lanes retained.

While there will always be a need for some vehicles in the city, we could and should be taking steps to make it more pedestrian, bike and transit friendly at every step. Along the way, the process of doing so will increasingly make the city more car-free and make it easier in the future to go fully car free if we ever wanted to.

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65 comments

  1. If it is going to be car free we must have hither to unknown levels of frequent PT that is not based on the standard 6.9 litre diesel engined buses. Even if as new they meet some outdated Euro 3+ emmission level they are only as good as their maintenance and overall wear and tear and inhaling diesel fumes that pour out of buses is not healthy. And battery powered buses is not really a long term solution either, nor is hybrids although they’re are great exercise in marketing.

    So are we that serious to see truly electric Light Rail as the way forward?

    1. CRL and Light Rail will deliver so much capacity, add improved ferries and a non-destructive number of buses and the streets will be free for more valuable uses, including, or course, delivery, emergency, and trade vehicles. The private car mode is rapidly becoming irrelevant in the AKL city centre. It is already third behind PT and local residents in numbers, where as it was totally dominant just 20 years ago. Although it still looks vital, but that’s just because it is so spatially inefficient.

      All we have to do is continue current trends, nothing more radical than that. And what a boon!

      1. Electric buses are urgent, but LR is still more spatially efficient than buses however they are powered, and the best technology for the Queen St valley. But yes I am indeed assuming that all buses everywhere will be electric, and am frustrated with the lack of movement towards this in PTOM.

      2. Matthew W, the manufacture of electric vehicles generates more carbon emissions than building a conventional car, mostly because of its battery. There’s quite a few articles on this. And lithium batteries have quite finite lives and have to be replaced regularly and then you have to dispose of them, somehow.

        Certainly the infrastructure for electric trolley buses, trams and trains would too, probably to a lesser extent but it is built with a very long lifespan so that counters the initial emission output.

        Hybrids and battery-powered electric vehicles have this feel good factor that masks their manufacturing pollution. Hence I said it’s great for marketing, only!

        1. There are higher emmisions from battery production but saying there are no benefits in terms of GHG emmisions is not correct particularly in NZ. Also for the local environment in the city centre (emmisions, noise) the benefits are substantial.

          Batteries can be recycled.

        2. Matthew, you’re right that electric vehicles are more resource intensive to manufacture than regular ones – that’s always the case for new, niche technology. As electric vehicles become more common, the manufacturers will get more efficient at making them, and that difference will reduce.
          On a ‘whole of life’ basis, they already lead to lower emissions than conventional cars – see https://www.eeca.govt.nz/news-and-events/media-releases/research-confirms-environmental-benefits-of-electric-vehicles/. That should keep improving as well.

          1. NZ’s biggest import is oil.
            We can easily increase our electricity production to power cars, buses etc..
            We we all benefit

          2. Its a bit delusional thinking that this product is carefully ecologically made. Its not Toyota or Nissan, its the source of the lithium and how its extracted and created which is 3rd world and as long as its some semi 2nd world country in South America, who cares? The production of liIon and calling EV’s green is laughable plus its a very finite resource.

            Battery powered electric vehicles are not our saviour, just a convenient PR distraction from the motor industry.

          3. I think mining standards in developing countries is a much broader issue than EV production. Basics like copper and steel have similar issues. So Id be careful about letting that guide policy choices too much without assessing all other options in a consistent way.

  2. Who gave Auckland Transport the unilateral right to kill the Victoria St linear park?

    Are they forgetting CCO stands for Council CONTROLLED Organisation!!!

      1. > We have heaps of parks in town.

        The one sort-of public space area in that part of the city is Elliot Street outside the Dominos pizza. Notice how packed it gets with people using it as a meeting point and hanging out there. The demand is clearly already there, imagine what it will be like with Aotea station!

      2. The linear park would be a transport spine, it would be the distributor system for the thousands of people pouring out of Aotea station and all the buses on Albert St and Queen St. Let’s not forget the plans for those to become a busway and light rail respectively, that means a lot more people trying to get across town on foot.

    1. Yes I hope they do carry on with creating the Victoria St Linear park & the Wellesley St Bus Corridor or some variant of it, what is the news on this?

  3. Good post Matt – but you left visitors off your list of city centre users. Not just tourists, but also business visitors etc. There would be 10,000+ of them on a typical day, probably over 20,000 on peak days, spending and shopping at much higher rates than other users. I think that’s a really important part of the rationale for making Queen St, the top shopping destination in the country, car free. Besides, as we all know, those pavements are getting pretty congested these days!

  4. “Even if we wanted to, we couldn’t suddenly expect everyone to stop driving to the city centre. For one thing, we know from the likes of March Madness that there simply isn’t the capacity yet on our transit networks to cope. The City Rail Link will undoubtedly help with this but that alone won’t be enough and so we’d also likely need other projects too, in particular the core of the proposed Rapid Transit Network including vastly improved links to the Dominion Rd/Airport, the Northwest and the North Shore.”

    Doesnt this analysis neglect the fact that any reduction in car use will free up road space that can be more efficiently used by PT?

  5. Every Friday evening I have dinner in the CBD and every Friday evening I look at the cars driving (at well above the posted speed limit) along Queen st and ask myself WTF these cars are doing here? Where are they going? What benefit does a Queen st transit offer the drivers over the alternative routes?

    I’m never able to answer these questions.

    The amount of cars entering/leaving Durham or Wyndham Sts is generally very small. As for exiting Victoria St onto Queen – Yeah, some do. However if you watch the people leaving the parking building, not so much… Their focus appears to be going elsewhere.

    Why the heck do cars have such incredibly long phases on the intersections on Queen St? Pedestrian crossing at ~260 Queen St – You could wait minutes at a time for the signal, or simply walk across the either vacant block or dead-stop traffic.

    We need the council to disincentivise the use of Queen St for private vehicles at the very least. Also, when is the council going to bite the bullet and pedestrianise Fort St? Fort st is packed with pedestrians, Queen st is packed with pedestrians – At the very least introduce controlled times during which non-service vehicles are banned.

    In contradiction to the desires of some here, I think that taxis, couriers and tradies should always be allowed along these roads, though tradies (and perhaps couriers) should have permits so that abuse of the privilege could be tracked..

    1. The answer is: because cars. It’s about as simple as that, traffic is prioriritised because we prioritise traffic.

      Transport planning is largely co-opted by traffic engineering. We measure, model, predict and plan for traffic flows. But we don’t have “pedestrian engineering” at all, nor really much in the way of “transit engineering”.

      So when we only measure and treat traffic, traffic becomes of singular importance. Take a look at any major intersection in town and count the flows. You’ll see perhaps one to two dozen vehicles per phase, and one to two hundred pedestrians. But try and modify things to do anything but prioritise the traffic and hear the portents of doom… because traffic is literally the only thing they even think about.

      Indeed it looks like a big important thing, because vehicles take up so much room. But there is no reason to give such priority to something simply because it is horribly space inefficient!

      1. Exactly. We can change this. Traffic is not a liquid it is a gas; it expands to fill whatever space it is afforded, and contracts when that space is contracted. Don’t believe me; well look at Albert St now. AT are currently conducting a real time demonstration off this fact, baffling however that it seems some of them can’t see what they themselves are proving, here. And are still fighting to bring back last century’s priorities to city centre streets.

      1. That will be an interesting question. What is the proportion of students in the population in the CBD? Judging from the prices of new apartments, that proportion is falling. Are students less likely to own cars than working people? If yes, then the car ownership rate will rise, and AT had better have a plan to properly manage on-street parking. Their current attempts are better than nothing, but at times clearly failing.

        1. Yes, if the growing trend of boomers having an apartment in the CBD and bach at Whitianga continues then they will likely need car-parking, however this is really up to the apartment developers. I doubt anyone with a car would buy an apartment and rely on street parking.

          1. Generally, parked cars are not a ‘problem’. Perhaps there could be a CBD Parking Garage at the end of a rail or busway ( etc).

            If you need something delivered to or from your car , there could be a subsidised delivery service. Low Cost Courier. Loco for short.

          2. Don’t see why it should be subsidised, these are individual choices people are making, it should be priced into what people are willing to pay for an apartment.

        2. Dont they already have a plan – periodically review demand and adjust prices to achieve 80% occupancy target.

          1. It’s a good plan but it’s not executed properly. The usual occupancy in the area west of Queen Street outside work hours is much closer to 100%. Which is a big PITA if you’re trying to get a tradie in your apartment. IIRC AT only checks the occupancy in the area around K’road.

            And why would apartment dwellers rely on on-street parking? Because AT is undercutting any other parking providers. Renting a parking spot costs $60 per week and up, while on-street parking is $30 per week or less if you drive to work. Additionally finding a spot to rent is cumbersome enough to avoid it if you can.

            Other than the above two (which should be easy to fix), I don’t see a problem either. Prospective residents will pay $$$ for off-street parking. If you want to get something large out of your car but your parking spot is too far away you can temporary use on-street parking and then move it to your parking spot.

          2. It’s a shame that AT’s monitoring is so poor on this, there are a lot of areas that I feel could go up again….

          3. Yeah weird they dont monitor this. You would think the meter data alone would be sufficient to calibrate against occupancy levels.

    1. That is exactly the point isn’t it, with the removal of requirement to build parking in the 90s, and recently the 80% occupancy target where prices chance to meet target (80% means people are not circling constantly creating huge amount of congestion like a 100% target does.) with high land values meaning parking has/is being converted to higher value uses (Shops, Homes, Offices) how do we serve all those the people, the answer is nearly of the growth of trips in the City Centre have grown from PT/Cycling, and of course more people living in the city means access without a car.

      So if parking is priced closer to market, we do not force people to build parking, and all growth in City Travel is PT/Cycling/Walking projects like Road AWHC make no sense for the question you ask, where will they park? So why spend 3.7b (Non inflated figure) to spit more cars into the city to endlessly travel around congesting the streets looking for parking that doesn’t exist now that is the question.

      1. Hopefully what follows is clear and concise.

        Your aims are just fine by me, no problem, no argument.

        I’d really like to check out the CBD again, my memory of it was the 90’s when it was really quite peaceful, aside from the interlopers.

        When they allow my dog, on the bus; I’ll get reacquainted.

        My question is not really about parked cars, which are akin to the sleeping Tangiwha that awake to tear into the next piece of Millwater, but the moving ones.

        My question is also ( and please excuse me if the data is staring me in the face, which is not uncommon), given where we are here, is it that the residents of the CBD stand completely apart?

        https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_vehicles_per_capita

        We might have increased our standing since, I do vaguely recall something.

        And who are we counting?

        If it’s a large number of students, clearly they have no time to drive as they are too busy sweating into books at the library.

        If we take just students ( for example ) when they age, which apparently they will; are they expected to live in ‘Millwater’ if they wish to buy a car?

        It’s a serious question. Who are we counting and are we expecting their transit choices to reman static, and if not and their transit choices include a car ( given the dog etc situation more widely within greater Auckland) should they really move someplace else?

        Not that I’m saying this is an unreasonable approach to take. Outsourcing the CBD car congestion is perfectly rational, to people living in the CBD.

  6. The so called shared spaces seem to be a softly softly approach to introducing drivers to a less car dominated CBD. Unfortunately cars still dominate these places, and regularly damage the street future to boot. Is it time for stage two? Work vehicles only, before stage three of keep your smelly vehicles out of here?

    1. For something like O’Connell St it would be good to see bollards that go up at 11am and down at 9pm. This means delivery drivers can do their work in the morning, and the presence of cars can help with security at night, but during the day it can be enjoyed by pedestrians, like it is at the moment while it is closed.

      For Fort St it would be good to see the Customs St entrance closed so it is no longer a through route.

        1. Disagree. At Queen St it is self policing as cars have to wait for a gap in the large flow of pedestrians. However, at the Customs St end, cars often turn in off Customs and continue at a reasonable pace so it’s the worse end as a pedestrian. Agree with cutting of Shortland St though.

          1. Didn’t think of that angle… I think we should close Queen/Shortland for other reasons too (mostly to get rid of traffic from those streets) maybe some extreme narrowing/chicanes at the Customs Street end would work better to visually and mentally bookend the shared space?

          2. And ill add changing the priority of that intersection so that traffic leaving/entering the shared space does not have priority.

          3. Sorry, I thought that you were meaning the entrance to the western Fort Street shared space from the Customs Street End. ie this one: https://goo.gl/maps/KNcF5zo7JWk

            I completely agree that the entrance directly from Customs Street at Emily Place should be closed.

          4. “And ill add changing the priority of that intersection so that traffic leaving/entering the shared space does not have priority.

            Pedestrians already have priority at this and all intersections with shared spaces, as they do in the shared space itself. It’s driver’s refusing to accept they don’t have priority.

          5. I was meaning the priority for vehicles. ie, vehicles travelling East outside of the Fort St backpackers would need to give way to vehicles turning left from Commerce Street or right into Commerce Street.

          6. Yes, the intersection at Emily Place was the one I was thinking of. I think the only access to Fort St should be from Gore St and Commerce St, the exit at Queen St doesn’t bother me either way as I quite enjoy watching the drivers realise how helpless they are when dealing with large pedestrian volumes!

          7. Either way, if you close the Queen St end of Fort St to vehicles it will perhaps greatly discourage rat running cars and what appears to me (from just a handful of visits) like a lot of taxis using it as a rat run or perhaps staging area to go up Queen St. They were the ones tooting and speeding, under pressure to earn a living I guess. Definitely needs something down at the Customs St entrance though to really slow vehicles down, looking at the signage a big 10 km speed sign would help, it’s not even clear what the speed limit is I guess 30km/hr? Done in combination with High St shared/ped only may work well. Just noticed the big parking building at 71 Fort St, that doesn’t help, Wilson site doesn’t say how many spaces in that. Fair amount of buses will come south at the south end of Gore St in the new network & turn right onto Commerce St, so best to leave cars coming in from Customs St East? The northern end of Gore St across from Britomart surely should be made a shared space. Seems AT are generally so timid in what they convert..just the tiny narrow lanes no one drives in anyway.

          8. ..more on this, come to think of it and if you look on street view the entrance is pretty narrow from Customs St East, I think cars accelerate once in as the first section is fairly wide, straight and fairly empty of people (or they all know to stay to the sides in this section). Think it is serial offenders and also the fast wide Beach Rd before it.

      1. I absolutely loathe shared spaces. I don’t hear cars coming up behind me and then the pricks toot and I nearly have a heart attack. Pedestrians don’t have to walk in front of the shop windows so they are probably less likely to go in and buy something. The intersections are a test of nerves for drivers and pedestrians alike. Cyclists hoon through as if you are going to see them and get out of their way. I think they are one of the dumber ideas to come along. We would be better closing streets to cars and bikes and pedestrianising them where it makes sense. Or at least closing them during the busier parts of the day.

        1. Meh pedestrians aren’t forced to shuffle along the window edge (looking at you, high street)… but there are ten times more pedestrians spending longer in the street.

          I think the proof is in the pudding mf, look at Jean Batten Place. Formerly it had exactly zero retail shops… now it has five clothing retailers, an eatery, and a coffee window. Me thinks the retailing and foot traffic has worked out fine.

  7. While a carless city is probably a long way away for Auckland, AT could adopt some policies to make the city more liveable without reducing vehicle mobility.
    Things like:
    – One car lane per direction max on any street in entire city area
    – Max 30km/hr in entire city area
    – No beg buttons entire city area
    – All minor streets and shared spaces to be dead ends to remove rat races
    – Close queen street to vehicles

    All can be done at little to no cost.

    1. Yes carless is not the near term goal, the point is simply increasing the value of the use of that rare public resource know as streets in the city centre. In practice this means doing two things:

      1. shifting the balance more to place than vehicle movement.
      2. shifting the balance from less spatially efficient vehicles to more spatially efficient ones (which includes walking).

      Either way this means fewer cars and more city, more business, more society. And more Transit and more walking.

    2. It will not be possible to close Queen Street to vehicles as long there are substantial buildings on the street with no freight access except on Queen Street itself. But sensible practices for the management of freight do not imply multiple car lanes.

    3. Push button units are required for the visually impaired, but in the central CBD most of the day they don’t need to be pushed anyway.

      1. Well that is complete bullshit. Nothing about being blind requires you to push a button to call a crossing phase.

        Sure tactile feedback is required, that doesn’t mean you need a beg button however.

  8. When it comes to going out at night I think a of people would rather take their car than run the risk of being a victim of thuggery on public transport.

    1. The public transport is beautiful.
      There are many happy people coming or going after a good day.
      After many years of regular riding I have never seen problems only joy

    2. The beauty of Jimbo Jones’s suggestions is that you will still be able to take your car to the city if you wish (and are prepared to pay a fair price for parking, of course).

      But the traffic system is managed so that access for cars is not allowed to wreck the environment all day for everyone else.

      1. No, but getting killed is a problem on the traffic system. In fact five to six people are killed a week using that particular transport option.

  9. While I’m all for development we seem to have lost public space with the latest round of development in the downtown, britomart area. It’s exciting to see the earth being dug out for the crl tunnels!

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