On Friday, Auckland Transport released some new images and a jerky video of their preliminary design for Albert St after the City Rail Link is completed.
Improving Albert Street for pedestrians and public transport reliability are the top considerations in a newly-released concept plan for the busy central Auckland route.
The preliminary designs show the potential of a reinstated Albert Street, once the City Rail Link (CRL) project’s underground tunnels and stations are completed.
The tree-lined Albert Street of the future has a vastly improved pedestrian environment, with broad footpaths, improved footpath (and road) surfaces, better bus stop facilities and attractive street furniture.
The design also provides for a reliable frequent bus service along the route, with dedicated bus lanes down both sides, as part of this city busway corridor.
Sustainability measures have also been considered in the design, including the potential to add a “green” wall of vertical plantings to one Albert St building, where space constraints prevent trees being planted in the footpath. Tree pits will be used to filter and cleanse road surface run-off before it goes out to sea. Materials and detailing have also been carefully chosen to make maintenance and operations more cost-effective.
The preliminary designs sound like there’s quite a bit of effort that’s gone in however despite that, there are no actual plans or cross sections that have been released, only some images out of some 3D modelling program. The first shows many mature trees combining to form a lush, desirable street.
But those trees disappear outside the district court.
Same too in Lower Albert St which will be a key downtown bus interchange after the completion of the CRL and Commercial Bay development.
The images come from this video AT have also released on the design. Here are a couple of things I picked up from it:
- The area outside of the Crowne Plaza appears much improved on what exists now. But the same can’t be said for the proposed NDG building on the currently empty site boardering Albert, Victoria St and Elliot St with its deep porte cochere and entrance to the lower level service lane (that exits by Wellersley St).
- There’s also a noticeable amount of space taken up in the middle of the road for skylights for the Aotea Station.
- Despite being right next to what will be one of the busiest pedestrian fountain in the city, the Victoria St entrance to the CRL, there seems to be a distinct lack of space for pedestrians on the corner of Albert St and Victoria St, especially on the eastern side.
- Speaking of Victoria St, while I appreciate it isn’t the focus of this video, there is definitely four lanes of traffic crammed in there and no Linear Park, in direct contradiction to the City Centre Master Plan. There also doesn’t appear to be any bike lanes despite that being a requirement as part of the government’s Urban Cycleways Programme.
- The Albert St access to Durham Lane looks a lot better without the bridges to the carparks – which are being removed as part of the CRL project. It’s also great to see what appears to be more space for pedestrians on top of the wall as well as bus lanes southbound in this section. There is a distinct lack of trees here though and I wonder if more could be done to incorporate them.
- Perhaps it’s the video by Wyndham St looks to be a more appropriately scaled width compared to what it is now.
- The section from Swanson to Customs St with a dense urban canopy looks a lot better – although it would obviously take a considerable amount of time for any trees planted to get that mature. They haven’t said what species are being considered.
- While I realise they’ll still be working through the details, there seems to be a distinct lack of details and amenity around the bus stops at Lower Albert St
While what’s shown is interesting, it’s also worth noting what’s not shown. As mentioned earlier there is no linear park or bike facilities on Victoria St. There are also no bike facilities on Albert St either – AT’s intention is for cyclists to use Federal St.
One aspect that caught our attention the last time Albert St designs were discussed was the issue of indented bus bays (stops). The video doesn’t appear to show any so I asked the CRL team if they were still part of the plan. Here’s what they said.
there are indented bus bays in the design with provision for their future removal if PT reliability can be maintained without them.
I’ve looked through the video multiple times and haven’t once been able to see indented bus bays -. More importantly, AT’s stance on this issue is at odds with their own design standards and international evidence – and even ignoring all that, at the very least they have the ordering the wrong way around and they should only be added if reliability is an issue. Here’s what some of their Code of Practice says about indented bus bays.
Historically, in Auckland and many other cities around the world, bus bays were often the preferred layout for bus stops as the priority was to maintain the general flow of traffic. Consequently, there are many full or half-indented bus bays within the Auckland region.
Bus bays, however, present inherent operational problems for buses and passengers. The disadvantages of this type of layout are:
- bus drivers often find it difficult to merge back into the mainstream of traffic causing delays of approximately 2 – 4 seconds at each stop13. This can be much longer in heavy traffic. This problem is particularly felt in Auckland as drivers are not legally required to give way to buses (as they are in many other countries) and consequently often do not. The variability of this hold up leads to unreliable and bunched services as well as general bus delay;
- bus bays require a significant area to ensure buses are able to pull in flush with the kerb. A ‘standard’ bus requires a full bus bay area to be 46.5m long from the start of the approach taper to the end of the exit lane. The impact on the surrounding landuse means that there is less area available for wider footpaths, streetscape, berms, landscaping, or on-street parking;
- the design of many existing bus bays is unsatisfactory, particularly where their geometry prevents buses from reaching the kerb effectively (ideal gap is generally within 50-75mm, maximum gap is 200mm), resulting in poor accessibility for passengers. Some drivers may also choose not to pull in close to the kerb to ensure that the bus is at a better angle to re-enter the mainstream of traffic;
- bus bays are also prone to attract inconsiderate parking or unloading, especially at high activity areas e.g. town centres, shop frontages etc. This again prevents the bus from reaching the kerbside, forcing passengers to board or alight from the road, causing difficulties for some passengers;
- bus bays widen the carriageway area creating the opposite effect of traffic calming measures, including encouraging speeding, increased difficulty for pedestrians to cross and an unattractive street environment.
Current thinking has shifted towards giving greater priority to buses as more ‘efficient people movers’, even if this is achieved at the expense of slowing down general traffic. In view of the above reasons, bus bays should only be provided where justified by compelling safety or operational reasons.
In fact, several cities (London, Portland for example) have a policy to infill or remove bus bays altogether from major arterial roads (or where the posted speed limit is 50km/hr or lower)
To highlight just how inefficient they can be, the Code of Practice example shows that 70m of kerb space is needed for just two bus stops. At that length, space would be taken from pedestrians for most of any block they were put on.
Given all of this, it’s absurd that AT are even considering putting them on Albert St. Perhaps before signing off on indented bus stops, AT could trial not having them after the tunnels are complete but before making the changes permanent as part of the end result?
Overall, I think it’s hard to judge just what’s planned given the lack of AT releasing any actual plans, cross-sections and seeming lack of disregard for not only their own standards but also council strategies too. The CRL is a massive opportunity to make Albert St and many other parts of the city centre considerably better but at this stage it appears they could do better.