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.

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    1. So, intuitively, getting daylight into underground stations sounds good right? But as ever immediate assumptions need checking for trade-offs. There are always gains and losses. And here there are two significant costs to balance out against the gains (along with financial cost, of course).

      1. Space has to be found on the street above for these skylights. As we can see at Britomart the above ground infra for this can lead to valuable street space becoming disrupted and inflexible. And Albert St is severely constrained for width, so even narrow skylights will likely come at the expense of trees, or bike lanes, or footpath…

      2. If Aotea is left without skylights then the opportunity arrises for a 24 hour lighting design, or better still Light based artwork to be created. See Dusseldorf for example.

      To this I would also add that AKL is not London, neither in climate not latitude, we don’t suffer from a depressing lack of natural light for half the year. Furthermore, we are likely to only ever have a few subterranean public spaces, namely Britomart, Aotea, and K Rd stations, and in fact only K Rd is actually underground, the other two are merely subsurface. Being underground and in public is more a novelty than a constant of AKL public life. So why not celebrate it, design for it, rather than compromise so much else to try to pretend it isn’t so?

      I want to see the case made for these skylights, not just the assumption that natural light is always the best in station design.

  1. I wish AT would call a spade a spade. Parking in a bus bay isn’t “inconsiderate” it’s *illegal*. We need to stop pandering to those who repetitively break our road rules.

    1. Service, goods and courier vehicles? I see no places for them to park whilst doing their deliveries to businesses along the street.

      1. I guess you don’t live in Auckland or spend any time on Albert St, but thats how it is right now. So you are right, they are not planning to introduce service parking to a street that doesn’t have any.

        No parking for service vehicles, no loading zones. Servicing is done via side streets, and in the most part, via loading bays built into the taller towers. You might find this amazing but the copious businesses and residences along Albert St have managed just fine for over a decade without any street parking of any sort.

  2. On tree species, can we please pick trees of a sort that can thrive in an urban environment, preferably deciduous that provides shade in summer and light in winter? I know natives are popular but they aren’t necessarily fit for purpose everywhere, and Albert can be quite shady at times.

      1. Until they drop their leaves, at which point it becomes hell on earth. I collected 4 wheelie bins worth from the single tree outside our house last week.

  3. There is a great deal that is poor about this release. Looking at the output it is hard to see the hand of any skilled urban designer; is this engineers in sketch-up again? And, as Matt says they seem to be trying to conceal much more than communicate here. Plans please.

    But most of all this is simply backwards in the grander scheme of things. We are spending upwards of $3b to free up our crowded streets for better use, so why are we seeing this reductive approach to street design? Start with a great street, then make it work. This is one opportunity to make a great city, and we have all fought very hard and are spending a huge sum to get here so there is no point in losing ambition and standards on the most visible above ground outcome of the project.

    And of course the CRL itself along with the current great building boom in the central city mean that the pedestrian amenity is the key infrastructure above all else. The streets are for walking and as place first, this is where the great city commerce happens, then transit and delivery vehicles, lastly and without priority must come the lower value space eating private vehicle, all but entirely discouraged in these most central of streets.

    All I see here, and on Victoria St, is a failure to start with delivering for that most critical mode and the most value urban resource; place. This is last century’s priorities still. Backwards and wrong. And no we won’t get another chance to fix it. What CRL put into their contracts will be fixed. It will be more than disappointing to arrive at 2023 with a dreary unambitious traffic-engineering led street scape. With crowded joyless pavements, and pointless and costly traffic still prioritised beyond its economic and social value.

    The CRL is a huge change = realise the fruits of that change where it matters = on city streets. If it isn’t to bring a demonstrably improved city then what are we doing it for? Hint: it isn’t to simply perpetuate the status quo.

  4. Does anyone know how to get large mature trees of that size that close to the kerb that will grow over a road? If you plant smaller trees the buses will break all their branches long before they ever form a canopy over. More likely someone will plant a bunch of stick like trees.

    1. +1, especially with the expected implementation of double deckers everywhere I cant see this happening unless they are planning to somehow plant fully mature trees from day dot.

  5. Good point about bus bays. Would be good to change the law here to give them right of way too (overseas is this just when they pull out or merge on a motorway etc, or total right of way at intersections?)

    1. I’m wondering if bus bays would be of use when there is also a bus lane, ie so other buses can get past without waiting for the bus in front of them.

      The Right of Way for buses overseas is usually for them to merge back into traffic. The use of bus specific signals at traffic lights (typically going a few seconds before general traffic) is used in some intersection environments.

    1. This is the core problem; AT and CRL currently have their elbows out fighting to keep the city centre as dreary as possible, and to do so they are attempting to re-litigate Council policy, which is over-reach. Just why? So much energy is being poured into this, most of it behind the scenes and sneaky, and for what greater good? All of their arguments are negative, entirely about what can’t be done, in their view, all of it backwards looking. Is there no one in there with any sense of possibility, with any courage to take up a challenge, with any sense of how the world’s cities are changing, and of how improvement requires change?

      1. So true. I continually walk down High St in disgust of what could have been and probably never will be. Very very sad.

  6. While it looks better than it currently does, but is it good enough given the transformation that bringing people back to the city centre through pedestrian spaces and CRL is going to produce?

    AC and AT need to sort out whether the linear park on Vitoria Street and the Central City Master Plan are happening and communicate this effectively, from there the vision for the city centre needs to be implemented.

  7. I can’t help but think that the video was an “internal use only” technology demo that escaped into the wild. I mean, why else would you let such a garbage fly-through be made public? To me it looks like an older game engine with clipping disabled, with the level designer flying through to show the lay of the land, all graphical elements being place-holders only.

    At least I hope that’s what’s gone wrong here. Either that or the media release folks were intoxicated at the time they rubber stamped release!

    1. Yes – sadly, that’s the worst fly through I’ve seen since the 1980s. It goes fast, then slow, then fast again, and breaks the number one rule of fly throughs – do not smash through someone’s head or a bus! Creepy! I don’t think it is actually likely to be an “internal use only” demo – this has taken considerable amounts of time to produce, which you surely wouldn’t do unless you were planning on a public release.

      On the other hand, if it is to be believed, this street is going to be massively full of buses in later years. Is that just because the render-artist has filled the scene up with as many objects as possible (trees, buses etc – but very few cars) or is this actually a realistic and honest placement of what is likely to be there eventually? If so: wow! Busmageddon!

  8. Bike Auckland has been trying to engage with the CRL team for many months, via intermediaries within AT, but we still don’t even have anyone to talk to in their team – let alone anyone contact us of their own. Bad silo thinking.

  9. Why is “the CRL team” in charge of the design of Albert St? Sure they are digging it up but I don’t see why the design of the new road layout would sit with them?

    1. Well they shouldn’t be, at least they shouldn’t be designing the outcome. They are putting together Design and Construct contracts for the works below, including reinstatement of the streets above, so there do meed to be specific designs agreed this early. But why AT and CRL feels so determined to undermine Council policies and plans here is a mystery. It has the quality of a wider argument, perhaps a power struggle over who gets to control the streets….?

  10. The most concerning thing is that, looking down Victoria St at 0:19, all buildings to the east (including the heritage-protected Civic) appear to have been demolished.

  11. A) When the CRL eventually becomes functional, why will we need buses on Albert?, the metro line surely covers this route more than adequately.
    B) TRAMS!!! Why can they not visualise light rail, do we need to fund a trip to Melbourne or Amsterdam or Lisbon or San Francisco? It just seems too obvious to anyone who has ever experienced an appropriately public transport equipped city.
    C) With the metro underneath, bike lanes are the only requirement, beyond a tree intense linear park forest type pedestrian boulevard. Reclaim the concrete jungles!

      1. Assuming they reduce SUV’s into & around the city in other ways, redirect more/all buses across Union St, down Nelson & up Hobson rather than Albert. The idea of bus/ped only across Wellesley St should be extended further West. Could be problem with motorway off & on ramps crossing Union St? – is this area currently have to much general traffic flow? Of course, to add to the mix, should close Symonds St off and on ramps.

        1. Do you really want buses to run On Nelson St? That would end up dropping people off half a kilometre from the Queen Street valley, on the wrong side of the hill and the wrong side of two motorway sewers (in other words, piss off you’re not moving my bus to the arse end of town where it’s no good to nobody!)

          Buses need to go where people go, which is why it is very important to have them in the middle of town on Albert St.

        2. If the CRL does it’s job properly, buses (preferably trams) will only need to connect with a metro station to be effective. My argument is that with the new stations being up Albert St, it will be well served, at most you might be three blocks from a subway station, more than convenient I feel, especially if Albert Street becomes pedestrian friendly. Jervois Road inner west is screaming for a tram line, Jervois – Ponsonby – K hooking into Symonds would not only be very cool, but very functional. Most cities in the world rely on an inter connectivity which Auckland still lacks, with many buses tracking the railway which in many ways is wasteful of resources. Transferring a few times between services is not too much of a hassle when the system works well. NB the system does not work so well here, given that many buses are beholden to lanes that cars also occupy, with “March Madness” somewhat exacerbating the issue. I do however agree with you that public transport should be convenient to its users, so indeed trams should dominate our roadways.

        3. Ok, so your plan is then to terminate them at the K’ Road station. How on earth are you going to turn them around there? How do you transfer to North Shore services?

          Seems like a while lot of inconvenience just to get rid of buses from Albert Street.

        4. Matthew, the buses on Albert Street will only be those from areas not served by the rail network, specifically Great North Rd, Richmond Rd and the Northwestern Busway. What you are suggesting is already planned for most of the west which is served by the rail network (with big interchanges at Henderson and New Lynn and small ones at a few other locations) but it would not be possible for the northwest and inner western suburbs which are not.

          Unless you are suggesting that these buses run to town but then transfer at the edge, like at the K Rd station? That would require an enormous bus interchange facility to be located at K Rd, where there isn’t room for such a thing, plus it would require a lot of extra train service just to shuttle people two stations along, probably requiring extra tracks for rail shuttle termination. I’m not sure the city rail link would have the capacity to take on a whole other line worth of people in practice anyway, not to mention the hassle you add by forcing people to transfer one or two stops from their destination.

          I think you’ll find internationally that there is basically nowhere that forces transfers at the edge of the city, where connective networks exist the connections happen at suburban nodes along a main trunk route. In this case, the northwestern busway via Albert St is the main trunk route that feeder buses will connect to, it just happens to be run with buses rather than rails.

        5. Symonds Street already has too many buses so that’s a non starter, and split direction running on one way couplets is terrible transit design: reduces catchment and legibility.

        6. OK good point re the split running. Not sure what Symonds St has to do with it? In my mind we are going to have busocalypse post CRL & LRT on Queen St and/or huge distances between all the terminating routes and or big compromises on cycling/ped access.

        7. Split running? Yet that is exactly what AT now propose with their suboptimal Wellesley/Victoria one-way loop. Claiming it doubles catchment. Which is entire hogwash. It seems to be to placate some whim of University management…. and to try to justify four lanes on Victoria with the cunning use of badly planned busw routes.

        8. +1, AT really need to just tell the Uni to sod off. They are the largest corporate beneficiary of public transport operation in New Zealand, they can damned well have buses run in front of their blank concrete frontage to Wellesley.

        9. @Patrick “Yet that is exactly what AT now propose with their suboptimal Wellesley/Victoria one-way loop.”
          If we do have the Victoria Linear Park, what is the solution to where would the buses loop/terminate/turn around?

        10. Grant AT’s original proposal, until changed after the University top brass intervened, was for buses only on Wellesley St and no buses on Victoria, or at least not major routes, and none at all on Vic St east. I simply propose reverting to AT’s originally preferred plan. It is rational.

          Victoria St east, Bowen Ave, and Waterloo Quadrant are all terrible streets for buses, in different ways. Vic St east because it is steep and has extremely short sections between lights requiring multiple hill starts for our nasty diesels, and anyway it is flooded with cars accessing/leaving the parking buildings there. Bowen is one lane each way, so where are the four lanes of traffic in Vic St west going to go? Remember Queen will be car free… Waterloo Quadrant is full of cars heading to the motorway in the Gully, and especially will be once Queen St is no longer a rat run. How do buses keep to time there at the peaks?

          The CEWT study, City centre East West Transport study, identified Victoria as a the central east west Pedestrian (Linear Park) and General Traffic route (two lanes). Adding buses to this, with their stops etc is a dreadful idea, it takes the clarity and logic out of the whole plan, and for what greater good? No-one has been able to answer this. I have had meetings with AT about it, and the reasons shift, often coming back to some urge by the Uni higher ups not to have buses outside their new buildings on Wellesley St. No really.

          I especially can’t fathom the university being complicit, knowingly or otherwise, in the attempt by some at AT to kill the Linear Park, this will be one of the principle routes that AKL Uni students will access campus from Aotea Station. Especially up Victoria St east, which is already a problem area for pedestrian/traffic conflicts, and especially involving people getting to and from AU’s campus. The Park remember is principally a piece of movement infrastructure for the most numerous and important mode in the city: Pedestrians. Vic St east needs de-stressing with traffic, yet everything AT is now proposing here is frankly, daft, and counterproductive. Four lanes on Vic west ramming more traffic towards Vic east, and adding buses; a whole lot of pressure for what added benefit?

        11. Thanks Patrick, others probably have the same question. I am aware of the Victoria Path and CEWT design, and think it’s a great idea too. Was more wondering specifically what they would of planned (if they stuck to these plans) to do turning around/laying up buses in the future post (CRL & LRT especially)? I’m thinking they need huge underground or several smaller interchanges either underground or somewhere from the centers? I note Sailor Boys sketch above, but turning tonnes of buses around Symonds St (super busy bus corridor) at one end and crossing super busy NEX & general traffic corridor on Fanshawe wouldn’t work without tunnels I presume.

        12. There aren’t actually that many buses to turn around at the Symonds Street end, maybe ~30 an hour who can turn around while pedestrians cross Symonds Street. I don’t see Fanshawe being a problem either; all of the intersections already exist, the Daldy Street intersection would lose all the cars that currently use it and the Halsey Street intersection buses would be in a bus lane across the existing intersection into a bus lane on Wellesley Street. There is room to lay up 4-5 buses at a time by Symonds Street and about a dozen in Wynyard, we just need to remove a few on street car parks.

        13. @sailor boy I wonder if anything like that can be done before the CRL is finished. North Shore buses on Wellesley Street would turn around as on your scheme. That would be a immediate improvement for anyone connecting between the North Shore to anywhere else.

        14. Unfortunately the Wellesley/Albert intersection has to be closed to be tunnelled under fairly soon. I definitely think we should do that after that trench is covered though.

        15. “There aren’t actually that many buses to turn around at the Symonds Street end, maybe ~30 an hour”
          I’ve done a little count up (morning peak direction) based on the New Bus Networks. I used the AT central city bus routes map & the frequencies they are wanting to come out with. Northern buses terminating at Learning Quarter come to 41 bph. Looping around Waterloo Quad etc is 35.5 bph. Down Symonds St just before Wellesley are 79.5 bph (20 bph for the 25 bus alone turn down Wellesley St & come back up Wakefields). Doh just realised didn’t include SkyBus yet. Coming into Fanshawe St is 78.5 bph, once City Link joins becomes 86.5, the remaining 45.5 would cross the Halsey St intersection to continue to Lower Albert St. Crossing Federal St on Victoria St W is about 41 bph going East & around 56 going West (Western ones until Albert St works done I guess). Think I’ve got it about right, but quite possibly have it all wrong.

        16. Had another look and I got 37 buses turning at Symonds Street but I might have missed some. I don’t think that is unreasonable. That is 1-2 buses turning around each light cycle.

          Turning From Wellesley to Symonds isn’t really a problem either, I would argue that taking them up Waterloo Quadrant is actually worse for the intersection and bus stop capacity too.

          Maybe I should write up something with regards to this.

        17. I had included Hibiscus coast express ones 991x 992x total of 8 Bph but looks like just go to Wellesley st city ctr – not sure and would it change.

        18. lol just tossing future ideas around. Which bus will you be getting on in the new network? My thinking is it could be fairly quick down Nelson & it turns around Wyndham then up Hobson which is where you get off. Only 350m to Queen – small distance for a bus stop walk. Given that future cycling directed to Vincent St by the looks do we really want buses & cyclists on Vincent? Oh what side is the lower bit of the Nelson St Cycleway going to be on now at the intersection with Wyndham? – oh found it, AT designing it to keep it on the left all the way down – yay. My grand idea ideally is get rid of those parking buildings there & make a BusPort type setup so cars entering here not really a problem either. You could divert some still down Albert to spread the load.

        19. So a 1km round trip extra from Wellesley street and even further to walk to transfer to trains? All to get buses off of Albert Street? We’d be far better to use your proposed Nelson Street and Hobson Street bus lanes to widen the footpaths or install cycling infrastructure on those streets.

          If we really want space on Albert Street we should make it one way (probably uphill) for general traffic and 2 way for buses and cycles.

        20. “…and even further to walk to transfer to trains?” Only say 180m from Hobson to Aotea Victoria St entrance (and hopefully a Linear Park area). Pedestrians and cyclists want to be closer to the centre, so why not enhance Albert to be more cycle friendly?

        21. You are assuming that this is a zero sum game between buses and active uses. You’re forgetting that we can still reduce private vehicle capacity on Albert Street if we want to provide more for cyclists.

        22. Yes it’s all a bit awkward down Nelson & up Hobson. I see the old CRL showcase booklet shows western buses going down Albert & looping around Quay & Customs St W clockwise, overlapping the Northern ones going counter-clockwise. Looks like a bit of reconfiguring but nothing major as there is a bit of Customs that is one way there currently in the wrong direction. Also is this partly why they want to get rid of the Hobson St flyover I wonder?

  12. Kick the cars out of Albert and Queen street altogether IMO. A bridge on Victoria St crossing Queen street and taking out the grade would provide cover for markets and seemless (to a point) through flow for cars. With only delivery trucks in Queen st, with buses would make it much more user friendly. And in a few years. only electric vehicles permitted for deliveries and bus transport would continue the transformation.

    1. Ugh, you want to build a road viaduct over queen st?!
      Go hang around under the Hobson st one for a while if you think that’s a good idea!

      1. haahha yeah nah, I hear ya but anything to keep the cars out of Queens Street and good lighting and planting could make it attractive. The Hobson Street, Dominion Road viaducts are so badly done, ugle horrible built for cars nothing else.

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