Queen Street, our showcase harbour-to-city spine is a gently-rising parade of shopping and business, and, while in the 1980s and 90s became dull and empty, today it is again teaming with people. Along with its own attractions, its footpaths are the great north-south city movement route. In part, this is because of how terrible the pedestrian space is on the parallel streets of High and Albert. But it also benefits, as does Lambton Quay in Wellington, from a longstanding policy of not allowing vehicle entrances from it the whole way from Britomart to Mayoral Drive. Greatly improving the pedestrian experience.
This clearly makes it much less of a destination for drivers, which, outside of set-down and pick-up, are using our premier city street to get elsewhere. Despite this, the road is four lanes wide and while there are now intermittent bus lanes on the lower sections, they’re often not all that useful due to traffic using them to turn into side streets or into the handful of on-street carparks along the road. So most of its width it is operated as an officially sanctioned rat-run. Is this really the best use of this place and space? A question we have been asking since 2011.
Pedestrians are the primary users of the street and the recent presentation to the council in relation to saving the Victoria St Linear Park highlighted that the number of people walking along Queen St has doubled since 2012. We also know that vehicle volumes have dropped over the last decade or so.
For years, many people have asked why don’t we turn Queen into a fantastic pedestrian mall, and this has been shown as the plan for Queen St tied in with light rail being built. But do we really have to wait, especially since we have been told Light Rail may be 30 years away. I don’t think we should wait that long & there are multiple ways we could go about making Queen St better before then.
As we’ve mentioned before, the population in the city centre is growing rapidly, nearly reaching 47,000 people (More than the City Centre Masterplan Expected by 2032) and these people need to be able to move around the city, of which a primary way of doing so is walking.
Yet with pedestrian volumes rising so quickly, the footpaths that were thought to be generous a decade ago, are starting to feel cramped, for example Heart of the City‘s automatic counters at 210 Queen showing 34,000 pedestrians on Tuesday the 7th of March.
Lots of development is also happening in and around the Queen St Valley area as can be seen in the RCG Development Tracker.
Many cities are making/made the City Centre Streets more friendly such as Melbourne, Sydney, Madrid, Paris, Oslo, Berlin, etc. or even considering making them car free to increase capacity for transit/active modes, to enhance the amenity of the area, as well as decrease pollution.
In many places around the world it is becoming increasingly common to turn over city streets to pedestrians on weekends or at nights. I believe this is something could be easily done for Queen St with an information campaign, some traffic cones & some signs. For example, on a Friday night after the peak, and Saturday/Sunday from 7:00 – 22:00, we could close down one lane each way leaving the centre lanes for buses, the other lanes could be a cycleway, space for pop-up vendors, or extra space for pedestrians. We could go even further diverting buses at these times off Queen St as these are not peak periods however this may be harder.
Going All In
Another option is we could reduce Queen Street between Britomart & Mayoral Drive to 1 lane each way which would be a bus lane, delivery/trades vehicles would be permitted at certain times while turning the extra lanes into an expanded sidewalk & adding a cycleway. This would increase the amenity, capacity, speed of the users of Queen Street. With little turning traffic and few vehicles, crossing becomes easy, without left turning traffic buses such as the City Link can move freely ferrying people between Uptown, Midtown, Downtown, and Wynyard Quarter. Adding cycling facilities would increase the access to for active modes providing a fantastic N-S cycle link through the CBD connecting to the future Victoria St Linear Park as K’ Road improvements.
There would be questions of course regarding the feasibility due to the CRL Consent Conditions which state:
26.6 The traffic surveys will establish whether the City Rail Link construction works have increased traffic delays as follows:
(a) Either by more than 10 minutes (from the surveys previously undertaken in accordance with this condition)
(b) Or if the surveyed times are more than three minutes or 30% greater than the forecast modelled increases along that route (according to the most recent traffic model test of that scenario, undertaken prior to the start of construction. The
modelled time is to be based on the Auckland City Centre SATURN traffic model or a different traffic model approved by Auckland Transport).
(c) The 30% above shall only apply for an increase predicted to be over four minutes.
26.7 If the surveyed times exceed the above criteria on any one of the specified routes, then additional mitigation shall be implemented by the Requiring Authority in its role as the
Road Controlling Authority (under its statutory obligation). The additional mitigation could include but is not limited to advertising alternative routes, removing on street car parking or implementing operational measures, such as lane reconfigurations or signal phasing, to increase capacity on the surrounding network where reasonably possible at
Of course, in response to this we know:
- Carmageddon has not occurred, even though the CRL works have affected significant parts of the city centre. In fact, many of the routes AT monitor have been flowing better than prior to the CRL works starting.
- Queen St is not a primary route used by many cars. As a result, it is possible that closing Queen may not increase congestion.
- If Carmageddon did occur, the text above indicates that AT may instead be able to try to reduce congestion overall by using alternative routes and still be within consent.
Perhaps in the short term, AT could try the first option to prove that closing Queen to general traffic would fall within consent, and then move to this option.
These ideas are something that could be done relativity quickly (As far as transport projects go) and would be an excellent project that the Mayor could have finished in his first term. As so many transportation projects usually have long lead times, projects like this that can put some runs on the board are gold for a first term Mayor, something they can point to saying this is where Auckland is going.