Recently there was an interesting article called how to Un Moses your City at Citylab. For those unfamiliar with the name, Robert Moses was one of the most polarising men in Urban Planning, leading much of New York City’s infrastructure planning during the depression and post-war period. He led the construction of large expressways at expense of PT, often routing them through poor & minority areas using the justification of “Slum Clearance”. Jane Jacobs famous protested again and eventually halted the Lower Manhattan Expressway through SoHo and Little Italy, a project proposed by Moses.

The article was about a new open source mapping tool which can show what your city would look like without motorways. Here is what Central Auckland & the City Centre looks like with & without motorways.

If we didn’t build the Central Motorways

It goes to show you how much of an effect our motorway network has, especially around the City Centre where it almost acts as a wall by severing the City from the rest of the Central Isthmus. It reminds me of an old post by Matt – Comparing the CMJ where the Central Motorway Junction is almost the same size of the heart of Auckland’s City Centre, as well as this thought provoking image showing Newton before and after.

CMJ Size Comparison
Newton Then and Now

You can do this with any city or town, just select this link which will take you to the website.

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  1. Those last two pictures are interesting. Most people don’t realise but before 1935 people could only see things in black and white. An amazing inventor called Eastman Kodak invented colours and that is how we have seen things ever since.

    1. Ha ha…

      To be a pedant though, Kromograms (1898) were before Eastman Kodak produced the Kodachrome and the Autochrome Lumière was the first recognisably “modern” all-in-one colour process marketed back in 1907. Though to be fair, Autochrome was glass plate based whereas Kodak’s film-based Kodachrome (1935) was much more convenient.

      Photography can only ever be a passion, never a hobby nor a career.

  2. Motorways are enormously wasteful of space and this post shows it. Development of more incisive public transport would not have scarred the city so badly.
    And generally people do not want to live right alongside a noisy motorway if they can help it.

    There would be a better ‘quality of place’ in the central isthmus and I suspect most particularly the western side of the city without the motorways.

    Newton would have gradually regenerated into a better class of medium density housing and apartments than the aging wooden houses in the old Newton.

    With the great benefit of hindsight we stuffed up badly.

    1. Agreed and the sad thing is we had a well-developed tram network which was dismantled and everyone thrown onto buses.

      Thanks city forefathers.

  3. Upon reading this article, I dug up an older post from this site in 2009:

    When I look at the CMJ, I have often thought about how we could “reclaim” the land for public use while still keeping the motorways that are needed. Similar to what other cities (like Boston) are doing around the world, I believe we could build over the CMJ, as it is in a rather deep ditch/gully to begin with. This would effectively be turning most of it into cut-and-cover tunnels.

    As the foundations would most likely not be strong enough for many buildings, we could create a large linear park (heh) that would connect all the inner city suburbs on the isthmus to the CBD with a green space. We could have NZ art installations and maybe some event spaces.

    Now, granted, this would cost quite a large sum of money and I have a feeling that it would not be too popular with ratepayers, council and government who don’t like to spend money on “useless” things. NZ is also not known for being particularly supportive of large projects on this scale.

    But I believe that the current situation of roads and motorways in the central city is seriously harming the quality and culture of Auckland’s CBD.

    I am quite sad that an environmental and culturally-focused country like New Zealand effectively ruined the surrounds of it’s “most liveable” city’s CBD.

    1. Here is two examples of Zurich “capping” a section of motorway and turning it into a green park space:

      People on other CMJ posts have pointed to Boston’s “Big Dig” project (opened in 2002) that replaced their inner-city motorway with a new underground one on the same footprint, putting a park above it.

      You can certainly see the effects of the greenway that replaced the CBD motorway, although Boston didn’t really create a linear park (as I’m suggesting) because they still have a lot of roads criss-crossing the greenway.

      Capping the CMJ would be easier and cheaper than demolishing a motorway and rebuilding it underground (as Boston did).

    2. Hamburg is covering over a portion of its motorway north to Denmark and there have been references to that on this blog in the past but I can’t find them with the revised Greater Auckland format.

    3. For such a project, cost should never be a factor. The benefits are incalculable. Your idea is nothing short of genius. Is there anyone in a useful position that we could convince to table a work of such magnificence?

    4. “I am quite sad that an environmental and culturally-focused country like New Zealand effectively ruined the surrounds of it’s “most liveable” city’s CBD”

      I would not say NZ is an environmentally and culturally focused country at all – We may pretend, or offer lip service to the environment, but never often more than that.

      1. Absolutely. And for all the talk in NZ of number 8 wire, I find this is an incredibly conservative, risk-avoiding country that never likes to lead or innovate.

    5. This is an interesting idea, but rather than focusing on cost why not focus on benefits?
      Land in the city centre costs upwards of $4000 per square metres. Sure you couldn’t build over all of the CMJ, but there are big sections in between where you could. Say you get ten hectares of development space out of that (i.e. one quarter of the CMJ area)… that is $400m worth of “land” you’ve created. $400m would pay for a lot of capping over the bits that couldn’t be built on.

      Or to put it another way, if it costs less that $4000 per m to cap the site then you are making money.

      Take the main bit between Newton Rd, K Rd and Upper Queen St. There is more open green space than there is roadway. You could get a dozen buildings in before you had to consider straddling motorway lanes.

    6. Wellington covered 150m of its inner-city traffic-sewer with a nice new park at a cost of $124 million ($826,000 per metre, including cost of an extra 150m of uncovered approach ramps). John Key appeared to personally push this project from total non-priority into happening. In traffic-terms it has achieved next-to-nothing as the intersecting road that it grade-separated has effectively been pedestrianized. If only this money had gone towards something more useful like extending the regional rail system further into town!

      The park is nice though:-

  4. I can remember all that. The Southern motorway ended at Ellerslie, The Northern at Cook st , and the North Western at Pt Chev. It was 1965 and the region had just reached 0.5 million.
    One of the compelling things was all the small manufacturing in the old buildings around Queen St, larger employers along Hobson St and Stanley St.

  5. Imagine how many extra dwellings you could provide in that space in Newton and Grafton Gully? Judging by the dwelling density in the old Newton photograph, I expect the answer would run to several thousand homes, even without high density. And the CBD is the tip of the iceberg. If you extend the analysis along the SH1 corridor, the number in Auckland would be tens of thousands. I wonder how many of NZTA’s freeway projects would be economically justifiable if they had to account for the land area as a cost due to it being an expended public asset? Perhaps that is why they seem to have given up trying to justify them.

  6. Strange. . .

    Where are all the usual dissenters who normally respond to an article like this by clamouring that Auckland would still be a backward little village, had the marvellous motorways not transformed it into the great City of Cars that it is ?

    Come on guys, stir the pot.

  7. You should have seen all the planned motorways that werent built. Standards have changed and methods of construction have made alternatives possible. The Western link tunnels show what would have occurred if we could wind back the clock and redo some motorways.
    Dont forget the peak traffic month , Mad March isnt unrelated to tertiary students beginning their academic year

  8. Yes, the way land prices/values are going, it would make sense to cap the CMJ and build on top of it (yes, it could be done: one of the original plans for Britomart (from an engineering consultancy i worked with at the time) was to have lots of 30-40-storey high-rise buildings directly on top of it on a 1m+ thick slab of concrete covering the whole site, supported on columns, with 2 basement levels of parking, a bus terminal below that, and the railway station below that – luckily that didn’t happen and many of the interesting heritage buildings in the precinct have been retained instead, but it can be done above what is now motorway lanes and the unused space between motorway lanes).

    The Southern motorway and railway could also be capped to Penrose, and the North-Western motorway could be capped through Grafton Gully and all the way to Pt Chev/Waterview, and the Western railway to Avondale or New Lynn, and the Northern motorway could be capped from Northcote to Rosedale or Albany – all with well-integrated green linear parks (like the High Line in New York) and dedicated, separated cycleways and walkways.

    I’m sure the value of the property sales/leases/rents and extra business and resident taxes/rates would easily pay for it.

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