Auckland’s hills help to define our city, sometimes they’re a blessing, sometimes they can be a bit of curse but occasionally they also present a unique opportunity. Nick, who regularly comments and sometimes posts here, has been part of a group working recently to unlock one of those opportunities, the Albert Park tunnels and their plan is now public following their presentation to the City Centre Advisory Board.
The idea is to open up the and restore the tunnels that were dug under Albert Park during WW2 as an air-raid shelter. Following the war, they were backfilled with clay blocks and sealed.
The main tunnel runs 660m, all the way from the eastern end of Victoria St through to Churchill St and is 4.4m wide and 3m tall. There are also a lot of smaller tunnels off that too. So, why not make use of them?
The basic concept is to re-open the tunnels and turn the main tunnel into a walking and cycling route with connections to the University via some lifts. Doing so would provide a much easier, grade than up and over Symonds St and Albert Park while improving connections from the City Centre to locations such as Parnell. They’ve called this Te Ara Tomo – The Underline and is shown below
Importantly, it would link in perfectly with existing and planned walking, cycling and PT networks. For example, it would create a new cross-town cycle link, connecting the Grafton Gully cycleway into the Victoria St Linear Park, which is also happens to be connected through Queen St where Light Rail will one day run and to the future Aotea Station. The lifts at Symonds St would also hook into the Symonds St buses.
This just gives another reason as to why it’s important we preserve the Victoria St Linear Park and not accept Auckland Transport running bus routes along the road.
And there’s no shortage of potential users of the concept. Here are some from their presentation.
40,000 students at University of Auckland
- Approximately 30,000 on any given day
- Over 70% currently walk, cycle or take public transport to campus
- 13,000 a day walk to and from campus from bus, train, ferry stops in town
- Many more walk from apartments and flats in town, Carlaw Park, Parnell.
100,000 commuters to City Centre
- approximately 50% walk, cycle or public transport, many potential trips:
- 400 people live in Parnell and walk to work midtown each day (Census 2013)
- 1000s catch eastern bus routes and walk back up from Britomart
50,000 residents live within in the City Centre
- and they walk everywhere.
Plus local and international tourists, day trippers, recreational cyclists…
Given the potential it offers, they’ve estimated that conservatively, it could see 3,000-3,500 entries per weekday or over 750k per year.
As part of opening up the tunnels it also provides an opportunity to turn it into a piece of urban art with a new lining. Some examples from overseas include
While the walking and cycling through the main tunnel is the key concept, it’s not the only one. There are after all 3.5km of tunnels under there. Some possible ideas for use include:
- Historical displays and a mini museum
- Art displays
- Tourist and retail opportunities, such as:
- a wine cave, showcasing New Zealand wines at “cellar door”
- a cheese cave, showcasing some of New Zealand’s premium dairy products
- a Waitomo Caves style glowworm encounter
By now you might be asking just what this is going to cost. They say McConnell Dowell have prepared some costs to reinstate the tunnels and install the lifts, lighting etc. They say the main tunnel and lifts would cost around $14 million, an extra $2-3 million for additional space for the other ideas mentioned above, and $1-2 million for planning, consenting, traffic management and tunnel surfacing. All up it would be around $17-19 million. They are also looking at doing this commercially with users paying a small fee to use the tunnels, along with money from the other activities.
To me, even if just looking the project from a walking and cycling perspective, the cost seems pretty reasonable given how useful it would be. It would also add to other iconic cycleways the city is building including Lightpath, Skypath and Glen Innes to Tamaki Dr (hopefully alongside the rail line through Hobson Bay).
Overall this seems like a great project and one the council should quickly look to add to it’s plans as it reviews and refreshes the likes of the City Centre Master Plan.