A couple of weeks ago Harriet kick-started a pretty big discussion on whether Parnell station is fundamentally flawed in its current location. The post was picked up by The Spinoff and provoked much interest in the comments.
In essence, because the station was located up the Parnell valley, its walk-up catchment is far smaller than if the station had been located further down, towards the rail bridge over Parnell Rise. A station further down the valley would be closer to the University, closer to the large office park in Carlaw Park and closer to the many apartments and other activities located in this part of the city. This is fairly obvious by looking at the map below, which compares the two locations. The station was build in the location of the red rectangle below:
The Spinoff recently published a follow-up on the issue, where Simon Wilson interviews Waitemata Local Board chair Pippa Coom on what’s planned to improve access to the station in the future. Here are a few excerpts:
While there’s only one access point on that east (Parnell Rd) side right now, there will be two. There will also be, in time, a greenway for walking and cycling that runs alongside the rail line all the way from Newmarket. The rail line runs through a tunnel to the south of the station; next to that tunnel is an older one, currently sealed up, which will be reopened for the greenway.
On the west side, there will be a walkway directly connecting the station with the new complex at Carlaw Park. It just hasn’t been built yet. It will link to an underpass (or possibly an overbridge) at the north end of the station, so you can catch trains going either way. It should open quite soon…
…The station is on a barren stretch of land, but the site is empty because it’s destined to become a very large retirement village. The station will become a major asset for the residents of that village.
Being slightly cynical, it seems like a lot of this is about making the best of a bad decision, or potentially sending good money after bad. It will certainly be interesting to see whether NZTA are willing to subsidise this future investment, given they weren’t willing to help fund the current station. A really strong and clear pedestrian link down to the University appears like it’s still possible, while after the City Rail Link is finished, this section of the rail network will have less pressure on it, meaning that all trains passing through will be able to stop without stuffing up the whole train network.
I do think there is a lesson to learn from this stuff-up though, and that is about being really clear why we want a new station, what the major target market is and how we can best meet the needs of the most people. It seems that what happened here, if we set aside the personalities, is that a trade-off was made between serving the university and major employment area further to the north against serving the town centre and (theoretically at least) the Domain and Museum further to the south. Or put differently, whether the target market was more about occasional shoppers and visitors or many thousands of students and workers. The Spinoff article summarises this point well:
So, in summary, is the location bad? It’s further from the Stanley St/Strand workforce than it could have been, which is unfortunate. The rail network is supposed to become a key element in reducing congestion on the roads, so why were the needs of commuters not prioritised in the decision of where to site the station? Why prioritise shoppers and residents up on the hill in Parnell, when they are already well served by public transport in the form of the Link bus and other buses?
There will always be strong advocates for serving the needs of local businesses and residents. The key is ensuring that those argument are balanced by others and that the evidence behind key decisions is well understood and the trade-offs are well known. Did Auckland University advocate on behalf of its students? Did the major employers in the Carlaw Park office park advocate for their staff? Should they need to? We will continue to explore the process by which Auckland Transport made this decision.
In the meanwhile, if we return back to the title of this post – “Is Parnell Station fixable?” – I think the answer is a little bit of yes but mainly no. Major development next to the station will probably boost its use and better connections to the surrounding area will improve things (off an extremely low base). But ultimately by almost every measure a location to the north would have clearly been better and this is something which can’t be fixed, unless the current site is abandoned and we start again. Certainly this means the role of Parnell Station in being the “University Station” is probably forever lost, meaning the Aotea Station will need to play this role (and increasing the need for Te Ara Tomo).
Perhaps shifting it is something we can think about again after the CRL is completed and this stretch of track isn’t as critical as it is right now. Personally, I’ve always loved something like this idea with a bridge straight out over the tracks from Heather St, which would provide an easier grade to to access the Parnell mainstreet, or even act as extension of that mainstreet. The old Newmarket station building could still be used and placed on the the outcrop of land currently used as a carpark, along with a plaza and stairs/access down to Carlaw Park ave. Relatively easy paths back up alongside the tacks could still provide easily accessible access to the panned new retirement village.