So the Auckland Plan has been adopted and Albany has been confirmed as a “node“, alongside Manukau and Westgate. This begs the question of what we might need to do to Albany, for it to actually fulfil its potential? This job is not made easy by the worst street layout of any major centre in Auckland:
Let’s run through the problems we are trying to fix here:
- We have a university campus but it’s on the complete opposite side of the centre to our rapid transit station.
- The centre is separated from the surrounding areas on all three sides by large, high-speed roads, the motorway, Albany Expressway and Oteha Valley Rd. It’s similar how the central motorway junction creates a noose around the city centre.
- There’s a disconnected street network which concentrates traffic onto a few roads prioritised for vehicle flow, which inevitably are horrible walking environments.
- The loopy street network layout makes running efficient bus services through the area extremely difficult.
- The Westfield mall creates a huge barrier in the middle of the whole area, acting as a huge superblock that’s at least half asphalt
I could go on for a while… but let’s look at what the key components of “success” might look like.
- A high density mixed-use urban form with intense residential, commercial, retail and other activities
- A high quality, legible and convenient pedestrian environment
- Easy to access rapid transit for the whole centre
- Properly integrating the university into the rest of the centre – it should be one of Albany’s greatest strengths
- A much more fine-grained street network so that traffic isn’t concentrated on a few massive roads and to make it much more direct for people who are walking, cycling or using PT to get around Albany
As you can guess, this is not going to be achieved through a bit of tinkering here and there. We are going to need to think about Albany in a fundamentally different way. We are going to need radical change.
Let’s start with how you might better serve it with rapid transit. Firstly though, the NZTA have already started on the Northern Corridor Improvements Project which includes an extension of the Northern Busway. The busway will travel just past the Albany Busway station before pulling a 180 on a bridge over the motorway and back into the busway station. ATAP also says that bus shoulder lanes will be added to SH1 north of Albany as a 1st decade project.
Longer term, ATAP confirms the plan is to upgrade the busway to Light Rail.
The busway extension (shown in Blue below) will largely lock in place the current situation for rapid transit but that wasn’t an issue, I think broadly you have three options:
- Create a branch at the Greville Road interchange, with one branch following the planned Northern Busway extension’s route next to the motorway and the other branch following Albany Expressway and potentially up into the future development around Dairy Flat (Green). This would allow it to serve some of the southern areas of Albany along with the original Albany village.
- Redirect the entire corridor through the heart of Albany, possibly underground in parts depending on the route (Red). It could also skirt around the mall. This would have the advantage of allowing a station to serve the southern half of the centre.
- Albany is a natural place to terminate some services and we see that already with not all NEX buses travelling on to Silverdale. We could extend the route of those terminating buses slightly and hook them back through the heart of the centre to the University (Purple).
None of these are particularly great options (what did I say about it being hard to fix Albany?) but out of them all, purple is probably the easiest and provides the best links within Albany. As long as the trip is quick and efficient between the University and the busway station, the whole “going north to go south” might not be a huge problem.
Our next problem is fixing the street network. At the northern end of Albany you can see a finer-grained street network is starting to emerge which is positive, but further south the disconnected network is a disaster that will be really really hard to fix. The number of extra connections that would be required is tremendous:
The green connection is a bridge currently under construction by the NZTA. There’s probably some that I’ve missed to the south and also to improve permeability through Massey University’s site. But the general picture is that basically we need to demolish most of Albany and rebuild much of the street network from scratch. Comparing Albany with Parramatta at the same scale really highlights the desperate need for a finer-grained street network:
Ultimately I’m not really sure it would be worth it to go to such extreme lengths to fix Albany. We are looking at massive investment to properly serve it with rapid transit and huge property purchase costs and disruption to build a proper street network. Even then you’re ultimately focusing on a place that still sits at the edge of the Auckland urban area. If Dairy Flat fully builds out, then maybe Albany could start to be something like Parramatta. But the screwed up layout of the whole area makes me sceptical that most of the area will ever be much more than a car dependent sea of carparks. Perhaps at its northern end where there’s more of a street grid and where you’re much closer to the busway station we might get something that properly resembles a high intensity mixed use centre.
But will Albany ever be one of the four most important growth nodes for the entire Auckland region? I won’t hold my breath.