Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post by Matt was first published in September 2015.
An interesting idea emerged yesterday from the Uptown Business Association for improving the southern end Symonds St. It’s an area I know well having formerly lived in an apartment right above this part of Symonds St for a number of years.

Upper Symonds St concept

Upper Symonds St above Auckland’s CBD is being eyed as a largely pedestrianised zone – above shallow vehicle tunnels – when trams return to the city.

The Uptown Business Association has produced a conceptual design for the “greening” of what is one of Auckland’s main traffic bottlenecks.

Under the design, by local architects Pacific Environments, traffic heading from any of five directions could pass beneath a new pedestrian precinct through which the only other motor vehicles would be trams, vans or trucks servicing shops and restaurants. That would free the intersections of New North and Mt Eden roads, and of Khyber Pass and Newton roads, for pedestrians and cyclists as well as trams.

Business association manager Gary Holmes said it would create a popular community focal point for the more than 700 businesses and thousands of residents based around Eden Terrace, Grafton and Newton.

“The main problem for Uptown is that currently it is dissected by a number of major arterial roads which join at the central point of the business district, greatly reducing the opportunity for any cohesion or sense of community,” he said.


The business association has come up with its proposal as a way of encouraging people from new mixed residential-commercial developments around the Mt Eden rail hub, to spend a few minutes walking up the hill to Symonds St.

Mr Holmes acknowledged the proposal would mean the loss of parking but said making the precinct more pedestrian-friendly would counteract impacts on businesses.

“At the moment, they have a race track going past their front doors – this will slow people down,” he said. “This area has been neglected for a number of years, and this is a way to redeem that.”

His association intended spending $20,000 to $30,000 in each of the next two years or so on firming it up or considering alternatives, during which financial estimates should emerge.

Pacific Environments managing director Peter Eising said the proposal offered just one potential solution for the area’s redevelopment, but the challenges it faced meant visionary thinking was required.

I think it’s great that the business association are trying to think about how they could redevelop the area to be more people friendly and having lived there I certainly think this part of Auckland has a lot of unrealised potential. I’m not entirely sure the concept they’ve come up is all that realistic or practical though. For starters sinking the roads into a trench would be horrendously expensive and given the image shown would likely cost hundreds of millions. Given all of the other priorities in Auckland I can’t see this one ranking highly on the list. Tunnels such as these also present other issues such as the portals at each end to get the road back to the surface and the need for expensive ventilation, fire and other safety systems. Also to be considered is that currently Symonds St and Khyber Pass are a key route for trucks carrying over dimension loads from the port – I’m not sure if that would change with light rail.

Thinking about how the area could be improved a couple of things immediately spring to mind.

  • The part of Symonds St north of Khyber Pass is quite wide by Auckland standards, in some places around 35m between buildings. This provides a lot of opportunities to make better use of the space for all modes. Light Rail plus improved walking and cycling options could easily fit in alongside general traffic lanes that have been calmed to reduce the chances of people speeding.
  • The intersection of Symonds St and Khyber Pass is an oversized nightmare for people not in cars. This could easily be scaled back to again slow cars and make it safer – in fact I remember from my time in the area frequently seeing and hearing accidents at this intersection. They could start by removing the high speed slip lanes. Of course the intersection never used to be this size, it was widened around 15-20 years ago. The image below shows how much it has changed

Symonds St-Khyber Pass Intersection then and now

With the business association keen for improvements then perhaps the next step could be for AT and the council to look at what could be done to at least temporarily improve the area. Perhaps they could put into practice some temporary changes to see what works.

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  1. 3 years later and the safety enhancements from Auckland Transport here have consisted of finally (after years of dragging their feet) painting zebras on the still oversized slip lanes but no attempts to actually slow vehicles down as they swing around the corner. The short section of protected cycle lane built merely to protect the awnings with cyclists as an afterthought was also cut back due to being repeatedly struck presumably by trucks and vehicles taking the corner at speeds too high to pay attention to what is on the road ahead.

  2. Is there any more information on how these “shallow vehicle tunnels” were to operate? Like: a cross section of how the street would work? Does the tunnel go down and the pedestrians walk straight across, or do the pedestrians have to climb up and over? What happens at the pavements? Do people enter buildings at ground level, or at first floor?

    “Under the design, by local architects Pacific Environments, traffic heading from any of five directions could pass beneath a new pedestrian precinct through which the only other motor vehicles would be trams, vans or trucks”

    I’m sort of aghast that such a scheme was put forward, without more explanation of how it could possibly work. Seeing as there is 5 different roads coming together here, how do they plan to resolve the underground clusterfuck of traffic that would happen at the interchange?

  3. This Gary Holmes guy does seem to be an interesting thinker, with a vision for a more people-friendly city. I wouldn’t mind hearing a few more of his ideas.

    This undergrounding concept is as good (and bad) an idea as any that attempts to create places for people while trying to retain capacity for traffic. It’s no worse than the ridiculous notions AT have of continuing to induce traffic throughout the city while simultaneously attempting to tame the cars to reestablish the forgotten modes. Neither will result in a people-friendly city, but at least Holmes’ vision includes a carless streetscape; useful in assisting people to reimagine what public space could be like.

    1. With Symond St at ground level and Newton Rd and Khyber Pass underneath, would you remove the ability to turn from one to the other?

    2. That would amount to a 100m long tunnel with a 150m portal on the west side and a 300m portal on the east.

      That’s a huge amount of cost and disruption to take out one set of traffic lights.

  4. That widening cost a small fortune as they had to buy a pub and it achieved bugger all. That intersection used to carry all the traffic between the Southern and North western motorways for years in its unwidened state. The widening reduced a queue on Khyber Pass road but didn’t fix the real deficiency that has existed for years. You can’t turn right into Khyber Pass Rd. It matters because you cant turn right onto Grafton Bridge or Wellesley St Ext either. If you are coming from New North Rd with a delivery to the other side of Grafton Gully then you have to use a bunch of back roads or go right down to the University to Grafton Rd.

    1. Is it a deficiency? It’s getting caught in that sort of situation that put me off driving. It’s probably great for mode shift. 🙂

    2. Umm…

      From New North Road, turn right into Mount Eden Road.
      Turn left into Boston Road.
      Turn left into Nugent Street OR turn left into Auburn Street OR continue to the end of Boston Road.

      You have reached your destination.

    3. Yes found this out by accident one day dropping someone off I thought I’d carry on driving ignoring Google directions, to get to the southern motorway, big long drive past the university waiting at many lights.

      Like the idea of light rail going up here, cut traffic to a minimal one lane each way if it fits.

      1. Unsure about running Light Rail along the full length of it; but definitely keen to see Princes St pedestrianised and then a light rail flyover linking Princes St to Symonds St past the University. Would hook in nicely with the Wellesley Station plans.

        1. I mean bringing Princes St into the public domain as an extension of Albert Park and opening up the huge road in front of the Clocktower would be great;; and while you’re creating that new public space, run the Light Rail through it on grass tracks.I mean, shit have it climb up Victoria St like the old City Circuit if need be.

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