Every weekend we dig into the archives. This post was originally published back in September 2009.
Yesterday’s post about Auckland’s Central Motorway Junction got me thinking a bit – what if we hadn’t gone down that path? What if we hadn’t rammed a massive motorway junction through the centre of our city? Could we have done things a bit differently and would the final product have ended up better?
They’re interesting questions to look at actually. One of the big problems with Auckland’s transport situation (apart from our auto-dependency) is that there is a big conflict between traffic trying to get to the CBD and its surrounding inner-suburbs (where a big chunk of the city’s jobs are located) and traffic trying to travel from suburb to suburb – or simply from one side of the city to the other for more long-distance purposes. To get from one side of the city to the other you need to travel right through the centre of Auckland, so you add to the congestion that is already being caused by people trying to get into the centre of the city. This situation will be alleviated by the completion of the Western Ring Route, which is now being built at a pretty tremendous cost and is sucking money away from public transport projects – but that’s another story!
It’s not altogether uncommon for a city to take another approach to what Auckland did. If we look at Vancouver in Canada, we can see a city with a much larger population than Auckland having only one main motorway, which doesn’t even travel near the CBD. There are a few shorter stretches of motorway near Vancouver airport, but in general – as shown in the map below – there is only one main route through the city and that route stays quite separate from the central area: It’s entirely plausible that if our transport planner in the 1950s and 1960s had thought a little bit harder about things, and the politicians of the time had not ignored all the public transport plans of the time while wholeheartedly embracing the motorway plans, we could have ended up in a similar situation to Vancouver – with a central city not dominated by a massive motorway junction. Perhaps due to the lack of motorways in and around central Vancouver, the downtown area has intensified enormously from the 1960s onwards, while development nodes around the SkyTrain stations have brought huge numbers of people within easy access of the rail system.
Wondering how things might have looked without the CMJ, I had a bit of a play around on photoshop to adjust Auckland’s motorway systems to a “what might have been”. The result is rather interesting actually – assuming that we had built the Western Ring Route and the Harbour Bridge, but not the inner parts of the Southern Motorway or the Northwest Motorway: Yes the Northern Motorway does look odd just “hanging there” and feeding into Fanshawe Street. However, in reality I imagine that if the motorway system had been built like this we would have probably seen far more development around the Whenuapai, Kumeu, Westgate area (top left corner of the map) and less on the North Shore. Furthermore, due to this system probably being significantly cheaper than what we actually ended up building (remembering that the Western Ring Route would have largely been through paddocks in the late 1950s) the money saved could have been put to good use on building the Harbour Bridge in a way suitable for carrying heavy rail.
A crucial part of making this system work would have been building the CBD Rail Loop of course, as it would have been up to the rail system and the bus/tram system to link people with their jobs in the CBD. What often gets forgotten was that this project – originally proposed in the 1920s – was also proposed in the 1950s (and again in the 1970s, and again now, eventually it’ll be built…) Here’s a map of the proposal from 1956: I can’t help but feel that Auckland would have been a far nicer city had this “Morningside Deviation” been built, as opposed to the motorways that run through the middle of the city. Of course it’s too late for any of this now, but it’s interesting to think what might have been.