One of the more interesting things we learnt from this week was that the Britomart East Bus Interchange, unofficially known as the “bus ballsack”, had been cancelled and staff sent back to the drawing board. The plan would have seen a bus interchange and roundabout built on Quay St between Commerce St and Gore St. We first learnt about the project back in September 2017 as part of the wider downtown plans.
There were numerous issues with the plan, including:
- People wanting to transfer to a Northern Express or other Lower Albert St bus could potentially have an over 500m walk to do so.
- By having the bus interchange on Quay St, it gives the buses that use it the same disadvantages that ferries have, that half of their catchment is water.
- The roundabout essentially takes up all of the space currently on Quay St between the buildings and the red fence. This would likely have had major and serious implications for the popular Quay St cycleway.
- It’s hard to see just how reliable buses are going to be given they’re going to have to be competing for access to the roundabout with cars.
The most detail we have about the project being cancelled comes from the City Centre Advisory Board agenda for later today.
- To ensure that Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are delivering on an outcome that is best for Auckland, the Britomart East bus interchange project was put on hold in November 2018 to review and update the fundamental outcomes associated with this project.
- As a result of this review, and through discussion between Auckland Transport and Auckland Council, it has been agreed that the proposal for a bus interchange on Quay Street between Commerce Street and Britomart Place is not in line with the aspirations and vision for the downtown waterfront area as set out in the City Centre Masterplan and would not deliver an outcome that is best for Auckland.
- As such, future option identification and assessment work for bus facilities in the Britomart East area will discount options that include bus stops in Quay Street between Commerce Street and Britomart Place and also the installation of a roundabout at the Quay Street and Commerce Street intersection. Options including bus stops or bus layover on Quay Street between Britomart Place and Tangihua Street will however still be considered. It should be noted that bus movements may still be required on Quay Street between Commerce Street and Britomart Place.
- This is seen as a positive outcome and acknowledges the importance of connecting the city with the waterfront through good quality public realm outcomes.
- The Britomart East bus interchange project team are now working through the development of long list options which will be assessed through the business case process. This will take into account the importance of connections to other modes and the quality of the public realm connecting them
This raises the question of what to do about these buses downtown. But instead of going all the way back to the beginning, perhaps AT could just dust off one of their existing plans where they already solved this exact issue. The plan was from 2014 and was called the City East West Transport Study (CEWT). As the name suggests, it looked at how to deal with the east-west transport corridors within the city centre. The full report is here (44MB).
Essentially, CEWT focused certain modes on specific corridors. In particular, buses would be focused on Customs St and Wellesley St.
The study even had some indicative space allocations, suggesting at least dedicated lanes on Customs St, as per below.
However, a lot has changed since CEWT was first released. For example:
- The city centre population has grown much stronger than anticipated meaning many more pedestrians on the streets.
- Major projects like the City Rail Link are actually happening and others like Light Rail are on the cards. These will also deliver a lot more people to the city.
- Bikes and more recently scooters have become a much bigger part of life in the city thanks to the (incomplete) urban cycleways programme that delivered projects like the Quay St cycleway
- The political support for radically changing streets and reducing car use has grown with last year the council unanimously adopting the Access for Everyone strategy.
The Access for Everyone part is particularly notable as it will divide the city up into various sectors and cars will not be able to travel directly between them. The images so far suggest this will include Customs St.
If cars can’t travel through Customs St, that suggests at the very least they’ll need to be blocked at least from Commerce St to Albert St. That suddenly creates an ideal location for this suggested new bus interchange. Alternatively, buses could use Gore and Commerce St but we’d probably want to reduce the number of buses in the downtown area if we were to do that.
And reducing buses in the area wouldn’t have been as much of a problem had Auckland Transport not folded on another key part outcome of the CEWT study, sending most buses along Wellesley St where a full busway would be on the blocks either side of Queen St. This would have seen buses use the up-hill ramp from Wellesley St to Symonds St so they could then turn south but that plan was canned after opposition from the University, who also opposed other city centre improvements.
Perhaps it’s time to revisit this and sort out the city centre buses properly.