This is a guest post from reader Graeme Gunthorp

Why the Queen Street Transit Mall will make driving more efficient

Intersections are known as “conflict points” for good reason – people, vehicles, bikes going every which way, crossing paths and slowing each other down.
That gives incentives to removing unnecessary intersections in order to make the whole system work more efficiently.

The Queen Street Transit Mall

Queen Street bisects Auckland city centre, between the laneway east and the turbo road west. It’s our retail heart, and the main pedestrian thoroughfare into the city from the ferries and trains of Britomart.
Current plans are to convert it from a four lane arterial going nowhere, to a transit mall with light rail and (hopefully) cycle lanes.

The Cross Roads

While several current and future projects will reallocate space and change the way vehicles traverse the city centre (most notably Access 4 Everyone), several routes will remain across Queen Street:

  • Quay Street, being upgraded to a people focused space with one lane of vehicle movement in each direction
  • Customs Street, the northern vehicle thoroughfare
  • Victoria Street, which will soon include a linear park, cycle lanes and detuned to one lane either way
  • Wellesley Street, bus only
  • Mayoral Drive, the southern bypass for vehicles
  • Karangahape Road, for vehicles, buses, bikes and shopping

In this article, I’ll focus on why removing vehicles from Queen Street will make remaining crosstown traffic more efficient, demonstrated by the intersection of Queen & Victoria Streets.

Current Light Phasing

Under the current light setup there are five phases, with each vehicle direction having a green or amber light for 10-19% of the cycle.
Pedestrians have 37 seconds to complete their barnes dance, around 39% of the total cycle. This used to be even longer, with pedestrians given a second phase between the vehicle movements (apparently AT engineers used CRL as an excuse to get rid of the double phasing).
You can see how drivers get frustrated while stuck at the lights, given such a small proportion of the overall cycle.

Future Light Phasing

Following conversion of Queen Street to a transit mall, and Victoria Street to linear park, the cycle can be reduced to 60 seconds and only two phases.
While vehicles crossing Queen Street are getting around the same phase length (20 seconds vs 18 seconds), their share increases from 19% to 33%!
Pedestrians also get a slight increase in their allocated time, but the shortened crossing distance and widened Queen Street footpaths means the capacity is hugely increased, and their waiting time reduced from 61% to 33%.

Wider application

The results will be similar for Customs and Wellesley Streets, enabling more efficient movement of vehicles through the city centre – albeit at safer speeds.

There’s also potential to apply this to other parts of the city, where shared street programs, removal of on-street parking, and junction upgrades will enhance pedestrian amenity and improve wait times for vehicle traffic.

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33 comments

  1. I don’t disagree with any of this, but a lot of benefit could happen tomorrow if Auckland Transport got rid of all the unnecessary right turns at these intersections. I especially don’t understand why right turns onto Queen St aren’t banned.

    1. Even more of the benefits could happen tomorrow if all of Queen St was classed as bus lanes between say 10am and 2am (the other hours giving a generous window for deliveries, rubbish collection etc). The engineering involved is simple and cheap.

      1. The first picture above clearly shows poles holding invisible wire. It also shows a special glass layer above the footpath so people can walk with their feet 50mm above the ground.

        1. The first picture above clearly shows two short sections of rigid bar overhead at the stop only. Battery recharging while stopped on an otherwise wire free Queen Street …

        2. New technology miffy and Auckland will be at the forefront. Now hover boards can cross the English Channel it is not a big step for mankind to be able to levitate down Queen Street. Instead of looking around to dodge Lime Scooters you will have to look up to dodge levitating people descending as well.

        3. How can you be sure there is no invisible wire? The photo clearly doesn’t show it, so surely that proves it is there.

  2. Thanks Graeme, this is interesting to see. So removing the vehicle movements that are most pointless allow the more useful vehicle movements to flow better. That makes sense.

    It seems we should be able to do this ahead of the CRL. But Snoozle makes an important point. Quite a bit of improvement for both phasing and safety could come by banning the right turns now.

    1. Quay, Custom and Mayoral will still bisect Queen under A4E

      Quay will be reduced, custom street will be the main “North” crossing point and Mayoral the “South” crossing point.

  3. Any of the traffic engineers want to share how many cars could get through the intersection in those times? Then compare to amounts of Peds usually crossing. Increasing the time at all or even keeping the cross traffic movement is pointless isn’t it?

    This should be rephased asap anyway. At the moment the major movements seem to be right turns Vic west into queen and cross traffic westbound, which results in head ons due to red light running, usually involving a bus.

    Pedestrian repellent factor of the huge intersection and lack of ped space also contributes to the low place value of public realm around it, leaving it’s occupation dominated by homeless or people getting into Ubers at the IMAX bus stops. Much less attractive to linger here than it could be. But council knows this and that’s why linear park is gonna happen right?

    1. The approx capacity on each approach is 1800vph x green to cycle ratio x number of lanes x 90% practical capacity. Or 1800(g/c)x lanes x 0.9.
      The 1800 is an assumed lane saturation flow but happens to equate to 1 vehicle every 2 seconds (3600 sec/hr / 2sec/vehicle = 1800 veh/hr).
      More to the point the Auckland City Council voted to support light rail in Queen Street in 1989 or 1990 regardless of traffic flows so you just do it.

  4. I’m thinking about why change like this seems so obvious to us dear readers when for all our wishing it just never seems to be made to happen.
    I think the problem is that we are looking for ‘innovative’ solutions whereas AT is charged with delivering ‘proven’ solutions.
    And I’ll quote Seth here;
    “The innovator shows up with something she knows might not work (pause for a second, and contrast that with everyone else[AT], who has been trained to show up with a proven, verified, approved, undeniable answer that will get them an A on the test). If failure is not an option, then, most of the time, neither is success.”
    So AT ends up spending a whole lot of time facilitating people arguing over what is ‘proven, verifiable, approvable, undeniable’ under the guise of ‘consultation’.
    Instead why don’t we be a little more generous with our expectations of AT and allow them to innovate and indeed to fail by doing single intersection changes like this with minimal consultation. This may speed up the process and we might just see some of the change in the world we wish for. And a successful small change may just provide the ‘proven, verifiable, approvable, undeniable’ pathway to greater change.

    1. AT spends a lot of money on external consultants, who are then promptly ignored when the consultants propose something “innovative”.

      This seems like a strange situation and suggests to me that AT is very risk averse when it comes to project risk or reputational risk.

      In turn, this seems like a failure to empower and encourage AT to be bold.

      1. Yes. Cities break through this with real leadership. In the absence of real leadership, I think AT needs to learn there’s a legal risk in not innovating, not responding to evidence about minimising risk to vulnerable road users, and not allowing change to happen quickly.

    2. I strongly agree with your suggestion here. In my experience, Clients say that want innovation (which has an inherent risk of failure) when what they actually want is “Risk-free Novelty”. Trying things on a small scale, risking failure and learning from it is not a path many clients in the transport field want to travel. And that’s often driven by commentary from blogs, social media and news outlets decrying mistakes and errors as failures instead of learning experiences. If you can’t learn from making mistakes you can’t progress. To use a sporting example, Gilbert Enoka, the All Blacks mental skills coach has saying that “success is a lousy teacher”. We need to be allowed to try and fail in order to be better next time round.

    1. So where is the traffic from the reduced thoroughfares going to go? I mean, it all sounds great, don’t get me wrong, but no one has mentioned where the quay Street or Victoria traffic will go? Surely that will offset the improved phasing for the worse?

      1. It’s gone already to some extent, traffic simply vanishes. The other routes will be more efficient & or people take other modes or delay or combine their trips.

  5. Interesting post, Graeme, thanks. This is a question for anyone. What will happen for pedestrians wanting to cross the path of light rail tracks? Will it be generally go for it when it looks safe? And will the light rail always have first priority down the street with car crossing phasing working around it? Or will it stop at intersections?

    1. Australians can manage it on comparable streets in their major cities. Why should not Aucklanders be able to cope as well?

    2. The recently reintroduced trams in Manchester, Sheffield, and Nottingham all have equivalent CBD street running. The English can cope as well.
      On the continent, there is much equivalent CBD street running.
      A unique Auckland solution is simply not required.

    3. On Queen St, pedestrians can then cross the tracks whenever it is clear.
      I’d expect there to be a different paving treatment for the light rail sections and cycleway, potentially raised or lowered an inch to aid those visually impaired (and people on phones).

      Traffic lights would be linked to the LR signals so trains are held for as short a time as possible.

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