There are so many things to be frustrated about with the likes of Auckland Council and Auckland Transport right now but one thing near the top of that list has to be their handling of changes to Queen St.

At a high-level this should be straightforward. Queen St is meant to become a transit mall, a street for people and public transport and with no access by cars. This was expressed in the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) that was adopted last year calls for Queen St to become:

A vibrant pedestrian priority shopping street at the heart of Waihorotiu / Queen Street Valley – Queen Street will support centre-running transit (starting with buses) and become the centrepiece of a greatly expanded pedestrian priority and low emissions zone

The CCMP also says how this would happen:

Creation of a transit mall condition along Queen Street over time, with eventual removal of all general traffic, to be implemented through a series of pilots and incremental network changes to be implemented in parallel with major city centre construction works and traffic management plans.

Further streetscape enhancements to Queen Street to increase pedestrian priority, with a highly accessible, level surface design accommodating increasing pedestrian volumes and ability to cross the street freely supporting a vibrant, two-sided retail street.

During consultation on the CCMP the Queen St Valley plans received 84% support and in 2018 the mayor and councillors unanimously called for it to happen as soon as possible.

Yet since the removal of the Auckland Design Office (ADO), council and AT officials have been dragging their heels and walking back ambition for the street and it’s feeling very much like case of predatory delay.

After the council won a court case over groups wanting Queen St returned to cars like it was pre-COVID, they sprung a surprise consultation with plans very much in line with what the anti-change group were pushing for. Thankfully most of the 900+ submissions didn’t support that and works started on improvements at the northern end of the street.

Actual boardwalk on Queen St, designed for walking? But in practice, a dead-end ‘eel trap’ for people on two wheels seeking safety

Then a few weeks ago they announced they would needlessly pull out all of the remaining COVID works, returning much of the street to four lanes of traffic until they can get around to doing pedestrian improvements on the rest but some of those will take another year to achieve and only after more consultation.

June to July 2021Removal of all remaining emergency works barriers and most of the extended bus platforms. Two of the bus platforms will be retained.
August 2021Public engagement on design concepts for Shortland St to Victoria St (Zone 3)
Late September to late November 2021Construction of Zone 3
November 2021Public engagement on design concepts for Victoria Street to Wellesley Street (Zone 4)
January to late February 2022Construction of Zone 4
March 2022Public engagement on design concepts for Wellesley Street to Mayoral Drive (Zone 5)
May to end June 2022Construction of Zone 5

This is incredibly frustrating as means that instead of just improving what exists, every stage will end up a hard-fought battle with more false claims of the council being anti-car and killing businesses.

The removal of the COVID works is doubly stupid as almost certainly things like the bus stops will need to be reinstalled again in a few months time at more tax/ratepayer cost – it’s funny how those self-appointed tax/ratepayer watchdogs never seem to be around for stuff like this.

We have another month or so to wait before they consult on the plans for Shortland St to Victoria St and even longer before anything actually goes gets installed. However in the meantime Auckland Transport have launched a separate consultation on changes to parking and loading as a result of removing the temporary works and it confirms that south of Shortland St, Queen St will be back to four lanes of traffic – this is just one section on the diagrams shown with the red showing the works being removed.

It seems they’ve already removed the bus only signs – not that they were ever enforced.

https://twitter.com/Samhood8/status/1412288503950413826?s=20

ATs proposed changes to parking on Queen St should not be supported. All parking and loading should be removed entirely with Queen St made bus only. Loading and servicing should be required to be done from side streets – as happens in other cities all over the world.

It’s also worth noting that AT plan to use their same non-existent enforcement on Queen St and that even some of the parking they’re reinstating is not for loading.

Sadly it’s not just these changes that are the problem. With the Victoria/Albert St intersection now closed for City Rail Link works, the temporary traffic management is directing people to drive down Queen St. Instead they could have used the opportunity to close Victoria St back at Kitchener St preventing people from driving down Victoria St in the first place. The space could then have been used with perhaps some paint, pots and some of the leftover cubes from the removal of the COVID works to implement the an early stage of the Linear Park, something also in the CCMP.

Instead of directing cars down Queen St, Auckland Council and Auckland Transport could use the space for an interim installation of the proposed Victoria St Linear Park. Blue represents public space, green a cycleway.

All of this continues to beg the question, why are officials seemingly fighting so hard to retain cars on Queen St? Perhaps put another why, why aren’t AT pushing harder to get the cars out of Queen St, after all, if they really wanted to they could probably do it overnight.

Related, why do they keep undermining every council strategy and plan which calls for the city to be more people focused and to get people out of their cars in order to reduce congestion and emissions?

At the same time, what are Councillors doing to hold these officials to account. It’s all very well saying the right thing but doesn’t mean much when officials are doing the opposite

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says: “All of these improvements will help create a people-friendly, vibrant and accessible streetscape that can be enjoyed by everyone who lives, works, shops and spends time on Queen Street.

….

Chair of the Planning Committee Councillor Chris Darby says: “The vision for Queen Street outlined in our City Centre Masterplan is unshakeable. We’re entirely committed to creating a great street for people that is inviting, accessible and lively, and free from drive-through traffic.”

Finally, weekday pedestrian volumes on Queen St continue to stubbornly sit at around 75-80% of pre-COVID levels for this time of year but there was an interesting result on Saturday when AT held its Fare Free Day. As you can see pedestrian volumes for that Northern part of Queen St were higher on Saturday than during the same week in both 2018 and 2019.

It seems what the city centre retailers need is not more moaning about the look of Queen St but to have some events and other initiatives encouraging people to come to the city.

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80 comments

  1. Literally had to walk my bike down the other day after nearly being killed twice. It’s been awfully managed. Will stick to the waterfront for recreation until they fix it. It should be like Swanston St in Melbourne – no cars at all and a thriving pedestrian space. It’s a joke at this point, no wonder people are staying away.

  2. The other great mystery is why does AT (inviting traffic into Queen) undermine AT (removing traffic so the buses can actually move on Queen)?

  3. This is just like what happened with the AT cycling team. Disestablish people who are actually passionate about making Auckland a better city (like the ADO) and replace them with career bureaucrats who still have a 1990s world outlook and watch any progress grind to a halt.

    Councillors should demand resignations of the idiots who approved these two restructures. They have set Auckland back a decade.

    1. I prefer sacking the Chief Executive and installing Kathryn King to run things, with the power to reorganise and hire/fire based on the objects she sets.

        1. NZTA’s Urban Mobility Manager and former Walking, Cycling and Road Safety Manager at AT.

  4. Putting my tinfoil skepticism hat on, this provides the perfect opportunity to tie up these teams for a while doing the absolutely most obvious pedestrian improvements, while other areas of the city can be business as usual. Get a few more same as renewals on major streets through because the consultation people etc are too busy for example

  5. It’s increasingly evident the senior ‘layers of clay’ (™Chris Darby) management at AT are determined that halting the pedestrianisation of Queen Street is a bridge they’re prepared to die on. How they’re able to get away with it in the face of councillors’ determination beats me but, for all the weasel words from the AT chair and CEO, it strikes me that the rot starts at the very top of the controlling organisation. The fact that Goff and the AC CEO permit this stalling says pretty much everything you need to know about this mayoralty and the officers it appoints. Disheartening.

    1. Yes, there’s no other way to explain it. The mayor and AC CEO may have to negotiate with Government on some things, but there’s none of that excuse to be had here. This is entirely within local government control.

      I can only imagine that they are so lacking in awareness and vision, that they think people who wish to drive on Queen St !! are in any way needing to be balanced against the great goals of the CCMP and Auckland Plan.

  6. To me the problem is more that AT is not required to take direction from AC but from NZTA.
    The CCO idea is a complete joke.
    AT needs to be forced to take direction from AC again or even better the concept of CCO’s should be scraped and they should once again become under direct control of the Council, who after all is elected by the people who expect that their representatives have control over the city as a whole, not just there to produce hot air and hope that these independent organisations will respond to them

  7. The real question is why did they open the can of worms in the first place? Why spend a cent on changes that the local businesses don’t want to a street that is almost certainly going to be dug up for light rail when most of the rest of the streets in the city are in atrocious condition. If abysmal streets like Hobson and Nelson are still lower in funding priority than a temporary and unnecessary fix to one of the better streets you have to wonder if they will ever be improved. And it’s not like we have any tourists to show off to.
    By all means spend a few bucks on some signs and paint and make it bus / bike / scooter only, but anything else is just burning money and a terrible option for the environment when it goes to the skip in a few years time.
    Maybe they have finally woken up and realised this is a dumb idea so they are putting it off until after the light rail decision after which they can cancel it altogether.

    1. “Why spend a cent on changes that the local businesses don’t want”

      Businesses do not own streets. And car drivers certainly do not.

      1. Correct, but they do pay a targeted rate for city centre improvements. To spend some of their hard earned money on temporary improvements that aren’t really needed is probably a kick in the guts at this time.

        1. The targeted rate is paid by owners of property, both residential and commercial. It should be used to improve the environment for residents and businesses. HoTC and CCRG support the CCMP, and I don’t think it’s at all clear that HoTC is representing businesses’ interests well nor that the City Centre Residents’ Group’s concerns for residents is given an awful lot of focus by AT or by AC.

          During the lockdowns last year I had this reply about parking enforcement in the city centre: “We are working on a daily basis with Heart of the City to identify problem areas and deploying staff to resolve.” No suggestion they were working on a daily basis with the CCRG…

    2. I agree Buttwizard but I am impressed you think this government is ever going to get light rail anywhere past an announcement.

      Disagree with Sascha, cars are not the issue, it’s just Queen Streets reason for being has faded. It has reinvented itself, thanks to AT, into a bus depot however!

      I am a pedestrian but the truth is that street has nothing I want, its grimy, cold, windy and not overly safe feeling with the homeless residing there. And the human waste smell in places is repulsive.

      Stop wasting money on it, please.

      1. Ha, this is what was said here ad nausea in comments about the CRL right up to the first hole in the ground: is the last refuge of opponents who have run out of any coherent argument against a project. Look at me super cynic saying: ‘yeah, whatever, nah nah, it’ll never happen’.

        1. Labour have support of the council and the people. Christ, they even had the funding set aside.
          The one ingredient that has stalled this project is Labour. The difference between light rail and the CRL was National refused to come to the party with funding.

          I want light rail. It’s an excellent proposal. But Labour and their major policy projects are all stuck in a limbo between a wish list and practical application. They have no pull with their ministries.

          Housing especially is a blight upon them. They have walked away and given up. Their state House build it’s actually no more forward thinking than Nationals.

          And let’s not mention mental health.

          Or Skypath.

  8. Putting the details to one side, at least they aren’t spending millions now, only to rip it up in a few years for light rail.
    The current queen street looks like a stalling tactic.

    Maybe council should lead (like they did with CRL) and commence construction of light rail standard gauge tracks from Britomart to KRoad.

    1. Take the hint: Light Rail isn’t happening any time soon, if ever.

      If they were serious, they’d be talking about enabling works now. They aren’t.

      1. It kind of has to now doesn’t it? At the end of the consultation (which was limited to 6 months, anyone know when that magical date is?) there has to be a positive outcome or it would be (another) massive failure for Labour. Why would they want that?

        1. Why are they in this position now? Look at the Skypath. This is the same mechanism that led us to a 20x increase in costs for the same functionality. The outcome of the light rail engagement is going to be so unpalatable that they get to claim they’re being prudent by walking away.

          If building something actually mattered, they’d be building it now.

        2. “If building something actually mattered, they’d be building it now” –
          The main purpose of the project started out as “there will be too many buses in the CBD”, then changed to “Rapid transit to airport” and is now “we want to build more houses in Mt Roskill and Mangere”. It is a good time to reflect and ensure that they have the best plans to achieve that before spending billions.

        3. How much more time do they need for reflecting? So far they’ve used up all of that and then the time for designing it and starting to build it.

          Luckily for them, I frequently reflect on the lack of progress on this as I’m stuck in traffic on SH16, where the bus improvements has also been deferred, perhaps due to a need for some more reflecting.

          My wisdom has since indicated that it’s a damn sight easier to dick around and get nothing done when you’re in Wellington, hundreds of kms from the actual problems you’re supposed to be trying to solve. But I may need some more reflection to hone that conclusion somewhat. Where can I send my invoice?

  9. Just asking for a friend…

    How would the readers of GA blog redesign Queen St?

    Winner will win a $100 AT Hop Card.

    Just kidding…

    1. If we’re going to let cars run down it then embrace it and turn it into a literal drag strip. And then only let actual performance drag cars with competition cars drive down it.

      That’s my “only slightly stupider than what’s actually happening pitch” thank you for coming to my TED talk.

      1. Good idea. They could also regrade the top end of the street so that said drag cars could do a cool jump over K Rd, which would also improve traffic flow along there.

    2. Crack open the stormwater and return the stream to the surface (spring fed from Myers Park) and have a ecologicol corridor.

      1. Ive always like the idea of bringing back the Waihorotiu stream as a water feature all the way down Queen St.

    3. I think a trench down the middle just like the one proposed for Dominion Road. It could be used as a combined stream and open sewer as well as somewhere to dump food wrappers.

  10. I’m just wondering will pedestrianisation make the street more comfortable for homeless-like people similar to what happened to Freyberg Place? Freyberg square is colonised by really dodgy people: last time I went there with family, they were actively giving silly advices and moving my kids bicycles “to a better place”, I’m really trying to be tolerant, but so far all I can do is to actively avoid the city centre, it’s kind of a cursed place and nothing can help it. My family feels unsafe there and only the K’road is worse.

    1. I really hope it will make homeless people feel more comfortable as they live their lives in constant fear of violent assault.

      1. I would probably assault one touching my kids bikes if I was more rough person, but I don’t look like a person who can hit back and so far, I feel threatened and it doesn’t seem like any of these noisy insulting K’road people live in fear.

    2. The problem of homelessness will be solved by fixing the housing and mental health problems this country has, not by making any public spaces uncomfortable for them.

      1. Well they are not necessarily all the same, and not necessarily have no place to live. It’s just a lifestyle. What I’m trying to tell is that the CBD is full of really dangerously looking people. The place near the City Sales attracts them particularly. Not sure maybe it’s a quick loans micro finance attracts, them maybe it’s transition housing on Howe street, where people on bail often stay. But so far statistics showing that intersection of Howe St and K Road is one of most dangerous places in the city, chances of getting assaulted or robbed are quite high.

        1. Dangerous looking people? I am more scared of actual dangerous people, like the useless lot slowing down any minor movement down the climate change response path.
          Dangerous looking/homeless people are a symptom of society, and the situation is not helped by people being so judgemental.
          The city belongs to everyone and we all have equal rights to be there.

        2. The same statistics that would probably put Freyburg Place as one of the safer spots in the city.

        3. Matthew Occidental you’re trying to tell that something with a knife running after you, or swearing you with all the dirty words or stealing your baby stroller is not a dangerously looking person? I’m not one of those folks who just popped out of the car and horrified with this new experience, I do 95% of my movements by feet an, most of past decade in the CBD more than half of these pushing huge double decker baby stroller. My experience is this is indeed a dangerous place.

          I know about broken windows theory, and I can assume that spending money to make environment not looking abandoned could reduce crime. But nevertheless, I had no physical difficulty moving by feet and with baby stroller in the CBD, I’m just not feeling safe and comfortable there. And all improvements of past years didn’t make me feel safer there.

          I’m not a professional demagogue neither I politician, so I can’t necessarily formulate my words correctly. I was paying taxes all these years, I was paying rent (which includes rates) all these years. As a taxpayer I’m asking will this Queen street project advocated here make me feel safer in the city? Could this actually make city safer? Maybe Queen street should be just left alone without spending all these money and time? Queen street pedestrian paths are not that narrow as say High street? How extra decking will make it safer?

          Most of stuff on this website is represented as absolute truth and not something which can be questioned. But generally I want more proofs that this is actually going to work.

        4. In my 16 years in the CBD I’ve never been chased by someone with a knife.

          I don’t think upgrading Queen St will have a material impact on the chances of being attacked with a knife but it’s not the purpose of the project.

        5. It was about 9PM near Judges Bay, we were just having an evening walk. We noticed a strange man jumping on cars at traffic lights, he also noticed us, fetched a knife and run in our direction. We had to retreat.

        6. Please don’t get me wrong. I would really love to support this movement, I just do not feel convinced enough with materials on this site and I think purpose of this website is to attract more supporters of these ideas to change how cities do. You tell the city and council should improve, and I tell authors approach on this website should also somehow improve. For example guest posts, I think is a movement in a good direction. Maybe more links to materials outside of this website? For example I did really enjoy the link to strong towns in 2012 post about flush median, I can’t tell I agree about harm of flush, but the materials on the strong towns were quite interesting, I even took a 101 course later after.

        7. I used to work on Howe Street – never felt unsafe by the constant drug use or the homeless that happened there. Just really sad. They need support and to behonest there needs to be more nice spaces in the city for homeless and for everyone else, so it doesn’t just get concentrated into the few places where it is safe to not be in a car.

    3. Couple of weekends ago, riding past down Shortland St/High street intersection in the middle of the day, was unfortunate enough to see an aggressive looking drunk guy with his dick out pissing over a bit of street furniture. Even have the footage on helmet camera though not much point reporting it and couldn’t report it at the time as was running late for appointment.

      Lots of noise about anti-social people in the CBD, but think on reflection it’s not about the relatively few people with real issues wandering around, it about the lack of people in general.

      I think where you get a lot of people (Lorne st always seems busy) then there is less chance of the dodgy people getting away with shit like harassing people.

      Auckland council and local businesses need to work hard at bringing people back into a safe, attractive and welcoming environment in Auckland. The free PT on Saturday, finishing the waterfront development etc helps, but a lot more work is required on places like lower Queen.

      I might have mentioned it before, but I wrote to AT asking for Mills lane loading zones to be extended (the informal one outside the back of the Guardian building has been turned into a non-stopping area) but was horrified by the response that ‘no worries, we will ask for loading zones to be retained outside the front of the Guardian building in Queen st.

      Just struck me that they just not getting it. Surely with minimal upfront design work, they could at least consider starting painting in a vision for Queen st with light rail and no cars.

  11. I heard they gave up on the CCMP idea for Queen Street when they found out there weren’t enough mauve and lilac pavers on the planet to be able to cover the whole of Queen Street.

  12. I would like to know how my councillor votes on these issues.
    I hope he supports Labour party policy.

  13. Was waiting for this article, my god it is terrible what they’ve done. Some weird wooden boardings with ramps to nowhere, brutal concrete planters filled with pitiful “natives”. What feels like even bigger loading zones than before, and now no where to easily ride a bike or scooter. What a waste of money.
    It’s actually gone backwards – it’s like getting your 3 year old to draw a picture and you get some scribbles

    1. Yes their preference is for grey concrete tubs that are high enough to prevent pedestrians and drivers from seeing each other until it is too late. Old men like me remember a time when anything in the road needed a safety audit, when flowering trees were planted in pairs opposite each other, when noisy buses were limited in numbers on Queen Street, when Queen Street was beautiful and when you actually wanted to be there. Then came AT.

      1. Really? When was that? How many people lived in Auckland then? How many cars were owned by Aucklanders? How many people lived in the CBD area? How many businesses actually opened in the weekend?

        I’m hardly young but I don’t think I’ve ever seen Queen St be “beautiful”. When I was young it was an empty windy grey expanse on the weekend (particularly a Sunday), pretty boring during the week and after dark it was mostly about drunk people and cars – loud, fast whatever we called boy racers back then.

  14. The real failure of AT is a lack of a comprehensive no excuses high level policy to implement the strategies of their shareholder (the council). If they had policy then they wouldn’t need to consult as the policy would dictate the outcome (consultation may help with the finer details). But instead everything is ad hoc based on how many people complain, the employees are put in the firing line because the board don’t have the balls. Employees should be able to say “sorry it is AT policy to remove 30% of parking for cycle lanes” or “sorry it is AT policy to remove traffic from Queen Street” or “sorry it’s not my decision, go talk to my CEO or the council or transport minister”.
    I think the general structure of AT being a separate organisation is good, but it needs to be run like a private company that is responsible to their shareholders. Imagine running any other business like this: “Sorry shareholders, we spent all your money but didn’t implement any of your strategies because we thought you were wrong and that people didn’t like them”. That CEO would not normally last long.

  15. “Loading and servicing should be required to be done from side streets”
    There are businesses with no rear access to service lanes.
    Queen St will need to remain a shared space to allow deliveries.
    If we’re going back to 4 lanes, are the outer lanes to be bus lanes while Albert St is blocked with CRL works??

    1. There are ingenious devices called “trolleys” that couriers and delivery people already use to transport boxes of goods hundreds of metres to businesses that don’t have loading zones right outside. Such arrangements can already be found in places like shopping malls, where couriers often have to park a long way away from the shop they’re delivering stock to.

      1. Exactly, we seem to have this mindset that everything needs to be done from door to door so that couriers, large trucks and other vehicles park all over the footpath, on the kerbs blocking pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchairs.

        All other cities around the world have other ways of achieving this, particularly Euro centres with old medieval centres and narrow lanes.

  16. “Queen St will [not] need to remain a shared space to allow deliveries” because “Loading and servicing should be required to be done from side streets”

    Fixed that for you.

    Businesses that only front pedestrian malls thrive all over the world. AucKland isn’t some special snowflake city where this won’t work

  17. is the person “AT Engineering Team” really a member of AT ? is this a serious challenge? I guess we’ll never know for sure, but why not accept the challenge and make it into a mini competition to answer the question: “How would the readers of GA blog redesign Queen St?”

    Why not run this as a post, inviting people to design solutions, draw up proposals, and thrash this out in public?

  18. Councillors like Chris Darby and Pippa Coom are really pissing me off by being so vocal about this shit on twitter but then doing nothing in council. FFs, get the AT people in there and ask them point blank what’s going on. Motion to change it. Don’t just talk about to get voted in next time

    1. Surely there is some accountability for AT to have some general direction from a democratically elected body?
      There has to be some mechanism, unless they are absolutely allowed to do whatever they want?

      1. The CCOs were designed to be arms length organisations to ensure there was no ‘political interference’ in what should be business like organisations. With the exception of AT none of them had direct council representation on the board. That is until Phil Goff removed the councillors sitting on the AT board. As far as I am aware the only thing council can do is sack the boards. Appointments are then made to the new board by an entity other than council. Phil seems to like the status quo.

  19. There’s too much concrete on the Custom tp Shortland St section.
    How about painting or having some artwork on the concrete cylinders.

  20. This issue need to be targeted for a period by AT Parking and NZ Police to change behaviors. They can get away with it so it happens.

  21. The meta from all this is that governance of transport in Auckland has collapsed, with an expensive sclerotic chaos reigning supreme. It is beyond question to this observer that AT (and NZTA for that matter) have gone rogue and only accept direction from democratic organs if it suits them. There seems an obtuse desire to tough out this Labour/Green government with a combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and white anting until a government whose values are more aligned with those of the leadership of the agencies is returned to power.

    The council is utterly powerless, not that its 20 councillors are generally that worried about that. We have one MP in wellington for about every 40,000 voters elected by about an 80% turnout. Auckland has one councillor for about twice that number of people elected by just 35% of the voters. They all know the council is really run by its bureaucrats and that their fat six figure salaries rely mainly on name recognition, not doing anything. The first thing we need is at least 36 elected members to the council on at least a 50% turnout – then we might get something more than the same tired faces doing nothing much.

    The CCOs and dysfunctional transports governance is a triumph of an imposed from Wellington neoliberal organisational model going back 40 years which is reflexively ideologically hostile to anything with the word “public” in it, with Bill English’s gutting of public sector ability to do anything being the cherry on top.

    Now, I have no doubt that Labour was genuinely surprised on achieving power at the extent of the erosion of the public service that occurred during the era of Key’s government, which preferred middle class tax cuts to a functioning civil service. But they should know by now. The DHB’s were doomed the moment the government realised they were so useless that they needed the army (our last government agency capable of rapid action to achieve a mission orientated goal) to basically run the COVID MIQ response, so they know how awful (and how politicised) large parts of our quasi-corporatised civil service is now. NZTAs breath taking dereliction of basic duty around drivers licences and WOFs for heavy vehicles ought to have sent the same message, but they have done very little about it.

    The Labour/Green government hasn’t the appetite for the fight required to bridge the gap between its expectations and the opposition of politicised government agencies required to deliver them. National of course would do better, but only because its values of indulging the road transport lobby, engaging in an anti-PT culture war and giving succour to climate change denialism is way, way more aligned with AT and NZTA than the current government. Still, Mill Road might get done.

    Basically- for the TL,DR crowd – until there is serious reform of governance in Auckland paralysis is going to be the default option.

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