Auckland Council took over the Queen St changes some time ago after seemingly getting frustrated at Auckland Transports inability to do its job. They’ve been behind the recent changes between Customs and Shortland St and yesterday released the latest in their plans for improving Queen St. The good news is they’re getting better but the bad news is that in a few key areas they’re still not good enough.
Following the needless and premature removal of the temporary COVID works and the upgrade to the section north of Shortland St, the Council asked for feedback on what was done. Separately they proposed to do the rest of Queen St in stages in a similar design and with consultations at every step.
We questioned why the designs made no provision for bikes and scooters, despite it being considered a major cycling route in Auckland Transport’s strategic plans. We also questioned the process to consult at each and every step which would only result in every consultation fatigue with every change ending up a hard-fought battle and why officials kept resisting their own plans which call for cars to be removed from Queen St.
We weren’t alone in thinking this with these three issues and comments about the materials used so far ended up being the four key themes in the feedback received by the council. Somewhat positively, those that were the least satisfied with the changes were drivers which means at least part of it is working.
In response to the feedback, the council have decided to:
- Complete the rest of Queen St as a single project
- introduce a new design and include provision for bikes/scooters in the design
- Put some measures in place to reduce cars being on Queen St
Looking at these in more detail.
There’s not too much to say about the first one. It’s good that they’ll be delivering it as a single project, however they say the physical work will begin later this year and take till September next year to complete.
The new design will use pavers to fill in the existing loading/parking bays, like on the first section, but will then extend them out to cover a couple of the traffic lanes too instead of the High Street style boardwalk. Though there will still be some loading zones and of course bus stops.
The main feature of the design is substantially wider footpaths, giving all people on foot and on wheels designated spaces to ensure they co-exist safely.
From Shortland Street to Wellesley Street on the eastern footpath, the new layout enables:
- pedestrians to continue to use the existing footpath, closest to the shops, free of scooters, bikes and people moving quickly on foot.
- people using more active modes – described as ‘slow wheels and fast feet’ – to use a 3.5 metre multi-use path along the strip closest to the carriageway.
A tactile rim, contrasting colour, a change in paving texture, planting, street furniture and some surface signage will all delineate the multi-use path for the safe movement of slow cyclists, scooters and people moving quickly on foot, away from slower moving pedestrians enjoying the shops and activities in the street.
Cyclists travelling fast will be expected to use the road.
The main problem with the design is the spared space. What even are ‘fast feet’. How many kilometres an hour do I have to be walking to be considered a fast walker? It all just sounds like officials and/or designers trying to find something to use justify a bad decision. The comment below is from one of the designers involved.
“Managing the potential conflict between pedestrians and wheeled mobility is challenging the minds of urban designers around the world. Seeking to address it in this way in Auckland’s premier street, in my view, is a good solution,”
I don’t get why we keep trying to reinvent the wheel with this stuff. These types of issues were solved long ago and design guidelines all around the world, and even Auckland Transport’s design manual say that shared paths aren’t appropriate. The image below is from AT’s design manual. Queen St is one of if not the busiest pedestrian street in the country and sees 2000-4000 pedestrian movements an hour during the daytime even post-Covid.
We’ve even got local examples of what happens when we don’t do follow guidelines like this. The cycleway on Beach Rd is often full of pedestrians because it looks like a footpath. Meanwhile, the recent upgrade of Quay St still has temporary fences as well as ugly orange cones, bollards and signs to help keep pedestrians off the cycleway, despite it having contrasting paving and furniture etc.
I have heard the argument that this needs to be a shared path due to legislation banning scooters from bike lanes. But work is currently under way by Waka Kotahi to change that and that’s likely to be completed by the time this upgrade is completed.
One example of how to do it is this gorgeous new golden cycleway in Rotterdam. There’s only a slight kerb so it’s near level but that combined with the colour makes it clear it’s a space for bikes while still looking beautiful. The gold would even work well for Auckland’s ‘Golden Mile’.
The Coolsingel is the boulevard of @Rotterdam.
It recently underwent a three year €58 million "road diet", with two of its automobile lanes transformed into a walking and cycling promenade, including this iconic 4.5 meter wide cycle track.
— Dutch Cycling Embassy (@Cycling_Embassy) March 31, 2021
Here’s a look at the proposed cross section for Queen St.
And a document showing the design
Interestingly for the first time they’ve decided not to consult on the design, only only the loading zone designations and the changes below.
Reducing Cars on Queen St
The second change is to reduce – but frustratingly not remove, cars in Queen St.
We are aiming to achieve this in a few ways:
- We are proposing to stop private cars travelling the length of Queen Street by introducing an Essential Vehicles Area (EVA) between Wellesley and Wakefield Streets. This would prevent end-to-end through traffic while still supporting the efficient delivery of goods. Buses, cycles, mopeds, motorcycles, goods and service vehicles, and emergency vehicles will be able to use the area as normal. At the southern boundary of the EVA, four lanes will reduce to three between Wakefield Street and Mayoral Drive, allowing a pick-up and drop-off area outside the Town Hall.
- Going forward, there will be no general parking on Queen Street. We are proposing to introduce 24/7 loading and servicing along the length of the project area, and mobility parking around the arts precinct.
- We are proposing to remove the right-hand turn out of High Street at Victoria Street East, to stop traffic turning onto Queen Street as a way to get through the city.
- We are also proposing to make a change to the existing pedestrian mall at Vulcan Lane, and to create two short sections of pedestrian mall at Fort Street and Lorne Street. This will further prioritise pedestrians and reduce traffic into Queen Street.
The Vulcan Lane changes are more just a legal formality while the Fort St changes just formalises the new pocket park that has been installed.
The EVA is a good idea and will help remove some traffic. It also sounds like Auckland Transport will enforce it using their automated cameras like they do on many bus lanes now. There will apparently be processes in place as to what qualifies as an essential vehicle.
The downside is there will still be access to Queen St from Wellesley, Wyndham, Shortland and Customs Streets. At the very least they should look to add a second EVA at the Customs St end. When I asked about this at a briefing recently, I was told they couldn’t do one there as it hadn’t been done before, which is odd.
More concerning though is they are consulting on two options for EVA. One would see it operate 24/7 but the other only 6am to 11pm which would mean a free for all at night. The argument for that that the businesses aren’t there at night but that ignores the thousands of the residents who live in and around Queen St.
Finally, the City Centre Master Plan also calls for the Queen St valley to become a Zero Emissions Area. There is nothing in this plan that suggests that will be implemented or part of the conditions for essential vehicles.
As mentioned earlier, there is some consultation but it is limited to the network changes, EVA , and loading zones. They do however ask for other comments so it would be good to still push for a dedicated cycleway.