A few weeks ago, we shared a video explaining the new EVA, or ‘Essential Vehicle Area’ on Queen Street between Wakefield St and Wellesley St.
The block-long EVA restricts private vehicles from travelling through this section of Queen Street. The stated goals of the EVA are to reduce unnecessary traffic on Queen Street, make the street area safer for walking and cycling, and reduce congestion that holds up buses.
Planning Committee chair Councillor Chris Darby says the EVA will free up precious space along Queen Street for essential road users and make the area safer and more pleasant for Aucklanders returning to the city centre.
“Auckland’s city centre is the commercial powerhouse critical to the prosperity of Tāmaki Makaurau and Aotearoa.
“Guided by the City Centre Masterplan, our goal is to regenerate the area to create a better connected, greener, and more prosperous place that we can all be proud of.”
“The introduction of the new Essential Vehicle Area for a small stretch of Queen Street is an important early step to make the Wai Horotiu Queen Street Valley more desirable for people who live, work, study and enjoy the city centre.
“It is a signal that Auckland is moving past the days of Queen Street being a congested, polluted drive-through to a go-to destination. Essential vehicles maintain their access but private vehicles will navigate alternative routes to park and get around,” Darby says.
At the start of this week, the EVA came into effect.
Mōrena Auckland! A reminder that the new Essential Vehicle Area (EVA) came into effect on Queen Street between Wakefeld and Wellesley Streets yesterday. Private vehicles, taxis and rideshare services are not allowed in this area, 24/7. For more, visit https://t.co/FLtOvtb8jY pic.twitter.com/9SS9bcPvCv
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) July 3, 2022
How does it work?
The image below shows the EVA in red, with mobility parking spaces also highlighted. Instead of continuing straight, general traffic heading along Queen Street will need to turn onto one of the perpendicular streets before they hit the Civic Theatre (if they’re driving from the north) or the Town Hall (if they’re coming from the south.)
Buses, people on bikes and mobility scooters (and presumably lime scooters), emergency vehicles, and essential goods delivery vehicles are all allowed to pass through the EVA. Taxis, ubers, and private cars aren’t.
If you’re a non-essential vehicle and you accidentally pass through the EVA, you will be sent a $150 fine.
Per AT’s response to a question on twitter today, the EVA is being enforced ‘by cross referencing license plate numbers with Waka Kotahi’s vehicle registration information.‘ This response also points to an AT website with information about driving in the city centre, from parking zones to short term pickup and drop-off areas, to the many projects that are affecting Queen Street at the moment.
Granted there will always be a period of bedding in but already there are plenty of images going around about the EVA being ignored.
Hi Jessica, AT uses remote monitoring to identify vehicles that should not be in the EVA. We'll do this by cross referencing license plate numbers with Waka Kotahi's vehicle registration information. For more details on the GV lane, please go to https://t.co/7g3CeUgMgj ^KP
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) July 4, 2022
A few Issues
Technically, there’s no reason the EVA shouldn’t do what it sets out to do. If the license place cross-reference system works, there will probably be a painful phase during which a lot of drivers get fines until they learn that the EVA really does mean they can’t drive there. Fewer private vehicles driving through this middle block of Queen Street will affect the traffic patterns on Queen Street and could lead to less traffic in the Wai Horotiu Queen Street Valley overall.
Restricted vehicle areas are a pretty common tool used in cities all over the world to reduce car-dominance while allowing essential services to still take place. I’m not opposed to the idea of an EVA in Queen Street, but there are a few issues with this one that jump out at me:
The zone is too short.
The City Centre Master Plan and A4E set the scene for a car-free Queen Street many years ago now. This EVA is another incremental step in a very slow creep towards that vision. But why is it only only a block long, that will make it ripe for confusion. Why not create an EVA on the whole northern half of Queen Street from Komititanga to Mayoral Drive?
It’s not the full car-free vision, but it would be a bigger step in the right direction without needing to create any new infrastructure other than some signs and cameras. It would also greatly simplify the messaging as it becomes easier to just say something to the effect of “You can’t drive on Queen St anymore”
The EVA rules and signage are confusing.
A street sign with a paragraph of text on it will be really hard for drivers to read, unless they’re stopped at a red light and have a bit of time to process it. And by that point, they’re probably already in a lane that’s going to feed them into the EVA. The description of ‘essential vehicles’ is also a tricky one. What if everyone thinks their trip is essential so will qualify?
The explainer video is good, with great positive messaging about public transport, walking and cycling being the best way to get to Queen Street. But there could be more information explaining the rules and effects of the EVA, like a circulation plan, to help drivers know how it affects them.
In Tauranga, the conversion of a street into a having a bus-only lane section led to drivers incurring over a million dollars in fines and some angry town hall meetings. And that street conversion has a lot clearer signage than the Queen St one.
I can’t help but feel that drivers snagging fines unawares due to the poor signage or issues with being misidentified will lead to a storm of complaints and negative press and that risks putting the Wai Horotiu Queen Street transformation back even further. I can see the Herald headlines already.
A lack of a loading and servicing plan
I suspect part of the problem is that AT have dragged their heels on developing a proper loading and servicing plan for Queen St, something I know businesses and residents have been calling for for years. As such, lot of the focus with initiatives like the EVA seems to be based on trying to accommodate existing uses and vehicles, rather than questioning if we need to be actively trying to change that. For example, can deliveries be changed to be only at certain times of the day, can we encourage delivery companies to change the modes they use, such as shifting to e-bikes, or can we encourage more use of loading zones outside of Queen St?
I think the key to getting the EVA right is the the signage and the messaging need to be kept simple. AT and the Council need to be bolder in telling the message that cars aren’t welcome on Queen St.
How about a permit system?
This is more a solution to the confusion problem, but what if the EVA’s basic rule was ‘Buses only, unless you have a permit’. Then, any goods/services vehicle that genuinely needs to use the EVA can apply for a permit from AT. That way AT would know exactly who is allowed to be there – and when.
It could work like bookable loading zones, which are already in use in other cities. It’s a simple system where you book a loading zone bay for the specific day, time and duration you need it for. Some organisations could be pre-approved so the approval can be automated and given in seconds, while other organisations may require a quick once-over by staff.
When approved your plate details would go into the enforcement system with an exclusion for you from the time you specify (with a buffer window either side). Of course this would need to be tied to a pretty good communication campaign to let people know but most service and delivery companies could be engaged with before the controls are in place.
A system like this would give AT a lot more control and understanding over who’s using the space and when as well as being able to ensure the loading zones that exist don’t become overloaded.
The big picture
This kind of management of private vehicles is something that should be widely used all over the city. It’s a key tool in reducing traffic, reducing VKT, and making streets safer and easier for other modes.
What’s frustrating is that once again we’re seeing a good idea applied in a piecemeal and watered-down way. It almost feels like officials are deliberately trying to make it fail.
The big vision for Queen Street already exists in the Waihorotiu / Queen Street Valley move in the City Centre Masterplan and in Access for Everyone. The disruption of the CRL construction works over the last few years has created a series of opportunities to make steps towards that vision – but they’ve mostly been missed.
The problem with Queen Street sometimes seems to be that no-one’s quite ready to make a big move. One good outcome of this first EVA would be its rapid extension up the street to Komititanga, to create a substantial low-car area.
… and what about bikes?
One of the core goals for this project is increased safety for people walking and on bike. But with much of the street still accessible by general traffic, not to mention a range of unspecified goods and services vehicles, how is safety really being improved?
We got a taste of kerb-protected Covid bike lanes on Queen Street in 2020, only for them to be replaced by higher-spec footpath buildouts that terminate in vertical kerbs and large concrete planters. Provision for cyclists in particular is a glaring gap in Queen Street projects. In the information video, there are people on bikes travelling up and down the street – in the vehicle lane.
Is that the plan for Queen Street: that bikes ‘take the lane’? If so, it’s even more important to get the cars out.
Updated 3.25pm: It appears that there is a loophole in the signage that’s large enough to drive several double-cab diesel utes through with impunity. As reported by Todd Niall on Stuff this afternoon:
Auckland Transport has confirmed the official designation of different types of vehicle means that utes – among the top-selling vehicles in recent years – are free to drive through.
The revelation about utes is linked to how Auckland Transport defined and will police which vehicles can drive through the area.
Cameras will log registration numbers and check them against Waka Kotahi’s database to see whether the vehicle is officially categorised as being allowed through.
“Goods vehicles” are allowed under Auckland Transport’s rules for the area. Under law, the council-controlled organisation cannot differentiate between types of vehicles classified by Waka Kotahi as goods vehicles.
Auckland Transport said most utes were classed as “goods vehicles” by Waka Kotahi, regardless of their purpose or ownership.
It was not keen on the loophole being highlighted “as it could have serious negative impacts on the functionality of the [area]”.
And, in related breaking news (especially given Queen Street’s status as Aotearoa’s ground zero hotspot for deadly black carbon), RNZ reports that nitrogen dioxide from diesel and petrol exhaust is killing thousands of New Zealanders a year:
The first-of-its-kind study has measured the health impacts of nitrogen dioxide, a toxic gas emitted by fossil fuel cars.
It found 3300 people were dying yearly because of air pollution, and it was mostly because of cars.
That meant as a whole, 10 percent of the people who died each year in the country were dying because of air pollution.
Exposure was also sending more than 13,000 people to hospital for respiratory and cardiac illnesses and giving the same number of children asthma.
The social cost of these health impacts was estimated to be $15.6 billion.
The study, Health and Air Pollution in New Zealand, was conducted by New Zealand experts in air quality, health, and economics.
It was the study’s third instalment since 2012, but for the first time, pollution data from vehicles was measured.