The western side of Queens Wharf, with the Cloud on the left and the Ferry Terminal building in the background. This space will soon be transformed into a new ferry terminal. Photo: Getty Images

Queens Wharf is one of Auckland’s best public spaces. Why is it being given away to buses?

Auckland Transport’s plans for the Queens Wharf ferry terminal include a wide bus lane designed to serve cruise ship passengers on the wharf’s eastern side – effectively closing the wharf to the general public over the busy summer months, writes Matt Lowrie of Greater Auckland.

“Today, Queens Wharf becomes the public’s wharf,” said then Auckland Regional Council (ARC) Chairman Mike Lee on 25 April 2010, the day the red gates were flung open, once again allowing the public to access the prime piece of Auckland’s waterfront and ending its days of being used to store cars and ripen bananas. The ARC and the government had bought back the wharf from the port for $40 million just under a year earlier.

But plans as part of Auckland Transport’s application to build new ferry berths along the wharf show that for most of the summer months, the wharf will be mostly off limits to the people of Auckland within a few years. The submission period closed late last year.

As part of the massive downtown works currently underway, we’re about to get a great new public space between Queens Wharf, where the Cloud is, and Princes Wharf, the one with the Hilton hotel. This is expected to be completed in time for the America’s Cup in 2021.

A visualisation of what the ferry basin will look like after the revamp, supplied by design group Isthmus

Right now that space is used by ferry and tourist operations on Piers 3 and 4. The Ferry Basin is already at or close to capacity so as well as replacing those berths, more are needed. The plan is to add six new ferry berths down the western edge of Queens Wharf. One major concern I have with this is that it means some ferry passengers will have a 300m walk just to reach Quay St which makes catching a ferry harder and less appealing, especially for those with mobility issues.

To get those ferry passengers back to Quay St, they are expected to walk down the western edge of the wharf, uncovered (covered = solid, uncovered = stripped).

One of the reasons for stretching the ferry berths along Queens Wharf’s western side is the eastern sides of both Queens and Princes Wharves are cruise ship berths. It’s those cruise ships that are now becoming more of a problem. For some reason, Ports of Auckland, who operate the cruise terminal, have been allowed to use almost all of Queens Wharf to not only service the cruise ships but also for buses to turn around so that cruise passengers don’t have to walk more than a few metres – or perhaps they’re also trying as hard as possible to help the tourist operators capture them.

This is going to become a major problem when we also throw into the mix hundreds of ferry passengers, many with bikes or other bulky items, streaming to and from the boats. Below is what AT’s consultants recommend

The western edge is of sufficient width to accommodate both pedestrian and vehicle movements. The intent is to provide a 2.9-metre dedicated pedestrian path with 600mm delineation, and a further 3.5 to 5.5-metre vehicle lane on its eastern side. The provision of the 600mm delineation provides an opportunity to operate a form of temporary separation.

So the plan is to squeeze those hundreds of people into a relatively narrow path. With a maximum of just 3.5m for pedestrians, it only takes a couple of people to effectively block the path. I can already see people missing their hourly ferry because of congestion on this path which has been narrowed to accommodate buses.

The plan for the west side of Queens Wharf

The movement is also shown below. Buses will enter the wharf, drive up the western side of the Cloud and then through what is meant to be the public space so they can pull up alongside Shed 10 to collect the cruise ship passengers. This is another example where the movement and storage of vehicles has been prioritised over people.

For the odd cruise ship this wouldn’t matter so much but over summer – the exact time people are most likely to want to be using the public space at the end of Queens Wharf – cruise ships are in port most days. On top of this, over the next decade the number of ships visiting Auckland is expected to increase by 80-100% (obviously not all will be berthed at Queens Wharf).

Projected number of cruise ship days in each month from October 2019 to May 2020. Source.

Having sold the wharf for $40 million, Ports of Auckland are now monopolising its use once again – all for an annual licence fee for cruise operations of just $1 (it also pays for sub-structure maintenance).

It’s not just cruise ships that can take over the space under the plans. Events, especially large ones, can also force the closure of parts or all of the wharf, giving vehicles priority to move through the area.

So what will this look like in reality? First, here’s a visualisation of the completed new berths.

Last Friday, Greater Auckland’s Patrick Reynolds happened to be down on the wharf as they were testing the proposed new layout. He grabbed a few photos. The bus below is at about the same place it would be in a live environment with ferry passengers forced to use the remaining space to the right of it.

The western side of Queens Wharf now. Photo: Patrick Reynolds for Greater Auckland

The space issue is more clear here where the cone denotes where the vehicle lane is.

The western side of Queens Wharf. Photo: Patrick Reynolds for Greater Auckland.

Finally, once buses get to the end of the wharf, they have to negotiate around the top of the wharf, making large parts of it unusable.

A bus manoeuvring around the top of Queens Wharf. Photo: Patrick Reynolds for Greater Auckland

This is an incredibly poor outcome for ferry users and anyone who might want to use Queens Wharf, particularly on a nice summer day.

The end of Queens Wharf as it is now

If this is what’s required to operate cruise ships then they simply can’t be on Queens Wharf. We need more public space for residents, workers and visitors – using it this way leaves the wharf and the public space far too compromised.

If this is the best we can do, we should forget about the berths at Queens Wharf and shift work to providing cruise facilities on Captain Cook Wharf instead.

Unless this happens, we might as well just close the red fences again and stop pretending the wharf is open to the public.

This post was first published on the Auckland transport and urban planning blog Greater Auckland.

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