Hoping for more green space in the city centre? Auckland Transport has other plans, and there are just three days left to tell them what you think.
Remember the City Centre Masterplan? Possible not, at least not unless you’re a policy wonk working for (or possibly against) the council. But it was a good thing, that Masterplan. Produced in 2012, not long after the creation of the Auckland super-city in late 2010, it was one of the earliest statements of the potential of this place. It was also one of the boldest.
The CCMP, with its proposals for greening, pedestrianising and invigorating the commercial life of downtown Auckland, was a statement of hope and positive intent. Shoppers would benefit and so would the shops, because its whole focus was on making the central city a better place to spend time in, walk around in, buy things in and enjoy yourself in.
And then along came Auckland Transport.
The good folk at AT have been struggling with a few problems. Like, so many people want to use the buses and trains, they can hardly keep up. Like, all those buses coming into town in the morning, where are they all going to go? And also like, the University of Auckland isn’t entirely happy with the plan, for reasons that are a little difficult to determine.
All of which means the Masterplan is under threat.
The issue at stake right now is the future of Victoria St, which is supposed to become a “linear park”. That translates as a green swathe (with limited traffic access) running right across the city centre from Albert Park to Victoria Park. Their royal excellencies would have been more than amused, they’d have been positively delighted, and so, I reckon, would we. (There’s more about this and related matters here.)
Right now, though, Victoria St is the route out of town for buses headed from Victoria Park, across Queen St, past the universities and onto Symonds St, from where they head to either New North Rd or Sandringham Rd, or down Khyber Pass and up Remuera Rd. The Masterplan says right, let’s shift those outbound buses onto Wellesley St, which is the route they already take coming into the city.
Under the Masterplan, therefore, Wellesley St would become the major east-west midtown traffic route across Queen St, while Victoria St becomes that tree-studded linear park. Service vehicles would have access; other vehicles not so much.
But if AT gets its way, this part of the Masterplan will be abandoned.
AT is currently asking for public feedback on three options for those buses. The first is its “preferred option”. The second is the route as per the Masterplan, but they don’t tell you that. It’s already been extensively consulted on, but they don’t tell you that either. The third is a variation on the second.
Option 1, says AT, has two key benefits. One: it’s already in use so upgrading it will involve minimal disruption. But that’s no biggie: long-term betterments shouldn’t be avoided for fear of a bit of short-term disruption. And two: access to most of the city centre and both the universities is “excellent”. That’s true.
AT also says there are two disadvantages, although it actually identifies three. One: the route is longer than the others. But hardly longer: it’s a very minor point. Two, the Bowen St part of the route, running up the hill from Victoria St at the north end of Albert Park, will be hard to install a dedicated bus lane on. Ain’t that the truth: they’ll be cutting away existing parkland to do it.
And three: “This route will make it difficult to reduce the number of lanes on Victoria St, as part of a planned future upgrade of Victoria St.” Bingo. That “planned future upgrade” is the linear park and this route will stop it in its tracks.
So, Option 2, which has the buses running both ways the length of Wellesley St? The listed benefits are that it’s the simplest and has good access to the city centre and the universities.
Incredibly, the enormous benefit that it would allow the planned, consulted and approved linear park to proceed, is not mentioned.
But several supposed disadvantages are. There would be more buses using the intersection of Wellesley St and Symonds St, which is already busy with traffic and pedestrians. AT says they’d need more lights, but the intersection is already controlled by lights. They’d need a new sequence, which is a different matter. What they would really need is a rethink of that whole intersection, perhaps with underpass or overhead walkways.
AT claims the route is a bit far from the north end of the University of Auckland campus, but that’s silly. If it’s not hard for people to get off the bus and walk from Wellesley St, why would it be hard for them to get on it in the same place?
AT also says they don’t know how the buses would turn round at Victoria St. In fact, that’s also part of a larger problem: the whole roadway/intersection area at the west end of Wellesley St, including the junctions of Sale St, Drake St, Victoria St and Halsey St, is now busy with pedestrians and needs a complete rethink even more than Symonds St does. A pedestrian overbridge and a new bus lay-up/turning bay would both help.
What about Option 3? It’s the same as Option 2 but has the outbound buses taking a dogleg from Wellesley St onto Mayoral Drive and then left up Wakefield St to Symonds St. The intersection at the corner with the library, AUT and art gallery would become much busier. And those students and staff at the north end of the UoA campus: they’d have further to walk.
We’re right near the end of the consultation period on all this. Auckland Transport has the details online here and there’s an easy-to-use questionnaire here. If you want to have your say, be quick. The deadline is Monday April 24.
After that, AT and Auckland Council itself could be headed for a showdown. The governing body of council has not resiled from the Masterplan and, in theory, it controls AT. When the governing body discussed this last month, it seemed most councillors were not happy about AT’s preference.
Central Auckland’s ability to realise its own vision for itself is at stake here. Do we want to make the inner city a thriving and enriching oasis of civil life, or do what Auckland used to do and still does far too often: think of the issue only as a traffic problem and to hell with everything else?
The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.