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The proposed Mercury Lane pedestrian plaza.
Image: Auckland Transport / Design: Archi Banal

SocietyMay 24, 2023

Future-proofing the Karangahape Road neighbourhood

The proposed Mercury Lane pedestrian plaza.
Image: Auckland Transport / Design: Archi Banal

By late 2025, one of Auckland’s creative hearts will become a major transport hub. What’s being done to get it up to scratch for this critical role?

In 2019, beloved food court Mercury Plaza – just off Auckland’s Karangahape Road – was closed for the greater good. In its place the Karanga a Hape City Rail Link station depot has gone up. When it opens, the CRL will transform several Auckland neighbourhoods – including the Karangahape Road precinct. But the train stations are not the only improvements on the table. Complementary renovations are also coming around the stations. Consultation is currently open for the upgrades adjacent to the Karanga a Hape station

Which streets are getting upgrades?

Mercury Lane, Canada Street and Pitt Street are the streets set for significant renovations. Areas getting minor makeovers include Beresford Square, Cross Street, East Street, Karangahape Road, Newton Road, Poynton Terrace and Upper Queen Street. 

Why are these improvements taking place?

Auckland Council and Auckland Transport want supportive infrastructure ready to go by the opening of the CRL. They want to maximise the CRL stations so that they are not isolated islands of sustainable transport but instead make up a connected network. Up to 40,000 daily commuters will pass through the Karanga a Hape Station’s Mercury Lane and Beresford Square entrances. Alongside the train station, future Northwestern bus improvements will traverse some of Karangahape Road, transforming the neighbourhood into a major transport hub. 

Graeme Gunthorp, AT’s programme director – city centre, says that 60 buses per peak hour will soon run along the strip. (Currently the area has so much traffic that buses sometime struggle to run along it at all, or are severely delayed). The broader goal is to make the precinct safer for all modes, which requires connected cycle and public transport networks alongside car infrastructure, notes Gunthorp. Why? Because network gaps create unnecessary conflict between the different modes. 

What renovations are being proposed?

Mercury Lane: The most considerable remodelling will occur on Mercury Lane. Currently, this raggedy rat-run funnels traffic between Pitt Street and Upper Queen Street. Mercury Lane’s upper half – from Karangahape Road to just before Cross Street – is set to become a pedestrian promenade that seamlessly links to the train station. It will feature street furniture, trees/gardens, plentiful lighting and CCTV. Gunthorp says that the CCTV and added lighting will increase safety by deterring “seedy and antisocial behaviour”. Micromobility devices like bikes, scooters and mobility aids will share the promenade with walkers. The only cars allowed will be emergency services and approved trade vehicles. A short section of Mercury Lane from Cross Street will be a “shared zone” like Fort Street

A render of the proposed Mercury Lane pedestrian plaza.
A render of the proposed Mercury Lane pedestrian plaza. (Image: Auckland Transport)

Canada Street: Below Mercury Lane sits Canada Street, and a new crossing will be installed near the intersection of both. The current Canada Street pedestrian-cyclist shared-path is set to be separated into dedicated zones. The separation of walkers and bikers will cover the whole street and connect to existing bike lanes on both sides.

Pitt Street: Across Karangahape Road from Mercury Lane, Pitt Street is also in line for upgrades. Separated cycleways will be built on both sides of Pitt from Hopetoun Street to Karangahape Road. New bus stops and a new pedestrian crossing near the Hopetoun Street CRL entrance are also proposed. To simplify bus access, two new 24/7 bus lanes are proposed – one northbound from Karangahape Road to the new crossing and the other southbound from Greys Avenue. 

A render of the Pitt Street improvements.
A render of the Pitt Street improvements. (Image: Auckland Transport)

Karangahape Road: Bus improvements are in store for this iconic drag to prepare it for an estimated 15,000-20,000 bus passengers once the northwest bus upgrades open. An all-week 7am-7pm bus lane will be installed on the north side of Karangahape Road from Pitt Street to Queen Street, and the hours of the existing bus lane between Newton Road and Pitt Street will be changed to match. On the south side, the current bus lane hours will be modified to operate during peak times. Improving bus prioritisation along this “vital artery” will prepare it for its new role as a transport hub, says Gunthorp. 

Other improvements:

  • Beresford Square is set to be traffic-calmed by widening the road’s median strip. 
  • Cross Street – next to Mercury Lane’s pedestrian promenade – will receive added lighting and CCTV, and traffic flow will be reverted to an east-to-west direction. 
  • On East Street, a pedestrian crossing will be constructed, connecting to the Mercury Lane train station entrance via a laneway. Also, the temporary cycleway installed in 2020 will be upgraded. 
  • Newton Road will receive a short bus lane for WX services turning right onto Karangahape Road. 

What is the tradeoff for these upgrades?

To increase space for sustainable transport, the existing parking layout will be modified – to varying extents – on most of the streets and roads mentioned. Parking will be relocated or replaced with mobility parking, loading zones, taxi/rideshare stands, areas for public transport drop-offs/pickups and space for bikers or walkers.

MP for Auckland Central Chlöe Swarbrick – whose electorate office is on Karangahape Road – has talked to residents about this issue. “Speaking to locals, I’m aware of some concerns and challenges around access and loading zones, and I’m confident we will find solutions,” she says. “We are far from the first city in the world to face these questions and the solutions are abundant: electronic bollards, loading zones, traffic management and more.”

Looking at two examples, Mercury Lane’s loading zone will be relocated to Cross Street, making room for the pedestrian promenade, and the carparks on the south of Canada Street will be removed to build the cycleway. 

But removing car parks is highly contentious. Many Aucklanders passionately proclaim that carparks should be untouchable because they’re necessary for shopping precincts to thrive. But research suggests that taking space away from cars increases consumer spending – to the tune of a 47% rise for Fort Street stores after it became a shared zone. The number of customers arriving by car is often overstated too, and Karangahape Road is no exception. An AT survey found that local businesses thought 41% of customers drove to the Karangahape neighbourhood but that the actual figure was only 17%. Parking will still be available at the Upper Queen Street and Cross Street carparks. 

A map showing the proposed parking changes.
A map showing the proposed parking changes. (Image: Auckland Transport)

What has been the reaction to the proposal?

The Waitematā local board, the City Rail Link and Eke Panuku support the renovations. Waitematā chair Genevieve Sage believes the plan will make public transport quicker, more reliable and generally seamless across the precinct. Other endorsements came from the Karangahape Road Business Association, City Centre Residents Group and Bike Auckland. Jamey Holloway – the GM of the KRBA – thinks the improvements will allow the precinct to maximise the Karanga a Hape station.

Swarbrick is also supportive of these “well overdue” upgrades. Mentioning popular local festivals that transform the streets into dance floors and stages, Swarbrick believes that pedestrianisation “shouldn’t be one-off novel experiences but the norm”. She says, “For our city centre to thrive, we need a people-friendly built environment. It must be a destination, not a thoroughfare. That means safe walking and cycling, space to meaningfully meander and explore nooks and crannies that you would miss whizzing past in a private vehicle.” 

What is already Auckland’s cycling nexus is set to become one of the city’s best-connected neighbourhoods by public transport – if the current proposal is accepted. The renovations are currently in the consultation phase until May 26, and the more people that provide feedback the better. Whether you wish to show your support for the expanded pedestrian and cycling infrastructure or want to express your concern over removing on-street parking, all feedback is valued – so have your say. 

A map showing the full extent of the proposed developments to the Karangahape Road neighbourhood.
A map showing the full extent of the proposed developments to the Karangahape Road neighbourhood. (Image: Auckland Transport)

You can provide feedback on the proposal by May 26 here, or get more information here

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