Loading, drop-offs, cycling, fewer cars: Queen St plans unveiled at last

The new plans for Queen St have finally been revealed and they feature something for everyone.

From Mayoral Drive all the way to the waterfront, there will be no parks on Queen St for private vehicles. And as previously reported, private vehicles will not be able to use the block from Wellesley St up to Wakefield St: that’s the stretch from the Civic to Aotea Square.

Auckland Council is calling this an “essential vehicles area”. It’s reserved primarily for buses, with motorbikes and cyclists also being allowed through.

The planners expect both these measures will result in a sharp reduction in the number of cars on Queen St.

But it will not be closed to private vehicles. Most of the street will retain a carriageway with a single lane each way for buses and cars.

Buses will stop “inline”, which means on the carriageway, but the new visuals show bus stop “platforms” without covered shelters or seating.

Council urban design manager Lisa Dunshea says this does not mean they will disappear. “I’m not saying we’re going to take them out. We haven’t got into the details about that yet”.

Indented loading zones are dotted all the way up the street, so service and delivery vehicles can access shops without holding up traffic. Emergency vehicles will have full access to all parts of the street.

There will be loading zones and mobility parking in the town hall block, on both sides of the street. That will allow drop-offs and pickups at the town hall to continue.

The Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, many of whose audience members are elderly, led a spirited campaign to achieve this.

The existing footpaths will be retained and widened. Pedestrians should no longer have to contend with scooter riders, who will be expected to share a two-way “multi-use lane for slow wheels and fast feet”. It will sit right next to the footpath but be differentiated by the colour of the pavers. Fast cyclists are invited to use the carriageway.

The multi-use lane is not a legal cycleway. Henry Crothers, of design consultants LandLAB, which did much of the work for council, told the Herald that calling something a cycleway raises a number of legal and technical issues that conflict with the requirements on Queen St.

One of them is that e-scooters are still not legally allowed to use dedicated cycleways, although that rule is not enforced.

Officially, the plan is temporary and has been created using a “no dig” policy. Dunshea says this is partly because the Government could soon announce that light rail will run up Queen St. Any digging required will be done then.

In the meantime, there are more planters.

The plan puts a stop to the “trial” of wooden decking recently installed in the bottom block, from Shortland St to Customs St. Dunshea says they have “learned some lessons” about that, but they will not be removing the decking.

Public consultation begins shortly, with work due to start later this year and finish in late 2022. The council is doing it all at once, to speed up the process.

“Queen St,” says Dunshea, “will become a street that gives priority to pedestrians and fits the needs of other users around that.”

Shoppers, office workers, visitors to the city, the 40,000 people who live there: the council hopes that all will find it easier and more enjoyable to hang out and move around in the heart of the city.

Comment: What's the big idea by failing to include a big idea in plan?

Something for everyone. But is it enough?

Cars aren’t banned but they’re not exactly welcome. Some, on both sides, will call that a cop out. But perhaps it’s the compromise we need. At least for now.

But there are problems. The possibility there will not be covered bus shelters with seating could only occur to someone who never catches a bus. They’re not fit to work on this project.

The visuals don’t show any bike stands or scooter parks. Lisa Dunshea told the Herald they will be included, but their absence from the designs, and therefore from the design brief, suggests a muddled approach to bikes and scooters.

So does the “multi-use lane”. Having a two-way lane on one side of the street will be counter-intuitive for many. Having that lane physically contiguous with the footpath invites pedestrians to wander into the path of cyclists and scooters. Both flaws will increase the risk of crashes. This is the thinking of someone who never rides a bike.

The news that regulations and guidelines restrict the creation of useful cycleways points to an overdue need to make the rules more fit for purpose.

But the suggestion that faster bikes should use the carriageway is sensible. Bike lanes next to busy footpaths need to be slow lanes.

Neither Dunshea nor Henry Crothers was prepared to admit the wooden decking in the bottom block was a mistake. Obviously it was. She said they now want to extend the “multi-use lane” through the block but they can’t do that without ripping out the decking. They should just wear the embarrassment and do it.

The “no dig” policy is a real shame. Imagine if an entire “linear park” with rich planting beds like on Daldy St in the Wynyard Quarter, and more recently on Quay St, could be established all the way up Queen St.

Build it above ground, if necessary. The beauty would be reward enough, but we’d also get better management of stormwater and air pollution.

Even better, why not dig up a part of the street and daylight the Waihorotiu stream that used to run down the middle of the valley?

The big thing missing from this plan is a big idea.

I asked Lisa Dunshea if they’d thought about having something striking and unique that would really galvanise public engagement with the street.

Daylighting part of the stream would do that. Wellington’s Cuba Mall has something completely different that does the same thing: the wonderful bucket fountain. Where’s our exciting big idea?

“We’ve been working with mana whenua,” Dunshea said. She also said, “Public art needs to be driven by the people.”

Does it?

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