'Buses first' on new-look Queen St

By Martin Johnston

Drivers battling the congestion of a two-lane Queen St are likely to have to face the crowding permanently.

But the prospects are bright for bus passengers and pedestrians.

The Auckland City Council is considering creating bus and cycle lanes in Queen St similar to those in other parts of the city, cutting the speed limit to 30km/h and phasing traffic lights for Queen St pedestrians, not cars.

Private cars are given the lowest priority in the council's inner-city planning behind pedestrians, cyclists and public-transport users.

They would be confined to one lane each way in the middle of the road from Wellesley St to Customs St.

The bus/bike lanes would occupy the outer lanes now blocked by roadworks. On-street parking would remain, but with fewer spaces than before the roadworks.

Deputy Mayor Bruce Hucker said the council wanted the new bus-lanes to be ready by July, to coincide with the end of phase one of the footpath-widening and other improvements which have choked the heart of New Zealand's biggest city since summer.

That timing was intended to capitalise on driver expectations already affected by the crush.

"While people's behaviour is changed as we are doing each section, we are trying to make that a more permanent change," said Dr Hucker.

Work on the road and footpath between Victoria and Wellesley Sts is scheduled to finish in July, the Victoria St-Customs St will be completed next March.

"The reason for putting pedestrians first is because it is pedestrians who go into shops, not cars," Dr Hucker said.

The council says Queen St has 50,000 pedestrians a day, 40,000 public transport users and 20,000 people in private vehicles. It wants a big increase in the number using public transport.

The chief executive of the Heart of Auckland City group, Alex Swney, said his organisation supported bus lanes, but related measures were needed to mitigate their effect on cars. This included shifting taxi ranks and loading zones to side streets.

Restricting cars weakened the central business district's customer pulling power compared with that of suburban malls which provided free car-parking.

But he was upset by the council's "cavalier" approach in trying to introduce the scheme on the back of the reconstruction work without having well-developed plans.

"This is transport policy on the hoof, drawn up on the back of a cigarette packet and leaked out in a cheap, two-minute sound-bite," he said.

"Councillors are forgetting that this is an area that pays a quarter of the city's rates, and it expects a bit more respect than this."

Council officials on Monday presented the new plans to the CBD Board, an advisory body representing groups with interests in the area, of which Mr Swney is a member.

The council plans to consult "key stakeholders" - including inner-city businesses and residents, and Queen St pedestrians and public transport users - about its new plan.

Steve Wade, the head of marketing for NZ Bus, operator of Stagecoach, welcomed the prospect of new bus lanes.

But he was unaware of the proposal before the Herald called.

"It's great for the customer," he said. The journey times would certainly decrease as we know from other areas where bus lanes operate.

"It's a great opportunity to encourage more use of public transport."

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