Life to get tough for Queen St car drivers

By Mathew Dearnaley

Is the Queen Street upgrade worth the disruption? Send us your views Read your views

Motorists are unlikely to regain their dominance of Auckland's "Golden Mile" once the orange safety barricades come down from the $41 million upgrade of Queen St.

As well as consulting the public over permanent bus lanes for each side of Queen St, the city council is considering slashing the speed limit to 30km/h to safeguard pedestrians and improve driving behaviour.

It is seeking responses to a plan to introduce a 24-hour southbound bus lane along most of the length of Queen St - from the waterfront to Karangahape Rd - and another in the opposite direction, north from just above Mayoral Drive.

That would leave just one lane each way for cars, goods vehicles and taxis, the drivers of which would face $150 fines for straying into space reserved day and night for buses, motorcycles and bicycles.

The council is giving people until July 25 to respond to the plan, since it was not raised in initial consultations about the upgrade, which includes mid-block pedestrian crossings with raised road surfaces to slow traffic.

These mean cars modified for street racing will risk damaging low suspension systems if driven too fast.

Some retailers, hammered by lost trade from the upgrade's disruptive road works, are dismayed at the suddenness of the bus lanes proposal and are organising a mass mail-back to the council.

Subject to approval by the council's urban strategy and governance committee, initial sections of bus lanes could be introduced as soon as the upgrade's second stage between Wellesley St and Victoria St is finished early next month.

Heart of the City business association chief Alex Swney said he supported bus lanes in principle, but was outraged they were being imposed without mitigation measures such as subsidies for using council parking buildings, to prevent an "exodus" of shoppers to suburban malls.

"We will oppose any steps to arbitrarily introduce bus lanes in Queen St without a transition plan for this new state of supposed utopia," he warned Auckland City transport and planning chiefs on Friday.

But the council says they will be good for business as buses will bring more customers than private cars, and Queen St will be a more attractive place to shop by being less choked with cars and trucks.

"You do not have a successful central business district with four lanes of unfettered private traffic screaming up and down it," said council transport general manager Stephen Rainbow.

"The reason we are investing $40 million in Queen St and more than $100 million in the CBD generally is to make sure it is as attractive an environment as possible so that it competes successfully with other shopping centres and creates a world-class environment for people to shop in - that is the whole point of the CBD upgrade."

Dr Rainbow said the council had resisted calls to ban private vehicles from Queen St as some people still needed to drive into town on urgent errands.

"But we are sending out very strong signals, through the allocation of that road space, that pedestrians and buses are the priority for the CBD."

He said the 30km/h speed limit and raised road surfaces were "about civilising driver behaviour" and expected they would be significant impediments to Queen St's boy-racers.

Asked about toxic diesel fumes from buses, he noted Infratil's plans to introduce low-emissions vehicles for its central-city Link service next month but said the council would push the company to replace more of its older stock "because there is a lot of negative customer feedback about the quality of the current bus fleet".

Acting Mayor Bruce Hucker said pedestrians were already the main frequenters of Queen St and bus users the second most prevalent. But there were good urban design reasons against banning cars, including security and crime deterrence at night.

The council estimates 46,350 pedestrians use Queen St in an average 24-hour period, compared with 40,000 bus patrons and 25,800 car occupants.

Queen St retailer Daljit Chhabra, who manages Strandbags and has already filled out a response form in opposition to the bus lanes, believes most public transport users are commuters and most of his customers arrive by car.

He fears having to cross bus lanes to find street parking will discourage car drivers from stopping outside his shop.

But next door at the Quiksilver clothing store, manager Damien Colsey said he expected better business because more people used buses than cars, for which parking was too expensive and hard to find.

Automobile Association spokesman Simon Lambourne called the proposal "very sensible and reasonable", saying there was nothing worse than being stuck in a car behind a bus in Queen St and that separating the two classes of traffic should keep everyone happy.

He also welcomed the 30km/h proposal, saying: "The last thing motorists want to do is to run down a pedestrian."

Seventy-three pedestrians were injured in Queen St traffic in the five years to the end of 2005.

The Proposal

* Queen St bus lanes to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

* Inbound lanes to run from just above Mayoral Drive to Fort St.

* Outbound lanes to run from Customs St to Mayoral Drive and the upper part of the Queen St hill from Myers Park to Karangahape Rd. (Upper half is an existing evening peak-time-only bus lane, to be converted to 24 hours. Lower half of hill doesn't show a bus lane.)

* Motorcycles, bicycles and emergency vehicles can share the lanes with buses.

* Cars and service vehicles, including taxis, will be excluded from the bus lanes except when pulling into or out of new loading or parking bays cut in from kerbs, and within 50m of side streets if turning into them.

* The council expects the lanes will cut two minutes off some bus trips.

* Without the lanes, bus journey times could be lengthened by three to five minutes because of three new signalised mid-block pedestrian crossings of Queen St.

* Although private vehicles can still use Queen St, journey times are likely to be longer as there will be only one general traffic lane available in each direction.

* The council is not predicting how much slower cars will travel along Queen St, but expects a 15 per cent traffic reduction.

For more information or for public response forms due back by July 25, phone the city council on 379-2020 or visit its bus lanes website at www.aucklandcity.govt.nz/queenstreet

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