Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: A rail loop or Queen St full of buses

Photo / Doug Sherring
Photo / Doug Sherring

You would like to think that the gaggle of planners trying to fulfil Mayor Len Brown's dream of creating the world's most liveable city might have the odd coffee with the transport planners designing the world's most excellent public transport network.

But returning for a second wade through the dense tome that is the draft auckland regional public transport plan, I'm having my doubts.

On the one hand you have the dreamers with their plans of pedestrians and vehicles cavorting like lambs and lions on shared boulevards, but on the other you have this grand blueprint for zapping commuters in and out of the city along these same streets as quickly as possible.

For anyone who doubts the need for the inner-city rail tunnel, this draft public transport plan is the document to change your mind.

The plan is to increase the percentage of peak period trips to the central city by public transport from the current 47 per cent to 55 per cent by 2022 and 70 per cent by 2040.

Overall, it's planned to double public transport trips citywide from 70 million to 140 million in the next 10 years.

Of course not all of those extra commuters will end up in the CBD, but without increased capacity on the trains - the loop will double the number of trains able to use the downtown Britomart station - the vast majority of those who do will have to squeeze into buses to get there.

If you think parts of downtown are unpleasant places in peak hours because of noisy, diesel-belching buses, imagine double the number in the same space.

I had gone searching to see if Queen Elizabeth Square outside the Britomart train station had been rescued from its present fate as the de facto main bus station. It seems not, though the stylised charts do fudge the details.

What is alarming is the fate of Queen St, which in 2007 got a $40 million makeover, complete with nikau palms and Chinese granite paving. It is now marked as "Rapid Transit". Presumably that means a busway rather than railway - the proposed tunnel to run further west under Albert St.

The golden shopping mile is also identified as part of the "frequent service network". Seeking definitions, we're told "rapid services ... have exclusive access to their own rights of way along high-density corridors".

As for "frequent services", the draft explains "the core element of the new system will be the frequent service network which will provide all-day high- frequency services at least every 15 minutes".

In other words, Queen St, including Queen Elizabeth Square, is being identified as having an exclusive busway inserted into it.

The devil is, as always, in the detail. How many buses are they talking about and how exclusive a lane?

A year ago, when the city planners unveiled their city centre masterplan, they rebuffed the mayor's desire to turn Queen St into a mall, saying it "might be an unnecessary and overly expensive step".

They said "desired outcomes could be delivered through a shared space approach with buses, service vehicles and local traffic ... sharing the street with pedestrians'.'

Even if we regard ourselves as more nimble on our feet than Wellingtonians, the experience of bus versus pedestrians in the capital when the two share the same street is a lesson we'd be foolhardy to ignore. Bus drivers on split shifts with impossible timetables and scurrying jaywalkers are not a good mix.

What the plan does highlight is that if Auckland plans to double the number of commuters on public transport, the extra buses and carriages have to go somewhere, particularly in the confined area of the CBD.

Last year, in arguing the case with a reluctant Government, Auckland transport planners claimed that without the rail loop, Auckland would by 2041 need an exclusive busway, four lanes wide, running out of the city.

"In many circumstances in Auckland this would take the entire width of the roadway and effectively stop all general traffic from using those roads," they said.

They were talking of routes like Hobson St. Now it seems even Queen St is not safe.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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