Is there any place in Auckland more likely to make people angry than Quay St? In the last few weeks I've been shouted at by four different people about it.
The roadworks are interminable. No one gets told anything. They're just digging holes and filling them in again. Who asked for this anyway?
Mostly, it comes down to one thing: why does it now take so long to drive across town? I went down to ask Auckland Transport (AT) about all this, and we did a walk around.
The construction work on Quay St itself is an AT project, but the big Commercial Bay retail/office development, a private venture, is also highly disruptive. Ports of Auckland (POAL) is building a new multideck "car-handling facility" at the head of Bledisloe Wharf and the Auckland Design Office, a council agency, has a hand in things too. New hotels and other high-rise buildings are under construction, and the CRL is massively disruptive all down Albert St and especially at the intersection with Customs St.
It's a problem, for sure. But it's a good problem. Auckland is booming: growing the economy, fixing infrastructure problems, making itself a better city. And it's not just Auckland. This is the condition of living in any thriving city now: road cones are with us always.
Quay St was reduced to two lanes just after Christmas. It was done with a non-notifiable consent, which angered some of the affected parties.
But it's hard to blame AT, if you ask me. They needed to get moving, because the America's Cup in early 2021 imposes a real deadline on all construction in the area, the seawall work needed to be done anyway, and any other approach would have caused extensive delays.
That's what happens with the city's development projects. Some companies and groups of individuals have genuine fears for their own livelihood or wellbeing, and they lodge objections. That's good. It's what should happen. But others get in on the act too.
Some of them simply want to stuff up the work. Others are after leverage: they want something out of it. Perhaps a payoff so they go away. Perhaps a special thing built for them as part of the project. If they're a developer, perhaps they want council support for their own project somewhere else, in return for withdrawing their objection to this one.
But there's not a lot the council can do about it, except work through the delays it causes.
As it is, Quay St is progressing fast and will finish in late 2020. Eric van Essen, AT's downtown delivery manager, says he has "not worked on a project before that is so heavily accelerated".
We'll end up with two blocks greatly reconfigured, from Princes Wharf past Queen St to Commerce St. Much of it will be a pedestrian plaza, pushed out 15 metres over the sea, with viewing holes, mussels growing on ropes, many trees and, van Essen assured me, "a lot more seating" than has been shown in the renders to date. And traffic will still be able to drive through.
But that's not the work they're doing now. They're rebuilding the seawall, which props Quay St up.
It was built between 1879 and 1925 and has never had significant repair. It needs it. If there were no plans at all to reconfigure Quay St or build any stronger links between city and sea, the seawall would still need to be rebuilt.
They have a brand new piling machine, which digs one big hole a day, which is lined and then filled with concrete: about three trucks' worth per pile.
The repaired wall will last another hundred years. Van Essen says they're factoring in a one-metre sea-level rise and storm surges on top of that.
One of the people who shouted at me reckoned they keep digging holes, filling them in and then digging them out again. In fact, what they are doing, in managed stages, is combining the underground services into central conduits away from the new seawall and digging "tree pits".
They're making a "rain garden", with tree pits that contain a blend of organic compost, sand and loamy topsoil, designed to absorb water, decontaminate it and release it slowly. Reduce the risk of flooding when it rains, clean the stormwater before it flows to the sea. Also, grow trees.
AT does often put down a temporary asphalt cover, but they do that because the sequencing of the work is important: they have to keep the traffic flowing and co-ordinate with the other construction sites.
Still, traffic management has challenged them. Working out which intersections should retain their right turns, into or out of the street during the work, has been done with trial and error.
And it does take a while to drive the length of the street. Another shouty person, who lives in the Viaduct, told me it was absurd that he now can't get across town.
What he meant was that he can't use Quay St or Customs St to drive himself across town. But he can still walk. If he can't spare the time for that, or needs to ride, he can take a bus or a taxi or ride share, and work while he's travelling. The fastest option is an e-scooter or a bike. If he really does have to drive himself – and many people do – he can avoid downtown by using Mayoral Drive.
Because why should his driving preference be prioritised above everyone else's needs? The central city is a destination, isn't it, not a place to drive through? Nearly 60,000 people live there, over 200,000 work or study there; last year there was 180,000 sqm of new retail space under construction. Once Commercial Bay and the CRL are open there will be 15,000 more people on the streets of downtown Auckland.
The city is creating a new reality: pedestrians first. This isn't ideological madness, but a practical consequence of that new reality: except for essential vehicles, the number of people walking around means there won't be much room in the central city for cars.
But there's a problem. East of Commerce St there is no new plan for Quay St, and no budget. Once the seawall is complete, the road from that point will revert to what it was. The red fence will stay up and the port is in no hurry to cede any more of its land.
There were plans for a bus terminal, stretching east from Commerce St and big enough for 18 double deckers at a time. Matthew Cockram, CEO of Cooper and Co, the company behind the Britomart precinct, calls it "the old busarama". They objected.
Cockram says that terminal "completely contradicted the city's own plans", which anticipate people flowing from the city, across Customs St and Quay St and onto the waterfront. He's right.
AT proposed the terminal because it couldn't think of anywhere better and the council agreed because it couldn't either. It was dumb and it didn't survive the consenting process. In Cockram's words, they "reached a settled outcome".
There's still no plan for those buses. Nothing in the refreshed City Centre Masterplan, just released for public consultation by the Auckland Design Office. And no plan for the rest of Quay St. As of now, it will be cars channelled into a pedestrian plaza.
"We're working on it," is all AT boss Shane Ellison will say.
It's a failure of vision, of courage, of leadership. And the crowds for the America's Cup are coming.