What if Auckland’s ‘bus streets’ were also civic streets?

Imagine what Auckland would be like if bus travel and the passengers’ experiences were the priority.

If you run a search in google images for ‘streets designed for buses and commuters in Auckland’, no doubt the result will be row upon row of street images that are, by and large, designed for cars.

Yes, you may see images of streets that have ‘bus lanes’ painted onto the reserve lane of car clogged street. Yes, you may also see a couple of snaps of the rapid bus network running alongside the motorway on the North Shore.

But what’s missing from these pictures? 

buslane

buslane2

bus stop

In the majority of images you’ll come across, the group whose needs are least prioritised are the passengers, or pedestrians, which is what a passenger becomes when they’re not on the bus.

Every day, an increasing number of people commute to our city centre to work, study and play. Buses have a significant role in moving people to and from our main centres, carrying close to one third of all Auckland’s commuters on a given day. Yet, taking the bus is generally considered by Aucklanders to be the least attractive way to travel.

Many argue that there are good reasons for this unpopular reputation. During peak times, buses fail to stay on schedule and it is not uncommon to see buses idling in gridlocked traffic, unable to move due to major holes in the bus lane networks.  Buses also seem to have unnecessarily complex routes along which commuters are taken on long winding detours around shopping centres and back streets.

On top of this, many of the destination streets that our buses travel to within the city are not particularly pleasant or welcoming streets. Yet, these streets serve as the “front door” to the city centre, and are influential in shaping people’s experience and impressions of our city.

Historically, Auckland’s bus routes were drawn up in a rather ad-hoc way, as explained by Auckland Transport’s Principal Public Transport Planner, Darren Davis, “Auckland’s bus network has been built up incrementally over time, more often to suit the needs of individual operators than the customers that they were meant to serve.”  Davis unflatteringly describes this as “the spaghetti-thrown-at-a-map-network” which has been long in need of an overhaul.

The good news is a more efficient bus network is in the works

Auckland’s bus network is about to be completely redesigned. This will involve a review of every single bus route in Auckland with the goal of becoming a simpler, better connected network, and providing a much more frequent service. Davis explains: “The New Network will give Aucklanders much greater choice of destination and travel time than the present network, [which is] heavily focused on peak commuting to the city centre.”

For a 3-minute run down on the New Network watch the Auckland’s new public transport network video.

New network bus system

So, what could a quality ‘bus street’ look like?

An efficient bus system will go a long way towards improving the reputation of our humble bus, but of equal importance is the quality of people’s experience on the street as they alight from their bus or wait for their bus to arrive.

The conceptual designs for Albert Street, recently released by the City Rail Link (CRL) Project team, offer us a glimpse of what a street designed to prioritise buses and commuters could look like.

Before and after albert street

Conceptual design of Albert Street – Before and After

 

The conceptual design for Albert Street significantly raises the bar on creating a high quality pedestrian experience while at the same time delivering the infrastructure for an efficient and reliable bus network. Gyles Bendall, Public Realm Programme Lead, from Council’s Auckland Design Office, explains, “The brief we were given by the CRL Project Team was to design a street that delivered both efficient movement corridors as well as high quality public spaces.”

 

Bus and crl

Albert Street Bus and CRL routes

 

Albert Street is being designed in conjunction with the CRL (City Rail Link) users that are anticipated to flow out of the new Aotea Station in the future.

 

Lower Albert Street

Conceptual designs of Lower Albert Street – Before and After

Currently, the bus passenger’s experience on Albert Street is rather dire:

  • the footpaths are narrow and cluttered by street furniture and incomprehensible bus stops
  • there is little invitation for stopping in the street to catch up with people or to relax and watch the world go by
  • and the multi-lane road, which is dominated by cars, makes it difficult for pedestrians to cross the street.

Existing street

 

Reprioritising the allocation of space on the street for pedestrians, buses and cars is the focus of the conceptual design for Albert Street. The design proposes an extension of the pedestrian area and bus lanes with these zones visually indicated through the use of street materials: stone pavers for pedestrians, patterned concrete for buses and asphalt for cars.

Street layout

 

Bendall explains, “We wanted to break down the street into more of a human scale and establish a stronger link between public transport and the public realm.”

The conceptual design also means, the zones for activity will be clearly defined and make the street easier for pedestrians to safely access the buses. Bendall sums up “With CRL underway, Albert Street is predicted to have a significant increase in foot traffic and will be a major bus corridor with a midtown bus interchange.  For this reason, it’s highly important Albert Street is a people centric street.”

 

Street activity

How our ‘bus streets’ are designed can have a huge impact on the uptake of public transport and the passenger experience.

There is no set design formula for achieving a ‘bus street’ that is also thriving civic avenue.  The major corridors that will increasingly act as bus network streets in Auckland would need to be carefully designed on a case-by-case basis.

One thing is clear though, if you want to make bus travel the alluring way to travel, bus streets will need to go beyond simply painting a bus lane on a road reserve.

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