[Updated] Parks are for people – a fresh masterplan for the Domain

[Updated] Parks are for people – a fresh masterplan for the Domain

Bike Auckland

Update: due to high interest in the Domain Masterplan and especially in the cycleways aspect, the Domain Committee Chair has now extended the public consultation period to 24 March. Have at it!

Auckland Domain may not be quite as large as the main urban parks of global cities like Central Park in New York, or Tiergarten in Berlin – but it offers stunning features that can definitely compete, like the beautiful and often immense old trees, the awe-inspiring vistas over the city and the Waitemata out to Rangitoto, and looking the other way, the neoclassical monumentality of the Auckland War Memorial Museum.

The Domain is also a great place for events and sports, whether it is watching a fireworks display, Christmas in the Park, having a wedding ceremony, or playing cricket. Or a vintage picnic for people on bikes, say.

People on Bikes in Parks - Sunday Best Ride 2015
People on Bikes in Parks – the Sunday Best Ride, October 2015

One area where the Domain is still lagging quite a bit behind is how open it is for the people of its city to just drop in. Despite being barely more than one km from the central city, and surrounded by residential Auckland on most of the other sides, for many, the only time they visit the Domain is for one of the occasional big events, or maybe to go to the museum. We would not be surprised if, on pure numbers, more people drive through the Domain than actually visit – with over 2 million cars using Domain Drive a year alone, based on AT surveys.

The Domain, in our view – and thankfully now also in the views of the authorities managing it – has been a bit too free over the last decades in handing over space and priority to roads. In this, it has really followed the Auckland story of prioritising cars over people. So now it’s time to change that, and consultation on the Auckland Domain Masterplan is the step where you can help!

Bike Domain
The very short version, for the time-poor (that’s all of us, at times).
The overall list of changes proposed.
The overall list of changes proposed.

The plans propose a number of ways to de-emphasise car priority in the Domain, and make it easier to visit on foot, by bike, and on public transport. And to feel more at peace when you have arrived.

The detail can be seen in the map on the right (click to enlarge), but the key proposed changes are:

  • Various minor roads will be closed to cars, and walking and cycling paths added along others
  • A number of intersections will be slowed down and/or give pedestrians priority over cars
  • New paths added, mainly from the new Parnell Train Station (pedestrian-only – these are too steep to cycle, really)
  • Bus parking will be removed from north and west of the Museum, and consolidated on the eastern side in a dedicated bus area, and in one area near the Wintergardens
  • Car parking will be concentrated to the east of the museum (they also have a big public car park in the basement that many people don’t know about), at the grandstand in the southwest, around The Crescent, and at the lower northwest of the Domain – meaning there are still quite a few places where you can park if you really want to drive
Where cars will still be able to go - through the Domain, for starters.
Where cars will still be able to go – through the Domain, for starters.

Despite already raising outrage among those who ask “How will I ever be able to drive to / through the Domain (without my car)?”, these plans aren’t as radical as we’d love them to be.

For starters, the busiest roads – Domain Drive west-east and Lower Domain Drive which links down to Stanley Street – remain open for cars, despite these primarily being cross-routes through the Domain rather than simply routes to the Domain (see the 2 million cars / year statistic). We’d also question the proposals that add narrow shared paths as cycle facilities, and extend the currently limited, paint-only cycle lanes, rather than transforming them.

In short, the plans, while a nice change of direction, aren’t as generous to people as they should be. And at the same time, they seem to (in some areas) include relatively expensive changes, when there are much cheaper and easier ways of improving things for people on bikes and feet. We don’t need to spend millions and years to improve the Domain – we could do it next month, for a relative song.

We imagine these people standing there, saying: "Three meter wide shared paths? Why would you want to create Pedestrian/Bike congestion from Day One?
We imagine these people standing there, saying: “Shared paths only 3m wide?? Why would you want to create pedestrian/bike congestion from Day One?”

In our submission – and hopefully in yours? (here’s the link for giving feedback) – we will emphasise the following themes and change requests:

  1. We support the street closures / reduced emphasis on cars, and increased emphasis on walking, cycling and public transport for the Auckland Domain. However, we consider that this does not go far enough, as it will be still possible to use the Domain as a “rat run” route, and reducing traffic congestion elsewhere should not be the Domain’s function. In fact, many parks worldwide (see NYC, for example) are going “car free” for the enjoyment and safety of their visitors, as should the Domain.
    • If it cannot be closed right away, we suggest that Domain Drive should be closed at least during weekends, for example by blocking off the road for vehicles near The Crescent, which could be used as a turn-around for people accessing the car or bus parking there.
  2. The proposed cycleways on Domain Drive and Lower Domain are too limited, especially for less confident cyclists. The plans propose no change for Lower Domain Drive (which currently has an uphill cycle lane only), Domain Drive west of Lower Domain Drive (cycle lane in one direction only), and only propose “adding a cycle lane” (presumably also only in one direction) east of Lower Domain Drive. One-way painted lanes are considered extremely impractical, and we opposed this design on Domain Drive when it was originally installed. Speed tables notwithstanding, one-way painted lanes don’t cater for cyclists who prefer not to ride on roads with cars (think of families trying to visit the Domain on bikes, for example), and even confident riders only get a benefit in one direction.
    • Please provide a primary cycleway west-east across the Domain (on Domain Drive or on another route), which allows cyclists a safe and relaxed route to the key destinations in the heart of the park. Without such a link of really good quality, cycling in the Domain risks remaining marginal except for sports cyclists and other confident riders.
    • Please also provide a better cycleway from Stanley Street / Parnell Train station uphill, as the proposed new cycle path west of Lower Domain Drive would be excessively steep (approximately 1:12, when practical gradients over longer distances are 1:20 or less), and is thus impractical. Instead, provide a new path with a less steep gradient, or better cycle facilities. NB Of these two routes above, probably the west-east route is more important in the short to medium term.
  3. We support new walk and cycleways in the Domainbut we note that the proposals are mainly shared paths, which are not even generously wide. We would like to see the primary routes through the Domain provide separated walking AND cycling paths as noted above. During normal conditions this would allow both user groups to move pleasantly, safely and at their own speeds – while during large events, these would function as double-wide paths, better able to deal with large (primarily pedestrian) crowds. Where shared paths ARE established despite our recommendations, these should not be 3m wide, but instead at least 4m. Even under normal conditions (i.e. lower pedestrian and cyclist numbers), 3m is narrow enough to regularly lead to either conflicts or inefficient congestion, and would, especially in the wide-open context of the Domain, feel unnecessarily confined.
  4. We propose that to speed up the transformation of the park, many of the closures be undertaken quickly, using bollards. No need to repave and re-landscape these internal routes immediately at massive cost. Instead, a few simple bollards will cheaply turn existing car roads into plentifully-wide new walking and cycling routes, which could either be marked into dedicated spaces for each group, or (temporarily) left as generous shared paths. This would also allow a chance to see how people use these routes, and where you might want to put new street furniture, for example, or create extra connections along desire lines, etc.
  5. We will also make a number of more detailed comments, along these lines:
    • We strongly support the raising of various intersections around the Domain, to slow down car traffic. However, this should go hand in hand with marking zebra crossings, both at these points and at various other crossings around the park, as simply slowing cars down does not provide pedestrian priority.  Conversely, slowing cars by way of raised intersections does make zebra crossings a lot safer, and these should be used plentifully.
    • Despite some recent improvements, we feel that the intersection of George Street / Grandstand Road / Carlton Gore Road is unsafe, particularly because four roads meet here, and cars turn and drive through the intersection very fast. If it isn’t possible to have the car park access to the Grandstand car parks go via George Street (i.e. via a driveway some short distance north of the intersection, instead of being part of the intersection), then at least further traffic calming is needed here.
    • The “Watercare Access Road” link in particular should allow safe and easy cycling, as it would provide an interim cycle connection between the heart of the Domain and Parnell Train Station with at least some limited (uphill) cycle facilities.
    • We suggest that new walking and cycling connections should be included to and from the Auckland Hospital area – many thousands of staff, visitors and patients would profit from easier access to and through the park.

What do you think? Have we forgotten something important? Remember to put in your feedback before 29 February, so the idea of a “park for people” gets a big push, and isn’t stymied by cries of “But where will people park/drive?!?

Have your say about how you want to move through the Domain.



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