I have just come back from a weekend in Brisbane (2.2m metro pop., density 346.0/km2 ). It really puts the lack of progress in Auckland (1.5m metro pop, density 2,700/km2) into stark contrast.
Brisbane is not normally the first city you think of when people mention urbanism, cycling or good public transport but I was really impressed with what they have done. It is a much less dense city than Auckland and yet has much greater coverage of both public transport and cycling.
The main north/south pedestrian mall (Queen Street) is about the length of our Queen Street from Quay Street to Wellesley and also has a second perpendicular pedestrian area running roughly east/west. Just at the end of the east/west mall is King George Square which is the equivalent of Aotea Square, only good. In general the public spaces are fantastic and were full of people, especially families with children.
Some of the highlights for me in Brisbane were:
1. The reach and scale of the train and busway network. The city has just extended a train line. There are regular trains to the Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast. One busway runs under the pedestrian mall and half of many central streets are given over to the grade separated busway. Sometimes I saw three buses in a row racing through. Even with the low dnsity, it is still working. Also, lots of cycling parking at the trains and busway stations.
2. The City Cycle bike share scheme has great potential but is being held back by lacklustre technology, limited hours and the helmet requirement (some bikes come with helmets but many people are turned off by hygiene issues). The helmet requirement is now being questioned for riding on the separated cycle paths. I did see some people using it but I couldnt get subscribed online – a common problem I heard. It can be connected to the Go card (the equivalent of Hop).
4. Lack of traffic. Despite the huge crowds in the centre, traffic was light and some streets had almost no traffic but obviously did at peak times. A lot of people were arriving by train or bus.
5. Shared pedestrian/cycle paths down the river. On one side these are cantilevered and also connect to the river ferry network. We are getting there with the new waterfront paths from Wynyard Quarter but it does show what a disgrace Tamaki Drive is in terms of cycling.
6. The King George Square cycle centre (right in the heart of the CBD – think Britomart) provides secure parking for 420 bicycles. The centre provides secure parking, lockers, showers and towels. Laundry and bike maintenance services are also available. It is a members service and costs $600 for six months but lower cost options are available.
The train frequency did seem a little low but there were signs up at stations that these were being increased and the timetables being revised, so changes are happening.
It might be said that Queensland has mining and other advantages, but if Auckland even had half of what Brisbane has in the way of a functioning transport system, it would be doing much better than now. There is nothing special about Auckland, we have just made bad transport choices.