Just as the Karangahape Road enhancement project gets rolling, one of its most prominent advocates is heading out the back door. Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland’s Design Champion since 2006, is taking his transformative approach to city design to Melbourne’s Wyndham Council. Before he left, he talked to Ross Inglis about why K Road matters. Excerpts from a wide-ranging interview:

The role of the Auckland Design Office, the unit of Auckland Council led by Ludo, in enhancing K Road:

We get involved in projects at many different stages. A project may be already three years old when it reaches us; you can’t always choose your moment. So you have to grab whatever you can, and try to improve it. In the case of K Road, we had suggested that the office review some of the larger and I guess more controversial streetscape capital projects across the region. And one of these was the K Road project.

At the time, there was resistance from a sort of anti-cycling lobby; you get that all around the world. But there was also concern from businesses, local businesses, that the change was going to make the road different, and that the change might be something they wouldn’t enjoy. That sense of gentrification was a real concern, probably because K Road is one of the most, if not the most iconic streets in New Zealand. And it has had an interesting past.

Ludo Campbell-Reid: Cycling on K Road is simply one part of a multi-agency, multi-modal strategy for the street.

On the history of K Road:

Actually, K Road has had a series of transformations. I call them revolutions. And what we’re talking about now is the next transport revolution for K Road. The streetscapes upgrade is only one part of that bigger story

Auckland had one of the highest rates of public transport user per capita in the whole world in the 50s. In fact, I understand we were number one in the world. And that was predominantly because we had a wonderful streetcar network. That streetcar network defined K Road.

At that time K Road was the almost the pre-eminent street in New Zealand, it was where the large department stores located themselves. Pedestrian numbers on K Road were at such a level that the police used to paint a white line down the middle of the pavement and asked you to walk on one side. It was obviously a time when the place was buzzing.

It lost some of that shine through the 60s and up to the 90s. There were lots of reasons K Road headed down the wrong way; one of the big things was what I call “engineering the supply”. It was our grand transport plan, which was all about sticking large motorways through our central city and connecting everything up. We now know that never works. It had the effect of displacing the people of K Road. I don’t know how many exactly, but something in the order of 15,000 homes were eradicated to make way for the motorway network.

The nail in the coffin for K Road retailing was the advent of shopping malls. The first shopping mall in New Zealand was Lynn Mall, which opened in 1963. And plenty of others followed.

New pavers for the first stage of the K Road enhancement project being laid.

But wait! Better days are on their way!

K Road is about to enter its next revolution; the urban renaissance of K Road. And I would suggest that is to do with a couple of big projects that are about to land. The first of those is the City Rail Link. And when you start to see the impact of the connections it will provide, not just to the city centre and Britomart but also to regional transport links, you start to see that K Road, instead of being one of the most dislocated parts of the city, will probably be the most connected place in Auckland.

Once you add light rail to that you will have this amazing confluence of two umbilical cords almost crossing, almost being turbocharged. Suddenly you are hyper-connected. Add these to the streetscape upgrade, you start to understand that cycling on K Road is simply one part of a multi-agency, multi-modal strategy for this street. When you realise how connected it will be, parking won’t be the issue. Because you will be coming to K Road to shop by light rail or train, or by cycling, walking or by bus. People will head to K Road via all those modes, and the place will regain some of its former glory.

On riding a bike in Auckland:

I have bikes but I don’t often come to work on one, primarily because I live in Birkenhead and tend to ride the ferry and catch the bus.  I’m kind of waiting for Skypath. That will be amazing – the most extraordinary experience: hopping on a bike and riding from Birkenhead Point across the harbour to the city.

Oddly enough, in 2006 I had an electric scooter, probably the first one in New Zealand.

Before that, when I lived in London, I cycled all the time. I was living in more or less the equivalent of Epsom and cycling into work in the central city; it took about half an hour or 40 minutes.  That was before all the bike lanes; even then everybody was doing it and there were no helmets, either.

On how far Auckland has come:

Then I arrived in Auckland in 2006 and it didn’t look like anyone was cycling here. And now it’s the fastest-growing transport mode in in Auckland. So I think we have to remind ourselves how far we’ve come. Back then, we didn’t have separated cycle ways. We didn’t have double decker buses; now we have 100. We didn’t have electric buses, the Lightpath, the Northwestern Cycleway, Grafton Gully – lots of things that we take for granted today.

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