WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Grid evolution

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There's a pattern that emerged from the Wellington in 2040 analysis which I should have already realised, but that I've never consciously thought of: a particular similarity between Melbourne's Hoddle Grid and the Te Aro street pattern.

One thing that I like about Melbourne's CBD is the alternation of wide streets (such as Flinders St, Collins St and Bourke St) with much narrower ones (Flinders Lane, Little Collins St and Little Bourke St). The wide streets, while being primarily about movement, still have plenty of retail activity, though it tends to be mainstream or upmarket and in some blocks gives way to grand civic or commercial buildings. The "little" streets have a much greater variety of retail and hospitality, and their intimacy and activity makes up for any griminess and lack of sun.

Melbourne's original Hoddle GridRotate this pattern by about 45 degrees anticlockwise, and it looks like we've got the beginnings of a similar alternation in Te Aro. Victoria St, Taranaki St and Cambridge/Kent Tce are the relatively wide and fast streets; Willis, Cuba and Tory streets are slower, narrower and along much of their lengths, blessed with more active edges and independent retail.

Slow and fast streets in Te AroHow could we build on this pattern? Apart from the ideas presented last week, my own suggestions would be to make the fast streets more like boulevards (with more trees, and by filling in the vacant and low-rise gaps in the urban fabric) while stepping up pedestrian priority in the slow ones. While there have been some encouraging recent changes, I don't ever expect Taranaki St to become a café and retail destination: a better strategy would be to aim for a dignified thoroughfare with the gradual accumulation of active edges. The slow streets could also handle some slightly higher-rise development, since the slow streets of Melbourne seem to maintain intimacy and vitality despite (or perhaps due to?) often being lined by tall buildings; and the emphasis should be on removing through traffic where possible and making active edges mandatory.

That may not work for the whole length of those streets (upper Willis is likely to remain quasi-suburban in character, for example, and Victoria Street's ad-hoc twists and left-over corners will present a challenge), but it could be the start of a general pattern to aim for. It could improve legibility and memorability, since it'll be harder to think of any of these as "just another street": they will have a place in a hierarchy. It will help distribute different urban conditions (the grand and the intimate), and provide a simple framework to guide development. Combine that with trams, mature street trees and populated laneways, and Te Aro could look and feel a lot better in a few decades' time.

I'm not saying that we should ape everything that Melbourne does, and it won't have that effect since Wellington's harbour, hills and climate will always create a unique setting. But Melbourne has created a famously liveable and lively city on its particular version of the well-known gridiron, and the alternation of fast & wide with slow & narrow may have something to do with that.

9 Comments:

At 3:06 PM, October 10, 2007, Anonymous CC_Vince said...

While it is true that the grids match quite well between melbourne and wellington I think a slightly wider look is necessary to see if it would truely work. Off each end of the grid in melbourne you get large feeder roads that get all the traffic in and out of the city. While the Bypass does fill some of that role what about Jervois quay? Sure at the moment it is 15 lanes wide and a pedestrians nightmare but if the harbour and waterfront is going to be integrated in the city I feel a better way to move cars in and out of the city and not just around.

 
At 3:25 PM, October 10, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Those are good points. I don't see my suggestions here as major changes: just a recognition of the strengths of what we have at the moment, and building on that. It's more about streetscape improvements and the role of those streets in people's mental image of the city, rather than about movement.

"what about Jervois quay? Sure at the moment it is 15 lanes wide and a pedestrians nightmare but if the harbour and waterfront is going to be integrated in the city I feel a better way to move cars in and out of the city and not just around."

I'd modify that slightly: we need better ways of moving people in and out of the city, rather than specifically cars. If we can get public transport systems that are good enough and space-efficient enough (light rail is my suggestion), then we can accommodate a growing population without increasing traffic or congestion. Victoria & Taranaki streets would remain as they are, in terms of lanes of traffic, as would Kent/Cambridge Tce (but with some parking converted to light rail rights-of-way). While I didn't mention it in my musings here, the Quays could certainly do with being reduced to four lanes (wasn't that supposed to be one of the benefits of the bypass?), with the freed-up space used for some combination of light rail, cycle lanes and widened pavements.

 
At 5:36 PM, October 10, 2007, Anonymous Julian said...

Yeah, I remember some fluff about the waterfront being knocked back to 4 lanes when the bypass is completed. I went hunting but couldn't find the reference. I did a couple of beauties though.

Mayor Kerry said on 27/4/2004:
"The bypass will reduce traffic on Ghuznee, Taranaki and Cuba streets and along the waterfront. It will also give pedestrians easier access to the waterfront," Mayor Prendergast said.

I haven't seen the Council improve pedestrian access to the waterfront so far. There are 2 additional pedestrian crossings going in at Kumutoto, which is brilliant but unrelated to the bypass, and it's still a loooong wait for the green man.

Also, on 16/4/04 the Council announced that it had purchased shares in Victoria Street Parking Centre Limited, giving the Council usage rights over the former BP service station on Jervois Quay, with the purchase assisting the Council and Wellington Waterfront in "furthering plans to improve connections between the city and the waterfront, possibly including a pedestrian piazza across Jervois Quay, between Willeston Street and the Queens Wharf Events Centre."

I fail to see how a lease to Tony's Tyre Service has assisted with those connections.

My view is that the quays should be 4 lanes (and for much of the day would be fine as four lanes) but to deal with peak flows a good light rail system needs to be implemented along the same route from at least the railway station to at least the hospital.

 
At 6:19 PM, October 10, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think we need to reduce traffic on Jervois - rather we should just build a few more bridges linking the city and the waterfront. This would encourage more office workers etc to visit on weekdays. I heard a while ago the council was going to build a bridge linking lower Tory Street with the waterfront, there was also talk of extending the city to sea bridge.

 
At 8:35 AM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I fail to see how a lease to Tony's Tyre Service has assisted with those connections.

I guess that the plans have become trapped in the redesign process for Frank Kitts Park and the Chinese Garden.

It would make sense to intergrate any potential bridge into these plans,

Strategic purchases like this some times take time to show their final potential.

 
At 9:12 AM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Evad Rehtona said...

Melbourne has created a famously liveable and lively city on its particular version of the well-known gridiron, and the alternation of fast & wide with slow & narrow may have something to do with that.

I say in all seriousness, as someone who grew up in Melbourne but has made Wellington my home, that Melbourne is the way it is as a CBD as it is because of the trams.

Studies have found that the constant procession of hundreds of trams -- which are the most notable feature of Melbourne streets -- give the streets not just character but also a feeling of safety, because tram after tram is going by from 5am to 1am, with lots of people getting on and off.

The wide north-south boulevards in Wellington are interesting. Kent and Cambridge terraces were a canal until the 1855 earthquake lifted the land and rendered the Basin Reserve useless as a shipping basin. Taranaki Street used to be as narrow as Cuba St, I have seen the photos -- when was it widened? The tram to Newtown Park used to run up Cuba St rather than Taranaki where the bus was diverted when the trams ended in 1964. And the wide part of Victoria St south of Ghuznee St was carved out of the Te Aro landscape only in the mid-1980s. It was dreadfully done and is still an eyesore.

My hobby horse is having Cuba Mall extended another block to Vivian Street. I think that would be a tremendous boon to this most delightful of precincts. There is no traffic planning need for cars to use that stretch especially now that Victoria Street is two-way between Ghuznee and Vivian.

 
At 2:18 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Raffe Smith said...

Another grid city worth mentioning is of course San Francisco. The grid is almost unyielding to the topography and is scaled to a very walkable ,pedestrian distance.

Unlike Wgtn (or Melbourne) there is a flatter hierarchy to the grid, with less variation between streets in both width and in their level of vehicular traffic and - the obvious
exception being Market St, where two grids meet.

Public transport routes (trolley buses, trams) tend to run along the grid every 2-3 blocks - in some ways not too dissimilar to the Victoria / Taranaki / Cambridge routes. In SFO though, it is US$1.50 for a trip, regardless of distance. Cheap, but as one SFOer said to me, "it should be free".

What marks SFO is the sheer density - typical building height around the edges of the the downtown area would probably average 6-10 storeys, and the buildings present a constant frontage to the street. There is no slack space, unless it has been deliberately designed.

This is the model I think that Wgtn needs to pursue in the Te Aro grid - a more coherent streetscape and a consistent urban grain.

 
At 4:02 PM, October 11, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As much as I wanted the Quays to be reduced to two lanes each way, I've been wondering if maybe the reason this hasn't been done is that to make them more pedestrian friendly would draw people away from the waterfront. If you were going from, say, the Station to Te Papa, you've got that circular bus that seems to only be weekends now (?) or a walk along the Quay (half of which has no footpath) or a walk along the waterfront. If the Quays were more pedestrian friendly it'd probably draw people away from walking the waterfront and lower the desirability for retail and restaurant ventures - though let's be honest, there's really not all that many of them on the waterfront anyway.

Completely off topic here, but are they ever going to open up the Michael Fowler Carpark for development? With the Watermark going in across the road, a large hotel opposite and nowhere for the market and a cinema complex to go I would've thought a mixed use development there would've been good. Another hotel, relocate the Hilton perhaps, seeing as it's right next to two convention centres (MFC and Town Hall) and 2 minutes walk from another one (TSB).

 
At 4:23 PM, October 11, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Anon 1: "I heard a while ago the council was going to build a bridge linking lower Tory Street with the waterfront, there was also talk of extending the city to sea bridge."

I don't think there's been any further talk about lower Tory, but the Taranaki St Wharf West plans (though they may end up being changed) incorporate an extension to the city-to-sea bridge, ending up somewhere near St Johns.

Anon: "I guess that the plans have become trapped in the redesign process for Frank Kitts Park and the Chinese Garden."

IIRC, the brief for the FKP competition required entrants to "consider a connection to the corner of Jervois Quay and Willeston St", so the idea may still be alive in come form. Any sort of raised crossing will have to work hard to be more attractive than crossing at ground level: the City-to-Sea bridge does that through gentle(ish) slopes and being a destination in its own right. That sort of thing is not usually that successful.

evad: "Melbourne is the way it is as a CBD as it is because of the trams"

Oh, I totally agree!

"My hobby horse is having Cuba Mall extended another block to Vivian Street."

That could work, though usually the traffic here is fairly light, and because it's one-way, it's not too hard to cross. It's the same with Little Collins St, Flinders Ln etc.

Raffe: "What marks SFO is the sheer density - typical building height around the edges of the the downtown area would probably average 6-10 storeys, and the buildings present a constant frontage to the street. There is no slack space, unless it has been deliberately designed.

This is the model I think that Wgtn needs to pursue in the Te Aro grid - a more coherent streetscape and a consistent urban grain."

I heartily agree, too! The absence of gaps helps to define the street as a volume, rather than as amorphous space with a few buildings dropped around the place.

Anon 3: "As much as I wanted the Quays to be reduced to two lanes each way, I've been wondering if maybe the reason this hasn't been done is that to make them more pedestrian friendly would draw people away from the waterfront."

I'm not sure about that: one of the main reasons that not many people use the waterfront route (apart from lack of shelter and activity, of course!) is that crossing the Quays to get there is such a pain. The waterfront is a more direct route from the station to Te Aro, but waiting at the crossings to get there adds what seems like several minutes to the journey, so the less direct route along the Quays is either quicker or at least seems that way. If the lanes were reduced and crossings phased to prioritise pedestrians, the waterfront route would be much more attractive.

"you've got that circular bus that seems to only be weekends now (?)"

That service stopped in July this year.

"are they ever going to open up the Michael Fowler Carpark for development?"

I haven't heard anything concrete, but I think it might be on the long-term agenda. Some of those who oppose the use of Jack Ilott Green for the School of Music have suggested this site instead: build on 'em both, I say!

 

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