The Wrong Side of my Car

A blog about Auckland City, its streets, and culture shock

20 Sep 2015

A stroll on Hobson and Nelson Street

Well, I can hear you thinking already. If you’re going to the city for a stroll, you’re supposed to go to Queen Street. With its little pedestrian alleys on the sides. Its Barne’s dances. But it doesn’t mean it always have to be the same street stealing the limelight, right?

So on we go. These two streets are well known as where you go on or off the Southern motorway.

We’ll start on the South. The southern end of both streets is one of the main entries to the city, where streams of cars from the South and West exit the Spaghetti Junction. But believe it or not, in a few months a bicycle path will emerge from the junction as well, right here, in the middle. More on that later.

Here starts Nelson Street, 5 lanes one way, bringing all those cars to the parking buildings where they’ll spend the day.

On the right of Nelson Street, we find it’s twin, Hobson Street, 6 lanes bringing all those cars back to the motorway at the end of the day.

Let’s walk down Hobson Street and come back via Nelson Street, shall we?

See how wide those streets are? There’s a lot of cars to be moved here. But if that would be the only purpose of these streets, it would be a quite depressing stroll, right?

The next time you’re waiting at one of those traffic lights, look around you. Count the apartment blocks. If you come all the way from Fanshawe Street, you probably pass the homes of as much people as a small suburb. This is one of the most densely populated areas in Auckland.

There are plenty of businesses as well, catering to all those residents.

See, it’s looks a bit like the typical main street, with those awnings and those signs. But look on the horizon, there are the motorway signs.

It gives this street a strange schizophrenic character. Is it a motorway on-ramp, or a residential city street? The spaghetti junction on one end, but all those apartment blocks on the side.

This split personality is visible in all it’s glory a bit further down the street.

If you’re wondering, that is a full-size motorway gantry. The scale of this thing, from the concrete blocks it’s anchored on to those road signs above, make it look oddly out of place here.

Somewhere hidden between Nelson and Hobson Street, we find two little houses  hidden between all those towers.

The difference in scale makes it look a bit unreal. As if someone took a little piece of suburb and teleported it here.

Another contrast is the contrast between the older buildings (some of them have heritage protection) and the more recent big apartment buildings. The area has seen a quite a dramatic transformation the past decades. Apartments have sprung up like mushrooms. More people now live in one city block than in the entire CBD in the early 90’s.

It can happen though that one of those buildings gets in the way of the developers. That calls for a workaround.

It looks a bit odd, but remember, today’s “odd” is tomorrow’s “that typical character of Auckland”.

Businesses have followed all those new residents. Restaurants and take-aways. Laundromats. Dairies. Bottle stores, lots of them.

Others haven’t made the leap yet. No butchers or bakeries. And no supermarket. The nearest supermarket is on Victoria Street, pretty much down in the Queen Street valley, and when you walk back home with all the groceries you will know this area is on top of a ridge.

On the corner with Wellesley Street are two prominent older buildings. The first one is impossible to miss. That’s St. Matthew’s church.

Also one of the very few places where you have some actual grass visible from the street. On the opposite corner we have the Albion.

The building next to the Albion has been razed, but until now that place has been empty.

It’s one of these sad little voids, filled with empty parking spaces. The parking around here is worth an entire separate post. We still have a long way to go, so time to continue our stroll.

Next we encounter a long-distance bus terminal. In an twist of mild irony, from most directions it’s surprisingly difficult to get close to here via the local buses. Most of those go in a wide circle around here via Fanshawe, Customs and Symonds Streets. Oops.

At least until now. We’re going to have our own Big Dig over here, for a railway. And because of that a lot of bus routes are being reshuffled, some of them via here.

And look at the foreground: a few days ago the council painted a bus lane on Hobson Street. Now don’t be too sad for all those cars, it won’t be that bad. I told you in the beginning there’s a lot of cars to be moved. Well, that’s actually not true. So don’t worry if you’re in one those cars, you’ll still be fine. But yes it’s about time we claim back a little bit of this area from King Car.

On the corner of Victoria Street there’s another of those old buildings, now completely dwarfed by the surrounding buildings.

A cluster of restaurants sprung up on this corner. Luckily for them, they have some room for a seating area.

… well, for cars of course. A bit disappointing. Look in the background, to that building where all those people are living who don’t need a car to get here.

For now you can count how many different tow-away signs you can find. Like the beers in Belgium, here in Auckland one of the local specialities are tow-away signs. It’s amazing how many different varieties you find.

Off we go. In the shadow of the Sky Tower.

When we reach Fanshawe Street, at first sight our stroll is over.

No more walking here. This is the viaduct, and it’s cars only. Pedestrians can go to a staircase slightly on our right.

We end up on a little cobblestone alley. This used to be a little ramp to drive from Sturdee Street to Fanshawe Street. And that bridge is not the viaduct, it’s the exit ramp of a parking building. The building you can see in the background are the Tepid Baths, now hidden in this jungle of traffic lights and slip lanes.

And this is the other side of the viaduct. Dedicated to efficiently bringing all the traffic to Fanshawe Street and Hobson Street. Until the spaghetti junction was completed this was the main route from the port to the motorways, so some serious infrastructure was built.

So here we are on the waterfront.

We will go back South via Nelson Street. Nelson Street starts a bit further up Fanshawe Street. From Market Place we can already see where we are going:

From all those lanes you’d say Market Place is some important arterial, but no…

…it’s just a local street towards the waterfront.

Fanshawe Street, here 5 lanes wide in one direction (although one is a bus lane), connects this area with the Northern Motorway.

We can go up on Fanshawe Street a bit and have a look at Sturdee Street below. What we see here is basically just lots of lanes and parking buildings.

From left to right, that’s a parking building, another parking building just behind the bridge, and a few people parking their car. It does appear parking is very important in Auckland.

So let’s continue on Nelson Street. It is, more than Hobson Street, dominated by its function as motorway off-ramp. From Victoria Street we can see it going downhill towards the waterfront.

The trees on both sides give way that these streets once were built as normal city streets, before being “upgraded” to on-ramp and off-ramp.

Now, question. What are they working on? We saw the answer already at the start of our stroll. The bicycle path. Here one of the lanes will be claimed back from the cars to give bicycles a chance too. They’re already placing the barrier:

So why is the path on this side? Because of the relief around here. South of Wellesley street, we are walking on the edge of a ridge. Being 6 lanes and level, the western edge is elevated quite a bit above ground level, which has the unfortunate effect of hiding the row of cafés below. After crossing Cook street, there’s a parallel lane to access the buildings.

All of this means that for quite some length there are no buildings directly fronting Nelson Street. This makes it a bit easier to lay the bicycle path there.

And here our stroll ends, as we have arrived back where we started. The entry of the spaghetti junction. Time to go home.

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