Does Grenfell Street need to become an urban oasis?

On Tuesday evening, Adelaide Thinker in Residence Fred Hansen held a conference at the Adelaide Town Hall about improving transportation and its integration with land use. One of the key recommendations from his lecture was to convert Grenfell Street into a transit mall, allowing only bus traffic and widening the footpaths to improve pedestrian movements along the street.

Grenfell Street as it is today with vehicular traffic and an artists impression of Fred Hansen's plan. (Source: AdelaideNow)

This recommendation in itself is a great one to ponder about, considering that Grenfell Street is one of Adelaide’s most important streets for bus movements. More than 30 bus routes use Grenfell Street during peak hours, and the combination of buses pulling in and out combined with private vehicle use makes for a lot of conflicting movements and congestion. To allow the buses to move through the city with minimal delay would be a big boost to encouraging city commuters to go by bus instead of by car.

What’s missing from Fred Hansen’s suggestion though is that altering Grenfell Street won’t just affect traffic on Grenfell Street itself, but will force a major shift in the traffic movement patterns in the central business district. What has not been mentioned or clearly thought about are the following:

  • How will delivery vehicles continue to access loading docks such as at Harris Scarfe (which is currently being rebuilt)?
  • What will happen to the car parks that currently rely on Grenfell Street for access?
  • Is closing Grenfell Street to all but public transport the only way of improving street quality and pedestrian accessibility?
  • How will Pirie Street and Gawler Place need to be altered to account for changes on Grenfell Street?
  • How will the public transport system need to change to make converting Grenfell Street to a transit mall feasible?

I have a few extras to add to Fred Hansen’s suggestion based on the points I have just mentioned. During the 1990s, Swanston Street in central Melbourne was closed to regular traffic except trams. It has successfully made its transition from auto-alley to a user friendly street in a short period of time. However, there are times of the day when it is opened up for delivery vehicles to allow goods to be delivered. This could also be done on Grenfell Street to allow some key retailers such as Harris Scarfe and Harvey Norman to maintain their access to goods and keep the retailers happy rather than creating a blanket ban on all vehicles that aren’t public transport.

Adelaide City Council’s Grenfell Street car park is a key component that cannot be overlooked. Access will need to be maintained either through the section of Grenfell Street leading to Hindmarsh Square or via the laneways to Pirie Street. Either that, or it would need to be closed, an option that probably would not make the council happy considering the issues it faced over the use of the car park when the redevelopment of Harris Scarfe was announced.

Brisbane has a very different solution to Melbourne with a similar issue of improving pedestrian and vehicle movements along Queen Street in its central business district. Instead of maintaining the street only to pedestrians and public transport as Melbourne did with Swanston Street, Brisbane has constructed tunnels under Queen Street for buses as part of a greater plan to provide busways around inner Brisbane. This is a more expensive solution than Melbourne’s solution, but one worth thinking about when you consider that it completely removes all vehicular transport movements at street level leaving extra space for more activity on the street itself. In Adelaide’s case, tunnels could potentially form part of an underground extension to the O-Bahn at Gilberton, as the majority of the bus routes along Grenfell Street also use to O-Bahn.

There was also a few extra components suggested by Fred Hansen to upgrading Grenfell Street that seem inappropriate or out of place. The one that really got to me was the suggestion of cafes and alfresco dining along the footpaths on Grenfell Street. As nice as it sounds, Grenfell Street has never struck me as the right place for this type of function on a large scale. Sure, a few here and there is great for those who work in the area and adds diversity to the street, but Grenfell Street is not a major dining strip like Gouger Street, nor is it a cultural strip like North Terrace. Grenfell Street is part of the commercial and financial heart of Adelaide. You only need to look up to see this. If we really want to make the most of upgrading Grenfell Street, then I would say that the laneways connecting into Grenfell Street would be better places to encourage restaurants, cafes and bars. This would also complement activity in the adjacent Rundle Mall area, but I won’t delve into this in this post. Besides, who wants to be enjoying a coffee next to the sound of buses thundering by?

That doesn’t necessarily have to be the case though where small cafes already exist. Some appropriate placement of benches, plants and scrubs and possibly interesting sculptures along widened footpaths could create some great gathering spots to encourage social interaction outside of the office buildings instead of providing the footpaths simply as the means of keeping people moving. Simply widening the footpaths with little regard to their use beyond pedestrian movement runs the risk of leaving the street dead outside working hours. A few shops and cafes would assist in preventing this situation from occurring, but they should not be the main focus on Grenfell Street.

There’s plenty of factors that need to be considered in upgrading Grenfell Street, some of them conflicting, but any design scheme would need to consider the bigger picture on its impact on the surrounding area rather than only on Grenfell Street itself. Keeping Grenfell Street open only to public transport is one option, but there are other plausible options that need to be considered as well.

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3 Responses to “Does Grenfell Street need to become an urban oasis?”

  1. vodaskoda Says:

    It’s all very well talking about more social interaction. Everywhere I go I see these congregation points for assorted idlers, wastrels and property developers spivs. Conscript them all to dig the tunnels for the public transport before we provide them with more lounging spots, I say!

    • Andrew Says:

      If only we had more of the right people with the kind of skills we need to do this sort of tunnelling. I’ve heard some horrible stories about tunnelling gone wrong with untrained cheap labor in other countries. 😉 It’d be a sizeable challenge to do in Adelaide without the experience from elsewhere considering we only have a few tunnels, and those are through hills rather than under the city.

  2. vodaskoda Says:

    There are geological reasons for the course of the Torrens running where it does. When the extensions to the Barr Smith Library were built I had opportunity to see the sort of ground thereabouts – soft and friable I’d call it.

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