The Auckland City Council is currently (like closing this Thursday 24 March) seeking feedback on their Draft Auckland Domain Master Plan. And here are my thoughts on what could make Auckland one of the best urban parks in the world for running.
The current draft plan contains some points which are very exciting for runners:
- Closing Football Road to traffic;
- Shared paths taking up much of what is currently road on The Crescent;
- Adding lighting for joggers;
- Extra paths through the bush in the north to connect to Parnell;
- Improved drainage on the lower fields.
To view the draft plan and make your own submission, please visit shapeauckland.co.nz and if you like my suggestions feel free to copy and paste them and email them to firstname.lastname@example.org adding your own flavour.
Where I feel the draft plan misses the mark for runners is on the following points:
Adding exercise as a key principle
What are the biggest problems facing New Zealanders in terms of health? Obesity-related health complications and mental health. What is the best way to address both these problems? Get people moving. How do you get them moving? Provide amazing places in which to exercise.
The draft plan identifies seven key principles that vary between transport, cultural heritage, conservation and park use, but I think there needs to be a specific principle that identifies Auckland Domain as a vital inner city green lung and free-to-use gym for the people.
As a city we need to hold our parks and green spaces as sacred places, not just for their beauty and cultural and natural significance, but because they keep us healthy and happy. Without them obesity and mental illness would run rampant in our society.
Here’s a Strava heat map image of where people run in and around Auckland Domain.
The brightness of the routes indicates where most runners run, predominantly on the roads (particularly the 1.5km loop of FootBall Rd, The Crescent, and Grandstand Rd) and also around the grass fields (just inside that 1.5km road loop. But from a land use perspective we, as runners, aren’t making the most of the full park. Comparatively few runners head into the bush in the north or follow the perimeter ridge line alongside George St.
So what is needed are several loops around the park that are easy and logical to navigate. That help to encourage runners to make use of the entire park’s beauty, terrain and variety in surfaces under foot. I propose these loops:
- A flat 1km (exactly with distance markers) loop of crushed limestone pathway on the outside of the lower sports field. This would be great for workouts and for people wanting to test their fitness over measured distances (especially that the athletics track is only usable during summer and when teams sports are not being played).
- The 1.5km road loop (mentioned above) being made more pedestrian friendly and having the footpath on the inside of the road the whole way (to avoid any road crossings). Distance markers added to this as well.
- An off-road perimeter trail for walkers and joggers to complete the full circumference of the park. This could follow the ridge line near Carlton Gore Road and then George Street, duck down behind the Museum to the Ho Chi Minh bush trail, then turn up the Centennial Walkway, turn right to follow Domain Drive up to finish back at Carlton Gore Road.
See The Tan in Melbourne for a great example of looped running and walking routes.
To go with the idea of more navigable loops, it’s vital to have them clearly way-marked. Colour coordinated signs or track markings is all it takes. This would apply for my loop suggestions above but also for a couple of nature trails through the bush and garden portions of the park and also for the Coast to Coast Walkway which has notoriously poor way-marking through the Domain.
Just like Tamaki Drive has brass plates measuring every kilometre from the city to St Heliers, so the Domain could benefit runners a lot by providing accurate measurements around the 1.5km road loop and my recommended 1k soft-surface loop on the lower sports fields.
One of the greatest barriers to running regularly and as a lifelong pursuit is the risk of injury. Running predominantly on soft surfaces (gravel, dirt trails, grass, cinder etc) is something recommended by all the world’s top running coaches and running medical professionals for preventing overuse injuries. So building just concrete pathways is not ideal from a health perspective and a promotion of running in the general population.
I suggest having a variety of surfaces (with the option of grass and the 1km cinder trail mentioned above) and also of concrete or tarmac paths (suitable for runners with buggies or wheel chair athletes).
The report didn’t mention specifics of lighting, however, having the main 1.5km loop lit with standard street lighting between the hours of 5am to dawn and and dusk to 10pm would extend the usability of the Domain massively to runners during winter especially. It’s a simple solution that would mean the world of difference to MANY runners and walkers.
As a final note, I don’t think the roads around the Museum need to be blocked to traffic. Walkers and runners don’t use this area much apart from accessing the Museum or making use of the one lit area in the park. And I would love all of Grandstand Road to be closed to traffic, or at least a significant footpath be built to seperate runners from cars (between the Grandstand and the George Street entrance).
Do you have any other ideas to add or changes to mine?