Queen Street is the major commercial thoroughfare of the Auckland CBD in Auckland City, New Zealand's main population centre. It rises from Queens Wharf on the Auckland waterfront, adjacent to the Britomart Transport Centre and the Downtown Ferry Terminal, and extends uphill for almost three kilometres in a mostly straight south-southwesterly direction towards the Karangahape Road ridge, and the residential suburbs in the interior of the Auckland isthmus.
Named after Queen Victoria, Queen Street was an early development of the new town of Auckland (founded in 1840) although initially the main street was intended to be Shortland Street, running parallel to the shore of Commercial Bay. The early route of Queen Street led up the middle of a gully following the bank of the Waihorotiu Stream (later the Ligar Canal). This canal was culverted beneath the street from the 1870s onward, allowing for further development of the street to be undertaken. The course of the stream is still reflected today in the slight bend of lower Queen Street. From north of Shortland Street, Queen Street is built on land reclaimed from the sea in the late 19th century.
There are several other 'Queen Streets' in the greater Auckland area, mostly in suburbs which were once separate towns before being absorbed by a growing central city. Auckland was also called the "Queen City" since before the turn of the 20th Century, though that term is now shadowed by the nickname "City of Sails".
In the 1880s, the first horse-drawn 'bus' carriages began connecting Queen Street with areas like Ponsonby Road or Remuera. In 1900, the first motorcar was admired on the street, and in 1902, the street was finally asphalted, as the first street in the whole of New Zealand. The same year, the first electric tram also arrived, to provide services until 1956.
The late 1800s and early 1900s saw a wide number of imposing buildings constructed, such as the Smith & Caughey's building, the Auckland Town Hall or the General Post Office at the waterfront, later to become the Britomart Transport Centre. By that time, the street was popular for many events such as parades and festivities, as well as for political activities such as the strike demonstrations of 1913. During the second half of the 20th century, many of the older buildings on Queen Street were also demolished to make space for larger office buildings.
This involved the widening and relaying of footpaths with basalt kerbstones and paving. Granite insets, designed in consultation with the local Māori (Ngati Whatua iwi), as well as recycled redchip pavers from the existing footpath, were used to denote special areas - such as those related to the existence of the old Waihorotiu Stream. New street furniture (such as multi-purpose poles for lighting, signage and pennants) and new trees and other landscaping were added to create a 'boulevard effect'. The liquid ambers and Nikau Palms chosen for the new design touched of heated public discussion in 2006 as their inclusion came at the destruction of previous, established trees (which were not native flora of New Zealand, and thus not retained in the new landscaping plan).
The 2006-2008 project repeatedly increased in cost, from originally NZ$ 23 million to final costs of around NZ$43.5 million, with some elements of the upgrade (such as an improved entrance to Myers Park) falling victim to the blowout. While Council noted in June 2007 that progress had often been quicker than expected, the cost overruns, and the long duration of the construction works - which substantially affected pedestrian and motor vehicle traffic as well as retail sales - made the upgrade unpopular in public, at least during the duration. It also became a problem issue for Dick Hubbard in his campaign for reelection to Mayor of Auckland in 2007, and he eventually lost the election.
Queen Street is known by repute all over the country, even by people who have never seen it. It gives its name to the most expensive square in the New Zealand version of Monopoly and to a somewhat disrespectful description of business people with rural investment interests (but without the associated knowledge): 'Queen Street farmers'. The street was also immortalised by The Front Lawn with their song (It started on) Queen Street.
The street has been the site of numerous parades, marches and other events of political, cultural or sporting nature over the years. Together with adjacent High Street, it is also the main retail precinct of the central city, with most national store, bank and restaurant franchises having a branch on the street. Several important other local businesses, such as the Smith & Caughey's department store, also have flagship branches here.
Due to the upgrade construction work on Queen Street, Auckland City reduced traffic lanes for vehicles to one lane in each direction in early 2007. This could in the future potentially become a permanent traffic layout, with extended public transport provisions such as bus lanes as well as cycle lanes proposed for the outer lanes. Also proposed is a 30 km/h speed limit. These measures to be discussed in committee in August 2007 (with public consultation ongoing in the meantime). Four physical lanes are to be kept in any case, mainly to safeguard the street layout for future public transport options like light rail.
The proposed changes have been criticised as being introduced 'on the sly' and to the detriment of car users important to the economic health of the CBD. It has also been noted that the bus lanes are to some degree fixing a Council-caused issue, as they are partially intended to recoup journey time lost due to the new signalised pedestrian crossings (see below). Some business owners have noted that they will fight the changes if they are not convinced of proposed mitigation measures, possibly with legal action. Other owners have spoken in favour of the proposal, arguing that it will in fact benefit business.
The changes are also to include further improvements to pedestrian facilities, with the total footpath area having increased by 20% to almost 14,000 m², as well as longer traffic signal phases for pedestrians, while three added signalised pedestrian crossings have already been introduced mid-block, at 'accident black spots'. Also already undertaken has been reduction of on-street parking spaces from 81 to 51, part of the prioritisation for pedestrians. The remaining spaces will be reserved short-term parking (i.e. drop-offs, loading). Not included in the design are dedicated bus bays, which some critics have noted as a serious oversight, causing potential delays on the proposed bus lanes.
Until December 1956, trams provided public transport along Queen Street, and it was known as the only street in New Zealand to have had grand unions, double-track to double-track junctions, where trams could go in all directions from all directions. These junctions were at the intersections with Customs Street and Wellesley Street. Since the closure of Auckland's tram network, Balaclava Junction on Melbourne, Australia's tram network has been the sole grand union left in the Southern Hemisphere.
At the northern waterfront entrance to Queen Street is Queen Elizabeth II Square, often referred to as QEII Square. Around this area are several significant buildings including the:
Many large corporations, insurance companies and banks had substantial buildings on Queen Street and in some cases their head offices were located here rather than in Wellington (the capital). Between Custom Street & Wellesley Street, Queen Street is lined with retail and office buildings. This section of the street is where the majority of the high-rise buildings are located. These are mostly 20th century in origin, although a number of 19th century structures survive. The most significant buildings along the middle part of the street are the:
Beyond the Wellesley Street intersection lies the midtown district, with its entertainment and civic focus, centred around Aotea Square. Here are located most of the important Civic buildings, including the:
Further up Queen Street beyond Mayoral Drive is the uptown district, centred on Myers Park. This is often referred to as Upper Queen Street, although that actually refers to a legally separate continuation of Queen Street located on the other side of the K'Road ridge. The most significant buildings in this area are the:
Beyond the Karangahape Road ridge the southernmost 500 metres of the street is officially known as Upper Queen Street, which crosses the eastern part of the Central Motorway Junction, the largest interchange on the New Zealand State Highway network.