Private car’s days as symbol of power coming to an end

Never mind those petty rules of staying in your lane, indicating to change, obeying the traffic lights, feeding parking meters, accommodating your vehicle in an approved parking garage. No matter how beat up, or that it’s a polished company vehicle thrust into your care to proclaim your high status. Your car is a symbol of your independence & superiority.

Or, in downtown Auckland, it was.

In March, Auckland Council’s Auckland Development Office will file a report recommending trials to pedestrianise nominated streets in the central business district.

Queen St below Mayoral Drive is the primary candidate. High & Lorne Sts are among the smaller streets also likely to be high on the list.

Quay St would be reduced to 2 lanes, making it much more a pedestrian environment across from the wharves. Eastern suburbs traffic would be directed into the new traffic zones.

But before the trials, other preparation is needed. The development office wants traffic to be guided into zones, and not allowed to cross zones, and the office knows the pedestrians-only trials won’t work unless those preparations are in place.

Turning whole streets over to people on foot – plus bikes, prams, scooters, restricted visits by service vehicles and, in some streets, buses & trams – has been a venture too far for councillors for decades.

When Auckland City Council hired Ludo Campbell-Reid for the new role of urban design specialist in 2006 – coming from Tower Hamlets Council in London after earlier roles as chief executive of Urban Design London and in Cape Town – the notion of pedestrianising Queen St downhill from Mayoral Drive was getting, well, a foot into people’s thinking.

The city council turned down that idea, and also spurned pedestrianising a couple of blocks by a narrow margin. One change that did come, in 2007, was the introduction of bus lanes down Queen St. In addition, Lower Queen St between Customs & Quay Sts, and a couple of side streets – the lower end of Swanson St and Vulcan Lane – had their vehicle access ended.

But Mr Campbell-Reid switched from full-on pedestrianisation for major thoroughfares to the introduction of shared spaces, carried out in Elliot St, part of Fort St, and most recently in O’Connell St.

Meanwhile, gridlock took over, made worse over the last 2 years by the streetworks for the city rail link on Albert, Customs & Victoria Sts. People have watched – I think in awe, certainly not scowling – as they’ve waited at traffic lights and been able to observe the tunnelling below them.

And slowly the tide has turned. By the end of 2021, all going well, those tunnels are going to transport hundreds of passengers every 10 minutes or so into 3 central stations – people who have left the status symbol, the car, at home, or don’t even have one there.

The council development office, which Mr Campbell-Reid heads, can rely on those waves of passengers to lift support for locking cars out of the dominance they’ve long had in the city centre.

Those traffic trials are the biggest changes in the review of the city centre masterplan, approved in 2012, this time combined with the waterfront plan as the City Centre Masterplan 2040.

Proposed digital presentation of the new masterplan will allow for rolling reviews.

Auckland Council’s planning committee agreed unanimously yesterday to the development office’s proposals:

  • Digitisation in time to inform the council’s 2021-31 long-term plan
  • Rolling updates rather than 6-yearly updates
  • New content for public consultation & committee approval by July 2019
  • Maori outcomes
  • Grafton Gully boulevard
  • Access for everyone – the friendlier name for pedestrianisation
  • Trials & tactical urbanism initiatives to test & for consultation
  • Trial an “open streets” initiative in the city centre and work with interested local boards to trial it in other centres

Cllr Richard Hills summed it up: “At the Victoria-Queen St intersection at lunchtime, we’ve got 4500 people crossing & 500 cars. We’ve halved the number of cars coming down Queen St already, from 21,000 to 10,000. We have 7000 bikes/day coming into the city. That’s [the equivalent of] a whole lane from Silverdale.”

Link:
Committee agenda item 9, City centre masterplan 2040   

Earlier story:
12 January 2006: Auckland hires London urban design specialist Campbell-Reid

Attribution: Council committee meeting & agenda.

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