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How Auckland Council plans to pedestrianise central Auckland City

A bold plan is set to transform the anatomy of Auckland from a city congested with cars to one bustling with people.  Named ‘Access for Everybody’, it will pedestrianise the city space in a series of trials, set to unravel in March next year, turning Queen Street – and other regions across Auckland – into car-free zones. The Auckland Council has voted in unanimous favour to support the strategy. The scheme invites alternative transport modes such as cycling, busing, tramming, and scootering, among others into the city and signifies real potential for local businesses who will benefit by more people. Further, it hopes to change the psyche of the city, as the council carries an idea that Queen St ‘will become a place to go, not to go through’. To grasp the many facets of change, we speak to Ludo Campbell-Reid, general manager of Auckland Design Office, about the vision for the City of Sails.

As more people mob the city, the more contested the space gets. Not just in the surging population numbers, but also in the increase in transport methods as scooters, buses, trams, cars, and others go to war inside the inner-city space. According to Campbell-Reid, the current layout of the city isn’t designed for such demand. And he says, the project presents a new concept for the city.

“The plan recognises the street space between the buildings, we call it the public realm of the city – there is huge demand for that space. The space is finite, yet the demand is infinite.

“If we look at cities, the majority of the public realm is taken up by road space, it is given to the space of cars primarily. It is interesting, when we think about the way we design cities, about five percent of the day is when our roads are being used for its capacity, we design for rush hour traffic.”

To change Auckland into a more productive city, it plans to discourage non-essential vehicles that don’t need the area, but supports those making non-discretionary trips for emergency services, deliveries, rubbish collections, existing businesses and residents, and mobility trips.

Campbell-Reid says there are lots of reasons why people go to city centres that need to access the city, but what Auckland Council is trying to say is that there needs to be a change in the way that is managed.

“So modes like buses, light rail, bikes, people walking, and people scootering, those are the most efficient ways people can move freely around the city, so we are going to prioritise those.”

The proposal allows cars to access from the edge of the city using the surrounding motorway box – or as Campbell-Reid calls it – ‘the concrete collar’.

“This concrete collar has been viewed as a negative aspect of our city life, we are using that to absorb our city flow and so we take that major traffic out of the core of the city and leave it to the edges... so what that does is it reallocates the street space from moving and storing cars primarily, which is what our streets have done in the past, to allow the street to have other functions.”

Another transport method that will support the accessibility into the area is the City Rail Link planned for 2024, which will allegedly double the number of people arriving in the central city by rail, as well as the proposed light rail by the government, which has been noted to add further 10,000 people per hour in peak times.

A key challenge for the Access for Everybody plan is to convince local businesses that a pedestrianised city will amount to higher retail spend. It requires a perception change, as such devotion to private vehicles in urban planning has led retailers to believe that people who shop also drive a car.

However, according to Campbell-Reid, this is not the case anymore.

“We have spoken to Heart of the City who are the representatives of the business community, who support the plan and are on board with where we are heading. They are on board because we have evidence over the last five or six years that businesses aren’t being served by private vehicle in down-town areas.

“Primarily, where people are coming from and spend money are people who catch the bus, the train, cycle or walk. In London a few months ago, they undertook a large chunk of survey work, which found that 40 percent more is spent by people who come in alternative transport methods than those by cars.”

“The more people we can get into our streets, the more they will spend. The walkability, the pedestrian friendliness of the cities is a way to attract more people and more people means more purchasing of goods and services.”

He says that in similar shared spaces in downtown Auckland, whereby it has taken the streets back to the people and disincentivised cars, it has seen retail success. A notable example is the Fort St precinct, where Campbell-Reid says it has removed all the car parking, and the hospitality revenues have gone up by 440 percent.

He supports this claim further and points to a recent survey into local businesses along Karangahape Rd where the council asked retailers to estimate the amount of people who came to the shops by private car. They estimate about 40 percent. However, in reality only 17 percent of customers claimed to have travelled in private vehicles.

“People do not come and shop in their cars in modern cities anymore.”

It leads to another possible misconception – that less car parks makes it harder for courier deliveries. Campbell-Reid says O’Connell St is a prime example, where again the car parking is removed, and the courier systems are more functional.

“One of the concerns from businesses was around the loading and deliveries, but now O’Connell street operates as a place where you can deliver a lot more easier at certain times of the day. And all the businesses on O’Connell street are saying how much easier it is to do business on O’Connell St from before because the parked cars took up all the space that the loading people needed.”

While some private motor vehicle bastions will be ready to pop the balloon on plans for a pedestrianised Auckland, the general feeling is one of optimism. Its economic opportunity couples with a host of environmental and cultural benefits. As Campbell-Reid states, “it has the potential to create the cleanest air of any city in the world.”

“This is not a war on cars, this is a city for people. Vehicles in the shared city spaces are welcome they just need to drive carefully and slowly through the city.”

Furthermore there is a variety of international examples where cities have been opened up to become vibrant pedestrianised spaces. Some include London, Madrid, and Pontevedra, among others, in a movement to encourage foot traffic over rush hour traffic.

While much work is still to be done, the prospect of change is an exciting one for Aucklanders. And some have even declared it could lead Auckland to become one of the best inner city areas in the world.

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