Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Queen St a needless walk on wild side

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Bylaw-makers need to finally find a way of controlling pedestrian movement on main city thoroughfare.

White lines used to be drawn on the pavements to try to keep the mass of Christmas shoppers in line on Queen St. Photo / Natalie Slade
White lines used to be drawn on the pavements to try to keep the mass of Christmas shoppers in line on Queen St. Photo / Natalie Slade

On the subject of new bylaws, why is it that despite more than a century of trying, our masters have failed to come up with a way of persuading pedestrians to keep to the left on Queen St pavements. In these days of the ubiquitous smartphone, the lunchtime constitutional is fast becoming a high-risk exercise.

There was a time when you could at least make eye contact with oncomers on a collision course with you and veer around each other at the last moment. But gambling on such a last minute side-step is no longer safe. With their eyes glued to the screen and their thumbs a-tapping, you have to treat each approaching body as if it were the waver of a white stick. I can't see where I'm going, I own an iPhone.

The crazy thing is that the downtown pavements are hardly ever particularly crowded. Not like during Queen St's halcyon days as centre of the local universe. Nevertheless, on some days, a stroll can suddenly become like dodgems, almost as though some people are seeking a collision for the sheer hell of it.

Whenever the subject comes up, fingers quickly point at foreign students. But they're only the latest players in a problem that has dogged Auckland for at least a century, and probably much longer. I have vague recollections of the white line that was painted along the pavements each Christmas to try to corral the tide of humanity washing up and down the street. Police still patrolled the street in pairs back then, breaking up any gaggles of gossiping shoppers who might be impeding the flow. These were the sort of crowds that would have present-day shop owners weeping with joy.

It was back in June 1911 that Auckland City first introduced a bylaw to bring order to the pavements. The Herald reported that "as people of Auckland consistently ignore the rule of the footpath" a bylaw had been introduced to make "it compulsory that the rule be observed".

Mayor C. J. Parr said that custom had decreed that pedestrians should keep to the right, and ordered "Keep to the right" signs erected in the principal streets.

After a two-week personal inspection on the streets, he complained: "I have frequently observed people walking on the wrong side of the paths, bumping into other people every few yards. Women and young girls most often offend in this way, but many men who should know better are equally careless." He declared it "extraordinary ... that people should ignore a simple rule and cause inconvenience and annoyance to others".

The police and the council's inspector of traffic joined the battle - the latter, it appears, in a special new uniform. Mr Parr hoped Auckland's reputation as having the "worst-regulated" street traffic of cities "South of the line ... will soon be removed".

It was wishful thinking. The problem continued. A battle then developed over whether keeping right was preferable to keeping left. Wellington and Christchurch went for "left" and in 1923, Auckland was forced to follow suit in the interests of national consistency. To everyone's surprise, the Auckland changeover day went well, the Herald reporting that by 5pm, "the long streams of pedestrian traffic were passing along in orderly fashion," with "90 per cent of pedestrians ... dutifully keeping to the left".

The painting of white lines down Queen St "was a very real aid," as were the "keep to the left" signs stencilled on the pavement.

But the white lines quickly faded, as did Aucklanders' compliance with the bylaw. Over the decades, the repainting of the white line became something of a pre-Christmas ritual, finally dying out in the late 1960s, as the shoppers began deserting the Golden Mile for the suburban malls and crowds thinned.

These days, drawing white lines along the expensive Chinese granite pavers would no doubt turn the street designers apoplectic. Maybe some decorative inlaid arrows might do the trick.

One Queen St veteran tells me he has developed quite an effective - and of course, defensive - shoulder jab for his excursions up town. But I'm a peaceable sort and would more than likely come off second best if I employed such tactics anyway.

So here's the challenge, bylaw makers. Come up with the solution to a problem that has eluded your predecessors for more than 100 years. A recipe for successfully herding Aucklanders up and down Queen St.

- NZ Herald

Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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