Queen St car ban touted by Council

By Bernard Orsman

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

New Zealand's premier retail street could be blocked to vehicles and turned into a mall in a move reminiscent of New York's reclaiming Broadway for pedestrians.

Banishing cars from Queen St and reclaiming the inner city for pedestrians are uppermost in a 20-year city centre masterplan being drafted for public release in March.

Other ideas in the document are creating a downtown Chinatown, building public spaces over motorways and providing playgrounds for children.

The "city centre masterplan" will canvass some long-talked-about projects, such as light rail, turning Quay St into a boulevard and converting Hobson and Nelson Sts into two-way roads.

Aucklanders will also be asked for comment on the future direction of the port and creating a continuous waterfront edge, possibly from the Harbour Bridge to St Heliers.

Auckland Council's future vision committee will consider a preliminary report on the masterplan tomorrow.

Although the paper talks of turning some central-city streets into malls and of pedestrian improvements to Queen St, the Herald understands senior council planners are keen to turn part or all of Queen St into a mall. Lower Queen St is the obvious starting point, but a mall could run up to Mayoral Drive, or even as far as Karangahape Rd.

The plan has largely been driven by a report from Gehl Architects, a Danish urban design team credited with transforming Melbourne and, most recently, the permanent closure of some of New York's Broadway in February last year.

Last July, the founding figure of Gehl Architects, Jan Gehl, told the Herald Auckland had all the ingredients to be a great city, but needed to address how much space was dedicated to cars and how much to pedestrians. The Gehl report recommended halving the amount of city asphalt in 10 years.

Transport committee chairman Mike Lee floated the idea of trialling a pedestrian-only area of Queen St from Customs St to Victoria St at weekends. Turning the whole street over to pedestrians only was not sensible or practical, he said.

Mr Lee said there was a lot to be said for humanising the inner-city streets, but said the central business district was reasonably fragile in terms of competition from the malls and careful planning was required to support a healthy, thriving retail sector.

A sensible approach, he said, was the work being done to create shared spaces in the central city, where pedestrians and vehicles share a road surface. Work has started on the first, in Darby St and Fort St.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney said he believed shared spaces were a strong catalyst for attracting more pedestrians to the city centre and it was inevitable they would spread to parts of Queen St.

"I can see shared spaces in a large proportion of Queen St. It doesn't mean there will be no traffic, but Queen St will no longer be a spine for suburban buses," he said.

Mayor Len Brown said he saw the city centre masterplan as part of his vision to improve the walkability and liveability of New Zealand's pre-eminent retail sector.

He saw the boulevarding of Quay St as a priority ahead of the plan for Queen St, which he wanted widened for pedestrians but not turned into a mall. However, parts of Queen St - at the Britomart end and near the Town Hall - could be turned into a shared space, Mr Brown said.

The Campaign for Public Transport has begun lobbying for Queen St to be pedestrians-only at weekends and other streets turned into boulevards in an effort to turn the downtown area from what it regards as a wasteland into a world-class city.

It also wants to convert Hobson and Nelson Sts into two-way roads and having 40 km/h limits in some inner-city areas.

Group representative Joshua Arbury said the current one-way system was tantamount to having motorways running through the CBD, and a revamp would humanise the streets for pedestrians.

Council planners are also keen to create more parks, plazas and playgrounds in the central city. At present, just 1 per cent of central city activity involves children and planners would like to increase this figure. They are also looking at ways of attracting more elderly people in to the city.

Kai Luey, the Auckland branch chairman of the Chinese Association, said the concept of a Chinatown in downtown Auckland was good but it would take a lot of investment and dedication to make it happen.

WHAT OTHER CITIES ARE DOING

New York: Closed some of Broadway to traffic in February last year.

Melbourne: Tram-only malls, intimate laneways and more public spaces (Federation Square, Southgate).

Copenhagen: One of the most pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly cities in the world.

Lyon: Stopped out-of-town shopping centres to support inner-city shops.

Barcelona: Built hundreds of parks and local piazzas.

VIEWS SOUGHT

Aucklanders will be asked for ideas on how to make Queen St more appealing to pedestrians, and how the port and waterfront should be developed.

- NZ Herald

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