Pedestrians rule in new-look city street

By Mathew Dearnaley

Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland Council's environmental strategy and policy manager, is happy with the new-look Elliott St. Photo / Dean Purcell
Ludo Campbell-Reid, Auckland Council's environmental strategy and policy manager, is happy with the new-look Elliott St. Photo / Dean Purcell

Pedestrians have taken over Elliott St in downtown Auckland before its official opening on Friday as a "shared space" thoroughfare with no defined footpaths, kerbs or extended parking.

Restaurateurs will lay out tables for fine dining and classical music from 11.30am along the newly paved street, along which drivers have to thread their way around people on foot.

That follows a similar upgrade of neighbouring Darby St. The number of pedestrians using it has increased markedly since it became the city's pioneering shared space in March.

Lorne St outside the Central City Library will also open a shared space next Wednesday, followed two days later by a section of Fort St and two surrounding streets.

The projects have cost $43.6 million, the same as for Queen St's upgrade of several years ago, although they are being financed by commercial property owners through a targeted rate supported by the Heart of the City business association.

New Lynn will also get a taste of the quiet revolution in urban design when Totara Ave West reopens as shared space at the end of next week.

Although Auckland Council officials have noted only a modest decline in motor traffic on Darby St, they have found increases in pedestrian numbers ranging from 32 per cent on an average week day to 59 per cent on a Saturday.

Vehicles counted in April and May were down only to between 900 and 1000 a day, compared with 1000 and 1200 in 2009, but their average speed has been reduced to 16.5km/h, with three-quarters of traffic travelling below 20km/h. The fastest recorded speed was 29.37km/h.

Persian restaurateur Ardeshir Nasiri has just expanded his business into the middle of Darby St, with an alcove of tables, but wants his neighbours to do the same for strength in numbers, as he admitted yesterday he did not feel entirely safe from passing vehicles.

He should not have to wait long, as council urban design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid said two resource consent application had come in from from retailers wanting to have their shop frontages opening on to the street.

Elliott St now looks much wider than it did before the upgrade and was thick with pedestrians after lunch yesterday as contractors applied last-minute touches.

Most drivers were travelling slowly, looking tentative and slightly confused, although Mr Campbell-Reid was disappointed by the behaviour of one would-be racer.

However, the fast-mover was soon stopped in his tracks by a vehicle in front.

A blind man with his guide dog was seen tapping his cane on a strip of slightly elevated stone before confidently continuing along the street.

Mr Campbell-Reid said the strip was a world first, as it had been installed to make disabled people feel secure in walking along the sides of the street.

Although he expected some drivers would take time to get used to the concept, he believed Aucklanders would enjoy it "because it is quite socially accepting - it is democratic space".

"They are starting to feel that this is our space and the vehicles coming in here will check themselves and start to acknowledge their environment."

That, in turn, should bring far more business to shops and restaurants.

The former Londoner pointed up to the historic Elliott Stables and Smith & Caughey buildings to show the reduced visual impact of the street on its environment, after the removal of the clutter of footpaths and signs.

"What you can see now is the buildings - suddenly the street isn't competing with them," he said.

Heart of the City chief executive Alex Swney believed business owners elsewhere would clamour for similar treatment once they saw the transformation of Elliott St.

"On High St there is great resistance to removing parking spaces, but mark my words, they will shortly be coming to us asking if they can have shared space."

* Elliott St opens on Friday. It will be a "shared space" with no defined footpaths, kerbs or extended parking.
* Darby St, Lorne St, part of Fort St and two nearby streets are also being changed.
* Totara Ave West in New Lynn will re-open as shared space at the end of next week.
* The projects cost $43.6 million.

- NZ Herald

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