Several Auckland councillors want to scrap cars parking on Queen St to improve the poor air quality on the city's premier street.
They want Auckland Transport to investigate the removal of short-term parking bays to stop cars generating congestion and pollution through searching for a park and holding up buses.
They were responding to a new report published by the council yesterday confirming high concentrations of "black carbon" and other pollutants in Queen St.
It also found high levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Queen St, with peak concentrations close to Customs St.
Councillors Chris Darby, Penny Hulse, Richard Hills, Alf Filipaina and Waitemata Local Board chairwoman Pippa Coom want the parking bays used for Lime e-scooters, a possible e-cargo deliver system, recharging centres for bikes and bike parking.
An e-cargo delivery system would consist of bikes, trikes and small electric vehicles around the central city.
The councillors also want a faster transition to electric buses on Queen St and several measures aimed at reducing rat running in and around Queen St, including a ban on right-hand turns into and out of the street.
In a letter to AT chief executive Shane Ellison, the group of green-leaning councillors and cycling champion Pippa Coom have urged the council-controlled organisation "to take immediate action to alleviate the risk of more premature deaths, contributed to by
atrocious air quality on our busiest street".
"Multiple and interdependent benefits result from policy decisions that promote safer streets, climate action, active and public transportation modes, and congestion mitigation strategies. These benefits include increased economic activity, vibrant social spaces and a cleaner, more sustainable environment, including cleaner air."
The latest plan to discourage cars coming into the central city follows plans by AT to introduce a 30km/h speed limit on every street in the CBD, reducing part of Quay St from four to two lanes, limiting cross-town journeys and building modern trams, known as light rail.
Last month, the Herald reported council research showing that after a decade of falling air pollution levels across the city, the downward trend has reversed, with concentrations on Queen St now on the rise once again.
The research, by council air quality scientist Nick Talbot, found that pedestrians and workers in Queen St are being exposed to high levels of "black carbon", or ultra-fine carbon particles associated with a number of health problems.
"The main reason for high air pollution levels on Queen St is emissions from transport vehicles – particularly diesel-fuelled buses, which make up 12 per cent of the on-road vehicles. Although many turn off near Wellesley St, the pollution flows down Queen St towards the densely populated waterfront area," the letter to Ellison said.
The new report looks at the effects of transport emissions on air quality in the city centre, an area now home to 57,000 permanent residents. Last year, almost 10 million pedestrians were counted in Queen St.
The report said a key way of reducing air pollution in the city centre is to reduce emissions from buses and trucks. It reported modelling in London that showed removing a third of private vehicles from the city centre reduced nitrogen dioxide by 15 per cent and had notable social and economic benefits.
Worsening air quality in Auckland's central city underlines the need for more pedestrian-only areas, Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) medical officer Dr David Sinclair said last month.
He said many people did not notice poor air quality but it could have long-term health effects, including respiratory illness, heart attacks, lung cancer, strokes and diabetes. The tall buildings along several busy central streets meant air pollutants were trapped in these "urban canyons".
The regional public health service had long supported changes which would lift air quality in the central city, in particular upgrading diesel fuel, improving emissions from all vehicles and increasing public transport, walking and biking, he said.
Black carbon, also known as soot, consists of very small ultra-fine carbon particles not much larger than viruses. These can travel deep into lung tissue, into the bloodstream and become deposited in the heart of brain tissue. They are associated with health problems, including respiratory and heart disease, cancer, and even birth defects.
Last month Talbot said black carbon has been recorded in Queen St since 2002.
While black carbon concentrations have decreased over the years, it was hard to establish long-term trends due to street configuration changes, he said.
An air quality scientist at GNS Science, Perry Davy, said black carbon was still being analysed in terms of its specific health risk.
"In terms of the specific health risk for Queen St, that is an unknown.
"Yes there is a health risk. What happens to an individual depends on their exposure. It depends on when they are there, how long they are there and what time of the day they are there and what else they do during the day," Perry said.
There is growing evidence that black carbon is a problem in New Zealand, according to a Ministry for the Environment report on air quality, called Our Air 2018.