Downtown Auckland will finally be getting fewer cars. But not till later in the year, and if consultations go as planned, and only as a trial.
The plan to remove "non-essential" vehicles from the central city was adopted by Auckland Council in November last year. Councillors then voted unanimously to embrace the "Access for Everyone" plan put forward by the Auckland Design Office, and encouraged planners to begin a series of trials.
It has taken council planners in the ADO until now to come up with the first trial proposal.
The softly-softly approach is intended to engage Aucklanders in the proposal from the ground up. "We think of it as co-design," said Cam Perkins, the ADO's team leader for city centre design. "It's like the Ikea effect. When people have a role in building something, they value it more.
"This is step one of phase one. We want businesses and shoppers and everyone else to feel part of the whole process."
The initial proposal is to change the way pedestrians and vehicles use lower Queen St, lower Shortland St and High St. Council planners call the area "Downtown East".
For Queen St, council wants to create a "plaza" at the intersection with Shortland St. The traffic lights will come out and so will some car park spaces. But the term "plaza" is undefined: it's not likely, to start with at least, to be a fully pedestrian space. Cars will still be able to use Queen St and all of Shortland St.
In High St, the council proposal is to widen the footpaths and remove at least some of the car park spaces. But it won't be a pedestrian plaza like Vulcan Lane or a "shared space" like O'Connell St, Jean Batten Place and Fort St west, all of which are nearby. Traffic will still be able to drive on a dedicated one-way carriageway the length of High St.
Council has agreed to a consultative period for the trial, beginning in August. All going well, that will lead to implementation of the trial later in the year, at an as-yet unspecified date. High St will be planned with an advisory group of people who live, work and own businesses in the area.
The date is not the only thing unspecified. The concept illustration shows the Queen St-Shortland St intersection with a light-rail vehicle and tracks. There are no traffic lights. But little else is indicated.
There are no dedicated lane for bikes and e-scooters. No cars are shown, but a decision on whether they will eventually not have access to this intersection has been left open.
How cars will use the rest of Shortland St is also still to be decided. Many of the tower blocks on Shortland St contains private car parks, which the council is legally obliged to provide access for.
Viv Beck, chief executive of the business group Heart of the City and chair of the council's City Centre Advisory Group, welcomed the co-design proposal.
"What we like on the advisory board is this way of working with people to understand change through seeing it demonstrated."
She said there were lots of things they still needed to work through. "Servicing and delivery still has to happen in streets where there's less access for vehicles. We need smart new ways to do that. When will the rubbish be picked up? We need to get better at controlling all those things."
Was she worried about the process taking so long?
"Wearing my Heart of the City hat," she said, "I'm not at all happy that the light rail proposal hasn't engaged yet." The Government wants to run up Queen St and then out to Dominion Rd and out to Mangere. It's a Government project, being run by the NZ Transport Agency, and no announcements on a specific plan or timetable have yet been made.
Auckland Council and Auckland Transport are not directly involved.
But she supported the co-design process. "This is a stronger method of consultation than we have seen previously. It's not something that's being done to people, it's being done with them. It's not a tick-box exercise."
Cam Perkins said there were two reasons for the lengthy process. "First, human beings. We have to talk to everyone, get everyone's good ideas, get everyone on board."
The second issue, he said, was that council is answerable to ratepayers. "We have a business case to make, there's due process, ratepayers should know we're spending their money well."
The proposal for lower "Downtown East" is part of the larger City Centre Masterplan also presented to council today.
That plan looks ahead 20 years and includes a major building expansion in lower Parnell, along Stanley St. Design Office head Ludo Campbell-Reid told council it could become the "next Wynyard Quarter". There's no budget for this development, and no expectation of progress inside the next 10 years.
Viv Beck, addressing the council on behalf of the City Centre Advisory Group, said the big issue for them was the need to integrate planning of the waterfront. At present the council and Ports of Auckland Ltd (POAL) have separate plans which, she said, led to "silo thinking that's not in the best interests of the city as a whole.
She gave the example of the car storage building POAL is building on Bledisloe Wharf, right near Quay St. "We doubt they would be doing that if the decision had been made through the lens of a vision for the whole city."
Mayor Phil Goff said "The new City Centre Masterplan will help accommodate our record growth and ensure that central Auckland develops as a vibrant and world-class destination for people."