None of this was meant to be moving so slowly.
Back in November the "Access for Everyone" plan for inner city Auckland was adopted unanimously by council, with an urgent call for trials to start as soon as possible. The central idea was that non-essential cars would have only limited access to the central city, with a new emphasis on cross traffic going round rather than through. The streets would be available for many more uses than driving on.
The Auckland Design Office (ADO) said it would have a plan for trials by March. I wrote a list of 25 things they could include in that, including putting bike/scooter lanes on Queen St, promoting the Link bus, closing High St and relaxing the bylaws about what can happen on the footpaths.
It was disappointing to watch as precisely none of those 25 trials took place. It's far more disappointing now to discover just how slowly and timidly things are moving.
Don't get me wrong. I think the ADO's "co-design" approach to consultation is excellent: everyone who lives, works or plays in downtown Auckland should be able to feel some ownership of the changes to come, and that will require meaningful, ground-up communications. All council agencies should be committed to working with local communities, not preaching to them, to refine their initial ideas, improve them, bring in brand new ones, reject the bad and turn the good into great.
The desire of the ADO to do this is terrific. It's strongly supported in that by Heart of the City, and that's critical: hopefully, retailers and other businesses will become champions of the better city we build.
But the extent of what's proposed – the baseline for discussion – is woeful. No mention of separated lanes on Queen St for bikes and scooters: are they kidding? Pedestrians clamour to be kept safe from two-wheeled vehicles, and rightly so. Riders clamour to be kept safe from cars and pedestrians, and that's right too. Did the ADO just forget about this?
High St to get wider footpaths but that's it? Seriously? High St should be low-hanging fruit: a little street, an easy fix. Why haven't they proposed a trial that closes it to cars: at 10.30 every morning, by blocking the south end with orange barriers? Maybe paint something delightful on the road.
Simon Wilson: 25 trials for a car-free central city
This is what trials are for. You don't need to spend money. You don't need to change any bylaws. You do it for a fixed time, and assess. If it works – if most of the stakeholders like what's happened – then you make it permanent. If it doesn't, trial something else.
The new version of the City Centre Masterplan contains many bold ideas. A new tree-lined "Grafton Boulevard", for example, to connect Tamaki Drive to SH16 and create a new eastern gateway to the city centre. Complete with high-rise all along Stanley St, big enough to rival Wynyard Quarter. It's good thinking. But it's going to take 10 years to get that boulevard done and longer for the buildings to go up. It's a maybe one day.
The more important question is how to set up cheap, short-term, engaging trials, to make Access for Everyone in central Auckland real. The stakes are high.
Downtown Auckland has the worst air pollution in the country and, according to the council's planning chair, Chris Darby, it's also worse than in any city in North America. It kills people.
The central city also has one of the worst crash rates in the whole city. And, within a few years there will be eight times as many people walking around the downtown precinct. That will include 10,000 workers in the new Commercial Bay complex and double the number of rail commuters when the City Rail Link is finished in 2024.
The streets will have to cede car space to pedestrians because physically there will be no choice.
And there's climate change. How long before we stop using our own cars all the time: will it really take 20 years? Unless we take urgent steps, how long before downtown flooding is commonplace?
Now, it seems, there may be fewer cars in the central city by 2030, perhaps all non-essential vehicles gone by 2040. That's a slow track to change.
But the council also says it's on a fast track. It has declared a climate emergency and charged itself with urgent planning for large-scale disruption. By 2040, the central city is likely to have changed far more than envisaged in the Masterplan.
The slow track and the fast track contradict each other, and yet just in the past three weeks, the council has voted unanimously for them both.
The curious thing is that many of the best city planning brains in Auckland now work for, or on contract to, the council and its design office. But they've been put on the slow track.
Yes, it's important to build support for change, and that takes time. But we're stuck. We can't even resolve a little question like what to do with High St – because no one is prepared to commit to trials.
It's as if the City Centre Masterplan has been smothered with sludge: a deep inertia, emanating from deep inside council.
The problem is not the dwindling number of inner-city shopkeepers who still think their customers must be able to park outside the shop. It's council officials, hiding behind the positive rhetoric of the planners, who are stranding this city desperately short of the changes we need to make.
Job for the next mayor, right there. Enough with the empty words. Take a shovel to the sludge and make these plans happen.