Auckland is living up to its reputation as the City of Cones by rolling out 17km of orange cones for pop-up cycleways on places likes Queen St to create extra space for social distancing.

The sudden appearance of the cones is being welcomed by pro-cycling advocates and politicians, but questioned by critics.

Heart of the City chief executive Vic Beck recognised the need for social distancing under level 3 but has big concerns about placing more cones in Queen St as the city centre reopens for retailers and business.

"We have to make the central city a conducive environment for trading and customers.

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"We have had significant patches coned off for a considerable period of time. We know the impact of that. It is not positive. I'm expecting a lot better," said Beck.

From last Thursday, Auckland Transport has been installing 17km of temporary cycleways and walkways on 20 roads and popular walkways to assist with safe physical distancing in level 3.

Cones have been placed in Queen St to ban cars. Photo / Supplied
Cones have been placed in Queen St to ban cars. Photo / Supplied

They include Ponsonby Rd, Oteha Valley Rd, Lonely Track Rd and Mangere, Otara and Manukau town centres, and removing carparks on the seaward side of Tamaki Drive between The Strand and St Heliers.

Today, AT said it was placing cones on Queen St to increase space for pedestrians and people on bikes and using public transport. Cars will be banned on Queen St between Customs and Shortland Sts. Cars will also be banned from continuing down Queen St from Mayoral Drive.

Over the next two weeks, similar changes will be applied further up Queen St as far as Mayoral Drive. AT said the cones could be replaced with things like planter boxes ahead of level 2.

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The changes would be monitored, said AT, and wouldn't say how long they'll be in place.

An AT spokesman said the extra space on the seaward side of Tamaki Drive means people out getting fresh air, whether on foot or wheels, can safely maintain social distancing.

Since the cycleway went in on Thursday evening, there had been an increase in people on bikes in the area - up 91 per cent along Tamaki Drive compared to the rolling 2020 average.

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"That equates to 3000 people a day and does not include those walking or running," said the spokesman.

He said AT chief executive Shane Ellison had made it very clear this is not a "trial" for permanent arrangements.

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter this month said the Government would support pilots and pop-ups to help people keep 2m apart after the level 4 lockdown is lifted.

Mayor Phil Goff said the Queen St measures would prioritise access for business traffic, emergency vehicles, public transport and access to private car parks.

Planning committee chairman Chris Darby. Photo / Herald
Planning committee chairman Chris Darby. Photo / Herald

Planning committee chairman Chris Darby said the changes will "build towards a more walk-friendly city centre throughout level 3 and beyond" and councillor Pippa Coom said it is "okay to be the City of Cones when it means extra space for safe walking and cycling under alert level 3".

Covid19.govt.nz: The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

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Orakei Local Board chairman Scott Milne said "the cycling pendulum is swinging too far and too fast," saying he had heard the trial could become permanent.

He said the makeshift lane on Tamaki Drive was poorly orchestrated, poorly communicated and poorly delivered and called for it to be discontinued.

Road cones have been put in place to make it safer for people to walk and cycle along Tamaki Drive in Kohimarama. Photo / Alex Burton
Road cones have been put in place to make it safer for people to walk and cycle along Tamaki Drive in Kohimarama. Photo / Alex Burton

It had not helped with social distancing because cyclists initially chose to ride on the road and although things had improved slightly "it did not achieve what it was trying to achieve", Milne said.

"People in the eastern suburbs and along Tamaki Drive have sorted themselves out with social distancing, including the cyclists. There is far less social distancing in our local supermarket."