Auckland city's largest retail thoroughfare, Queen St, will remain one lane for the foreseeable future as council takes advantage of Covid-19 social distancing barriers to launch a pedestrianisation "pilot".
Meetings on Friday among Auckland councillors and business associations have been working through a long-planned $1 million trial to make Queen St more pedestrian-friendly and less accessible for cars.
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However, although the pilot had originally been intended for before March 2021, Auckland Transport (AT) is looking to "build on" footpath-widening barriers that are already dug into Queen St.
Several footpaths on streets around Auckland were widened using road cones during Covid-19 levels 2, 3 and 4, in which 2m social distancing was required, including Queen St, Ponsonby Rd and Tamaki Dr.
However, when angry residents protested the Ponsonby Rd barriers as, ironically, a major safety hazard to pedestrians, they were taken down mid-lockdown.
Tamaki Drive barriers were removed when New Zealand returned to level 1.
On Queen St, however, more permanent barriers have been screwed into the asphalt, and it seems they will remain even with social distancing abandoned in level 1.
AT asked for $600,000 for the Queen St pilot in a pitch to the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board council meeting on May 27.
The council agenda item Queen St would be pedestrianised between Mayoral Drive and Customs St.
"The scope and objectives of the pilot are still being confirmed, but will take the current Covid-19 emergency physical distancing arrangements as the starting point.
"The pilot will build upon the recently installed physical distancing areas put in as emergency works in response to Covid-19. It is therefore likely that the pilot will have been in place for some time ahead of the March 2021 deadline."
AT was asked to clarify just how long "some time ahead of the March 2021 deadline" actually was, and whether the Covid-19 barriers would be taken down and Queen St returned to normal, before pedestrianisation began.
On Friday an AT spokesperson said they had hoped to make an announcement but meetings about the pilot are still under way.
An announcement is expected in the "next week or so".
Automobile Association principle advisor Barney Irvine said the way the pedestrian trial has come about is "far from ideal" but the AA understood the logic of not tearing down the Covid-19 infrastructure to then replace it soon after.
"Ideally, with such an important issue, there'd be a whole lot of communication with the public in advance, and you certainly wouldn't do it in the middle of a global public health crisis," Irvine said.
"It's going to catch a lot of people by surprise, it's going to generate a lot of confusion, and it's going to lead to a lot of people asking: 'Do we really need to be doing this now?'
"Still, we're okay with a temporary trial going ahead – with all the Covid-19 infrastructure in place, there's a good opportunity to leave some of it there a bit longer and gather information.
"It'd be a bit of a waste to pull it all out now only to put it back in a few months later."
But Irvine stressed AA "wouldn't want to see any attempts to turn this trial into a permanent fixture".
The Queen Street Access for Everyone pilot has stemmed out of A4E concept of the City Centre Masterplan, which was adopted by Auckland Council's Planning Committee in March.
The plan is the "guiding document" for how Auckland's CBD will look and operate over the next 20 years.
It has the stated goals of "limiting motorised through traffic" in the CBD and "favouring public transport, walking and cycling".
AT's expectations for the Queen St pilot are reduced traffic, improved space and amenity for pedestrians, more reliable bus services, and maintained access for business operations and users with disabilities.
In addition to the $600,000 sought from Auckland Council to part-fund the Queen St pilot, AT is seeking funding from NZTA's $7m Innovating Streets contestable fund designed to create more "people-friendly spaces in our towns and cities".
It is understood Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter may make an announcement on extra NZTA funding for the Queen St pilot on Monday.