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.

READ MORE:
Plans to pedestrianise Queen St and High St in downtown Auckland
No cars on Queen St: the new plan for the central city
Pedestrians the winners in Queen St makeover
Pedestrian hit by bus remains critical: Footage shows damage to Metrolink bus

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.

Advertisement

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.

AT asked for $600,000 of funding for the Queen St pilot in a pitch to the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board council meeting on May 27. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
AT asked for $600,000 of funding for the Queen St pilot in a pitch to the Auckland City Centre Advisory Board council meeting on May 27. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020

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.

Queen St Auckland showing the lanes that have been cordoned off following the coronavirus pandemic. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
Queen St Auckland showing the lanes that have been cordoned off following the coronavirus pandemic. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020

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."

Advertisement

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.

The Covid-19 social distancing barriers along Auckland CBD's Queen St are set to remain for a pedestrian pilot. June 11, 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
The Covid-19 social distancing barriers along Auckland CBD's Queen St are set to remain for a pedestrian pilot. June 11, 2020. Photo: NZ Herald
Several streets around Auckland had their footpaths makeshift widened using road cones during Covid-19 levels 2,3, and 4 including Queen St. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
Several streets around Auckland had their footpaths makeshift widened using road cones during Covid-19 levels 2,3, and 4 including Queen St. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020

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?'

The pedestrianisation pilot is expected to cover Queen Street between Mayoral Drive and Customs Street. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
The pedestrianisation pilot is expected to cover Queen Street between Mayoral Drive and Customs Street. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020

"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.

Advertisement

"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 St Access for Everyone Pilot will build upon the Covid-19 barriers, but was originally proposed in Auckland Council's City Centre Masterplan. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
The Queen St Access for Everyone Pilot will build upon the Covid-19 barriers, but was originally proposed in Auckland Council's City Centre Masterplan. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
Auckland Councillors and business associations have been working through a long-planned $1 million trial to make Queen St more pedestrian friendly. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
Auckland Councillors and business associations have been working through a long-planned $1 million trial to make Queen St more pedestrian friendly. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020

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.

Advertisement

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.

The Queen St barriers were originally installed with the idea of giving pedestrians more space to distance from others during the Covid-19 lockdown. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020
The Queen St barriers were originally installed with the idea of giving pedestrians more space to distance from others during the Covid-19 lockdown. NZ Herald photo by Alex Burton 12 June 2020