Designing a city centre that's easy to access while maintaining vital activity for those who live, work, play and visit is crucial for sustaining significant population growth over the coming years, says Auckland councillor Chris Darby.
Chairman of the council's Planning Committee, Darby says the council's 20-year vision is to create easier and less congested access to the city's heart while providing vibrant public areas.
At the heart of the council's vision is the Access for Everyone concept (A4E).
Darby says the concept, expected to be endorsed by the committee in March, presents a vision of the city centre that is more family-friendly, more pedestrian-friendly and more environmentally-friendly.
"We plan on freeing up public space to ensure pedestrians, people on bikes, buses and service vehicles can move easily and safely," Darby says.
A4E, itself part of the council's draft City Centre Masterplan (CCMP) refresh, has received strong support from the public with 82 per cent of those who provided feedback during a recent consultation period in favour.
Central to A4E is a plan to create car-free transit streets, low-traffic neighbourhoods and a new traffic circulation system through which private vehicles would access the city centre from roads (motorways and Mayoral Drive) on the city's edges.
"This means trips that aren't necessary, like those from east to west across the city would be managed differently," he says.
"Think of it as shifting the city from a 'drive-through' to a 'go-to' city centre; we are not preventing motorists from driving into the city, rather we are providing access in a different way.
"This concept puts people to the fore and will also enable easier access for emergency vehicles and those involved in services, construction, deliveries, rubbish removal and critical business trips.
"We don't have enough room to create another Albert Park. The only open space that beckons is the reallocation of street space. The tremendous public response reflects the fact that Aucklanders are ready and champing at the bit to have it done."
Darby says reducing non-vital traffic also makes the city centre environment more attractive for property owners and developers looking to invest there.
He says the first pilot for A4E has begun with work to widen footpaths along High Street.
"There will be fewer carparks along the street. At the moment the number of pedestrians is such that there is no space on the footpaths for people to stop and have a conversation or to look into shop windows; they are constantly being bustled off the footpath.
"High Street is about testing the idea and determining public feedback; it is also a concept that could be applied to other town centres across Auckland. We have the same challenge on Queen Street, and it is my personal ambition to see the idea applied along parts of it late this year."
Darby says the council is also aiming to create a Zero-Emissions Area (ZEA) in the city centre by 2030 – a goal he says is not negotiable.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck says as the city grows and becomes busier, there is a need to think about how the city centre can operate and function differently.
"There is still a lot of growth to come over the next 20 to 30 years and we can't keep on doing the same things, otherwise we'll become more and more crammed. Trialling the A4E concept is a way to test a transformative approach to accessing the city over time."
"It's important because expectations are changing too. People are looking at the city centre not just as a place to come to work or to shop, but as a place to live and spend leisure time. A4E is a way of creating space so people enjoy being here whilst still ensuring critical access is maintained for business."
The A4E concept is based on examples being implemented in other cities around the world, such as Barcelona in Spain.