One of the most exciting results in the Super City election was the makeup of the Waitemata Local Board. Those elected were Shale Chambers, Pippa Coom, Jesse Chalmers, Tricia Read, Christopher Dempsey, Rob Thomas and Greg Moyle. To summarise, there are five City Vision board members, one independent (Mr Thomas) and one Citizens & Ratepayers (Mr Moyle). Waitemata Local Board covers a critical part of central Auckland: the inner suburbs and the CBD. While it’s yet to be known exactly how much power will be given to the board, one would think that – along with the excellent Mike Lee as councillor – the elected representatives for the area will have a pretty strong say in what happens in this part of central Auckland.
And this is quite exciting, as a number of the board members are known cycling advocates and really do understand the benefits of making inner-cities more vibrant and interesting places. It seems highly likely that they would strongly support the expansion of the current shared streets programme while other exciting ideas – like pedestrianising parts of Quay Street (or even parts of Queen Street) may also have the local board’s strong support.
Next year’s Rugby World Cup provides a fantastic opportunity to trial options to “humanise the CBD” a bit more. I’ve often thought that it would be a great idea to close Queen Street off to traffic on weekend days, so why not trial something like that during the Rugby World Cup? With two main fan-zones being Queens Wharf and Aotea Square – wouldn’t it make good sense to link the two via a pedestrianised street that itself represented a giant fan zone: filled with stalls, markets, entertainers and the like. Similarly, with Queens Wharf being ‘Party Central’, it would be stupid to cut the place off from the rest of the city with a four-lane highway known as Quay Street.
The beauty of using the RWC as a trial for things like this is that people will have the opportunity to see how awesome Auckland will be with pedestrianised areas, but at the same time businesses aren’t freaked out that the changes will be permanent. A trial will give businesses the opportunity to see that they actually make money from pedestrians walking into their shops – rather than from cars that drive past. If for some amazingly unknown reason the concept doesn’t work, then it was just a trial after all and things can go back to normal – though I very much doubt that would be the case.
Settings aside the Rugby World Cup, my mind simply boggles at the possibilities of what we could achieve with this local board, and with Mike Lee as councillor for the area. There are so many opportunities to humanise the CBD, to make it a far more attractive place for the vast majority of people who walk and use public transport – even if that comes at a cost to the minority of people who do silly things like drive the length of Queen Street. So what are some ideas for humanising the CBD?
- As I noted above, the shared streets programme should prove to be a huge success, and the momentum that brings should be extended to more and more streets. High Street seems like such an obvious candidate to become a shared street, as the vast majority of its users are pedestrians and not motorists.
- We should take some inspiration from what New York City has done in Times Square, with a bit of what I call “fast and cheap pedestrianisation”. You don’t need to repave roads, you just put up some barriers, paint the asphalt an interesting colour and dump a heap of tables and chairs all over the road. Even if we did this to one block of Queen Street (between Shortland Street and Customs Street perhaps) it would liven the place up spectacularly. Buses could be rerouted to Albert Street without too many problems, or could be allowed through the area at slow speeds as the only vehicles.
- The CBD is currently a nightmare for cyclists. We could take inspriation from what Montreal has done with its cycle lanes – creating a dedicated path along a street like Hobson Street for cyclists, shielded from traffic and allowing two way flow.
- We could look at rehabilitating the entire western part of the CBD by turning our two defacto motorways: Hobson Street and Nelson Street, into two-way boulevards with planted medians. The aforementioned cyclelanes could even travel down the middle of the planted medians.
In my recent North American travels it was fascinating to note how many cities were taking steps to humanise their city centres. There seems to be a growing realisation that encouraging cars to your CBD by building hugely wide roads causes far more harm than it achieves good. Turning roadspace into ‘human space’ achieves two huge objectives: making the city centre a far nicer place to live, work and play (and generating all the economic benefits that accompanies such improvements) while also discouraging vehicle use in the CBD and therefore reducing all the noise, pollution and congestion they bring.
We have a fantastic opportunity to make Auckland’s CBD a great place, a fantastic opportunity to humanise it in ways that encourage people to visit, hang out and have a great time. I hope our new local board, and the new Council in general, makes the most of that opportunity.