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A tale of two streets

A few days ago I was walking though the city and thinking of just how different the two neighbouring streets of O’Connell and High St’s are, so I grabbed a few quick photos.

So, here’s what O’Connell St looked like.

By comparison, this is what High St looked like.

I certainly know which one I’d rather walk and shop on.

The works by the council to upgrade Freyberg Square have resulted in O’Connell St being temporarily closed to cars. The council and businesses have responded by putting out tables and chairs for some temporary activation. As this photo by Kent the other day shows, it has been popular with people.

Further, recently one of the longstanding opponents to upgrading High St has moved closed. As I said in the tweet, perhaps it’s time to re-evaluate the plans for High St? If we don’t, the only iconic thing that High St will be left as being known for is being stuck in the past while the rest of the city moves on

61 comments to A tale of two streets

  • Arum1i

    I wonder how vital cars are for those streets. Having people in deck chairs and lounging looks a lot better. I can understand the need for emergency vehicles and deliveries. But is carparking necessary, especially post CRL ?
    With more apartments in the CBD is attracting foot traffic now more important ?

    My gut feeling is there several streets in the city that could be closed ( and one or two in Newmarket). Foot traffic and bicycles must result unless wear and tear than cars and trucks. Plus make the environment nicer (less fumes and perhaps noise ( or change the noise profile). A few trees would be nice for shade.

    But is this just a dream to have a pedestrian friendly CBD? Post 2025 would there be any point trying to drive within the CBD due to congestion?

    • Buttwizard69420

      They simply are not. It will be plenty wide for any delivery vehicles once it is pedestrianised and the car parking is gone. I know it’s not a great use of Council land but having Council buildings with car parks is a good excuse to start reclaiming the bits of the city that don’t need vehicles in them. High Street being a case in point because there is literally a council car park on the other end of the block. Just get it done already, and then move onto Queen Street.

  • Emergency and delivery vehicles have greater access to shared streets than to streets clogged with cars, like High St now. No need to even wait for the CRL, as already 20 trains per hour arrive at Britomart, a short walk from High St, each one capable of containing the same number of people as the whole Victoria St carpark does in a day. And in practice they are often that full. And there are also buses, ferries, bikes, and of course the many carparking buildings in the area that make the car parking on High St an entire irrelevance as a source of customers for retailers, whatever nonsense they choose to believe.

    Having the street appealing to customers is the greatest value they can gain from the city, as well as keeping it clear of lazy drivers so their deliveries can get through more efficiently.

  • Pol

    High St, especially closer to the intersection with the two major streets at either end (Shortland and Victoria), is quite dangerous for pedestrians. The footpath is narrow and the amount of foot traffic is high. The sooner is is mixed/pedestrianized, the better.

  • Tim S

    What other businesses are opposed to upgrading High Street? And does anyone know what their reasons are, and why they are so powerful at influencing Council’s moves to upgrade and remove cars?

    • Well the opponent in chief has now gone. There are a couple of others, but none as obsessed. The argument is without merit; it is simply that they claim to run auto-dependent businesses, and without on street parking outside their shops their business will suffer. This view does not stand objective analysis. Both mathematically and empirically (research) the majority, or even a significant number, of their customers cannot be parked on High St. Furthermore if their businesses are really critically dependent on drivers parking so close then surely they are in exactly the worst location possible in the whole city. Suburban malls with ample free parking on big arterials and motorways simply cannot be competed with for vehicle dependent customs by heart of the city located businesses. What city locations offer is huge amounts of people walking to shops having arrived by every possible means, including already living in the city, and by private vehicle, but these are mostly in parking buildings. Perhaps this move shows this is now in some way understood?

      All shoppers value vehicle free environments to shop and eat and drink and socialise (‘walkability’), and, perhaps ironically, that is exactly what auto-focussed malls also provide and understand the value of.

      Your last question can be explained by the idea of ‘stakeholders’ which could be argued to gives too much power over the whole public realm to small local groups, and even smaller vocal sub-groups, as in this instance. There is a suggestion by some that those with the economic power in an area should have this influence, but even if true it is misplaced in this instance because surely the most important economic force here is the customer, not the shopkeeper. And the customer, the citizen, is very clear about what they want; more O’Connell St and less High St.

      Only a matter of time now surely. Especially as the economic value of place quality over vehicle priority is daily becoming more and more evident.

      The plan, surely, one that entirely supports AT’s Light Rail plans, in fact ought to precede it:
      http://transportblog.co.nz/2015/02/16/downtown-shared-streets-complete-the-network/

      • Jeff T

        Workshop still has other branches that are open. Maybe it says there are other locations that are better suited to on-street parking than this one.

        Still at least one other staunch opponent of shared spaces in the form of a very well dressed man.

        I agree with Patrick that the customer is the most important stakeholder because that is the person doing the buying. Maybe a survey down High Street to see whether, when they have purchased, customers have walked or parked on High Street. Get the shops to conduct it. It would be good information for them and would take away the subjectivism from the debate. Then decisions can be made on what’s actually happening rather than opinion. Although, I would’ve thought this has already occurred.

        • This has been done by Council. Not sure if results are in the public domain though?

          • Nick R

            Yes, I remember reading the report. IIRC it was something like 4% of people shopping on High St parked on High St? Most walked in from parking in a parking building or elsewhere, or catching public transport. This is simply logical, far more people on the street (and in town) that could ever park there.

            If there is one common theme of these intercept surveys, it’s that shop owners all across the city have a poor idea of how their customers actually get to their shop.

          • Sacha

            4% = 1 in every 25 people. Why has Council deferred to these suity tenants for so long? Seriously, do they have some sort of personal suasion we’re not being told about?

          • Jeff T

            So if the evidence is there from the survey primary data what argument do the retailers have, or why does their argument hold sway?

          • Nick R

            The retailers main argument is that they need the street parking as a ‘loss leader’, where the promise of a park out front is needed to attract shoppers in the first place, even if they subsequently actually need to park in a building or elswhere because the street parking is very low capacity and always full.

            It seems spurious, they are effectively saying their business relies on their clients being both stupid and subborn, so they continue to believe the myth of a park out front even though it never happens!

            The reason such stuff holds sway is that it isn’t hard to cause a lot of bother, especially if they start complaining to councillors and politicians about “unelected council mandarins being anti business or pushing their own agendas against the wishes of the local community” etc. Consider skypath, how three individuals have cost in time and budgets about the equivalent of the whole cost of the project.

            The amount of time council and AT officers have to spend dealing with individuals who are wrong but opinionated is scandalous. One angry person can literally consume all the budget and resources of a project for weeks. So in some cases it is better to stop fighting and move on, like they did with O’Connell St when High St became too prickly.

            Of course this goes both ways, sometimes the council or government make a bad call and public pressure improves the outcome. A “cost of doing business” perhaps?

        • I’m really conflicted about Workshop. I have admired and worn their clothes for decades, literally, I know the owners and have occasionally worked with them, and I remember when they were among the very few retailers to keep the faith in the inner city during the darkest days of the flight to the suburbs; their first shop was called Streetlife after all! And it was in Swanson St when it was still a great urban like little street with multi-storey Victorian and Edwardian buildings hard up against the steep footpaths, like somewhere in Europe. They had a cool neon and shared that street with the other few truly urban actors left in the hollowed-out city centre. All demolished now, I wish I had taken a shot of this- what was I doing?

          They not only survived but prospered from those beginnings with branches in Wellington, Christchurch and Australia, expanded their own labels. Somehow over the years though their initial urbanism seems to have spread with middle age into a militant suburbanism, which I suppose is quite natural in individuals with families etc, moving out of the inner city lofts of their youth and into the space and convenience of the burbs. So perhaps it’s fitting that they are letting go of their truly city store and focussing on the two inner suburb stores in Ponsonby and Newmarket; well healed inner suburbs. Perhaps this suits their brand and market better now, I don’t pretend to know.

          What I do do know is that that site on the corner of High and Vulcan is fantastic; perfectly placed to capture the city’s highest ped count which consistently occurs on Queen at Vulcan lane. I don’t know what’s coming there; I’m hoping for a bar or cafe, very keen to sit there and witness the city going by… you can just feel that part of town morphing as inner cities always do, it’s a great hospo location, I love the afternoon sun shuddering down Vulcan Lane between the towers on Queen; especially in Autumn and Winter… part of the city I really love, but is due for re-birth…

        • vuwcu

          The irony is, that had they supported getting rid of cars in High St, maybe they would have had enough customers to stay open…

      • dr

        There was an article a couple of weeks back about Tony’s on Lorne Street closing – the owner blamed the council for making parking too hard.Oddly, though, Tony’s would be empty while the adjacent cafe’s and restaurants were packed. Perhaps only car drivers eat steak, but they were ultimately serving a non-existent market and failed to adapt. If high street retailers do not cater to locals and those on foot they will suffer the same fate.

        High street could be fixed tomorrow with planters across Fields Lane, Jean Batton, Queen at Shortland and High Street and Victora Street carpark. Only council weakness prevents it, there is an appalling lack of courage and will for change in the city.

        • Tony’s is a microcosm for High St. It simply hasn’t changed it’s business model in 30 years while the city has drastically evolved around it. Steaks and red wine are no longer exotic or high class, and there are many, many, alternatives for haute cuisine all over the CBD.

          It’s not the parking, how exactly has the council made it harder to park near Lorne St that always? Still got street parking up both sides, still surrounded by parking buildings.

          Nope, squarely Tony’s fault. Their sheer bloodymindedness of ignoring the square upgrade and keeping shut up inside is telling. Their competitors busted open their walls and spill out onto the square. Tony hides behind dark curtains and only opens the door to the square to take the bins out.

          I look forward to an amazing new restaurant going in and really taking advantage of the context, I’m sure it will happen.

          • Jeff T

            I’m impressed Tony’s has been there so long. Not a steak guy myself but it’s almost heritage that is going.

          • Jeff T

            These guys need to make sure their business models are correct. I don’t want to see these busunesses lost to the community because of stubborness.

        • Compare Tonys on High St with Tonys on Wellesley where they have CRL development occurring at their front door.. Tonys Wellesley St has responded by offering a $10 lunch on week days and on many days it is impossible to get a table. One business moving with the times and one not.

        • Apparently increased rent was a bigger factor. High rents are killing a lot of hospo as the increases are not linked to more revenue but just higher prices being paid for commercial buildings. Then the landlord needs to realise higher rents to justify the price they paid.

          • Jeff T

            I didn’t realise a lot of those retail buildings on High Street were changing hands. If they haven’t then it’s landlords taking advantage of the market and bumping their rents up, and hey presto, untenanted buildings.

  • KLK

    The shared streets really have changed the character of the CBD. I was thinking about this the other day as I walked around them. They fit perfectly with the “spine” of Queen St. High St could be even better that O’Connell.

    The potential of a pedestrian only square outside Britomart is exciting too. The works across the road have meant no cars or buses, streams of people walking in all directions across the Square and there are even deck chairs people have been making use of. Would be nice if they eventually grassed it.

  • Logan

    I wish there were more traffic-calming measures on O’Connell and Elliot Streets; elements that created de-facto chicanes and reduced visibility would lower speed, and humps/raised areas at each end would signal to drivers that they’re not in a regular road setting anymore.
    Right now, cars show great willingness to travel down both streets at speed. You can’t educate everyone, but you can restrict rapid movement.

    • Ari

      Pedestrians ambling around are great at traffic calming. If there arent enough pedestrians, then it shouldnt really have become a shared space in the first place.
      Anything else sticking in the middle of the road will keep getting knocked over and repaired all the time.

      • Sacha

        Overseas shared spaces routinely have street furniture and trees towards the centre to force vehicles to not drive in straight lines.

        • Damian

          Auckland shared space design keeps “accessible zones” (ie footpaths) along the building edges – this was required by mobility impaired advocacy groups who wanted zones where the design would still prevent cars. However, this also means that there is little space left on the typical street to place street furniture in the middle or deviate the cars sideways…

          • Sacha

            Another ill-informed trade-off process unfortunately, skewed in favour of the needs of only a small subset of disabled people who historically prevail. Good on Council for thinking of accessibility in these projects, but the process was subject to broader strategic weaknesses which still exist.

    • Nick R

      I say bollard off the top of O’Connell St. If people genuinely need to drive in for servicing or deliveries or whatever, they can go in and out the same way. Otherwise, no through traffic.

    • Jeff T

      How on earth are people coping with O’Connell closed off to traffic? Life goes on. Leave it closed off once the Freyburg work is completed.

    • Sacha

      Reversing the traffic direction in both cases would make up for the design errors introduced into these projects. Shared spaces are not meant to be straight symmetrical paved avenues.

  • Kelvin

    Council should take this as an opportunity and restart a new consultation of shared space high street.

    Also give business some incentives:
    For example hospitality can put up outdoor dinning table and chairs freely.
    For retail they could put up outdoor goods display freely.

    • Sacha

      Council and its agencies need to get significantly better at framing such decisions as trade-offs between current residents/retailers and all current and future citizens who may value the space in a variety of ways. Giving the views of a few ignorant nimbys more weight is abrogating a core responsibility of local authorities.

    • HSB1 Alumnus

      Private use of public space? So then I can also maybe store all the goods for my business on local berms – after all, I don’t need to rent it?

      • Yes, if like those restaurants you negotiate an access agreement consistent with council policy, have it approved, and pay rent on the space. Although I’m sure you wouldn’t be approved because your use of public space wouldn’t offer anything to the public.

        The thing you seem to be missing is that restauranteurs don’t make money from having tables in the street. They make money by selling goods (food and drinks) and services (being served in a pleasant environment) to people, i.e the public, who want to sit in the street. Just having the tables on public land doesn’t generate revenue, it’s serving the public that does.

        If the public don’t value the services the restauranteur doesn’t make a living.

  • Alex

    I was walking down lower queens street today and the atmosphere was just amazing. people were just relaxing, chatting, having lunch where it used to be full of buses. The people there were mixed from people with suits to casual dress to children and their parents, to teenagers and their mates. Closing a street and making them for pedestrian friendly brings people together and is what makes a city better for everyone.

  • Kevin

    O’Connell is the most successful of the shared spaces IMO but even Elliot has progressed markedly. All they need to do now is enforce the no parking restrictions.

    Pedestrians are used to them now and commonly walk abreast down the middle to catch the sun

    • Jeff T

      Elliot’s my favourite but could also do without the parking – use a parking building – and the rat runners. Getting rid of that parking in the empty lot at the end would make a big difference.

      • kelvin

        There are often long queue of cars waiting to turn into victoria street. However the engines are idling and have emission such as fume and noise. This really affected the people there waiting for food and resting.

    • Sacha

      “Pedestrians are used to them now and commonly walk abreast down the middle to catch the sun”

      Cool. How do drivers react?

      • Elliot St – a bit more chilled – probably due to the high volume of pedestrians.
        Fort St – car drivers react aggressively. Honking and sometimes deliberately driving by very close at speed. A long straight wide thoroughfare – designed for speed, so that’s what you get.
        It took several weeks of me complaining to AT to get a (small) no-exit sign reinstated at the Customs St End of Fort street, after the much larger sign was bowled. They just didn’t seem to care that vehicles were heading straight out into oncoming traffic, and endangering pedestrians as well. Drivers quickly learnt the no exit sign had gone.
        There doesn’t appear to have been any attempt to educate drivers about who has priority in shared spaces.
        The signs deliberately don’t explain it either.

        • Tim S

          Council’s own website says that in shared spaces, pedestrians have right of way. They need to put up signs saying exactly that, and then maybe cars wouldn’t harangue the pedestrians as much (or just wishful thinking maybe).

  • The Real Matthew

    Indeed it is the tale of two streets.

    O’Connell St is a vacant space, unused, void of activity.

    By comparison High St has more people in it and is such a successful use of space traffic congestion has been created. No wonder High St retailiers want to keep their road.

    Whilst the hipsters will wax lyrical about mono-modal O’Connell St in the photo’s supplied above it’s multi-modal High Street that wins the battle. Internationally the backlash against hipsters has begun. Hipsters are being chased out of Melbourne suburbs and emigrated out of Germany. It is only a matter of time before a backlash unfolds here in Auckland and for the sake of the future of Auckland the sooner the better.

    • Nick R

      Vacant? How do you interpret that?

      In the first two photos its hard to see whats happening in the distance, but both streets seem to have the same amount of people in the frame. About ten or twelve each. In the second photo of OConnell St there are 27 people in the frame by my count (including a pair of legs and a shoulder to one side). I would say that 27 people, people shopping, eating and enjoying themselves, in a 60m stretch of street is the polar opposite of vacant. Another view from the same tweets here, seems to show an anything but vacant street. 35 people by my count: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/C1b1tP4UcAA0KwE.jpg:large

      Sure High St is blocked up more with parked cars and scaffolding, but I’m not sure if an abundance of parked cars is the sign of a successful use of space. If so downtown Detroit would be the most successful space in the world.

      I know it’s easy to dismiss things as some ‘hipster’ movement or whatever, very to easy to make up a bogeyman other and blame that supposed movement for all the things you don’t like.
      But if you bother to head down to O’Connell St you’ll see it is inhabited and enjoyed by exactly who you would expect, the people that work and live nearby, and a lot of others who are newly attracted there. Many of those are couples with children by my observation, which is interesting. Perhaps they do want their kids to play in the street after all. And not many hipsters work in the legal district as it happens.

    • Nonsense Matt; a street full of cars always looks full, that doesn’t mean it is doing business. O’Connell was had empty retail tenancies until the upgrade; these are tenanted now and all are doing more business than before. There is plenty of real data on the business impacts of the shared streets in AKL and the news is all good; whatever your ‘reckons’ are from looking at a couple of shots.

    • ” Internationally the backlash against hipsters has begun. Hipsters are being chased out of Melbourne suburbs and emigrated out of Germany. ”

      You talk about ‘hipsters’ like a neo-fascist talks about their least favourite ethnic group. But that’s what right-wing politics boils down to, really – “identity politics” for stale, pale, white mailes.

      • Jeff T

        Does he think only people that like this ‘hipster’ fashion trend like shared spaces? Maybe now that Trump is in power he thinks it gives him the right to denigrate others. Sad and pathetic.

      • HSB1 Alumnus

        Well, I voted for Progressives (Anderton) the last few elections, and I hate hipsters too.
        Hipsters and their bourgeois cousins want to have both capitalism and socialism and don’t understand the inherent contradictions. They support progressive causes like public transport but then support private businesses taking over public land. They don’t support higher taxes for greater social services. They constantly support capitalism by dining at or working for small enterprises – in many cases, where the gross profit margin is ridiculous (i.e profiting from the sweat of their workers)
        If hipsters want to take their place alongside the legions of the left they can stop working at cafes and restaurants and start working 12 hour factory shifts. Otherwise they will be seen for what they are: rightists

        • Nick R

          It took me a while here to realize you weren’t being sarcastic.

          What makes you think hipsters, or anyone for that matter, want to line up behind you and Polt Pot for bragging rights on who can lower their standard of living the most? If aspiring to not working twelve hour shifts in a factory is what you call rightist the so be it, you can keep your legions.

          Oh and you’ve clearly never been in the restaurant business if you think they make ridiculous profit margins!

    • That must be lowest quality trolling I ever seen.

      We used to get really high quality trolling from people like mfwic and Ricardo. Now we are just left with this. Sad.

  • HSB1 Alumnus

    I don’t understand why we allow private businesses to utilise public spaces (roads/streets)
    I’m sure TB opposes businesses using footpaths to park on (e.g. that big car yards up in Ponsonby) so surely you also oppose this sort of thing?

    Public spaces are for the PUBLIC not for the enrichment of the restaurant owner

    • Nick R

      Erm, are you seriously questioning private businesses using streets?

    • Stu Donovan

      unless I’m missing something, your argument seems to rest very heavily on a questionable, if not outright false, dichotomy.

      Consider this: Whenever someone stands in one spot, they are effectively “privatising” that space. Similarly for the use of public roads by private vehicles: Public space is being temporarily occupied to benefit private ends. Restaurants putting chairs out on the street is — from where I’m sitting — no different from a courier company delivering parcels. They are both undertaking business activities which effectively result in the privatization of public space.

      My suggestion is that this is not in itself bad, and that the challenge for policy-makers is to find an appropriate balance when different private agents are vying for the same space. In the case of shared streets, policy has determined that the balance should tilt away from private vehicle owners and more towards private business owners. No more, no less.

  • Anna A

    Some of our existing shared spaces could be improved. I regularly ride along Fort St Customs St, then up into Jean Batten. There are loads of cars (driving fast) on Fort Street, using it as a rat run to Queen Street. Pedestrianizing Queen Street would be great for solving that. If that doesn’t happen they should install the movable bollards or some kind of entry prevention system, that people can swipe into if they have a carpark or a reason for being there. Jean Batten is always full of white vans, it’s quite scary to ride up actually. Cyclists are allowed to go against the flow of the traffic, but there is often no-where for them to go if they meat oncoming cars as the sides are full of white vans full of tradesmen. This is an issue for pedestrians and cyclists who end up crammed into a tiny space. Not sure what can be done, but a 5 minute time zone may help.

    • Yes. The key to improving the balance and mix on the existing shared streets is to complete the network ( just like Transit and cycling!) particularly the long overdue upgrading Queen St into the Transit/Active street it needs to be. There will be no rat running when there are no cars on Queen and lower Shortland. There will still be delivery and trade vehicles, of course, but not the rat runners.

      Then of course bike users will have to slow down too, as they will largely be the fastest and most dangerous vehicles! What a happy day.

  • Sailor Boy

    With regards to improving Fort Street, why doesn’t the council close off the Queen Street intersection all together? That gets traffic off Queen Street and makes Fort Street much less useful as a rat-run.

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