In the past the use of our streets wasn’t so defined as it is today. Sure there were footpaths however people, cars, trams and even horse drawn carts all had equal access to the road. The image below of Queen St in 1922 shows this well, after all can you imagine the reaction you would get today if a group of guys decided to stop for a chat in one of the traffic lanes on Queen St.
But over time we went from this and turned over as much of our streets as possible to the movement of cars. For the reason why, I believe the answer lies partly in human nature and partly in the saying “you can only manage what you can measure”. For the former the car is meant to represent freedom, the ability to go where you want and when you want so I doubt there is a single person who gets behind the wheel of a car and enjoys it when they held up as it goes against the very dream upon which cars were sold to us on.
As more and more people took to driving, there became increasing problems with congestion. In an attempt to solve that congestion traffic engineers looked at ways of increasing the amount of road space available, taking over road space that was once used by everyone and devoting it solely to the movement of vehicles. I believe that one of the key ways they were able to do this is because they realised how important it was to count traffic. The engineers were able to fairly accurately point out just how much traffic there was and how fast it was growing. Over time the movement of as many vehicles as possible became the most important aspect and justification for nibbling away at the pedestrian environment for which there was no such usage information.
But why was there no information about the pedestrian environment? I suspect there are two reasons. The first being that we forgot that a street isn’t just a place for movement from A to B but that it is a place for interaction and activity. In effect we took it for granted that we could change the quality of it but that the use of it would stay the same. We also didn’t have any way to measure the pedestrian use of a street. In fact up until recently the only way to really get a feeling for how many people using a street was to hire a whole bunch of people and have them manually count every single person. As you can imagine that isn’t a cheap proposition so it can only be done very infrequently which means counts are subject to issues like weather, special events or other influences.
Thankfully that is now starting to change. Just over a year ago, Heart of The City (HoTC) in conjunction with the Auckland Council started installing automatic pedestrian counters in various locations throughout the city. Here is the press release from the time.
We are excited to announce that we are taking real steps towards understanding how people use the Auckland City Centre at all times of the day with our new high tech counting equipment. The new 24/7 monitoring system charts pedestrian numbers and provides meaningful performance data to assist property owners and retailers and track the impact of events and other activities that occur in the city.
The previous ‘snapshot’ system provided data gathered on a Wednesday in mid-October every year – rain, hail or shine. Of course the weather, or road works or a cruise ship or even a blockbuster sale all had huge impacts on the results. but a lot can happen over a year in such a vibrant place like the City Centre, so getting better data was essential.
With this new technology, we now have automated pedestrian counts on a 24/7 basis, which enables us to better understand the pedestrian numbers at any time or day of the year, and compare current and long term trends in the City Centre.
Understanding pedestrian counts is also key determinant for setting rental values, as well assisting businesses in determining where they want to locate, and even their opening hours.
On Saturday 17 March when the city centre hosted both the Volvo Ocean Race and St Patrick’s Day celebration, pedestrian numbers at the bottom of Queen Street increased by 63% on the previous four Saturdays.
Four locations in the City Centre have the automated counting technology – three in Queen Street and one in High Street. The data is instantly sent back over the 3G network to a server at HOTCity offices, where ‘real time reports’ can be downloaded over the web at any time. Heart of the City members will be the first to see the counts.
One of the important ways of keeping a tab on a city centre’s progress is to monitor and report on pedestrian foot traffic. The system is already proving it’s worth and we hope, in partnership with others, to be able to expand the number of locations over time to cover the whole City Centre.
HoTC are able to get some very detailed data from these devices and since that press release have added three more sites to the network. They eventually intend to have 15 of them scattered around the city centre and they have been publishing a summary of the data collected on their website. The current locations are:
One of the things I like about the summary data provided is that HoTC show the average Weekday, Saturday, Sunday and Public Holiday counts which means that the numbers aren’t subject to the changes in the calendar like we have with the PT stats. Here are the average weekday pedestrian counts (excluding public holidays).
This shows quite nicely just how many more pedestrians are walking up and down Queen St every day compared to the other streets in the CBD. The numbers suggest that depending on which part of Queen St you look at, pedestrian volumes tend to range from 45,000-60,000 people per day. It is also surprising that Darby St seems to have better pedestrian volumes than High St – although admittedly it is compared to the worst end of High St. Unfortunately we can’t compare these Queen St pedestrian volumes with vehicle numbers as the last traffic count that I can find for it was done in 2004 which was before the upgrade which delivered significant improvements to pedestrian priority. Back then there were around 20,000 vehicles per day using the road but I suspect it is much less now.
Here are the volumes for Saturdays
And here are Sundays.
I have left out Public Holidays as they are obviously a bit more sporadic.
Overall this is a great development and I hope we eventually see more around not just the CBD but in other areas too. It’s just a shame that we didn’t have these counters sooner, how great would have been great to be able to see the impact that the various upgrades have had?
I have been keeping an eye on these numbers for a while and post them more regularly from on.