In theory, I really like High Street in downtown Auckland. It has a great collection of shops (even though most of them sell products far too expensive for me to ever consider wandering into them), it has character with the collection of buildings, it is a bustling pedestrian environment and it always feels nice and vibrant. However, it also generally feels very cramped for a pedestrian. You can sort of see what I mean by looking at the Google Streetview image below: Because of the lane of traffic and the two lines of parked cars, there’s actually very little space left for pedestrians. Yet if one wanders along High Street at most hours of the day – particularly around lunch time – the number of pedestrians must outnumber the number of people driving in cars by at least a factor of 10. It just seems, unfair I suppose, for so much of the space to be dedicated to cars and so little of the streetscape to be dedicated to pedestrians.

The excellent “Eye on Auckland” blog also has similar thoughts about High Street – as something of a lost opportunity to become Auckland’s true prime high-class retail street:

High Street must be pedestrianised.

The Auckland Council is currently converting certain downtown streets into shared spaces, which is all fair and well, but cars are still taking advantage of the situation (even in shared spaces such as Darby Street). We want the city council to convert one of our most attractive and under-utilised spaces into a pedestrian only zone. High Street is currently one of the most unattractive places for people to walk and spend time in, the pavements are barely a meter wide in some places and 90% of the street is used by trades-people and for parking.

High Street has the potential to be the most sought after street for people to mingle, shop and play in but as it stands people find it extremely uncomfortable to walk and people don’t want to hang around there. As a result the shops and restaurants are suffering.

Eye on Auckland’s vision for High Street is incredibly appealing – with the images below showing a “before” and “after” comparison: A High Street that looks like the lower image would surely become the premier retail strip in all of Auckland. The simple fact that pedestrians would have far more room, not need to dodge each other would be encouraged to linger in the area would surely boost foot-traffic enormously and therefore boost sales for the various stores.

I guess one problem with the vision above is that it’s unlikely to be something that could be implemented cheaply. And, unfortunately, High Street was “upgraded” (new pavement but little else) a few years ago, which means it’s probably relatively near the bottom of the list for further upgrades in the near future. I also worry that the retailers would be short-sighted and not see the potential in what’s shown above – rather sticking to their suburban mindset that people need to park in front of the shop they’re visiting.

But maybe there is a way through the difficult situation. What if we can come up with relatively inexpensive ways to pedestrianise High Street, at least for some of the time? What if we can convince the retailers that it’s in their best interests to promote pedestrianisation (but how would we do that)? Those are tough challenges, but surely not impossible to overcome, I think.

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29 comments

  1. High St definitely needs some pedestrian improvements and at least converting it to a shared space would be a good start.

    1. I think a lot of them would allready be onside. I read somewhere that they are, they understand that there street is mostly used as a tradespeople’s parking lot, meaning extremly few of there custermers parked on the street. Im not sure how high street attracts so many tradespeoples vans, They all seem to have AT parking passes, I assume many stay all day.

  2. I agree it should be mostly pedestrianised. At the top end of High Street there is the loading dock to the Metropolis complex, and the exits from the (Council) Victoria St Car-Park. So a pedestrianised lower High St, and shared space upper High St might be a plan.

  3. Completely agree – lower High Street should be pedestrianised, just leave the upper bit a shared space so cars can exit the car-park. Queen Street could also be done, so long as we figure out what to do with the buses – maybe just leave a bus only lane through the middle?

    1. Stu, like Bourke and Collins in Melbourne, Queen should be a shared street for public transit and pedestrians. Buses until we upgrade to trams. The latest plan for inner city buses removes a lot of them from Queen anyway, but the ones that remain would actually work with the pointless cars removed. At the moment I walk the whole length of queen to get the bus after Mayoral drive as it is quicker and less frustrating than sitting in a bus stuck in traffic.

  4. Just pedestrianise the whole thing the Metropolis can be restricted to before 11am for all deliveries and you can move the exits to the council carpark to Victoria Street. Incidentally I have observed a lot more people walking along the road on High Street. This is something I have taken to, particularly at lunch time.

  5. That is a great improvement! I especially like the levitating parking sign on the right hand side of the after picture.

    Does the narrowness of the street make it a bit of a canyon no matter what you do? It isn’t the sunniest of streets. Would it make more sense to remove the parking from High Street and then use it for buses, while pedestrianising Queen Street completely without any buses? Queen Street is wider and has a better feeling of light and space.

  6. How about starting off by going halfway – taking out the parking spaces on one side. This would dramatically increase pedestrian space, while retaining some vehicle access. If that works, then we have a good case for going further.

    I had the misfortune to drive through the incomplete Fort St the other day. It was terrifying as a driver, because you never know when or where pedestrians are. Even at a very low speed, you’re still scared of running them over. The finished product may produce a safer experience – hopefully!

  7. Does the narrowness of the street make it a bit of a canyon no matter what you do?

    High Street ‘works’. It has good retail traffic and solid businesses because of its comfortable scale, like a smaller Lambton Quay. Queen St is the vast dark canyon in the midst of the city.

    1. High Street is more like Cuba Mall and Queen Street is more like the Lambton Quay, Willis Street, Manners Street axis in Wellington. Besides Queen Street isn’t dark at all. I really think they need to pedestrianise High Street and Queen Street. Boulevard Albert Street, Hobson Street and Nelson Street and at least reduce Quay Street down to two lanes (one each way).

      1. That’s ridiculous. Auckland’s closest equivalent of Cuba Mall is K’ Road. High Street would be… I dunno, Chews Lane?

  8. I’m currently on holiday in Bordeaux where pedestrian and restricted shared spaces rule and the city is fantastic. So from me it’s an emphatic YES!

    Vehicles are not allowed to enter the pedestrian areas after 11am without a pass that will lower the rising bollards, just as James B has suggested.

    But one thing I’ve seen here, you need a good mass people-mover to support a majority pedestrianised CBD. Most of inner Bordeaux is pedestrianised, and it is supported by an excellent light rail system.

    Here they did it almost all at once, rather than Auckland’s timid step by step approach, but hopefully we’ll get there in the end.

  9. Absolutely pedestrianise lower High St from Hotel de Bretts to the Metropolis Hotel. It will create a brilliant pedestrian precinct connecting the Chancery shops, Freyburg Square, High St and Vulcan Lane.

    It shouldn’t be to hard to get the local retailers onside and a few trial weeks using temporary bollards should provide the proof for any doubters.

  10. Interestingly, because of the canyon like nature of the street and the number of cars that idle on it (mainly service vehicles) High Street also has almost as bad air quality as Queen Street.

    I do like the idea of pedestrianizing but I really hate the way we are cutting off the whole CBD to cyclists as well as cars. It would need a cycle lane down the middle in my opinion.

    1. I can (professionally) vouch for the air quality problem – it’s WORSE than Queen Street (bacause of its narrowness). Amazing how a few people driving a tiny number of vehicles – nearly all of which I’m convinced don’t need to be there – can disproportionately ruin an environment experienced by thousands.

  11. TOTALLY TOTALLY agree. This is one of those low-cost/high-impact micro-changes we’re always looking for – probably one of the best. A tiny change (bollards? barrier? remove parking?) that could lead to a massive improvement in the CBD and a huge boost for business, never mind the persuasive impact on the ‘hearts & minds’ of the uncoverted and ambivalent.

  12. I am in favour, thinking of Cuba St, Manners St etc. We don’t need to have cars in both Queen St and High St and the adjunct of High St to Chancery and Albert Park makes it an interesting space to pedestrianise, whether all or in part. The second diagram of how it could be, looks great. I agree with Lucy – a space for cyclists and skateboarders should be marked out.

      1. I agree with Patrick, I wouldn’t want to ban cyclists, but I would like them to feel un-welcome enough they nose through the crowds at slow speed. The whole point of removing cars is to allow pedestrians freedom to roam through the entire space with no need to check for high speed cars, bikes, and boarders.

        Marked out cycle lanes on foot paths are readily ignored in NZ, almost to a point where it not worth the effort of marking them.

        In addition I dislike signage/road marking clutter. I want it to look as non (car) road like as possible.

  13. “you need a good mass people-mover to support a majority pedestrianised CBD. ”

    Its easy to forget when walking around the CBD that all those cars actually only represent a shrinking minority of those who use the city. Their footprint highlights just how space hungry private vehicles are. Most people use public transport, which would have plenty of space if we reduced the number of cars (or if petrol prices reduce the number of cars!)

    The CBD isnt actually quite as dependent on cars as it looks – its a long way from where it was 15 years ago, and I think we can get a way with squeezing cars out of a few more places yet

  14. @ Patrick. The thing is in my experience shared spaces don’t actually work well for cyclists. First, they’re often cobbled which really sucks to ride over (especially for men, so my boyfriend tells me 🙂 and is very slow going. If we want people to actually use bikes to get around (not just for a lazy dawdle) then they have to be able to move reasonably quickly through our CBD. You can say we should only have people walking through our CBD but it’s a sprawling area and getting bigger. Personally I find it hard ot imagine that many people will ever want to park their bike at the edges of a pedestrianized CBD and do a 30 minute walk from Aotea Square to the Tank Farm to get wher ethey’re going.

    Second, as soon as you create a space where there is no marked cycle way and there are lots of pedestrians then people resent the presence of cyclists. They yell at you and tell you to get off your bike and get a bell. And it gets very hard not to hit them so you have to go very slowly (see previous comment about commuting). This pisses you off as a cyclist and is a recipe for accidents.

    Drawing a skinny line down the imddle of the road for cyclists and skateboarders wouldn’t kill this as a space for pedestrians. Cyclists are silent, they don’t create air pollution, and they take up much less room than cars. why not make the CBD welcoming to them like we do for cars or pedestrians?

    1. Lucy I still don’t think High St would benefit from having a cycle lane and nor is it necessary…. Queen St would be the place, next to the tram lines!

  15. @LucyJH – A shared space with a cycle lane is not a shared space at all. Shared spaces need to be relaxing where you don’t need to look out for cyclists or keep off a marked strip.
    Cyclists can just stand on their pedals when going over cobbled paths, and the only way that you can hit a pedestrian, is if you cant ride a bike.

  16. I would love to see High St become pedestrian only! In many ways I would like to see all of the CBD car-free. I agree that there need to be dedicated cycle lanes, but I think that there should be lanes for fast-moving bike traffic along Queen St, and down streets like Shortland St, but that High St and O’Connell St there shouldn’t be anybody trying to cycle or skate quickly, it’s too dangerous. People often don’t hear bikes, and hopefully when people aren’t allowed to smoke in the streets anymore there will be a lot more small children able to enjoy the city again….ever since the law changed the air quality of the cbd became carcinogenic. I can’t enjoy the city with my little babies, and it makes me angry. They love going to art galleries and the wonderful central library, but we have to go in, and get out straight away without taking our time, it’s really disgusting actually. If people want to smoke they should do so where it doesn’t interfere with everyone else.

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