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.
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.