It’s certainly a busy time at the moment for big long term planning documents in Auckland. As well as the much talked about “Auckland Spatial Plan”, Auckland Council has now released a discussion document on a “City Centre Master Plan.”
I have talked a bit about the Master Plan in the past – when it was in its earlier stages of formulation. But it’s probably worth discussing a bit more, and encouraging people to submit on the Master Plan, now that we have a full discussion document completed. Furthermore, the vast number of comments on a few posts I’ve written recent about pedestrians, shared spaces and the city centre would indicate to me that there’s a lot of public interest in making our city centre work better.
Auckland Council has some great sounding big picture objectives for the city centre – to be the real heart and soul of Auckland:
As well as all the normal things that everyone tends to agree on (like better heritage protection, taking advantage of the harbour location, improving friendliness for business and so forth) it seems to me that the fundamental change proposed by the Master Plan is that the city centre is for people.
This focus on improving the walkability of the city centre, making it a nicer place to be in as a pedestrian, rather than simply a place to pass through, it utterly critical in my opinion. As I noted a few days back, historically we have treated pedestrians like rubbish: designing intersections in ways that are likely to kill them, banning them from easily walking between the city and the Domain and so forth. It would seem as though the Council has finally got the message that if we want the city centre to be an attractive place for people to work, live and visit – then it needs to be nice to walk around:
One thing the Master Plan discussion document appears to acknowledge (although it could highlight it more clearly in my opinion) is that improving the pedestrian friendliness of the city centre will come at the cost of general vehicle capacity. To ensure the city centre has its accessibility and connectivity with the rest of Auckland maintained, let alone enhanced, it will be critical for these improvements to be matched by improving public transport. Obviously getting the CBD Rail Tunnel built is the utterly critical factor in enabling all this change to happen. Exciting to see both the idea of pedestrianising Queen Street and two-waying Nelson and Hobson Streets being proposed!
While the Master Plan discussion document is full of fantastic ideas, I think perhaps where it could be improved is taking a closer look at a large number of little things that could be done to help achieve its goals. Things like auditing all intersections to find out ways of improving life for pedestrians, or looking at temporary street closures over lunch periods or at weekends, or ways in which we can improve bus priority in the city centre to encourage people to catch public transport rather than driving.
I suppose that I worry if we have too many big and expensive ideas nothing will actually happen for a very long time. If we want to make Auckland’s city centre a much nicer place then we need to look at what can be achieved quickly, and at relatively low cost. Is it possible to redo Hobson and Nelson Streets without having to change around the kerb lines? If so, how much money does that save? Is it possible/desirable to pedestrianise Queen Street but not repave it for now?
I certainly know there’s always a warranted desire to do jobs “properly”, but quite frankly unless we’re all willing to pay a lot higher rates we need to look at some low-hanging fruit so that we might actually achieve something within the next few years. After all, one could argue that re-phasing the traffic lights along Queen Street did more to improve its pedestrian friendliness than the $40 million or so spent on repaving the street.