In late November, the council voted to proceed with investigating a plan that would reshape the city centre to focus on pedestrians rather than cars. One especially exciting development was the addition of the following motions, at the behest of councilors:
c) endorse the use of trials and “tactical urbanism” initiatives in order to test and consult on the initiatives in clause b) ii) and iii) above
d) request staff to trial an “open streets” initiative in the City Centre and work with interested Local Boards to trial it in other centres
We have many ideas about how where these trials could take place and it is great to see a trial of High Street proceeding yesterday, as part of the “Late Night Christmas” street festival, thanks to Heart of the City. However, one particularly important and urgent trial is the closure of Queen Street for New Years Eve celebrations.
Traditionally Auckland has been quiet around the New Years period, with many people leaving for baches and camping holidays around the rest of the country. This may be true for some people, however it is far from true for everyone. Many people that stay in Auckland, as well as tourists that are staying here, flock to the City Centre to party and to see the fireworks that are set off from the Skytower.
Their experience is far from world class, in fact it is down right dangerous and embarrassing. While I have not been down there myself at New Years, I have heard a number of stories from those that have, and they are not good.
These are a few pictures that have been sent to me by a reader of the blog, Matt D from the beginning of this year. Matt says:
This picture was taken at about 11:15 pm New Years Eve 2017, I was trying to leave the city by bus because there were too many people crammed onto the footpath, and the police had formed a human barricade along the perimeter of the footpaths so that the cars could continue driving without pedestrian interference. When the pedestrian crossing phase begin all hell broke loose with people exploding from the footpaths. The result was pure chaotic pandemonium. A lot of near misses and many police putting their lives on the line, while cars continued their absurd right of way.
This picture was taken just before midnight. Finally people had won the battle over the police and over the cars, as the sheer numbers had forced cars off.
These stories and pictures make it clear to me that Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and ATEED need to do a much better job to ensure people visiting our City Centre have a safe and pleasant experience on New Years Eve.
The solution really is quite simple. At a minimum Queen Street and Victoria Street must be closed to traffic, and open to people on New Years Eve.
We suggest these streets should ideally be closed all day, and until the early hours of the morning on January 1. This gives us the opportunity for a great street party on Queen Street. We know time is short, but given the really awful nature of things, Auckland Council, Auckland Transport and the Police need to arrange for Queen Street to be closed, at least on the evening of New Years Eve.
In a related matter, Auckland Transport must also ensure there is sufficient public transport services to transport people to and from the city on New Years Eve. We’ve also heard some terrible stories about the hopeless lack of capacity available on late night services on New Years Eve, particular on the rail buses that are inevitably running on several lines. New Years Eve isn’t a normal night in the city, so AT needs to put on extra capacity to ensure people can get home. With the exception of the NX1 services, there appear to only be a handful of extra services being put on. And like with later today, some free public transport wouldn’t go astray either – although with a lack of capacity, that could be dangerous.