High St is a great example of how much the city has changed in a relatively short amount of time. A decade ago, before the shared spaces, before Wynyard, and before Britomart (as we know it today), High St was perhaps our premier urban street in the city. Now with it’s narrow footpaths and being dominated by parking, it feels like a sad relic of the past.

The idea of upgrading the street has existed for some time, with it formally included in the 2012 City Centre Masterplan but the last serious attempt to do this was stopped after a handful of retailers complained. High St looked like a bit of a lost cause.

The idea of finally sorting out High St emerged again last year with the suggestions to make the city centre more pedestrian friendly. It will also be important to deal with High St before changes are made to Queen St as one thing we wouldn’t want to see is even more traffic encouraged to use the street as a thoroughfare.

On Friday there was finally some progress on this with the Mayor and Councillor Chris Darby announcing a trial of pedestrianisation would start in October, which I understand is tied to Artweek.

High Street pedestrianisation trials start in October, and the street could be transformed into a world-class pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare by the end of 2022, three years earlier than previously planned.

Auckland Mayor Phil Goff and Planning Committee Chair Councillor Chris Darby made the proposal at a media stand-up on High Street this morning, alongside representatives from the High Street business community.

The trials will be iterative and operate on a “co-design” model where High Street businesses and residents will monitor and provide feedback, enabling the council to test and refine changes to the street to ensure the best possible final design.

Project completion could also be brought forward by three years, pending approval by the Finance and Performance Committee next month.

“I have heard the calls of City Centre Advisory Board members and Aucklanders to just get on with it and I am proposing we accelerate this project by three years. Auckland’s city centre needs to be rebalanced towards people,” says Phil Goff.

“We want to return streets to Aucklanders and create a thriving commercial and cultural area for residents, workers, students and visitors to enjoy, not simply a parking lot.”

Traffic and pedestrian counts reveal there are 14 pedestrians for every one person in a vehicle on High Street.

“Upgrading High Street makes sense—large numbers of pedestrians are squeezed onto narrow footpaths by relatively few cars, reducing enjoyment, safety and air quality. The changes we are making will transform and revitalise this iconic street and create a template for wider improvements across the city centre,” Phil Goff says.

The trials will run for approximately seven months, starting in October this year. They will begin at the northern end of High Street and progress further up the street over time, allowing input from residents and businesses to be incorporated throughout the trial and into the final design.

In addition to dramatically improving pedestrian access to High Street, ensuring accessibility for service vehicles, emergency services and those with disabilities will be a priority throughout the trial period and in the final design that develops from it.

Councillor Chris Darby says, “The success of our shared spaces has galvanised a growing public desire to hurry up the radical reconceptualising of High St.

“We are changing the way we think about our urban streets, fostering design that recognises the vitality of people as the anchor of city life. Where pedestrians outnumber cars by 1400% as on High St, personal mobility and enjoyment trumps parking and kerbs to bring people out on the street. It’s time to trigger that change.

“We will ask people to tell us their experiences and finalise a plan for the city centre, as well as look at how the concept can be scaled to apply to local centres.”

They talk about pedestrianisation but it appears that what is initially planned for the trials is more a repurposing of the carparking spaces and greater restrictions on who can drive up the road. This is notable as it appears to be one of the first times we’ve actually designed a street using temporary measures to trial outcomes.

One of the members of the business community at the announcement was retailer Murray Crane, who in the past has been one of the biggest opponents to changing the street.

A potential for High St, as envisioned in the 2012 City Centre Master Plan

The image above comes from the 2012 City Centre Master Plan but you don’t need to go far to see how much better High St could be. In fact, you only to look 40m away at the 2014 transformation of its neighbour, O’Connell St into arguably the city’s best street (currently). Before O’Connell was upgraded it was much like High St with narrow footpaths and lots of parking.

A before and after is below but there are more of them here. As an aside, I still recall talking with some AT/Council engineers and planners about their original (poor) plans to upgrade O’Connell St and them telling me that it was too narrow to become a shared space.

I would have said there is no one who could possibly think O’Connell St is not a massive improvement but as I learnt yesterday, that isn’t correct. The following letter appeared in the Herald from one High St retailer.

It’s great to finally see some work happening to improve the sorry state of High st, it’s long overdue.

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66 comments

  1. “O’Connell Street died when a similar proposal was realised…”

    As someone who has walked through O’Connell Street daily since before the upgrade, and continues to do so today, I can say with conviction “what fucking planet are you living on buddy?!’.

    1. Probably the same one where empty cycle lanes are a major failure.

      I guess the letter writer and Mike Hoskings can mutually support each other as they drown their sorrows in some other “blighted with car fumes” part of the city. Maybe their local mall?

      1. The great irony of malls is that they are entirely pedestrianised spaces, free of any cars, parking, loading and deliveries.
        People park at remote carparks and walk hundreds of metres to access an entirely pedestrian space. Yet downtown apparently people can’t do that otherwise we’ll lose all the customers… to the malls.

        1. When Sylvia Park opened, you could easily end up walking a lot further up and down that mall going to the various places there (and take more time to do so), than you would if you for example, parked in the Downtown car park and walked the entire length of Queen St and back.

          Sylvia Park is basically an under cover Queen St.

          And if you also look at the way they clutter the mall interiors with endless kiosks and other “street furniture” turning the mall into a cramped pair of one way walkways – one in each direction, its actually more difficult to walk end to end at Sylvia Park to go shopping than it is to do the same on Queen St.

          The secondary (or actually, primary when you go there) problem is that getting in and out of places like Sylvia Park Mall is horrendous due to all the traffic…

          But then Hosking et al would define that congestion as an indicator of “success”.

        2. Botany town center made such mistake.
          They create a car access street going into the middle of the mall.

          If they made the whole mall pedestrianized, the mall will be much more successful.

          Same mistake happens to the North West mall. They create a vehicle lane. The outdoor shops facing the street are struggling.

        3. Ah the mysteries of Westgate.

          Why did they bother with a car thoroughfare on Maki Street at that mall?

          Did anyone think this will work well as a PT anchor? (this is important not just for the line to the CBD, but also the cross-town to the east coast)

          I guess that is how you literally set in stone poor walking access and poor public transport in the surrounding area. Ah well, at least they’re providing more parking than Albany.

        4. Urban designers have this bizarre idea that malls should work like streets. The opposite is true. Shopping streets should be run like malls with convenient parking away from the pedestrianised area, security people to make sure some dick doesn’t try and ride a scooter through the middle, anchor stores located at the ends and some means of collectively marketing the whole centre.

  2. To be fair O’Connell St is not exactly rock n roll nowadays but I’m unsure if it ever was.

    But in the enthusiasm to ban cars, firstly from parking, why scooters or motorcycles, the choice of many cities we look up to. The main difference between them and bikes and e scooters dimension wise, rider included, is not great, their emissions are substantially lower than any other 4 cycle internal combustion engine, some are even electric but yet pay an utter fortune (central governments doing) to be allowed on a road anyway. It is a subconscious bias on AT’s part I think from ignorance and purely because they have license plates that does nothing to increase options, unclog roads and speed up travel times.

    1. Banning cars would be a first step, but it makes sense to ban anything with a combustion engine. Scooters may be less loud and clumsy than cars, but they’re still loud enough to dominate a space. Ask anyone who has ever been to Asia.

      And those cities we are looking up to, some of them actually ban bicycles in some pedestrian spaces. It gets busy enough at some point to make getting through with one difficult. But that would be on more narrow streets than you’ll ever find in Auckland.

      And motorcycles… hell no. What an dystopian idea. The noise would be completely debilitating. You would barely be able to come outside at all. It would be absolutely terrifying for kids. It is bad enough as it is now, the last thing we need to encourage is more motorcycles.

      1. There’s that bias, again.

        I think you are confusing Aucklands population with that of Manila or Hanoi in the threat of total motorcycle domination.

        And your last paragraph predicting the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse if motorcycles are unleashed on an unsuspecting world. The noise probably reflects Harley Davidsons owned by Hells Angels with straight pipes. The vast majority don’t make much noise at all and not enough to scare children especially those from protective sheltered backgrounds.

        Anyway E scooters and E-bikes are motorcycles but because no one at NZTA figured it out they live on unregulated and accepted.

        1. Even the latest motorcycle are noisy compare to cars.

          To be reasonably quiet, we are looking for electric motorcycle like taiwanese Gogoro

        2. Well it is one of those things you get after living in Auckland Central for a while. I don’t think you grasp the sheer amount of noise produced by motorcycles. In comparison, other noises, like jackhammers and engine brakes on trucks are barely audible. The reason why walking in the CBD is still bearable without hearing protection is that you only hear one every couple of hours during the day.

          Sometimes I wonder if one of them ever managed to shatter windows.

          There is a dishonourable mention for those who dangle those after-market exhausts under their old $800 cars, but they are not nearly as loud as motorcycles.

          Is it straight pipes? Well, maybe? Some bikers are indeed able to ride around town without waking up an entire block. But evidently we are not able to regulate the amount of exhaust noise produced by vehicles, and until that happens, the less motorcycles the better.

    2. You wouldn’t want anything noisy here. The electric ride on scooters are really quiet, and seem like a good way forward (though not in cycle lanes, and the traffic lanes would have to be a lot safer for them). The two-stroke scooters are so fuel inefficient and noisy I’m not sure why they’re not banned outright.

      The one problem I have with the suggestion that any of them should be in shared streets is that some motorcyclists argue against lower speeds because they feel they can’t go that slowly. Which doesn’t seem to match reality – maybe it’s a skill thing or dependent on the machine? Any machine in these streets needs to be able to give way completely, and travel at 1, 2, 3, 4 km/hr, etc.

      1. Two strokes are not ideal but do have lower Nitrous Oxide emissions ironically. But here are a lot of mopeds that are no quicker than your average unrestricted E scooter whereas in E scooter cases or even pushbikes, unrestricted speed and people are just an accepted risk so the speed is not an issue surely?

        I haven’t heard the rather flawed argument that low speeds are an issue with motorcycles but I am sure that goes with any mode for a specious argument against speed restrictions. But in any case, no one wants to take out a pedestrian and few are that reckless.

      2. I’m going to chime in here as I ride a Motorbike to work daily as it’s faster than public transport and more efficient than a car. I really think they are a great way to get around the city.

        However, my motorbike does 100k in first gear and weighs 200kg. I really wouldn’t feel comfortable driving through a shared space. I’d probably just park at one end of the street and walk.

        1. Absolutely agreed, there is a place for everything but providing parking for them is not bad. And around the High St area surely is workable!

          When AT decided to make its carparks and carpark buildings less attractive to motor vehicle users they took away a heap of motorcycle parking in their buildings and the streets. I have no idea what they were trying to achieve but as I said it can only be a bias against this form of transport.

        2. Where did they take away motorcycle parking? I note that on Fort Street and Elliot Street, motorcycles are the only motor vehicles that had dedicated parking installed.

    3. There is a huge line of on street motorbike parking by Chancery (another business revived by public works).

      Agree govt needs a fix re electric mopeds/motorbike – Emissions from a lot of the existing standard is not good. Cities in China have banned the 2 stroke and as awareness of Auckland’s air quality continues there will be pressure.

  3. Great. And I think it’ll be superb to see the different process undertaken in High St as was taken in O’Connell St. Repurposing the area before doing major repaving works can throw up all sorts of design ideas. If they engage well, locals’ ideas can feed into the final design, producing a superior and more unique outcome, and also giving strengthening belonging and trust.

    1. Heidi, or we will see the same thing that happened in Wellington with the lower Tory Street ‘shared space’ trial. The council made one section of the street one way and put up tacky looking wooden furniture and fake grass. Alas, the persistent winging of business owners about carparks made the council declare the trial unsuccessful and they reverted it to how it was. It could have been quite nice if they did a proper job of it and put some trees in too, but it seems like a missed opportunity now.

  4. I make a point of walking down the middle of the road on High St when I use it. Moving out of the way for cars at the last second of course.

    1. I felt guilty the other day parking my bike on a High St pole, as it was getting in the way of the tiny footpath… then I mused on the ridiculousness of the situation where parking full size cars two abreast is totally fine, which makes leaning a bicycle up against a pole the dick move.

  5. Other than the number plates on the vehicles being from the “new” 3 letters, 3 numbers range, rather than the old 2 letters and 4 numbers range, this photo of High St could have been taken just about any time in the last 35+ years.

    It hasn’t changed one iota in that time. 35 years ago this sort of scene was probably considered “a success”.

    Unfortunately for them [and fortunately for us] – the rest of the planet – and belatedly, Auckland City itself has moved on.

    While O’Connell St makeover is a bit sterile looking, its better than a narrow street full of cars that never move, while the street is forever clogged with cars circling and looking for a park. Exactly as the photo shows happens.

    I think the biggest problem (other than the sheer timidity of the council in getting on with it in the face of opposition of a vocal minority) will be stopping Aucklanders in cars wanting to continue to drive down and park all over the shared spaces – whether there be yellow lines to stop it or not.

      1. If the solution was that simple Heidi, the rest of Auckland would be a marvellous place to inhabit already. And Bike lanes would never be full of parked vehicles…

        and clearly AT doesn’t see that sort of enforcement as a critical part of its job, ever.

        Which is very odd, considering that a large part of their thinking is around ensuring traffic flows at all times and all places.

        Except when the needs of the motorists require that they need to able to not flow (i.e. park). Then the emphasis from AT seamlessly switches to not enforcing flow at all times and places…

        1. 🙂 “ever”? Question is whether the people in AT preventing the enforcement will learn the errors of their ways, and change, or be forced out. Given the extreme and inane excuses they’re producing currently, I have a suspicion it’s not going to be comfortable.

  6. Good to see something happening on this. Seems cautious but looks like they want to really get the retailers on side. Also the chance it should be totally car free bar deliveries say.

  7. Glad to see some action finally on High street to move it away from some 3rd world sidestreet. Again another letter in the Herald today about how diabolical the changes are going to be comparing it to Mt Albert with no real facts. Why is that letters section dominated by lunatics?

  8. “They will begin at the northern end of High Street and progress further up the street over time, ”

    I’m trying to picture this, and am wondering what the advantages are over just trialling it everywhere from the start. Any ideas? (It certainly goes against the recommendations in the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods projects, which is to do an entire area.)

    1. Yes I’m wondering that too. It’s not too clear if they mean they keep the northernmost end in trial mode as they progress up or do they revert it back to that status quo as they move up?

  9. High Street and Chancery used to be such a nice area but compared to the likes of Britomart it’s just unwelcoming and you have to dodge cars. This is definitely a good change!

  10. This is bad news. High street had a chance for an upgrade and they didn’t want it. It should now be on the bottom of the list, there are plenty of other streets due for an upgrade.

  11. Is it just me or isn’t there a massive multi-story car park at one end of the high street. Providing ample parking for anyone who wants to drive to those shops and not have to walk any further than if it was a suburban mall? I’m sure its close enough that shopkeepers selling bulky items wouldn’t be disadvantaged and get brownie points helping the customer back to their car with the goods.

    I’m sure the planners would be able to design in disabled parking still on the street allowing for those that really have mobility issues.

    1. AC should sell of Victoria St Car Park as part of this redevelopment package. It’s a dog of a carpark in any event with terrible traffic management flow. Sell it to a developer and put in apartments with retail on the bottom.
      There is so much off-street parking nearby anyway. Sky City Convention Centre is 400 metres away and brings an extra 1300 spaces. Civic which is currently under utilised is also nearby. Needs to become part of the social contract that if you access these spaces you may have to walk to your final destination.

      1. Kintyre Kid
        I completely agree with you that the Victoria Park car park should be sold, but only for redevelopment as you suggest. It is a dog for parking and it has poor financial returns.
        The well being of Auckland will be improved by more accommodation and not more parking spaces and this is an ideal location for residential space.
        You are absolutely right that there is enough parking space in this area evidenced by Sky City under cutting early bird rates.
        Should there be a by-law that parking specials cannot be less than 25% of the regular rate – similar to provisions in the Sale of Liquor Act.

    2. There are literally thousands of off-street car parking spaces (publicly accessible) within a couple of hundred metres of high street – parking buildings on Vic Street, Chancery, Shortland St, Fort St. At-grade parking areas also on Fort and Victoria St (hopefully these disappear soon though). Plus some of the bigger ones are rarely more than 80% occupied at any given time.

      If someone is paying city centre rates for a commercial tenancy and is (supposedly) reliant on the provision of one or two car parking space directly in front of their store it doesn’t sound like a particularly viable or useful business to have around.

      1. Those car-dependent businesses could be replaced with a nice cafe with its outdoor tables spilling out into the street where you can sit sipping a latte and watch happy pedestrians walking by. A bit like O’Connell St.

      2. Do you have any info on actual numbers of off street supply?Would be an interesting topic to discuss on here.

  12. Snap shot at 11.50 today. O’Connell St, about 20 people, including 2 table staff.

    High St, lost count around the 60 plus mark and that is a very conservative estimate.

    O’Connell St definitely is easier on the eye and a whole lot easier to traverse given the far less people and more room but High St is alive compared.

    Maybe the two just aren’t comparable.

    Will the motor vehicle ban harm it?

    1. O’Connell St is not a major pedestrian route, and surrounding land use is very different. Patrick Reynolds has written about it on here…

    2. Not comparable. O’Connell street never really had much foot traffic as it is more isolated to walking movements. The improvements have bought more foot traffic to that area as it is a better spaces to be in.

  13. Perhaps we are going about it back-to-front. Instead of de-caring High Street, we should de-pedestrianize it. Allow cars free range in High Street, but ban all pedestrian traffic, except that from car door to shop door and back again. This will show just how important car access is to High Street businesses. If they are right in their claim that car access is vital to their businesses, they will thrive. If not, High Street business owners will soon be begging Council to completely pedestrianize High Street.
    Furthermore, since a road is a public thoroughfare, not a private car park, a de-pedestrianized High Street should not remain in public ownership, since that would constitute a subsidy from public funds to private business. Instead, High Street should be sold to High Street businesses, at full market rates, and they should pay rates on it. This way, the costs of using High Street as a car park will be paid by those who benefit from that: High Street businesses.

  14. Must be the northern remainder of Lorne St next for this too? Looks about the same length.

    Ps it’s interesting to look up and down these two streets on Street View and compare to the different time periods (needs web version for this feature). Always looks pretty full.

  15. I am not sure why there is a “trial” anyway. The same names always pipe up when pedestrianisation is mentioned.

    How democratic is it to have one or two private property owners dictate the direction of High St?

  16. It will be the death of some of the best spectator sports in the city: sitting in Corner Bar watching people parallel park (and usually struggle), the same car circling the block several times searching for an on street car park, and watching a vehicle too large for the street trying to squeeze through it.

      1. And then the next one, from another company. And maybe another one too? Because competition is so good we need to have multiple rubbish collection options in the central city.

    1. If by ‘this’ you mean the committed trial, not it is not. That is practically free, just the cost of a bit of signs and traffic management.

      $22m is the eventual cost to fully redesign and repave all of High Street in bluestone, add in trees, street furniture etc like O’Connell Street.

      One thing to note, High Street is three times the length of O’Connell Street, so we can expect it’s full upgrade to cost about three times as much.

  17. Can I suggest that everyone who is in favour of these changes write to the mayor, your councillors, Auckland Transport etc, telling them that you support the changes? They don’t get much positive feedback, and it would be useful if the positive could outweigh the negative.

  18. I love the escalators in HK and think you could build one starting from High St/Vicotria St and strapped on to the side of the Victoria St carparking building and going over Kitchener St and up to Albert Park. Then a covered walkway to the Uni buildings. The students could get from the city to uni without out getting wet. Plus coming into down into town they would get dumped at High St. Which might make more sense to the pedestrianisation.

    I think it will some sort of a boost when the take the car buzz away.

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