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.
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.