There was an interesting opinion piece on Stuff yesterday from travel journalist Brook Sabin talking about the Queen St and labelling it a disgrace.
The country’s most well-known street should be a celebration of our identity. Imagine if it were lined with trees, artwork, sculptures, pedestrians, and some of our best Kiwi retailers. There would be markets, lively restaurants and outdoor dining – a place people actually wanted to visit.
Most other major developed cities understand the concept. Melbourne has its laneways, filled with buskers, street art, shops and eateries. Wellington has the vibrant Lambton Quay; Singapore has Orchard Road, so good – a visit is considered one of the top things for tourists to do.
We, on the other hand, have a blend of boring. It’s pedestrian in every respect – well, except for being pedestrian-friendly.
The council is moving at a glacial pace. It has announced High Street, sitting off Queen Street, will be pedestrianised in a trial from October, to turn it into a “world-class, pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare” by the end of 2022. Three years? Just take the cars out now. Put up with the moaners, because we all know you’ll be proven right in the end.
Last year the council voted unanimously to “move” towards pedestrianising Queen Street. No date has been given. Because, boy, does the council know how to paralyse itself in inaction.
It’s promising to see other areas of Auckland, like the waterfront, begin to come alive. The soul of the city is starting to emerge. But the heart is still flatlining – in dire need of resuscitation.
Auckland’s city centre has improved immensely over the last decade and it certainly still has a long way to go but perhaps what is the most frustrating about the whole issue is just how long it all takes.
On Queen St, North of Mayoral Dr, there is not a single driveway or carpark entrance, there is no need for cars to be in there at all. And yet most of the space on the street remains dedicated to the movement of vehicles even though six times as many people are walking along the footpaths.
The city has long known and discussed the need to get the cars out of Queen St. It’s a change with strong public support and even though last year when the council voted unanimously to support the idea we’re still waiting and only looking to get a trial on High St later this year. Who knows when we’ll see anything for Queen St itself. As Patrick noted in a tweet in response to the article yesterday, anything positive faces an entire bureaucracy of resistance.
What have I learnt from this? We have inbuilt processes and structures in our transport institutions that have no other plausible purpose than to frustrate change on our streets. Even the simplest most uncontroversial shift faces an entire bureaucracy of resistance…
— Patrick Reynolds (@pv_reynolds) July 31, 2019
For example, there are engineers who demand traffic modelling and who refuse to believe the numbers showing that car trips to the city falling, there are legal teams who even go so far as to say there’s no proof Vulcan Lane is a pedestrian only street and there are planners who just ignore the council’s plans (and even their own strategies) and do what they want anyway.
If Auckland truly wants to become a world class city then it’s going to need to work out how to break through the bureaucracy and start working out how to deliver this stuff faster.