With the first of the America’s Cup related events less than a month a way, we’re finally getting an indication of what the plans will be for the city centre, including a lot of streets that will be open to pedestrians – though incredibly the Herald have put a negative spin on it.
Shoppers on the hectic final weekend before Christmas will have to navigate a series of major road closures in downtown Auckland to clear the way for a projected 200,000 America’s Cup spectators.
And while some business owners are looking forward to an influx of foot traffic, others say the closures will lead to delivery disruptions, and the Automobile Association is warning of “a lot of disruption”.
The closures may put further pressure on small businesses who are already closing because of what they say are the impacts of “tone deaf” road works from Auckland Transport compounding Covid-19 revenue drops.
The Herald on Sunday has obtained the traffic management plan for the five days around the America’s Cup Christmas regatta held from December 15 to 20, revealing major road closures.
The weekend is being treated as a trial run for 200,000 spectators in the city projected by Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Development (Ateed).
The closures span a series of streets around Britomart and the Viaduct including Quay St, some of Customs St West, Lower Albert, Lower Hobson, Market Place, Viaduct Harbour Ave, and most of Wynyard Quarter.
All private vehicles will be banned from 1pm to 8pm.
A business stakeholder in Auckland’s Viaduct told the Herald Ateed was using the weekend as a test to gauge how the network copes with huge crowd numbers that will match that of the America’s Cup final in March 2021.
Auckland Transport haven’t put out anything official yet but based on what’s listed above it seems it will be something like the areas below in yellow that will become temporary pedestrian havens.
Of course, any time there are road closures there is fretting about traffic impacts but many of these roads, particularly those around Britomart, have been closed or have faced severe disruption with all of the downtown works taking place in the lead up to the cup.
What I’m more concerned about is the potential impact this will have on bus services. There are obviously bus lanes in places but they tend to have gaps in priority and so there’s a risk traffic will fill up the spots where those lanes don’t exist and block buses. Perhaps AT should be looking at some pop-up bus lanes to ensure buses are able to run smoothly. I also hope they’re planning to push heavily to get people to use buses – and keeping them flowing will certainly help.
Given the year retailers in the city have had, having thousands more people in the city will be fantastic, and it seems they agree.
However, business owners the Herald on Sunday spoke to were largely pleased with the prospect of so much foot traffic in the CBD after a dire year for business.
Heart of the City chief executive Viv Beck said they were looking at the Christmas regatta weekend as a “big opportunity” for businesses after an extremely challenging year.
“Closures do happen for major events and from our perspective the main thing is they’re well communicated with businesses and essential things, like deliveries, can still happen,” Beck said.
“For us it’s a big opportunity to get people into the city. Not all of the cones will be gone but a lot of them are coming away progressively over the next period and I think people are going to love seeing changes, what’s been going on behind the cones. The excitement is starting to build now.”
Hopefully businesses and Heart of the City have some plans to encourage people also visit other parts of the city while they’re there.
Furthermore, as Viv points out, we’re about to start seeing the disruption start to ease.
Good progress is being made on Te Komititanga – the plaza that is replacing lower Queen St, is due to open around 18-December
Lower Albert St is also due to be completed in December.
— AKL Construct (@aklconstruct) November 11, 2020
The improvements to Quay St are also making progress, though they and Te Wananga – the new public space out over the harbour won’t be finished till sometime after the Cup.
— AKL Construct (@aklconstruct) November 17, 2020
Last week, the final concrete pour for the deck of Te Wānanga, the new downtown public space, was successfully completed.
The ‘floating’ platform, is supported by 49 piles, spans 73 metres in width and extends 36 metres over the Waitematā Harbour. pic.twitter.com/OWRaqU8orK
— Auckland Transport (@AklTransport) November 23, 2020
Having more people in the city and with the various city centre improvements starting to open up, this should be cause for celebration and I for one am looking forward to it. The question really should be how we keep these streets open to people only.