There are so many things to be frustrated about with the likes of Auckland Council and Auckland Transport right now but one thing near the top of that list has to be their handling of changes to Queen St.
At a high-level this should be straightforward. Queen St is meant to become a transit mall, a street for people and public transport and with no access by cars. This was expressed in the City Centre Master Plan (CCMP) that was adopted last year calls for Queen St to become:
A vibrant pedestrian priority shopping street at the heart of Waihorotiu / Queen Street Valley – Queen Street will support centre-running transit (starting with buses) and become the centrepiece of a greatly expanded pedestrian priority and low emissions zone
The CCMP also says how this would happen:
Creation of a transit mall condition along Queen Street over time, with eventual removal of all general traffic, to be implemented through a series of pilots and incremental network changes to be implemented in parallel with major city centre construction works and traffic management plans.
Further streetscape enhancements to Queen Street to increase pedestrian priority, with a highly accessible, level surface design accommodating increasing pedestrian volumes and ability to cross the street freely supporting a vibrant, two-sided retail street.
During consultation on the CCMP the Queen St Valley plans received 84% support and in 2018 the mayor and councillors unanimously called for it to happen as soon as possible.
Yet since the removal of the Auckland Design Office (ADO), council and AT officials have been dragging their heels and walking back ambition for the street and it’s feeling very much like case of predatory delay.
After the council won a court case over groups wanting Queen St returned to cars like it was pre-COVID, they sprung a surprise consultation with plans very much in line with what the anti-change group were pushing for. Thankfully most of the 900+ submissions didn’t support that and works started on improvements at the northern end of the street.
Then a few weeks ago they announced they would needlessly pull out all of the remaining COVID works, returning much of the street to four lanes of traffic until they can get around to doing pedestrian improvements on the rest but some of those will take another year to achieve and only after more consultation.
|June to July 2021||Removal of all remaining emergency works barriers and most of the extended bus platforms. Two of the bus platforms will be retained.|
|August 2021||Public engagement on design concepts for Shortland St to Victoria St (Zone 3)|
|Late September to late November 2021||Construction of Zone 3|
|November 2021||Public engagement on design concepts for Victoria Street to Wellesley Street (Zone 4)|
|January to late February 2022||Construction of Zone 4|
|March 2022||Public engagement on design concepts for Wellesley Street to Mayoral Drive (Zone 5)|
|May to end June 2022||Construction of Zone 5|
This is incredibly frustrating as means that instead of just improving what exists, every stage will end up a hard-fought battle with more false claims of the council being anti-car and killing businesses.
The removal of the COVID works is doubly stupid as almost certainly things like the bus stops will need to be reinstalled again in a few months time at more tax/ratepayer cost – it’s funny how those self-appointed tax/ratepayer watchdogs never seem to be around for stuff like this.
We have another month or so to wait before they consult on the plans for Shortland St to Victoria St and even longer before anything actually goes gets installed. However in the meantime Auckland Transport have launched a separate consultation on changes to parking and loading as a result of removing the temporary works and it confirms that south of Shortland St, Queen St will be back to four lanes of traffic – this is just one section on the diagrams shown with the red showing the works being removed.
It seems they’ve already removed the bus only signs – not that they were ever enforced.
ATs proposed changes to parking on Queen St should not be supported. All parking and loading should be removed entirely with Queen St made bus only. Loading and servicing should be required to be done from side streets – as happens in other cities all over the world.
The current proposal 2allow on street parking in sections of W/QSV for anyone, is not supported by us – it doesn't deliver on ccmp/climate/clean air. We understand the various challenges, but it's unacceptable to expect that 40k residents should pay the environment & health price pic.twitter.com/9BimAC8Td4
— AK CC ResidentsGroup (@CityAklccrg) June 28, 2021
It’s also worth noting that AT plan to use their same non-existent enforcement on Queen St and that even some of the parking they’re reinstating is not for loading.
QueenSt 'interim parking proposals' – legitimate goods vehicles get 5 mins un/load, 'other vehicles' allocated 15 mins. Huh? We raised this & were told 'they are all different &for good reason'. Info from AT on enforcment "it will be the same as w. any other area in the CC w LZs"
— AK CC ResidentsGroup (@CityAklccrg) June 29, 2021
Exhausting just watching that Maserati sitting there doing all that serious loading and unloading and essential servicing all morning pic.twitter.com/FEHtPu3ybP
— geogoose (@geogoose) July 4, 2021
Sadly it’s not just these changes that are the problem. With the Victoria/Albert St intersection now closed for City Rail Link works, the temporary traffic management is directing people to drive down Queen St. Instead they could have used the opportunity to close Victoria St back at Kitchener St preventing people from driving down Victoria St in the first place. The space could then have been used with perhaps some paint, pots and some of the leftover cubes from the removal of the COVID works to implement the an early stage of the Linear Park, something also in the CCMP.
All of this continues to beg the question, why are officials seemingly fighting so hard to retain cars on Queen St? Perhaps put another why, why aren’t AT pushing harder to get the cars out of Queen St, after all, if they really wanted to they could probably do it overnight.
Related, why do they keep undermining every council strategy and plan which calls for the city to be more people focused and to get people out of their cars in order to reduce congestion and emissions?
At the same time, what are Councillors doing to hold these officials to account. It’s all very well saying the right thing but doesn’t mean much when officials are doing the opposite
Auckland Mayor Phil Goff says: “All of these improvements will help create a people-friendly, vibrant and accessible streetscape that can be enjoyed by everyone who lives, works, shops and spends time on Queen Street.
Chair of the Planning Committee Councillor Chris Darby says: “The vision for Queen Street outlined in our City Centre Masterplan is unshakeable. We’re entirely committed to creating a great street for people that is inviting, accessible and lively, and free from drive-through traffic.”
Finally, weekday pedestrian volumes on Queen St continue to stubbornly sit at around 75-80% of pre-COVID levels for this time of year but there was an interesting result on Saturday when AT held its Fare Free Day. As you can see pedestrian volumes for that Northern part of Queen St were higher on Saturday than during the same week in both 2018 and 2019.
It seems what the city centre retailers need is not more moaning about the look of Queen St but to have some events and other initiatives encouraging people to come to the city.