4 Jun 2014

Dunedin's Octagon could be car-free

9:56 am on 4 June 2014

A proposal by two Otago University students to make half of Dunedin's Octagon car-free is likely to be trialled early next year.

The lower Octagon in Dunedin.

The lower Octagon in Dunedin. Photo: PHOTO NZ

The proposal to the city council would make the lower half of the Octagon pedestrian-only.

The pair surveyed Octagon businesses and found two-thirds support the idea, though some worry about their access to supply vans and couriers.

City councillors have backed the idea of a trial and are now looking at options for making the lower half of the Octagon and an adjacent street pedestrian-only, or a shared space with cars and trucks.

Otago university students Georgi Hampton (left) and Alexi Belton in Dunedin's Octagon.

Otago university students Georgi Hampton (left) and Alexi Belton in Dunedin's Octagon. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The idea was put up in a fully-researched, 36-page proposal to the council as a road safety project, a way to revitalise the city centre and reduce climate change emissions.

One of the two students, Alexis Belton, said the Octagon could be so much better.

"The vision is to make much more of this space, draw people in, and to create a more social environment."

One of the proposal's biggest supporters is city councillor Aaron Hawkins, who said he's been raising the idea in late night party rants for years.

He said for him it's just the first stage in giving the city centre back to the people.

"Stage one is closing it to traffic or giving it back to people, and then seeing what they want to do with it."

Although the proposal reports 70 percent of Octagon businesses support the idea, others worry about their access to supply vans and couriers.

One of the most affected would be Age Concern Otago, whose building on the lower Octagon caters for hundreds of older people a week for classes, meetings and gym sessions.

Executive officer Susan Davidson said it could be better for older people to be able to stroll the area without cars, but nonetheless a big problem for those who can't walk around.

She said vehicle access would be needed for older people with limited mobility.

The students behind the plan point out their proposal is for pedestrian only or a shared-space where both cars and people on foot share the space equally as is a growing trend in overseas cities.

Georgi Hampton, a genetics doctoral student, said the Octagon should be the heart of the city, and not a thoroughfare.

The Octagon should be somewhere people want to stay because they're having fun, because they're meeting friends ...... a place where people stay rather than just pass through."

Council staff are expecting to present options in the next few months for a trial, probably early next year.