3 Jun 2020

Dunedin on the fast track to end slowdown

9:21 pm on 3 June 2020

The Dunedin City Council will decide on Monday whether to end a controversial project designed to entice people back to the central city after the Covid-19 lockdown.

Dunedin on the morning of 26 March, the first day of the Covid-19 nationwide lockdown

Photo: RNZ / Tess Brunton

In mid-May the council approved a controversial suite of measures which included slashing the speed limit of the city's main street from 30km/h to 10km/h and painting large spots on it to remind motorists of the new limit.

Surrounding streets also had their speed limits lowered, pedestrians were given priority over vehicles, free parking was offered and businesses were allowed free commercial use of footpaths.

The measures were intended to ensure pedestrians were safe to use the roadway to practice 2m physical distancing.

However, they were widely panned by business and motorist's advocacy groups.

The plan was backed by nine councillors to four.

On Monday, councillors will consider a report which outlines two options; lifting the measures immediately, or waiting until the country moves to alert level one.

In the report, the council's executive leadership team admits the measures have been largely ignored and most people are not practicing physical distancing.

"The speed data showed . . . while about 30 percent of cars were driving 20km/h or slower, most cars were not driving at the 10km/h limit," the report said.

"With regard to the principal intent of the trial, which was to allow people to actively use the street to ensure 2m physical distancing, whilst there were times when people were walking in the street these times were short lived.

"Observations showed that most people appeared to be paying little concern to the 2m physical distancing requirements, either on footpaths, inside shops or in the malls. However, the data did suggest that people were commonly using the slow streets to cross the street more often, suggesting that installing actual crossing points in the George Street blocks may have been more beneficial to aid pedestrian movements."

While a survey of Dunedin residents showed some apprehension in visiting retailers, hospitality venues and supermarkets in the majority of respondents in late May, spending data painted a different picture with retail spending in the city for the week ending 29 May up one percent on the corresponding week last year.

"Finally, last week staff from Enterprise Dunedin met and talked about the temporary measures with 68 retailers and hospitality businesses in the affected parts of Princes and George Streets," the report said.

"They were asked whether they were aware of the reason for the package of initiatives being implemented (48 were, 20 were not). They were also asked whether they thought people shopping in the CBD were using the street and footpath to ensure 2m physical distancing, and 51 thought they were not, 15 thought they were, and 2 were unsure.

"Finally, they were asked whether they supported the package of initiatives being withdrawn now, or whether they would prefer to wait until alert level one (at the date the survey was planned, this date was still unknown but appeared to becoming more likely to be sooner than originally planned). Thirty-three of the retailers said they supported ending it now, 25 said at alert level one and 10 were unsure or had no preference.

"Taken together the retailer feedback, the lack of people seeming to want to social distance, the survey showing people were not avoiding the CBD more than any other kind of shopping, and the spending data showing Dunedin's rebound in retail spending, it is prudent timing for council to consider when to end the temporary Safer CBD Streets bundle of initiatives. This could be done immediately, or it could wait until alert level one is in place."

If the council did not agree to lift the measures immediately, it might not make much difference with the government due to consider a move to level 1 on Monday.

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