17 Jan 2015

Auckland's side streets too 'car-centric'

2:29 pm on 17 January 2015

Auckland Council needs to move more quickly to cut traffic from the $50 million network of side streets which have been upgraded to be more appealing to pedestrians according to urban designers.

The so-called "shared spaces" remove the distinction between footpaths and roadway, and are intended to bring more street life to the inner-city.

Auckland Council has given four previously dowdy side streets the "shared space" treatment over the past four years.

O'Connell Street after.

O'Connell Street after. Photo: Auckland Council

These include the Fort Street area, Elliott and Darby Streets, Federal Street and Elliott Street, as well as one in suburban New Lynn.

The council's urban design champion Ludo Campbell-Reid has big hopes for the recently transformed O'Connell Street.

"The beauty was always here it was just hidden behind parked cars and street paraphernalia," he said.

"We've taken away all that clutter, and revealed the beautiful heritage buildings and the wonderful proportions and the story of the place."

Mayor Len Brown said the shared space programme was transforming the appeal of the downtown area.

"When you do a shared lane people don't just drive through it, they're out of their cars they're walking around enjoying themselves, having a coffee, watching others enjoy themselves, so it's a much more relaxing, civic, humane, interesting and exciting experience."

O'Connell Street before the make-over.

O'Connell Street before the make-over. Photo: Auckland Council

The developments have been widely praised, but urban design specialists said it was time to reduce, and in some areas, remove cars from the new spaces.

Architectural photographer Patrick Reynolds said O'Connell Street should be the start.

"I think it's pretty clear that this street should have no traffic, outside of deliveries before say 11am, which is how the rest of the civilised world deals with narrow urban streets," said Mr Reynolds.

"There's no reason to drive a car in this street other than doing a little rat-run."

Daniel Sauter, a visiting Swiss advocate of making cities more walkable, thinks Auckland needs to get tougher on motor vehicle use in the shared spaces.

Daniel Sauter

Daniel Sauter Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

"If maybe you could curb trucks making deliveries to certain times in the morning then it wouldn't interfere so much with pedestrians. I've seen some shared spaces here in the city where you still have a lot of cars going through, usually, that indicates that there's a need to detour them."

Auckland Council cites figures showing the success of shared spaces.

In the Fort Street area which cost $23 million to upgrade, it found foot traffic up by 50 percent, vehicles travelling more slowly, and a five-fold increase in spending in bars and eateries.

The newest addition to the network is Federal Street which cost $10 million, shared between the council and Sky City, whose hotel, casino and eateries line both sides.

But away from the opening-night street closures, Federal Street still functions much as it always did, with pedestrians along its edges and a steady flow of taxis, cars and delivery vans.

Federal Street

Federal Street Photo: RNZ / Todd Niall

Ludo Campbell-Reid said he was wary of pushing for pedestrian-only zones, believing there would be too much opposition. He thinks the Dutch-style shared space concept will evolve.

"I believe in time that these spaces will become so popular with people, that the cars will by default decide to go elsewhere, and they then become pedestrian areas, but only when Auckland's ready will that occur.

"I think at the moment Auckland's still too addicted to the car. It's a transition at the moment."

Auckland Council has no plans this summer for a repeat of car-free festivities such as those that the opened the shared spaces. But it does hint at street happenings in the near future.

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