It may sound crazy, but in Copenhagen they have taken the cars out of one street in the CBD a year over the past few decades as part of a strategy to enliven the Danish capital. It’s now one of the most efficient, environmentally friendly cities in the world with flocks of tourists (and city planners) visiting it each year.
Others have followed suit. Hong Kong pedestrianised its famous Sai Yeung Choi Street in 2003 and the Parisians are getting rid of cars around the inner city canals and instead allowing only walkers and cyclists to enjoy them.
In notoriously car-jammed New York, bits of Broadway have been pedestrianised to allow the masses of people to spread out along the streets around Times Square.
It looks like Auckland might follow suit. Banishing cars from Queen St and making it a pedestrian-only spot is part of a 20-year city centre masterplan drafted for public release in March.
This was one of the key recommendations world renowned architect Jan Gehl gave last year in his report on the city.
The debate now is on how to go about making Auckland more pedestrian-friendly without making it to hard for people to get in and get around.
Campaign for Better Transport’s Josh Arbury suggests pedestrianising Queen Street at all times in one go would “probably be a mistake” at this point in time.
“We probably need to give the perception of Auckland’s public transport system enough time to improve (plus obviously the system itself) before retailers would feel comfortable enough with such a proposal.
“The last thing we would want is what happened in Onehunga where the main street was pedestrianised and it just about killed off the place before cars were allowed back in.”
He favours trialling it at weekends, potentially only weekends during summer to start with.
Arbury thinks if it works, the retailers and other important stakeholders will get onboard.
“General users of the CBD may also really enjoy how removing cars has created a massive new public space in the very heart of Auckland,” he says.
“We might see little cafés start up in temporary carts along the street, we might see markets and performers and all other kinds of people and activities using the space. At the same time, if it doesn’t work — if people are discouraged from the city centre or if the place just feels a bit too eerily quiet without vehicles — then a cheap trial can easily be ended.”
Arbury says New York City’s successful partial pedestrianising of Times Square started off as a trial and has since become permanent.
Transport committee chairman Mike Lee has also floated the idea of trialling a pedestrian-only area of Queen St from Customs St to Victoria St at weekends. He feels careful planning is needed to support a healthy, thriving retail sector.
The 20-year master plan report was released for public consultation in March. A draft master plan is expected to be released in June and a final master plan adopted by the council at the end of the year. Soon, Aucklanders could be at least trialling an inner-city pedestrian mall, just like other famous cities around the world.