The highly anticipated ‘Access for Everyone’ pilot for the Waihorotiu/Queen Street Valley will begin next month, signalling the start of pedestrian priority for the heart of Auckland.
Auckland Transport and Auckland Council will use a co-design process with Queen Street users and stakeholders to test low-cost ways to lay out the street that can be quickly adjusted, adapted, improved or removed through the process. This approach has successfully been used in High Street, where it won an award from Living Streets Aotearoa.
Access for Everyone will work towards the removal of non-essential car traffic from Queen Street. This prioritises pedestrians and frees up road space for public transport, deliveries, emergency services and for people with limited mobility.
Access for Everyone is the key concept in the City Centre Masterplan, the visionary plan to guide the city centre’s development for the next 20 years, which was endorsed by the Auckland Council Planning Committee in March this year.
Aucklanders were overwhelmingly supportive of Access for Everyone with 82 per cent of submitters endorsing the concept through the City Centre Masterplan consultation.
“We’re moving to a future where more and better-quality space for shoppers, residents, visitors and workers will be provided on Queen St and through traffic will be discouraged,” says Councillor Chris Darby, Chair of Planning Committee.
“We had originally planned to start the pilot later this year, but we’ve seized the opportunity to bring it forward due to the environment created by COVID-19 which required Auckland Transport to urgently install emergency measures in Queen Street for physical distancing.
“The emergency measures provide a layout for safer space. Now, the opportunity is to build off that and investigate how to make Queen Street more attractive and easier to use. The time is ripe to begin the transition of Queen Street to become a magnet for people.
“Close collaboration between Auckland Transport, Auckland Council and Waka Kotahi in a co-design process with stakeholders and users of Queen Street will show the way,” he says.
Waitematā and Gulf ward Councillor Pippa Coom says feedback is already being collected as part of the evaluation of the emergency physical distancing measures and will serve as a starting point for the discussion and co-design process.
“A key principle of Access for Everyone is the environment is co-designed with the community it is meant to serve. This process will involve a working group of key partners who represent the Queen Street community, as well as working closely with individual businesses, residents, property owners and street users,” says Cr Coom.
Commencing next month, the co-design process will adapt the existing Queen Street emergency measures, reflecting user needs and feedback. Being a pilot, it will use temporary materials and test a range of activities to help people better use the space. By focussing on people’s perceptions of Queen Street, it will work to find the best layout and promote Queen Street as being ‘open for business’.
Chair of the City Centre Residents Group, Noelene Buckland, says “As residents of the city centre, we support the City Centre Master Plan’s vision for cleaner air, safer streets and greater amenity in the city centre. We were pleased to be a part of the combined council, business and residents team that produced the fantastic outcome on High Street, and we look forward to the same close collaboration and co-design to achieve the outcomes we need on Queen Street.
“We recognise that there’s a lot of change happening in the city centre right now, so we need to take this opportunity to work closely with all of our neighbours to find the best way forward together, to test out how the changes work within the wider environment, and learn from these.”
In the coming weeks some further enhancements to the appearance of the emergency installations will be made based on initial feedback.
Funding for the Queen Street pilot is being sought from NZTA’s Innovating Streets contestable fund. This was established in September 2019 to support trials of temporary treatments to improve street environments and provide more space for people. Funding is also being provided by the City Centre Targeted Rate.
In early May research was undertaken into the attitudes of Aucklanders to pilot programmes such as Access for Everyone and Innovating Streets. Almost three in four (73 per cent) Aucklanders support this type of initiative and more than half of people surveyed believe that these initiatives are more relevant since the pandemic began. While COVID-19 remains a potential threat, there is a need to maintain our ability to react rapidly if physical distancing may once again be required.
Further surveys will be undertaken throughout the duration of the pilot, to gauge people’s perceptions and attitudes towards the improvements.