AucklandMade possible by

Here’s a totally mainstream idea: let’s take the cars out of Auckland’s central city

Look at us Kiwis, a bunch of risk-taking, rule-bending, fresh-thinking suck-it-and-see adventurers, right? Who wouldn’t want to be one? So if we really do think that’s who we are, how come our transport planning isn’t keeping up with the ideas now transforming the cities of the world? Not radical ideas, just orthodox planning ideas. Like: banning cars from the middle of town.

Here’s a pretty good list of cities. Madrid, Paris, Vancouver, New York, Oslo, Brussels, Mexico, Copenhagen, Athens, London, Auckland. Oh no, wait. Not Auckland.

In Madrid, with its enormous car-clogged avenues, they’re going to make 200 hectares of the central city car-free by 2020. We could do that. The Auckland CBD – the area bounded by the Waitemata, the main SH1 motorway and the Grafton motorway – is twice that size. So let’s be modest: keep all traffic except public transport and service vehicles out of the area bounded by Karangahape Rd, Nelson St, Symonds St and the harbour. Build carparks at the perimeter and introduce free shuttles and city bikes. What a playground for shoppers, recreation and living the inner city would become!

Oslo is doing the same a year earlier, and all Norwegian cities will follow suit by 2025.

A map published by Norwegian news website NRK showing the extent of the proposed carfree zone. Source: nrk.no

In Hamburg they’re banning cars from specified areas and will make 40 percent of the city car-free by 2035. That’s a modest target, but it’s an actual plan. Auckland has many plans but none of them set targets like that. And the City Centre Masterplan, a rather splendid aspirational document adopted by the council in 2012, is now actively being subverted by Auckland Transport. Without the approval of the governing body of council, and despite AT being a supposed council-controlled organisation!

Parts of Chengdu are designed to make walking easier than driving – imagine that! We could trial it on Ponsonby Rd and Broadway in Newmarket, and roll it out if it works. Also in Chengdu, they plan to make only half the streets driveable at all.

Victoria St East. Why are cars even allowed here?

Brussels has the largest car-free city centre in Europe and it’s growing. In Copenhagen over half the people ride a bicycle to work, but it’s not because they’ve always done it: Copenhagen has become a cycling city only in the last few decades. Auckland is much hillier but hey, e-bikes. We too could aspire to become a cycling city.

In Mexico they have a rotating ban on cars, based on licence plates. Paris has had car-free days also based on licence plates. In addition they’re building more bike lanes, allowing only electric cars onto some streets and banning diesel cars. Athens also plans to ban diesel and London discourages diesel vehicles with very high congestion charges.

More than half the citizens of Vancouver now travel by subway, bus, bike or foot. Car-free parts of the city have been extended and there are car-free days too.

As for New York, not so long ago a city defined by its car-filled avenues, they’ve been scaling back for years now and they’re still busily at it. If you can get the cars out of Times Square, where can’t you get them out of?

 

Why should we do this in Auckland? Here are six easy answers:

1 Pedestrians buy things: shopping volumes increase markedly and – to take one example – the hospitality spend in Fort St has risen by 400 percent since it became a “shared space” (which is where cars have equal rights to pedestrians on the entire street).

Elliott St: Auckland’s favourite ratrun

2 Even though shared spaces are better than ordinary streets, they’re still ridiculous. We need the cars out altogether. Got a spare hour? Go check out the traffic Elliott St, or Fort St, or O’Connell St. You’ll discover almost all of it is just through-traffic: cars taking a short cut through areas primarily designed for pedestrians. They should be like Vulcan Lane.

3 Walking is good for your health. And unlike that treadmill at the gym it doesn’t cost anything.

4 Walking is good for community. Even when the pavements get clogged you don’t see a lot of pedestrian rage.

5 Without cars, we can green the city. You think Auckland is beautiful now? Parts of it are, for sure. But imagine what Queen St could be like once pedestrians are prioritised. And Victoria St, High St, Albert St, Mayoral Drive, all the inner city streets.

6 We’ll all save money. Isn’t this one of the oddest things of all? We find it easy to believe taxes and rates are too high but we don’t especially object to billions being spent on roads. Pedestrian infrastructure is far cheaper; public transport infrastructure is often cheaper too. And if you’re not running a car into town every day, you’re definitely saving money.

Why are we not doing this already? For that matter, with all the disruption in the inner city caused by construction of the City Rail Link, is there a better time to trial it than right now?

Could Auckland Transport please explain? Could Auckland Council please explain?


The Spinoff Auckland is sponsored by Heart of the City, the business association dedicated to the growth of downtown Auckland as a vibrant centre for entertainment, retail, hospitality and business.

The Spinoff Longform Fund is dedicated to facilitating investigative journalism. Our focus is on supporting in-depth reporting on important New Zealand stories. Your donation will help us sustain this most resource-intensive form of journalism, ensuring that the most complex and important stories still get told.