Auckland drivers may be forced to navigate already-congested inner city streets without signs, kerbs, road markings, crossing signals and traffic lights when a council plan to make the city more “European” and pedestrian friendly is completed.
In a $60 million scheme to be rolled out during 2009-2014 with funding from rates and development contributions as part of the Ten Year Plan, Auckland’s side streets will be transformed to resemble European lanes, eliminating signs, road markings, crossing signals and traffic lights.
The streets will be paved flat without kerbs to encourage intuitive driving and pedestrian freedom.
Inner city streets linking main roads where many businesses are located will be given a facelift under the scheme, including the entire Fort Street area (lower Shortland St, Jean Batten Place, Fort St, Commerce St, Gore St), Elliot St, Darby St, O’Connell St, and Lorne Street.
Auckland City Council head of urban design Ludo Campbell-Reid explained that the plan encourages a more democratic, safe and dignified use of the public space for a wider range of businesses and recreational uses.
“The city is not just a place to work anymore. It is somewhere that people live, work and play,” Mr Campbell-Reid said.
The council would like to see a significant portion of the city street redevelopment be completed by the time the Rugby World Cup rolls around in October 2011.
“We want visitors to really enjoy Auckland. High quality lanes in areas where people will spend money makes Auckland a more attractive tourist destination,” said Mr Campbell-Reid.
The redevelopment of Queen St improved pedestrian traffic by up to 30% on weekdays and 25% on weekends, benefitting local businesses.
The Auckland CBD board approves of the concept. Chairman Connal Townsend, said it would attract investment while enhancing the city centre as a destination for people to spend time in.
“Shared space has worked well overseas, and for Auckland’s city centre to compete with other international cities it’s vital we look at opportunities like this to provide an environment which is more pedestrian friendly and more attractive,” Mr Townsend said.
Arts, culture and recreation committee chairman Greg Moyle recently went to Chile to witness shared space streets in operation first hand.
“From what I saw in Santiago, it improves the feel of the inner city and the look of the street to be more like a thoroughfare for pedestrians with vehicles also using it, who would drive fairly slowly,” Mr Moyle said.
How would New Zealand motorists react to driving without any traditional traffic guidance like signs and road markings? “I think they’ll adjust,” Mr Moyle said.
“It’s going to be quite clear redeveloped streets are not just a road you would use as a means of getting from A to B, it would be taken if going down that street for a specific purpose. People won’t cut through Elliot St because it will take longer.”
University of Waikato associate professor in the traffic and road safety group, Samuel Charlton said that most people viewed shared space roads as visually pleasing and safer due to the lower driving speeds exercised.
“Change is hard for some people. If they fume and fret about it, its going to be even harder but this not choking off access just changing the way you interact with other road users.” Mr Charlton said
“Wouldn’t it be great if you could just meander through the CBD like a big outdoor mall?” Mr Moyle asked..
However, there are some parties that might need more convincing.
A spokesperson for an Auckland delivery company was not happy about the concept, saying it would affect their business negatively.
“There are a number of issues we need to address would be a very difficult adjustment for us.”
Similarly, a Fort St retailer was distressed that council cannot confirm yet whether any on-street car parks will remain.
“The big issue for us is on-street parking as the parking buildings around are very expensive and it’s already a congested area.”
Public consultation on the designs will take place later this year.
How does shared space work?
Anyone who has spent time in European cities like Copenhagen (below) or Norrkoping in Sweden may have marvelled at how some urban streets operate.
The road is devoid of markings, no colour coded painted lines tell motorists where they are permitted to park, stop or turn.
Cyclists, pedestrians, mothers with pushchairs and cars all share the road, seeming to navigate a pathway through other road-users with nothing but initiative to guide the way.
People make decisions about which route to take by watching the movements of others. Logic suggests the ideal speed with pedestrians prioritised, but cars still welcome.
Shared space is already in place in London’s Oxford St and Brighton’s New Rd. Apparently accidents are rare in areas overseas where this system has been implemented.
Brighton's New Rd St transformation