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Auckland: the new Copenhagen?

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

More by Jazial Crossley

Comments and questions

At last! This has to be one of the more positive moves towards making Auckland a better place. For years traffic engineering has ruled the city's growth planning - and the city oaid the price. Now people on foot are being recognised as important. In reality, we already mix pedestrians and cars - by jay walking, and in big carparks. The standard shopkeeper bleat wanting kerbside parks is typical - and selfishly wrong. The delivery drivers have to relaise that people must have priority - and like most cities in the world, they may have to do their deliveries in off peak hours.
Go Auckland!

Excellent idea. I've seen it working fabulously well in European towns. Another good method is simply to block the street at some point with flower tubs so that it is no longer a through route, but fully accessible from either end for emergencies and passable for pedestrians. Part of the problem is that shopkeepers dominate councils.

Obviously no one has been in Oxford Street in London recently where it can take 20-30 minutes to travel a short distance not because there are lots of cars but because there are so many buses. And large vehicles are slow and not nimble.

It is quicker to walk.

...and the problem with many shopkeepers is that they can't always see what will be good for them!
Plenty of studies (Melbourne is probably the most relevant example) have shown that these kind of street treatments increase the numbers of people in the inner city, therefore increase customers. A couple of hundred extra people walking past will more than compensate for the loss of a couple of carparks outside your shop:

"Melbourne’s merchants, like their Copenhagen colleagues before them, feared a retail apocalypse. “The retailers were up in arms, we were going to kill them,” says Rob Adams, who was one of the consultants on the plan and is now the director of Melbourne’s urban design department. “Well, we’ve doubled the number of pedestrians walking past their doors. You know, you don’t shop from a motorcar – not at 60 kilometres an hour, you don’t.”

Retailers don't need to worry about on-street parking going, or difficulty in accessing/ scarcity of parking buildings. If driving to the CBD becomes a real hassle, more people will opt for public transport (or even try cycling). No parking worries means people stick around longer ...and spend more. Everyone wins!

Another step towards the Holy Grail of supercity status. These sort of pedestrian friendly streets work well in Europe because most of the towns there grew up long before every body and her mum had a motor car. Auckland is basically one main drag and a tatty one at that not a network of quaint little streets.

Absolute crap!!! No signs/markings is the stupidiest idea I have ever heard. Who came up with this idea so we can protest?

and perhaps free bikes as well per Copenhagen! How long would you estimate they would last?. Tried in Porirua a while ago - all gone in 48 hours.

I look forward to seeing it, this time last year I owned 4 nice european cars, now I have none, it is very liberating, you should try it. Now I walk from Parnell to my office in the city... luckily my partner still has her car so we can go away on weekends so I look forward to an improved train system also.

May be there is some intelligence in our traffic engineers and town planning. Auckland suffers from some of the poorest traffic design possible. Auckland's traffic density is not that high. It is the intersections that are very slow. Look down from the Sky Tower and the roads are nearly empty except for the huddles around the traffic lights. Look down from a high in London and the roads are full.

This kind of thinking will certainly help and now with one council for all of Auckland (no where else in the world do they call it a super council) hopefully we will get public transport so we don't have to use our cars like we do currently. No public transport and the current anti car attitude will kill the retailers. People will drive to suburban shopping centres.

Shouldn't this story have run on April 1st? Auckland is not Copenhagen, nor is it any other European city. These delusions and pretensions are utterly absurd. What are these people on?

"The streets will be paved flat without kerbs to encourage intuitive driving and pedestrian freedom."

Highly idealistic. NZers are among the worst drivers in the world, and I certainly wouldn't want to be on the end of some of the "intuitive" driving, let alone-alcohol-sozzled drivers (is it 100 per day who get arrested for driving over the limit?) while walking a pram through these streets.
It's a great theory, but we are not a civilised country with centuries of infrastructure to support this concept of tolerance. We have become a country dominated by third-rate thinking, apologetic about our very largely brave pioneer forebears and paying lip-service to what was basically - and has not really departed from being - a primitive, violent ,now Polynesian-dominated society, where aggressive, demanding behaviour is too often the norm; gullible teenagers are told they are "warriors" and embrace institutionalised violence. We should have unapologetically stick to our guns about the virtues of civilised modes of behaviour - no longer promoted. Is NZ civilised enough?

"rain" - you could not have put it better. A very accurate description of were we have headed. The answer is no. Every time I return from travel to Europe I look around and think ' 'what an unsafe, filthy, poverty stricken dump this place is now ' .

Perhaps they dont have Asian drivers or boy racers in Copenhagen?

In any event gutters appear to have a very sound purpose, and I could think of nothing worse than drinking a coffee on the street, sitting ankle deep in swill, in fear of being taken out by an errant motorist, whilst trying to convince myself how wonderfully European the entire experience is.

Perhaps to make it even more authentic we could dispense with indoor toilets and revert to the Victorian practise of hurling a bucketful of the mornings bowel movements from the window to the street below.... which of course now begs the question of where exactly do Messers Campbell-Reid, Townsend, Moyle at al take their morning coffee?

a well thought 100year plan is necessary for a bright future.To enhance and improve our multi cultural society we need radical change across all sectors of society.we need strong decisive leadership in both public and private sectors.we are a small nation and must work together with a positive positive about change.

I think it's better to give $60m to public transport and make it free.

If you want to look like Copenhagen, you first need to lift the drinking ban in the city.

We are in a better position to build a "network of quaint little" streets than our European cousins, because we have such wide streets at the moment. (The European streets you allude too were in many cases laid, and built out with houses/buildings when the horse was the primary mode of transport) So, go for it Auckland, tidy up the tatty streets and watch them blossom. Great idea

Free streets is very liberating, like wearing no undies, going commando.

Taihape, Paeroa, Pukekohe ... let's do it to them all ... who needs those road rules anyway? Get rid of the speed limits too and make SH1 an autobahn ... gedanke, gidday!

Supported, great initiative. We are far too dependent on motor vehicles especially in our cities

I think it's a brilliant idea. I cycle down these 'lanes' daily and drivers are already careful and considerate in these areas - the speed bumps have had a real effect. Realistically most drivers along these streets are only looking for parking and if the parking spaces are removed, there will be little car traffic anyway. Aucklanders will get used to this in a very short space of time and see the real benifits - after all drivers are also pedestrians when they get out of their cars. It's initiatives like this that will make Auckland a 'real' city where people enjoy living and spending time rather than a 'rat hole' that they scurry from at the end of the working day, leaving it to the drunks and the homeless. I, like several others I know, have recently moved into the city with my family and sold the car - it's the best thing I've ever done!

The Brighton's picture (before) is not Brighton but the Exhibition Road.
No body notice it?

Somehow it looks like mayhem will descend upon us, and I better get some proper cycling gear if I am going to cycle on street like this just to be safe. Apart from that, I guess the appeal is there, I have always found the European way intriguing.