Auckland Transport car ban on Queen St through-traffic by mid-2021 enrages stakeholders

Auckland Transport is drawing up plans to remove through-traffic from Queen St within six months – banishing cars from stretches of the city’s once busiest street.

Changes to the city centre’s only remaining north/south route, which once got 12,000 cars a day, will result in “two bus-only sections, which will remove end-to-end through-traffic”.

The plans have been heavily criticised by local retail traders, property owners and the Automobile Association which says confidence with Queen St’s “dishevelled state” is at a “low ebb” with “significant unanswered questions and disgruntled stakeholders”.

Despite this, consultation on Auckland Transport’s (AT) plans will begin in March and the implementation of the no-car zones is expected in the middle of this year.

The move by AT and Auckland Council builds on the controversial Queen St Access for Everyone pilot which in June, 2020, fast-tracked a pedestrianisation trial by taking advantage of Covid-19 social distancing barriers.

Since April 2020, Queen St has been reduced to a single lane each way, with plastic pylons and 300kg white blocks sectioning off the curbside lanes for pedestrians.

“The measures proposed in the [2021] network plan will discourage private vehicles travelling the entire length of the street at certain times of the day. The times of operation will be part of the consultation,” an AT statement said.

“More importantly the two sections of bus lane ensure reliable bus travel for the thousands of daily users.”

It is not yet clear what stretches of Queen St will be car-free, which will be determined in the consultation process.

Auckland CBD business association Heart of the City’s chief executive Viv Beck said desperate business owners were out of patience with the constant disruption to Queen St.

“Our confidence with this project is at a low ebb. Queen St is vitally important for the city centre and the temporary works have created a dishevelled state for the better part of a year,” Beck said.

“The city is changing and there is a great opportunity for Queen St to keep evolving as a place that people love, and that needs quality design and planning.

“It will mean less traffic but it still needs to work well.There are significant unanswered questions and disgruntled stakeholders.It’s just not good enough for one of the country’s most prominent streets.”

But AT maintains only drivers who want to travel the length of Queen St will be majorly disrupted by the changes.

“Anyone driving to a loading bay or carpark building who needs to use part of Queen St, for example to get to the Durham St carpark building inaccessible from Albert St currently, will continue to be able to,” an AT spokesperson said.

Other confirmed changes to the street include a pocket park in at the intersection of Fort and Queen Sts and greenery and trees along the eastern side of Queen St between Victoria and Wellesley Sts.

An artist’s design impression of the Fort St pocket park by commissioned landscape firm LandLAB shows substantial changes to the streetscape with trees and central benches completely baring car access through the currently shared pedestrian/vehicle space.

An AT spokesperson cited 82 per cent support for the Access for Everyone concept, of which theQueen St pedestrian trail is part of, from consultation in March 2020.

The stated goal of the 2021 through-traffic ban on Queen St is to quicken bus movements which were moved into the same lane as cars with the initial pedestrian trial in April last year.

“More importantly, the two sections of bus lane ensure reliable bus travel for the thousands of daily users. Each day 47,000 people start or end their bus journey on Queen St,” an AT spokesperson said.

Auckland Councillor Chris Darby has been instrumental in the conception of the Queen St pedestrian trial and said the shopping strip was in the process of “reinventing” itself and the council was “playing a key role” in facilitating this.

“Enabling buses to move more freely along Queen St is a key part of proposed network changes that we’ll be seeking public feedback on soon,” Darby said.

“The proposal safeguards key freight access routes and loading zones, and removes environment choking end-to-end through traffic. This all points the way to a go-to city-centre rather than a drive-through city-centre.”

However, Automotive Association principal adviser Barney Irvine was scathing of the further transport disruption just as the major parallel intersection of Victoria and Albert Sts was to be blocked by City Rail Link construction.

“Is now really the right time for this? We’ve got massive disruption coming up with the closure of Victoria St, and this is going to make a bad situation much worse. Surely it’d be better to wait and let the Victoria St changes bed in?” Irvine said.

“They’re asking Aucklanders to suck up a hell of a lot of disruption and inconvenience when it comes to traffic, and what are we getting in return for it?

“So far, a whole lot of cheap and nasty street-scaping, which is going to turn people away from Queen St, not bring them in. How’s that a good deal?”

Anne Mazer has owned clothing stores Great Kiwi Yarns and the Country Collection on downtown Queen St since 2017 and said yesterday she had not been contacted by AT about the no-car zone changes and was very sceptical.

“The business is really bad for everyone in Queen St. It’s a nightmare. It won’t help to have some work at the moment, definitely not. We’re just trying to get people into Queen St. I hope it’s not a huge disruption work.

Mazer was not critical of the pedestrianisation of the street in principal, but the timing of the road work to do so was majorly unhelpful as she attempts to weather the Covid-19 retail downturn.

“For me, reducing the car traffic, I don’t think it’s a bad idea if the goal is to encourage people to Queen St and have a larger path where we can walk, why not? But we need to know what, how, why?”

Source: Read Full Article