John Elliott: Waka Kotahi - Innovating streets for people

More space for fun on Ponsonby Road.

It will use ‘tactical urbanism’ to make quick, low-cost, scalable improvements to create more vibrant, people-friendly spaces in our neighbourhood.

So-called ‘play streets’ will enable neighbours to temporally restrict traffic access to their street so the space can be opened up for play, recreation and to create a sense of community.

The whole concept sounds attractive and done well would enhance a sense of community.

Council says, “Projects range from safe street improvements outside schools, slow street interventions, and walking and cycling facilities to give Aucklanders more space to enjoy their streets and neighbourhoods through quick tactical changes. The innovative streets fund allows for quick, low-cost projects to be trialled as a transition for long term projects.”

Mayor Goff adds, “This will create places that are good for pedestrians and people on bikes to be.”

Councillor Darby says, “The lockdown has seen Aucklanders rediscover the delight of walking and cycling, and now is the time to lock in some of the good habits we took up during lockdown. Darby added that the programme would include “playful interventions like play street programmes, slow Sundays, low traffic zones, pop-up bike paths and car calming around schools.”

The proposal for Ponsonby Road looks more problematic. It is called, “returning Ponsonby Road to the people, creating a more people friendly environment on Ponsonby Road with a focus on three parts of Ponsonby Road - Three Lamps, Vermont to Williamson, and outside Western Park.” I could find few details of how potential disruption to traffic would be mitigated.

Many of the proposals sound like fun, giving local communities opportunities for friendly community get-to-gethers. It is true we walked up the middle of our streets during lockdown. This would be especially viable in suburban centres.

How it would work on busy central city streets like Ponsonby Road, I’m not so sure.

Council, and particularly AT, need to be careful not to get too far ahead of residents.

Am I being overly cynical, or do I detect another assault on cars in Auckland city? Is this really a bike city benefit? A Pippa Coom legacy policy? A farewell present to Ludo Campbell-Reid?

Street parties can already be arranged with streets closed for several hours while residents get together. They can include bouncy castles, racket games, drinks and eats.

Forcing more cars off the roads for hours will only push them down side streets, pissing off local residents, and endangering children and the elderly.

How many readers remember the Western Bays Community Board trying to monitor traffic in John Street? They closed off parts of the street and redirected traffic for three months. There was civil disobedience. Cars mounted footpaths to get around street barriers, and there were threats with AK47 rifles. At the end of the trial, a vote showed about 90% of locals opposed the changes and the board quietly took down the barricades. This new scheme has merit, but the possible hidden agenda is a dark concern. (John Elliott)

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