News that Auckland City Council want to ban cars from Queen St, however temporarily, is just another chapter in a long story of unintended consequences.
Once upon a time, say about twenty-five years ago, retail rentals in Queen St outstripped retail rentals elsewhere by quite some margin. If you were a retailer or a shopper, this was the place to be in Auckland.
Then, to "encourage greater use of public transport," Auckland City Council began limiting the number of central city car parks that were allowed to be included in new developments. As car park numbers shrank, people didn't begin using buses, they simply went down the motorway to Newmarket. This is when Newmarket became the new shopping mecca that it is now.
Later on, in the mid-nineties, lower Fort St, Customs St and the Britomart area was a thriving night-and-day business and entertainment area. Then, to "encourage greater use of public transport," the Auckland City Council announced plans for a a large, new, downtown transport centre, and they began boarding up businesses and buildings in the area to make one.
Nearly ten years later the area was reopened, and those retail businesses and the landlords who had stayed in the area were found to be out of business, and the city's 'centre of gravity' had moved away from the shiny, new and expensive transport hub -- a hub that still remains well underutilised.
At the same time, private interests had been working away on privately owned shopping malls like St Lukes, Shore City and Westmall, doubling the capacity of these retail centres without closing down the retail businesses therein -- unlike the council's treatment of retailers, the mall owners treated their tenants with courtesy and respect -- which left these malls perfectly placed to pick up the increased retail traffic coming their way because of the ever-increasing council push to keep cars out of the city and to "encourage public transport use."
People didn't jump onto buses. The kept right on jumping in their cars, and headed off to the malls. This is when these malls became the real shopping meccas they are now for many people -- and once again the consequences that council planners intended were turned up on their heads. If people now want to go comfort shopping, they don't go to Queen St, they head off to the mall or to Newmarket (and retail rental levels reflect this reality).
And now? After more than two decades of council "encouragement," public transport use has still barely climbed above the levels of two decades ago, and no-one outside the twenty-storey council building would see Queen St as a retail mecca.
Where Queen St retail levels were once the highest in the country, Queen St retail rentals now lag rentals elsewhere by quite some margin, and Queen St itself is populated largely by two-dollar shops, cheap tourist tat, and shops serving the Asian student population who inhabit so many of central Auckland's former office buildings ... and the Auckland City Council are now talking about banning cars in Queen St.
They just don't learn. Perhaps the councillors could get in their own cars and head to Onehunga, which is another popular shopping destination, and another lesson for planners: Onehunga, which died as a retail centre when cars were banned from the main shopping street, has become increasingly popular as a shopping destination ... especially since the cars were allowed back into the main shopping street.