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The problem

Wānaka is experiencing substantial growth, both in terms of a rising population and increasing tourist visitors. The town centre is car-dominated and cut off from the lakefront by Ardmore Street, a busy main route to the town centre.

The development of a new Town Centre Masterplan and Integrated Transport Programme Business Case by Queenstown Lakes District Council (QLDC), to understand current and future growth problems, provided fertile ground to respond to the community’s desire to trial options for addressing issues of transport and place, and use ‘experiential engagement’ to consult with them on options for the future of Wānaka. A Community Reference Group was established for the Wanaka Town Centre Masterplan and they were very supportive of and helped shape the trial.

How the project responded

QLDC implemented road closures and street activation activities over a four-day weekend in March 2019. Features included:

  • a mix of full and partial road closures to pedestrianise streets along the town centre lakefront
  • removal of parking along the lakefront (Ardmore Street)
  • a temporary roundabout at the corner of Brownston and McDougall Streets
  • space activations games like volleyball, dodgeball, cricket, jenga and chess
  • creation of informal outdoor dining spaces
  • a consultation tent and materials.

The trial changes were intentionally larger and more disruptive than the permanent changes are likely to be. Transport data was collected during a four-week period and highlighted the impacts of key events (Otago Anniversary, the A&P show and the Activation Trial) as well as normal weekend behaviour and how the transport network responded.

Wānaka town centre activation layout map

Wānaka town centre activation layout. Credit: QLDC.

Street volleyball during the activation

Street volleyball during the activation. Credit: QLDC.

What was learned

The temporary four-day road closure allowed the Council to test how the community and transport network responded to this transformational change. It also provided the community with a sense of how the space could alternatively be used and how much space is currently allocated to vehicles. Traffic, cycling and pedestrian data was measured for two weeks either side of the activation trial to measure and monitor change. The road closure was used as an innovative platform to engage with the community on Wanaka’s future, with outputs used to guide the team in developing the masterplan and transport business case.

The partial closure of Ardmore Street during the activation event had a substantial effect on other parts of the network, resulting in:

  • increased traffic and travel times on Brownston Street
  • higher numbers of vehicles on Golf Course Road
  • more motorists undertaking U-turns on Lakeside Road.

Closure of Ardmore Street also led to:

  • more cycling journeys on all three paths that were measured compared to the baseline weekend
  • longer pedestrian dwell times in the town centre.

The consultation was considered highly successful, as:

  • it received 1120 online survey responses
  • it stimulated a high level of discussion of the project within the community and initiated a lively debate about the future of the town and how it could respond to growth
  • the data was used to inform key elements of the preferred option for presentation to the community.

While the response to the trial was generally positive, there was some opposition during and following the activation trial. Some businesses reported that they experienced financial losses during the trial period, and some residents reported frustration with increased congestion on Brownston Street due to the closure of Ardmore Street. As a result of the trial and master planning process, a number of groups were formed (business and landowners), and Council widened the scope of consultation to engage directly with these groups.

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