The problem

Maple Lane is a narrow lane between Main Street and Church Street in Palmerston North which provides access to a café and to the back of several businesses. Though many pedestrians and cyclists commute along the lane, they are often pushed aside by vehicles using it as a rat-run at speed. Palmerston North City Council (PNCC) is developing a laneways manual in line with its vision to design public spaces that are pedestrian-friendly, intimate, and that support social interaction outlined in the City Centre and Placemaking Plans. Trialling ways to make Maple Lane more people-oriented could therefore contribute supporting evidence for the future manual.

How the project responded

PNCC ran a trial to close Maple Lane from through vehicle traffic on a Monday in May 2019 during which:

  • colourful planters were used to narrow the midpoint of the lane, blocking through vehicles
  • walking and cycling were encouraged
  • signs with hashtags were painted on walls in the alleyway to encourage feedback on social media

The project was designed using the '24-hour' rule: to be able to remove the planters within 24 hours of installation if substantial problems arose. A landscape architecture student was engaged to create a series of visualisations of the laneway to stimulate discussion of future layouts, which were posted on social media. The engagement plan involved ‘consulting by doing’ to separate out what issues really occur from those that people expect.

Maple Lane trial planters

Maple Lane trial planters. Credit: Palmerston North City Council.

Visualisation of layout option

Visualisation of layout option. Credit: Palmerston North City Council.

What was learned

The main consultation findings were:

  • positive feedback from café users and people on bikes
  • pedestrian passers-by support for the increased safety of not having to yield to through-traffic, and increased amenity through colour and planting
  • mixed feedback from drivers who understood the reason for the trial but would prefer their convenience of access to be maintained
  • healthy and safety concerns around waste vehicles using the main road instead of the lane (under investigation)
  • emergency vehicle access concerns (they do not use the lane)
  • some concern based on the visualisation ideas that using the narrow space for café seating would limit access for walking and cycling
  • some business concerns that laneway investment reduces foot traffic past shop frontages.

Consulting only those directly affected was considered effective, as it meant actual realised issues could be identified and addressed, and preferences around convenience or ‘what if’ type risks did not overshadow the trial. Most vehicle users adjusted easily to the changes, including waste vehicles and taxis.

Key issues identified included:

  • the trial signage was not overt enough, resulting in people with concerns finding other means to communicate these
  • difficulties in developing buy-in from vehicle users.

PNCC has since bolted the planters to the ground as part of a semi-permanent installation which will inform similar trials in five other laneways. The planters will be maintained for at least two years in order to be flexible and responsive to changes in nearby building developments.