A community-led initiative aimed to ease the traffic woes of the popular Mangawhai Heads Wood Street shopping centre has unfortunately gone skewwhiff for a number of businesses.
In a hectic holiday season, the newly constructed road alignment is causing bottlenecks, long traffic jams and a number of minor collisions and near misses, with one retail manager describing the situation as bordering on the comical.
The Wood Street Revitalisation Project, a collaborative works between local residents, Kaipara District Council staff (KDC) and initiators the Mangawhai Business Association, has created major changes to the centre recently in an attempt to beautify with art and greenery and make the street more appealing to pedestrians by slowing traffic with a one-way system along a narrowed lane, providing off-street parking away from the shops as well as additional public seating. Drawing on positive feedback from last year’s temporary one-way system trial, the project attracted a lot of time, energy and creativeness from those involved.
However, a number of Wood Street business people are shaking their heads at the new alignment, as customers choose to go elsewhere for product due to clogged parking spaces or not wanting to risk manoeuvring through the reduced strip of road, with one retailer commenting ‘it’s been a nightmare’ while another summed up the situation with a single swear word.
“There’s nowhere for parked cars to go, the drivers can’t see each other so there’s been a lot of prangs and near misses. I had to halt the traffic at one point so drivers parked outside the shop could actually back out,” she says.
“My landlord isn’t happy either as he is required to have thirteen car parks and now only has ten, one being a disabled parking which is on a slope. He also put in a seat outside the pharmacy when the extensions went in but unnecessary seating has been put in right by the parked cars in the hot sun.”
Scott says she is not in favour of the street being turned into a pedestrian-friendly zone as people just want to ‘whip in and whip out’.
“They don’t want to park away and have to walk up through the centre… we need quick accessible parking,” she says. “The very first meeting we went to there were discussions about putting parking along Molesworth Drive by the golf course, but that never happened. I also recall Dream Planning did a plan about five years ago which involved parking at the old fire station once it was demolished which would have good… but they only have a few at the back plus seating in the hot sun next to the road!”
Although Scott went to the first two workshops, she felt she wasn’t listened to and eventually walked out.
The spokesperson, who is well-aware of the impact of the changes due to living and working on the street, says the holiday period has been a stressful time, with staff accommodating visiting and local customers by offering people their private car park and arranging times in the quieter after-hours for boaties to access the station.
“However, if we can’t meet their times, we’ve lost their custom,” she says. “The narrowed road is a big problem, restricting large vehicles hits us directly. I understand some businesses want pedestrians but we need vehicles.”
While the spokesperson understands ‘the council is trying to help everyone, it’s gone the other way’, with accessible parking limited by the narrowed street which she says was additional to what everyone wanted, ‘they’ve made their own tweaks’.
“The new plan was supposed to create more parking but it’s just created chaos… the area outside the food hall also doesn’t make sense,” she says. “We were also told our customers would have a waiting area where they could queue outside Four Square along the yellow lines but the space was then turned into a temporary bus stop. When I asked council what was going on, no one seemed to know.”
The spokesperson says she attended the initial public workshops with other staff members, however as they were not 100 per cent behind the one-way system ‘we felt cut off and not heard’.
“I know it’s a work in progress and along with some customers have been trying to reach out to council to let them know the new way is not working, but they say ‘it’s what the public wanted and everyone’s happy with it’,” she says. “It seems the public have been told businesses wanted the street this way, while businesses are told the public wanted it… we just want to be heard.”
“I think it’s great what the council and others are doing and appreciate that they are trying to improve the area,” she says. “It was better last year though, the road is a bit too narrow and the last thing we want is parking spaces taken away with seating outside the pharmacy, haven’t seen anyone sitting there… not really a fan of the lime green paint either.”
Potential patrons to Wood Street Pizzeria often did not make it through the doors, restaurant manager Damini Verma says, due to no available parking spaces.
“Even the new parking area behind the medical centre was full so customers would just drive away,” she says. “It is so chaotic but could be just because of the summer holiday season, we’ll have a clearer picture once the tourist season is over.”
n The Focus endeavoured to talk to a number of businesses along Wood St but understands that many were very busy given the time of the year and could not be contacted. However if business owners would like to share their experience please contact Julia Wade at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Congestion, lack of parking, near misses and increased stress has left a number of business owners at Wood Street shops shaking their heads over the new one way traffic plan.
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