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Road cones, high-vis vests and traffic snarls were more in evidence in the city centre than crowds of foot traffic yesterday, as the Dunedin City Council started its summer pedestrianisation trials of the Octagon — a prelude to a possible, more expansive, multimillion-dollar upgrade of the city centre.
Over the rest of summer, through a series of configurations, streets are to be filled with planter boxes, white picket fences and — ideally — large crowds, as a series of events hits the city, starting with the NZ Otago Community Trust Masters Games.
Otago Chamber of Commerce chief executive Dougal McGowan visited Octagon retailers yesterday and for some, the less-than-busy streets during the set-up phase was a grim sign.
"Today’s been tough for many of the retailers," Mr McGowan said.
"The key to this now is making sure we get really good data that is going to create informed decision-making."
Mr Hawkins said he expected to see a "vibrant city centre" as people arrived for the events.
"I think from this weekend onwards ... it will be a significant and busy time in that part of the city.
"The whole point of doing this is to be able to refine it for future events in a way that works best for our local environment."
Council principal urban designer Kathryn Ward said the University of Otago would help collect data to "understand movement numbers and economic effects of the trial and help shape future decisions about the Octagon and the central city".
Council planning and environment committee chairman Cr David Benson-Pope said there was a lot of "misinformation" about the council’s plans, including some incorrectly saying it had plans to pedestrianise George St.
There were no current plans, "even in the short term to do even that much with the Octagon", he said.
Mr McGowan urged the council and community to remain flexible.
"If things are looking catastrophic in the next wee while, we need to be able to react fast enough to shorten things if necessary ... but equally if it’s going well we need to be celebrating with those who have made the right decisions if that’s the case," Mr McGowan said.