The NZTA are often accused of sham public consultations and then doing whatever they want, and that may well be the case for what they are now calling The Tunnel to Tunnel Inner City Transport Improvements.
The politics of road building can be pretty nasty. There is the Happy Motoring brigade who never want to stop at a red light, wait in a traffic queue for any amount of microseconds, nor see a bloody cyclist on their beloved tarmac. The current transport minister may well indeed be one of the brigade – see Brownlee is a Roads Scholar. Then at the other end of the spectrum there are the green purists who view all road development and automobiles as intrinsically evil. (Yes I know such people probably are mythical, but I suspect people, like the commenters on every story on the RoNS in the Fairfax press who say “Hurry up and build the thing”, believe that they do exist.)
If we ignore the great economic cost of building giant roads and tunnels in the first place, and if we ignore the pollution issues, and the possible urban blight issues of a flyover in Mt Cook/Te Aro, and the fact that petrol is going to get more expensive, and that Wellington is presently in the economic doldrums meaning traffic levels are probably going to fall, does the Tunnel to Tunnel plan actually have some benefits for making Wellington a more liveable city?
Should we (we as in the non-Happy Motoring Brigade) roll over on the Basin flyover, the Buckle Street tunnel, duplicating the Terrace Tunnel, and the Mt Victoria Tunnel, and the widening of Ruahine Street and then use them as an opportunity to improve the outcomes in terms of urban quality, better cycling routes, getting rid of traffic on the streets that are bypassed and slowing down the traffic that is left? It is after all called the Inner City Bypass.
Firstly I’ve got to say it is a good idea to reinstate the Helen Clark Government’s plan to put Buckle Street into an underpass to make an urban park in front of the War Memorial carillon. It’s now a rush job to get it finished by the centenary of the Gallipoli landings (and it wouldn’t have been a rush if National didn’t cancel the plan in 2009). So we can thank Helen Clark for it, rather than John Key.
Next consider that a pedestrian cycle facility is meant to be included in the NZTA plan. I’m not sure from the brochure what the quality of it is going to be, but maybe they’ll even improve the Mt Vic Tunnel facilities (how many years have we been ignored on our calls to install a relatively inexpensive perspex screen for the pedestrian route in the current Mt Vic Tunnel so that pedestrians aren’t poisoned with fumes?) The blue dotted lines are crying out for separated cycle lanes (without fear of dooring) on Kent and Cambridge Terraces to join out this proposed better route with the waterfront and the start of the around the Bays route.
Those separated cycle lanes on Kent and Cambridge fit in with Jan Gehl’s idea of City Boulevards, as shown on this map on his report. Notice that with a lot of the traffic removed out of the city centre (and especially off the Quays) the Quays, Cable and Wakefield St and Kent and Cambridge Terraces are all City Boulevards. This is the idea from the Gehl report that needs revisiting.
But the good news is this is the NZTA’s thinking too. This is in their brochure:
So what is an urban boulevard for Wellington? It means reducing the 6 lanes on Waterloo, Customhouse and Jervois Quays down to 4. It means adding Copenhagen style cycle lanes to the Quays, so no on street parking. It means a 3 metre median planted with trees. (Yes it has this in part already)
And it means slowing the traffic. At the moment the Quays are way too fast. They are either 70 or 50 km/hr and it is too fast. The fast traffic and the 6 lanes means it is a barrier to pedestrians to get from the Golden Mile to the Waterfront. I would like a 30km/hr limit. The Happy Motoring brigade would like 50 and then drive at 60. Perhaps 40 km/hr, enforced, is a happy compromise.
We need the bike lanes on the Quays as the Inner City Bypass is for cars, the Golden Mile will remain to be for buses and pedestrians, the waterfront is for walkers, strollers, dreamers, and slow recreational cycling, and the safe separated cycle lanes on the Quays will be for cycle commuting. If you want to cycle slow go on the waterfront. If you want to cycle at 20-30km/hr cycle in the cycle lanes on the Quays.
Wellington is also having its debate on buses versus light rail for the railway station to hospital transport spine study. The Boulevard on the Quays could still be reduced from 6 lanes to 4, and accommodate the light rail tracks.
The Gehl report has lots of other good advice especially about linking the Golden Mile to the Waterfront and removing obstacles for pedestrians along the Golden Mile (by closing side streets) and is worth a read, but it also has some recommendations for cyclists. First a map of the cycle routes in the city. The orange boxes are areas of “cyclist confusion”. The northern one could be fixed with my cycle paths across the Cake Tin forecourt suggestion. The Eastern one by boulevardising Kent and Cambridge.
And lastly Gehl’s recommendations for cycling:
All good, and points d, e, h and k I think are particularly great advice. Point j gives the Trondheim example of the bike elevator.
All in all, I reckon the forces of Happy Motoring are going to win the day and we are going to end up with at least a completed 2-lane in each direction road between Cobham Drive and the SH1 and SH2 split. i.e the Inner City Bypass will be complete. The Mt Vic and Terrace tunnels will be duplicated. We have to stand fast and hold them to the Buckle Street Underpass that they’ve promised.
It is not all bad news as significant benefits are going to be had if we ask for them and prepare for them. We can make good decisions about the CBD. It does involve slowing down speed limits, narrowing roads, getting rid of on-street parking, building separated cycle lanes, and lots of things that are anathema to the Happy Motoring brigade, but we should stand tall and say thanks for the opportunity, we’ll take it from here.