Wellington Scoop

Getting faster to the bottlenecks

by Ron Beernink
Most of the world has figured out that creating bigger, wider, additional roads does not fix traffic problems. It only makes it worse as it encourages more traffic. Transmission Gully will be an example of this.

At best it will get people faster to the big bottlenecks that will happen as they get to Wellington or the Hutt. It will encourage more cars when we should be doing the opposite to avoid the impending disastrous effects of global warming.

It is no surprise therefore that central and local governments are saying a clear “No” to building more road capacity. This may be a bitter pill for people who are stuck in traffic jams at common bottlenecks like the Terrace tunnel, Mt Victoria tunnel and the Melling interchange. Sadly a lot of those people are the real cause of this problem; driving their car when they could have taken a train, a bus, or even walked or cycled.

It is sad but not surprising to see Hutt mayor Ray Wallace suggesting that the NZTA take the opportunity to add another traffic lane to SH2 by widening the foreshore a bit more while they are putting the seaside walking and bike lane in. Sad as it shows that mayor Ray clearly isn’t very good at thinking things through, particularly with him suggesting that this can be done at minimal cost.

Had he consulted some of his traffic engineers, they could have told him straight away that every metre of road infrastructure change costs thousands. Also, anyone who travels along SH2 can see straight away that the railway line would need to be moved to make way for another traffic lane. Now we’re really talking big BIG dollars. And only to get more people in cars faster to the next traffic jam.

Not surprising as mayor Ray hasn’t shown much vision for Getting the Hutt Moving, even when he could have figured out that what people want for Wellington, they also want for the Hutt. That is better public transport and safer, more enjoyable walking and cycling. This instead of creating more traffic chaos by allowing big box shopping developments in Petone or continuing to make Queensgate a big magnet for people in cars.

For a number of years I have made submissions and complaints to mayor Ray and his Councillors, to lower traffic speeds and create more dead end streets to make the roads in suburbs safer and more people friendly. This is the easy stuff that the rest of New Zealand and the world is doing. Yet they can’t even ensure the basics like pedestrian crossing at the new Briscoes and Rebel Sports outlets in Petone.

Are more roads and cars what we want to leave as a legacy for our next generations? Hopefully people will use this year’s local body elections to vote in people with a fresh vision and thinking on how we need shift our traffic spending to better public transport, and safe walking & cycling infrastructure. We need actual leaders on our Hutt Council as well on the Greater Wellington Regional Council to push for fresh ideas like extending the Melling railway line into the Hutt CBD, creating a light rail link to Wainuiomata, and ensuring that our kids can safely walk and bike to schools and to sports fields etc.

Ron Beernink is a proud Wellingtonian with a passion for our communities. He organised the 2016 Ciclovia Event where over 3000 people enjoyed being able to walk and cycle the Miramar Peninsula without having cars around.


  1. Russel C., 26. May 2019, 17:12

    Ron – every metre of Light Rail will cost $100,000 given Kerry Wood’s $100 million a kilometre figure.

    And added road capacity can cure road traffic congestion – just look at what the Manor Park interchange has achieved! Can we see sense and improve the southern section of SH1 now please, especially the Melling bottleneck? Let’s spend the petrol pump money we pay to improve the roads we use.

  2. Kerry, 26. May 2019, 21:52

    Russel. You are not comparing like with like. A traffic lane can typically carry about 1200 people an hour, needing about 1000 parking spaces. A light rail track can typically carry as many people as eight traffic lanes, with a handful of sidings for parking.Buses are somewhere in the middle, about 6000 people an hour.
    Cycling about 7000, walking 8500.
    A motor traffic lane is a very inefficient way of moving people, even before you start thinking about emissions, climate change, urban sprawl.
    Pollution from motor vehicle emissions kills as many people as crashes.
    Figures from the Global Street Design Guide (WCC is a contributor)

  3. Gillian Tompsett, 27. May 2019, 15:55

    Russel C: “added road capacity can cure road traffic congestion” Where did this fiction come from? Any traffic engineer will tell you that more roads = more cars. Look at Auckland. Any improvement in traffic flows are temporary without concurrent public transport investment.

    Building light rail won’t be cheap, but as Kerry explained it’s better value in the long run. I’m amazed that our forebears built NZ’s core infrastructure, in one of the most hostile physical environments in the world, miles from anywhere, with a population of a million people. Roads, bridges, tunnels, rail and tram networks. Quite something.

  4. luke, 27. May 2019, 16:49

    If you want more traffic build more roads. I’m unsure why this expensive folly is so popular in voterland.

  5. Brendan F., 27. May 2019, 17:52

    Yes supply creates its own demand. But sometimes, just sometimes, excess demand warrants a grade-separated junction like the superb Manor Park SH58/SH2 intersection. Well done NZTA for sorting this one out even if it did cost $50 million (a good portion of which must be the concrete walkway to the deserted Manor Park rail station (does anybody use it?) and the cycleway chicanes.

    We desperately need a grade separated junction at Melling NOW. Benefits for dollar spent say 7.8? So Please NZTA get on and just build it! We can’t wait until 2029! There is more to getting the Wellington Region moving than Light Rail to the Airport and the odd million dollar bus hub!

  6. Henry Filth, 27. May 2019, 21:12

    How does the “more/better roads bring more traffic” thing work? Who amongst us has ever said to themselves “Oooh! Theres a new motorway out Waikanae way! I think I’ll go and drive along it.”

  7. Kerry, 27. May 2019, 21:54

    Henry. Try reading the ‘Downs-Thomson Paradox.’
    Improved road capacity increases travel times because it attracts more users.

  8. mason, 27. May 2019, 22:01

    Building new roads to deal with traffic congestion is like bigger trousers for obesity. If you make something more attractive, more people will use it.

  9. Andy Mellon, 28. May 2019, 9:13

    Good on you Ron for mentioning the lack of pedestrian crossing on Te Puni Street. With the additional traffic down that end of Petone, Victoria Street and Te Puni Street are in desperate need of better pedestrian crossings. Always struggle to safely cross those roads with my young daughter. I’ve suggested this to both the Petone Community Board and in the Hutt City annual plan feedback.

    Even though I rarely use it, I still support the Melling interchange as it will improve road safety and enable improvements to flood protection.

  10. Brendan F., 28. May 2019, 9:49

    The PT lobby drones on about how improved public transport will make it better for remaining road users by freeing the roads up. Indeed, a good proportion of the economic benefits of PT schemes (like LRT) are the supposed time savings to road users. So why don’t the roads fill up again then as for a road improvement? Is this another transport ‘paradox’?

  11. John Rankin, 28. May 2019, 11:01

    @BrendanF: there are 2 parts to the answer to your question, so I will “drone on”:

    1. If we have a high-capacity rapid transit service such as light rail and it accounts for say 50% of trips, that means 50% of travellers enjoy a congestion-free journey.

    2. Those people choosing rapid transit who previously used their cars will free up road space and this will over time fill up again as people make new car trips. That’s why we also need congestion charges, so we put a price on road use during times of high demand.

    If congestion charges are politically too hard, like capital gains tax, drivers have 2 choices: switch to the rapid transit service to escape congestion, or put up with congestion. Commercial road users delivering goods and services don’t have the option to switch, and they would be the biggest beneficiaries of rapid transit plus congestion charges.

  12. Donald T., 28. May 2019, 14:59

    @JR – if you remove road space for LRT, I’ll be part of the 50% worse off since I need my car for work and I’ll have worse congestion waiting for the lights to change for your prioritised tram. That’s why GWRC’s Study showed LRT made things worse for road users with forecast negative time ‘savings’.

    And regarding taxes and charges? Yes, my rates and petrol price will have to go up to pay the $1.5 billion for LRT so I’ll be dining out less and going to the cinema less. Induced demand in reverse.

  13. John Rankin, 28. May 2019, 16:09

    @DonaldT: not generally true. A lane dedicated to light rail can move far more people than a lane dedicated to cars. A light rail vehicle gets through an intersection far more quickly than the same number of people in cars.

    The problem you identify can happen at busy intersections, where signal priority for light rail can increase delays for other road users. If a particular phase keeps getting pre-empted by light rail, that traffic never gets to clear. This is why smart cities build bridges or tunnels, to separate light rail from other traffic. If GW has identified intersections where there will be a problem, it needs to budget for grade separation at those locations.

    It pays to do the job properly and not cut corners to save money.

  14. paul, 29. May 2019, 9:51

    Do we really want to put tracks into a city prone to earthquakes?

  15. luke, 29. May 2019, 14:03

    Paul, should Tokyo and Mexico City remove all their tracks, as they too are prone to earthquakes?

  16. greenwelly, 29. May 2019, 14:42

    Paul – Wellington used to have tram tracks. Christchurch’s survived pretty much intact, and San Francisco/Portland/Seattle and Japan all have significant light rail/Trams/Cable cars.

  17. Paul, 30. May 2019, 14:50

    When we have earthquakes all our trains are stopped but the buses keep running…

  18. Casey, 30. May 2019, 17:06

    Paul: After earthquakes the trains are stopped whilst the tracks are checked for possible damage. Safety requirement. I don’t recall in recent times track damage so extensive that it required long service outages.

  19. paul, 31. May 2019, 8:37

    You are correct – it did not require long service outages. But waiting a day or so for all the tracks to be checked, particularly after an earthquake, is not good! After a large earthquake, having thousands of people all trying to make their way home via alternate means…

  20. Traveller, 31. May 2019, 9:32

    Paul. Buses or any onroad transport is no solution to replacing trains after an emergency. As was seen during a storm a year or two ago, when the roads were gridlocked by all the extra traffic.

  21. luke, 1. June 2019, 16:59

    How about a freeway collapsing like LA, or a slip in the Ngauranga Gorge. Or a new motorway along a faultline like Transmission Gully.

  22. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 1. June 2019, 18:04

    Yep, I think the temporary failure of LRT after a major quake would be the least of many Wellingtonians’ worries. Miramar is a walkable distance from the CBD in those circumstances (whereas Kapiti and Upper Hutt aren’t). Also, LRT’s slower speeds than the commuter rail trains suggests it would generally be up and running quite soon after a moderate quake, with drivers instructed to simply take extra care.

  23. mason, 2. June 2019, 10:31

    Sydney’s George Street is now a vastly nicer place than our golden mile. Even the current construction zone is better than a traffic sewer like Lambton Quay. When completed it will be amazing.

  24. Brendan, 2. June 2019, 11:54

    Total tosh Mason – Lambton Quay is far superior to George Street was/is and ever will be. And I’ve lived in both cities!