Wellington Scoop

More space in city streets for walking and biking (good) but not till the end of July (bad)

Press Release – Wellington City Council
Concept plans for the temporary street changes proposed for Featherston and Victoria Streets are now online – and there’s an opportunity to provide initial feedback until Thursday 11 June.

Deputy Mayor Sarah Free says the changes are designed to help with social distancing, and give people more choice in how they get around by making it safer and easier to bike in this part of the city.

“Wellingtonians are normally big public transport users. But in Alert Level 2 and potentially also 1, not so many of us are going to be able to travel that way because of reduced capacity on buses and trains,” she says. “So, in the wake of Covid-19, like many cities around the world, we are looking to repurpose space on some of our streets for walking and biking.”

It’s proposed one of the two traffic lanes along Featherston Street will become a temporary bike lane. This will link through to Victoria Street via Hunter Street, providing a dedicated bike lane through the city from Ballance Street to Abel Smith Street.

The temporary changes will form part of the main bike commuter route from the north and make it safer and more appealing. It will also provide a clear link through to Willis Street, close to where the proposed temporary bike lane up Brooklyn Hill will start.

Where possible, more space will also be created for pedestrians to walk, queue or safely pass each other on Featherston Street, which in normal times is one of the city’s busiest streets – used by about 13,000 pedestrians a day. This will be done using space on the seaward side of the road that is normally used for parking.

To provide more space for people on foot and bikes, space for general traffic will be reduced while the Covid-19 related changes are in place. It will also mean changes to some taxi stands, loading zones and bus stops. The concept plans include a temporary bus lane on Victoria Street between Dixon Street and Willis Street.

Deputy Mayor Free says the Council is providing a two-week opportunity for some initial public feedback before making a decision on 24 June on whether the temporary changes will happen – an opportunity people in many other places haven’t been given ahead of similar changes.

“Once they’re in, if approved, we’ll make it easy for businesses and the community who use these routes to provide suggestions and feedback, and some adjustments are possible. What we learn will also help us design and create better public spaces and shared streets in these, or other locations in the future.”

Councillor Jenny Condie, Associate Portfolio Leader for Transport, says these are temporary changes being made in very unusual times, which align well with city and regional goals – including the plan to move more people with fewer vehicles, make healthy transport choices an option for more people, and reduce emissions that cause climate change.

“We know many Wellingtonians are passionate and committed to doing their bit to help fight climate change – and that a lot of us also enjoyed being able to safely bike with our families during lockdown. So the things we learn from these, and the other temporary changes planned, can ultimately help us make the city a healthier, more sustainable and appealing place to live.” 

If approved, the changes are expected to be in place as long as safe distancing may be required – which could be until there is a vaccine. No one knows how long that will be.

“I’d like to see the changes stay in place even if public transport does get back to normal soon, because some people will prefer to bike to maintain a safe distance. We need to maintain that option, because like other countries, we could return to higher alert levels in the future. We just don’t know.”

She says when the prospect of applying to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for funding for these projects was mooted a few weeks ago, community representatives and individuals urged the Council to be bold, move more quickly, and do even more to enable physical distancing and increase transport choices.

“We know the removal of car parking will be a concern for some, but we also know from a lot of research around the world that removing car parks for bike lanes and widening footpaths generally has a neutral or positive effect on retail and hospitality businesses.

“We want to work with and support local businesses as we make these changes – so where we can, we’ll provide more space for queuing or sitting.”

In the wake of Covid-19 restrictions, cities all over the world are moving to create more space for people to walk, bike, queue and relax. With restricted capacity on public transport, large areas of London are being closed to cars to allow people to be able to safely walk and cycle.

Other cities have made big and rapid changes too – from hundreds of miles of new bike lanes in Milan and Mexico City, to widening footpaths and pedestrianising neighbourhoods in New York and Seattle.

In Auckland, 17kms of temporary bike lanes are in place already, and footpaths have been widened.

Feedback on the Featherston and Victoria Street proposals can be made online until Thursday 11 June. If approved on 24 June, the changes are expected to be in place by the end of July.

If approved, the changes will be 90 percent funded through Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s Innovating Streets programme as a Covid-19 response project. The Innovating Streets programme uses tactical urbanism to move towards the Government’s longer-term objectives to create safer, healthier and more vibrant towns and cities.

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  1. Andrew, 31. May 2020, 9:34

    As New Zealand heads towards zero active Covid cases with only one remaining, the WCC consults on whether to put down some cones to protect its citizens from the virus which called for extreme social distancing two months ago.
    If this isn’t a case study in the disfunction of the council I don’t know what is.

  2. John M, 31. May 2020, 21:13

    Do you really think that huge numbers of Wellingtonians will leap onto bicycles because there is reduced capacity on public transport? We are coming in to winter, we have steep narrow difficult roads accessing the CBD from a number of our suburbs, we also have a significant ageing population. So you immediately deduce that bicycle lanes are desperately needed!!….and what a surprise, at the expense of car parks!

  3. Peter Barlow, 1. June 2020, 11:32

    This lane as part of a proposed bicycle route will do wonders for the city and allow the city to be utilized for people with a great opportunity for business to flourish with increased foot traffic. The sooner the better.

  4. Local, 1. June 2020, 11:40

    Wearing masks on buses would be more cost effective and more easily implemented than the furore that follows when carparks are taken away …. It would also mean that travel by public transport would be able to be retained (even in the pollution belching old Auckland buses). But I am all for a network of safe separated cycleways.

  5. Glen Smith, 1. June 2020, 17:06

    Congratulations to the WCC on tackling the difficult but essential task of establishing a dedicated cycle arterial route across/through the CBD. While a ‘hill to sea’ cross section of the CBD shows cars have up to 18 dedicated across city lanes (6 rapid, high quality), cyclists currently have zero.

    The ‘temporary’ changes should lead to a permanent dedicated cycleway and, since bureaucratic inertia is a powerful force, any changes made now should aim towards (and plan for) the final solution.

    The basic proposed main CBD route (Featherston St to northern Victoria St) is a sound one. The Golden Mile as the primary bus route and busy pedestrian precinct is, in my view, unsuitable for the main high quality across town cycle ‘artery’. Looking at a Quays option, two of the 6 current car lanes will be required to accommodate the eventual second, preferably rail based, across town PT corridor, leaving inadequate width for a cycleway (unless you drop cars to just one lane- good luck). Featherston St/ Victoria St, as proposed, is the obvious route. However all design options do not appear to have been presented. Lets look at a few issues.

    The cycleway appears to be one way (southbound) with no facility for cyclists heading north. The Red Design Architects in 2014 recommended a Two Way separated (ie dual cycleway) paradigm for Wellington. The 12m width of most central CBD streets can accommodate such a design with loss of parking on just one side (eg Featherston St: 2m parking west side, 2 x 3.5m car lanes, 3m dual cycleway east side) but this option has not been presented or ? even considered.

    The main problem with dual cycleways is poorer safety at side roads due to exiting/ entering motorists failing to anticipate cyclists from both directions. This can be solved by either

    1. Setting the cycleway back one car length so motorists assess the cycleway separately (see page 21 Sustrans Cycleway Guide). This design would have allowed a dual cycleway on the western side of the Parade in Island Bay, an option which I presented but which was ignored.
    2. Having intersections fully light controlled. In the CBD essentially all intersections are light controlled so a dual cycleway is a viable option.

    With cars entering Featherston/ Victoria St being controlled by lights, the only remaining conflict for a dual cycleway on the eastern side of these streets is with cars on these roads turning left (towards the Quays). The current proposal is to have these cars cut ACROSS the cycleway BETWEEN intersections (and without light control) into a separate left turning lane. This is an unsafe and flawed design both for a single, and certainly for a dual, cycleway.

    This design defect can be overcome by
    1. Rationalizing the left turns/ exits onto the Quays. For example in northern Victoria St motorists can exit to the Quays via Hunter St, Willeston St and Harris St. The Hunter St and Willeston exits should be closed, eastern Willeston St made westbound only (with added angle parking on the north side) with all exiting cars taking a Harris St route.
    2. Having left turning traffic wait in a dedicated left turn lane adjacent to the through car lanes (ie NOT between the cycleway and the pavement) with an independent light sequence at intersections, separate to the cycleway sequence. In the example above cars turning left into Harris St (and likely Maning Close) would have a separate left turn lane to the west of the cycleway (using parking width) with a light sequence while cyclists are stopped. A similar approach would be taken in southern Victoria Street

    The proposed route is also, in my view, not ideal in several places. It continues to the very southern end of Featherston Street turning east into western Hunter Street. This route adds a left turn conflict at Panama Street, takes the cycleway away from the main connection with the Waterfront (at the Queens Wharf lights) and occupies a lane in western Hunter Street where width is an issue (cars reduced to just one lane). The alternative is to turn left at Panama Street then via southern Customhouse Quay (initially using the south bound lane or parking width) to reach Hunter St.

    At the southern end of Victoria St, the cycle lane is shared with buses (dangerous and making a dual cycleway impossible) and has uncontrolled conflict with cars entering/ exiting Webb St. The alternative is a dual cycleway on the east side of southern Willis Street using one of the multiple car lanes, cutting across to Victoria St at either Karo Drive or Abel Smith Street. All intersections on this route would be light controlled

    I would be interested in other people’s thoughts about the flaws of the current proposed design before making my submission. The long term aim should a high quality dedicated, dual across town cycleway. While this ideally requires more detailed planning of changes in physical street layout and permanent intersection lights, I believe almost all of this route could be achieved immediately with cones and temporary signposting/ lights.

    Do it once and do it right

  6. Rich, 2. June 2020, 14:41

    Glen, I am also very much in favour of the cycle lanes. The main design issue (which I don’t know how to solve!), is the cars that need to cross the cycle lane to make a left turn. That same construction is in place already on Victoria street with left turning vehicles (into Vivian Street) blocking the cycle lane at busy times. When it is not busy or the queue of cars starts to move, that’s when it gets really dangerous. I often come across cars who won’t look in their mirror and just swing left in the cycle lane, while cyclists are coming up to them from behind (going faster as not queueing)… happens all the time. Two of the most dangerous places I cycle in are Victoria street IN the cycle lane and Whitmore Street (no cycle lane).

  7. greenwelly, 3. June 2020, 9:16

    “Feedback on the Featherston and Victoria Street proposals can be made online until Thursday 11 June”

    The way things are moving we will be in Level 1 on the 11th, and social distancing requirements will be significantly reduced or removed …. If the Featherston St path is little used and causes significant traffic disturbances, then it will probably do more harm than good for the cause of cycleways in downtown Wellington.

  8. Kohliflour Stake, 3. June 2020, 12:11

    Yes by the time they install the cycleways the original excuse of social distancing won’t be an issue. But it never was the issue. It’s been a ruse the whole time to get a long-lobbied-for cycleway through the city. Once installed the “temporary” will be much easier to make permanent.