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Choosing improvements for the Golden Mile

by Ellen Blake
Wellingtonians have long said we want to keep our city compact and walkable, building better on the good we have. Since our Covid19 lockdown experiences, we have come to understand how pleasant low traffic, quiet and social our public streets can become, with the main sounds being people talking and birds twittering. People in densely populated areas needed those local walks to green parks or the seaside. This idea of how our city could be is the silver lining to the distress of the pandemic.

We have been heard by the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) team, and they have delivered three options for the Golden Mile. All three are an improvement on where we are now and address the key issues for the Golden Mile, that is to improve the bus journey and to reduce crowding and clutter for pedestrians.

Option 1 is to streamline general traffic movement with restricted turning options to reduce the more dangerous vehicle movements and increase footpath space by up to 30%. Emergency vehicle access is retained in all options.

Option 2 prioritises bus and pedestrian movement, retaining two lanes each way for bus overtaking on Courtenay Place and Lambton Quay. All general traffic would be removed from the whole route in this option and some side streets are closed off. Disability car parks, taxi and loading zones would go on the side streets. This would create lots of new space at each side street for places to sit and linger, like at Grey St or the end of Bond St now.

Option 3 is about transformational change by creating even more space with bus priority down to one lane each way along the whole Golden Mile, and closing Tory St to through traffic, this will free up much more space for footpaths.

As we know in the walking world the devil is in the detail. We need to make sure that everyone can access this space, and it works now and for the future, as well as chipping away to reduce our carbon footprint.

I want a downtown that welcomes kids with places to play, older folks with places to sit and people watch, toilets nearby (yes they are really important for many people), and to see lots of diverse people enjoying this space.

The people-power currently of 36,000 daily bus passengers and 31,000 daily pedestrians moving on the Golden Mile is the backbone of the retail and government business sectors. We need a Wellington-themed Golden Mile, that celebrates our shared and diverse history with more from mana whenua, and about our harbour and hills. This could build on initiatives like the 1840 shoreline motifs on footpaths.

To do all this, an accessible design to best-practise standards for the increased public space, footpaths and crossings will make all the difference. I’m looking forward to getting rid of those slippery brick pavers that require endless maintenance and are a menace on a rainy day. I won’t miss all those pesky sandwich boards, and other clutter that mean you have to dodge and weave as you walk. I’m looking forward to lots of trees with places to sit in sun or shade, a clear walk under the verandahs to browse the shops or rush about at lunch time. A change in the vibe in Courtenay Place is needed to share the love of all those hospitality venues more equitably along the Golden Mile and around town, where women feel comfortable walking, and there are more interesting and diverse shops to serve the local community. (A post office would be nice.)

All options reduce the number of bus stops in each direction with the aim of speeding up the trip. Stops will be a 5 minute walk apart at a brisk clip. For instance there is a significant gap between the stops on Manners St near Cuba with the next stop way down at Stewart Dawson corner. I for one like them a little closer together. If I am running late, keeping an eye out for a quick ride on the bus with these options will mean a canter across a number of roads. Others will find the changes less convenient or just too far.

Vancouver has an easy-to-understand system of a bus stop on each intersection which makes catching the bus a breeze. The separate mass public transit proposal can be the means to move faster with less stops like underground subways do in other countries. I would like to see how we go with removing most of the general traffic first to see what impact this has on bus reliability before making big changes to the stops.

I am also looking forward to bus stops being more than functional utilitarian spaces squeezing passengers and pedestrians together with adshel advertising. Instead let’s turn them into places for a pleasant sit, with good maps and wayfinding, perhaps with a swing or activity to amuse the waiting passengers. Imagination is the only limit here.

The Golden Mile is near to the destinations of many people travelling to or living in the city centre. It’s a convenient connector for most other downtown destinations, like the Railway Station, the waterfront and the Cable Car as well as many jobs – downtown Wellington has one of the greatest employment densities in the country. The city centre is a ‘permeable’ place with many pedestrian shortcuts to other destinations by laneways, steps or through buildings.

But it seems the decision to shift the mass public transport route to the Quays and probably Taranaki St with minimal connection to the Golden Mile has been taken. How will these Golden Mile proposals work with that? A cycleway is desperately needed along the Quays, and less general traffic to make the connection to the waterfront work better; will this work with the mass transport and Golden Mile options?

Option 3 seems enticing at first glance but there are many factors that are unclear. There is little tolerance for escooters on any footpath, certainly not busy downtown ones, so where will bikes and escooters go? Bike bypasses around the back of bus stops on the Golden Mile would reduce the experience of being in a safe pedestrian space, with the loss of priority for bus passengers or walking. Buses wouldn’t be able to overtake with only one lane so might still get held up. The greatly increased footpath space might be swallowed up by more advertising, and tables and chairs, even more bike parking than is currently there, rather than public space for pedestrians and bus passengers to enjoy.

We need to consider what improvements we want for this important city space and the best way to achieve this, using this once in a lifetime opportunity to do the best for all of us.

These are exciting options and I hope that all Wellingtonians, particularly the 17,000 inner city residents, and visitors too, have a good look at them and let LGWM know what you want for our city centre. The other LGWM projects will cover other areas from Ngauranga to Miramar so keep an eye out for them. Submissions close on the Golden Mile on 26 July. Living Streets will be holding a submission party to help write and discuss these options.

Ellen Blake, Kaituitui a Whanganui a Tara, Living Streets Aotearoa

10 comments:

  1. Andrew, 29. June 2020, 11:08

    Closing Tory Street to traffic is a great idea, it’s a horrible bunged up traffic jam full of cars looking for non-existent parking spaces. With its already-built crossing over SH1, it’s could also be an ideal route for future light rail from Te Aro to Newtown.

     
  2. David Mackenzie, 29. June 2020, 11:11

    Could some bright spark compose a computer model to investigate the possible movements of people, buses and other traffic through and around each of these three options, so that a rational evaluation on other grounds than just cost, and gut instinct could be made?

     
  3. Ellen Blake, 29. June 2020, 15:34

    Andrew. Yes slowing traffic on Lower Tory Street (during the last tactical urban project and when the earthquake closed this part) made a big difference to walking along Tory St and Courtenay Place. Most people travel on foot or bus in this area. I like the idea of using this for mass public transport – it is already a great walk and bike route from the south into town.

    David. Some bright sparks have already produced computer models based on existing data for these options. The goal is to make the bus trip better and to improve the pedestrian experience, which are the main issues along the GM now. The alternative routes plan shows how car drivers get to access different parts of the city depending on where they are coming from. I think this also needs to work well so that people feel they can get to where they want. Make some comments

     
  4. Ralf, 30. June 2020, 8:49

    Some general issues:

    1) The two goals of making the GM pedestrian-friendly and making it a bus highway are contradictory. Especially if there are a lot of buses.
    2) There is no master plan. Without understanding what the plan is around Mass Transit, it is difficult to evaluate this plan. Arguably without a master plan only the cheapest option makes sense to avoid wasting money. On the other hand my expectation is that not only there is no master plan but there will also never be a master plan. This is as good as it gets so better make this solution work.
    3) I like reducing the number of stops along the route, though bus stops themselves are not the cause for slowness. All the stops at red lights are. Hence buses should get always a green light. But this has implications for pedestrians (personally I would like it if pedestrians are able to cross anywhere and no crossing/light should be needed, but that would require enough spacing between buses, i.e. requires a second PT spine to offload the GM).
    4) There are a couple of bottlenecks along the GM for which I do not have a good solution. The turn-off from Willis Street to Manners Street is one. The crossing of Taranaki Street is another one (this might be a place where a tunnel is needed if we do not get Light Rail, if you have a bus every 30 seconds crossing there with priority then no North-South-Traffic will ever get a green light). And finally turning from Courtenay Place into Kent Terrace is bad (again implementing bus priority there would mean a stuff up for the other three directions where cars are coming from).

    In general I agree that there needs to be a speed up of buses. It is an outrage that I am faster walking from Courtenay Place to the Railway Station than taking a bus (and that is the pure travel time, if you have to wait for a bus then forget it).

     
  5. Kerry, 30. June 2020, 11:30

    David, Ralph. There is a master plan. It is biased towards buses, but that is inevitable until light rail is available.

     
  6. luke, 30. June 2020, 13:27

    The bus & pedestrian corridors really should be separate, they are plainly incompatible within one corridor. It’s also obvious bus saturation is worsening the liveability of the area and it’s time for a higher capacity form of transit.

     
  7. David Mackenzie, 1. July 2020, 8:52

    Why not have the buses confined to the waterfront on Waterloo Quay? From there nothing downtown would be more than two blocks away from the bus route. The way is four lanes wide.
    Then downtown could be for cycles, pedestrians, and 20km per hour delivery vehicles only.

     
  8. Callum McMenamin, 1. July 2020, 9:39

    I’m going to keep battling for a car-free future. The Golden Mile is absolutely screaming out for pedestrianisation – I’m hopeful that others will understand why it’s the necessary way forward. [via twitter]

     
  9. Casey, 1. July 2020, 11:33

    David Mackenzie: Generally the idea with public transport is that you have the pick up and drop off points where the users find them most convenient. This encourages more users of all ages and physical ability.

    In Wellington’s sometimes extreme conditions those working on The Terrace and Lambton Quay are not going to be thrilled at the prospect of walking several hundred metres over busy roads, and with no shelter, to catch east bound buses. It just wouldn’t work. The Quays as general traffic corridors should remain as such and private motorists kept off the Golden Mile. Light rail, cyclists and pedestrians could happily co-exist along the Golden Mile, but not the convoy of noisy diesel buses set to be inflicted upon us for the next 15 or so years. Perversely the newer diesel buses are noisier than the old wrecks imported from Auckland.

    What the current LGWM proposals indicate to me are that they think Bus Rapid Transit can work along the Golden Mile, and elsewhere, when it patently can’t for most of the popular routes. A similar argument for the second Mt Victoria has not considered all the contributing factors, and as yet not a single advocate has made public how they would connect the tunnel to the motorway through Te Aro. Flyovers are ruled out.

    I am sure that I will be a pile of ash long before Wellington has a public transport system fit for purpose and its growing population.

     
  10. Dave B, 1. July 2020, 13:30

    Casey: I take your point but remember that thousands of rail passengers walk several hundred metres to get to destinations on the Terrace and Lambton Quay. If adequate shelter is provided, then it is quite do-able for most people. If the bulk of private traffic was directed via the motorway, rapid transit in whatever form via the waterfront, and minimal vehicle traffic via the Golden Mile, then I believe the outcome would be much better.

     

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