Wellington Scoop

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


  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.

  11. Nelson Procter, 3. July 2020, 4:27

    In my 80th year I would like to remind the car haters and the traffic management group that there are many like me who would like to shop/eat in Wellington but are unable to walk without difficulty and not likely to walk to locations some distance from bus stops. Traffic management for years has adopted a process to reduce car parks and introduce no stopping zones to the detriment of it older citizens. More seats throughout would be helpful.

  12. David Mackenzie, 3. July 2020, 11:33

    Casey. If bus users are typically incapable of walking 200 metres, why are bus stops greater distances than that apart?

    As for those who work on the Terrace, they can stay on the bus and go up Bowen Street, or transfer and go up the Terrace, and hop off at several convenient points — mind you, they may still have to walk several hundred metres to their destination. That has always been a fact of using a bus.

  13. Dave B, 3. July 2020, 12:56

    @ Nelson Procter, the answer is to provide a few car-parks for mobility-impaired people (permit holders only) and police their use to prevent occupation by non-permit-holders.
    There will always be exceptions to every rule, but we must guard against justified-exemptions for those with particular needs translating into carte-blanche for everyone whether they need it or not. Allowing everyone to park a car wherever they like is unfeasible and would ruin places like the Golden Mile.

  14. Marion Leader, 3. July 2020, 13:23

    Nelson Procter is right. Cycling people should bear in mind that it is sometimes difficult to make much progress on a bicycle when one turns 90, or so I have been told.

  15. Nelson Procter, 3. July 2020, 16:18

    @ Dave B. As far as I’m concerned, it’s not an answer. I suspect the Golden Mile is about to be ruined anyway. It is unfortunate that our early city planners generated a lot of narrow streets, with the notable exceptions of the north part of the Golden Mile and Courtenay Place, rendering them unfit for today’s demands of through traffic and parking (not only for wrinklies such as myself but also for mothers with children). The GM can’t be seen in isolation, the whole city must be planned to optimise transport needs. Pedestrianising the two extremities seems a trifle excessive. I find it a little droll that we seem to be “getting Wellington moving again” by pedestrianising it. After 33 or so years as a wellington ratepayer, I’m glad to be living in the Hutt where I can usually easily find parking outside the destination. I agree with Ralf when he suggests a master plan to see how the Wellington REGION should look in 30 years time and then work towards that goal.

  16. D'Esterre, 5. July 2020, 16:28

    Nelson Procter: “…there are many like me who would like to shop/eat in Wellington but are unable to walk without difficulty and not likely to walk to locations some distance from bus stops.” I agree with this, and with the rest of your comment. It seems to me that the people making policy and pronouncing upon the pedestrianisation of Wellington are all younger than I am. It looks to me as if they fondly imagine that, when they’re over 70, they’ll be as spry as they now are, but with grey hair and more wrinkles. I used to think that too, until I got here. Boy: do I have news for you, and it’s all bad! If you’re lucky (and it’s pure luck), you’ll still be able to comfortably walk reasonable distances. Ride a bike, even. However. It’s much more likely that your mobility will be impaired to some degree, such that – as Nelson Procter points out – walking is progressively more difficult and painful.

    And, unfortunately, impaired mobility of this sort – which afflicts many over-70s – does not necessarily entail meeting the qualification test for a disability parking permit. I invite younger people to go look at the requirements.

    We are Wellington citizens too, and ratepayers to boot. Policy development in this area ought to take account of us and our needs. At present, it does not.

  17. Kerry, 6. July 2020, 10:08

    A lot of talk here about the over-70s having to walk too far, but only one figure: 200 metres, which is very short. Adopting it would severely limit public transport. LGWM have chosen 400m for the golden mile, which allows a stop-spacing of 800m. This is a common figure, but is perhaps a bit long for the golden mile. The problem is that LGWM are trying to optimise a badly overloaded route, with no real alternatives until light rail is introduced. Bus delays on the present-day golden mile come in three types each causing about a third of the total bus delays: Stops, traffic signals and other traffic. Stop delays can be improved by using both doors for both boarding and alighting, but that needs ticket inspectors and hefty fines. Traffic signals can be improved using bus priority, and other delays can be managed using bus-only lanes. Another approach is that elderly people can walk further if they have the opportunity to rest every now and then, as Nelson Proctor points out.
    The solution chosen by LGWM, with their reasoning, is worth a look.

  18. Ralf, 6. July 2020, 15:00

    @Kerry: The master plan you reference is a master plan for the Golden Mile. I am missing a master plan for the city centre overall. Plus the consultation on that.

    For me a master plan should include:
    * where do we want bikes to go
    * where do we want buses to go
    * where do we want a mass transit route
    * how should cars navigate the city (see e.g. the Auckland master plan)

    We are now locked into three solutions:
    1) small improvements (should be a non-brainer and done 10 years ago…)
    2) bus improvements
    3) bus and pedestrian improvements for a cost which is beyond the budget, so won’t be considered by the WCC / GWRC / NZTA

    (To be fair, it might be possible to mix’n’match, but that would also have drawbacks, plus of course the option to reject all three solutions completely).

    There is no discussion around whether making the GM pedestrian-only is possible, buses go e.g. via Featherston. There is a FAQ: “For concepts to be considered they needed to meet the outcomes and investment objectives of the project. A key objective for the project is to improve bus travel times and reliability. Creating a completely pedestrianised Golden Mile would not meet this objective.” So this decision has already been made without feedback.

    Also if we introduce Light Rail it either should not go via GM or implementing options 2) or 3) would be a crazy waste of money (some statement in the “master plan” says that it is expected to be on the quay and Taranaki street, so it seems that decision has also already been made).

  19. Casey, 6. July 2020, 19:14

    Dave B: The last time I looked, rail passengers could walk through the underpass out of the weather and catch buses leaving every few minutes from the bus hub. Many of these buses go via Lambton Quay with a choice of stops serving those not up to walking long distances. Several buildings along Lambton Quay provide access to The Terrace using their lifts.

    Those who wish to walk instead make their own choice to do so.

  20. TrevorH, 7. July 2020, 9:34

    @ Nelson Procter: thanks for an important reminder that there are other members of the community besides the pressure groups who seem to exert undue influence over the the WCC’s planning these days. The more planners contribute to the difficulties facing the elderly and those with young children accessing the city, the more they bring about their isolation and marginalization. As for LGWM, it does indeed seem to be a good example of the Orwellian Doublespeak that is becoming so prevalent.

  21. Dave B, 7. July 2020, 17:46

    @ Casey – if you walk from the train to the adjacent bus station, unless you are right at the front of the train, the chances are you will have to walk 200m to reach the bus. This is the distance from suggested bus-stops along the waterfront to the closer parts of a pedestrianized Lambton Quay.

    If you are at the back of an 8-car train you will need to walk at least 300m to the bus. This is the distance from the waterfront to the farther parts of Lambton Quay or the Terrace.

    If you want to reach the middle of Cuba Mall from the nearest bus stop you may well have to walk 200m.

    Pedestrianising Lambton Quay and accessing it from bus-stops along a traffic-calmed waterfront would be no worse than this.

  22. Ellen Blake, 8. July 2020, 0:24

    Great comments and ideas here. There is an issue with who can access the Golden Mile easily, one of the reasons to increase the numbers of seats, provide more toilets, something for kids to look at and do, and have buses go where people want them. Better bus travel will help people get in and out – but the fares and timetables need to encourage people to use them too. Electric buses are essential to make this a nice space. Bus stop spacing is a key and as said above should be carefully considered before any changes are made.
    We need fewer cars here too so that kids (and others) can get about safely.
    Parking will be available in the side streets for those who need it.

  23. D'Esterre, 8. July 2020, 0:30

    Kerry: “A lot of talk here about the over-70s having to walk too far, but only one figure: 200 metres, which is very short.” Do we not also matter? Are we not also citizens? It may seem short to you, but that certainly ain’t true for many people. I’d add that it isn’t just older people: people with disabilities of various sorts and parents with small children can also struggle with this sort of distance. As anyone who’s had to wrangle a tired toddler can attest.

    “Adopting it would severely limit public transport.” Unless said public transport changes materially benefit ALL users, not just the hale and unencumbered, what’s the point of making them?

    “…no real alternatives until light rail is introduced.” Let’s be realistic here. Light rail is a pie-in-the-sky concept: it’ll never happen. We are stuck for the foreseeable with the awful, noisy diesel buses. I’ll believe electric buses when they glide past me in numbers on Lambton Quay. Just like the old trolley buses used to do….

    “…elderly people can walk further if they have the opportunity to rest every now and then…” Not just the elderly, as I’ve pointed out. There would need to be seating (preferably sheltered) at pretty frequent intervals. Maybe there’s provision in the proposals, though I’m not hopeful.

    I had occasion to be in Lambton Quay this past week. I wondered where all the pedestrians were: will they ever return? Maybe the proposed changes to the Golden Mile have been rendered redundant by the effects of that virus on our ways of living and working.

    It’d be a great saving to do nothing: all that money could instead be applied to getting the central library reopened pronto.

  24. Kerry, 8. July 2020, 11:17

    D’Esterre: Of course I agree that over-70s matter – I am 78 myself. LGWM’s choice of 400m as an acceptable walking distance is reasonable. It is well-established, going back to the traditional British four tram-stops per mile: 402m. LGWM has chosen 800m between stops for the golden mile, which is slightly less convenient but no real barrier.
    The real barrier is that GWRC has never had a stop-spacing policy, among other deficiencies. Some stops are as as little as 160m apart. Obviously, some people like this and will complain about changes, but almost all of them will make good use of an improved system that does not meet all their demands. The reason why the 2011 Bus Review was never implemented is that GWRC paid too much attention to the complaints and not enough to the benefits. Effective bus systems do not compete with walking. Wellington’s buses are now unnecessarily costly and ineffective. Worse, the golden mile bus route is badly overloaded, another problem that LGWM is addressing.
    If you think light rail is a pie-in-the-sky concept, you must have been listening to Winston, or perhaps reading GWRC’s abysmal 2013 Spine Study.

  25. D'Esterre, 11. July 2020, 0:23

    Kerry: “If you think light rail is a pie-in-the-sky concept, you must have been listening to Winston, or perhaps reading GWRC’s abysmal 2013 Spine Study.” Un peu patronising, n’est-ce pas? I don’t need to take note of either Winston or the GWRC to form my opinion, which is based on what I’ve seen here over many years.

    Wellington used to have a light rail system: trams. But they were gone by the early 1960s. Another such system won’t be established. Even if it were, it wouldn’t run through the Golden Mile; though the old trams did. We used to have trackless trams, too: the trolley buses. Until the GWRC took them away.

    In truth, Wellington has in the past had what it needed by way of public transport, but a want of farsightedness saw those systems disappear. Had we retained the trams and the trolley buses, both systems could have been revamped and improved to meet modern demands. Thank God we managed to keep the train system.

    Nowadays, it seems to me that both central and local governments are paralysed by indecision. They’re apparently obsessed with earthquake-strengthening, to the exclusion of just about everything else that makes a city work. Including the roading network, which needs a priori to be well-found enough to cope with such public transport as we have. And with private vehicles, of course.

  26. Kerry, 12. July 2020, 11:05

    D’Esterre. Patronising perhaps, but careless on your part. There are some 500 modern light rail systems around the world, depending on what is counted. Some are in cities substantially smaller than Wellington. Besancon (France) has light rail, with a population of 120,000. Obviously, a new tram route costs much more than new a bus route. Less obvious is that overall costs — construction and operating — break even with buses at a capacity of about 2500 pass/hr, and are about 60% cheaper than buses at 8000 pass/hr (Transport for London data).
    The golden mile now carries an average 12,000 passengers in the two-hour morning peak (LGWM data report, Aug 2017, para 5.1), 6000 pass/hr both ways, over 3000 pass/hr one-way. In theory, modern trams on the golden mile are already cheaper than buses. In practice the golden mile is unsuitable for trams: too slow because of multiple sharp curves and too costly because of very crowded underground services. A much better route would be the waterfront, as chosen by LGWM.
    The Regional Council identified the need for a second bus route, in the 2013 Spine Study, but never chose one. The existing route capacity is 60 bus/hr for a quality route, but was carrying 120 bus/hr in 2011 (Bus Review, p 54). The reason for limiting bus numbers is stop delays. LGWM is planning for greater bus priority on the golden mile, but cannot solve stop-delays in the available width. In the longer term a second bus route would have to go on the waterfront or The Terrace. Neither would increase capacity if quality routes were an objective, leaving modern trams as the only long-term solution. Trams have a reputation for outrageous cost over-runs, but need not be any worse than other large-scale contracts. Edinburgh and Sydney are notorious examples, but two simple solutions are available: experienced, reputable consultants and common sense. Edinburgh chose to cancel a contract, and Sydney failed to manage underground services properly.

  27. Casey, 12. July 2020, 18:55

    Dave B: Why would Wellingtonians want bus routes designed to serve the desires of rail commuters. Rather they want a service that suits their pick up and set down locations, and with buses that are NOT jammed packed in peak hours thus unable to take more fare paying passengers.

    Request that a survey of eastern/southern suburbs bus users be taken to see if they would want to walk to, and cross, the busy Quays in all weathers to get a bus home. The Golden Mile has always been the main public transport route and should remain so with private cars excluded.

  28. Dave B, 13. July 2020, 12:31

    Casey you perhaps misunderstand me. I am suggesting that it is not a show-stopping issue to require that bus-users walk (or scoot, or wheelchair) 200-300m from a bus stop or rapid-transit stop on the waterfront, to Lambton Quay or The Terrace. Such short-distance walks are part-and-parcel of using public transport. Even with buses running along Lambton Quay there are many specific buildings and destinations that will require such a walk to access. The only public transport that can guarantee to drop you off outside any doorway is a taxi.

    Meanwhile the benefits of pedestrianizing the Golden Mile are considerable. The benefits of de-trafficking the waterfront-route and giving it largely to public transport are also considerable. Proper design would enable this to be safely crossed by pedestrians. General traffic should as far as possible be on the motorway – that high-cost route that was provided specifically to get traffic away from city streets.

  29. Glen Smith, 13. July 2020, 17:02

    The debate over the Quays vs GM for a PT route is irrelevant- we need both. One of the main faults of the profoundly flawed Spine Study was that it demonstrated that one high quality across town PT route was inadequate but then, as Kerry points out, they didn’t actually bother to look at how to establish a second one. LGWM blundered forward with this fundamentally basic flaw in their four ‘scenarios’ before finally realising their stupid error. Unless you go underground there are really only two across town routes suitable for high quality PT corridors close to the CBD- the GM and the Quays. We need one PT corridor on each. Read more.