Three years ago, Sir Robert Jones said that central Wellington should become a traffic-free zone. His vision was a refreshing change from the policies being pushed by the city council. And it’s become relevant again with the deputy mayor’s statement that the twice-reconstructed Willis Street is “flawed and dangerous.”
Sir Bob proposed his plan when moves were being made to wipe out the Manners Mall. But he didn’t just want to save Manners Street. He challenged the council to get rid of all traffic in Lambton Quay and Willis Street and in Courtenay Place as well. What a wonderful city he was envisioning. What a contrast with the city leaders’ vision of a central city dominated by buses.
“I’ve been to about 150 countries and … the one particular characteristic of all vibrant and appealing cities is pedestrian malls,” said Bob Jones in 2009.
He was right. Wellington would become a more pleasant place by having more pedestrian-only streets, rather than less of them. (And we haven’t got many – there’s Cuba Street, and . . .)
It couldn’t be hard to work out new bus routes which were one block away from the pedestrian-only streets. For the Golden Mile, the gains would be enormous. Pedestrians and buses would no longer compete with each other. Willis Street would be rid of the bus fumes and would regain some humanity instead of being a canyon for traffic. In Lambton Quay you wouldn’t have to look in all directions before crossing the road.
But the Jones vision didn’t get any official support. Both councils continued their hard-sell campaign for buses to run through the CBD, with consequences that are now clear to everyone. The city council continued to claim that opening Manners Street would make buses “quicker and more reliable,” which was a dubious statement when statistics showed the worst delays were at the northern end of Lambton Quay. And the council has since given up on its “quicker” concept, by insisting that buses go slower instead of faster.
“People and motor vehicles don’t mix,” said Bob Jones in 2009. “Traffic, in particular buses, introduces an abrasive element to city living. People love shopping and strolling … and watching the passing parade.” His vision may have been ignored three years ago. But with elections next year, it deserves to be considered again.