Talking to the Transport Agency

by Lindsay Shelton
I’ve decided that Transport Agency people should be given more chances to meet the public. And we should get more chances to talk to them, too. I met some of them at their public information day on Saturday.

Their cynical process of “public consultation” hasn’t worked. But talking face to face is a different experience. Not, though, on the subject of their Basin flyover proposal, which they have been trained to defend at all costs, and for which they’ve created a new set of drawings such as the one above showing a couple sunbathing under the overhead traffic.

Their public information day was in the same space where 100 people had voted to oppose the flyover four days earlier. The room has floor to ceiling windows looking out on traffic going to and from the Mt Victoria Tunnel. If the Agency gets its way, the flyover will raise the west-bound traffic to eye level outside the windows.

The designers of the flyover asked me what I thought of it. So I told them. I don’t like it. Why not? Because the massive concrete structure is out of place – just plain wrong – for an inner-city urban setting. They looked glum. Or dubious. Perhaps they were trying to look neutral.

The drawings on display reinforce local people’s concerns about the huge slab of concrete hanging nine metres above the road. None of the Agency’s carefully-chosen words (“slim line” is especially risible) can make it look better. Nor can trees or landscaping. But for the Transport Agency, it’s see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil. So as they weren’t going to admit to any faults in their design, I thought we should change the subject. There’s so much else to discuss about Wellington’s roads.

I asked about roundabouts. They identified a cheerful young designer who said these were his speciality. Why, I asked him cautiously, are the three roundabouts on the way to the airport all so badly designed? Roundabouts are supposed to enable traffic to merge smoothly without obstruction, but the lanes marked on these roundabouts force every driver to stop. The roundabout specialist drew circles in his notebook. Was he agreeing that there might be better ways of aligning the lanes round the roundabouts, at least so that the left lane of traffic didn’t have to stop?

I also wanted to know why when you’re driving to the airport there’s only one lane of traffic alongside the runway. One lane doesn’t seem enough for an airport which includes “international” in its name. The road is two lanes wide, but the left lane is marked only for traffic turning left. No one could answer this question. Safety, perhaps, they pondered. Apparently there’s a different group of people who deal in safety matters.

So we moved on to traffic lights. Why (I asked) are so many of the city’s traffic lights badly adjusted, changing to red as you approach, and making you stop when there’s no cross traffic in view. On this subject, the Transport Agency people agreed: Wellington has too many lights that are out of adjustment. But they couldn’t be blamed for this. The lights, they said, are run by the city council, from a central computer. Richard MacLean, where are you? Let’s have a public information day where city drivers can meet the people who control that central computer. We can tell them about all the lights which their computer isn’t coping with.

I had one final question. Why does the Buckle Street tunnel stop before Taranaki Street? A Transport Agency road builder (“I don’t design them, I just build them”) told me the tunnel couldn’t continue under Taranaki Street, because there are too many water mains and sewer pipes and other complex bits of the city’s infrastructure in that area.

So … the flyover may not be solving many problems for its two lanes of west travelling traffic, because when you drive out of the tunnel you’ll have to stop at the Taranaki Street lights. Surely the Agency won’t want traffic to back up in its new tunnel. Perhaps its staff will get together with the council’s computer operators, to start the improvements which should have been done years ago.

 

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