An open letter from Richard Reid
No doubt you are aware of the Wellington City Council’s report on the Basin Reserve and the assessment rating that the Richard Reid & Associates option appears to have received from it. We believe there are fundamental flaws to the report which are prejudicial to our proposal and favour a flyover. We would have raised these as very serious issues if we had been provided with a draft copy of the report before it was published, but Council staff never replied to our request. Their approach was immediately obvious once we were able to sight the report.
Critique of the Report’s Executive Summary: Key Points
1. Council has framed its report by isolating our proposal for the Basin Reserve Roundabout from the rest of our Cobham Drive to Buckle St Transport Improvement Project. It has not published the drawings we prepared showing our concept design for the whole project, nor has it discussed our methodology for arriving at this concept. Our understanding of the whole transport project has determined our design approach for the Basin Reserve Roundabout. Our recommended improvements to the Basin Reserve relate to, are consistent with, and need to be evaluated within this larger and more important context.
2. Council has framed its report by isolating our proposal for the Basin Reserve Roundabout from the major improvements we recommended for the Cobham Drive to Buckle St project. It has put the Buckle St undergrounding (for which the Government adopted our idea), a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, 4 laning Wellington Rd, Ruahine St, Paterson St and Kent Tce in a separate “Do Minimum” option. The assumption is that because these will be done anyway, these should not be considered in an assessment of our proposal.
Yet in all our analysis and recommendations for the project, these “Do Minimum” improvements will produce most of the travel time savings for the project. The “Do Minimum” option should be more accurately termed “Nearly the Maximum” option.
3. Option RR should have been combined with the “Nearly the Maximum” improvements and compared against a “Do Nothing” option. This is what NZTA does with Option A in its August 2011 Public Engagement document.
In NZTA’s August 2011 document, the travel time saving for heading west from Cobham Drive to Buckle St, after all its planned upgrades including Option A have been implemented by 2026, is estimated to be 5 minutes compared against doing nothing. No like-comparison has been done in Council’s report on Option RR.
We asked Council in April 2012 and January 2013: What percentage of the journey time savings will be contributed by four laning Wellington Rd and Ruahine St, duplicating the Mt Victoria Tunnel, removing the lane problems at the Basin Reserve Roundabout and undergrounding Buckle St to avoid the Tory St traffic lights? This fundamental question has not been answered by Council’s report. We believe the answer is a high percentage of NZTA’s 5 minutes of travel time savings, such that these would render the flyover’s benefits redundant due to its major adverse effects.
4. Our assessment of the Cobham Drive to Buckle St project has always identified a second Mt Victoria Tunnel and undergrounding Buckle St as the major infrastructure improvements needed for the project. We believe the major congestion problems are created before and after the Roundabout, not by the Roundabout itself. If there is “congestion around the Basin Reserve” as argued in the Report (pg5) it is because of poor planning not because of something intrinsically wrong with the Basin Reserve Roundabout, or the function of a roundabout.
a) NZTA maintain the view (as do Council staff) that the Roundabout is the problem and a flyover bridging over it is the game changer. Hence, NZTA has prioritised a flyover even though a flyover will not reduce traffic congestion heading west on the Hataitai side of the Mt Victoria Tunnel; nor reduce traffic congestion heading east on Kent Tce, Ellice and Paterson Sts towards the Tunnel; nor reduce traffic congestion heading south and west from Kent Tce. All this congestion is able to be resolved without the need for a flyover.
b) NZTA has never recognised or appreciated that undergrounding Buckle St will provide very important transport benefits. In fact, undergrounding Buckle St will relieve most if not all of the congestion on the western side of the Roundabout created by the Tory St intersection (although the conflict of Buckle St with streets further west will still likely create some traffic back-up at the extreme peak – 5.20 to 5.35pm – even with a flyover). NZTA has never evaluated travel time savings through undergrounding Buckle St and Council’s report does not either. Council puts the significant transport benefits to be gained by undergrounding Buckle St in the “Do Minimum” option and never evaluates its significance in terms of improving the performance of the Roundabout.
5. Council’s report is unconvincing and extremely light in its explanation of the existing traffic problems at the Roundabout. The report briefly describes conflicts due to “capacity constraints” (pg 12, 13) yet the examples described are easily resolved if our layout for the Roundabout is adopted.
We provided Council with an extensive summary of the specific problems occurring across the whole Cobham Drive to Buckle St route, including at the Roundabout. We have not found any prior recognition or investigation by NZTA or Council of these specific problems. Furthermore, NZTA appears to have never considered the resolution of the Roundabout’s problems as an Option either separately or together with other transport improvements. Instead, NZTA wants to bridge over these problems rather than solve them with astute planning.
6. We believe the Roundabout will perform smoothly and efficiently into the future with some fine tuning. In both our design drawings and written recommendations, we never considered this fine tuning as a game changer. What our fine tuning of the Basin Reserve Roundabout achieves is the separation of east-west flows from north-south traffic which is exactly what the Ngauranga to Airport Corridor Plan requires from the Roundabout.
We have consistently argued that if this separation of traffic at the Roundabout is combined with other transport improvements, then a very high percentage of the travel savings for the project will be achieved without the flyover’s adverse effects.
Note: Council’s report repeats NZTA’s incorrect assertion that “the Corridor Plan states that north-south traffic will be grade separated from east-west traffic at the Basin Reserve” (pg 11). The Plan does not state this – instead the relevant measure requires “separation” of traffic, not grade separation. Whilst NZTA has chosen to interpret separation as grade separation, and successive studies follow this as a rule, the Plan’s wording is open to achieving separation by other means.
7. The Council report assesses our option as doing nothing to facilitate urban development objectives.
Our contract with Council was restricted to providing only concept traffic plan information. All technical details relating to the resolution of urban design or urban design features was to be left out. We described this part of our proposal only in very general terms.
We have developed a range of urban design features and details for the whole project that will create a grand and cohesive vision for the city. These features and details will enhance active mode outcomes and significantly extend and transform urban growth and PT spine objectives. They are unique to our proposal and as far as we are aware have never been proposed for Wellington.
These urban design features and details have been developed out of our traffic planning for the project. They have not been produced to mitigate harmful impacts but rather as part of an integrated solution for a vitally important city project.
8. Despite Council staff’s report we continue to believe that our proposal works on all fronts – urban form; transport; economic impacts; strategic fit; and effects.
Concrete jungle, concrete flyover