by Lindsay Shelton
I’ve been told that a couple of the Wellington city councillors who opposed the flyover in December may be thinking of switching sides. We won’t know till today’s meeting. But it would be a negative result for the city if any of the eight are giving up.
Surely not the mayor? Her opposition to a flyover at the Basin Reserve has been muted but well known since before the last election. Six months ago she confirmed she had “…concerns about the environmental and urban design impacts of the flyover.” In 2011 she said: “We can’t let short term thinking get in the way of urban design that Wellingtonians can be proud of.” And this month, when she announced that a two-month council staff investigation had come out in favour of the 300-metre-long concrete flyover, she said: “The Basin Reserve and Kent/Cambridge Terraces must not be blighted by a naked block of concrete.” Such a blight will, of course, be inevitable if the flyover is built.
Andy Foster, who initiated the investigation, seems to have been surprised by its pro-flyover result, which led some people to ask if parts had been ghost-written by the Transport Agency or its friends. But when it was released, he acknowledged the “deeply held concerns by the public on the adverse effects of the flyover proposal.” Surely he won’t be changing his mind? Though he’s head of the council’s transport portfolio, he knows that the over-riding issue is urban design. He was 100 per cent opposed to the flyover at last December’s council meeting. “We said we didn’t like the flyover, the public said the same.”
There’s only been one detailed analysis of the staff investigation, which found that it was “fundamentally flawed.” The writer is Auckland architect Richard Reid who proposed one of the at-grade options which council staff rejected out of hand. He points out:
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.
The Council’s report is unconvincing and extremely light in its explanation of the existing traffic problems at the Basin 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.
The Basin Roundabout will perform smoothly and efficiently into the future with some fine tuning… 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.
No one at the council has denied Reid’s claims. It’s probably because, in the words of the writers of the council investigation:
From an urban design perspective, the preference would be for an at-grade solution – that is, a solution that did not require any elevated structures.
An at-grade solution is what the eight anti-flyover councillors must continue to pursue. Talk of “neutrality” at today’s city council meeting is not a good sign. Everyone knows what happens to a “neither for nor against” stance. And proposals for “mitigation” or “improvements” are absurd. In 2011, the mayor described hopes for “mitigation” as being akin to putting lipstick on a gorilla. It was a memorably accurate phrase. There’s no way to hide a concrete structure 300 metres long and nine metres high.
As well as Foster and Wade-Brown, let’s remind ourselves what the the other six anti-flyover councillors said in December.
Justin Lester: “The flyover has significant urban design issues. The location is not suitable for a flyover.”
Iona Pannett: “The flyover … will be a scar on the city. There is overwhelming opposition from my Mt Victoria community. But the Agency doesn’t want to listen.”
Bryan Pepperell: “I don’t support the flyover. The design has always troubled me. It would make our unique and beautiful city begin to look like just any other place where they’ve got things wrong.”
Stephanie Cook: “The flyover has clearly been rejected by the public.”
Helene Ritchie: “I am very concerned about the landscape of our city. The Thorndon overbridge gives us a warning.”
Paul Eagle: “I’m not anti-car or anti-roads but the government has failed to listen to Wellingtonians.”
In the latest Sunday Star-Times, Rod Oram strengthened the urban design case against the flyover:
The Transport Agency has no concept that the Basin is fundamental to the structure, function and quality of the city. Yet, a glance at a map shows that’s the case. The Agency and some city councillors say there is no cost-effective alternative to a flyover. But extensive research by Richard Reid … has shown otherwise. His plan would remove traffic bottlenecks along the route and separate through traffic from local traffic around the Basin. It would deliver almost the same saving in journey time as the flyover. The very considerable money saved would allow for a much earlier build of a second Mount Victoria tunnel and thus two lanes in each direction along the entire route.
At their meeting on Thursday, councillors have a choice: if they vote for the flyover, they will accelerate the city’s demise; if they vote for good urban design, starting with proper analysis of Reid’s plans, they will trigger its transformation.
That’s the challenge for all eight councillors – to continue to vote in the best interests of the coolest little capital, and not to contribute to its demise (as recommended by council staff). And come to think of it, one or two councillors who voted for the flyover may perhaps have been paying attention. If so, there’s still time for them to show that they have the city’s best interests at heart, rather than only the interests of motorists.
UPDATE: Since this article was first published, another critique of the council’s flyover investigation has been released – by the Architectural Centre which finds it inadequate, inaccurate and biased.
Flyover condemned by Transport Agency’s experts