by Lindsay Shelton
A very strange claim was made in the mayor’s announcement that the council is going against public opinion and reopening the Manners Mall to traffic … well, at least to buses. Defending this decision, even rejoicing in it, Mayor Prendergast said it was necessary “if we want an internationally competitive city that’s easy to get around.”
I’ve been thinking about this claim since I first read it earlier this month. And I’ve decided I don’t believe it. I don’t believe there’s any link between international competitiveness and the speed of Wellington buses. I have also decided I don’t believe that reopening the Manners Mall to traffic will do anything to improve the experience that people have in Wellington or to make the city more vibrant (more claims made by the mayor).
Indeed I don’t believe that the world will pay any attention if our buses get through the centre of the city a minute or two faster.
One can, however, make some international comparisons about the experience of being a driver or a pedestrian in some of the world’s biggest cities, ones which the mayor would I am sure consider to be internationally competitive.
I believe that Wellington has a lot to learn from them.
New York, for example.
Amazingly in Manhattan, pedestrians can walk block after block after block without being delayed by red traffic lights. Keep to a steady pace, and you’ll get a green light at every pedestrian crossing. I don’t know how they do it, but it is an emotional experience for a visiting Wellingtonian to discover that the timing of traffic lights can be linked … for the benefit of pedestrians, rather than making us wait at every corner. (And Wellington pedestrians will soon be facing even more delays if the council goes ahead with its plan to put more traffic lights in Courtenay Place.)
Los Angeles, for example.
Amazingly in that city, you can drive 30 or 40 blocks and as long as you keep to the specified speed then you will always get a green light. This is another emotional experience for a visiting Wellington driver, accustomed to being stopped block after block by ill-timed and unlinked traffic lights. Or by traffic lights which aren’t needed at all. I’ve tested the Los Angeles system a number of times, and it works, it works. When you get a green light and drive through it, you see the next lights change to green ahead of you. Contrary to the Wellington experience, where you get a green light and see the next lights change to red against you.
Does the mayor want Wellington to compete with New York or Los Angeles? If so, she should fix the traffic lights.
London is another city which the mayor would agree is internationally competitive. Getting in and out of central London by car is an awful experience, but their bus services are much improved – they’ve put more buses on the roads and have also established efficient bus lanes. In comparison, Wellington’s off-again on-again bus lanes tend to stop when they’re most needed, or clash confusingly with cars, as in Dixon Street where the bus stop is on the left but the turn into Victoria Street is on the right. (Well, perhaps this will change with the new arrangements which will help us become internationally competitive.)
How many more internationally competitive cities should I mention? I’ll end with Paris, where walking is the greatest pleasure. You do have to wait a lot at the lights … but this gives you time to admire the heritage buildings. I wonder if the Mayor has thought of saving more heritage buildings as a way to of improving the Wellington experience and making us internationally competitive. The OPT, for a start, is a listed building and is well described in Julia Gatley’s recent book on modernism.
The decision to demolish the OPT and replace it with a bigger–higher-wider building is supported by “the vast majority of Wellingtonians,” claimed the mayor in another enthusiastic press release. But contrarily, when a majority of Manners Mall businesses and a majority of citizens asked that the Manners Mall be retained without traffic, she and her councillors chose to ignore their opinion. Majorities don’t always count in this town.
Of course, the council knows best. Wiping out one of our two central pedestrian malls will help us become internationally competitive and will make us more vibrant. And getting buses through the CBD more rapidly – just what’s needed for a pleasant city experience.
And also. If you havent seen and heard it yet, take a look at the Manners Mall song.