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People versus cars – unnecessary conflict on the new Memorial Park

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by Reuben Ferguson
The almost-perfect Pukeahu-Memorial Park has taken a step backward with the re-opening of the Tory Street-Tasman Street connection, resulting in a predictable influx of cars and trucks through this urban oasis.

This has severed the continuity of what had been a wonderful stretch of unbroken walking and cycling space between Taranaki Street and Cambridge Terrace, and has brought inevitable conflict between people and vehicles. In what is an otherwise high-quality public space, people must now yield to cars which have no real need to be there.

Incredibly, this is a 50 km/h zone. That the road exists at all is backward enough, but its ambiguous design makes a bad situation worse. The low kerbs and subtle transition from the pedestrian areas to the road surface invite walkers to continue straight across the carriageway. The same low kerbs invite cars on to the walking space when motorists realise too late that they cannot reach Taranaki Street via Buckle Street and look for an easy way out.

The confused interactions between pedestrians and vehicles that play out under these circumstances can be observed with a mixture of amusement and horror.

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The response to near misses and wayward vehicles has been to erect temporary 30 km/h signs and to warn pedestrians, 1960s-style, to “watch for vehicles”. A row of cones has been placed down the centre of the road to encourage slower driving, and more cones along the edge of Buckle Street are meant to prevent cars driving onto the pedestrian areas.

These ad-hoc measures point to deficiencies in road design rather than any fault of pedestrians for being in harm’s way, and reinforce old-fashioned attitudes to urban mobility.

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The new Memorial Park provides an opportunity for Wellington to make a bold statement about its aspirations as a liveable city. The park should not be treated as something to be driven over on the way to somewhere else.

The failed Basin Reserve flyover project, right next door, exposed the arrogance and hostility of orthodox transport planning and gave hope for a move towards a more progressive, people-first city. It may not be practical to close this road to cars altogether. But if ever there was a case for a shared space that prioritises humans over machines, this is it.