Transport is the perennial contentious issue in the capital. From court cases about the Basin Reserve to arguments over the Island Bay cycleway, barely a mayoral term goes by without some part of the community up in arms about transport issues. This time around, new councillor Chris Calvi-Freeman has the transport portfolio, and has inherited a whole collection of long-running challenges.
He has a pretty impressive CV in the transport area, so we broke out the patented Wellington.Scoop Magic 8-Ball to assess the odds of him solving some of them.
The Save The Basin campaign notably won their argument with the Transport Agency, so now there’s a negligible-to-zero chance of a flyover being built at the Basin. There’s also an involved consultation process called Get Welly Moving that’s talking to anyone and everyone about what the correct solution is, which Calvi-Freeman appears to support. But there’s no getting away from the fact that the Basin suffers from congestion at peak times, and that whatever solution is eventually proposed isn’t going to please everyone.
There’s plenty of dogma from the pro-car lobby, and some pretty entrenched positions from the anti-car lobby, so there’s practically a guarantee that whatever compromise is achieved will be attacked from at least one of these quarters.
Magic 8-Ball says: Calvi-Freeman has a good-to-excellent chance of helping to solve the Basin’s woes, with a heavy caveat of “may not be friends with everyone afterwards”.
With the widespread support that cycleways are now receiving around the council table, progressing the campaign to make the city more cycle-friendly looks assured. However, Island Bay is a salutary lesson in picking the right projects and building community support for what can be fairly far-reaching changes – there are plenty of councillors who will be gun-shy when the next project comes along, given they either took a beating or witnessed a beating over Island Bay.
And no matter how firm the political support, cycleways will always be challenged by Wellington’s geography – it’s hard to physically fit dedicated cycle lanes, space for cars, adequate parking and enough room for the odd pedestrian into our narrow corridors. So the choice of project and getting some early wins on the board will be critical.
Magic 8-Ball says: More cycleways are a certainty, but Calvi-Freeman should probably avoid the temptation of trying to build one to his house.
Miramar’s airport parking woes
The council have been dragging their heels on sorting out the parking issues in the residential streets surrounding the airport for years now, and have even been taken to task by the Coroner after a cyclist death in the area. There have been media reports of bad parking, worse behaviour and abandoned vehicles, all of which has largely bounced off the bureaucratic deflector shields at the council.
Under Andy Foster’s reign, a few token efforts were announced, but this problem is ripe for Calvi-Freeman to stride in, sort it out, and look like a decisive transport leader. Despite all the protestations about “issues”, how difficult a problem can it really be?
Magic 8-Ball says: Act early for the quick win.
Celia Wade-Brown’s 2010 campaign promise came to nothing on her watch, but a putative light rail system from the railway station to the hospital and the airport appeared to grow new legs during the election campaign. A coterie of city and regional councillors are now supporting the idea, and it might actually have the political will to make some progress.
The challenge is the light rail advocates themselves – they seem to think it’s only an engineering or political problem, rather than a financial one; if they can just throw one more overseas case study or nicely-drawn route map on the table, the stars will magically align. The real problem is that the primary beneficiaries of the system – the eastern suburbs – already have a workable bus network. So while light rail would improve the quality of service, it’s hard to see how that would justify the possible quarter of a billion dollar price tag. Calvi-Freeman will have to tread carefully in what could become a rancorous and very time-consuming debate. Light rail might be a headline-grabber, but there are probably bigger fish to fry in Wellington’s transport network.
Magic 8-Ball says: Don’t confuse the nice-to-have with the need-to-have.
Cars, cars and more cars
Irrespective of the pro-cycling and pro-public transport stances of the newly-elected council, the NZ Transport Agency’s road-building efforts north of the city will start to show effect within the next triennium. All the additional motorway capacity on the Kapiti Coast is likely to result in more people jumping in their cars to head into town, and some projections show people moving from the train to the car – presumably because driving could be cheaper and faster. If that’s the case, then the number of vehicles arriving on Wellington’s CBD doorstep could significantly increase, creating more congestion problems with limited space to solve them.
This is emphatically not a problem of the council’s making, but Calvi-Freeman will need to demonstrate that there is a plan – any plan! – to address what could be a growing congestion issue.
Magic 8-Ball says: When handed lemons, start hunting for lemonade recipes.
Trolleys and climate change
This is another issue that isn’t of the council’s making, but which will have wide implications for how people think about public transport in the city. The intended decommissioning of the trolley bus network and its replacement with diesels is unlikely to go over well with the greener-leaning sections of the community, who – if not yet a majority – are a very substantial minority. Hand-waving about future hybrid and battery buses is all very well, but right now there’s a certain pie-in-the-sky quality to promises about technology that seems some way short of mainstream.
Calvi-Freeman can’t do anything directly to save the trolleys, but – along with Cr Sarah Free – he needs to demonstrate that he’s collaborating on a plan to reduce the city’s carbon emissions at a time when the Regional Council seem dead-set on increasing them.
Magic 8-Ball says: Delegating the problem to the Greens has never looked so attractive.
Of course, our quick round-up leaves plenty of other gripping transport issues unaddressed; what about the pedestrianisation of Lambton Quay? Whither the second Mount Victoria tunnel?
Everywhere you look in Wellington city, there’s either a transport problem that needs to be solved or a potential opportunity that could be grasped – and with it, a community or a lobbyist or a special interest group that’s keen to say what should be done.
What there isn’t is consensus. So Calvi-Freeman – and sidekick Sarah Free – will have to adeptly navigate the political shoals to move their transport agenda forward, in a way that takes the community along for the ride. The important journey in Wellington is not from one side of town to the other, but from where we are today to where we want to be tomorrow. Calvi-Freeman has the CV and the expertise, so there are reasonable grounds to hope he’ll be able to help the city get at least part of the way.