by Michael C Barnett
As Wellington waits for the Transport Agency to reveal its scenarios for the Let’s Get Wellington Moving process, it’s worth acknowledging that interim measures could be implemented now, to reduce what is essentially peak-hour traffic congestion problem along the road corridors leading into the city, along Karo Drive and at the Basin Reserve.
In an insightful article on 8 March, Tim Jones of the Save the Basin campaign praised the openness of the process to date and noted that two scenario workshops are scheduled for this month. He went on to express concern that only a small number of public participants have been invited to attend these workshops and that the flawed Public Transport Spine Study from 2013 will not be reviewed.
I believe Jones is justified in expressing this concern for it begs the question: is the Transport Agency and the planning team sincere in their search for sustainable and acceptable solutions to Wellington’s transport problems? Or is the process one of smoke and mirrors?
LGWM has identified 12 guiding principles including better public transport, improved environmental outcomes, a people-centred city, managed travel demand, and the integration urban form and transport thinking. Key findings indicate that Wellingtonians want public transport improvements, fewer roads and cars, a more pedestrian-friendly city and protection of the natural environment.
The question remains, can and will the Transport Agency deliver on these principles and stated wishes, or will it bend to a government that seems so intent on extending its road of national significance all the way to Wellington Airport – which would be a substandard highway at best.
Whatever the outcome, the LGWM timetable is slipping and it could be several years before comprehensive solutions acceptable to Wellingtonians can be agreed and implemented. Yet interim measures could be undertaken now, to relieve some of the congestion between the Terrace Tunnel and the Airport.
In an earlier article I put the case for closing the vehicle off-ramp at Vivian Street and directing southbound traffic along Karo Drive to the Basin Reserve and beyond. There is sufficient road space for two-way traffic; two lanes south, one lane north. South and eastbound traffic currently routed along Vivian Street and Kent Terrace would travel a shorter distance and encounter fewer traffic lights, resulting in significantly reduced travel times along this stretch of road.
A state highway dissecting the inner city makes little sense and hinders development in the Te Aro precinct, which is crying out for redevelopment in a manner compatible with stated LGWM objectives.
And what about the Basin Reserve?
Much has been made of the difficulties at this so called choke point, but there’s nothing that some common sense and low cost changes could not fix.
Several suggestions were tabled at the 2014 Board of Inquiry. Mine included removing many of the physical obstacles to allow for freer flow of moving traffic around the Basin.
Along Dufferin Street on the east side of the Basin, more than half the road is taken up with parking space for buses and cars, leaving only two lanes for moving vehicles. It’s an embarrassing waste of road space to provide for parked vehicles which use it less than two hours a day during school terms.
There are other constrictions limiting the free flow of traffic around the Basin. Why not remove these obstacles and associated traffic lights, and let the Basin operate as a giant free flowing roundabout? Not only would this reduce congestion, it would allow for a dedicated bus lane around the eastern perimeter. These are simple relatively low cost measures that would see immediate benefits. They could be implemented now, rather than waiting three or four years to reach a compromise solution that may not even work.
Finally, several commentators have suggested that Karo Drive to the Basin Reserve should go underground. This is a commonsense solution that would complement my suggestion for two-directional traffic flow along this section of road.
Cut and cover was in the original proposal back in the early 1990s, but the Transport Agency decided it was not affordable and opted for the surface link that exists today. It still makes sense to lower this section of road, although the construction difficulties of doing so, while keeping it operational, would be so much greater. Still it is worth doing and the NZTA should consider spending some of its roading budget on upgrading this section of road.