Wellington Scoop

Fixing Basin traffic – now


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.


  1. PeteS, 15. March 2017, 17:30

    Yes, I do wonder why NZTA have always appeared reluctant to try any low cost adjustments in the recent past. Grandiose solutions or nothing. Also, I see that the LGWM report says that there were 2500 ideas submitted during the consultation. Does anyone know if these are publicly available, or do you need an OIA request to see them?

  2. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 15. March 2017, 21:55

    The LGWM timetable has slipped, but only slightly. Expect to see scenarios published for discussion in the next couple of months, with extensive consultation over the winter. Decisions hopefully by end of the year. With this timetable, any proposals to implement “low cost” improvements (actually likely to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars) are likely to be more of a distraction than anything and could require extensive rework again next year or thereafter. Cllr Chris Calvi-Freeman

  3. Traveller, 15. March 2017, 22:15

    I’m with Michael. Spend a few hundred thousand now (would it really cost so much) to make immediate traffic improvements around the Basin. All the necessary evidence exists – from the two long hearings. No problem in knowing what should be done.

  4. Chris Calvi-Freeman, 15. March 2017, 22:40

    Sorry Traveller, it sounds attractive and straightforward, but there would be months of work in translating ideas expressed at the Inquiry into detailed engineering plans, and then months (and lots of driver disruption) putting them into place. Not sensible when NZTA, GWRC and WCC are working closely to a timetable to develop and asses options for permanent solutions.

  5. KB, 16. March 2017, 6:37

    “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.”

    I don’t see how reducing northbound traffic to one lane on a section of SH1 which is already at capacity during peak hours is anything other than a disaster.

  6. TrevorH, 17. March 2017, 8:35

    State Highway One from the airport northwards needs to be four-lanes with an additional tunnel through Mt Victoria and an underpass beneath the Basin. Anything else is wasteful tinkering. And if an underpass isn’t feasible then the cricket ground needs to move. This isn’t rocket science.

  7. banana, 17. March 2017, 12:39

    @ Trevor – totally agree. Unfortunately we’re many years from this thanks to our Basin saving friends and the LGWM yak-fest. So, for some interim relief, how about the NZTA actually does something useful for a change and:

    1. Makes the Wellington Road/Ruahine Street intersection left in and left out – all those ‘kind’ people stopping and letting cars make right hand turns just destroy any flow.
    2. Puts some clearways on Vivian Street so all the turning traffic doesn’t hold up the through traffic
    3. Fixes the Karo Drive and Vivian Street light phasing so that it actually works at peak time.

    Come on NZTA – just like Trevor says – it’s not rocket science.

  8. KB, 17. March 2017, 12:58

    I love the Basin, but it’s incredibly ludicrous that Wellington built a 35,000 seat stadium for the purpose of being a world class cricket ground (as well as a passable ground for rugby & football) – and yet NZ Cricket continues to use the Basin for international test cricket. Even domestic cricket doesn’t use the stadium often. The Basin Reserve facilities are even in major need of an upgrade, with a stand not even safe. Even if it was to be essentially “moved” instead of simply demolished – Wellington is more than equipped to be without the Basin Reserve (presuming the stadium reduced its fees for cricket to use).

    Alternative solution: rebuild the Basin 6-8 meters higher and let traffic flow underneath it, and allow grade separation to flow around it without the ugliness of flyovers.

  9. Hel, 18. March 2017, 10:33

    just spent the last two days at the Basin and it is a jewel in the Wellington crown. Cannot argue that parts of the Basin are tired and the Council should be embarrassed that they have allowed the facilities to deteriorate as they have. However, finally the upgrade works are underway and the ground is looking better already. Surely we can be smarter and more visionary than simplistic suggestions such as bulldozing the Basin.

  10. Ben, 18. March 2017, 13:17

    How many days a year is the Basin Reserve used? Can the usage justify the enormous amount of money needed to upgrade the grandstand and other facilities?
    @Hel: I can’t say I agree that the Basin Reserve is the “jewel in the Wellington crown”. Apart from cricket fans, many of us just see a circular fence and crappy grandstand in the middle of serious traffic congestion.

  11. The City is Ours, 18. March 2017, 14:43

    In any case the Basin Reserve was gifted to this fair city and is bound by rules stipulated in the Deed by the gifter. Check.

  12. Michael C Barnett, 18. March 2017, 18:18

    Chris Calvi Freeman. Your comments re timetable are noted and I wish I could share your optimism. There remains the suspicion that the LWGM is one of smoke and mirrors and there may be a predetermined outcome. Mayor Lester listing twin tunnels at The Terrace and Mt Victoria and an underpass at the Basin Reserve, which seems be at odds with the stated LGWM stated principals. The interim measures I have suggested remain valid and in particular the removal of the barriers along Dufferin Street outside St Marks School to create more lanes for moving traffic, and creation a bus only lane around the eastern perimeter of the Basin Reserve could be done at minimal cost and disruption and would be worth doing now.

  13. luke, 18. March 2017, 21:58

    the outcome will be 4 lanes to the planes, one way or another, with some token bus and cycle PT wash thrown in to make it look like we werent only interested in cars all along.

  14. Ben, 19. March 2017, 16:41

    @The city is ours: According to the History of the Basin Reserve, ownership was “A Deed of Conveyance of the Basin Reserve between the Crown and the Governor-General of New Zealand to the Wellington City Council.” Shame the crown didn’t leave money for its upkeep.

  15. Elaine Hampton, 24. March 2017, 14:56

    Trevor and Banana: the Basin isn’t the problem. Its destruction would only leave the city poorer. The issue is the tunnel, only two lanes, and the Taranaki Street lights. The Basin happens to be in the middle, it isn’t a cause. It has been a jewel but has been left to decay. Renovate the stands and bring back the bandstand and children’s playground I say.