by Michael C Barnett
The increased peak-hour congestion and longer travel times on the new Kapiti Expressway should not be surprising.
Since I read read the accounts of delays at the southern end of the new Expressway and increased travel time on the morning commute into Wellington, I’ve been reminded of the American advocate for more livable cities, Jane Jacobs, and her description of a taxi journey from Toronto Airport to a downtown destination in Toronto. The first part of her trip was along an elevated limited access highway:
“On the expressway stretch the meter is ticking over, the trip seems economical and I am getting good distance for my money. Then I hit a choke point at the exit ramp and from then on everything changes. Considering what it is costing me, I am getting very little distance… What worries me is the expensive burden on the city and the planet of air pollution and urban road congestion that this part of my trip is registering.
“…All the way to my micro-destination, from the moment we enter the street grid, we are surrounded by delivery vans, other taxis, and private cars whose drivers also are attempting to reach their micro-destinations. ….. Our joint circuitous congestion hampers all others attempting to make use of the streets: public transit vehicles, pedestrians and bicycle couriers.”
The increased congestion and longer travel time at Mackays Crossing has been acknowledged by the NZ Transport Agency, which admits that little can be done to solve the problem until the expressway is joined up with the Transmission Gully motorway, due for completion sometime in 2020.
Then there’ll be a new problem – there will then be a new choke point where the new expressway links to the existing motorway at Tawa, and all things being equal, congestion and slower travel times into Wellington City will remain. What is not so clear is how the city is expected to cope with the estimated 11,000 additional vehicles per day that will be generated. On this, the Transport Agency is remarkably silent.
Meanwhile the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) process ambles along. I attended one of a series of workshops held to give participants an opportunity to state their priorities in four focus areas: public transport, state highway improvements, active transport (walking and cycling) and transport demand management.
A process that started a year ago with the promise of a transformational rethink of transport priorities, now has the appearance of being a rehash of outdated thinking. A significant focus on duplicate tunnels at The Terrace and Mt Victoria, grade separation either over or under the Basin Reserve and four-laning State Highway 1 down Vivian Street, along Kent Terrace and on to the airport remains on the agenda. When asked for a time frame for completing this planning process, the project director was non committal, but he did hint that it would be at least a year.
The LGWM progress report (February 2017) has a clear set of guiding principles and the results of public surveys that clearly indicate Wellingtonians want fewer roads and cars, better public transport, a more pedestrian-friendly city and protection of the natural environment. Proposals for twin tunnels, encroachment on treasured green space along Ruahine Street and four-laning to the airport are not compatible with these principles or with the results of the surveys.
The progress report identifies where and how people travel into the city from all quarters of the compass during the morning peak: 42,000 from the north along State Highways 1 and 2, 14,000 from the western suburbs and 26,000 from the southern and eastern suburbs. Of the 7,400 people entering the city and travelling south along the crosstown route and along Aotea Quay, only 25% – i.e. 1850 – continue on to the southern and eastern suburbs.
The report also identifies the mode of travel of the 82,000 coming into the city and states ‘There is almost an even split between travel by car and other modes of transport.’ This means approximately 50% of travel to the city is by motor vehicle.
All this raises questions about the LGWM process and where it is heading.
If so few are passing through the city, why the strong emphasis on improvements to State Highway 1 and why continue to route it along Vivian Street and Kent Terrace? Where is the discussion of how Wellington City is supposed to cope with the additional 11,000 vehicles entering the city each day? And where does light rail fit into this picture, apart from some vague promise that it will be considered at some future date? Does the Transport Agency have the statutory authority to fund light rail infrastructure? If not, why not? The Government has agreed to fund half of the fixed costs of the City Rail Link (total cost approx. $3-4 billion) in Auckland, and recent announcements on mass transit/light rail in Auckland talk about “co-investment” under the Land Transport Fund including NZTA and Auckland Council/Auckland Transport.
If Auckland can secure these terms, then why not the same for Wellington infrastructure? These are serious questions requiring answers.
It is also fair to ask: who is really driving the LGWM process? Is the governance group in control providing oversight and direction? Or is the Transport Agency pursuing its own hidden agenda? Regional Council chairperson Chris Laidlaw is on record as supporting light rail, and Chris Calvi-Freeman of the Wellington City Council has called for LGWM to do justice to a complete investigation of light rail as an integral part of the project. Both are part of the governance group. Their voices should be heeded.
Recently, the Regional Council and the City Council formed a working group to ensure dialogue on transport issues. Members of this committee would do well to join the two Chris’s and champion the cause for a congestion-free city. The city environment should be paramount and the best way forward will be to make better use of existing road space and design a transport system around the desired urban form.
Wellington cannot build its way out of congestion.