Wellington Scoop

How to cross the road?

crossing cobham drive concept

by Lindsay Shelton
What’s the best way for a pedestrian or a cyclist to cross four lanes of traffic on Cobham Drive? After some years of indecision, the people at LGWM this week came up with the answer. (And no, it’s not the dreadful design that is shown above.)

cobham drive crossing

Traffic lights are the choice made by LGWM. It’s not a choice that everyone supports.

As Benoit Pette points out today on his Inside Wellington blog:

The traffic light option has already been consulted on, with a petition where +7,500 people said they favoured a bridge or an underpass. The number of signees is significant and I wonder how many more would be needed before LGWM started accepting that their preferred option is simply not wanted.

And more:

Anyone commuting from the East would be horrified at this option or anything that could make the traffic more horrendous. At present, the bus service is way below the one of a car, there are roadworks everywhere (for cycleways, for pipes, for office buildings), and the lack of the airport flyer means countless taxis clogging the commute. So even for a cycling advocate like me, I can’t imagine the traffic light option other than punishment, one that will alienate more people against the Council.

Even Tamatha Paul, whose green credentials can’t be questioned, has said “You don’t shift mode or shift behaviour by making something inconvenient where there are no other alternatives.“ Soon, it will be hard to figure out what will make the city unpassable: the trucks lining up for the Shelly Bay development, those for the Airport expansion or queues at the traffic lights! To support their recommendation, LGWM explains that traffic lights would add up to 15 seconds to the average vehicle travel times.

cobham drive analysis

Now, while the rest of the document might breathe expertise, this unsupported assumption doesn’t stack up in the real world: in the morning, when queues build-up to the traffic lights, it will be way more than 15 seconds added to each journey. I have studied traffic and group motion in a previous life, and I can categorically say this number … is well underestimated.

Two years ago, also writing on Inside Wellington, Ian Apperley opposed traffic lights on Cobham Drive, calling them “cheap, nasty and potentially unsafe”. He wrote:

It’s a diabolical road at the best of times and when you add frequent sun-strike over winter in both directions, and days of heavy weather, the surges in traffic make it downright dangerous. Even if traffic is backed up to the airport, which it frequently is, the areas where they are mooting a traffic light pedestrian crossing are often filled with fast moving blocs of cars as they negotiate the primary roundabout. It’s disingenuous to suggest that it won’t make a jot of difference. It will absolutely increase congestion on that road. Similar installations around the city and countryside have proven that fact. The lights cause surges, the surges cause waves, and traffic congestion goes up.


Ian liked this Hovenring idea from Delft, where it cost 6.3million euros.

Given that LGWM is planning to spend billions, it does not seem unreasonable to spend some millions on an over-bridge or a hovenring-like construction. But we can’t have nice things because we always want the cheapest option, based on 1950’s traffic planning it seems, as fast as we can because it is “low-hanging fruit”, with no thought for unintended consequences. The best thing about a hovenring style construction would be that everyone remains happy. Pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and transporters.

Now everyone is being invited to offer their opinions to LGWM, at this address. Submissions close at the end of this month. Do you agree with the 7500 people who signed the petition to oppose lights? Or do you agree with the LGWM plan that ignores their views.

Here’s how LGWM summarise what they’re trying to achieve:

We know that some people take risks crossing in this area, as it’s a long way (1.8km) between safe crossing points. A person was killed while trying to cross in 2016, and there are reports of near misses. We want to make it safer and more convenient to get around the Eastern Suburbs by bike or by foot, to help reduce congestion and emissions from short car trips.

But bear in mind: LGWM have other preoccupations as well. They’ve just updated their objectives, and announcing this today they say they’ve adjusted weightings to help assess their options and guide their next steps; their goals include a vibrant and prosperous future for Wellington, and they’ve taken account of new and emerging issues. They’ve also included safety “as a weighted objective to enable a clear understanding of the trade-offs between potential options, as part of multi-criteria analysis and other evaluation processes.”

Verbosity? Let’s hope they still have time to work out the best way of crossing the road.

eyeofthefish: Why we should build a bridge, with a fantastic innovative design


  1. KT, 1. July 2021, 16:11

    Build a bridge – this is just going to further lock the main exit route to and from the east. Imagine a free flowing walking, cycling, scooter, accessibility enabled bridge along there that keeps things safe and is a feature. [via twitter]

  2. leave 30 seconds earlier, 1. July 2021, 16:28

    The absolute entitlement of Wellington car drivers is astounding.

  3. TrevorH, 1. July 2021, 16:42

    So the views of more than 7000 people are to be disregarded? The proposed crossing will be a disaster for those living in the Eastern Suburbs and for Airport users, particularly in peak times when traffic will likely back up all the way to the airport and well back into Miramar. Expect grassroots opposition.

  4. Jen, 1. July 2021, 17:17

    So again consultation is ignored because it gave the ‘wrong answer’. As one of the 7000 I feel frustrated.

  5. Dilligaf, 1. July 2021, 18:22

    Leave: I could say the same about cyclists.

  6. Dave B, 1. July 2021, 18:38

    An average of 15 seconds more per-journey and the sky will fall in? Or spend 6.3 million euros on an elevated pedestrian ring-thing just to save motorists this terrible imposition. Should LGWM pander to this? I don’t think so.
    Cobham Drive needs to be 50Km/h max and a traffic light pedestrian crossing is all that is needed. The route is not a motorway and it already has multiple traffic lights on it so it is hard to see that this will make a major difference. The whole area also needs much better public transport (preferably separate from roads) to offload much of the peak hour traffic that is causing such grief.

  7. Benoit Pette, 1. July 2021, 18:50

    “Leave 30 seconds earlier”, you should go and read my full post. I’m a cycling advocate and I think a crossing is definitely required. But not that type of crossing for two main reasons: the traffic is already horrendous and it’d add way more than 15 or 30 seconds when queues start forming; also it’s not what people want, as captured by the petition. So let’s build a crossing but without punishing the traffic even more.

  8. Don M, 1. July 2021, 19:43

    No KT, a free flowing walking, cycling, scooter, accessibility enabled bridge does not keep things safe. It may work fine for those on cycles and scooters, but walkers and those with accessibility issues will not feel safer when mixed up with speeding cyclists and scooters.

  9. NigelTwo, 1. July 2021, 19:54

    This is two crossings, each with a ~45sec wait delay. Did the designers think we might want to stop on the median for a picnic? Faced with these wait times on a cold wet day, one might as well “run it”.

  10. Dave B, 1. July 2021, 21:03

    If it must be a grade-separated crossing then perhaps a pedestrian/cyclist tunnel similar to the one under the airport-runway would be best. The ramp down for such a tunnel would be much less that the ramp up to clear high vehicles with an overbridge. But would a tunnel be feasible so close to sea level? Would it require specialised drainage to keep it from flooding?

  11. pedge, 2. July 2021, 8:09

    I tend to agree with Dave B. One more set of traffic lights probably won’t make much difference to an already stop-start road. But, I would be interested to know how many people actually cycle along that new path and more importantly how many of those need to cross into Kilbirnie? Are we creating a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist? A few near misses and one death could be attributed to most roads of this kind in Wellington.

  12. Henry Filth, 2. July 2021, 8:43

    It surely can’t be beyond the capabilities of the planners, engineers, architects and so on to come up with a design that makes things better for everyone. . . can it?

  13. Ellen Blake, 2. July 2021, 9:18

    How about finishing the Kilbirnie bus hub – it’s missing a very important pedestrian crossing on a very wide road to the bus stop.

  14. Peter Steven, 2. July 2021, 11:10

    I think it’s a good solution and certainly the most equitable. It’s not fair to expect cyclists and wheelchair users to have to go up a steep hill just for the sake of the people driving cars.

  15. luke, 2. July 2021, 11:52

    I doubt climbing up and down ramps would be easy for those with impaired mobility, ie wheelchairs and mobility scooters. Also humans being humans the desire lines will still remain, people will continue to take short cuts. Why must the car user be prioritised at every turn?

  16. Henry Filth, 3. July 2021, 6:01

    Why not elevate the road as an over bridge, leaving pedestrians, cyclists, wheelchair drivers, scooters et al at ground level?

  17. Ian, 3. July 2021, 6:47

    It has to be integrated into the light rail grade separated station at this important intersection. FFS LGWM please get the rapid transit route announced so that some rational and logical decisions can be made.

  18. Roger Burra, 3. July 2021, 19:47

    1. Traffic is already platooned (bunched up) by nearby traffic lights
    2. Queues already reach the proposed crossing points at peak times
    3. The biggest choke point is the 2 to 1 merge on Wellington road
    3. For anyone on foot, on a bike or in a wheelchair going up or down a ramp is inconvenient compared with a ground level crossing
    4. You could sink the road into a tunnel to allow at grade crossing but is it worth it to save a few seconds? – a negligible increase in travel time.
    5. An at-grade signal controlled crossing is the rational and proportionate response to addressing the severance in this part of Wellington.
    6. The changes to create a more consistent speed limit on SH1 in the city will probably smooth traffic flow somewhat.

  19. Kerry, 5. July 2021, 10:47

    LGWM is right. Delays of 15 seconds or so are about right at a pedestrian crossing, and a pedestrian crossing with traffic signals is just the same.
    Traffic signals on Wellington Road delay motorists because they have to wait while other drivers use the junction, but the new signals will have minimal effect because their effect on capacity is trivial. If there is already a queue at the crossing, the effect will be smaller, not larger.
    Drivers delay each other, far more effectively than other road users, because they use road space extremely inefficiently, six or more times worse than any other users.
    New Zealand has tolerated too many cars for too long. The Climate Change Commission points out that we need rapid change to meet our international commitments, because we have started too late, because politicians have paid attention to pathetic debates such as this.
    Fortunately, many other cities are well ahead of us. Wellington has access to the knowledge needed for effective change. For example, a proposal for Taranaki St increases its people-carrying capacity six-fold, without eliminating cars.
    Fewer cars will mean less pollution, and pollution from cars kills even more people than are killed in crashes.

  20. Sue, 6. July 2021, 10:57

    Drilling at Mt Crawford by the prison gardens and Nevay Rd Miramar Peninsula is being carried out this morning. If you are not aware, there is going to be a 300-housing development to be built up by the prison, so total housing on the Peninsula, Shelly Bay and Mt Crawford by The Wellington Company is 650 – a further 7000 movements a day with Shelly Bay alone coming and going out of Peninsula. Then add a further 300 houses on Watts Peninsula, so is it 10,000 a day? Plus the airport expects to double its passengers by 2040 … Best thing I can say is I won’t be here longer than I need.

  21. TrevorH, 6. July 2021, 21:21

    Sue, I doubt if many people were aware of this development. Where can we find more information?

  22. Mike Mellor, 6. July 2021, 21:39

    There are a few misconceptions above, for example in the statements “Do you agree with the 7500 people who signed the petition to oppose lights? Or do you agree with the LGWM plan that ignores their views”, and “The traffic light option has already been consulted on, with a petition where +7,500 people said they favoured a bridge or an underpass”.

    – the linked petition supports a “Safe crossing from ASB Sports Centre to Cobham drive”, which many (including me) will support. It is only in the second paragraph that it is revealed that the organisers’ specific proposal is for a bridge: nowhere are an underpass or lights mentioned, so there is no way that it can be interpreted as in favour of the former or against the latter. So the first quote above is incorrect in saying that the petitioners are opposing lights (and LGWM will certainly be taking their desire for a safer crossing into account), and the second statement could with equal validity (or invalidity!) have said “…favoured a bridge, underpass or traffic lights”.

    – a petition is not consultation: until now there has not been a proposal, so no consultation has been possible.

    LGWM is absolutely right about the need for a crossing, and it’s correct in identifying crossings at road level as by far the most effective option, with maximum benefit to walkers and cyclists (particularly if the lights respond immediately to the beg button – there’s no reason why they shouldn’t), and minimal interruption to traffic flow.

    And as for the assertion that with a bridge “everyone remains happy. Pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and transporters”, this overlooks the fact that pedestrians and cyclists would need to navigate 30-odd steps, or a ramp the best part of 100m long, on each side of the road. Is this really a recipe for happiness, particularly in a wheelchair, pushing a buggy, or if steps aren’t your thing, or for anyone in a howling northerly?

    Let’s stick to the facts.

  23. Genevieve Bryant, 8. July 2021, 8:15

    Traffic lights are no guarantee of death free crossings. So many cars go through red lights in an effort to not have to wait for the next change of lights. A bridge is the only safe option or an underpass.

  24. Dave B, 29. July 2021, 17:43

    An underpass could probably be installed quite easily, given how easily pedestrian and cycleway underpasses have been installed under the railway at Trentham, Melling and Alicetown. Basically, the railway was shut for a long weekend, a large trench was dug across it, a pre-cast concrete ‘tunnel’ was lowered in and backfilled, then the railway reinstated. Once the trains were back running, the finishing-off could be done at leisure. For a pedestrian tunnel the floor-depth need be no more than 3 metres below road-level, and at Cobham Drive the tunnel-units could be installed under one carriageway at a time, temporarily diverting all traffic to the carriageway not being worked on. There may be issues with it being so close to sea level (flooding during weather-events), but for a price these could be countered.

    But is it worth it? Would it not be better to build a ground-level pedestrian crossing now, and preserve the underpass-option for the future if it really proves necessary.

  25. Claire, 29. July 2021, 18:49

    Underpasses are unsafe at night.

  26. Dave B, 30. July 2021, 1:06

    Claire, there are pedestrian underpasses all over the place including a long one under the airport runway. It is rare to hear of any problems with them. It is not rare to hear of pedestrians being mown down while trying to cross roads. If a grade-separated crossing of Cobham drive can actually be justified then a subway may be preferable to a bridge for a number of reasons. However if neither can be justified then a signallised at-grade crossing is needed and this will greatly improve the safety situation for pedestrians and cyclists trying to cross Cobham Drive in that vicinity at the moment.

  27. Bring back Buck, 30. July 2021, 9:19

    Dave B I’m glad you mentioned the airport underpass as anyone from southern Miramar can use this to access Kilbirnie. That being the case the proposed crossing is only serving a small number of people who may want to come from northern Miramar to the ASB centre.

  28. Dave B, 30. July 2021, 17:12

    BbB. While we may split hairs over where southern Miramar becomes northern Strathmore, there are a lot of people for whom the pedestrian tunnel under the airport would mean a much longer walk to access either the ASB Centre or Kilbirnie. And the fact that people currently try to cross Cobham Drive at the point where the crossing is proposed, indicates that this is a desire-line. Some cyclists might be prepared to divert via the tunnel but it is not reasonable to argue that this route obviates the need for a safe way to cross Cobham at the ASB. A crossing is needed. The debate is now about what sort of crossing this should be.

  29. Mike Mellor, 30. July 2021, 21:27

    Absolutely right, Dave B – from Miramar shops to the ASB via the airport subway is about twice as far as the direct route. And, of course, using the direct route it’s just a short walk to Kilbirnie as well as to the ASB – but a very risky and inconvenient one.

    I may be wrong, but it appears to me that many people expressing an opinion about crossing Cobham Drive are doing so as armchair travellers rather than as people who have actually had the experience, or who would have liked to have been able to make the short walk in safety. I plan to be making that walk when I go for my covid jabs next Tuesday and three weeks later, and I invite anyone who wants to be able to express an opinion that’s backed up by experience to join me.