Wellington Scoop

Getting rid of traffic

by Lindsay Shelton
Last week’s cautious city council move towards keeping traffic out of more of Cuba Street, and converting part of Dixon Street for pedestrians, should be welcomed by almost everyone, except for the few who still think that customers only arrive in cars.

Councillors voted 11-3 to limit private vehicle access on Cuba Street between Ghuznee Street and Vivian Street, and on Dixon Street between Taranaki Street and Victoria Street.

Nothing will be happening soon, though. The vote, moved by Councillor Tamatha Paul, will be followed by an investigation by council staff into “low-traffic options” on the two central streets. And if the Cuba Street change finds further favour, it will need to be added to the 2024 long term plan.

But how about no-traffic options?

James Pedersen, a co-owner of Floriditas and Loretta, thinks moving cars out of more of Cuba Street would be a good idea. I agree with him. He wrote in the DomPost:

At times it feels like a series of half-thought-out spaces: some bits are mixed use … one part is one way, and then it’s two way for vehicles past Vivian Street. … Now seems like an excellent time to stop and consider how Cuba Street can fulfil its potential. We could start by making the whole street way more pedestrian focussed, enable people to actually cycle up and down it, and park their bikes somewhere. Fundamentally turn a car-centric mentality (that only sees Cuba Street as a road) on its head,, and make it shine ….

When I look up and down the street I see a wonderful opportunity to take back most of the street and make it something special. There’s a uniqueness about Cuba St that you don’t find in many other New Zealand cities … above all else it’s because a collection of people give Cuba St its vibrancy … In an ideal world, Cuba Street would be pedestrian-centric from Wakefield St all the way up to Webb Street. There’s massive pedestrian flow up and down the street, and that would only increase if the journey was made more appealing, quicker, and easier.

Councillors were given similar good advice in a report from Gehl Associates:

A city good for people is good for business, with research showing that cities which take actions to improve spaces for walking, cycling and public transport have succeeded in reducing congestion, increasing safety and improving economic performance … The needs of the workforce are changing, and millennials have different needs and want to walk and cycle and have access to green spaces. Research shows that while retailers often perceive the highest volume of their customers travel by car, walkable and bikeable cities bring in more business. Walking and cycling infrastructure is also particularly beneficial for making a city attractive for tourism.

Gehl examples cover a range of strategies including financial incentives, restrictions on car access, spatial planning and mobility management. They show the scale of measures and low traffic outcomes in cities from car-free to those with car-lite measures and traffic calming. Streets are not just transport corridors, but also public spaces. Creating public spaces that are safe, attractive and enjoyable are key to changing transport choices, achieved through making streets attractive to pedestrians and connecting city parks and public spaces.

Before last week’s vote was taken, Councillor Paul told the NZ Herald that reducing traffic would help make the city a destination…

“You stop seeing the inner city as something that you merely pass through in a private vehicle. You start to see it as something that you come into and that you engage in fully and are able to participate in city life on foot and in person, not just within a car.”

In person, not just within a car.

A reminder that for more than a decade people have been calling for more pedestrian-only areas in the CBD. Bob Jones led the call in 2009. Nicola Young made the same proposal seven years later. And Daran Ponter reported a similar plan in the same year, though nothing happened. Tamatha Paul re-launched the traffic-free idea last April. Then there’s LGWM’s latest idea, announced last month.

Maybe this time?


  1. nemo, 15. November 2021, 15:57

    Wonderful news – a trial run and then hopefully a full pedestrianisation for Cuba – and then that wraps into the long-term plan that the Eye of the Fish has had for many years now: making Swan Lane a park for people, not for cars. It is in the perfect location: faces north-west for great sun all afternoon long, several interesting heritage buildings surrounding it, the home of the main Cuba Dupa Stage, perfect backdrop flat wall for outdoor movie nights, criss-crossed by different pedestrian pathways and, I’d argue, a more popular spiritual home for the heart of Wellington that the beleaguered mess that is Civic Square now.
    Swan Lane and Cuba Street : for the people!

  2. Dave B, 15. November 2021, 17:26

    And get the State Highway traffic off Vivian Street! Both directions of SH1 should be routed via the Inner City Bypass trench, Karo Drive and the Arras Tunnel. This could be done now, simply by allocating 2 lanes in one direction and one lane in the other direction, just like the present Terrace Tunnel.

    It is ludicrous having southbound motorway traffic feeding straight into Vivian Street, and even more ludicrous that this has been the situation for decades, with the only plan to change things involving distant and controversial proposals for major new tunnels.

    This could be fixed almost overnight if the will was there, allowing Vivian Street to become the low-speed, pedestrian-friendly street it should be, instead of a main traffic artery.

  3. K, 15. November 2021, 19:22

    Great idea – Cuba street would be even more fantastic with this proposal.

  4. bsmith, 16. November 2021, 6:05

    Just another death by a thousand cuts for this city.

  5. Conor, 16. November 2021, 6:43

    This could, and really should, be done for this summer.

  6. greenwelly, 16. November 2021, 9:09

    Just remember, this is pretty much what the council promised 10 years ago when they turned lower Cuba Street into a “shared space”. The council aimed to provide a “safe accessible route for anyone who wants the security of a car and cycle-free area”.

  7. Roy Murphy, 16. November 2021, 9:59

    Re Dave B’s converting SH1 south to run down Karo Drive. Now there’s a suggestion worth looking at. Instead of destroying houses and putting more concrete on the ground, do what they’ve done everywhere else: reduce the number of lanes into the city. That happens a few times on SH1, why not here? It would stop Vivian Street traffic from dividing the city into two and making the south city an uninviting desert. So it would cause traffic pileup with the reduction of a lane? So what. They do that already. Look at the backup into the Mt Victoria tunnel. At least we would open up the city.

  8. pedge, 16. November 2021, 10:16

    bsmith. Would you care to enlighten us with the reasons for your pessimism? Do you have any case studies or examples of cities overseas where ideas such as this have failed? I’d be interested to read about them if you do, because everything I’ve read about urban design and cities point towards this being the way forward…

  9. Dave B, 16. November 2021, 10:42

    Thanks Roy Murphy. Although the Inner City Bypass “trench” currently carries only two lanes, it has extravagantly wide shoulders which could and should be converted to allow a third lane.
    It is quite easy to measure the width of the ICB trench from the Buller Street overbridge. I did this and recorded 12.7 metres from wall to wall. Assuming this width is maintained over the full length of the trench, it would comfortably accommodate 3x 3.5m lanes, a 1.2m median strip and 0.5m margins from each wall. Enough to replicate what already works in the Terrace Tunnel.

    So come on Waka Kotahi, WCC and LGWM. Just do it!

  10. John Rankin, 16. November 2021, 10:53

    DaveB and Roy Murphy: if we liberate Vivian Street from SH1 through traffic, the WCC could then create a pedestrian-only “street-park” on the section between Cuba St and Taranaki Street. Vivian Street’s principal purpose is to carry through traffic, so if that happens on Karo Drive, Vivian Street could be put to better use.

  11. Ellen, 18. November 2021, 19:41

    What a great idea, one supported by Living Streets Aotearoa too. Cuba Street footpath is too narrow and busy now and urgently needs an upgrade. Taking all the vehicles off this street would be wonderful, and moving state highway traffic off Vivian would only leave one big barrier at Karo Drive!


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