The Eye of the Fish

August 25, 2015

Basin Bridge: the alternatives

It really is quite extraordinary how narrow-minded Government departments can be. And how an answer can be staring someone in the face. The Prime Minster is quoted today as saying:

“We need to find a solution. My understanding was historically was the flyover was deemed to be by far the best solution at the most affordable price,”

“Options of tunnelling, for instance, weren’t as realistic as some people would argue because I guess you can do anything but it was a tremendous cost and quite technically difficult to do.

“So if it’s not a flyover, I guess the question is what’s the next alternative and how easily can it be funded and how quickly can it occur? I just don’t have answers to it at the moment.”

“But I mean overall, our view has been we need to have a response to the traffic issues that Wellington faces. We can’t just sit there with no solution.”

Either he really hasn’t been briefed properly by his department (I acknowledge that he is a little too busy to have read all the transcripts of the Inquiry and now the Appeal decision), or perhaps NZTA just doesn’t want to listen, but there are two alternatives ready and waiting.

Richard Reid and Associates plan, called the BBRREO, can be implemented tomorrow, at virtually zero cost. It was discussed at length during the Basin Bridge inquiry, and you know what? Richard Reid was right. The current congestion can be substantially eased by some careful and subtle reworking of the painted lines on the road. I know that sounds way too easy to be a solution, but it was generally agreed that it would work as a solution for the current traffic problems, and for the projected problems for the next 4-10 years. It requires subtle improvements like a proper two lanes turning left from the Basin into Adelaide Road, instead of the present debacle of one lane and an awkward half lane leading nowhere. It requires some reworking of the entrance / drop off zone for the buses at the Schools, but Reid has worked that one out as well. The guy’s a genius at tweaking road space out of nothing – and if it can help improve the roading for next to nothing, then so be it: Let’s do it. Now.

The other option, obviously, is something like Option X, the design that was proposed by the Architectural Centre, who are the real reason this bridge to nowhere has collapsed. While X has been stuffed to a certain extent by the current Arras Tunnel layout, it can probably still work. In principle, the answer is still the same: instead of a flyover going 300m above ground, a shorter tunnel going under will obviously work just as well. Start planning it now.

So, there are two “Plan B” options for the Prime Minster right now. Do one now, save one for later. Done deal, innit?!

25 - 08 - 15

How many government officials are reading this?

I hope you will do a post/update this post with links to the appropriate government agencies’ and ministers’ emails/twitter accounts/even postal addresses (I know, I know…) so that your adoring public can remind them of these plans, and let them know that The Public Is Watching.

25 - 08 - 15

Option X wouldn’t work, it involved an enormous walkway into the sky to get over a road. It was a wide footbridge, but miles up, and into the wind, and I think required stairs (not so good for wheelchairs, and bikes. And kiddies in strollers). This is the same reason why the Basin bridge walkway and cycleway was a daft idea thought up to try to tick an extra box. Walkways and cycleways need to be direct, protected from weather extremes were sensible to do so, and at grade.

I’m also concerned that the BBRREO leaves no room for cycles. Not that the Basin is heaven for cyclists now!

It’s a clusterfuck of stupidity, that’s what it is. Put the second Mt Vic Tunnel somewhere else, that’ll sort out the Basin.

25 - 08 - 15

“How many government officials are reading this?”
I don’t know, but I do know that at local government level, some of the Councilors read it, as well as the Council PR team. Also, Max had a way of telling if NZTA were reading it – which they were.

Adoring public? Not sure if you are being sarcastic or not. But good idea re sending our MPs appropriate messages.

Richard Reid has not been slow off the mark to put his project forward – and I’m sure he’ll be sending out this press release to every MP in town:
His scheme will work for as long as you don’t (absolutely, positively) need grade separation.

Chico, you might note I said “something like Option X”, ie the simple concept behind that scheme is that the SH1 traffic goes under, rather than over. That will answer the question if you DO need grade separation. But really, NZTA need to – and should be – going back to the big empty sheet of paper on the drawing board over this one – ripping up everything, and starting again. I’d just suggest that as they have half of the route in a tunnel now, they should follow the lead set by Option X and look at a tunnel option. X showed one way forward – NZTA shouldn’t have to spend another $11m to get to the next solution.

26 - 08 - 15

Amazingly, even the DomPost has written an Editorial today, speaking up for something other than a flyover:
Editorial: Time to leave the flyover behind

“OPINION: Once again the Basin Reserve flyover has been back to court for a long and expensive re-examination. And once again the answer was no. Perhaps it’s now time for the flyover’s champion, the New Zealand Transport Agency, to recognise that it has lost and to move on.

The High Court, in a long and detailed judgement, has ruled that the tribunal that overturned the flyover proposal was not wrong in law. Points of law were the only grounds for appeal, and the judgement is a comprehensive demolition of the arguments.

In the meantime, another year has gone past and more millions have been spent on legal argument, and Wellington’s transport problems have not grown any smaller. If the agency decides to appeal, most of another year is likely to be spent in further argument. And the outcome after all that further time and expense might be exactly the same – no flyover, and no solution to the problems.

One of the main objections to the flyover was precisely that it was taking too long. This newspaper, which used to support the flyover, often resorted to that argument and criticised the city council for dragging the process out even further by dithering.

But at a certain point this argument can turn in the wielder’s hands. If the price of backing the flyover has now become endless delay and expense, the price is too high. So it is time to try something else.

The agency obviously feels that the case is precedent-setting and that it could affect the agency’s work in many other areas, not just in Wellington. The agency is one of a very small number of people who can properly assess the strength of that argument.

But it also might like to consider the less technical effects on its reputation of the long campaign for the flyover. It has created a formidable and widely-based opposition, not only to its specific plan but also to its general way of doing things. The agency is now widely viewed as a come-hell-or-high-water outfit which doesn’t change its mind lightly, if at all. There are plenty of Wellingtonians who think of it as arrogant and inflexible, a one-eyed behemoth which cares about roads and very little else.”

26 - 08 - 15

Yes – I was surprised by the editorial position taken by Dom-Post as well – especially after the way the cast Arch Centre and others in the lead-up to the BoI. They now seem finally awake to the idea that the opposition was not driven by eco-extremists and nimbys, but emerged from a perfectly rational and valid position. It only took a BoI and High Court outcome to get them to open their eyes though :sigh:

26 - 08 - 15

It is very unclear what the next step in the process of addressing the Basin Reserve traffic congestion will be. The traffic volumes that need to be handled, along with the stated need for a PT priority corridor, really mean that some for of grade seperation is required but the best solution from a traffic engineering point of view, which was the flyover, has been rejected.

The public transport planning is impacted because the revised Wellington bus routes to be re-contracted under PTOM assume the flyover would proceed. It proposed reducing bus numbers on the gloden mile by increased “through routing” with most buses travelling either North-South or East-West running through the basin reserve at some point in their journey. At the moment congestion at the basin does not affect buses to North Wellington but under PTOM all bus services will be impacted (e.g. the 8:15 from Churton Park may have started as the 7:25 from Island bay). Without grade seperation at the basin reserve, there is a larger knock on effect from bus holdups at the basin … can buses coming from the south (that currently turn-around at the railways station) be reliaed upon to get to northern suburbs on time and vis-versa ?

The GWRC and WCC also just approved funding for the detailed business case for the (now mis-named) Bus Rapid Transport option that also assumed the flyover would proceed (in fact the whole Spine Study assumes grade seperation at the Basin Reserve is built first). Now it is unclear whether they should assume the current or grade seperation at the basin for their detailed modelling and costings (and if the former whether the benefit cost ratio will even be positive).

In addition (and ironically), grade seperation of traffic is also needed to support both improved pedestrian access and planned new cycleways. Without it we end up with a continuation of the same problem that the euphanitically named Inner-City Bypass has created which is the traffic causing big disconnects in walking & biking because it was not put into a trench (again mainly due to locals objecting to the adverse impact of this on the local environment).

Leviathan states “In the meantime, another year has gone past and more millions have been spent on legal argument, and Wellington’s transport problems have not grown any smaller.” but the findng of the Board is that the immediate benefits of grade seperation are NOT significant as the disbenefits. In other words the board’s view is opponents proved there is NOT a signfiicant “transport problem” here because the flyover only saves 90 mseconds even though is the grade seperation option with the best benefit cost ratio. Any other grade seperation option at the basin will either have less benefits or greater costs (esp a tunnel) and so most likely none of these can be justified being done as a seperate project.

Finally, there is the issue that the opponents stepped up strongly and essentially took over community representation from the WCC which has been noticable in the absence of any leadership in dealing with such a difficult issue (as exemplified by the Mayor now stating she was against all the time and is glad the basin opponents succeeded in rejecting the option her own council, obviously now only in theory, supported).

The Board decision being upheld by the High Court means that (against opposition) any new proposal must show strong positive overall benefits. This probably means one of two things will happen:
1) The NZTA will proceed with the Mt Vic Tunnel duplication project that includes grade seperation at the basin (but probably North South based). This will take some years to design and consult and more years for the appeals process.
2) DO some at grade improvements at the basin and walk away leaving Wellington City to deal with it.

Which one they choose will probably depend on Wellington City’s staing its support for a second Mt Vic tunnel and so, based on the current council, I will this optoin 2) will be what happens and in a decades time eveeryone will be wringing their hands about this terrible decision (just like they do now about the Inner-City Bypass). The WCC can explain to the community’s of Mirimar, Kilbernie, Island Bay as well as the airport that were the supposed beneficiaries of the flyover why this is a good result.

Last and least, at least one positive outcome is the Light Rail option has become less viable. Increased holdups at the basin make it even slower and a cost-effective North-South grade seperation (where Cambridge/Kent Terrace traffic must go OVER SH1 Buckle-Paterson) is unlikely to support light rail vehicles due to gradient and weight.

26 - 08 - 15

Tony, thanks for your extensive comments. I’m unclear from your comments if you were really for or against the flyover, but you’re right that the situation of NZTA’s next step is exceedingly unclear to them. Not so unclear to me however: the simplest answer is to spend about a tenth of what their legal bill is at present, and implement Reid’s BBRREEOO scheme, at least as step 1.

The key thing about the NZTA’s flyover proposal however, was that they had not really considered Rapid Public Transit at all. Yes, their flyover scheme achieved grade separation, so that BRT could be achieved by others (ie WCC or GWRC) later, but it had not really integrated it or thought about it much.

On the other hand, Architectural Centre’s Option X scheme showed a clear route for rapid transit in the centre of the road, setting the scene for a major change in the way we run our PT in this town. Straight down the middle of Adelaide Road and Kent/Cambridge for starters, to avoid running over pedestrians, cyclists, and left turning cars (the way most European cities do).

NZTA’s answer to PT routing was along the lines of – “I dunno, do whatever you want, i guess, its not up to us” – which I would suggest is not a very well-thought out response to the whole PT saga. Neither, I may add, is the current Mayor’s head-in-the-sand approach….

Co-ordinated thinking is required!

31 - 08 - 15

Tony makes the very valid point that GWRC’s new bus network is much more integrated than the present one, wich is both a blessing (when it works, giving system-wide accessibility) and a curse (when it doesn’t, because things like unreliability will have consequences system-wide, not just for one route). But as well as making very little difference for east-west traffic, NZTA has admitted that for north-south traffic it would make buses comparatively worse off than cars, so not just futile but destructive.

As for his comment that one of the benefits is that light rail is less viable, at least this shows that NZTA/GWRC/WCC aren’t the only ones afflicted by blinkered thinking based on inaccurate assumptions. It’s well known that light rail can cope with whatever gradients modern road designers can throw at it, and the large carrying capacity of each vehicle means that it makes much more efficient use of congested road space than any bus solution (which we haven’t got, anyway) – leaving aside the many positive environmental and economic benefits.

1 - 09 - 15

The Arch Centre is also exploring what options are available to the NZTA in a post: