The Eye of the Fish

Maximus
November 19, 2009

Bob’s back

You may well have noticed already, but an interesting little spat is brewing to enliven the local body elections next year. Apparently, the Mayor Her Worship Kerry Prendergast is being persuaded to run again, as no valid alternatives are coming forward. I find that hard to believe, and note with interest that Bob Jones, as part of Vibrant Wellington, is making moves. Not, as yet, any moves such as would involve Sir Robert himself sitting for Mayor, but as a political lobby group which may exert some influence. Remember that Sir Bob has changed governments before, so a mere change of Mayor should be a doddle if he sets his mind to it. Sadly though, so far, no sign of Carmen being taken seriously as a Mayoral candidate once more.

carmen-at-miss-nz-drag-queen-ball-auckland-1975-2_src_1

Vibrant Wellington last made noises as a lobby group to stop new buildings being created on ex Harbour Board land at Harbour Keys, a battle that they lost and that seems to have fizzled out a little. From memory they included Ian Cassells, of the Wellington Company, who fights so hard for the retention of Wellington as a place of pedestrians and home of choice of corporates. Apparently, it also includes Sir Robert, who has unleashed this shot across the bow of the Wellington Chamber of Commerce – yes, the surprisingly urbane Sir Robert is keen to ban all cars and buses from the Golden Mile.

I include for you here the opinion piece in the DomPost, and also the other viewpoint from Charles Finny as head of the Chamber of Commerce.

LET’S DRIVE BUSES OFF THE GOLDEN MILE
By BOB JONES

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Chamber of Commerce chief executive Charles Finny, while sympathising with the Golden Mile pedestrianisation programme which a group of citizens – “Vibrant Wellington” will be placing before electors next year, nevertheless suggests that banning cars “could” be overkill. Not so.

First, it is not the cars that are the main concern. In fact very few cars traverse the Golden Mile during the day, a response to the Wellington City Council’s wise initiatives intended to deter them. They have worked. Rather, it is the abrasive buses which are the principal problem. Buses and pedestrians are a terrible mix. The present council’s policy seems geared to making the city friendly towards buses rather than to its citizens and it’s both wrong and unnecessary.

Dozens of other cities with the same transportation issues have managed central city pedestrianisation and so can we. Mr Finny rightly observes that, for this plan to succeed, we would need a “population density typical of European cities”. Oddly enough, we have that, far more indeed than any single European city where pedestrianisation has been introduced. Not a single European city which has been pedestrianised can compare to Wellington in respect of office worker density. Lambton Quay, lower Willis St and Manners St are lined with high-rise buildings. That is not the case in any European city which has been pedestrianised, yet all are roaring successes. Some examples at random are Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Budapest, Vienna, Lisbon and Scotland’s Perth.

Mr Finny also argues that parts of the Golden Mile are so wide that the danger exists of a “dead look”. In fact the wide sections, notably the end of Lambton Quay and Courtenay Place, will provide opportunity to pay for the proposal. In the case of Lambton Quay, exactly as with all the pedestrianised cities, the spacious parts can be used for (partially) outdoor cafes, florists, newsagents and the like. With Courtenay Place, apartment building sites with ground-level retail can be created in a plaza setting. Other options include a skating rink, fountains and other visual and recreational features. As for goods delivery, in fact all of the office buildings along the route are serviced from the rear, off streets such as The Terrace etc.

Mr Finny’s observation that safety at night might be compromised is simply silly. Why walking down a wide mall rather than a pavement will incite thugs he does not explain, while obviously vehicular traffic can still move through the city, but simply not via the Golden Mile. NEXT year, Vibrant Wellington will outline its proposal in detail, including the economics of a free tram service and also free bicycles to be stacked at 100-metre intervals, which can be picked up and dropped off at any of these stands. In respect of cycles we will, if successful, seek an amendment to the helmet law from central government to apply to the central city. New Zealand is one of only a handful of countries with such a law.

We will additionally detail our proposal to establish a Saturday Lambton Quay street market, as exists in all European cities and which, without exception, draws thousands of folk, regardless of the weather. Our proposal is not new. Consultants engaged by the council from Europe and America have recommended exactly this to previous councils but they have lacked the initiative to act. There is one irony about the hesitation to this proposal coming from Mr Finny, given his Chamber of Commerce hat. As will be seen next year, the founding promoters of this scheme include (among many others) the major city building owners. Arguably, they more than anyone stand to lose if this plan is ill-conceived, yet all are wildly enthusiastic.

Next year’s election will be quite unique. Citizens will be offered a choice from candidates tendering the standard single message of “Vote for me”, against the Vibrant Wellington team saying, “Vote for this”. This proposal will make the capital the nation’s major ambience city and will attract tourists in droves, plus new businesses that will be drawn to the city as a desirable place to live. But they are supplementary benefits. The real value will accrue to our existing citizenry.”

WELLINGTON’S GOLDEN MILE CAN BE ENHANCED WITHOUT BANNING CARS.

By Charles Finny
CEO, Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce

charlesfinny

Sir Bob Jones and others have recently floated the idea of banning cars from the Golden Mile and creating an extended pedestrian mall. It is something that seems to be finding increased support from many in the city council. Some people have even extended the idea of a ban to the wider CBD.

I agree with Sir Bob in that the best cities in the world are those that are alive with people going about their business. Wellington’s high pedestrian count and walkability is responsible for much of the city’s vibrancy and is what distinguishes it from other New Zealand cities. It increases our appeal and makes doing business here more pleasant. But as attractive as it might sound, the banning of vehicles from the entire Golden Mile (let alone the CBD as a whole) has to be given very careful thought.

The stretch from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place is such a significant proportion of the CBD that banning vehicles from the whole area could be overkill. It might put pressure on the remaining, already-congested streets. It might also severely limit manoeuvrability about the city given that the adjoining streets would become cul de sacs (Johnson, Panama etc). Goods deliveries and the ability to pick-up and drop-off passengers would be lost and safety at night could be compromised without regular vehicle movement.

The widening of footpaths and the introduction of judder bars in some parts of the Golden Mile have already achieved a reduced vehicle count. As a thoroughfare it is now quicker to use the alternative routes and so people generally only use the Golden Mile if that (or the neighbouring streets) is their destination. Is it really necessary to take the next step and ban vehicle access outright? Improving the surrounding roads and widening the motorway to discourage transiting vehicles from travelling through the CBD might be a far better solution.

I share Sir Bob’s desire for a good-looking, vibrant city with lots of public spaces. I also admire the European-style cities that Wellington is beginning to resemble and that our relatively compact nature tends us towards. But I am not convinced we yet have a sufficiently large population density, which typifies European cities, to sustain the vitality of a pedestrian road as long and large as the Golden Mile. The last thing we want is a dead zone.

Parts of the Golden Mile are so wide that it might not be a good look. Too large a pedestrian area might also dilute the appeal of the existing public spaces we already have. (Even Barcelona’s Las Ramblas and Zurich’s Bahnhoffstrasse might lose their appeal if neighbouring streets were pedestrianised.)

There is plenty of scope to beautify the city and increase public spaces without pedestrianising the Golden Mile and adding to existing congestion. I think the council has done some good things in this regard in recent years. The proposal to extend Cuba Mall as a “shared space”, the creation of Civic Square and the waterfront developments are cases in point. There is also potential to plant more trees, create more sculptures and fountains and introduce public squares and wider footpaths (where roads are sufficiently wide). These proposals are far more sensible than banning cars.

Sir Bob is also quoted as favouring continuous, free trams (or light rail) along the Golden Mile. I agree that this would look fantastic but while it would be a great tourist attraction, as a passenger transport system I have concerns about its practicality and economic viability. I am yet to be convinced that the very high cost of light rail can be justified given the size and density of the population. Moreover, unless the trams continued up the narrow winding Wellington streets, suburban passengers would have to get off and jump onto buses at either end of the CBD. A recent council study concluded that only one public transport mode is feasible.

Buses are often denigrated as an inferior mode of public transport but as technology progresses and buses modernise and become smaller and less obtrusive, there is increasingly less to distinguish them from light rail other than that they travel on rubber as opposed to metal wheels. Modern buses running along the Golden Mile “public transport spine” could look just as good. We already enjoy a hugely improved bus service as a result of the investments made by New Zealand Bus. We can expect continuing improvements.

The issue is all about balance. The city has to look good but it also has to function properly and it needs to facilitate economic growth. Wellington’s compact nature means that scarce road space needs to be used wisely thus limiting the scope for car-less roads. It is not only important for Wellington city – the CBD is in a narrow isthmus through which traffic must flow to connect the port and airport from the rest of the North Island. An efficient transport system is essential.

Fewer vehicles in the CBD and a reduced reliance on cars would be a welcome development but banning them altogether could be a retrograde step. I applaud Sir Bob’s forward thinking but think much more work needs to be done to justify his case. It could well be that a more balanced approach which protects Wellington’s accessibility for all might deliver an even better result.

These views are my personal views and not necessarily those of the Chamber.

Ryan
19 - 11 - 09

No viable competition? Celia Wade-Brown is running!

http://www.wellingtongreens.org.nz/2009/07/celia-for-mayor-2010/

Carmen would also be a great candidate, though I’m not sure she would have the stamina for that many Council meetings.

Maximus
20 - 11 - 09

“Her Worship Kerry Prendergast is being persuaded to run again, as no valid alternatives are coming forward.” – Ryan, I suspect that the comment is made more from the aspect of the slightly right of centre, and therefore Celia Wade Brown is not suitable as a right wing candidate. Of course, I’m sure she would indeed make a very good left wing candidate.

We seem to be lucky down here in Wellington – missing out on the rabidly right wing, barking mad politics of John Banks etc that infests Auckland. Although one could argue that Sir Robert would fit quite happily into that camp – although luckily, he does not seem interested in running himself. But it is time that we have a decent Mayoral race – the last one we had 2 complete nutters, with Carlucci Gifford? and Nick Wang, but as far as nutters go, they were just tedious and not interesting. If you’re going to have nutters, they may as well be interesting ones as well.

Maximus
20 - 11 - 09

If anyone is wondering who might be on the Vibrant Welllington team for a possible mayoral bid, how does this comment on Wellurban from 2006 sound:

“Ian Cassels is my name and I’m one of the “robbed barons” – I’m very concerned over the future direction of the city and my view is long term. I see a city which barely remembers its own survival story and can’t grasp its own secret – the “buzz”. Buzz is Wellingtons only world class asset – you encounter people in the Stewart Dawsons area every day that add to your thought level – you’ll never find them in Harbour Quays unless they’re carrying a protest placard.
………
Wake up and be counted Wellingtons – do we want our city and future designed by a Port Company on what is really our land. Heading out of town we’re facing a Government Ghetto on the left and a greedy lurch to Auckland on the right – behind us is the dwindling secret to our success – buzz.”

Kent Duston
20 - 11 - 09

It’s a bit hard to take Charles Finny’s comments seriously given his bizarre performance at the Basin Reserve seminar run by the Civic Trust.

Despite heading up the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Finny was completely unaware of the negative cost/benefit implications of both the Basin Reserve flyover or the second Mt Victoria tunnel, both of which he was strongly advocating. A light rail system – as advocated by Sir Bob – has a small fraction of the price tag of the roading projects, but somehow he has concerns about the “economic viability” of such a project, when he’s quite happy to hose much larger sums against the wall on a tunnel.

And at the seminar Mr Finny gave only one practical example of why these hugely expensive white elephants need to be constructed – because it was taking too long for him to drive to work from his house in Seatoun.

I presume this is the same reason he’s opposed to the pedestrianisation of the Golden Mile – it will interfere with his ability to drive to the door of his office. Given his apparent financial illiteracy, it’s hard to think of any other reason why he would be opposed to the kind of forward-looing and innovative approach advocated by Sir Bob.

Wellville
2 - 12 - 09

Artcile from the Wellingtonian – in case you are interested, on
“Has the opposition to the planned Manners Mall bus lanes given the city council pause for thought?”
http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/local/the-wellingtonian/3096633/Mayoral-hopefuls-on-Manners-Mall-plan
“Objectors have suggested the two traffic lanes required for the big new three-axle buses will leave too little room for footpaths. Thirty years ago, when buses used to turn from Manners St into Willis St they frequently brought traffic to a standstill when their poles came off the overhead wires. The anti-bus lanes faction has recently paid people $25 each to protest. The Wellingtonian asked the mayoral candidates if it was time to reconsider the plan.

Allan Probert: “From the feedback that I get, a lot of people think that it [opening Manners Mall to buses] is sensible. A lot of people are dealing with the issue on a quite emotive basis.

“I think with a lot of these consultation processes there are people out there with good ideas and there doesn’t seem to be an opportunity for those good ideas to be discussed. Look at Go Wellington – `text if you agree with it’ – there wasn’t a `no’ option was there? There almost needs to be a community hall-type meeting.”

Rob Goulden: “The contention is that the malls are a lot different now. The argument of public space is a lot of young people like that public space in the city.

“It’s going to come down to whether the council wants to spend $11 million. Some of the objectors have lost a lot of credibility.”

Jack Yan: “I think it is [time for a re-think], certainly. Citizens need a lot more transparency than we have go so far.

“I’m not saying it was a bad decision or a wrong one. It’s just that citizens don’t know. It comes down to information technology again.”

Bryan Pepperell: “Absolutely. We shouldn’t be opening it after 30 years as a pedestrian space. We shouldn’t be doing it.

“I remember Muldoon opening it. He talked about conflict with traffic. People don’t feel comfortable with traffic. Leave it for pedestrians and let’s look for other places we can close off.”

Andy Foster: “My impression, if anything, is that there is an increasing number of people who are saying, `This [opening the mall to buses] is sensible’.”

Celia Wade-Brown: “I haven’t seen the final recommendations as to how significant improvements for lower Cuba St are. I think it’s really important to encourage public transport.”

Maximus
12 - 12 - 09

Oh boy, I hadn’t picked this one.
http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/local/3154194/Jones-keen-for-Prendergast-to-head-his-team

“Wellington property millionaire Sir Robert Jones wants mayor Kerry Prendergast to head his secret team for the mayoralty, but says he will beat her if she runs on her own. Addressing an audience at the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce yesterday, Sir Robert confirmed he did not have a mayoral candidate for the as-yet-unannounced team he plans to run in the 2010 election. He was petitioning Ms Prendergast to stand as his candidate but she had not accepted yet.”

“If she doesn’t want to do it, then we’ll run against her and we’ll beat her.”

The single item on the manifesto for the mayoral bid was his dream to create a pedestrian-only boulevard from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place.

“Nothing else. This is what people will vote for.”

Ms Prendergast has previously discounted the idea as something Wellington was “too young for”. But Sir Robert was banking on the concept to win the election. He compared Wellington to international cities he modelled the idea on, such as Copenhagen and Budapest.

“If you think Wellington is wonderful then you haven’t travelled. It’s a shabby little city with potential.” However, the weather worked well for a pedestrian mall, he said.

“We have a gentle climate. It’s a calm day for eight months of the year.” The concept, which has been touted for years by Sir Robert, would include free bikes and trams, water fountains every 100 metres, and possibly an ice rink and sound shell for entertainment. The car-free space would be perfect for open markets too.

“Women are mad, we all know that, but they love Saturday markets. Some men do too,” Sir Robert said. Revenue from renting kiosks in the mall would reap up to $30 million, paying for the endeavour.

Hitting back at the argument to retain parking for retail shoppers from John Milford, managing director of department store Kirkcaldie & Stains, Sir Robert said there were only 28 public car parking spaces along the route from Lambton Quay to Manners St, while there were about 600 shops.

“Do 600 shops rely on 28 people? This is nonsense.”

Maximus
19 - 12 - 09

The Wellingtonian Editorial: Jones offers more heat than light
http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/local/the-wellingtonian/3167718/The-Wellingtonian-Editorial-Jones-offers-more-heat-than-light

“Sir Robert Jones is nothing if not colourful, and his decision to enter next year’s Wellington City Council elections will add some spice. He’s not intending to run for mayor himself. A pity. The thought of Sir Robert running a council meeting and dealing with councillors such as Bryan Pepperell and Rob Goulden is intriguing. They could charge admission fees for those meetings. Instead, he says, he intends to field a team of council candidates and a mayoral candidate. He won’t name his candidates, but promises they will be high-quality. He also doesn’t have a potential mayor yet. He wants current mayor Kerry Prendergast to head his team, but says if she does not, “We’ll run against her and we’ll beat her”.

This is rather putting the cart before the horse. Ms Prendergast said she would be standing down as mayor, though now she has recanted marginally, saying she will reconsider during the holidays. It seems most unlikely she would run on a Jones ticket. Sir Robert says he has only one manifesto item – he is pushing his dream of creating a pedestrian-only boulevard from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place.

“Nothing else. That is what people will vote for.”

Ms Prendergast, now in her eighth year as mayor (after a long stint as a councillor) is only too aware of the huge issues facing Wellington. These include the water supply, the motorway extension, public transport, sports fields, the waterfront and debt. She is hardly likely to hitch her wagon to a one-issue ticket. In pushing his pedestrian-only inner-city concept, Sir Robert has made some bold claims. He says Wellington has a gentle climate:
“It’s calm for eight months of the year.”

This will be news to the city’s pedestrians, cyclists and sportsmen and women who use many words to describe the climate, but seldom “gentle”. Further, Sir Robert says there are only 28 public car parking spaces along the route from Lambton Quay to Manners St, and about 600 shops.
“Do 600 shops rely on 28 people? This is nonsense,” he says.

What is nonsense is his logic. Parking spaces are filled by many cars each day. And what about the parking available on all the other streets feeding off the main route, plus parking buildings? It is good that people, even those who, like Sir Robert, live in the Hutt Valley, take an interest in the Wellington City Council elections. This is a pivotal time in Wellington’s history. We need good people with vision and the ability to think broadly. Basing a campaign around just one policy is hardly what is required. A lot has been made recently of a previous foray by Sir Robert into council elections. In 1977 he backed transsexual Carmen’s tilt at the mayoralty.

Common wisdom seems to be that Carmen went close to toppling the incumbent, Michael Fowler. In fact, this was the result: Fowler 17,041 votes, Frank Kitts 14,022 votes, Tony Brunt 7996 votes, Carmen 1686 votes. It was a resounding defeat for Jones’ candidate, and the feeling is that unless Sir Robert gets more serious about the many issues facing Wellington the same thing will happen again to his hand-picked team.

Kent Duston
4 - 01 - 10

It's a bit hard to take Charles Finny's comments seriously given his bizarre performance at the Basin Reserve seminar run by the Civic Trust.

Despite heading up the Chamber of Commerce, Mr Finny was completely unaware of the negative cost/benefit implications of both the Basin Reserve flyover or the second Mt Victoria tunnel, both of which he was strongly advocating. A light rail system – as advocated by Sir Bob – has a small fraction of the price tag of the roading projects, but somehow he has concerns about the “economic viability” of such a project, when he's quite happy to hose much larger sums against the wall on a tunnel.

And at the seminar Mr Finny gave only one practical example of why these hugely expensive white elephants need to be constructed – because it was taking too long for him to drive to work from his house in Seatoun.

I presume this is the same reason he's opposed to the pedestrianisation of the Golden Mile – it will interfere with his ability to drive to the door of his office. Given his apparent financial illiteracy, it's hard to think of any other reason why he would be opposed to the kind of forward-looing and innovative approach advocated by Sir Bob.

Wellyvoter
14 - 01 - 10

Jack Yan for Mayor is the way forward, unless Carmen stands again! It is true she may not handle the long meetings , but would it not be fun! Kerry I will back any candidate before you, selfserving operator. Rob Goulden needs to stay to keepthem honest. Jevan Goulter you can count on my vote for the Lambton Ward , but after you recent controversy you will need to work to change your image especially to your community thou I know you will do the city some good, Celia Wade Stone, you will have my vote for council although not for Mayor, I want to recycle but do not want to go back to living in caves, and Ian McKinnon for deputy again because you do a great job!