The Eye of the Fish

August 23, 2010

The Syntax of Public Transport

Following on from previous discussions on all things transport and urban, I’ve had a play round and tried to depict some of the issues that are striking the city planners and traffic engineers – as well as causing wrangles between Mayor Kerry and Sir Bob Jones. No doubt the Council has much more sophisticated diagrams in their possession, but they’ve not shared those with the public yet. So the Fish is going to step into the Void and try to contribute.

This first image here has a combined Golden Mile pedestrian route (shown in a yellowy gold, of course), along with a Green line as a dedicated route for Public Transport. There’s a deep purple colour indicating the heavy traffic of the Motorway and the Waterfront (which, to be honest, at 4 lanes wide each way, is really just a very slow motorway), and then a lighter purple which shows ‘local’ car use in the few primary routes. If the Golden Mile was to be pedestrianised, ie no cars or taxis (somehow the problem of goods vans / trucks still has to be resolved), but still allow Public Transport (buses, trolleys, or perhaps Light Rail), then this is the sort of result we would get. It is a fantastic result for both Public Transport (no getting clogged up by cars and trucks), and for pedestrians (you can get off your bus or tram right at the door of your office building / government department). While this works well for those groups, it is not so good for people driving cars. As you can see, there is a serious clash point of cars, buses and people at Hunter St – that’s outside the MLC building and the giant green M&M sculpture. There are currently two lanes of traffic curving round at that point – but it is a bit questionable how well it would work if one goes each way.

On this next image, we see what happens to Wellington if Sir Bob gets his way: with the Golden Mile pedestrianised and the Public Transport route removed – in this case, I’ve assumed it moves a block back to Featherston St.

You can see here the problem that immediately arises – a clash / lack of complete clear route for ordinary local car traffic through the flat area of the CBD. The purple line (local car traffic, including taxis etc) has vanished as a complete route. If the Public Transport route was kept completely for buses only, etc, and Lambton Quay was there only for people, then cars have no real option but to go along the waterfront (or, if that is congested, squeeze along the Terrace – or take the Motorway out of town). So, realistically, that just won’t do at all. Back to the drawing board, it seems. Sorry, Bob!

In the next image, there is another option, which allows for partial pedestrianisation on parts of the Golden Mile (coincidentally, particularly around Sir Robert’s end of town), and is a cross between what we have today along Willis St, and allows a 2-way car route along Victoria St. Would that work?

Again, as you can see, there is a complete disconnect of local traffic where it collides with the Waterfront Quay. I’m not convinced that really works either northward or southward.

There is one other option I’m going to try (I’m sure there are millions of other options, but that’s enough for today!), where we accept that the waterfront is the place for people and public transport, and we pretend that this is the future where the Council has cut down on the cars going along the waterfront.

Actually, this works brilliantly for Public Transport, with a straightforward, clear, fast route from Railway Station into the Courtenay Quarter, and allows a route for local car traffic through town. Trouble is, that leaves the Transport far away from the street where people want to be, ie on the Golden Mile. There would also be issues over whether to have the Public Transport on the City side, or the Sea side. Over time, there would be a gradual movement of shops etc towards the sea, as that is where people would be getting off the bus / tram. So: while this would work well if the city was to adopt something like a Light Rail system, allowing a speedy service through town, it could also have a detrimental effect on passenger numbers, which renders the whole thing a bit pointless.

Any other suggestions?

23 - 08 - 10

You are not going to please everybody and for my mind, in order of priority, the private car ranks lowest in those we should be serving.

I think Sir Bob’s is the best – a dedicated route each for pedestrians, PT and private cars.

The area of the CBD we are talking about is tiny. From Customhouse Quay to the Golden Mile, going up (say) Brandon St is about a 2min walk. Hardly arduous. Its one block for those who would catch a bus on Featherston St. Same applies to the Terrace side.

I don’t really see the issue with increased traffic along the waterfront Quays – its already busy and really doesn’t have the frontage and places of interest (on the city side) to draw people. They’d just head straight down to the waters edge.

As long as we have more direct access, its not an issue. Three strikingly-designed overbridges at points near (say) Whitmore, Brandon and Hunter Sts would be be a stunning entry into the CBD by car, would allow constant flow of pedestrians back and forth between CBD and waterfront, and would free up Lambton for pedestrianisation, and Featherston for PT.

23 - 08 - 10

I like your last proposal. Altho the walking distance is greater for public transport users, the route itself is shorter since it is an inside rather than outside arc and there are less turns. BUT… I think for this to work the sad bypass has to be fixed… Meaning both directions, deconfliction (possibly by trenching some of it), and duplication of the Terrace tunnel. Most thru traffic has to be routed away from the CBD.

23 - 08 - 10

“It is a fantastic result for both Public Transport (no getting clogged up by cars and trucks), and for pedestrians (you can get off your bus or tram right at the door of your office building / government department).”

Wrong – Jones and crew have to stop thinking so superficially, they are treating this as if it is a transportation issue only – getting people from somewhere to somewhere else via some means of transport (including shanks’s pony). But what about the broader urban issues, such as passive surveillance at night time for example. No cars, and Lambton Quay suddenly becomes pretty dangerous after hours (and it is already pretty dismal) – not so golden methinks…

Functional separation went out with modern planning – the utopian main street malls have all failed and have been reverted back into streets (except for that famous anomaly that is Cuba Street) we are supposed to be wiser now, yet we still carry on this debate…

24 - 08 - 10

Yay for the return of the comments count! And congratulations on the new graphic look ‘n’ feel.

On the subject at hand, I have stared and stared at the maps and thought about the options, even walked around the M&Ms a couple of times… and you know what? I don’t mind it the way it is enough to want to create the mayhem necessary to change it.

The fact is I can still park the car on Lambton Quay at 11.00 am on a Tuesday to pick up cashmere socks from Kirks. Sure, it occasionally takes 20 minutes to drive from there to Moore Wilsons for artisanal provelone, but this is a capital city for heaven’s sake. We have traffic and if it gets bad enough, more of us are likely to get out and walk.

Make sure that ambulances can get to Newtown and try to get those poor people sitting motionless on the Terrace motorway out of their cars. But don’t endlessly try to shape the CBD via traffic engineering. Short of bringing in Baron Haussmann and a battalion of bulldozers, there doesn’t seem any solution which would provide a perfect (or even much improved) traffic flow.

24 - 08 - 10

Haven’t been able to pay much attention to the internet of late – work and school and carbon footprints all over the country. Can’t say I’m a fan of the new* layout, to be honest, but that could be something to do with accessing it via IE from work.

I have a lot to say about this subject but I don’t think I can express it in any sort of readable form. I am only here to say that I think that the ridiculous** bus fare rises are going to have a pretty big effect on this conversation.

Whatever happens, you’re not going to get a dual carriage-way along the Old Bank stretch of Lambton Quay.

My gut feeling is mixed use is better on Lambton Quay. If you’re going to pedestrianise something, pedestrianise Featherston Street, or one side of Customhouse Quay – there’s no way there needs to be an 11 lane motorway there.

*not actually new, obviously

**possibly – I haven’t actually calculated the changes yet, so they may not be ridiculous, but my girlfriend has worked out it’ll be cheaper for her to drive into town from Khandallah and pay for parking than to continue catching the bus – and that’s a significant (~50%) rise. I catch the bus between work and uni twice a day on weekdays and I probably do at least one return trip on weekends, so my monthly expenditure on buses is going to double (or I’m going to work less in order to walk back from class – either way it’ll cost me). And I think I’d be okay with it if, you know, I could rely on the 43 to Khandallah on Sundays to arrive at least within 20 minutes of its scheduled time, or if the driver of the 14 just after 8am would stop at the Dixon St bus stop, considering he’s driving an almost empty bus, and it’s not like there are 100s of buses up Molesworth Street. Sorry, this footnote got a bit out of hand.

25 - 08 - 10

I don’t think Cuba is an anomaly, I think it exists because it so obviously has some street life to it. Manners Mall, on the other hand, didn’t have a bucket fountain, stage, children’s slide or seats you would actually want to sit on. It felt more like a paved road you could walk on when there weren’t courier vans using it as a shortcut. Pedestrianised to facilitate easier movement from Cuba Mall to Manners Street which always seemed to be the typical pedestrian flow. It was great for that and will be sorely missed by those numbers not getting a bus through the CBD, but there was never any real commitment to provide for activity along it. Great for buskers during summer though. If Lambton Quay were pedestrianised like Manners Mall was, then something interesting would need to happen along the middle of it.

26 - 08 - 10

m-d there are plenty of popular and successful malls around the globe. Ive seen them working in Australia and Europe. Cuba works very well locally.

As for Public transport through the CBD. Public trasnport needs a deidcated route that is less impacted by private cars. Keeping the buses on the golden mile but removing rivate cars would be a big imporvement and if both PT lanes were to the harbour side of the road space that leave large open areas at North lambton Quay and Courtney place that can easily become new urban squares for the city. These new places would be very popular with people as opposed to popular with cars.

30 - 08 - 10

There is one stretch of Lambton Quay that I think absolutely should become a closed pedestrian mall: fronting the Old Bank from Willis St down to Grey St (possibly going as far as Panama St, but probably not). It’s too busy here, with pedestrians that is, and too narrow/crowded. I don’t see the value in persisting with the one lane of interrupted, very slow busway/delivery-lane/
(future Light Rail lane?) through this congested spot. Close it off and let it be another successful pedestrian mall.

As for the rest of Lambton Quay, its plenty wide enough to have huge amounts of pedestrian space, with an LRT ROW, and if desired, even with one southbound lane of traffic on the eastern side — mostly to make deliveries easy, and circulation between the one way streets etc. If you were to close the whole of LQ off (include the wide 30m bits) then the space would just end up too empty.

30 - 08 - 10

erentz – while I totally agree with you that this one thin lane really should be a pedestrian only zone, I’ve also been looking at it, and have come to the realisation that this stretch is also the most crucial stretch for public transport in Wellington. The curves of the roads round there are fantastic – made to be absolutely perfect for trams to glide around, either from Lambton Quay onto Willis, or from Featherston onto Willis via precisely that skinny bit of which you speak….

Roll on Space Syntax ! Hope they can sort this mess out !