The Eye of the Fish

December 11, 2009

Changes to Manners Mall and Cuba St confirmed

On Thursday, the Council’s Strategy and Policy Committee voted — 9 vs 5— to approve the proposed changes to Manners Mall and Lower Cuba St. Today, the proposal was finalised at a full Council meeting, and the plans look set to be implemented in the near future.

Despite a vocal opposition campaign, public and private views on the changes seem mixed. Written submissions were almost evenly split for and against the proposal, while an earlier poll reported a pro-change public, and a more recent survey shows two thirds of local businesses support that plan.  Assuming these gauges were at least somewhat accurate, why then was the opposition movement so prominent and widespread?

Looking back, the pro-Manners movement seems to be centered on a few key players advocating among a largely apathetic public. Their overwhelming strength of preference of these few players created the ubiquitios WGTN Loves Manners Mall campaign, a popular facebook group and various petitions.

But beyond these, the public willingness to engage in any meaningful protest seemed limited. In the last few months, especially as Luigi Muollo withdrew his marketing efforts, the protest movement has increasingly seemed misguided and disorganized. The design competition failed to eventuate. The human bus march was a flop. The sleepover appeared deserted. Benjamin Easton’s legal action backfired, at cost. The final protest had to resort to hiring a crowd.

The arguments against the Council’s plan centered on 3 main fronts: the loss of public space, a loss of public transport efficiency, and the cost to the ratepayer.

Those claiming the change would in fact increase travel times seem remarkably misguided. Both the Council and Opus International reports concluded that “opening Manners Mall is by far the single most effective improvement that could be made” to public transport. The estimated gains suggest a 3 minute improvement on transport times, and – possibly more importantly – a decrease in the variability of times. Moreover, gradual, iterative improvements to public transport have been consistently identified as the most effective measure to cope with Wellington’s increased traffic load. No legitimate response to these findings has eventuated.

Those arguments against losing public space seem to be the main concern. Yet since the lower Cuba St changes were added to the proposal, such arguments have failed to evolve. If the choice is between Manners Mall as a public space, and lower Cuba as a public space, why exactly should WGTN chose the former? What unique value does Manners actually posses?

It’s true that is often a vibrant and well used area. But it is also generic, dull and in desperate need of repair. Its only value to the public is that is at least some form of public space, if a poor one. Supplanting this public space to lower Cuba — and in the process getting a chance to create an improved space — would seem to be at worst, a neutral change.

Moreover, having the mall as a two way lane opens up a number of other options. The reduction in traffic along Wakefield and Dixon allows them to be sites for new public spaces, and increased pedestrian priority. Manners Mall is a small trade-off for the ability to improve pedestrian connections and spaces throughout the wider area, and it is encouraging that this has been identified in this weeks proceedings:

To quell opposition to the loss of public space in the mall, enhanced public areas will be created in the next five years in Wakefield, Mercer and Willis streets. Parts of Dixon St could be used to enlarge a remodelled Te Aro Park.

The only legitimate opposition seems to be based around cost. $11 million is a lot of money. Apart from judging the figures at a visceral level, determining the cost/benefit trade-offs of the proposal seems like a ridiculously complex task. Ties between efficient transport systems and economic productivity are clear; the only question is, at what cost, and for what gain? It seems entirely plausible that in the long-term, a saving of three minutes per bus trip could pay dividends, but apart from economists and traffic engineers, who can really tell for sure?

Opposing the cost in the face of a recession seems equally misguided. Isn’t the established wisdom that governments increase expenditure in the downtown; creating a counter-cyclical effect? Somehow I doubt that those who oppose the expenditure would take such an anti-Keynesian, pro-Bill English stance in other areas of government policy. But perhaps I’m mistaken.

The Council did a spectacularly poor job of selling both the proposed Manners and Cuba St changes. Yet, the long-term benefits of both seem clear: a more effective public transport system, and a more effective series of public spaces. Its unfortunate, but necessary, that the most effective way to achieving these changes is through Manners Mall.

Moving forward, the advocacy for public space should be channelled into the new public spaces. If the loss of Manners is so important, then the proposed changes in Cuba, Wakefield and Dixon should be advocated for. Wellington’s first foray into shared public spaces risks becoming a spectacular failure unless they are designed to be pedestrian-focused.

11 - 12 - 09

Am I the only one who thinks that 11 million dollars is a staggeringly large amount of money for this project?
Esp since they’ll just use the standard boring aussie pavers?

12 - 12 - 09


Has the fish done something of a u-turn on this issue…?

12 - 12 - 09

A U-Turn? I believe that City Council regulations ban U-Turns anywhere along the Golden Mile….
I jest, just in case you think I’m jousting.

No, the Fish hasn’t U-turned – if you look right back at our first posting on this, by the Maximus, you’ll notice that we were ambivalent about the Mall. Although we did indeed note that “at present it has the distinction of having the second highest pedestrian count in the whole of Wellington (Lambton Quay counts for 4 out of the top 5 spots in wellington – and indeed, Lambton Quay has the highest counts in the whole of New Zealand). And indeed that comes to the nub of my suspicions: Manners Mall, although it may be full of baby-goths and mock-punks, fluoro-emos and squealing teens, is still a fantastic traffic-free zone for pedestrian perambulation.”

we then went on to say that “It would be nice if Dixon St was converted into pedestrian only in return for losing Manners Mall, and in a way, it would be a better swap for the city. Imagine if Te Aro Park only had a road on one side of it, instead of the ridiculous wind-blown wedge that it is now. Take away Dixon St at that point and have trattoria opening out onto the sunny pavement, on the edge of a small urban park! The Dixon St Deli, Wishbone, Subway, Hope Bros, Bambalina, Habebe, 4 Kings, Curry Club, etc etc are there waiting – even the Santa Fe stripclub could get a leg up in life, instead of just a leg over.”

12 - 12 - 09

MattFu: $11m seems like a large amount, but it’s not just about the Mall itself. There will have to be changes to signals, signage, bus stops and most importantly trolley bus wiring across a number of streets, including parts of Willis, Mercer, Dixon, Victoria and Wakefield as well as Manners & Cuba. That can’t be cheap.

And is $11m the gross or net figure for the project? Because as I understand it, the overall plan involves extra car parks in many of those streets, and since car parks earn revenue for the council, they will offset much of the cost.

How much has it been publicised that these streets will get extra car parks? Sure, there are plenty of opportunities for enhanced public spaces on those surrounding streets, and overall that could more than make up for the loss of Manners Mall as a public pedestrian space. But how much of those streets will be dominated for the foreseeable future by extra car parks? And isn’t that exactly the opposite direction to the way that cities are supposed to be going?

12 - 12 - 09

Mallrat, In regards to cost:

A New Zealand Transport Agency subsidy and revenue from the 40 additional street car parking spaces that will be created as part of the project will fund about two-thirds of the $6.2 million worth of roading and transport improvements planned. The Council plans to spend another $4.9 million on public space improvements, including the lower Cuba Street shared space and changes in Wakefield and Dixon streets.

12 - 12 - 09

I’m just curious to see how “shared space for vehicles and pedestrians” turns out.


12 - 12 - 09

Dompost reporting today that :
“Protestors have vowed to keep the wheels turning in their fight to stop Manners Mall being ripped up and replaced with bus lanes. Wellington District Council voted yesterday by nine votes to five to begin work on the $11.1 million project. Opponents say they will lodge an appeal in the Environment Court before the one-month deadline is up.”

and in an interesting (but dubious?) legal challenge:

” Before the vote, the council heard a legal opinion on whether Ms Prendergast had a conflict of interest which should preclude her from voting. During public participation protester Benjamin Easton had said her directorship of Wellington Airport meant she was not independent. Infratil, which owns Wellington Airport, also owns Wellington bus operators NZ Bus.

“[This council is] voting in an unlawful decision, you’re voting in a corrupt decision, and not one of you will be able to dispute that.”

Council general counsel Sally Dosser said a “reasonable person” would not perceive Ms Prendergast did not have an open mind because of her close relationship with NZ Bus.”

Not so fast
12 - 12 - 09

Ryan, re the Shared Space – apparently everyone starts out thinking that way. If you are interested, there is a very good article in the latest Landscape Architecture New Zealand magazine, just out this week, all about the shared spaces that Auckland is getting ready to install – one in Elliot St, one down in Fort St.

You’ll have to read the article yourself, but it does say such things as:
“Studies show that the physical design of shared streets slows traffic and can actually be safer for pedestrians than conventional street design.”

Room for thought. Worth keeping an open mind maybe for the time being?

13 - 12 - 09

Re the quote from Maximus’ most recent comment: ‘ Council general counsel Sally Dosser said a “reasonable person” would not perceive Ms Prendergast did not have an open mind because of her close relationship with NZ Bus.”’

OK – so I’m not a linguist, but if one processes the double negative, Sally Drosser’s statement reads as,”a reasonable person would perceive Ms Prendergast has an open mind because of her close relationship with NZ Bus.’ Yeah – what does that mean?

Those who council meetings are well aware that councillors are precluded from debating and voting because of conflict of interest,when far more tenuous relationships are involved.

John H
14 - 12 - 09

This would seem like the ideal opportunity to think-big(ger) put a wrecking ball through The Oaks – a building which was only ever meant to be a temporary structure and is well passed its “best before” date. I recall the building when it first opened in the mid 1980s : all clean white lines and masses of ferns and other greenery tumbling down from the upper level into the atrium. Now it’s a leaking, rusting hulk and a million miles away from the sophisticated image it had when new. Te Aro Park on the other hand was a design mess from the day it opened and like the Oaks, now looks completely knackered and worn-out. If the two were redeveloped in tandem, something really special could come out of it. However Te Aro Park is a cultural and political hot-potato and any Councillor willing to take it on would have to tread very carefully.

14 - 12 - 09

Hear hear. Arch Centre has advocated a similar proposal to that brought up by John. That is: time for a big rethink on the trafficpatterns all around Te Aro Park.

Although we didn’t directly advocate demolishing the Oaks, I have to agree with you that it’s way past it’s prime and should be demo’ed.

14 - 12 - 09

The Oaks / Te Aro seems to be the favorite site for the local architecture theses. Maybe i’ll try and rustle up the best proposals that have been done over the past few years…

14 - 12 - 09

… and don’t forget a relatively recent Arch Centre 20u40 competition … though personally I don’t mind the Oaks – probably because I’m still pretending it has a mall that working inside it

15 - 12 - 09

Yes I have long through that the Oaks should go, along with Te Aro Park, and a nice new “high end” shopping building built, maybe 2-3 stories, all glass perhaps triangle shape, and really lift the whole image of the area.

If they redid the park in the style of Waitangi Park, minus the pointless water feature (which seems to only attract flying rats), then I think it would turn out to be a very nice place to spend time.

Andy Foster
17 - 01 - 10

All interesting comments. The key to me is the way in which we redevelop the streets which will no longer have buses on them – lower Cuba, Wakefield, Mercer, and in particular Dixon. I completely agree with the comments that removing buses from Dixon allows us to do something that makes Te Aro Park work a lot better. It’s a sunny area, plenty of cafe type businesses around it. Some councillors appear completely committed to the additional net 40 carparks between Taranaki and Willis Streets – either for financial reasons or because they see that as an essential way of promoting retail in the area. I would have thought that some good quality public space would add at least as much to retail in the area. There’s almost $5 million for public space in the budget – the issue is going to be how far that will go across all these areas. We need to do what we do really well. I suspect that in time we will want to invest somewhat more than the $5 million. For example during the submission process businesses in Bond Street are asking for road narrowing and beautification too.

For Dixon we’ve had several suggestions. Do we retain local traffic entering it slowly through the Eastern end on a narrowed roadway ? Should it be a dead end at Cuba St ? Could servicing traffic enter and exit through the smaller side streets (Eva/Egmont) ? How much parking space again ?

I agree with the comments about the Oaks building, though of course Council doesn’t own it. Whether in time that space is best as open space, or as a much better building interfacing with Cuba Street, an enhanced Dixon Street, and a better Te Aro Park will be something worth discussing.

The other real public space opportunity that comes from the upgrade of Lower Cuba Street, and a number of submitters mentioned it, is improving the pedestrian link across Wakefield Street, and then between the Town Hall and Michael Fowler Centre to Civic Square and to the Waterfront.

Keep up the good thoughtful dialogue. Always happy to talk about these kinds of issues.

Warmest regards

Cr Andy Foster
Urban Development Leader
Wellington City

20 - 01 - 10

You’re right that the key to Te Aro Park is the treatment of Dixon – let’s hope the Council gets it right, although almost any move there will help the park bed in more with its surroundings. Personally, I can’t believe that anyone will need to park there – of the hundreds and probably thousands of shoppers there each day, almost none will come by car parked outside – we’re all capable of walking or riding a bus a few stops. But the servicing you speak of is key to the businesses upstairs – couriers and delivery vans still need access 24/7 to the entire Cuba / Dixon / Manners area, but I can see that happening in a Shared Space scenario the same as it does in Cuba Mall at present.

Re the Oaks building – it’s crumbling away before our eyes – and the businesses are going further and further down hill, so it won’t be there for ever. But as you say, there are a number of options, including a different way of facing onto the street, and hopefully a better use than it is at present.

Can you give us any time line on the progress of the designs and implementation?

andy foster
27 - 01 - 10

Thanks Maximus. At the moment the timetable is Manners Mall first. (obviously we need to have somewhere for the buses to run and new trolley bus wires before we can take out the streets that buses currently run on. The the programme would be to do Lower Cuba Street. Obviously there will be some changes to other streets (Dixon, Wakefield, Mercer) simply as a result of taking the buses off them. The question, as I noted in my earlier email would be how are those streets developed, what is the balance between space for human beings and space for parked cars for example ? It will also be how far will the money for public space development stretch ?

In my view we should do the key streets once and do them well, rather than do a cheap temporary job with whatever money is left over once lower Cuba is finished. The key and most exciting opportunities to me are Dixon and the opportunity to make Te Aro Park, and indeed that whole neighbourhood work, and the link between lower Cuba St and Civic Square. That is not to dimish the value of other links – for example Lombard – Bond St.

I will keep you posted as information develops further.

Warmest regards

Cr Andy Foster
Urban Development Leader
Wellington City Council