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.
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
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
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.