Taking back the streets
In many older cities, streets are first and foremost places for people. In most of New Zealand, however, they are primarily for cars, and are treated as roads (ways to go through on the way to somewhere else), rather than streets (places to be in their own right). A prime example of this will be the inner-city 'bypass', which sacrifices urban values in favour of small and debatable decreases in travel time.
On the other hand, there are some encouraging signs that the council is sometimes willing to take space and priority back from roads and parking in order to benefit pedestrians. The planned Courtenay Place park is a good example, as is the widening of footpaths at the corners of Featherston St with Waring Taylor and Johnson streets. But the most significant initiative is the recently announced proposal to reduce speed limits along half of the Golden Mile and upgrade adjacent pedestrian connections.
The detailed proposal (545kB PDF) shows the extent of the speed reductions and lists the other improvements. Of particular note is the widening of the footpath in parts of Lambton Quay by removing the taxi ranks from in front of Midland Park and Capital on the Quay and placing them on side streets. Some other parking will also be replaced by wider pavements - see the image above. They also plan to make it easier to walk along the eastern side, by narrowing the entrance to side streets such as Panama St while raising the pedestrian crossings, and there will be a number of new trees and benches throughout.
There will also be an attempt to make Farmers and Masons lanes less dingy, so that they can become safer and more attractive links between Lambton Quay and the Terrace. As this photo of Farmers Lane shows, I think there's definitely some room for improvement!
Much of this would seem to be the result of Jan Gehl's study of pedestrian connections. Gehl went further in his recommendations for improving pedestrian priority (291 kB PDF), including the suggestion that the entire western half of the Quay should become pedestrian only, with two bus lanes on the eastern half and no cars during work hours. However, it's encouraging that so many of his suggestions are becoming reality, so maybe we can still hope!
Of course, not everyone is happy about this. In today's Dominion Post article, a Taxi Federation spokesman said that our streets were narrow and footpaths too wide, and the secretary of the Wellington Tramways Employees Union suggested chains or railings on the edge of the footpath with designated areas for people to cross! That's right, keep those pesky pedestrians locked up and in their place. Note to bus drivers: pedestrians are your customers! Just as pedestrians ignore the loathsome chains in upper Cuba St (one delegate at Urbanism Downunder suggested an extracurricular expedition to blow them up), they will ignore them elsewhere and the chains will do more harm than good. Jan Gehl sums it up well:
The jay walking culture and the culture of red crossers is ... not a sign of well-behaved versus less well-behaved pedestrians, but merely a sign of a trafﬁc system which is not laid out to meet pedestrian requirements for short waiting periods at lights and easily accessible crossings at level. ... A high number of jay walkers in the city usually points to a trafﬁc culture which is out of balance.The council is seeking submissions on these proposals, so have a good look at the details, and if you believe that city streets are better when people are put ahead of cars, fill in the online form and add any other suggestions you might have. Submissions close on the 5th of December.