Back on track: Ngauranga to Airport submission
Monday was the deadline for submissions on the Ngauranga to Airport transport study, which sought public suggestions of possible solutions to growing transport demand through that part of the city. This is the study that appears to have triggered the "secret railway" article that I wrote about last month. That article was headed Rail link to airport considered, but as I discovered, the study itself makes no mention of rail for the airport, and in fact suggests no solutions at all: it was up to the public to promote whatever solutions they preferred.
So how many people took this opportunity to outline their vision for transport along this vital corridor? Thirteen.
Yes, a grand total of 13 individuals and organisations deemed this important enough to lodge a submission. I know that Wellingtonians are generally a contented lot (we're certainly not as miserable as Aucklanders), but surely if congestion is such a big problem, wouldn't more people have spoken up on this burning issue? I know that the publicity for this consultation has hardly been overwhelming, but surely a few more commuters who get regularly stuck in the Mt Vic tunnel or squeezed out of a bus from Newtown would have seen the articles and spoken up.
Anyway, regular WellUrbanites won't be surprised to learn that my submission promoted a public-transport-based approach, with light rail as its centrepiece. Given that the folks at Option 3 were also planning to support light rail in their submission, that means that at the very least, 15% of submissions mentioned this solution. If this doesn't come through as a serious option in the next round of consultation in July, we'll know that any previous talk of considering rail was purely lip service. Remember that Eric Whitfield (Transit's regional transportation manager ) said: "We anticipate some sort of rail [link] will come out of consultation... It's not just roads, we need to look at all modes of transport." Let's see whether the second phase backs that up.
For the record, here's what I submitted:
My primary wish for the study is that some form of Light Rail Transit (LRT) should be offered as one of the options at Phase 2 of the consultation. This could be achieved in two stages:
Any roading improvements should be explicitly aimed at benefiting public transport, rather than increasing road capacity.
- Conversion of Johnsonville line to LRT, with a CBD route along the golden mile
- Conversion of other rail lines (from Plimmerton and the Hutt Valley) and extension from Courtenay Place via the hospital and Newtown to the airport
Such a strategy would certainly be consistent with virtually all of the strategic considerations in section 5.3 of the Draft Problem Framing Report (1.3MB PDF). The only bullet point there that needs to be addressed is the last one: "Is it financially achievable?". When addressing this question, it will be vital to look at long-term social and environmental benefits, rather than making a narrow and short-term economic assessment. Realistic targets for farebox recovery rates and increased ridership, based upon overseas experience, are essential.
I take issue with the projected car ownership and peak time trip figures on paragraph 4 of section 4.1. These seem to be based on the old "predict and provide" model rather than realising that such trends can be changed through integrating transport planning with urban form, travel demand management and the provision of attractive alternatives.
If urban sprawl continues and no attempt is made to provide more capacity and higher quality for public transport, then of course vehicle trips will increase. But the WCC's focus on the Johnsonville-CBD-Airport growth spine, together with the increasing relative importance of the CBD (also in section 4.1), make this a prime route for a seamless, high-quality public transport link.