WellUrbanites will know my views on the 'bypass' by now, so it may seem strange that I plan to take the opportunity to "Walk the Bypass" this weekend. Not, as you might think, to engage in some guerilla urbanism such as erecting a shed and then recording an album or brewing some ginger beer, or any of the other things that used to happen back when this was part of the city rather than a trench to help people get slightly more quickly from one suburb to another. No, it's because it's time to accept that the bypass is now a physical fact, and to look at the remnants of neighbourhoods around it, thinking about how the city's flesh can heal around the damage and produce the best urban environment possible. By walking along a route that will henceforth be forbidden to pedestrians, and looking at the newly-opened "heritage precinct" of relocated and tarted-up buildings, I hope to start some thinking and hence debate on the best future for this part of Te Aro.
Brent Efford has written an article for the Aro Valley community newspaper that sums up many of the same feelings I have. I've reproduced it here with his permission.
How to love your local Bypass
We didn't want it, we resisted it for decades. We lost. Active resistance collapsed soon after construction started but that feeling of loss persists to this day. The main bit of the Bypass opens December 28.
To deal with our grief we need to move through two stages:
Recognise the loss
The negatives of the Bypass are real, and justified our resistance:
Traffic induction – it is obvious from local experience, and confirmed by international research, traffic increases to fill the lane space provided for it. (for a US summary of research on this see www.sierraclub.org/sprawl/transportation/seven.asp). So building the Bypass has simply added traffic which will clog every other part of the network. Promises of reduction in SH1 car journey times will be forgotten as over-all congestion mounts.
Heritage destruction – because the land had been designated for the Bypass, or even grander motorway schemes, for nearly 40 years the route became a unique time capsule preserving (albeit with increasing decrepitude) the last 19th century neighbourhoods in Te Aro. The relocation and restoration of most of the historic buildings, and the intensive archeological investigation do not fully make up for the destruction of the historic neighbourhoods.
Disruption – maybe not as bad as we expected in total, but it happened (and the lack of priority given to unobstructed footpaths in Oak Park Lane, Willis St and Cuba St implies a lack of respect for pedestrians.)
Other stuff - higher volumes of traffic, faster traffic at our front door (50 km/h? yeah, right!) and the ugliness of the trench structure are all potential negatives which may or may not be mitigated over time.
To leave grief behind we need to recognise that there have been positive outcomes:
Pedestrian and cycle access – the wide cycle and footpath provided beside the roadway will make pedestrian access to Upper Cuba St, Buckle St etc from the Valley much easier. Might even get me on my bike.
Building restoration – let's face it, the relocated houses and shops along the Bypass route have been very thoroughly restored and this will ensure their long-term preservation, albeit not on their original sites. Let's hope they are sold and used for their original purposes in the not-too-distant future.
No more excuses – remember how we were repeatedly assured by the Mayor and senior City and Regional councillors that the Bypass would make all sorts of liveability, pedestrian and passenger transport improvements possible once the through traffic was diverted? OK, perhaps they didn’t really mean it at the time, but now we can demand those promises be made good – more bus lanes, better bus circulation, traffic calming (especially in Ghuznee St), better pedestrian areas, etc.
It's a benchmark – the all-up price for the Bypass was reputedly $40m, including our stormwater culvert. Having monitored the work closely, I am sceptical that it could have been anywhere near as low as that. It will probably be revealed when all the bills are in that the final cost was significantly higher. However, whatever the cost, the size of the job sets a benchmark for major inner-city engineering jobs. It makes me more confident when advocating light rail through the city, for instance. There is no way that a light rail line would be a bigger job than the ICB – almost certainly smaller, in fact – so it confirms that extending the rail system is indeed affordable.
It's a permanent choke point - the Bypass was originally planned as only Stage 2 of the urban motorway extension – but in 2004 we were assured by Transit that Stage 3, a full 4-lane grade-separated motorway, was permanently off the agenda. We were cynical then, but the size and strength of the 2-lane concrete trench under Vivian St, as immovable and non-expandable as a hydro dam, seems to confirm Transit's undertaking. Which means that future travel growth in the corridor is going to have to be accommodated by sustainable, non-road, means – like light rail (even though the City Council bristles at the very mention of the term). And of all the Bypass outcomes that help us accept it and move on, that might be the best of all.
There's only a couple of things I can add to that. First, I want to reinforce the "no more excuses" point. The Greening the Quays project is allegedly only stage one in a plan to humanise the mini-motorway that separates the city from the waterfront, and originally the intention was to reduce the roads from 6 lanes to 4. That's now been partially weaselled out of, with the lane reduction subject to a review of traffic levels post-bypass. I'd say to the council: if you have confidence in the bypass, commit to a lane reduction now, together with a rephasing of traffic lights so that pedestrians don't grow old waiting to cross the road. After all, if CBD traffic volumes dropped by 9% last year without the bypass, why wait?! Also, while the redesign of Ghuznee St looks pretty good, with widened pavements and some street trees, we should be aiming higher: remove some on-street parking, and maybe a lane or two at the Taranaki St end, and it could be a fantastic urban environment.
Secondly, I'd take a different tack on the "building restoration" section. Rather than letting Te Aro become the new Thorndon, with cutesy cottages and chi-chi antique shops, use some of the restored buildings for community facilities, affordable housing and artists' studios. Toi Pōneke is great as far as it goes, but it doesn't make up for the loss of affordable space due to the bypass and other redevelopment. Maybe even make this a "noise-control-free" zone, an anything-goes environment where would-be developers of expensive housing would think twice. Upper Te Aro will never be the same again, but perhaps it's not too late to retain some of the characteristics that made it, and hence Wellington, something special.