The moment of truth is nearly here: in less than a week's time, the bypass will be complete. Well, sort of. When the southbound route opens at 6am this Sunday, SH1 traffic will finally have been diverted out of the city streets and onto ... some other city streets. While the primary raison d'être (such as it is) of the bypass will have been achieved, there will still be some roadworks and traffic light phasing adjustments going on until May. All of which means that we're not supposed to be able to judge the success or failure of the project straight away, which could be frustrating or convenient depending upon your point of view.
In fact, the council and Transit are getting so sensitive about continuing complaints of gridlock that they have started daily web updates to keep people informed about traffic flow (or lack thereof) along the route, and to let people know when and where the continuing roadworks are occurring. Much of that work is likely to be along Ghuznee St, which is supposed to be the main beneficiary of traffic reductions once it is bypassed. It will become a two-way street as soon as the southbound route opens, but some of the physical work can't be finished until after that.
It is this work, together with the reduction in traffic itself, that is supposed to be creating a better pedestrian environment along Ghuznee St. There's little detail available online on just what these changes will be, but there is this artist's impression of the Cuba St intersection from the Transit website:
This does indeed look like an improvement. Ghuznee Street becomes significantly narrower here, as the pavements bulge out from either side, making for an easier crossing. The hateful red posts and chains on the eastern side are gone, so that finally pedestrians will be able to cross on both sides. Presumably, this means that the phasing of the lights will also change, hopefully towards something with greater priority for pedestrians. Currently, there is a paltry 7 seconds of crossing time across Ghuznee, compared to about 85 seconds with red or flashing signals, creating a major physical and psychological barrier to the continuity of Cuba St.
What's harder to tell from this rendering is what will be going on further along the street: you can just some trees down by Marion St, which hints at an improved environment, but that's about all. I was looking forward to seeing what was planned for this stretch, thinking of the potential for widened pavements now that the traffic is supposed to drop. But now that work has started, there's a rude surprise: the road is being widened at the expense of pedestrians.
Towards the Marion St corner, such a narrowing doesn't have much impact, since the pavement was originally quite wide. But further back, between Scopa and the electrical shop, it was pretty skinny to start with, and has now been reduced to a ridiculous and almost dangerous degree. Along this stretch it looks to be about a mere 1.5m wide, narrower than the verandahs above, and only about twice the width of a sandwich board.
While some parts of Ghuznee St are indeed getting wider pavements (a slight widening between Marion and Taranaki streets, and the aforementioned Cuba St intersection), there are at least three areas where the pavements are being narrowed: this stretch, and the intersections with both Victoria and Willis streets. The last two are being eaten into to create turning lanes, which seems fair enough, but there seems no such justification for the Cuba to Marion St leg. The only clue seems to be in the bypass FAQ:
Ghuznee Street is being returned to a two way inner city street with additional parking, loading zones, taxi and bus stops all being added. [my emphasis]So, part of the "improved pedestrian environment" that was promised for Ghuznee St (as in this statement by the then Minister of Transport in 2003) involves taking space away from pedestrians, leaving a narrow, uncomfortable and hazardous footpath, to create more carparks. I really hope that I'm wrong about this, because the irony would be too much to handle.