WellUrban

Personal reflections on urbanism, urban life and sustainable urban design in Wellington, New Zealand.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Council snippets


It should be time for me to introduce the drink of the month for March, but while I'm working on that post, here are a few important bits of council-related news that couldn't wait.

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At last, the council has acknowledged that the exterior of Toi Pōneke needs to reflect the vitality of the creative work going on inside. I wrote way back in 2005 that "stained concrete, blank ground floor windows and faux-domestic brown weatherboards hardly say 'vital creative community'", and now the Public Art Panel has called for "creative concepts" to enliven the façade of the east building. This could be "a sculptural form, a moving image projection or new media installation, light boxes or other work involving light", or anything else the applicant chooses. It seems that any local artist can apply, and the winning artist will get $10,000 towards design, construction and installation. I wonder whether it'll take more than that to counter the grinding mediocrity of the building itself, but it's a welcome move nonetheless.

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Another prominent public facility that's up for a design competition is Frank Kitts Park. It won't be a completely open competition, but this month "expressions of interest [will be] sought using the networks of the New Zealand institutes of architecture and landscape architecture", followed by a public exhibition of entries in the middle of the year. The design brief for the redesign has already attracted controversy from the predictable quarters, and meeting all the requirements on a limited budget is going to be extremely challenging, but I'm sure the entrants will come up with something much more exciting than my rough scratchings, and I can't wait to see the options.

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A less visible but probably much more significant upgrade to Wellington's infrastructure is also on the way, with a Council commitment to "affordable, high-speed broadband access throughout the city by 2012". It's a great example of the benefits of sharing infrastructure, because by using the trolley bus network and existing ducts as the host for a fibre network, the entire exercise becomes much cheaper. 2012 does seem an awfully long way away, though.

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Finally, something less positive. With regional council officers, bus companies, taxi drivers, couriers, Autoholics Anonymous, the Greens and geeks all blaming the bypass for recent gridlock, it looks at the moment to have been a complete disaster. While I've always been opposed to it, I think it may be too early to say "I told you so" and blame increased congestion on induced traffic, as the Greens and Transport 2000+ have done. There's obviously a lot of confusion out there with the temporary layout, and with Vivian St currently spookily deserted it looks like the traffic has had to go elsewhere for the moment. Ongoing bypass-related construction and unrelated roadworks have added to the problem, and I suspect that some people have been so aggravated by recent bus fiascos that they've switched to driving.

Once the new southbound route opens on March 25th (which is earlier than previously suggested), and drivers have sorted out their way through the new intersection layouts, we may see a return to some sort of normality. What I don't expect is any significant improvement on pre-bypass travel times, and while Ghuznee St should theoretically benefit from reduced traffic, will that really be enough to justify $40 million and all that destruction? Of course, the Mayor is still whole-heartedly behind it, and according to a small article in yesterday's Dominion Post (page A7, apparently not online), she
scolded Mr McDavitt for his comments, saying the bypass was not yet finished and such public criticism by an official was unhelpful. ... "Of course it's going to work," she told Mr McDavitt at a meeting of the transport committee.
We should remember that. And by "work", we should take that to mean more than just going back to what we had before, but the full suite of benefits that we were promised. There are a lot of weasel words in there, and not a lot of measurable targets, but if there are not, for example, "fewer delays to people travelling across and through the city" than there were before it opened, then we can indeed say "we told you so".

12 Comments:

At 3:14 PM, March 02, 2007, Anonymous Jimmy said...

Gah, this affordable high-speed network thing seems to me to be quite the crock. Considering its being strung up in exactly the same way that Saturn was stopped from doing way back when. PLUS in lots of suburbs there already is an alternative to Telecom. PLUS they're reinvesting in a company they created then sold. Its just bizarre.

Sorry, hopped up on sugar & caffeine.

 
At 3:23 PM, March 02, 2007, Anonymous Jimmy said...

Oh and also, the Bypass = congestion. I kinda buy this argument. Because all the really bad snarlups I see are along Victoria St, and they start right at the new set of lights crossing Karo Drive.

Having said that, obviously the Bypass is not yet completed, so its possible that they may remove the superfluous set of lights once done.

 
At 4:31 PM, March 02, 2007, Anonymous che tibby said...

tom, any advice on how to get the body corp in my heritage building to accept fibre from telstra, or anyone at all for that matter?

be nice to be able to view tv, or access decent download speeds...

 
At 4:36 PM, March 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The problem with the broadband issue is it ideally should be lead and supported by central Government with the creation of standards and per-subscriber based subsidies to local Governments for implementation. New Zealand is only now just undergoing the DSL/LLU phase that other countries went through 10 years ago and the Government thinks this is going to put us back in the top of the OECD, well logically it isn't is it, not when the top countries in the OECD have now moved on to deploying fibre to the home (in some places they've been doing this for over 5 years). However our Government doesn't have a strategy for this and we'll find ourselves in 10 years time still without fibre and still 10 years behind the rest of the OECD. We're missing the opportunity to get ahead!

Overseas large cities like San Francisco, Portland, etc. can afford to build out fibre to the home infrastructure, but smaller/poorer cities like Wellington cannot, so don't hold your breath unless central Government comes out with subsidies.

 
At 10:06 PM, March 02, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No post on the new job?

 
At 7:29 AM, March 03, 2007, Anonymous Kerryn said...

Tom, I think you are right to leave the final analysis of the bypass until all aspects are completed and some time has elapsed. However, I think we are still going to see problems with competing traffic streams. Local traffic is still going to have to wait for the bypass, cross numerous sets of lights and so forth. Induced trafffic is also going to be an on-going issue that will not be solved by the reversal of Vivian St. As for Kerry P, she has invested a huge amount of personal credibility in this road, and it will be very interesting to see, if problems continue and it fails to live up to the promises of Transit and WCC, whether it will effect her re-election. The uncharitable part of me hopes the bypass will be unsuccessful and that she will be punished for it accordingly.

 
At 12:31 PM, March 03, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Is it a good thing or a bad thing if the bypass fails now?

A lot of people who read this blog seem to either fall into the "It never should've been built at all" or the "They should've built a four-lane tunnel to Taranaki St" category as opposed to supporting what's there.

But if it fails, what is the outcome? Maybe (1) we have to live with worsening traffic chaos forever, (2) they have to spend an extra $40 million dollars to make it work (and many people will turn around and say that was obvious), (3) they have to do major alterations such as removing intersections and the thing is closed for a long period, (4) they decide to hell with it and seek to prioritize public transport at all costs to vehicle traffic, removing lanes, etc.

Me, I say the likely outcome if this doesn't work is Wellington is just screwed with worsening traffic, continued underinvestment in public transport, and none of the apathetic voters care so Kerry wins the next election.

 
At 2:30 PM, March 03, 2007, Anonymous morgue said...

I have been waiting for the bypass to be complete before passing judgement as well. I often come in from the Hutt and the bottleneck at Ghuznee is incredibly now, with off-ramp traffic and off-Terrace traffic swamping directly into on-motorway traffic going up Victoria St. The change in offramp should ease some of this - reducing a five-way intersection to a four-way intersection will definitely help, for one thing.

But, man, if the bypass *does* actually make things worse, traffic-wise, there will be all kinds of hell to pay. Kerry Prendergast's political career will be on the rocks, for one thing.

 
At 7:51 PM, March 04, 2007, Blogger Maximus said...

che tibby: re your body corp: do you know if he cable is past, or near your building? We asked at our place - and they were 30m away - which would cost us $20k or some such silly amount to dig up the road for that far....

morgue (great handle, very positive...) : don't you reckon that now would be a good time to put the Bypass underground...? There's all that unused land either side right now - no park on top at Buckle, nor buildings on the right side of the old Arthur St... it must be soooo tempting for Transit to dig themselves a deep trench and avoid all those silly intersections they have created....

 
At 7:02 AM, March 05, 2007, Anonymous Jimmy said...

Indeed, especially when its the intersections that ought to have been bypassed, and the intersections causing the traffic issues for those streets crossing this bypass.

 
At 9:33 AM, March 05, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"No post on the new job?"

Not yet :-) I'll post in a week or so, just before I start.

 
At 10:16 AM, March 05, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Right, a lot of bypass-related comments to reply to. I think the one that sums it up is:

"But if it fails, what is the outcome? Maybe (1) we have to live with worsening traffic chaos forever, (2) they have to spend an extra $40 million dollars to make it work (and many people will turn around and say that was obvious), (3) they have to do major alterations such as removing intersections and the thing is closed for a long period, (4) they decide to hell with it and seek to prioritize public transport at all costs to vehicle traffic, removing lanes, etc."

(4) is the one that I'd support, and have supported all along. I have a sneaking suspicion that something like (2) is something that the bypass backers have always been secretly hoping for, since they would have preferred a bigger bypass anyway. And they have a not-so-secret agenda of a four-lane highway all the way to the airport, so if the bypass makes things worse, they'll just wring their hands and say "this just shows how urgent it is to build a flyover at the Basin, double the Mt Vic tunnel, widen the roads through Hataitai etc etc etc". Then we can say goodbye to any funding for public transport infrastructure for another 20 years or more.

I think that somewhere between (1) and (3) is the more likely outcome, though. There'll be a lot of fiddling, but no real benefit to anyone. While I've never expected the bypass to improve traffic much, I don't really see how it should make things significantly worse (though I'm not a traffic engineer, so there may be an obvious reason that I'm missing). If things are completely stuffed up, then they can always revert to the old layout, since the Ghuznee St offramp is still there. Then we could build houses and plant trees all over Karo Drive, and turn the trench into a hydroslide or something. So the end result would be that we've spent $40 million just to annoy some hippies, and while I'm sure that some of the bypass backers would consider that money well spent, the whole thing will have been a fiasco.

"Me, I say the likely outcome if this doesn't work is Wellington is just screwed with worsening traffic, continued underinvestment in public transport, and none of the apathetic voters care so Kerry wins the next election."

I'm not sure whether it's apathy or the lack of credible alternative candidates.

 

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