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

Monday, May 22, 2006

Quay to the city

View along Lambton QuayIn contrast to last week's petrol-headed budget, here's some positive news for Wellingtonians who see their city as a place to be rather than a place to drive through. As I wrote last November, the Golden Mile speed limit reduction that so incensed Peter Dunne is just part of a plan to improve the pedestrian experience in the CBD. Detailed plans for the second component (a comprehensive public space upgrade for Lambton Quay and the adjoining streets) are now up on the council's website, and public feedback is invited by June 19th.

Some of the improvements are cosmetic, such as replacing trees, upgrading street furniture and installing uniform paving, but there are a couple of initiatives that make small gestures towards reclaiming city space from cars. By relocating taxi stands and parking to side streets, they will make room to extend the kerbs and footpaths, thus providing more room for seats and trees. Also, the pedestrian crossings along the eastern side will be raised to footpath level, making it easier to cross and sending a message to drivers that this is primarily a pedestrian space.

Farmers Lane - conceptual sketch of improvementsThe designs also aim to improve pedestrian connections with the Terrace by upgrading the dingy Farmers and Masons lanes. The detailed design review (369kB PDF) still only has a "conceptual sketch" of these improvements, but it looks like Farmers Lane will have its southern section set aside for pedestrians, using trees as bollards, with "green walls" on buildings facing both Lambton Quay and the Terrace. The staircase will have its heavy concrete banister replaced, and some artwork or lighting will try to brighten it up a bit, but it remains to be seen just how much of a difference these will make to a very difficult space.

Only two councillors voted against the speed reduction: Jack "Open Space" Ruben and John "Mystery" Morrison. Cr Morrison, who is also against such monstrosities as bus lanes (the horror!), claims that
"Ultimately the drive is to to get motor vehicles out of Lambton Quay and that will turn Lambton Quay into a ghost town."
Ah, that explains why car-free spaces like Cuba Mall are deserted. Oh, hang on...

Anyway, I don't know where he gets the idea that the council is planning to pedestrianise Lambton Quay, though perhaps he's been reading my submissions and mistaken them for council policy. Personally, I think it would be a fantastic idea, as would alternative proposals to restrict traffic to the eastern half of the Quay and turn the western lanes into an exclusive bus and light rail corridor, but there's no indication that the council has any plans to do this. And as for Morrison's paranoid fantasy that the council is full of "anti-car" zealots: would an anti-car council rip up one of the city's oldest neighbourhoods to make way for a $40 million "bypass" to nowhere?


At 2:12 pm, May 22, 2006, Blogger Edward Sargisson said...

While I support the pedestrianisation of Cuba Mall and think that doing the same to at least parts of Lambton Quay would be interesting I would be a little careful of broadly claiming that pedestrianisation will lead to a better community feeling.

Onehunga Mall in Auckland (my home town) was mostly pedestrianised for around two decades and has been recently de-pedestrianised. When the place was a pedestrian-only mall it often had a fairly blighted and cheap feel which often led to it feeling unsafe and not attracting many people. Without wanting to commit the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc since the mall was de-pedestrianised it has a much better feel about it and there is a resurgence of commerce in the area.

Other factors possibly contributing to this are the opening of the large DressMart clothing factory outlet which acts as a draw from may other suburbs and the general gentrification of the area; it seems to be following the stratification pattern of Ponsonby a few decades before. Immigrants (Pacific Islanders in both cases) colonise the area and the cheap old housing there. Slowly the housing gets bough, done up and sold to richer people as the suburb becomes more attractive.

At 3:01 pm, May 22, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

I think pedestrianisation works when there's enough density (of workers, residents or shoppers) to generate the activity. Suburban malls often don't have this, but Lambton Quay certainly does: the pedestrian count is equivalent to some of the busiest streets in London, and at rush hours all the pedestrians are crammed onto fairly narrow pavements.

There also needs to be a way to get there other than by car. Wellington also has that, and though public transport is in dire need of increased capacity, we still have enough options for people to reach the shops of Lambton Quay without having to drive along it.

The word "pedestrianisation" makes it sound like a new and experimental thing, but for most of human history city streets were for pedestrians (and animal traffic). Don't think of car-free streets as being "malls", but streets for people. In many European cities the old towns are still pedestrian dominated, and in others (e.g. Copenhagen) there's been a gradual reversal of the mid-century car invasion. I know that we're not Europe, but in many ways (compactness, use of public transport) we're halfway between a European or Asian city and a new world one. I think we've got a chance to steer our future towards the former rather than the latter.

At 6:22 pm, May 22, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know why they bother with Taxi stands. The wankers just fill up regular parking whenever they feel like it, anyway.

At 9:58 am, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How many shoppers actually park in Lambton Quay? I mean there are hundreds of parking spaces aren't there?

At 10:25 am, May 23, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Exactly! There are only a handful of parking spaces along the Quay, compared to the tens of thousands of people who arrive by train, bus or on foot. Very few (sane) people would choose to drive along Lambton Quay anyway, and the Golden Mile is already generally regarded as primarily a public transport and walking route. So removing the private vehicle traffic would have little impact upon the number of available shoppers, while significantly improving the pedestrian experience.

At 2:28 pm, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've only had a quick glance at the proposal, but it seems to be fairly encouraging. If it were to start and stop with the attention to the connections between The Terrace and Lambton Quay, it would be worth it. Going further with the focus on pedestrian access would only strengthen the area.

The displacement of parking is relatively minimal, and with the current level of bus congestion through Lambton Quay, it may be reasonable to remove private vehicles entirely. The peak-hour disruption to bus flow by cars stopping to pick up/drop off passengers is relatively needless.

Slightly related, while I was living in Calgary, I noticed that the bulk of the courier services were cyclists, and they were quite a bit faster than their motorised counterparts. I don't know why this hasn't caught on in Wellington, with its tightly located business district. Has it been tried?

At 10:07 pm, May 23, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, Tom, it's far quicker to nip down from Willis Street to Thorndon Quay via Lambton Quay at 5:15 than to take the waterfront route.

At 8:15 am, May 24, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

What Wellington has, that Onehunga doesn't, is a large working sector at one end of the end of the street. i.e. Government Workers. And trust me, they love to shop. (Onehunga has a large light-industrial sector but how often do these guys go shopping?) Then all the way along the Quay you have other offices full of shopping and eating mad consumers.

And to be fair Onehunga just doesn't have the (average) level of foot traffic of Lambton Quay.

In Orleans (that's the old version in France) the main street was (when we visited in 2000) pedestrian with a light tram system. It was packed. Ah, those wacky French.

Vive le pedestrian!

At 5:11 pm, May 28, 2006, Blogger Erentz said...

The section between Willis Street and Panama Street really should be turned into a pedestrian zone with a single lane for service vehicle and delivery/loading access.

Paths cannot be widened further in this section without removing traffic lanes, and this is the most densly walked section of the whole of Lambton Quay.

Busses should be re-routed down Panama Street, onto Customhouse Quay, and up to Willis Street.

This appears to be just another proposal by WCC showing complete lack of imagination.


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