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

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Parks vs parking

Thanks to Simon Bush-King, designer of the new Courtenay Place park, for his comments clarifying my detailed questions. Many of us will be glad to hear that yes, the narrow footpath between the north edge of the park and the road will be widened, and the awkward bollards removed. The rapid development of the plans means that the artist's impression on the council website is a bit out of date. The definitive layout (though still open to public feedback) is shown on the PDF map (151kB), which I've also reproduced below.

Plan for new park on the corner of Courtenay Place and Taranaki StYou'd think that this would be fairly uncontroversial, since everyone likes open space, right? But now the cry has gone up: "where are my carparks!?!". The Capital Times has a straightforward informative article, followed immediately by one headed "...not one happy retailer". Apparently, it's too much of a hassle to visit an optometrist or internet café unless you can park right in front.

As well as the car parks, there's the worry that the public space might actually be used by the public. And that some of the public don't have homes. The optometrist is quoted as saying "Creating bigger recreational parks will only add hobos to these places, which puts off shoppers". Right. How dare public space be used for anything other than spending money! The bike shop manager also joked that "the council have even drawn Blanket Man in the plans". Hasn't he noticed that Blanket Man now spends most of his time, not in a "recreational park", but on a narrow section of Courtenay Place that's right next to the traffic? The evidence is on Wikipedia.

This called for a rant! So I sent a little letter off to the Capital Times, covering the parking issue more than the "hobo" one:
It's good to make the city accessible for people of all physical abilities, but is there such an epidemic of mobility disabilities that most people are no longer able to walk half a block?

According to your article (15 June), it's far too much trouble for customers to visit a bike shop, optometrist or internet café unless they can park right outside. I wonder how these shops currently cope with more than one customer at a time? Anyway, there are bus stops right next door, and with any luck, light rail in the future.

I welcome even such small gestures towards reclaiming public space from cars, in contrast to other council policies (such as the bypass) that have favoured vehicles ahead of people. The enhanced park will remove a mere six of 15 car parks in the vicinity, out of over 15,000 parks in the central city. Copenhagen, a much larger city than Wellington, has only 3000 parks! [page 12 of Gehl Report - 2.1MB PDF] Thanks to their policy of gradually replacing parking with public space [Appendix 1 of Gehl Report - 135kB PDF], Copenhagen's public life has vastly improved. Courtenay retailers might even find their own custom picking up once the cars are gone, as happened when Cuba Mall was created at retailers' request.
I have a modicum of sympathy for the bike shop owner, as I imagine that a fair bit of their custom comes from people bringing in broken bikes for repair, and dragging one of those for a block would be a pain. And probably a large number of their customers aren't the "sustainably biking to work" type of cyclist but "strap a $5000 mountain bike to the back of an SUV and drive it to the top of a hill once a fortnight" types instead. But do optometrists' customers feel the strain of lugging their bifocals around the corner to the carpark? Should they even be driving if they have to get new glasses? I noticed that Burger Fuel and Herbal Heaven didn't complain: perhaps their customers have consumed enough calories and/or BZP to be full of energy and not mind the walk. And does an internet café really need parking? I thought they were used mostly by backpackers and students?

And finally, while I don't usually want to see current businesses driven out by new developments, I have to ask whether these are really the most appropriate ground floor tenants for Courtenay Place. Perhaps in time they will move to adjacent streets that are currently lacking in ground floor activity (such as Taranaki St), and in their place we'll have new cafés and restaurants that can make the most of being adjacent to a popular public square.


At 3:55 pm, June 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the companies that we work with has offices in the Saatchi building, and they were very very very cross about the Herbal Heaven shop opening up, full of "What about the safety of my workers? There'll be DRUG ADDICTS OUTSIDE ALL THE TIME!" complaints, which made it very hard for me not to laugh quite a bit, as the woman in question reminds me a little of what I imagine Anna Wintour would be like, so I was seeing her in my head as "What about the image of my workers? There'll be FAT PEOPLE OUTSIDE ALL THE TIME" when Burger Fuel opened.

At 3:58 pm, June 14, 2006, Blogger Hadyn said...

As someone who does occaisionally drive into town (though not down Courtenay if I can help it) I am happy to see that they are going to round off the corner turning into Taranaki. Also they have made a loading bay on Taranaki for those vital supplies to Burger Fuel.

Also it looks like there will be additional parks along Courtenay Pl. So what is the overall number of parks lost? 3 or so?

I would still like to see a shelter by the crossing though, with walls facing both east/west and north/south to catch all of Welllington's wind.

At 4:06 pm, June 14, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Hi "anonymous",

Of course, no-one inside the Saatchi building would use addictive stimulants...

Hadyn: don't you mean "vital supplies from Burger Fuel"? There will be a net loss of 6 parks.

At 5:06 pm, June 14, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Such a massive loss of parking! This might infringe on people's right to drive and park right outside where they're going ...

Meanwhile, back in the real world, a couple of observations:

- driving down Courtenay Place looking for a parking space is usually a waste of time - much better walk or catch the bus if possible.

- if you must drive, there's plenty of parking in the Courtenay Central parking building.

At 8:24 pm, June 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Umm, i don't understand. Traffic won't fit:

current road has 2 lanes, and narrow footpath. New plan has 3 lanes, and wide footpath, plus "parking for 6 cars" ??. No room on other side of road. Crappy old brick toilet and a tree on this side.

Mr Bush-King : please explain !
(the PDF comes up completely blank for me...)

Plus: Burger Fuel has the most foul elevation to Taranaki St - blank white hardies sheets with nasty external wiring. Treats bus users like savages. So... lets treat them back: graffiti site !!

At 8:27 pm, June 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And, if the woman in Saatchi is worried about drug users outside, just think: the dealers will be there too ! Convenience shopping for our creative company !

At 9:36 am, June 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how much the narrow footpath will be widened? Because on the PDF plan, in very small writing, is the label "existing kerb & channel" along the edge of the footpath. It looks as though the widening is on the corner only.

At 10:53 am, June 16, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

It looks like the widening of the footpath is mostly achieved by removing some of the planting beside the toilets, rather than extending the footpath into the roadway.

The lanes on Courtenay Place are apparently wider than they need to be, particularly on the northern (Molly's) side. So it looks like they'll be shifting the median barrier a little towards that side, so that they can fit three lanes into the southern side. The 6 carparks are further east along Courtenay, including what's currently the entrance of the slipway. That's how they're fitting it all in.

I'd guess that the footpath widening wasn't the highest priority in this design: it was thought of as a nice side-effect rather than the main driver. From the comments here, it looks like the narrowness of the path has been a bigger public irritation than the council thought.

Still, that's the point of this public input process, so if everyone who thinks it's important goes to the feedback page by July 6th and includes that in their comments, it should be seriously considered in the evolving design. Based on these discussions, I'll be making at least two comments (that there's some shelter at the crossing, and that the northern footpath is wide enough along its entire length for two people to pass), but it would be great if all of you did the same! And don't forget to say that the park as a whole is a great idea, and that retailers who think their customers can't walk half a block need to get over themselves.

Simon: if you're reading this, do you have an existing site plan that you can send me? It's a bit hard at the moment to compare the exact dimensions of these sort of details without that. Cheers!

At 11:59 am, June 16, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Folk

Just to address a few points raised in the above posts….

Tom you are correct with your assumptions on how we will fit in the lanes+Parking+enlarged footpath. As I mentioned in my last post the desire is indeed to widen the footpath along the roadside. The minimum dimension will hopefully be in the vicinity of 1.2m while possibly larger. This is enough for two people to pass comfortably while we are constrained somewhat by the corner of the public toilet/WC bar. So while this may be a small 'pinch point' it will be a relatively large one! I must stress however that the design is still being worked through so nothing is finalised yet….your comments are definitely helpful and keep them coming.

I'd also point out the new design makes filtering from the St James Theatre through to the crossing point much more open and consequently will probably become a much more attractive option to use when walking through. I believe this + the widening of the footpath along Courtenay Place should make it a much more attractive and accessible pedestrian environment.

To anonymous comments about the 'crappy' toilets, I personally think they are fantastic and an important part of Wellingtons heritage. However if you really do think they are crap, the conversion into a wine bar will hopefully be a fantastic re-use of this space and a great generator of activity for the park!!

At 9:22 am, June 19, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

"i can never understand why anyone would walk down that narrow bollard strewn, bus-fume-laden bit of road" - because it's the most direct route from Courtenay Place to Dixon St. I know that whenever I've been walking past the St James towards Cuba Mall, it just feels more natural to walk that way rather than go around the toilet block.

As Simon says, it may become much easier to walk around the block with the new design, but I think there will still be a strong desire line along that footpath.

At 1:29 pm, June 19, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

We definitely played around with the idea [and many others] of blocking of the path along the side, as no matter what design move you make you want to reduce the impact of the Traffic noise, smells etc, in what is essentially a holding pattern for cars waiting at the lights…

I felt however, that the last thing one should do is to unduly control people, as always they will and should go where they please....so while I think the new design will make it increasingly natural to take the mid path connection through the park I have left enough room to make the journey along the edge without making it so large as to actively encourage people to use this route. As Tom said in the best possible urban-design-speak, the ‘desire lines’ there are too strong to ignore. Also if an event was occurring in the park-space the inclusion of that side path gives the option of walking around rather than through the space. The footpath along the building edge will of course remain and probably continue to be a wet-weather route.

The possibility of putting in a pedestrian shelter of some description at the crossing point is still on the drawing board. I personally believe there is enough ‘clutter’ in our streets and the reasoning has to be very strong to put something else [whatever it is] in a street. Furthermore to put one in this location will begin to take away from the field of view of the heritage toilets/wine bar. In saying that however this is an exposed site in the wet/wind and I am continuing to look at how the idea of shelter can be incorporated including looking at how the toilets can act as a shelter in this area. Whatever is used will as always need to be sensitively designed to work with the context.

At 9:10 am, June 21, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A recent observation of parking in that area was interesting. There are a number of cars that stay in that area well above the allowable time. Sure the owners are creative in that they move the cars to a different car park (giving the impression of short stays, but none the less are occupying three car parks. This was over a 5 hour period last week.


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