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

Monday, July 10, 2006

Back on track: why submit?

Drawing of an LRT stopSubmissions on the North Wellington Public Transport Study close on Wednesday, and while this is obviously of major interest to those who live in that area, everyone else could be forgiven for thinking it irrelevant. However, there are many reasons why other Wellingtonians should care:
  • Congestion: both of the bus-based scenarios would result in more buses on the road (the group Option 3 estimates as many as 20), to replace the rail line, producing more congestion and pollution at the northern end of the CBD. The second scenario (closing the rail corridor entirely) would be worst, since it would also drive many people back to cars.
  • Fuel: both of the bus scenarios shift people from electric transport to diesel buses. Not a smart move for pollution, climate change, noise or NZ's balance of payments.
  • Community: even if you don't commute via the Johnsonville line, you may have friends who do. Even with the current, relatively decent, service it's difficult for me to catch up with my friends at times. Any downgrading of the service would make that even harder, whereas the light rail option would make it significantly easier for northern suburbs residents to travel into town and vice versa.
  • Light rail: even if the Johnsonville line on its own is not quite enough to economically justify a CBD light rail line, this is the first chance the public has had to promote such a line, which would then form an essential first step to converting other lines and for an extension to the airport. If we miss this opportunity, it'll be much harder to build a world-class integrated mass transit system for the entire region.
  • Urban form: the council's long-term community plan is based upon a "growth spine" concept from Johnsonville to the airport, and this relies upon high-quality public transport along the spine to encourage people to live nearby. Trains and light rail do this; buses don't.
The spine concept has always explicitly relied upon what it calls a "seamless travel" corridor, but there are different interpretations of that phrase. A light rail line would be the obvious answer, as it offers a high-quality, high-capacity service without having to change modes. However, ditching rail in favour of buses or busways would also technically meet the "seamless" part of the definitions, but without the quality to attract riders or the capacity to reduce congestion.

It's interesting to see the phrase being used by the "Yes to the Busway" campaign, which is the subject of a short and very uncritical article on page A4 of today's Dominion Post. The campaign is being run by the Bus and Coach Association, which while it might sound like a pro-public transport organisation, just represents the business interests of bus companies. Thus, they don't care if the overall number of people using public transport drops, just as long as they increase their own customer base. There's plenty of research to show that when rail lines are converted to bus routes, even in "busway" form, overall patronage drops. Nevertheless, this campaign seeks to portray the option as some sort of upgrade, even though there's a remarkable consensus across the political spectrum from the Greens (of course) to United Future (what the?!?) that it's a backward step.

I'll be going along with Option 3, Transport 2000+ and others in supporting light rail as my preferred option, and upgrading the existing rail service as a second choice. All decisions should also be taken in light of the Ngauranga to airport study, rather than in isolation. I urge you all to do the same, or at least to read all the background documents with a critical eye and make up your own mind. The online submission form is on the Greater Wellington Regional Council website, or you can email your submission to Boffa Miskell. You have until 5pm this Wednesday.


At 1:24 pm, July 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Worth keeping in mid that even if Light Rail isn't feasible at this stage the option of upgrading the existing rail service at least keeps that option open for the future.

Once the existing rail line is torn up for a busway or walk/cycle track, light rail in all probability will never be able to happen to Johnsonville.

At 3:15 pm, July 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

A tram line along the waterfront wouldn't have problems with motorised traffic. But unless they have something less than obvious in mind, such a tram line would be sharing the way with pedestrians, skaters, bikers, and all the other human-powered users of the waterfront. So it wouldn't be going very fast.

For example, the light rail in San Jose, California mostly travels at speed in its own right-of-way in the centre of a motorway or dual carriageway major road, but through downtown runs along a pedestrian plaza without any grade separation at a pace slower than walking. While tolling a loud bell. That part of the journey is really frustrating for the commuting passengers!

On the other hand, this works fine on e.g. Radhusplassen in Oslo, but I imagine we would more likely follow the safety-culture American model...

At 3:30 pm, July 10, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Brent Efford's suggested CBD route (which I discussed in an earlier post) was very similar to the one that's discussed in the study, with some slight differences around whether to go Victoria/Manners or Wakefield/Cuba. Brent also suggested a waterfront route, mostly as a tourist attraction with heritage trams, though it could be very useful for Stadium events or if Harbour Quays ever happens.

His waterfront route would start at the Ferry terminal and travel along the existing track beside Aotea and Waterloo Quays, thus servicing passengers from the Interislander and cruise ships as well as the Stadium and Harbour Quays. From there it could travel along a single lane of Customhouse and Jervois and Cable St as far as Waitangi Park, with a link to Courtenay Place. It would mostly be single track, with passing tracks at Kumutoto and Te Papa, and there would also be a link along Bunny St to the Golden Mile line.

Since it would mostly use existing rights of way or grab a lane from car use, it would be able to be quite speedy, certainly compared to anything along the actual waterfront sharing with pedestrians.

At 11:15 pm, July 10, 2006, Blogger John Rusk said...


You've inspired me to start blogging on this subject myself: http://betterbus.blogspot.com/2006/07/rant-support-busway.html


At 11:16 pm, July 10, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opps, that link didn't come through. Click my name on this one...

At 11:58 am, July 11, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, Your comment "All decisions should also be taken in light of the Ngauranga to airport study, rather than in isolation." is very pertinent - these decisions should be made as part of an overall regional infrastructural plan. This type of local piecemeal decision making is very short-sighted, and often ends up throwing the baby out with the bathwater.


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