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

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Bypassing the truth

How sweet. The competition to name the Inner City "Bypass" has been won by Te Aro School, with the name "Karo" Drive. Apparently, "The K represents the kids, Aro their school. Karo is also a small native New Zealand tree that produces sweetly scented red flowers in Spring and grows very well in Wellington". Maybe it's just me, but I don't usually associate "sweetly scented red flowers" with a bloody great arterial road that's been shoved through a city neighbourhood.

The press release goes on: "The selection of the name by a school close to the area in which the bypass is situated was purely coincidental, and we are delighted that it has turned out this way," Mayor Prendergast says. "Te Aro School is an integral part of the community surrounding the bypass and the selection of a name submitted by that school is a tribute to them and their community". I love that phrase, "the community surrounding the bypass", which implies that heavily-trafficed roads form the centres of communities, rather than ripping them apart.

Remember how we were always told that "the bypass isn't a motorway ... It will be ... two lanes wide"? Well, the section of the bypass to be named "Karo Drive" will cover the blocks from Cuba to Willis St, and according to the official map it will actually be three lanes wide for most of its length, widening to four at the approach to Victoria Street. Victoria Street is also being widened to three lanes right now at the intersection of Abel Smith Street. Every time some idiot complains about our "anti-car" council, they should contemplate the amount of asphalt that this community will find itself surrounding.


At 9:32 pm, November 23, 2006, Blogger Br3nda of coffee.geek.nz said...

... so it's not a motorway, so pushbikes allowed... yet 3 lanes...i'm not brave enough to cycle that.

At 8:48 am, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The area was always going to have a lot of traffic given it was at the start / end of the exisitng motorway. As a positive, the blight over the area is over, Ghuznee Street should benefit and as part of the construction a number of buildings which would otherwise have continued to deteriorate or have been demolished for light commercial (note the new Hirepool building) have been restored and if put to good use may add to the area. Did you not suggest a new name for the area, something like NoHo or Tribeca, or was that the other side of Taranaki Street? PS still not sure about the last Mystery Bar.

At 8:56 am, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

still trying to think of some witty rhyme for Karo, as was the previous slogan "Bypass my Ass" (arguably arse, but we know what they meant).

Actually, Karo is presumably pronounced Car - oh ? The name does seem rather apt....

At 9:10 am, November 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Taniwha: to be fair, there is a separate cycle lane.

Anon1: yes, but the traffic has now been given its own pride of place right through the middle of what were quiet residential and mixed-use streets. The so-called "blight" was entirely induced by the prospect of the bypass, and allowed a thriving alternative culture. From what I've heard, the Arts Centre goes nowhere near replacing the amount of studio, workshop and living space that the bypass has either destroyed or "restored" out of the price range of the original inhabitants. And yes, the Hirepool building is a travesty and an insult to the street.

We can only hope that Ghuznee St and the waterfront roads benefit from a reduction in traffic. Actually, since the amount of traffic in the city dropped 9% last year, we didn't even need the bypass for that!

At 10:01 am, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

No matter what the cause, the blight was a blight.

The road seems to have condensed everything that was good about that part of town, and obliterated everything that was bad - the junk yard especially.

I admit the reason it has turned out this way is because of all the 'anti' whining, but please - an ugly part of town is turning into a rather pleasant looking part of town, the roads nearly built, can we stop complaining about it now? it's over

At 10:35 am, November 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

A "blight", but only from an economic and a narrow aesthetic point of view. I was no fan of the junkyard, but I don't think the caryards and big box retail in nearby non-"blighted" areas are any better.

Try telling all the artists and small business owners that worked there until recently that their studios and shops were "everything that was bad" about "an ugly part of town". The best thing about the district was that it was cheap. Now that the creative people who were here are being driven out to create a new Thorndon out of the prettified old cottages, they're moving to the Hutt or even Wanganui, and we're losing a vital part of our (hopefully still) "creative capital".

At 1:34 pm, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I think it must be said that the reason that area of Te Aro was so cheap for so long was because of the thrall of uncertainty created by the bypass. If the bypass had been cancelled through the planning process, then the uncertainty would have been lifted and I am sure development would have proceeded and the area would change anyway.

I don`t mean to make a value judgement here, as I have mixed feelings about the bypass, but I think the area would have changed regardless. It is important to have areas for the economically marginal to live & work, but I feel Wgtn is fluid enough that they can be catered for without being moving to Wanganui!

I also think some of the bypass work has improved the streetscape of Cuba, and what needs to happen now is for those carparks and empty lots to be filled up with buildings. The gaps between the fish & chips shop and Fidels, and Real Groovy & the restored cottages spring to mind. I agree the corner of Buckle & Taranaki is awful, with only a single building on one of the four corners, but give the city a few years and I am sure they will fill up.

At 2:14 pm, November 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

Raffe: yes, I've always acknowledged that the cheapness was due to the threat of the bypass. When I wrote about it over two years ago, I said:

"The irony is that it's the threat of the bypass that has allowed this area to become interesting. If land values hadn't been depressed by the spectre of demolition, it would long since have become like the rest of southern Te Aro (replaced by car dealers or low-rise offices) or like Thorndon (the cottages renovated within an inch of their lives and inhabited by wealthy professionals). In either case it would have lost its uniqueness and ragged charm, and a lot of creative people would have been driven out.

So ... what could be done to avoid gentrification? I'm sure that Transit believe that it's their right to sell their (deliberately run-down) properties to the highest bidder, but perhaps there's a compromise. There are a few patches of unused land, and some other opportunities for infill, and these could be developed for medium density (3-6 storey) housing and commercial purposes. This could be lucrative enough to subsidise the transfer (for a nominal sum) of currently inhabited buildings to a trust or housing association formed by current tenants. Overseas, such associations have been successful at maintaining and improving districts while working for their mutual interests and preventing rapacious speculation."

I agree with you that empty lots need to be filled in, but recent experience has shown that developers have preferred to knock down old buildings and build beyond the height limits rather than develop something on the vacant lots. That's probably due to the details of who owns what when, but as I've argued before (last three paras), the council could be much more proactive in getting various landowners and developers together to create a better urban outcome for everyone. I guess that doesn't fit with a laissez-faire ideology, though.

"It is important to have areas for the economically marginal to live & work, but I feel Wgtn is fluid enough that they can be catered for without being moving to Wanganui!"

I'd love to think that that's true, but I think Wellington's not big enough or dense enough. Some artists have moved to the suburbs, but there's not enough density there to provide the social infrastructure (galleries, venues, retail) and critical mass that has made Cuba St so lively. And I do know at least one successful young Wellington artist who's seriously thinking of moving to Wanganui!

At 2:25 pm, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well (as a frequent inner city cyclist) to be fair I'd rather cycle along this bypass than say, the ridiculously compressed two-lanes that make up Vivian Street. (Which forces cyclists to use a whole lane because otherwise cars try to pass too closely.) Unfortunately the councils policies have made it near-impossible to ever place a cycle lane along this section of Vivian.

I still maintain the bypass as a tunnel was affordable and buildable, and if CBC and the other groups hadn't be so incapable of seeking a comprimise then I believe they could've collectively been successful in pressuring for this. At a cost of $120 compared to the $40 million of the bypass, the remaining funds were easily made up for by the benefit of a two-way 4 lanes, and the difference largely recoverable by the then recently introduced tolling legislation.

Hopefully it serves as a lesson to such groups in future to seek the comprimise.

(Sorry for the rant, the bypass is a passionate one for me.)

At 2:51 pm, November 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

It would have cost even less to put through just a cycle lane :-) Or maybe we could remove some parking from Vivian St?

I hope that groups like CBC don't learn to compromise: if they had given up earlier, Transit probably wouldn't have bothered putting in cycle lanes or moving buildings rather than demolishing them. And the notion of "compromise" doesn't apply to the underlying principle behind much of the opposition: Wellington doesn't need more roads, but fewer cars.

As it turns out, we're already getting fewer cars: CBD traffic volumes are at the lowest level since 2000. If the $40m had been put into public transport back then, we wouldn't be scrambling around desparately trying to find more buses and trains, and traffic volumes would probably be even lower.

I'm probably past arguing now, though. The bypass is a fact, the damage is done, and I just want it to get finished cleanly and quickly, which thankfully looks to be happening. We need to be absolutely sure, though, that the benefits to other parts of the city are made the most of.

For instance, the council has always said that they'll reduce the 6-lane waterfront roads to 4 after the bypass goes through. Now they're being a bit coy and saying, "well, we'll wait and see whether traffic volumes actually decrease first". We need to hold the council to their original promise, or we'll get stuck with two traffic-choked arterials instead of one.

The artist's rendering of Ghuznee St shows widened pavements at the Cuba St intersection, and trees planted near Marion St. All very nice, but we need a guarantee that they'll stick with this (and preferably go further) rather than weasling out when the time comes.

At 3:43 pm, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Tom, I agree entirely that the council needs to be much more proactive in working with all the parties to create 'win-win' situations (I dislike that binary term, as implies things are mutually exclusive, but I cannot think of a better way to put it), the housing association concept you mention is an excellent idea.

Still though, I feel that cities have a bit of an 'organic entity' nature to them, and the community that will likely be dislodged from the bypass area will re-establish itself elsewhere (Newtown?) over a few years. It is sad though.

I had meant to reply to your comment on PA System about NZers & urbanity, not sure if this is the right forum though!

At 4:11 pm, November 24, 2006, Blogger Tom said...

"I feel that cities have a bit of an 'organic entity' nature to them, and the community that will likely be dislodged from the bypass area will re-establish itself elsewhere (Newtown?) over a few years. It is sad though."

That certainly works in larger cities, particularly ones that aren't growing rapidly and have large stocks of old medium/high density residential and industrial space. For instance, in London the artists and bohemians have moved over generations from Chelsea to Soho to Clerkenwell to Shoreditch to Hoxton to Spitalfields to Hackney ... and so on. There are fears now that it's gone too far and you have to move out to Deptford to find somewhere affordable, but generally it's moved slowly enough that by the time the gentrification has kicked in in one neighbourhood, another neighbourhood has fallen out of fashion enough to be cheap. Witness Notting Hill and Islington, which have gone from fashionable to slum and back again.

But what if it happens too quickly? Wellington only has a limited supply of what I'd call "urban neighbourhoods", and although we're building higher-density housing there's little that's got old enough to become cheap again. Newtown might already be too far gone into gentrification, and some of the artists I know have moved to the Hutt. They can survive and work there, but the physical nature of the "city" out there is radically different, and the distance from the CBD makes it hard for them to get around or create an artistic community without being entirely car-dependent. I don't see Waiwhetu becoming the new Cuba St any time soon :-)

"I had meant to reply to your comment on PA System about NZers & urbanity, not sure if this is the right forum though!"

It should be exactly the forum! But first, I'll get around to posting my comment here and inviting some replies.

At 5:25 pm, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cool. Short answer was that I don`t believe NZers have a cultural problem with urbanity. Our economic systems make achieving urbanity diffcult, but when quality urban spaces are presented, NZers generally take to them with relish. The problem is of course that economic considerations override the cultural. Bigness, as I was describing it is a sometimes a subset of urbanity, but I had meant it more as a pervasive paradigm that influences across our culture, not just when thinking of the urban environment.

At 6:42 pm, November 24, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

[quote]I hope that groups like CBC don't learn to compromise: if they had given up earlier, Transit probably wouldn't have bothered putting in cycle lanes or moving buildings rather than demolishing them. And the notion of "compromise" doesn't apply to the underlying principle behind much of the opposition: Wellington doesn't need more roads, but fewer cars.[/quote]

Hmm. The reason I took the POV that they should have unified in pushing for the tunnel is roughly. (If my logic makes sense, perhaps it doesn't? Criticise away in which case.)

1) It appeared to almost everyone at the time a forgone conclusion that the bypass would go ahead. (Granted this is amongst just the people I knew/worked with/etc.) Transit's and the Council's mind were made up that they needed more roading capacity.

2) The tunnel "compromise" would've catered to this (mis)perception of Transit's and the Concil's.

3) It would've taken a whole bunch of cars off the surface entirely. (Granted if planned correctly, with the appropriate treatments to the surface streets.)

4) It would've freed up not just Ghuznee but Vivian also to return to two-way traffic with much lighter traffic volumes.

5) By freeing up and reverting Vivian to two-way traffic it: a) would have the effect of reducing the reliance on Courtenay Plc as a sort of crosstown connector, and b) reduce traffic flows on Cambridge/Kent Tce. Thereby, c) make it more feasible to argue for Courtenay Plc's closure, d) remove the argument that you can't put LRT on CPlc because its too busy, and that it can't be closed because the flow on traffic effects will be too ugly, etc., and e) make it feasible to reduce Cambridge/Kent to 4 lanes with some really awesome possibilities for the landscaping/etc. (if the Council had vision). Oh and of course leave more room for dedicated LRT ROW down this stretch also.

6) Due to its greater capacity and faster flow (i.e. no Traffic lights until Taranaki St) it likely would have also taken more traffic off the Quays (than the bypass) making it easier to reduce that to four-lanes. (I can't believe the Council is backtracking on this, but I was cynical about it ever really happening.)

7) Worst of all (ridiculously) the width of the cutting under Vivian Street is only 3 lanes wide, making it impossible to ever reconstruct the bypass as a 4-lane covered trench. (Just try to imagine reverting traffic all back down Ghuznee in 10 years time.) When queried on this Transit said effectively "well, the Tce Tunnel is only 3 lanes wide, so umm we didn't think it'd matter". Err, ok? I guess they can use a contraflow tho, but they certainly didn't plan for it.

I recognise (as I did at the time) that the philosophy of CBC (et al) was anti-road/pro-transit, and they had good reasons for it (I agree with it). But to my logic (again it may be wrong) I can't see how a tunnel taking cars off the streets, with all the above flow on effects wouldn't have been more preferable to them (and everyone who feels that way) than what we have now.

There is the argument that $40 million would've been better spent on LRT or public transport. And that by increasing roading capacity you inhibit this, but I'd argue that freeing up more of the surface in the longer run would've actually made LRT more feasible, and given opponents less arguments against it. The overall need for LRT isn't based on just the road capacity in the CBD. In the grand scheme of things $40 million is chumps change with the billions that are being misspent on roading elsewhere (though granted it probably didn't look as much like small change back then as it does now).

Ideally it should be the role of the Council and our local MPs to show leadership on such issues, bringing groups together to reach sane, logical, forward thinking agreements. BUT as we all know thats a joke. So I was looking for the community action groups to take up that leadership and orchestrate such agreements.

(PS: I'm not just being a hindsightist here, I did talk to CBC about this way-back before it was too late.)

/sucks in breath

At 6:05 pm, December 02, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do believe the tunnel option was submitted to transit, maybe the council, in some form, and the answer was that underground streams/earthquake risk would have made it extremely expensive, and they weren't interested in looking into it further. For you information CBC offered a range of alteratives to Transit over the years but they were never ever interested in considering any of them seriously. Their 'alternatives' were simply versions of the same bypass. CBC always struggled with little money and few really committed volunteers, so I find your criticisms pretty darn annoying really. There was nothing stopping you creating your own group to push your ideas! But it's always easy to blame someone else isn't it?

At 9:54 am, December 08, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies to anonymous.

I shouldn't really be laying such fault with the CBC: after all the Council, Transit, and our forever useless-never-doing-anything-for-Wellington local MPs are the ones really at fault for that ridiculous curvy suburban style street they're now calling a "drive".

Ugh. How I do hate it.


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