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

Monday, March 19, 2007

Bypassing Ghuznee

The moment of truth is nearly here: in less than a week's time, the bypass will be complete. Well, sort of. When the southbound route opens at 6am this Sunday, SH1 traffic will finally have been diverted out of the city streets and onto ... some other city streets. While the primary raison d'ĂȘtre (such as it is) of the bypass will have been achieved, there will still be some roadworks and traffic light phasing adjustments going on until May. All of which means that we're not supposed to be able to judge the success or failure of the project straight away, which could be frustrating or convenient depending upon your point of view.

In fact, the council and Transit are getting so sensitive about continuing complaints of gridlock that they have started daily web updates to keep people informed about traffic flow (or lack thereof) along the route, and to let people know when and where the continuing roadworks are occurring. Much of that work is likely to be along Ghuznee St, which is supposed to be the main beneficiary of traffic reductions once it is bypassed. It will become a two-way street as soon as the southbound route opens, but some of the physical work can't be finished until after that.

It is this work, together with the reduction in traffic itself, that is supposed to be creating a better pedestrian environment along Ghuznee St. There's little detail available online on just what these changes will be, but there is this artist's impression of the Cuba St intersection from the Transit website:

Rendering of Cuba/Ghuznee St intersection after the bypassThis does indeed look like an improvement. Ghuznee Street becomes significantly narrower here, as the pavements bulge out from either side, making for an easier crossing. The hateful red posts and chains on the eastern side are gone, so that finally pedestrians will be able to cross on both sides. Presumably, this means that the phasing of the lights will also change, hopefully towards something with greater priority for pedestrians. Currently, there is a paltry 7 seconds of crossing time across Ghuznee, compared to about 85 seconds with red or flashing signals, creating a major physical and psychological barrier to the continuity of Cuba St.

What's harder to tell from this rendering is what will be going on further along the street: you can just some trees down by Marion St, which hints at an improved environment, but that's about all. I was looking forward to seeing what was planned for this stretch, thinking of the potential for widened pavements now that the traffic is supposed to drop. But now that work has started, there's a rude surprise: the road is being widened at the expense of pedestrians.

Street widening in Ghuznee StTowards the Marion St corner, such a narrowing doesn't have much impact, since the pavement was originally quite wide. But further back, between Scopa and the electrical shop, it was pretty skinny to start with, and has now been reduced to a ridiculous and almost dangerous degree. Along this stretch it looks to be about a mere 1.5m wide, narrower than the verandahs above, and only about twice the width of a sandwich board.

Road widening in Ghuznee StWhile some parts of Ghuznee St are indeed getting wider pavements (a slight widening between Marion and Taranaki streets, and the aforementioned Cuba St intersection), there are at least three areas where the pavements are being narrowed: this stretch, and the intersections with both Victoria and Willis streets. The last two are being eaten into to create turning lanes, which seems fair enough, but there seems no such justification for the Cuba to Marion St leg. The only clue seems to be in the bypass FAQ:
Ghuznee Street is being returned to a two way inner city street with additional parking, loading zones, taxi and bus stops all being added. [my emphasis]
So, part of the "improved pedestrian environment" that was promised for Ghuznee St (as in this statement by the then Minister of Transport in 2003) involves taking space away from pedestrians, leaving a narrow, uncomfortable and hazardous footpath, to create more carparks. I really hope that I'm wrong about this, because the irony would be too much to handle.


At 3:17 pm, March 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that drawing was a little too good to be true. for one thing there was no street people sleeping onthe footpath. no broken glass from the drunks pouring out of the bristol, and no urban boheme.

maybe that's actually a drawing of a corner in newlands somewhere.

At 3:49 pm, March 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The drawings like this, and an animated film, produced of the new bypass used to crack me up because they showed very few, if any, cars on the road! In Transit's fantasy world the bypass was obviously created so the pedestrians would have the pleasure of crossing a shiny new road.
Re this drawing, I guess the extra carparks created on the Cuba-Marion stretch will be catering for those 2 cars we can see at the intersection. In fact, if there's going to be so few cars on Ghuznee St why not make it into a pedestrian mall?

At 4:06 pm, March 19, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

Anon: yes, the empty bypass animations were a bit of a (sad) joke. In the Ghuznee St case, however, they may be a bit more realistic. I can't quite remember any official projections of how much traffic will be taken off Ghuznee, but I seem to recall a suggestion that it will shrink by 80%. Given how deserted Vivian St is at the moment without SH1 traffic, there could be something in that.

Strangely, I was talking to a Ghuznee St retailer the other day, and we was morose about the imminent loss of traffic, talking about "Ghuznee ghost town". That doesn't quite make sense to me: how many people stuck in SH1 traffic getting from the motorway to the airport are really going to stop and pop in to go shopping? What matters is not traffic, but foot traffic.

Ghuznee St has real potential as a pleasant street, with wide pavements, benches and trees, but the council (I don't think Transit has anything to do with it once it ceases to be SH1) seems to value a few carparks over pedestrians. SO much for Cr Morrison and his mates who claim that the council is rabidly anti-car!

At 6:35 pm, March 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The widening out front of Video Ezy will be for a bus stop for the route 18 when it is relocated from Vivian St.

But the really narrow bit by Scopa appears to be for car parks. Very odd considerring there have never been parks there before. It just looks really sqeezed and nasty.

I hear the Shakel 4x4 site is on the market. I wonderred how long it would last once it ceased to be on a major traffic artery.

At 6:49 pm, March 19, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was just surprised by exactly the same thing tonight when I walked this way home. I expected wider footpaths and probably some trees planted. (I wonder if they will think to put in some bike lanes?) But still, overall it is a good thing to come out of the bypass at least and we can reduce the parking later.

At 8:41 pm, March 19, 2007, Blogger Morgan Davie said...


Just, gah.

At 12:40 am, March 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You may care to express your views on this forum.

At 9:14 pm, March 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

tristan z krumpacker III, i really don't believe that is your real name, and anyway, you have not had a single comment on any subject yet....

At 11:42 pm, March 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had a closer look when walking home this evening after work.

My feeling is that it is a motorcycle parking space - it's too narrow for a complete vehicle, unless they are going to shift the delineated carriageways north by another metre. That would then encroach on the parking opposite, so I doubt that...

Still though, that footpath is far too narrow and a terrible design for a supposedly pedestrian friendly area. Imagine if there was enough space on the pavement for Scopa to spill out to the north, and properly utilise those expensive frameless glass folding walls they have. Glorious.


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