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

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Whose lane is it, anyway?

Example of dynamic lane lines in Constable StThe media reaction to the council's plans for bus priority measures was sadly predictable: instead of headlines like "Public transport to be improved", all the focus was on the loss of some parking. The first Dominion Post article was headlined "Residents resist bus lane scheme", Radio NZ's headline was "Bus lane plan bans parking at peak times", and the leading sentences in the articles were along the lines of "Proposal raises fears of congestion and a parking nightmare" and talked of a "bus lane policy that will strip residents of their rights to park cars on busy thoroughfares".

Excuse me? When did it become a "right" to store one's private property on a public thoroughfare? And I'm sure those residents would prefer it to one of the few other options for increasing the capacity of the roads: widening them by acquiring and demolishing their houses.

Proposed Wellington bus lane networkThe actual proposals (Report 1 and its appendices from last Thursday's meeting) are quite complex and subtle, and involve a staged implementation over many years. While the eventual 40km network looks very extensive, many of the suburban arterial routes aren't planned to undergo conversion for some years. The priority is, sensibly enough, to deal with the Golden Mile first, followed by the growth spine, and only then looking at other routes such as Karori and Island Bay. The lanes themselves would also be phased in gradually, starting as "transit lanes" (including taxis and high-occupancy vehicles) and only shifting to bus-only when demand has grown. Eventually more "radical" measures, such as removing private vehicles from parts of the central city and Newtown, would be considered, but in the interim it's actually a very measured and even timid approach to public transport priority.

What does this all mean for light rail? The Mayor has (of course) labelled it "unaffordable", and my council sources tell me that the idea is dead, though it was only eternal optimists like me who ever hoped that it was being seriously considered. The report itself only says "While in the future light rail may be a more desirable form of mass transport, now and in the medium term enhancing the existing successful bus service will offer more affordable and tangible gains". There's no real definition of what "future" or "medium term" means in this context, except that the proposal is part of the long-term plan out to 2016. If ten years is "long term", perhaps within five years it will be time to look at more serious mass transit.

After all, none of the bus lane plans preclude future conversion to light rail, and in fact many of the measures could be considered as pre-requisites for it. In the medium term, a fleet of refurbished trolley buses with dedicated lanes and signal pre-emption could offer some of the benefits of light rail, and as demand grows it could be converted into a light rail corridor with all its additional benefits (greater capacity, greater passenger appeal, lower long-term running costs, integration with the rail network). That, of course, presumes that the council doesn't blow all our money on extra roads and tunnels first.


At 10:38 am, April 16, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

I thought this was quite a surprising proposal from the council. (Well done council.) I have to admit I'm not sure how its going to work on some of the narrow streets (the ghoulish side of me even thinks it'll be fun to watch) but people adapt.

Anyway, the thing that concerns me was the blatent anti-light rail stance. I can tolerate the current council being against light-rail, but I can't tolerate them ruining the possibility for a future generation.

There is an apparent lack of any desire to make changes that will support rather than hinder it down the line. The big area that is being ignored is the widening of Taranaki Street not just by 5 metres, but by 10-12 metres while the opportunity exists (many of the eastern buildings are due for replacement or could be modified), and reservation of land in a few other key areas also needs to be considered (e.g. western end of Rongotai Road). If this kind of planning isn't done everyone can kiss goodbye light-rail ever happening through the growth spine as the costs of reconfiguring and widening the streets will become too much.

At 1:53 pm, April 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Erentz - the WIDENING ???? of Taranaki St? It's already practically a 6 lane motorway... but i'd certainly support the middle two lanes removed for a light rail line right down the middle....

At 1:56 pm, April 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

and Tom - yes, an alternative headline could be "Suburban passengers fast bus route prayers to be answered"

Nobody that i know living in Berhampore or Island Bay drives to work. They walk, cycle, or take a bus. And if the bus is faster, they'll take it more often.

At 2:57 pm, April 16, 2007, Blogger Erentz said...

Did I say Taranaki St? Crap I was talking about Adelaide Road.

(This is a lesson in not posting before having your morning coffee)

At 3:43 pm, April 16, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

I wondered about that! Yes, Adelaide Rd has been targeted for widening for some time. In a previous post when I was thinking about a light rail route for there, I wondered about the cluster of heritage buildings at the Adelaide/John St intersection, but the report suggests shifting them all to the east. The rest of Adelaide Rd's eastern flank is virtually all parking, car yards, forecourts, with a few shed-like buildings of minimal heritage or streetscape value, so it should all be achievable.

The overall recommendation for Adelaide Rd is this:

"Adelaide Road has been identified as an urban renewal area as part of the city’s growth spine. To meet future demands expected of this road so that it can serve new developments, provide access to the hospital and other regional facilities the road is proposed to be widened to accommodate a parking/bus lane in each direction together with two lanes in each direction divided by a central turning median. To do this, a road widening designation is required to future proof a road reserve of 26.5 metres (a widening of four metres on the current width). If streetscape amenity is to be provided in the street in the form of tree planting either in the centre of the road or at the edges, additional road width will be required. If central planting is required to mirror Kent and Cambridge Terraces then an additional 1.5 metres is probably desirable. A similar addition would provide for edge planting if preferred."

I'm not sure if all of that is included in the costings: I suspect not.

At 3:55 pm, April 16, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

Councillor John Morrison had doubts about the safety of the proposal for pedestrians.

"The fact is buses are not safe," he said.

"How can you say buses are safer when people are being run over by them."

That, is comedy.

At the risk of anger being directed at me, despite the large amounts of people who don't drive to work, how many people do you know who drive their car to the supermarket? Or to nip down to the fish n chip shop? Or to go to the movies? Or to drop something to their friend's house? Or to take the kids to sports on the weekend?

Cars can be pretty handy even if you live in the city.

I own a car, which I have to park on the street. But I walk to work and just use the car for the occaisional thing, like those listed above. I'm not sure what I'd do if I had to move it every day during peak traffic hours.

I'm not saying that it's a "right" (though I did pay $90 to the council for the priviledge) but it would certainly be enough to piss me off (even though I like buses).

At 3:57 pm, April 16, 2007, Blogger Hadyn said...

Oh yeah Adelaide road would be great for light rail and you could get rid of those carparks easy!

ps. excuse the poor spelling in my previous comment

At 10:09 pm, April 16, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm a bit hesitant about the proposal for the bus lanes. I kinda see this as another proposal to increase road capacity to meet traffic volumes rather than to reshape the traffic model to lower volume. It can probably be implemented in a manageable way, but I'd rather see real effort put into fixing transportation problems. And on that, hearing that light-rail is officially dead is officially depressing. Wellington is nearly perfect for effective LRT penetration. Why can't these politicians see past their dashboards?

At 4:56 am, April 17, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wheres this info about second tunnels coming from? As far as I know the terrace tunnel will only have tidal flow (reverseable the middle lane depending on the peak direction). It is in the draft regional land transport strategy and the final wont be published for a while, so where did this info come from?

At 6:51 pm, April 17, 2007, Blogger Tom said...

"Wheres this info about second tunnels coming from?"

From the Greens' press release that I linked to earlier:

"...the innovative plan should not be tied to the grandiose plans to spend over a quarter of billion of dollars on a roading scheme in the Ngauranga to Airport corridor which could possibly include the building of two extra tunnels, one each at the Terrace and Mt. Vic Tunnels."

That may be entirely speculation, or based on insider knowledge: I don't know. But the Mayor has made it pretty clear that her opposition to Transmission Gully is not because she wants public transport instead, but because she wants the money spent on more roading between Ngauranga and the Airport instead. Whether or not her plans include extra tunnels is not publicly known, but there have been a few hints dropped.


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