Forget the flyover, NZTA

Wellington residents, not roading officials, should decide the future shape of the capital, writes Alana Bowman. 

When building a structure, the property owner instructs the builder. Not the other way around. When the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) demands to build a flyover in the heart of Wellington, it forgets its role. As a government agency that builds roads, it provides advice, but residents who live there, the owners, provide the instructions.

The builder certainly should not threaten the owner, as NZTA did in its December letter to the Wellington City Council warning that funding for the whole regional transport plan could be pulled because the council wanted to look at alternatives to a flyover at the Basin Reserve.

Had NZTA respected the majority of submissions opposing the flyover, progress on resolving the issue would be under way. But NZTA instead offered only a choice of where the flyover would be located.

The Save the Basin Campaign is neither led by, nor a front for, any political party. The campaign includes members of various political parties, and many who are not members of any party, and every political party in New Zealand will have members opposing it. What unites us is not politics, but opposition to this outrageous flyover proposal.

We appeal to the Government to instruct NZTA to reflect the majority view, as it did with the War Memorial Park, and require a design without a flyover.

Knowing residents don't want a flyover, NZTA now rebrands it as a "bridge" in central region director Jenny Chetwynd's article: "How a bridge will untangle the Basin" ( November 22, 2012). If that doesn't convince, NZTA also tries the even more ludicrous term, "slimline elevated street".

A smart, efficient solution to transport problems is needed for the region and Wellington. Eastern residents and airport traffic want less congestion through the Basin Reserve, travellers throughout the city want more frequent and less costly public transport, and people appreciating the Wellington skyline want to retain that view.

Other large cities have solved these issues without flyovers. Why is NZTA unable to do so?

A flyover would block views along Cambridge and Kent Tce, creating a barren, cold space underneath to invite graffiti and danger from opportunists lying in wait. Three storeys tall, it would dominate the area from the War Memorial Park to Mt Victoria tunnel. The tacked-on pedestrian-cycleway would exceed NZTA's promised maximum 12-metre width.

The flyover's height would project increased noise and add grit to wind-borne pollution throughout the area. The trajectory of travel required from the Mt Victoria tunnel to meet up with the War Memorial trench would create a roller-coaster ride.

Built just 20m from the gate of the Basin Reserve cricket ground, and level with the R A Vance Stand, its noise, vibration, and dust would forever destroy the unique atmosphere of this historic and world-famous cricket ground.

The trustees of the Basin Reserve face a difficult, and probably painful, choice. If they don't oppose the flyover, they may persuade NZTA to "mitigate" the degradation of its environment with a modern grandstand and player facilities; but by opposing it they lose an opportunity to improve the grounds with no cost to either the trust or the city.

The problem lies with the flawed design of any flyover.

Melbourne tore down a flyover in 2001 because it created a "psychological barrier". The London Evening Standard summarised: "The truth is the flyovers are eyesores that are as outdated as their crumbling structures suggest. They're the legacy of a failed vision that London's planners dreamed up during a post-war vogue for redesigning the city."

Now Auckland plans to remove one of its more offensive flyovers, at Hobson St, because it is a "blight to the area, obscures views to the waterfront and is a barrier to pedestrians". Other cities around the world have done the same: Toronto, Seoul, San Francisco, Boston, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Trenton, Portland and Chattanooga.

The Government's current development of the War Memorial Park, of which we can all be proud and enjoy, should be supported by a traffic option which extends its parkway to include the Basin Reserve, not an ugly, towering motorway flyover.

The Save the Basin Campaign urges NZTA to abandon its stubborn insistence on an outdated, impractical flyover.

With a more forward-thinking, urban-friendly alternative, we can get on with ensuring that Wellington is better placed to accommodate future population growth and innovations in transport technologies, and enhance, not hinder, the progress of a modern capital city.

Alana Bowman is a spokeswoman for the Save the Basin Campaign.

The Dominion Post