Why the council's bus solutions are stupid

SEAN PLUNKET
Last updated 05:00 11/08/2012

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Sean Plunket

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OPINION: I was hoping to write this week about how Wellington City Council had finally got real about the pedestrian problems on the golden mile.

How experts had come up with a sensible solution that would make drivers and walkers feel safe in what Mayor Celia Wade-Brown tells me is a CBD with more pedestrians per square metre than Tokyo.

But I can't because instead of finding solutions, a raft of experts have come up with a mountain of statistics and observations designed to apportion blame, and officials and councillors have endorsed an action plan which is little more than a rehash of what has been tried before.

I'm sorry to bang on but I'm just bloody angry that "they" being the council, the bus company, the Transport Agency, the Tramways Union and the regional council seem incapable of fixing the problem.

The reports are not a complete waste of time but here's my take on the good, the bad and the downright stupid among its recommendations.

1: Slowing traffic down to 20kmh through Manners and Willis streets. Stupid, we changed the bus flows to speed things up and save time. Why keep the changes if they create a problem that costs time?

2: Street furniture to create safer crossing areas. Stupid, benches are for sitting on, not steering people towards pedestrian crossings. Why not just hire the unemployed to hold up signs pointing people in the right direction?

3: Making buses easier to see by painting the black areas on them yellow. Stupid, the buses are already as big as a small house and bright yellow. People who get hit by them aren't looking and that won't change if you paint them a different colour.

4: Reducing waiting times at lights to less than 40 seconds. Good, if you are likely to get across at a controlled crossing in better time then you are less likely to jaywalk.

5: Using social media campaigns to create safer crossing behaviours. Stupid, if the average Wellingtonian doesn't already know about this problem they are living in an alternate universe. Few issues have created more online debate and comment in this city's recent history.

6: Training bus drivers to leave bigger gaps between vehicles. Bad, a bigger gap means your average risk taker might just think they can nip across the road in between the big yellow behemoths. And will drivers who are forced to work to a schedule really do this?

7: Clearer demarcation between pavement and road. Really? The pavement is the place with all the people walking; the road is the big grey area with the buses and cars on it. I think most of us already get that.

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So by my count we have four stupid ideas, one bad, one good and another that could go on a Tui billboard.

Bloody brilliant.

While this stunning strategy is being implemented (which for some reason could take a year or more), temporary barriers will remain in place.

That is why I've been tearing my hair out. Essentially, all the experts, council staff and elected representatives have decided to do is maintain a temporary solution that works until they can implement a permanent one that doesn't. A year from now we'll be having this debate all over again.

Still, I can take some personal comfort from some of the statistics the boffins have come up with as part of the safety review.

Being fuller of figure, I am apparently less likely to jaywalk and my age also suggests I am risk averse. In fact, I get the trifecta due to my gender. Seems women are less likely to look before stepping on to the road.

Which is all well and good, if you are an overweight middle- aged man, but bad news if you are a young agile female?

The mayor says: "What we are trying to do, rather than allocate blame in any way, is find solutions ... so that a mistake doesn't result in injury or death."

There is no doubt on those criteria this week's safety review is an epic failure.

The steel barriers will work for now but once the new "solutions" to this utterly predictable problem are implemented we would all do well to "be careful out there".

- The Dominion Post

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