Solving Wellington's congestion problem is no easy task
Solving Wellington's congestion problem is far from an exact science, but those entrusted with the arduous task have revealed some of the ways they might do it. Damian George reports.
The Basin Reserve flyover debate is long gone, but Wellington's transport struggles haven't.
The National Government's flyover proposal – which was scuppered by a public backlash and, ultimately, a board of inquiry in 2014 – involved building a two-lane bridge 20 metres north of the historic cricket ground to alleviate the crippling congestion right outside its gates.
The flyover's demise forced transport planners to hit the reset button on Wellington's inner-city, putting projects like a second Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnel, as well as the widening of Ruahine St, on ice until the Basin debacle was solved.
* Basin Reserve flyover scrapped, costing ratepayers $12m
* Report lays bare Wellington's transport woes
* Call for CBD road charge grows louder
* Transport project will look like 'talk-fest' unless deadlines set
* Government accused of playing politics with Wellington's transport future
* Lobby group formed amid fears of another Basin flyover proposal
* Proposed rapid bus route to be reviewed
Since then, a coalition of Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and the New Zealand Transport Agency has been seeking public feedback and brainstorming the best approach to fixing the capital's transport woes between the airport and Ngauranga Gorge.
The process has been conducted largely behind closed doors, with some involvement from key players in transport circles.
But recently, the coalition, known as the Let's Get Wellington Moving project team, provided the public with a glimpse of what's on the drawing board.
The team released a list of 15 transport scenarios for inner-city Wellington in the future, depending on whether cars, buses, bikes or pedestrians are prioritised.
The list shows the Basin is not the only headache the think-tank is grappling with.
"It's complicated. And it's more complicated than I guess I expected coming in from the outside," says Let's Get Wellington Moving programme director Barry Mein.
"Wellington's got some quite specific challenges that don't really, necessarily, exist in other places.
"You've got your main transport routes sort of sitting on top of your CBD, or round the edge and through the CBD.
"You could argue that Auckland's got that as well, but it's kind of already dealt with it. The roads go around the edge of the CBD and they're already separated – in a way they define the CBD. Whereas, here you've got a highway, which kind of splits through Te Aro and it's messy."
A progress report released in February revealed the scale of Wellington's problem.
The capital suffered, on average, more than one breakdown or crash a day between the airport and Terrace Tunnel from July 2015 to June last year. That resulted in average delays to motorists of between one and almost four hours – the problem exacerbated by a lack of alternative routes in and out of the CBD.
A separate report in December revealed that congestion between the CBD and the airport on State Highway 1 during the afternoon peak cuts the average speed to just 27kmh.
But it is not just roads that Let's Get Wellington Moving is concerned with, even though it has been accused of that motive by an anti-highway lobby group that fears a variant of the flyover will be tabled before year's end.
"There's this sort of simplistic view that people think all we're interested in is ... the highway," Mein says. "The fact that we're sitting in NZTA offices probably doesn't help that perception."
The scenarios reveal that almost every roading, cycling and public transport solution under the sun has been on the table at some point.
That includes a flyover or underpass somewhere between the Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnels, potentially even connecting the two by converting SH1 through Te Aro into a trench, an idea thrown around some years ago during the creation of the inner-city bypass.
Duplicating both the Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnels remains an option; as does a rapid bus route between Wellington railway station and the hospital in Newtown, which would eventually continue east towards Kilbirnie.
Widening some key arterial roads, such as Adelaide Rd and Kent and Cambridge terraces, has been kicked around, as has the idea of limiting the amount of traffic in Vivian St and on the waterfront quays to provide more space for walking and cycling facilities.
A few final solutions will be released to the public for their thoughts in November, along with a prediction of what impact each of the proposed changes would have on the transport network.
But given the complexity of trying to accommodate cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians inside such a compact CBD, there is already a realisation that not everyone will be happy with the final outcome, Mein says.
"There's a number of tradeoffs that have to be made here. If you do one thing it will have an impact over here, and it may be really good for one objective, but not so great for another one. That's the nature of the beast."
The only options completely off the table so far are widening the arterial routes and the waterfront quays, as well as connecting the Mt Victoria and Terrace tunnels with one continuous trench.
While some trenching is still possible in the area between the tunnels, a continuous link is considered too expensive and would restrict access to other roads through Te Aro, Mein says.
Bridges or tunnels are an option for walkers or cyclists at busy locations, although grade separation is more likely to be achieved through raised pedestrian crossings.
"You've got a hell of a lot of dimensions there, and stitching them all together is quite tricky. There's kind of an endless set of combinations.
"It's not this simple, binary 'public transport or roads', that's an old-fashioned way of looking at it. So [the scenarios] will have mixes. But you will pull some levers harder than others."
Mein is an Aucklander whosays Wellington's situation is unlike anything he has tackled before.
There is little room to work with between the sea and the hills that define the city. But the capital has its strengths, such as a walkable CBD and a tradition of high public transport use.
"So the challenge, I think, is to build on those good things, and that's what we're trying to do here."
Mein says the solutions looked at to date are conceptual, and their design will be some time away.
He anticipates that when the final choice is decided on early next year, some elements of it will be straightforward to put in place while others could be 10 to 15 years away.
There is also no guarantee that whatever the Let's Get Wellington Moving team settles on will be implemented; a resource consent process still has to be overcome as well as the cost.
"But again, that's part of our assessment process. So the parties involved in this are the same parties that are going to have to front up with money, so they're hardly likely to agree to a programme that's not going to be affordable," Mein says.
"But I think you've got to lay out what you think the path looks like, and say, 'Here are the future decision points', and lay out what the triggers are for making your investments and understanding that there may be some kind of left-field stuff, especially in the technology space."
The Let's Get Wellington Moving team plans to release another report in a few weeks that outlines how the capital's future transport network will look if no interventions are made.
One glaring omission from its work to date is any mention of light rail, although Mein says the group is revisiting this idea with an eye to future-proofing the proposed rapid bus route for later conversion.
But Fair Intelligent Transport Wellington (Fit Wellington) – one of the groups that make up the Congestion Free Wellington lobby group along with Save the Basin, Cycle Aware Wellington, and Living Streets Aotearoa – says that is not enough.
"We think that when the final scenarios come out that at least one of them should have light rail as an option," spokesman John Rankin says.
"We can't have the debate as a community if it's not there in one of the scenarios."
Regional council chairman Chris Laidlaw said earlier this year there were no quick fixes.
"The Basin Reserve issue showed us that the problem at the Basin is a symptom, not the cause. So we moved way beyond that and it's been very constructive.
"And, happily, all three organisations are working together. Whereas five years ago, that would have been unthinkable."
WHAT ARE WELLINGTON'S OPTIONS?
While the Let's Get Wellington Moving team has moved on from the all-encompassing long list of scenarios it released earlier this year, a wide range of options remain in play. Below are several examples of some of the measures they are considering, from which the final shortlist of solutions will be developed.
THE STATE HIGHWAY-FRIENDLY SCENARIO
What happens to highways?* A second Terrace Tunnel and second Mt Victoria Tunnel are built* State Highway 1 between the airport and Ngauranga Gorge becomes four lanes* Access to SH1 from Wellington local roads is reduced
What happens to local traffic?* Traffic is reduced on roads parallel to SH1* Some road space is reallocated to public transport* The number of vehicle lanes along the waterfront quays is reduced to make room for other transport modes
What happens to public transport?* A rapid bus route is created through central city with dedicated lanes* All other buses will receive priority at intersections**
What happens to cycling?* No changes
What happens to pedestrians?* Footpath connectivity to the outer CBD is improved through more pedestrian crossings/priority areas* Traffic speeds in the central city are reduced* More shared spaces for cars and pedestrians are created
THE LOCAL STREET-FRIENDLY SCENARIO
What happens to highway traffic?* A second Terrace Tunnel and second Mt Victoria Tunnel are built* State Highway 1 between the airport and Ngauranga Gorge becomes four lanes* Some form of grade separation (either an overpass or underpass) is created between SH1 and key arterial routes like Willis St, Victoria St, Taranaki St, and the Basin Reserve roundabout.
What happens to local traffic?* General traffic receives more priority and improved access within the CBD* More on-street parking
What happens to public transport?* Some park and rides would be expanded* Some buses would be given priority
What happens to cycling?* Some existing facilities are removed
What happens to pedestrians?* Some existing facilities are removed
THE PUBLIC TRANSPORT-FRIENDLY SCENARIO
What happens to highway traffic? *No changes to road layout but some form of road user charges will be introduced and/or a CBD parking price increase
What happens to local traffic?
*No changes to road layout but some form of road user charges will be introduced and/or a CBD parking price increase
What happens to public transport?* A rapid bus route is created through central city with dedicated lanes* All other buses will receive priority at intersections*** Park and ride facilities will be expanded and created
What happens to cycling?* More cycling lanes and bike storage facilities are created* Bike sharing schemes are introduced* Cycle routes are developed to connect the CBD with the northern and eastern suburbs
What happens to pedestrians?* Footpath connectivity to the outer CBD is improved through more pedestrian crossings/priority areas* Traffic speeds in the central city are reduced* Raised pedestrian crossings are introduced at busy locations
THE PEDESTRIAN AND CYCLE-FRIENDLY SCENARIO
What happens to highway traffic?* No changes to road layout but some form of road user charges will be introduced and/or a CBD parking price increase
What happens to local traffic?* Traffic is reduced on roads parallel to SH1* Some road space is reallocated to public transport, walking and cycling* Speed limits in the central city are reduced* Road user charges and/or a CBD parking price increase are introduced
What happens to public transport?* Buses are given priority on some routes
What happens to cycling?* A central city cycleway network will connect to surrounding suburbs* There will be grade separation (underpass or overpass) in areas with high volumes of fast traffic
What happens to pedestrians?* Increased pedestrian priority on all routes* Improved footpath connectivity to the outer CBD through more pedestrian crossings/priority areas* Traffic speeds on pedestrian-preferred routes are reduced* Grade separation (underpass or overpass) at busy locations