Friday, August 17, 2012

Sixed by a bus, not an elbow of flyover

Although I no longer live in Wellington, I keep a keen interest in the evolution of its character. Urban design is one of these aspects. Having walked the streets of Wellington for decades, I have studied its contours, flavours and wind funnels with care.

The recent spate of pedestrian maimings and deaths in the Wellington CBD has been a tragedy. I supported the council's decision to rearrange the bus routes, as long as lower Cuba Street was completely pedestrianised, and most of Mercer St was too. Doing so would help move the foot traffic safely into another stream, away from the old Manners Mall, now Manners Street.

At my verbal submission, this idea was bumped back by Councillors, smirking it off as a bad idea. Lower Cuba Street was a wind-swept area unfit for boulevards or outdoor dining, I was informed. The precinct was best served by a shared space. i.e. road. My written submission also favoured general traffic through Manners Street, not just buses. This point came up in the discussion on the matter on Nine to Noon last Friday.

It's a lot more complex than that, of course. Wellington is full of absent-minded professors, students, joggers, cyclists, rugbyheads and artists in varying states of reverie and/or revelry. They are all creatures of rhythm and habit. It takes years to change that conditioning, their innate trust in the footpath.

It was bad enough that the bypass has turned Upper Cuba and Upper Willis Streets into a game of Frogger for impatient pedestrians. I've lost count of the times I've almost been street-pizzaed when they re-arranged the Ghuznee Street flow. Now the Manners Street/Willis Street nexus has become a new kill zone.

Sean Plunket spoke truth to power on the matter last weekend, pointing out that most of the Council's alleged solutions to the black spot are stupid. I gather temporary fences are currently in vogue, which might stop soccer Mums with prams or mobility scooters, but it's just a small leap for this freedom walker.

The only advice I can offer is what it has always been; keep the traffic types separate as much as possible. When the fleshy bodies have to intersect with the screaming metal boxes, ensure they have weight of numbers and regular crossing times on the fleshy ones' side.

That principle was behind my entry for the aBc urban design competition back in 2007. I'm glad to see that the Basin flyover is going ahead, as well as the cut and cover tunnel under the War Memorial Park. Get that traffic away from cyclists and pedestrians. The only thing they aren't doing which was in my entry was to put the airport bypass through Government House.

Tommy Honey did have a point about the new park on NatRad earlier this week, in that it will be a disjointed open space with no links to the waterfront. Car yards litter the main lateral thoroughfares on either side, in Taranaki St and Cambridge Terrace.  Hopefully, once the tunnel and park are finished and the traffic flows settle down again, Tory Street might become viable as a more pedestrianised link to Courtenay Place and the waterfront.