LGWM Golden Mile options are looking up
Wellingtonians have long said we want to keep our compact walkable city, building better on the good we have. Since our Covid19 lockdown experiences we have come to understand how pleasant low traffic, quiet and social our public streets can become, with the main sounds being people talking and birds twittering. People in densely populated areas needed those local walks to green parks or the seaside. This idea of how our city could be is the silver lining to the distress of the pandemic.
We have been heard by the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) team, and they have delivered three options for the Golden Mile. [https://lgwm.nz/our-plan/our-projects/golden-mile/]
All three are an improvement on where we are now and address the key issues for the Golden Mile, that is to improve the bus journey and to reduce crowding and clutter for pedestrians. This is the first off the ranks of several LGWM projects.
Option 1 is to streamline general traffic movement with restricted turning options to reduce the more dangerous vehicle movements and increase footpath space by up to 30%. Emergency vehicle access is retained in all options.
Option 2 prioritises bus and pedestrian movement retaining two lanes each way for bus overtaking on Courtenay Place and Lambton Quay. All general traffic would be removed from the whole route in this option and some side streets are closed off. Disability car parks, taxi and loading zones would go on the side streets. This would create lots of new space at each side street for places to sit and linger, like at Grey St or the end of Bond St now.
Option 3 is about transformational change by creating even more space with bus priority down to one lane each way along the whole Golden Mile, and closing Tory St to through traffic, this will free up much more space for footpaths.
As we know in the walking world the devil is in the detail. We need to make sure that everyone can access this space, and it works now and for the future, as well as chipping away to reduce our carbon footprint. I want a downtown that welcomes kids with places to play, older folks with places to sit and people watch, toilets nearby (yes they are really important for many people), and to see lots of diverse people enjoying this space. The people-power currently of 36,000 daily bus passengers and 31,000 daily pedestrians moving on the Golden Mile is the backbone of the retail and government business sectors. We need a Wellington-themed Golden Mile, that celebrates our shared and diverse history with more from mana whenua, and about our harbour and hills. This could build on existing initiatives like the 1840 shoreline motifs on footpaths.
To do all this an accessible design to best practise standards for the increased public space, footpaths and crossings will make all the difference. I’m looking forward to getting rid of those slippery brick pavers that require endless maintenance and are a menace on a rainy day. I won’t miss all those pesky sandwich boards, and other clutter that mean you have to dodge and weave as you walk. I’m looking forward to lots of trees with places to sit in sun or shade, a clear walk under the verandahs to browse the shops or rush about at lunch time. A change in the vibe in Courtenay Place is needed to share the love of all those hospitality venues more equitably along the Golden Mile and around town, where women feel comfortable walking, and there are more interesting and diverse shops to serve the local community, a post office would be nice.
All options reduce the number of bus stops in each direction with the aim of speeding up the trip, stops will be a 5 minute walk apart at a brisk clip. For instance there is a significant gap between the stops on Manners St near Cuba with the next stop way down at Stewart Dawson corner. I for one like them a little closer together. If I am running late keeping an eye out for a quick ride on the bus with these options will mean a canter across a number of roads. Others will find the changes less convenient or just too far. Vancouver has an easy-to-understand system of a bus stop on each intersection which makes catching the bus a breeze. The separate mass public transit proposal can be the means to move faster with less stops like underground subways do in other countries. I would like to see how we go with removing most of the general traffic first to see what impact this has on bus reliability before making big changes to the stops.
I am also looking forward to bus stops being more than functional utilitarian spaces squeezing passengers and pedestrians together with adshel advertising. Instead let’s turn them into places for a pleasant sit, with good maps and wayfinding, perhaps with a swing or activity to amuse the waiting passengers. Imagination is the only limit here.
The Golden Mile is near to the destinations of many people travelling to or living in the city centre. It’s a convenient connector for most other downtown destinations, like the Railway Station, the waterfront and the Cable Car as well as many jobs – downtown Wellington has one of the greatest employment densities in the country. The city centre is a ‘permeable’ place with many pedestrian shortcuts to other destinations by laneways, steps or through buildings. But it seems the decision to shift the mass public transport route to the Quays and probably Taranaki St with minimal connection to the Golden Mile has been taken. How will these Golden Mile proposals work with that? A cycleway is desperately needed along the Quays, and less general traffic to make the connection to the waterfront work better, will this work with the mass transport and Golden Mile options?
Option 3 seems enticing at first glance but there are many factors that are unclear. There is little tolerance for escooters on any footpath, certainly not busy downtown ones, so where will bikes and escooters go? Bike bypasses around the back of bus stops on the Golden Mile would reduce the experience of being in a safe pedestrian space, with the loss of priority for bus passengers or walking. Buses wouldn’t be able to overtake with only one lane so might still get held up. The greatly increased footpath space might be swallowed up by more advertising, and tables and chairs, even more bike parking than is currently there, rather than public space for pedestrians and bus passengers to enjoy. We need to consider what improvements we want for this important city space and the best way to achieve this, using this once in a lifetime opportunity to do the best for all of us.
These are exciting options and I hope that all Wellingtonians, particularly the 17,000 inner city residents, and visitors too, have a good look at them and let LGWM know what you want for our city centre. The other LGWM projects will cover other areas from Ngauranga to the airport so keep an eye out for them. Submissions close on the Golden Mile on 26 July. Living Streets will be holding a submission party to help write and discuss these options.
Kaituitui a Whanganui a Tara
Living Streets Aotearoa