Building Choice

Part six of a six-part series, compiled by Talk Wellington, that outlines a sensible vision for transport. This is a space that needs filling even as Let’s Get Wellington Moving prepares to spend $4 billion on transport in the capital.

In parts one, two, three and four we covered the logic behind the better vision for transport in Wellington. Part five was a window into how our streets should feel. In this final instalment, we see how the basic formula translates into a street network plan. Parts five and six were also covered by Stuff/DomPost.

“Don’t tell me what you value,” the US politician Joe Biden once said. “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you what you value.”

When it comes to transport, we Wellingtonians have told our leaders what we value – sustainability, walkability, lower emissions, local commerce ­– and we said so in our thousands to 2017’s Let’s Get Wellington Moving consultation [PDF]. Now it’s time to see budgets that match.

Those budgets need to break with the past. A transport environment shaped by decades of investment following this basic pattern below has left Wellingtonians chronically frustrated by our transport “choice desert”: driving is pretty good, but everything else is too inconvenient, expensive, time-consuming or just plain scary for everyday use.  

Infographic by Celia McAlpine. Figures from here [PDF]

This lack of choices generates more traffic jams, parking problems and greenhouse gases, all the while damaging the vitality of our streets, precisely because so many of us end up driving our A to Bs.

This is why it’s so deeply disappointing to see the Let’s Get Wellington Moving process, with $2-4 billion of transport investment, become quietly unmoored from what Wellingtonians told them we care about. As the Cabinet decision on that $4 billion looms, Let’s Get Wellington Moving has still provided nothing more than a grab-bag of projects without any coherent logic showing which transport combinations will best help us live the lives we want.

In this logic vacuum, it’s now highly likely that the next layer of transport decisions, by local council leaders, will just reflect what they think will get them elected this year – rather than a coherent commitment to what’s better for the city and our future. 

Talk Wellington has stepped into this vacuum, with this series.  So far we’ve seen the pressures for change – from Wellingtonians frustrated by the status quo, and from the overwhelming imperative of climate change.  We’ve also seen how offering people genuine options, combined with small targeted incentives, stimulates them to tweak their transport habits. We’ve also seen how the destination for most of our travel – the city centre, the beating heart of Wellington – could come to life like never before if we took a proudly pro-people approach to streets. 

Yet our politicians have strong form in saying, “Yes, yes, of course,” to solid logic and evidence, and still insisting on perpetuating the spiral: building space for more driving, getting more driving. It’s quite possible that they could read right through this series and still say, “Yes, and we must invest for driving too” – especially in an election year.  

So we’re calling it: our leaders should not prioritise any investment that expands capacity for cars until they’ve given Wellingtonians a fair crack at experiencing life in a city that unashamedly puts people and smart public transport first.

But our politicians – all of us, in fact – need to know what that would actually look like citywide. So this final piece of our series completes the picture for a transformed Wellington transport system.

This network map below applies to central Wellington the principles – from urban planning, transport economics, physics and human psychology – that underlie good, future-proofed city layouts worldwide. They are the first principles that get your city “roughly right”. 

There will be long, complex, noisy and important debates about which technical options and configurations will work best, to fit our city. For the moment, with Let’s Get Wellington Moving, what counts is getting the fundamental recipe right.

What does this look like?

The map below shows movement-focused streets in blue, acting as the main arterial routes; a mass transit line in red; and the vast majority of our streets being shared spaces, where pedestrians get wide footpaths, and bikes, e-scooters and cars can share road space, mingling comfortably at no more than 30 km an hour. (See part five, Streets for People for what these kinds of streets would look and feel like)

Transport for life: a better Wellington street network

Picture map by Laura Bernard

The map focuses on central Wellington, because Let’s Get Wellington Moving does, too. (Though of course it’s crazy to claim you’re “fixing Wellington transport” without providing better choices for people living up the coast and in the Hutt, especially with growing populations.)

Applying the fundamental recipe for successful towns and cities, you won’t see any new driving space in Wellington city – no widening the bottlenecks. Because that won’t actually help traffic congestion: in fact, as we saw last week, it would only make congestion worse. (And in a housing crisis, are we really willing to demolish houses around Mount Victoria for something that doesn’t even do its one job?)

The ideas outlined in this series, plus better transport choices region-wide, will solve congestion problems much more effectively.

Underlying the better vision for Wellington transport is one fundamental, philosophical principle: balance. When a person’s life is dominated by one thing to the extent that the rest of it is suffering, they take steps to change things. They try to bring their life into balance.

The same goes for cities. After generations of investment dominated by more roads and more cars, we have inherited a transport system that is grossly out of balance. That has the effect of unbalancing our lives as well, leading to more stress, worse health and less choice.

It’s time to set that right. We know what we need from Let’s Get Wellington Moving: the better choices Wellingtonians are hungry for. Our transport spending needs to deliver us future-proofed, people-focussed and climate-smart options, so our cities and our lives can come back into balance.

And do it promptly: we’re raring to go!

Banner image: Riddiford St by Frank Hoffman

Talk Wellington compiled this series with various subject-matter experts (in economics, engineering, and planning of transport and landuse), and with help from great communicators. We do this because Wellington people deserve to be better informed, so people – and our politicians – can do better in the big and small decisions that shape our towns and cities

Read about us here.

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