Movement ahoy! Golden Mile and safer speeds with Let’s Get Wellington Moving

Hooray! First out of the blocks, and well overdue, are two foundational shifts for a central city that’s safer and nicer to be in. Submissions close 15th Dec and this one matters…

Carfreeing the Golden Mile

Here’s the engagement, calling for our submissions.
Carfreeing is a key move for a really humming Golden Mile, one which will feel like you’re the first-class citizen as a “fresh human” outside a metal box.

We should have done this years ago! Wellington’s supposed to be innovative and fresh thinking… (if our beloved dinosaur Bob Jones has been pushing for something for ages, you know it’s not exactly progressive.)

So the question must be not whether we do this, but how well – and how fast.

One concept … not knocking our socks off.
Can we do better? Let’s have a go!

Do it properly

Temporary closures to cars / opening to people is one thing (we’re used to parades, protests and events in our buzzing politically active city).

But a permanent carfreeing (allowing for essential mobility and being clever about deliveries) can’t just be done by slapping down some concrete blocks at the intersections. The network effects for moving things need to be managed in the transition.

But that’s a lot of space we could free up, which will need to be filled with useful stuff for both movement and for enjoying the place (hat tip to Placemaking Week, just been). Otherwise, it’ll be a big exposed inhospitable space, like a party when there’s not enough people in the room. And Lambton and to a lesser extent Willis can be a bit of a wind tunnel already.

How best can we make the Golden Mile not just “Better”, but actually a delightful place to be? A really Healthy Street? When you’re filling in some comments on the map thingy on the engagement site, don’t be too anchored on what we know. It’s hard, but be inspired! Say how you’d like to feel, be descriptive, say the outcome you want. There are very clever technical folks whose job is design. You don’t have to do that.

Top tip: when you’re in the engagement site, make sure you check out the “examples of” on the left. They’re not massively inspiring vs stuff we’re seeing – even in Auckland – but it’s a start. They’ll give you some prompts, anyway. And keep asking yourself: “what would be delightful?”

For proper inspiration: check out these cool before-and-afters from Google Streetview, here (a sample below)

Let’s try things out

As we figure out how to make the Golden Mile awesome, we’ll need to try things out. Trials and pilots and tactical urbanism, oh my! They’re a great way to feel how something works, or doesn’t quite, and tweak and innovate in realtime. So let’s encourage this.
Even that pillar of the establishment, the NZTA, are getting into pilots, trials, tactical urbanism – see some great case studies and guidance here.

Auckland’s High Street pilot is the first one of many experiments for prioritising people on key streets and humanising their entire central city via Access For Everyone. It’s really fricken cool. We, Wellington, are supposed to be smarter, more innovative, the smart capital blah blah… So let’s start trialling more cool things like this, now please.

Do right by the whole city

For a thriving city, the Golden Mile should be part of a whole network of pro-people streets with a few reserved for faster movement of vehicles.

For some inspiration, Slovenia’s capital Ljubljana recently carfreed their entire city core. The city government’s initiative (it took 10 years) was complemented by grassroots placemaking and other initiatives. According to Citylab they didn’t get everything right straight out of the blocks, but it’s lifted the city for people in all sorts of ways. (Pertinent: the then new mayor implemented it in year one of his first term, so the worst “shock of the new” was over and people were reaping benefits before the election came round. Forst of three terms for him. *Coughcough, hey new councils…)

Where’s our Access For Everyone strategy? Come on, city leaders and smart experts. Here and here isn’t enough, yet it’s literally all there’s been for years, including during LGWM…

Safer speeds in the central city

The second LGWM engagement now open is another “hurry up and do it already” but do it proper: lowering the inner city speed limit for vehicles to 30km/hr.

Physics knows all about us even if we don’t know about it (or choose to ignore it). Both consciously and unconsciously, we adjust our behaviour in environments with lots of big things that could hurt us. For everyone except adrenalin junkies, adjusting our behaviour both consciously and subconsciously means cramping our style.

Think about it: you hang onto the kids’ hands tightly, and don’t let them run ahead on the footpath. You don’t bike or scoot on the road even though you’d like to, because the traffic’s too often scarily fast. You hesitate and gather yourself for crossing the road if you’re old, or carrying bags, or have an impairment. Driving, you feel even a short stretch of clear road is reason to gas it bit because “I should be able to go 50km here, the sign says so, blimmin traffic and traffic lights”.

If you’ve been to another city where traffic speeds – true, operating speeds – are 30km or below, you’ll know it just feels nicer.

Cars act like guests here; the first-class citizens are the people.

More civilised. More like you belong; a place it’s OK to linger and wander, to cross back and forth across the road to things that catch your eye – paying attention, obviously, but not feeling the fight-or-flight “stare ’em down” cortisol that characterises street crossing when everything’s going faster. You can bike and scoot in the road, with traffic, without having to be an adrenalin junkie. (Yes, scooters off the footpath – because people can safely scoot in the road proper, not needing a separated lane! It’s like magic…)

So It’s a Yes already! to survivable speeds in our inner city.

Do it proper

This bollard: charming yarn outside, but still cast iron inside.

Slower official speed limits – the signs – are important, but they need to come with reshaping the street environment so “fresh humans” feel more entitled to move, and driving humans feel naturally inclined to go with caution. Environmental “nudges” to our subconscious when we’re driving are good (like narrowing the clear line of driving sight with trees, sculptures etc). Also vital: physical changes to the street so even those who are batsh*t crazy and determined to put people at risk by driving too fast can’t do so without (horror!) harming their vehicles. This is the difference between New York’s failed inner city 20mph zones, and London’s which work. (hint: we’ll need more bollards…)

Speak up!

Wellington’s had a few forays into safer inner city speeds and failed, thanks in no small part to pretty aggressive anti-30 framing by some journalists.

As a sensible person and reader of TW we assume you’re in favour of people-friendlier inner city streets. Your voice will be needed.
There’ll no doubt be “CONTROVERSY!” framing; there’s plenty of psychology-of-loss stuff motivating people to say “No I want to be able to drive go faster through the inner city!” “It’s too slow already!” “You can only ever go at 30ish anyway!” There’s more than an outside chance that the AA will take worrying positions on this, amplified by the strange whiff of “benevolent Establishment” they’ve built up over the years by being the place for our car and licence admin. (They opposed Auckland’s safer inner city speeds (!)). They’ll likely do so here too.)

So to sum up: two consultations underway; Carfreeing Golden Mile to be a bit imaginative on and 30km/hr one easy: just say Yes and do it proper. Open til December 15th. Get in there folks…

Further info:

Image credits:

  • Bollard – World Bollard Association on Twitter (worth a follow if you’re an infrastructure nerd)
  • Madrid shared street – Michael Kodransky, EURIST e.V.
  • Friedrichstrasse, Bonn – Michael Kodransky, EURIST e.V.
  • Lambton concept – LGWM’s RPI

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