New departures: Wellington’s wheels and deals

Part One of a six-part Saturday 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.


We make our streets, but they make us, too.

The shape of our streets, and the ways we have to get from A to B to C, mould the form of our everyday lives. After all, it’s in those spaces between buildings that we move around, meet people and get to know our capital. And in a great city, streets don’t have to be just small roads with car parks. They can be public spaces that are vibrant and productive, filled with people, exciting to be in.

Our streets, in short, can close off or open up our choices. This always matters, but it matters even more now. We’re at a once-in-a-generation decision point: the Let’s Get Wellington Moving process is about to spend $4 billion of public funding on transport, shaping our city for decades to come.

Wellingtonians have made it clear, in survey after survey, that we want more options for how we get around. But we’re increasingly frustrated at the way the built environment pushes us into choices and lives we don’t want.

We’re starting to ask, “Why can’t we make it better?” And we know that it’s our money – our collective rates and taxes – that pay for street building, public transport, and road and rail design. So it’s time to make those investments work for us.

Yet despite these clear calls from the capital’s citizens, Talk Wellington, a group of local transport analysts and commentators, isn’t confident that Let’s Get Wellington Moving will get it right. The vision guiding that $4 billion investment isn’t clear, and there are causes to doubt local decision-making which will follow Cabinet’s decisions.

So Talk Wellington has compiled this six-part series to help Wellingtonians – and their leaders – understand which transport investments will put us on track for a better future.

Our belief, perhaps counter-intuitively, is that the design of a good transport system doesn’t start with transport. It starts with the question, “What kind of lives do people want, and what do they care about?” Then it creates transport to support that.

Every time Wellingtonians – whether parents, young people, workers or business owners – are asked, we make it clear we want a city that is:

  • Easier to walk around;
  • Safer for scooting and cycling;
  • Less dominated by traffic and car parking;
  • Easier to get around by public transport;
  • Better-connected to the harbour and the Town Belt; and
  • More diverse, commercially vibrant, and supportive of strong communities.

So are we currently on the right track with our city-shaping transport investments? Nope.

As we’ll see in this series, our transport system actively closes off many of the options Wellingtonians would take if they had a free choice. Far too often, our current transport habits reflect not our genuine choices but rather what’s been imposed on us by decades of poor decision-making.

Despite our historically strong public transport, decision-makers have set things up so that our streets are dominated by private motor vehicles. The great majority of our public space is devoted to them – moving them, parking them – and this sharply limits the potential of our urban centres.

Meanwhile, the lack of realistic alternatives to driving, especially outside the central city, means we’re much more dependent on it than we want to be. Families hate having to always grab the car keys in order to commute, get the kids to school, travel to sports games, or even just get some bread and milk. And we’re all frustrated that our cars aren’t even able to do their one job – getting us from A to B conveniently – because of the congestion created by everyone else doing the same.

Yet the familiarity of driving makes us apprehensive about alternative proposals that would make streets more hospitable – initiatives for safer speeds, for more retail-friendly street layouts, or for efficient and climate-conscious transport.

In a city like Wellington, this just doesn’t make any sense.

So what should we do instead?

The remaining articles in this series will lay out a clear, practical vision. They’ll observe why Wellingtonians want better options, and explain why providing those options could spark meaningful changes in our travel patterns. They’ll describe how our city streets would look and feel if they were working properly for us, and how those street-level designs could be scaled up into a new plan for Wellington’s transport network.  

The series will also tell some home truths, the first of which is this: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. We need to stop creating new roads and widening existing ones.  It hasn’t reduced congestion anywhere in the world, and in Wellington it’s guaranteed to make traffic worse. Instead, we need to take ideas that have been proven to work elsewhere and then adapt them for Wellington’s specific needs. That’s what will deliver sensible and future-proofed investments of our money.

So as local leaders gear up to implement whatever results from Let’s Get Wellington moving, we’re hopeful that they’ll see things clearly. Wellingtonians know what transport strategies will give us better lives – and we’re raring to go.


In Part Two – Smart Moves – we find regular Wellingtonians hungry for better transport choices – echoing what thousands told Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Talk Wellington compiled this series with various subject-matter experts (in economics, engineering, and planning of transport and landuse). 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.


Image credits:

  • Lambton Quay visualisation – Caroline Sollerhed
  • Madrid shared street – Michael Kodransky, EURIST e.V.
  • Cars in congestion – Cleantechnica.com
  • Bus – Metlink
  • Berhampore Shops – Regan Dooley

6 comments on “New departures: Wellington’s wheels and deals”

  • Marc says:

    Something left out of all transport considerations is a Belgian study on motorcycling where it was found if 10% of drivers took up PTW’s (powered two wheels) then traffic conjestion would reduce by 40% – yes 40%. If this was achieved then Wellington wouldn’t have a conjestion problem, there’d be more room for cyclists, business’s would have a better time, parking would be easier, no need for expensive roading upgrades (Wellington Smart motorway) and infrastructures, less roading maintenance, less cycling backlash etc. PTW’s are extremely versatile from serious commuting scooters with all-weather protection so long distance tourers, mini scooters and electric bikes. I commute on a motorcycle and have been doing for almost 50 years winter and summer. IN recent floods, earthquakes and accidents causing Wellington to be cut off I’ve always been able to get through. Wellington Council virtually ignore us and benefits our mode of transport offers, preferring to heavily restrict our parking options with only 500 parking spaces for thousands of PTW riders.

  • paul bruce says:

    I have despaired to see our roads getting filled up with parked cars over the last 45 years, making it increasingly unsafe to cycle. Recently I have taken to using a bus to take my granddaughter to the capital city Montessori – she absolutely loves the ride and is now scooting the 3 km mostly downhill home. Now, I really pity the bus drivers having to negotiate roads mostly taken up by parked cars – since when have we been allowed to store our private property on arterial routes, destroying their primary purpose of transit? Our bus scrapped a parked car without the driver noticing – I really felt for the driver, but had to reluctantly inform him – was it really his fault?

  • luke says:

    roads are for movement not public storage of personal 1.5 tonne metal boxes.

  • Warren Nelson says:

    In all of these scenarios I see nothing that addresses the issues of the mobility impaired – including those in wheelchairs.
    Been through the debacle of ONE accessible bus on the Lower Hutt line during scheduled train outages.
    Just pathetic. Have to wait hours or “book” a bus a day ahead.
    After discussions with Metlink and Tranzdev Managers they are trying to get accessible buses provided for every replacement service.
    GWRC are clueless and don’t even respond to emails.
    Disable have rights to the same level of Public Transport as the rest of the community.
    God only knows why the Office of Disability isn’t all over this.
    Happy to talk with someone from DomPost.

    • Isabella Cawthorn says:

      This is a really *really* important point. Tautoko. I know Living Streets Aotearoa keep pushing for universal accessibility but it seems curiously hard for councils – those running PT and those making the streets!

      Our final piece in the series picks up on this issue but only for a streetscape aspect. We don’t get into the accessibility of PT vehicles; would you be able to point us to some good “101” info on the basics Wellington should get right as a matter of course?

  • Penelope Warren says:

    I would like to walk more in Wellington, but I often feel unsafe on the pathways. Bicycles come very fast, and scooters and scateboards. I would like to see more painted cycle paths and safer pavements please.

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