Posted by: senjmito | October 31, 2011

Flyover A, Flyover B, Project X, Light Rail…..Is it really so difficult to sort out a large roundabout?

A few facts

Fact 1 – there’s a large roundabout in south Wellington. It happens to have a cricket ground in it. And for the record, it is called the “Basin” because it was to be a shipping basin back in the days before the 1855 earthquake. Kent and Cambridge Terraces were made wide enough for shipping channels, not for cars. But that means it’s perfect for light rail.

Fact 2 – it is part of State Highway 1, which makes NZTA think it should be huge and fast and made for cars.

Fact 3 – it’s in the middle of a city and doesn’t really go anywhere. I mean, there isn’t much down there except an airport and a rather wide and unbridgeable strait. The real end of SH 1 is at the ferry terminal.

Fact 4 – it’s a bit congested at some times of the day. It can take whole seconds to get through it, perhaps even minutes on a very bad day. But you could say the same for Newtown. Or Kilbirnie. Or in fact most major intersections on Wellington’s main roads.

Fact 5 – some buses go through the Basin. Not all – a lot go up Taranaki Street or through the Pirie St bus tunnel. But quite a lot.

So let’s face it, it’s just another Wellington roundabout with the typical sort of congestion problems that you get in a city where too many people drive and the public transport system doesn’t work well enough.

So what should we to our problematic roundabout?

NZTA says we have to have grade separation. That means that cars going in one direction are above or below the cars going the other way. Voila! No intersection. No problem.

And they’ve looked at all the options and decided in their wisdom that the only affordable way to achieve that is to make some cars go upwards – build a bridge (that’s a flyover to everyone else).

The Architecture Centre had a look at it and said that while that might be cheaper, it would be much nastier. Making some cars go down through a tunnel would give us a lovely memorial park.

And Wellington City looked at it and said that they liked the idea of a park, but not the idea of spending more money right now, but they didn’t much like the flyover…

And Greater Wellington said that they felt obliged to support the flyover because it was the only answer to the public transport problems and what the Corridor Plan they had signed said we had to have.

Confused yet? You should be. Because….

More facts

Fact 6 – it isn’t what the Corridor Plan said had to happen. In fact, more road capacity at the Basin will probably have the opposite effect to what the Corridor Plan set out to achieve – improve public transport through the central city to the airport and make life easier for cyclists and pedestrians.

Fact 7 – you don’t need grade separation to fix the public transport problem. So that’s a red herring unless what you are discussing is a memorial park.

Fact 8 – grade separation of any sort costs a lot of money that could be spent on other things.

What we really need is…

Fix the inefficiencies in the bus system. Greater Wellington is in the middle of a review that is proposing to do just that, by creating a more efficient overall network. Go GW.

Provide bus priority through the whole Golden Mile, around the Basin and into Newtown. That can be done now. WCC has lots of designs – they just need more interest from councillors to doing it. But they are starting. Go WCC.

Those two measures will remove most of the delays for bus services from Island Bay, and give more frequent and reliable services.

And all by passing some bylaws and investing in some paint and other cheap things. And without grade separation.

And then we can spend all those other millions on light rail to the airport.

And then people will use public transport instead of taxis and cars, and we won’t need a second tunnel and an expressway through Hataitai.

And we’ll have even more money left over to spend on more exciting things…..

— Paula Warren



  1. Dear Paula,

    Thank you for your article.

    About bus priority on the Golden Mile; we and most Wellington bus drivers believe this to be a myth and needs to be proven. A request to the Public Transport Quality Team at GW provided us with information showing there never was a problem with bus reliability. Statistics provided over the period 2009/11 shows bus reliability fluctuates between 99.5% and 99.1%.

    Fact is WCC ignored/traded off their Walking and Cycling Policy in favour of bus-priority stranding cyclist and pedestrians in a sub-standard environment neither buses nor pedestrian can safely use. The price of travel predominantly dictates whether the public will use this service or not, as you know bus patronage has been flat for some time and about to take another hit with fare increases imposed, this time by GW.

    In addition if we considered banning CBD – Airport taxi’s from the basin and redirected them along the scenic route all lot of the congestion would dissolve around the Basin during peak-times. With GW pulling bus services to private schools the lane that sits empty most of the time in front of Wellington College and St. Marks can be reconfigured with a bit of paint and deal with south bound peak time traffic.

    Never the less we are dictated by demands from Wellington Airport waving million dollar budgets and a promise of 11.000 new jobs for the region if transport solutions such as doubling of the Mt. Victoria tunnel and widening of Ruahine Street are provided, and Manners Mall was sacrificed for. We believe with the current demands and the fact Wellington City Council relies on the annual dividends from their Airport shareholdings you and I will get very little say in the matter.

    The City is Ours Inc.

  2. […] This article was first published on the website of Sustainable Wellington Transport […]

  3. Great news – common sense is starting to provide us with sensible solutions to our (some people’s?) imagined problems. Even aiming to save us money.

    I note that this common sense is dawning just one year out from the next local government elections, but it is becoming clear that while many of our present councillors have decided that they do not want to be future leaders of our community, they do seem to want to take us down with them as they go.

  4. Fact :The big yellow buses used in Wellington are useless. The are not used because they are dirty and are too big for local roads. During the day they are mostly empty.
    Answer: Much smaller electric buses, running more often. Does not take a genius to work that out.Cheaper fares for hybrid taxis.The country, city could have tax incentives for public transport using the money not spent on dumb motor ways that only add to the traffic problem.

    • While it’s not possible for us to access actual patronage data for Go Wellington’s big yellow buses, we have an aggregate available that is supplied by Metlink: The annual patronage measure splits peak and off-peak travel. It’s worth noting that off-peak patronage is on the same level as peak patronage, which suggests that those big yellow buses aren’t actually empty during the day and they’re certainly not empty during peak periods. Those buses may be useful after all.

      Smaller buses may have a part to play in the network, but I doubt that we’d agree on where. Full-sized buses should be in use on high-patronage lines, even when the streets are narrow. I’d argue that on-street parking should give way to buses before buses are replaced. Smaller form buses or shuttles could be used in low-density (read: low patronage) areas to provide on-demand service that connects residents to the high-frequency lines.

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