Posted by: Gregory | April 12, 2015

Making Use of Canal Reserve

I’ve been thinking about Canal Reserve a lot recently. I hinted at it at the end of this post in December, referring to it as a “dead space”. I’ve walked the length a few times while out with the dog in the 5-6am time-frame and I keep thinking that it’s got to be easy to fix it, at least parts of it. Finally, with the WCC Virtual Ward Meeting during the week, I put the question to the councillors:


With both Councillor Pannett and Councillor Young indicating that there’s a plan to open the stream to the surface, it sounds like a reasonable amount of work would be needed for planning and redevelopment. In the meantime, the blocks are still disjointed and difficult to walk continuously. Leaving Canal Reserve in this state for another few years would be a waste, which is quite contrary to Young’s reply further down the thread.


I think there’s work that should be done in the meantime. If we can do some simple changes, especially if they’re low cost, that bring people into the space, the redevelopment costs will be much more palatable.

Between the Basin Reserve and Wakefield Street, Canal Reserve is broken in 7 places. I think of this in 3 sections, which roughly progress south to north: easy, harder and difficult. Let’s take them in that order.

Easy Bits

CanalReserveEasyAfter exiting the basin, pedestrians get a zebra crossing to clear Buckle Street. This is how it should be. However, most pedestrians and cyclist leave the canal before the end of the first block. The pedestrian crossings across Kent and Cambridge Terraces get reasonably heavy use because it’s much easier to walk opposite the reserve than on it.

Before Vivian St, at the top of the map, there are two sets of turning lanes. There’s a set of barriers at each bay that get closed on weekend evenings to keep boy racers from being a problem. While the turning bays are open, the barriers block much of the possible pathway between reserve blocks.

The fix here is easy. Replace the hard kerbs with dropped kerbs and paint zebra crossings between the blocks. Alternatively, a raised table could be built to achieve the same pedestrian effect with the benefit of ensuring slower turning traffic. If the barriers are still needed, they should be realigned to not block pedestrian flow with the turning bays are open. If there were a bit more money available, electronically controlled bollards would be a better solution.

CanalReserveEasy2In a similar vein, but further north, there are two single-lane turning bays that are fixable in exactly the same way. There’s actually less of an impediment to fixing this one, since the barriers aren’t in the way. This is so much of a no-brainer, it’s ludicrous that it hasn’t already been done. This area already gets much more foot traffic than the rest of Canal Reserve, but the design does nothing to keep people there. Instead, the flow is directly across with barely a glance at the benches on these blocks.

None of these fixes would cause any serious impediment to existing traffic. The turning bays get modest amounts of traffic, which already have to give way to north-south traffic. Unless there’s a significant boost in pedestrian numbers, there should be no change to vehicle travel times for those that depend on the turning bays.

Harder Bits


Walking north along the reserve, Vivian St is the first major impasse. This is not surprising, being SH1 and carrying all the anti-pedestrian connotations that go with it. Crossing Vivian St is not a difficult problem, but it takes a bit more infrastructure. In the current format, there are informal barriers put in place to keep pedestrians from staying on Canal Reserve. The only pedestrian link from the north end of this block crosses Cambridge Terrace. To get back to the reserve to continue northbound, a legally crossing pedestrian would need to make three road crossings.

The fix for crossing Vivian and staying on the reserve is to implement a pedestrian signal that’s aligned with the north-south green phase. It’s a reasonably long phase and there is currently no turning traffic allowed during the phase. As a result, there should be no consequences to the existing traffic flow. For a harder problem, this is pretty easy.

Elizabeth is a little harder yet, but only because the current arrangement is actually really stupid. I can’t see any good reason why planners have put a stop line in the intersection here. There is no benefit in having a queue the length of a bus (as shown in the satellite image) waiting for a green phase. This intersection should operate in the same fashion as Vivian Street, but for some reason doesn’t. This time, there is no legal way to cross over to the next section.

The fix here is to remove the stupid bits and do exactly the same thing as for Vivian Street. The north-south green phase does exactly the same thing and turning is once again forbidden, so there’s ample time for pedestrians to cross. Fixing this would probably improve some of the snarls that occasionally happen with turning traffic inadvertently blocking the intersection for other users.

The Difficult Bit

Take a closer look at the image of the two turning bays astride the Courtenay Place crossing.


While the turning bays are easy, the Courtenay Place crossing isn’t. There is a long north-south phase again, but this time there’s stuff in the way. Look at the StreetView imagery of the intersection. There are plantings on both sides, a sculpture on the south side and utility pole that all sit in the way. While not impossible to redevelop those areas for a pedestrian crossing, that pushes the costs up quickly. Trying to do something quick and easy as an interim measure doesn’t make sense here. I’d probably draw the line before doing this one.

The end result is that four of the seven breaks could be fixed with dropped kerbs and zebra crossings. The next two could be fixed with pedestrian signals that run in-phase with existing traffic flows. The last one is probably not worthwhile, assuming we’re going for a quick fix. The benefits to walkability would be immense, and I wouldn’t be overly surprised if someone applied for a permit to run a coffee kiosk in one of those parking spots that line the reserve, creating a positive feedback loop to further encourage pedestrians into the space.

I’d love to hear what Transport & Urban Development have to say about this. All of this is just my read of the environment, so I could easily be wrong about this. However, even if my guess of costs around off by an order of magnitude, it’s probably still worth the effort for the easy bits.



  1. Good stuff, Greg – much more could be made of the two Terraces than now. My vision is for a proper walking route, a linear park incorporating the stream, a public transport corridor, ideally trams on grassed track – and demolishing New World (or at least swapping the building and its carpark) to give a proper viewshaft.

    I walked it yesterday, and I’d just add that the crossing at Vivian St is made more confusing by the two-lane road across the reserve being alternately one-way east (SH1) and one way west (from Mt Vic). Is this unique?

    A minor but irritating niggle: there’s only one call button on the pedestrian crossings at the Basin end, so if you’re walking from the Reserve to the Mt Vic tunnel you have to go to the further post to get across. Why not have a button on the nearer post, too?

    And of course another body has its eye on the Reserve – the not-yet-dead Basin flyover would have supports in the Reserve outside the Basin entrance.

    • You’re mostly right about the Vivian St intersection. Pirie Street is opposite, but is two way. As a result, Vivian St traffic can travel up through the intersection and up the hill, blocking a potential pedestrian phase. The downhill Pirie St traffic gets a seperate phase, including a turning arrow onto Cambridge Terrace. From the point of view of a pedestrian along the reserve, this is an ignorable detail unless crossing against the signal.

      I’d seen some notes from 2013 that WCC was planning to use beautification of Canal Reserve as mitigation from the damage from the flyover. I’m still hoping that the flyover dies, but the jury has yet to sit.

  2. Reblogged this on strathmorepark.

  3. what about all those cries for light rail or bus rapid transit, where is it going to go if the canal is pedestrianized? Any imagery for these public transit options paint all roads wider than they actually are.

    • My guess is that the car parking spaces along the reserve are expendable. There’s also room to shave lane width down a bit.

    • Excluding the reserve and the footpaths, the road here is 10 lanes wide, by far the widest in Wellington. How much space do we need?

      • We could make a very easy argument that there’s too many lanes as it is. NZTA won’t likely give up the southbound SH1 surface, but the northbound route along Cambridge Terrace should shrink by a lane on the basis that it’s too wide for the requirements.

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