Is banning cars from Central Wellington a Good Thing?

In my previous article, I wrote that banning cars from central Wellington was bad for retail and the city’s wellbeing. Whilst preparing that argument, it occurred to me that this could be a good idea, if done properly. However, as the NZ Retail submission noted, “The glaring omission in all three proposals is the provision of alternative parking options”. This position needs to be expanded on in detail. Therefore, I have prepared my idealistic vision as to how a carless city could work (though I doubt any of this will be implemented).

Dear Tamatha Paul,

I read in the Dominion Post (9 April 2021), that you put a motion to the Wellington City Council (WCC) that central Wellington be carless by 2025. Nine councillors voted in support of this ideologic target. This is ideological, not visionary. As the same article, highlighted, state highway one (SH1) runs right through the middle of Wellington. This is a major problem to begin with. Also, this motion runs completely counter to Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM), a programme that is already in place. I would like to discuss these issues, how to work around them, and make central Wellington a vibrant, carless city.

It is one thing to be ideological, but it is another matter to have a vision and a road map to achieve that vision. The first issue is how to remove SH1 from the centre of Wellington. Many years ago, it was proposed to do a cut and cover of SH1 through Wellington. This would have removed cars and reduced congestion. Unfortunately, because of objections and the process of the Resource Management Act, this proposal was rejected and consequently, we have ended up with the very problem that was supposed to have been avoided in the first place.

To overcome congestion on SHI from the Terrace tunnel to the Mount Victoria tunnel, a cut and cover should be implemented. This has two important outcomes. Firstly, it removes cars from central Wellington. Secondly, it frees up time and access to the eastern suburbs, which are currently poorly serviced. Cars are not going to go away. Over the next twenty years, petrol cars will be slowly replaced by hybrids, electric and hydrogen cars. Thus, it is just the method of propelling cars that will change. Clearly there will be a need to build an extra Mt Victoria tunnel, and dare I add, widening the Terrace tunnel too, thus ensuring a smooth flow of traffic through the city.

A more controversial option is to double lane the Terrace tunnel and build a tunnel from the Terrace to Cobham Drive, as Dave Armstrong rather cynically parodied in his article of 16 February 2021, calling this Waterview 2. The Waterview tunnel in Auckland has significantly improved traffic flow and the time taken to cross Auckland (I drive from Auckland airport to Ponsonby in 25 minutes, in rush hour, a distance of 22km. At the same time I drive from Wellington airport to Wadestown in 45 minutes, in rush hour, via Oriental Bay, a distance of 11km). The point here is multi layered: more productive time, less pollution, lower costs, less congestion and no SH1 in central Wellington. This has also worked in other cities including Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane where tunnels have been successfully built under the cities with positive outcomes. However, this idea is too radical for you and your councillors. It still panders to cars, which you dislike. Furthermore, the only exits would be onto Willis St, the Basin Reserve, Hataitai and Cobham Drive.

The city boundary is essentially from Bowen St to the waterfront, along Waterloo and Customhouse Quay, Wakefield St to Cambridge/Kent Terrace; then around the Basin Reserve and back to Webb St, Willis St, Boulcott St and up to the Terrace. This is a substantial area without cars. Consequently, both retail and commercial areas will be greatly affected. I noted the other Saturday night, let alone during the day, traffic coming into Wellington was at a standstill. Under a carless city, these cars have nowhere to go. As I highlighted in my previous article, retail would be severely impacted, even during the week. Therefore, to cater for those who wish not to use buses or trains, at least four parking hubs are needed on the city edge to allow for people to park and then hop onto buses to move around the carless area. These hubs need to be built strategically; an expanded parking area by the railway station, another  near Oriental Bay, Cambridge Terrace, another near Adelaide Rd, and a fourth one for traffic coming from Brooklyn and the western suburbs.

To encourage use of trains from Porirua and the Hutt Valley, parking bays along these routes need to be expanded and made free. Further, the service needs to be improved by having trains approximately every 15 minutes during the day and in the early evenings. Clearly you need to get regional councils on board to support this vision. Sadly, this is something I do not think you will achieve. Fares also need to be reasonable (I can travel by train and underground in London for less than I can from Lower Hutt to Wellington).

Wellington Regional Council must improve the bus service in the outer lying suburbs by improving bus frequency. As I stated in my previous article, I must catch two buses from Wilton to Courtenay Place. To encourage people of all ages, you need to have a frequent bus service that allows travellers to get from A to B with as little inconvenience as possible. But again, I do not think you will get much joy here either.

With people now at the outer reaches of the carless city, you will need to undertake as many largescale projects as possible. Most importantly, you will need to make central Wellington a destination place that people want to go to. As businesses leave the city (because they cannot drive to work, or clients cannot get to them), you will need to improve the city with parks, galleries, places of interest, easy access to restaurant and bars, and of course retail, as well as attracting those small companies that want to work in a healthy, carless environment. To assist moving around the city, you will need to build a network of hop on, hop off buses that travel around this vast, carless area. These little buses, or trams, need to link with the railway station, buses from the outer suburbs and the car hubs. Covered walkways will be needed for the days when foul weather grips central Wellington. Multiple cycleways and walkways will also be necessary. An attraction like the one in New York that runs along and above the streets and is very chic with shops, restaurants and bars would work well. Central Wellington needs to be a place that tourists want to visit.

Lastly, you will need to increase the density of the inner city.  Wellington (from Karori to Seatoun, and from Khandallah to Island Bay), is approximately 215,000. Many residents from the Hutt Valley and Porirua will not come into Wellington because it is too hard, and these people need to be replaced by people in the central city. Currently, there are not many. I suggest the population of Wellington needs to increase by 80,000 in the outer suburbs, as well as in central Wellington. Central Wellington is looking to increase housing, so this is a plus. Housing needs to be consistent with an attractive city, as outlined above. A careful balance between high and low rise needs to be built, like Greenwich Village in New York, or a Balmain or Glebe in Sydney. The population needs to have the ability to shop, work, socialise and live in a vibrant community. Many of these people would move into buildings being vacated by businesses, hotels and even government departments, as well as new housing being built amongst the parks, walk and cycleways and chic areas of town. These people would of course supplement those shoppers, and those now unable, or unwilling to come into the city centre.

However, Tamatha, this all comes at a cost and a major reconstruction to Wellington. My question is, does WCC, Wellington Regional Council and government have the desire to implement a vision and a complete rebuild of central Wellington at a substantial cost, both in the rebuild and potential loss of revenue as businesses move out and a loss of revenue from no cars?

I will attempt to address the cost benefit analysis in my final article. Unfortunately, I am no expert, but I will explore the pros and cons financially, to see what this all means for Wellington in the long term.

Leave a Reply