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Good transport plans start with the question:
What kind of city do we want? The answer will shape our city. Do we want a polluted, congested city, or one that is people-centred, safer and more liveable? Population growth and Transmission Gully traffic threaten to clog our roads. Building more road space and road tunnels attracts more vehicles; but the Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) programme, supported by its 5 years of widespread public consultation, is moving more people with fewer vehicles. Transport is Wellington’s largest source of carbon emissions, so more roads will flout WCC’s and GWRC’s climate change emergency declarations.
LGWM has proposed Rapid Transit linking Wellington Rail Station to the eastern suburbs and airport. It seeks to achieve a high-capacity service that is frequent, fast and comfortable, giving people an attractive alternative to using their cars. The proposed route is along the waterfront Quays, Taranaki Street, past the Basin Reserve and Regional Hospital, through Newtown to the zoo, then a tunnel under Mt Albert to Kilbirnie, Miramar and the Airport. An alternative route via Kent and Cambridge Terraces and Mt Victoria would be more direct and faster, but miss the opportunity to create medium-density, transit-oriented communities along the Newtown route, and associated greater ridership.
To realise the city-shaping benefits of LGWM’s proposed Newtown route, the design needs a dedicated rapid transit corridor, with priority at intersections and a target minimum average speed of 30 km/hr. Travel to and from the eastern suburbs will be faster, safer and healthier than by car at peak times.
Rapid transit is by far the best option for moving more people using fewer vehicles. Building rapid transit from the railway station to the airport as a single project, completed within 10 years, will quickly offer people in the eastern suburbs a congestion-free journey to and from the city centre. The risk in LGWM’s 2-staged construction — to Newtown first and to the airport later — is that stage 1 may not generate enough ridership to make it financially viable on its own.
LGWM is considering three forms of rapid transit: Light rail (LRT), Trackless tram (TT) and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). LRT has far greater speed and capacity than motor vehicles at peak hours, although off-peak driving may be faster. LRT lanes can carry up to 10,000 people an hour, all day, every day. A single lane of cars can transport approximately 1500 people an hour, but far fewer in stop-start traffic. Operating along a fixed route, LRT will give developers certainty, boosting land values by millions of dollars and providing the opportunity for additional targeted rates revenue that can be used to offset development and operating costs.
‘Trackless tram’ is a guided-bus system developed by CCRC in China. Proponents believe it will be significantly cheaper than light rail with similar passenger-carrying capacity. But, as it runs on existing roads, ruts may become a major problem and require expensive road strengthening. We have no way of knowing whether trackless tram will attract transit-oriented development along its route. It is a proprietary option dependent on one supplier and is unproven for commercial use. These and other unknowns make TT a high-risk choice.
Bus Rapid Transit was the recommended option for the 2013 Public Transport Spine Study, but failed to gain traction. It lacks the carrying capacity of light rail and trackless tram. To be effective BRT needs 4 lanes at stops so buses can pass one another, something most Wellington streets do not offer.
The answer to the question
What kind of city do we want? gives the blueprint for our desired urban form; design the transport system to fit that urban form. Our council representatives and NZTA make up LGWM and their 5 years of research answers the question of what Wellington citizens want for the city: a system that will move more people with fewer vehicles. The time for more consultation is over. FIT’s call to central government is to quickly adopt LGWM’s rapid transit plan, using light rail on a Newtown route. In the face of our climate emergency and increasing congestion, we need no further delay — just get on and do it.
We need to address traffic congestion east of Mt Victoria this decade. BRT won’t work in Wellington; TT is high risk; LRT meets all requirements. The best time to start building rapid transit was 10 years ago. The next best time is now.