The movable feast that is Let’s Get Welly Moving

Warning, some images may not reflect reality.

Kapiti Expressway Wikimedia

There’s a problem with Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

IMG_20190527_115905[1]

Well, you’d expect that in a document that comes out in May 2019 with October in the headline.

But where Let’s Get Welly Moving really comes unstuck is it’s a local fix to a regional problem.

Much of the traffic LGWM is designed to address comes not from Wellington City, but from the growing suburbs and commuter towns to the north, and the new roads built to accommodate, and in some cases, encourage that growth.

Those advocating for better alternatives to the private car, celebrated the LGWM announcement. So they should. For a start Wellington Mayor, Justin Lestor, and transport minister, Phil Twyford, chose the city’s railway station as the venue for their big reveal.

And it is significant their announcement did not include a major programme of new roads at the top of the list.

But the roads are still there, just buried in the text. Their importance open to interpretation. Will Wellington build a mass transit  link from its railway station to Newtown before it builds a second Mt Victoria Tunnel? At the same time?

Then there’s the unanswered question as to what form that mass transit will take. Trackless trams? Light rail?

It took Auckland a long time to convince the previous National lead government to proceed with its City Rail Link. That may have been frustrating for the CRL’s supporters, but it did bring one benefit. By the time John Key and then transport minister, Simon Bridges, recognised its merit, Aucklanders (including Auckland businesses) were pretty united in their support for it.

The same can’t be said for Wellington. Let’s Get Welly Moving might have come up with a plan, but I’m not convinced it’s achieved consensus. The Chamber of Commerce still wants the roads, if not first, then at least at the same time as the other stuff. Local National MPs have been vocal in their calls for the Government to complete road projects promised by the previous administration.

And all the while, that low density car focused residential development continues. In Whitby, above the Hutt, and along the Kapiti Coast, as the increased traffic flow of Transmission Gully and the Expressway extension approaches with the inevitability  of an advancing glacier – not that we see many  of those in real life these days.

Let’s Get Welly Moving’s first tranche of proposals involve plucking the seemingly low hanging fruit of calming city traffic, giving more road space over to buses, cyclists and micro-mobility users, encouraging walking; all the stuff that a growing number of poeple living in the central city love.

But their needs are on a potential collision course with those from the North, who either choose, or have no option but to live in Carland.

And if you didn’t click on the link, here’s a bit of the sales pitch to give you an idea of what I mean;

The suburb of Whitby, within Porirua City, is set to leverage off the infrastructural benefits of the Transmission Gully project which promises to cut commute times to Wellington city.

The Automobile Association’s Mike Noon made an observation about “lifestyle choices”  when I got his reaction to LGWM the other day. And he has a point. The kids are marching to stop climate change, but many  Mums and Dads are still buying SUVs. They’re still investing in low density housing, and even when someone suggests a bus service might be a good idea, some of them oppose it.

Most of the people who move to such places expect to be able to drive where they want without encountering congestion, and for the first few years that’s often the case. Think about the space you currently enjoy on the Kapiti Expressway.  Just like the artists impression at the top of this blog…

It won’t last. Soon more homes pop up, housing residents with more cars and the same expectations. Now the call is for an Expressway all the way to Levin to the north, and “Four Lanes to the Planes” to the south.

That’s why I spent a bit of time up the coast the other day. I needed the reality check. As the (probably) outgoing chair of the Wellington Regional Council said of the LGWM launch; “it’s the beginning of the beginning”. Mr Laidlaw hasn’t exactly covered himself with glory recently, but he’s right about that.

Let’s Get Welly Moving isn’t locked and loaded. The results of this year’s local, and next year’s national elections will have a significant bearing on what gets priority – although it is important to note, as Isabella Cawthorn from Talk Welly does so well in this edition of Traffic Jam, for once, the motoring lobby isn’t in the driving seat.

But we can’t solve Wellington City’s mobility problems and ignore the needs of the wider region. That’s why investment in public and active transport in Kapiti and the Hutt is key. That’s why the choices residential developers make on greenfield sites matter. That’s why the connectivity of whatever mass transit mode Wellington City decides on, is crucial.

Why would you ditch the car for the train in Kapiti, if you have to walk several hundred metres through a subway at Wellington Railway Station to catch a trackless tram to get to Newtown? In fact why would even bother driving to Waikanae station on a week day when the park and ride is already full?

Or, as I hint at the end of my podcast with Mike Noon, is there an even deeper question? Is the low density housing model an unsustainable solution subsidised by roads?

I’m not quite ready to declare war on cars. I still like to drive, as well as cycle, bus, walk and train. However, I am enjoying a podcast by those who have. For a fresh view on mobility with a nice light touch, I recommend these guys.

In the meantime, keep asking the questions, keep the smart debate going, and when you’re stuck in a jam, keep thinking.

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