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New departures: Wellington’s wheels and deals – Part 1 of 6

Part One of a six-part Saturday series, compiled by Talk Wellington, that outlines a sensible vision for transport. This is a space that needs filling even as Let’s Get Wellington Moving prepares to spend $4 billion on transport in the capital.

We make our streets, but they make us, too.

The shape of our streets, and the ways we have to get from A to B to C, mould the form of our everyday lives. After all, it’s in those spaces between buildings that we move around, meet people and get to know our capital. And in a great city, streets don’t have to be just small roads with car parks. They can be public spaces that are vibrant and productive, filled with people, exciting to be in.

Our streets, in short, can close off or open up our choices. This always matters, but it matters even more now. We’re at a once-in-a-generation decision point: the Let’s Get Wellington Moving process is about to spend $4 billion of public funding on transport, shaping our city for decades to come.

Wellingtonians have made it clear, in survey after survey, that we want more options for how we get around. But we’re increasingly frustrated at the way the built environment pushes us into choices and lives we don’t want.

We’re starting to ask, “Why can’t we make it better?” And we know that it’s our money – our collective rates and taxes – that pay for street building, public transport, and road and rail design. So it’s time to make those investments work for us.

Yet despite these clear calls from the capital’s citizens, Talk Wellington, a group of local transport analysts and commentators, isn’t confident that Let’s Get Wellington Moving will get it right. The vision guiding that $4 billion investment isn’t clear, and there are causes to doubt local decision-making which will follow Cabinet’s decisions.

So Talk Wellington has compiled this six-part series to help Wellingtonians – and their leaders – understand which transport investments will put us on track for a better future.

Our belief, perhaps counter-intuitively, is that the design of a good transport system doesn’t start with transport. It starts with the question, “What kind of lives do people want, and what do they care about?” Then it creates transport to support that.

Every time Wellingtonians – whether parents, young people, workers or business owners – are asked, we make it clear we want a city that is:

  • Easier to walk around;
  • Safer for scooting and cycling;
  • Less dominated by traffic and car parking;
  • Easier to get around by public transport;
  • Better-connected to the harbour and the Town Belt; and
  • More diverse, commercially vibrant, and supportive of strong communities.

So are we currently on the right track with our city-shaping transport investments? Nope.

As we’ll see in this series, our transport system actively closes off many of the options Wellingtonians would take if they had a free choice. Far too often, our current transport habits reflect not our genuine choices but rather what’s been imposed on us by decades of poor decision-making.

Despite our historically strong public transport, decision-makers have set things up so that our streets are dominated by private motor vehicles. The great majority of our public space is devoted to them – moving them, parking them – and this sharply limits the potential of our urban centres.

Meanwhile, the lack of realistic alternatives to driving, especially outside the central city, means we’re much more dependent on it than we want to be. Families hate having to always grab the car keys in order to commute, get the kids to school, travel to sports games, or even just get some bread and milk. And we’re all frustrated that our cars aren’t even able to do their one job – getting us from A to B conveniently – because of the congestion created by everyone else doing the same.

Yet the familiarity of driving makes us apprehensive about alternative proposals that would make streets more hospitable – initiatives for safer speeds, for more retail-friendly street layouts, or for efficient and climate-conscious transport.

In a city like Wellington, this just doesn’t make any sense.

So what should we do instead? 

The remaining articles in this series will lay out a clear, practical vision. They’ll observe why Wellingtonians want better options, and explain why providing those options could spark meaningful changes in our travel patterns. They’ll describe how our city streets would look and feel if they were working properly for us, and how those street-level designs could be scaled up into a new plan for Wellington’s transport network.

The series will also tell some home truths, the first of which is this: when you’re in a hole, stop digging. We need to stop creating new roads and widening existing ones.  It hasn’t reduced congestion anywhere in the world, and in Wellington it’s guaranteed to make traffic worse. Instead, we need to take ideas that have been proven to work elsewhere and then adapt them for Wellington’s specific needs. That’s what will deliver sensible and future-proofed investments of our money.

So as local leaders gear up to implement whatever results from Let’s Get Wellington moving, we’re hopeful that they’ll see things clearly. Wellingtonians know what transport strategies will give us better lives – and we’re raring to go.


In Part Two – Smart Moves – we find regular Wellingtonians hungry for better transport choices – echoing what thousands told Let’s Get Wellington Moving.

Talk Wellington compiled this series with various subject-matter experts (in economics, engineering, and planning of transport and landuse). We do this because Wellington people deserve to be better informed, so people – and our politicians – can do better in the big and small decisions that shape our towns and cities. Read about us here.


Image credits:

  • Lambton Quay visualisation – Caroline Sollerhed
  • Madrid shared street – Michael Kodransky, EURIST e.V.
  • Cars in congestion – Cleantechnica.com
  • Bus – Metlink
  • Berhampore Shops – Regan Dooley

-Content from TalkWellington

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