Wellingtonians have overwhelmingly backed a radical plan to remove cars from Golden Mile, significantly widen footpaths and turn several side streets in Wellington’s inner city into pedestrian-only zones.
Almost 2000 people gave feedback on three options for proposed changes to Wellington’s Golden Mile, which runs from 1.5 miles from the Beehive to the end of Courtenay Place.
The vast majority supported the “transform” option, the most radical of the three options to reform Wellington’s main shopping and entertainment area. The plan would cost up to $80 million and remove up to 200 car parks between Wellington Railway Station and Kent/Cambridge Terrace.
It is part of the $6.4 billion Let’s Get Wellington Moving programme designed to overhaul the capital’s transport infrastructure.
Isabella Cawthorn of Talk Wellington, a group that advocates for a more liveable capital, said the feedback showed a demand for a more people-centric city. “When you have a nice attractive environment for people to walk around, shop and linger in, they spend more time there,” she said.
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The “transform” option would remove all public traffic from the Golden Mile, create bus-only lanes along the entire stretch, and widen footpaths by as much as 75 per cent.
The plan proposes pedestrianising the end of almost every side street which connects on to the Golden Mile, including Tory Street, Lower Cuba Street, and areas surrounding Midland Park on Lambton Quay. Service vehicles would still be able to access the streets when required.
It would also create a shared zone beside the footpath for cycling and electric scooters along Lambton Quay.
Some bus stops along the route would be closed or moved to reduce bus congestion the streets. New, larger bus stops would be built, separated from the main footpath area.
The other two concepts proposed were titled “streamline” which would some general traffic off the Golden Mile while making buses more reliable, and “prioritise” which would create two bus priority lanes along much of the road, but allowed less room for walking and cycling.
Submitters were asked which of the three plans they liked best for Willis Street, Lambton Quay, and Courtenay Place respectively.
All three surveys returned similar results, at least 60 per cent support for the “transform” plan for all three streets. No other plan topped 13 per cent on any street.
The “transform” option was the favoured option of the Greater Wellington Regional Council, because of its benefits for public transport.
The changes would take an average of 3 minutes and 40 seconds off the time it takes a bus to travel the full length of the Golden Mile, according to estimates from Let’s Get Wellington Moving, which is a partnership between Wellington City Council, the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency.
“This ensures the buses transiting the Golden Mile are able to keep to time. It will give the public more certainty, it means they can expect their bus within one to two minutes of the schedules rather than five to ten minutes,” regional council chair Daran Ponter said.
Almost 95 per cent of buses in Wellington’s centre city pass through the Golden Mile.
In terms of tackling the problems of Wellington’s bus delays, the Golden Mile is “a damn good place to start,” Ponter said.
Wellington’s urban transport nerds are celebrating the result as a triumph. “It will mean we’re the most vibrant city in New Zealand, one that other cities can look to as an example. I’m bloody pumped,” micro-mobility expert Oliver Bruce said.
Cuba St was an example of how pedestrianisation can revitalise a street, he said.
“The most vibrant retail districts in the world are pedestrianised and facilitated with mass transit,” Bruce said. “Covid reminded us about our love of being in public spaces together. As soon as we had the opportunity, people wanted to be out and about together as much as we can.”
The report found that just 14 per cent of those surveyed travelled to the Golden Mile via car, and only 4 per cent used cars to get around the Golden Mile
“The Golden Mile is already dominated by people, not cars. We’ve got to remember: Cars don’t shop, people do,” said Cawthorn of Talk Wellington.
However, the battle over the Golden Mile has proven a sore point for retail and hospitality business owners concerned that changes would lead to a downturn in shoppers.
A separate group of Lambton Quay retailers also raised concerns that closing side streets would make it difficult for delivery trucks to access their businesses.
Chris Wilkinson of First Retail group said he wanted more consultation before a final decision was made, as many business owners had been distracted by the impacts of Covid-19.
“It would be inappropriate to base decisions of this magnitude on this number of respondents. Given the importance for Wellington and the region, it’s important we get this right,” he said.
Wellington City Councillor Diane Calvert also criticised the consultation, which she felt hadn’t involved businesses enough.
“The announcement today is pretty cruel for local businesses,” she said.
The Golden Mile runs from Courtenay Pl, though Manners and Willis Streets, to the end of Lambton Quay. Despite its moniker, the stretch of road is actually closer to 2.5km, or 1.5 miles.
The project’s next step is to take feedback on board and develop a preferred option, which may combine one or more of the proposed plans. A more detailed design will be developed and shared before any work begins on the streets.
Hélène Dikmenli, 39, Upper Hutt, works on Lambton Quay:
“It is a good idea if they think about adequate parking around the Golden Mile. It is going to be positive for shops and businesses”.
Stuart Black, 39, Karori, works in Thorndon:
“People do not really park on Lambton Quay and there is not so much traffic, but it may be a good idea for pedestrians. It will be more pleasant.”
Cindy Jiang, 22, Te Aro
“It could become a new tourism attraction. It will be more relaxing for pedestrians, less stressful to browse shops.”
Arsalan Ahmed, 40, Mt Victoria
“It is a good idea, it will have a positive impact on shops and businesses. They should stop any public transport coming through. The restaurants and café will have the option to put tables outside their shops.”
Asher Rayner, 22, student from Dunedin
“I think it’s a great idea. We tried something similar in Dunedin but the traffic was too congested so they reopened the street.”