Friday 22 October 2021

Let’s get Wellington moving by removing 'Let's Get Wellington Moving'

Let's Get Wellington Moving is more about the opposite, explains The UnCivil Servant in this guest post. In a city, and a country, in which we have a crisis of unaffordable housing, these people are essentially just telling we peasants: 'Let Them Eat Monuments.' Expensive ones ...

Let’s get Wellington moving by removing 'Let's Get Wellington Moving'

by The UnCivil Servant

A RUNNING JOKE AROUND Wellington is the organisation for activist bureaucrats Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM). A running joke, because it is a symbol for how bureaucracy barely let's anything move at all. 

The last National Government foolishly set it up to try to get agreement with local government on fixing transport problems in Wellington. Labour however has since changed its objectives, and painted a wide band of Green all over it. So now it isn’t really much about transport at all.

When set up the organisation's primary objectives were stated as:
to develop a transport system that:
Enhances the liveability of the central city
Provides more efficient and reliable access for users
Reduces reliance on private vehicle travel
Improves safety for all users
Is adaptable to disruptions and future uncertainty
Now, the objectives for Let's Get Wellington Moving barely mention movement, and nothing at all about "developing a transport system":
Our programme objectives [they now say] are:
greater liveability, including enhanced urban amenity and enables urban development outcomes
more efficient and reliable access
reduced carbon emissions by increasing mode shift away from reliance on private vehicles
improved safety for all users, and
resilience and adaptability to disruptions and future uncertainty.
The upshot of this capitulation to blancmange is that LGWM is now less about transport and more about enabling intensification for housing development, and reducing carbon emissions. In fact, almost all about carbon emissions. Note: not noxious emissions like particulates (many of which come from vehicles, and actually DO affect health), but climate change. This ignores that nothing LGWM can do will actually impede or affect that in any case because of the Emissions Trading Scheme (which caps total emissions from transport). 

It is also single-mindedly focused on reducing emissions solely by mode shift. Not by travelling less, not by moving to electric or hybrid vehicles, or by reducing traffic congestion to waste less fuel. LGWM is instead now almost solely focussed on enabling more housing (on one corridor), and on making peasants like you drive less by using public transport more.

While politicians, including the expert on (abolishing car) parking Julie Anne-Genter, might be obsessed with the idea that people need to drive less, and that big expensive public-transport projects are needed to enable more housing, this is demonstrably nonsense. LGWM already notes in its reports that 16% fewer people commute by car into central Wellington in the morning peak in 2017 than in 2000, although 12% more people are travelling there at that time. So there is already a decline in car travel into central Wellington by commuters.

So there isn't a problem of more and more people commuting by car into central Wellington. What there is (about which Genter and LGWM seem entirely oblivious) is a growth in traffic seeking to bypass the city. 

Around a third of all traffic heading into Wellington city is seeking to bypass it. The people bypassing the city are coming to and from the airport, hospital, and the eastern/southern suburbs, and heading to and from the northern/western suburbs, the Hutt Valley, Porirua, Kapiti and beyond. 

THIS -- THE LACK OF ANY GENUINE BYPASS --  is the source of the single biggest transport problem in Wellington. This is blatantly obvious to anyone who isn’t blinded by the Green (and now Labour) Party’s trendy North American urbanist blinkers. These people trying to bypass central Wellington quite simply are not going to change onto trams and buses to double their travel time, and no amount of Neo-urbanist hand-waving will make them. 

The problem is easy to identify: Wellington’s urban motorway ends abruptly at Te Aro at one end, and at the other end, SH1 from the airport stalls at the bottleneck of Mt Victoria Tunnel, with one lane in each direction. This causes congestion all day long and on weekends as well. Plus between 15-40% of traffic along Wellington’s waterfront is travelling to avoid that congestion, according to LGWM, that’s traffic that helps separate Wellington city from its harbour.

The latest draft strategy released by LGWM indicates how it isn’t that interested in fixing that problem. Instead, like Minister Michael Wood, it is hooked on a tram line -- after dumping an earlier proposal from the city to the Airport, the tram fetish this time focusses on a linefrom the city to Island Bay.

However, the putative Island Bay tram isn’t about addressing a transport problem either. There is no transport problem from Island Bay at present that a tram line will fix -- no problem of overcrowded buses, no congestion at bottlenecks fivable by tram. No, the tram line is all about housing. LGWM thinks that without a tram line to Island Bay that could cost $2.2 billion, there won't be enough intensive housing development along the corridor. 

That's $2.2 billion (plus fuck-ups) to solve a non-problem. After all, it's not lack of tram lines that is causing a shortage of intensive house building!

This policy of LGWM is straight out of the North American urbanist planner playbook, which calls for more "PT" (public transport) to induce more high-density housing. A policy that  has had the same success in addressing housing shortages and traffic issues there (i.e., virtually  none) as it would in Wellington. 

At least Treasury and the Ministry of Transport have been on the ball, advising Ministers that any mass transit proposal for Wellington will only produce “secondary” transport benefits that are "insufficient to justify them on their own." In other words, it’s a boondoggle: the costs to taxpayers for these transportation white elephants far exceeding any alleged "economic benefits" from improving mobility. It's a money pit, but a totem for politicians to show off -- a monument-building vanity project.

In a city, and a country, in which we have a crisis of unaffordable housing, these people are essential telling we peasants: 'Let Them Eat Monuments.'

Of course, the argument that you need a tram line to intensify housing is rubbish, as demonstrated by the latest inspired announcement to abolish the need for a resource consent to build a three-storey residential development in major cities. Assuming the rule change works, and it encourages more intensive housing development in Wellington, the idea it will not happen first in Mt Victoria, Mt Cook and Newtown, close to the CBD rather than Island Bay is rather fanciful. Being that close to the CBD encourages walking and cycling and hopping on one of the multiple bus routes that already pass by on the way from the suburbs. 

The tram is a massive boondoggle that neither enables nor is necessary for housing development. It's a fetish of Green activists; it is not rational economics.

AH, BUT WHAT ABOUT EMISSIONS? Minister Michael Wood is particularly keen on cutting emissions, but Island Bay already has a preponderance of electric buses that go some way to do that. 

And it’s particularly ludicrous to talk about spending $2.2 billion on a tram line, when both the Government and the Greater Wellington Regional Council baulked at spending just $53 million to replace some of the infrastructure to keep Wellington’s city-wide trolley-bus network moving. A network that went from Karori to Island Bay to Miramar to Aro Valley to Kingston to Seatoun to Lyall Bay. Anyway, only an idiot, or an MP, thinks any of this will reduce emissions. (But perhaps I repeat myself.)

"But, but..." you say, "aren’t they proposing a second Mt Victoria Tunnel too? ... and doing something called 'grade-separation' at the Basin Reserve?" Sure they are, but the proposals for the second tunnel are ludicrous. One is to build a new tunnel, or to convert the existing tunnel for walking and cycling only. Another is to build a new tunnel, but with one lane each way for buses – when today virtually NO buses go through Mt Victoria Tunnel, because there is already a one-way bus tunnel just to the north that bypasses the congestion. So all of the proposals essentially keep the current road capacity and do nothing at all about the bottleneck. This is straight out of the Green Party “building new road capacity is bad” school of thinking, on the basis people might have the audacity to drive (even with an electric car). One has to suspect the proposals are designed to just be dumped for being uneconomic, because they won't encourage housing, won't reduce emissions, nor encourage people to shift modes.

WHAT ABOUT THE REST OF WELLINGTON you ask? That's certainly a fairer question. Wellingtonians in the western and northern suburbs could certainly be excused for wondering why LGWM has nothing for them. Karori, for example, has a highly-congested tunnel and bus route about which LGWM is studious silent. However, you should stop thinking LGWM's sporadic but well-funded campaigns are really about transport anymore, because they ain’t. What they are is a crusade by activist Ministers and car-hating planners to justify building an expensive shiny new tram line, one that they can claim as theirs -- a monument to their egos -- pouring billions of unnecessary dollars into one lone corridor in a city that has had widespread and ongoing issues with throttled roads, cancelled bus services and, of course, a crumbling water infrastructure.

Meanwhile, LGWM embarrasses itself by its recent focus on “projects” that are nothing more than micro-management tinkering. Its main website notes one of its great successes as …. lowering the speed limit in central Wellington to 30 km/h. For a large intergovernmental project team meant to be focused on major strategic policy ("delivering a shared vision for Wellington" their website grandly proclaims) to be left instead to be noodling around with lowering speed limits is both embarrassing and ludicrous. Which is precisely what LGWM has become. 

Indeed, their proposal to install a pedestrian crossing and lower the speed limit on a four-lane stretch of state highway along which there is zero property access, has seen some call it Let’s Get Wellington Stopping.

They are a joke. But an expensive well-connected one.

If we want to ever get Wellington moving, a first step must be to remove Let's Get Wellington Moving. It must be stopped.

Thereafter, Waka Kotahi should be directed to finish SH1 in Wellington with a second Terrace Tunnel and Mt Victoria Tunnel; to trench the highway under Te Aro; and to grade separate at the Basin Reserve. Wellington City Council should put in place bus-priority measures at strategic points across the network, and this entire folly of a programme dreamed up by LGWM should be ended. All of this for much less than what LGWM is proposing.

Now about Michael Wood’s other tram proposal….

* * * * 

The UnCivil Servant is neither civil nor servile. He is not however entirely unfamiliar with the civil service.


Anonymous said...

I went to a public meeting organised by LGWM. Apart from producing numerous documents and studies, the only tangible thing listed as being achieved was coordinating the installation of crosswalk countdown timers on a few intersections in Wellington. Good to know LGWM can now add lowering the inner city speed limit to their list achievements.

ZenTiger said...

This makes too much sense.

Tom Hunter said...

Have linked this to a post about the situation over at No Minister in the hopes of spreading more widely an analysis we're not likely to see in the MSM.

Tom Hunter said...

Oh FFS, over at Kiwiblog, DPF has just discovered this issue and guess what, it's not the fault of LGWM. No it's the local body politicians!

While I am well aware of what a bunch of car-hating nutters they are I've put the quote from this article about LGWM being a National Party creation and made the further comment that:

You can see why DPF wants to blame only the elected local-body politicians. Yet another body set up by National that’s been hijacked by Labour.

But sure, voting in a new group of “centre-right” politicians will turn the trick. No suggestion to just get rid of the damned body. New Zealand’s 2023 central government election and National Party “policy” in miniature.