Freight dismissed in Wellington’s road plans

Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) is a misnomer for road freight transport and the purpose of the capital city’s airport and sea port connections to the rest of the world are seemingly irrelevant in its plans.

The anti-road, anti-fossil fuel ideologues have taken over and the project could be seen as getting Wellington moving for cyclists and pedestrians alone.

One mode of transport shouldn’t be pitted against another and there should be room for all. Decisions must be weighted by preferred use, volume, and economic loss or gain. But we have to question some of the thinking behind plans afoot.

New Zealand’s only way out of the Covid-19 economic devastation, dealing us daily blows, is to keep the flow of exports and imports moving as efficiently and cost-effectively as possible. That means the best possible access to air and sea ports.

This week alone, we have heard that consumer confidence has hit its lowest point since 2009; Covid-19 has seen 15,998 job losses so far – with many more predicted; and New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has decreased by 1.6 percent in the first quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly fall in 29 years. Things are seriously grim for those in business, let’s not gloss over that, and no cohesive plan to fix things has been presented to us.

But in Wellington, the city of the still employed public servant and the Monday-Thursday MPs, it seems all roads must be slowed, stopped and narrowed to ensure cyclists and pedestrians have priority access.

While we fully appreciate the city’s decision to focus on moving more people with fewer vehicles, there are a lot of things that need to happen before roads are closed to traffic, speeds are reduced to a crawl, and vehicle lanes are given to cyclists.

Not only would there need to be a reliable and efficient public transport system, but there would also need to be consideration given to the freight that moves through Wellington, along what is in fact, State Highway 1 and therefore, fully funded by Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency (NZTA).

We are quite alarmed by some of the suggestions that are being thrown around by LGWM, including a pedestrian crossing on Cobham Drive and reducing vehicle lanes on the quays that access CentrePort Wellington, including the inter-Island ferry terminal.

Getting to Wellington airport has long been a source of frustration for Wellingtonians – it’s a slow journey for a relatively short distance. What we need is four vehicle lanes all the way around the city and to the planes. A second Mt Victoria tunnel would help, but that is now just a pipe dream. To hear that Cobham Drive’s 70kph speed would be reduced to accommodate a pedestrian crossing – when there are other points pedestrians and cyclists can cross and a low volume needing to cross – we believe this seriously undermines an efficient route to the airport, which we hope to see returned to the busy and thriving hub a capital city deserves.

In the time of Covid-19, Wellington’s “Golden Mile” (Courtenay Place, Manners St, Willis St and Lambton Quay) feels more like Pyrite (fool’s gold) as the retail and hospitality sectors struggle to survive or go out of business completely. Closing it off to all but public transport, cyclists and pedestrians makes sense in the long-term. But freight will still have to move around Wellington and to the businesses on those streets.

So, it is concerning to hear the idea being mooted that the quays that would take that traffic, as well as the existing busy traffic flow, be reduced to just one lane in each direction to make way for cycle lanes. Increasing the traffic, but reducing the lanes, doesn’t seem to make any sense given this is a freight route and will be the only way to get to some parts of the city.

We agree with LGWM’s imperative to create a better, safer environment for people walking and on bikes. But the pendulum can’t swing so far that cars and trucks are no longer welcome on the road and the economy of Wellington and the rest of New Zealand is crippled further.

– Nick Leggett, CEO, Road Transport Forum


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