Thursday, December 20, 2012

Basin Reserve flyover opponents are grandstanding

The noise from Labour and the Greens on the Basin Reserve flyover is utterly remarkable.   

For Labour it is grandstanding hypocrisy because when it was in government, Labour endorsed a transport funding packages for Wellington that explicitly included provision for grade separation of roads at the Basin Reserve.

For the Greens it is disappointing, as it is a continuation of the hyperbolic hysteria that Sue Kedgley use to peddle, which I thought may have been moderated under the more thoughtful Julie Anne Genter.  

For both they may want to claim the project is akin to some major urban motorway project of the sort that once activated large groups of "rent-a-mob" leftwing protestors in the UK, but really it is no big deal at all.   Furthermore, the absurd claim that Wellington City Council is being bullied because NZTA questions the value of duplicating Mt Victoria Tunnel and associated road improvements towards the airport without the flyover, is astonishingly hypocritical.  For I doubt that the Greens endorse any of those projects (and if you believe road capacity improvements are the spawn of the devil, then doubling highway capacity between the city and eastern suburbs ought to be opposed as Sue Kedgley thought at the time).

Labour once happily supported funding major highway works at the Basin Reserve

During the Clark Government, Labour released a transport funding package for Wellington, which included money for the new Matangi electric multiple units, replacement signalling, electrical and track infrastructure, replacement trolley buses and to support a range of major road improvements.  The calculations for this funding including provision for capacity improvements at the Basin Reserve, with the implication clearly made at the time that this is about grade separation. 

Indeed, it was seen in the Wellington Regional Council's endorsement of "Basin Reserve capacity improvements" as the 4th highest priority in 2005.

It was the next logical stage after the one-way road and on-ramp that comprised the much maligned "Inner City Bypass" (which simply enabled the one-way system across Te Aro to be shifted a block and a bit south).   So Grant Robertson and other Labour politicians jumping on this bandwagon are being hypocrites.  Annette King in particular is being disingenuous, because she supports a second Mt Victoria Tunnel, which without the Basin Reserve bridge would simply mean longer queues at the Basin Reserve, as two bottlenecks would be cleared.   She didn't utter a peep when Transit/NZTA was investigating this very project when Labour was in power.

Greens are being utter hysterics over a two-lane one-way bridge

Sue Kedgley consistently claimed the Wellington Inner City Bypass would be a "multi-lane motorway extension through the heart of Te Aro".   It wasn't.  I wonder how many people who went on "path of destruction" tours still think Te Aro's historical heart has been "destroyed".

The "path of destruction" of the Wellington inner city bypass looks a lot like the other two lane roads
The two-lane 50km/h city street called a "multi-lane motorway" by the Greens

Now the claim is that this project will "destroy the character" of the Basin Reserve, an entirely subjective value judgment, but itself is rather extreme.  It will affect it, some may think negatively, but destroy?  Really?

The next claim is "it will affect Wellington's green belt and access to eastern suburb sports facilities and will cost tax- and rate-payers $97 million to move traffic congestion 300 metres"

Really?  The green belt?  Utter nonsense:

The green belt is off to the left of the Basin bridge, affected?
How will it affect access to eastern suburb sports facilities? Other than improve them for those leaving the eastern suburbs.  How will it cost ratepayers, given it is fully funded from NZTA as a state highway project?  How will it "destroy the Basin as a sporting and cultural venue"?   

Just pure hysteria.

Julie Anne Genter is a bit better on this.  She says it is a waste of money because the road has "declining traffic volumes", although this isn't apparent in the severe congestion and of course the Greens typically say new roads generate new traffic, so she can't have it both ways.

She says "The vast majority of people coming into Wellington take public transport, cycle or walk", yet this project isn't about people coming into Wellington, but bypassing Wellington primarily between the airport and the Hutt, Porirua and wider region.  In fact the travel survey by NZTA (excel file) of travel across the country indicates that 68-69% of trips in the region are by car, with 5-7% by public transport. Greater Wellington Regional Council even says only 17% of commuter trips are by public transport, with it being 21% in Wellington city (excluding the Hutt and Porirua).  Cars are important in Wellington.

Then there is the utter nonsense of this:  "A massive concrete motorway flyover is an invitation for future urban decay and crime. It is the exact opposite of smart transport planning".  Once again, she has Kedgley disease in calling it a motorway, but there are several motorway flyovers in Wellington, let's look for this urban decay and crime:

Bowen Street motorway overbridge - car park, housing and offices
Thorndon Quay motorway overbridge, commercial and retail premises

Dowse Drive/Hutt Road overbridge, commercial and retail premises
Yep, lots of urban decay and crime in those scenes.

In fact the only argument she has is economic.  It doesn't have a good benefit/cost ratio, with various studies indicating it ranges from below 1 to above 1.  The argument can be made that there are better projects.  Yet the Green Party's pet project - the underground rail loop in Auckland - doesn't have one either, in fact they argue that the conventional benefit/cost appraisal of the project doesn't take into account all of the criteria important to them.   So it's a bit rich to claim a road doesn't stake up on one set of criteria, but that same criteria is inappropriate for a rail project.

What is clear is the Greens will oppose road improvements on any sort of cooked up criteria.  A flyover may be ugly to some, and it may not be the best use of money spent on roads in Wellington, but it is far from the worst, and unlike the proposals for more rail, it wont need subsidies its entire existence. 
Save the Basin campaign is equally hysterical

The actual opposition campaign against the project is at best misguided and naive, at worst beholden to the same hyperbole that besets the Greens.

  • It will blight the streetscape and surrounding neighbourhoods
Well, few things blight the streetscape as much as large volumes of traffic circulating around this enormous roundabout.  As you can see above, bridges need not blight streetscapes.  The claim it will "blight" surrounding neighbourhoods is hysterical.  After all, the presence of a busy road tunnel since 1931 has had a bigger impact.  Thorndon has had a motorway blasted through it since the 1970s and is hardly "blighted", neither is Kelburn "blighted" having it running at its base.  
  • It will overshadow the Basin Reserve and place its future as an iconic international cricket ground at risk
Oddly, this was never really raised as an issue for the 40 years that there have been serious plans to push a major highway along this alignment.  There is no authoritative statement that this is true, just a rant by a reader to a website.   
  • It’s unnecessary. Road traffic volumes in New Zealand are declining and so is trucking:
So what? The route is congested and the current problems are severe.  At peak times, queues from the Basin back up all the way through the Mt Victoria Tunnel, they back up around the Basin from Buckle Street, and create delays for buses. 
  • Now that a tunnel is being built under Memorial Park, it makes no sense to emerge from a tunnel and go up onto a flyover
Yes, and nobody is expecting that to happen because the flyover is a one way road towards the tunnel.  This basic mistake indicates how very shallow this opposition is.
  • There are good, well-researched alternatives to a flyover. One, Option X, looks even better financially now that a tunnel will built under Memorial Park. Another non-flyover alternative has recently emerged.
Except that these alternatives actually don't deliver benefits and Option X creates new problems.  The professional assessment (i.e. highway engineers not architects) indicates that Option X has safety issues, would cost more, would have lesser benefits and has significant gaps (e.g. it is depicted as offering no road access to two of the schools at the Basin Reserve).   

This claim from its website is just nonsense:

This vote follows other cities throughout the world which have rejected flyovers – Boston, New York, Melbourne, Toronto, Seoul, Boston, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Trenton, Portland, Chattanooga.
Oh really? The Big Dig in Boston?  Melbourne's Citylink, EastLink and soon to be built East-West link? Toronto's 407ETR? Boston twice (paying attention then)?  Well Auckland has had a host of flyovers built in the past decade, Napier has had two built, Hamilton has just seen one built, Christchurch has just seen one built.  Indeed, the Hutt Valley recently had one open (Dowse Drive Interchange)

Funnily enough, the claim that the bridge will generate more traffic is now not made, presumably the great fear is that it will work and make a positive difference to traffic, like every other grade separation highway project in Wellington in recent years (underpass of Vivian Street, Dowse Drive Interchange, Newlands Interchange, Mungavin Interchange). 

A simple claim is made that anytime there is new road capacity provided, it quickly fills up because there are simply thousands of people who would have driven before, but for whom the existing congestion puts them off.  The improved road is said to "induce" demand, and so make things worse, because the additional trips (which are presumed to have little real value) simply take the road back to a congested position in the first place.  This is known as the Pigou–Knight–Downs paradox, but it is so grotesquely misquoted out of context by politicians (particularly Green ones) that it is worth remembering what the authors actually meant.

The situation they talked of was when the road improvement directly reduced congestion for a trip where there was a parallel public transport service offering similar travel times to driving.  A perfect example in Wellington would be trips between the Hutt Valley and Wellington city, so that adding another lane to the motorway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay would directly improve travel times between driving and taking the train.   It's a bit more difficult when very few of the trips on the route being improved are undertaken by public transport (or could reasonably be undertaken by public transport), even moreso if the route improvement directly reduces delays on public transport.

The Basin Reserve flyover primarily benefits traffic travelling between the airport/eastern suburbs and the wider region to the north and the western suburbs.  Whilst there are a few bus services that offer alternatives to some, all focus on passenger starting/finishing trips in the CBD, so are slow for trips that are bypassing it.  In other words, the time savings wont result in any mode shift which is the source of the "induced demand" claimed by that theory.  Beyond that, it is difficult to envisage that anyone will relocate businesses or homes just because a flyover will knock a minute or so off of traffic queues, certainly not in volumes that will mean it gets filled up with traffic.

Furthermore, the secondary benefit of the flyover is to take east-west traffic flow away from the north-south traffic flow at the Basin, which includes some major bus routes.  Those bus routes are held up by substantial delays which will be relieved by the flyover, a point almost entirely ignored by the naysayers.

Local authority opposition is misguided and should be ignored

For many years both the Greater Wellington Regional Council and Wellington City Council have supported major road improvements on this corridor.  Regional Councillor Paul Bruce, a Green Party member and activist against motorised transport (the guy bikes most places) has been central to seeking a review of this, and at Wellington City the Mayor has been.  This is the first time this opposition has been realised at the Councils, and shows just how difficult it is to plan major infrastructure when politics swings against it, particularly when there was strong support before.
Yet it largely shouldn't be up to them. The project requires no ratepayer money, it isn't on local roads (although it interfaces with them), and it fits clearly into the various strategies that are relevant.  It demonstrably improves access across the city, and will deliver huge benefits to public transport users, cyclists and pedestrians (in part because a damned silly cycling/pedestrian bridge has been included in the design).  

Opposition to it is hysterical, illogical and based on hyperbole or simple nonsense.  

It is a two lane one-way westbound bridge to connect one tunnel to another.   A second Mt Victoria Tunnel can't possibly replicate the benefits of this, and in fact will make the current situation worse.   Labour opposes it because it is being pushed under a National Government and Labour wants Green votes in Wellington.  The Greens oppose it because it's a road project and it panders to hyperbole about road projects. The Save the Basin lobbyists suggest alternatives that are inferior and unsustainable.   The two Councils are pandering to Green activists within their ranks, who offer no rational alternative (exhorbitantly expensive light rail lines that wont do a thing to reduce congestion are just chimeras).   If any of those opposed were truly concerned about generating more traffic they would stop improvements to the motorway between Ngauranga and Aotea Quay and demand Transmission Gully be stopped, but the latter is politically popular, so they are largely keeping their heads down on that one.

The Basin bridge will improve the environment for all road users, reduce delays and emissions, and is a necessary pre-requisite to building a second Mt. Victoria Tunnel.  It should proceed.

3 comments:

ZenTiger said...

All that good work and analysis deserves a comment, so:

Great work at blowing apart the hysteria around much needed improvements.

Wellington Commuter said...

You are right that, because CURRENT peak traffic exceeds the capacity of any at-grade intersection design, grade seperation at the basin is essential. I know because I spent over 5 years commuting to/from Newtown via the Basin Reserve. I can confirm the basin has terrible congestion at rush hour. The basin congestion affects the bus service the worst ... it's as bad as the CBD ! The Metlink scheduled time to bus from the railway station to Newtown may be 16-20 minutes but it usually takes over twice this in the real world rush hour.

As East/West traffic to the airport is given priority by the lights, North/South travel is actually the most affected. You mentioned the queue through the tunnel but, in the morning, the right lane queue to Newtown can be the entire length of Kent Terrace and Adelaide Road must be avoided at all costs in the evening peak.

Wallace/Taranaki Streets are also congested and some of the traffic going through the Mt Vic tunnel is actually going to Newtown via Ruahini and Constable Streets. Little mention is made of the reduced congestion benefits on the parallal roads but they are clear in the modelling results.

Many Greenies seem to favour some form of improved at-grade solution ... many being the same people opposed trenching the "Inner City Bypass" on the grounds this would divide the city for pedestrian access. Locals now realise the at-grade bypass was a big mistake because the river of traffic is so great between the Terrace and Mt Vic tunnels that pedestrians (and drivers) have two long waits each time they travel into the CBD from the south. A trenched, grade separated, bypass would have JOINED south Wellington to the CBD but now the same people seem determined to repeat the same mistake at the Basin.

So the key decisions are really whether to separate north/south or east/west flows and whether to use a tunnel or a flyover. The east/west route has the most volume giving the most benefits from it getting dedicated lanes. The North/south route also needs to remain at ground level because it is the main PT route and (again ironically) bridging or tunneling Adelaide to the Terraces would compromise any future "upgrade" to light rail as trams find the slopes difficult to climb (this also means trams could never use the Mt Vic tunnel).

So should they go up or down to separate the east/west route ? Well the Mt Vic tunnel is already much higher than the basin so taking traffic from the Buckle tunnel under Dufferin/Buckle Streets will mean a steep climb in reach the Mt Vic tunnel entrance. Such slops are never good for high volume roads. The flyover alternative will create a much smoother route between the tunnels as well as being much cheaper (and less disruptive) to build. It also maximises options for improved PT into the future.

NZTA can be criticised for their comms and consultation skills but I think I agree that thier analysis and recommendation for a flyover is sound. The WCC Councillors are just grandstanding for free (their review does not include looking at the WCC funding the cost difference of any other option over the NZTA funded flyover). Thanks for your insights.

libertyscott said...

Zen- TY
Wellington Commuter - Indeed, the "inner city bypass" was a mistake because it was always going to be inadequate. Few remember that it was a cheap stop-gap solution because funding was not available 20 years ago for the covered trenched "Tunnellink" bypass - because the project had a BCR of 2.6 at the time. Even the last government happily approved highway projects with BCRs of 1.5 +, so today it would be considered a "good" project.

The Basin bridge makes the most sense with you outlining many of the reasons why. After that, a 2nd Mt Victoria Tunnel and the associated widening to Wellington Road will mean Wellington at last has a good road between the airport and the city. There will be interim work on the inner city bypass to improve its efficiency (i.e. Vivian St will become 3 lanes at peak times its whole length), but Wellington needs a Council and Mayoralty willing to push for the proper bypass to be built. It could enable the waterfront to be transformed, instead it is full of anti-road transport swivel eyed tram enthusiasts (when it is doubtful that the trolley buses will get replaced after the current "new" ones complete their operational lives).