A last-ditch attempt to keep private cars on Lambton Quay and Courtenay Place has failed. Will Wellington retailers learn to love a pedestrian-friendly CBD, wonders Catherine McGregor in this excerpt from The Bulletin, The Spinoff’s morning news round-up. To receive The Bulletin in full each weekday, sign up here.
A last-ditch attempt to ditch pedestrianisation
After days of angry debate playing out across the media, the vote of no confidence in Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) failed to gain majority support, going down 9-7 in council. The failure of the effort to halt LGWM – the massive infrastructure project aimed at getting Wellingtonians out of their cars and onto bikes and public transport – means Wellington City Council (WCC) won’t withdraw from its partnership with Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) and Waka Kotahi to deliver the project, and won’t be liable for at least $40m in costs as a result. On Wednesday, mayor Tory Whanau rejected a “compromise deal” that would have put the Lambton Quay section of the Golden Mile pedestrianisation plan on hold, setting the stage for yesterday’s vote.
Let’s get Wellington… paying more and more
Part of the opponents’ problem with LGWM is cost. The budget currently stands at $7.4 billion, up from $2.8b in 2018, and is predicted to go even higher. Beyond the headline cost, LGWM includes some other fairly eye-popping figures. In March, Stuff’s Tom Hunt reported that spending on outside consultants – including, to be fair, such vital contractors as engineers and designers – will be over $130m by the end of next financial year. Then, earlier this week, it was revealed that another $17m has been added to the cost of the Thorndon Quay to Hutt Road section of the project, and the cost of the controversial Golden Mile project has risen from $78m in 2020 to $139.4m today. While WCC is picking up 40% of the total LGWM bill (with GWRC and Waka Kotahi taking care of the rest), it’s responsible for 49% of the cost of the Thorndon Quay and Golden Mile projects.
Will retailers flounder or flourish?
Even more controversial is the effect on central city businesses. Under the plans, private cars will be eliminated from the Golden Mile – the stretch of road from Parliament to the Embassy Theatre – and many retailers are livid at the prospect. Retail NZ says a number of retailers have sold up because of the Golden Mile plan, and more are set to leave. A large group of local retailers released an open letter arguing that the project risks turning the entire thoroughfare into something like Manners Street, the bus-lane-only block now “characterised by empty retail spaces and discount stores”. Julie Moore, managing director of Moore Wilson’s, says the plan is ill-conceived and “will do lasting damage to our city”. Yet an Ernst and Young report last year found that “retailers generally overestimate the importance of on-street parking outside shops when nearby parking is enough”. Pedestrian-friendly shopping streets have been proven to work, says transport committee chair Thomas Nash, who notes that “all the most successful cities in Australasia” already have them.
Lessons from cities that pedestrianised, and survived
That Ernst and Young report (from page 218 here) makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in urban planning and the future of our CBDs. It looked at 12 central-city case studies, half of them within New Zealand, and found that retailers consistently and considerably “overestimate the spending by shoppers travelling by car while significantly undervaluing the spend of bus passengers and pedestrians”. That’s a finding backed up by former GWRC councillor Roger Blakeley, who was also the planning officer who oversaw the pedestrianisation of Auckland’s Fort St in 2015. A later study found pedestrian numbers increased by 47% during peak hours, retail spend increased by 47% and hospitality spend by 429%. “The businesses, just like in Wellington, were concerned this would be the kiss of death,” Blakely told Stuff. “In fact, what happened was the reverse of that.”