I’ve been re-thinking.
What if, concerning the whole Basin/Option X thing, we went right back to the fundamentals of the situation and began from there? Forget flyovers and tunnels, Options A, B, X, X+, and KY(!); forget Sussex Street, Memorial Park, and even the Basin itself. What are the fundamental issues?
Warning: what follows is a speculative polemic (full of holes etc – which I’m sure our good readers will elaborate on), which in no way represents the position of the Architectural Centre…
Let’s see if we can’t simplify it down to a few easy to conceptualise elements:
1. Wellington City
We have the magnificent city of Wellington, its topographic setting, compactness, and walkability make it the envy of all New Zealand cities, and perhaps, also the coolest little capital in the world.
We have, north of Wellington city itself, an amorphous mass of suburbs and dormitories that provide much of the people-power that makes the City tick. It stretches from Johnsonville (I guess), to Levin (I guess).
Note: I’m calling it Levin not because I think many actually commute from that far, but because the whole Northern Corridor project, identified by the Ministry as one of 7 Roads of National Significance, is predicated on the creation of a 4-lane expressway between Levin and Wellington Airport
3. Wellington Airport
We have Wellington Airport, the third busiest airport in New Zealand.
We have a national highway, from Cape Reinga to Stirling Bluff, which currently runs through Wellington City to its North Island terminus at Wellington Airport.
In a nutshell, the broad regional issues are thus:
SH1 needs to facilitate the movement of people and goods from ‘Levin’ to either Wellington, or somewhere beyond (e.g. domestically or internationally by air or water). This means there are three main SH1 ‘nodes’ – The City (its CBD/Parliamentary Precinct in particular), the Port (including Ferry Terminal), and the Airport. Economic benefits are gained when this movement of people and goods between Levin and these three nodes occur as efficiently as possible.
Whichever is the last of these nodes becomes also the North Island southern terminal point of SH1. Currently this is, of course, Wellington Airport.
Now, to me at least, the fundamental issue at the Basin Reserve arises from the conflict between SH1 regional traffic with the local roads that service Wellington and its suburbs – and the perceived need to separate these for network efficiency. This is due to SH1 terminating at the Airport, which means that, because of the restrictions imposed by Wellington’s topographical setting, SH must travel through the Wellington City’s urban fabric.*
But what if it didn’t?
Traditional pie-in-the-sky solutions suggest various manifestations of undergrounding the whole stretch between the Terrace and Mt Vic tunnels as the best way of getting SH1 to its terminal point with the least negative effect on the City’s urban fabric. But what if we simply changed the order of these nodes so that Wellington City itself was the terminus – meaning that SH1 need no longer carve its way through it at all?
Think about it.
We already have the infrastructure to get goods and people up to and into the City itself (and note that its ‘infrastructural’ scale seems a little more appropriate embedded there against its backdrop of steep hills). The Wellington Urban Motorway also serves the Port. Which leaves only the airport – if that could be relocated somewhere ‘before’ (i.e. north of), Wellington, the particular conflict between regional and local traffic at the Basin Reserve (and elsewhere within Wellington City), just, well… goes away.
Consequently, the situation at the Basin Reserve becomes resolvable at the local level – without needing to involve NZTA at all. Option X may still be a desired outcome, in terms of the benefits it has for both local transport routes (including PT), as well as the urban environment more generally (especially Memorial Park).
So where do we put the airport? If I had to suggest something, Paraparaumu would seem like the best bet – although it looks as though the horse might have already bolted in terms of an expansion of the already existing Kapiti Coast Airport (given the encroaching dross of Kapitian suburbia). What about Queen Elizabeth Park (dare I say it – that battle would make the Battle of the Basin seem like a friendly ‘walk in the park’ by comparison…)?
We’ve already identified the walkable nature of this fair city, and it is pertinent to note at this point that it isn’t entirely due to the geography, even if that might well be the root cause. I would like to posit the very lack of major dedicated transport infrastructure ‘south’ of the Terrace Tunnel as an important contributing factor. Wellington’s urban fabric is not severed in the way that many other cities suffer from. It is true that we have issues with the waterfront, and Karo Drive is hardly glamorous, but we don’t have the extravagant swathes of roading equivalent to Palmerston North’s Rangitikei Street, nor do we have the tangle of raised motorways of Auckland’s ‘spaghetti junction’. We may be somewhat provincial in that sense, but it does mean that our urban fabric is still largely defined by the environment of the ‘street’ rather than that of the ‘road’.