The Public needs a real choice: Option X

The NZTA have proposed options for redeveloping the roading of the Basin Reserve.  But these are not really options. They are two schemes for flyovers which have very little difference.  We believe that the scheme/s proposed by NZTA exclude the public from making a real choice.

Currently the Basin is a mess.  From a multi-modal perspective (pedestrian, cyclist, car) the Basin is not a safe place.  Aesthetically it is a dog.  The inward facing cricket ground alienates its surroundings.  Recent building has reneged on its public responsibilities, creating some of the worst public street faces of architecture in Wellington.

We have no doubt that something needs to be done, but the choices to be made are at least on two levels.

1) Should the remediation work to improve the urban design of the Basin assume traffic levels will increase or not? and how should it respond to consequent changes in local conditions?  Data from the NZTA website suggest traffic levels have been plateauing for quite some time.

2) Should the remediation work use a tunnel or a flyover?

We think grade separation is critical to ensure better safety to all road users, and to help achieve speed consistency of motor vehicles, which will reduce emissions and noise pollution.  Both tunnels and flyovers have their problems for designers.  The scale of such infrastructure must respect the scale of the urban or suburban fabric it sits within.  Both can cause issues of severance or undesirable residual spaces.  We recognise that the NZTA images of the flyovers presented to the public do not reflect the potential design quality of the flyover structures, as these are yet to be properly designed.

Both flyovers and tunnel entrances can be poetic, elegant, and inspiring design.  Both will cost money to get the design right, and to guarantee that Wellingtonians end up with a Basin Reserve that we are proud of.

Option X (diagram: updated 23 July)

Option X (perspective from the North East)

This means that debate about the possible urban environments which might result from a rethinking of the Basin must happen.  Option X introduces a new way of thinking about the Basin, and new ideas to enter into the debate.

Tunnel section

Tunnel section (detail)

Option X is a cut and cover tunnel from Sussex St to Taranaki St in combination with traffic design innovations previously used in the redesign of Trafaglar Square.  It minimises intersections, and potential traffic collisions.  Option X also emphasises meaningful green connections from Memorial Park, through to the Basin Reserve, and across to Government House, and neighbouring school precincts.

Aerial view from the North-West

Option X encourages the Basin to become open to a broader range of recreational uses.  The removal of fences (except for the Heritage Gates), for example, would better aid pedestrian movement across the precinct (Temporary fencing can be erected for the few days a year when test cricket is on).  Removing the south-east quadrant of roading secures a meaningful link between the Basin and Government House Reserve.  Such a connection also provides a more elegant forecourt to both the schools in the south-east corner, and to Government House, a reminder that Wellington is a capital city, and needs to celebrate this national significance in areas in addition to the Parliamentry precinct.  The grounds of Government House are on occasion open to the public. Redesigning the Basin could assist with extending public access through these grounds, and further increasing green linkages through this part of the city.

Memorial Park (Option X)

Memorial Park (NZTA)

The advantage of a tunnel is that it provides a respective space for Memorial Park, the Carillon and the Tomb to the Unknown Warrior.  The alternative of traffic noise and severed space is not a pretty one.

This proposal also advocates for Memorial Park to be extended beyond Tory St to the Basin as an active park – not simply passive green grass – but one where its edges are defined by small businesses and cafes, connecting the Basin to the commerce of Tory St.  This is important as an empty space is a dead space.  We want to respect our war dead, but we don’t want them to be completely removed from, and forgotten by, contemporary life.  For the Basin to work we need memorial space and additional reasons for people to come through this area.    Such a park extension would be designed to support a diverse range of activities, with structures such as wind and sun shades, and basketball courts.  Built structures (including small businesses and cafes on the edge of the park) could also support the scale and size of the John Swan-designed Compassion creche, which historically was part of a dense built environment on its western flanks, rather than being sadly isolated as it remains today on Buckle St – woefully stranded at the edge of the Basin.

The Basin is the gateway to Adelaide Rd, an area which has been identified as a growth node and appropriate for revitalisation and medium density mixed use development. The provision of appropriate transport infrastructure will be critical.

Tram stop

Option X designates an uninterrupted public transport corridor for buses or light rail.  Overseas examples demonstrate how roads can be designed to accommodate space for passengers to safely alight from whatever public transport option we choose in the future.

Wellington needs the Basin Reserve to function better across a complex range of needs.  The discussion we have today will determine how well the Basin meets these demands well into the future.  Option X means that a real discussion can take place.


35 responses to “The Public needs a real choice: Option X”

  1. gavin dench Avatar
    gavin dench

    option x is an inspired idea

  2. ray lilley Avatar
    ray lilley

    The tunnel option has so many benefits for the public spaces and access to and round The Basin that it’s logic is irrefutable.

  3. Which makes it all the more confusing as to why NZTA have not considered it. If only they would say why not.

  4. Guy Tapley Avatar
    Guy Tapley

    Option X is an excellent proposal because it raises the quality of our capital city’s urban environment and improves public and private traffic flows at the same time.

  5. Warwick Avatar

    WCC should work with CBD so workers stagger their start & finish times, more 7am or 10am starts. Put aside $1b to help subsidise CBD employers who pay employees fares for using public transport (as they do in Japan). Encourage marketing on trains and buses (e.g. cell phone advertisements) to help fund. How about spending to teach our youth values, or preparing for recovery from the inevitable big earthquake.

  6. André van Tulder Avatar
    André van Tulder

    Absolutely Positively Option X! Either that or option Ostrich – says it all. Such an important decision simply can’t be left to politicians and roading experts to decide. Good God. How about a snappy presentation for distribution in local community newspapers and the letterboxes of a target audience.

  7. Nice!

    I used to live in Brussels, where many tram/bus lanes run along the middle of boulevards. One possible issue is what happens if someone breaks down, or stops for deliveries, in the single traffic lane. You need to manage the safety issue of vehicles swinging into the tram/bus lane. Of course, NZ drivers seem generally less prone to suddenly stopping and blocking the road than Belgian ones.

    There might be some fine tuning for the pedestrian/cycling routes too, although I’m just going from the top diagram. I’d be interested to look through those routes in more detail.

  8. Andre, pleasure to see you here! We’re working on a snappy presentation for distribution to locals – but hold on – don’t you live in Finland? Or are you back in NZ?

  9. Nick Jennings Avatar
    Nick Jennings

    One of the current messaged on local buses is ” – perhaps they should add “and if you’re really cleaver, you can catch the ball when it bounces off the Road Transport Agency’s over pass” – if Wellingtonians make the mistake of letting that be built. Option X is so much better, taking into account heritage, urban design, social, and environmental factors as well as traffic flows.

  10. John Harding Avatar
    John Harding

    Good to see some fresh thinking. I especially like the light rail. The NZ car fleet is growing older and is shrinking. The future for Wellington will be all about good public transport, walking and cycling. Petrol will cost $4 plus per litre before we know it, and that will just be the start. The $30 billion Steven Joyce wants to borrow and spend on motorways is a folly. We need resilient solutions, not a herd of white elephants.

  11. I do like the look of this one but has anybody considered that any cut-and-cover or tunnel options is going to cost considerably more given the fact the area is built on top of a swamp.

    There is also the disruption to existing traffic considering the basin is a major route both north-south and east-west.

    If people were so passionate about this why didn’t they object when the decision was open for consultation a few years ago?

  12. Peter, you’re absolutely right that the Basin Reserve area once was a swamp – and in geological terms, it was swampy in the very recent past. That is one of the key reasons why Arch Centre believes that their scheme has some advantages – because we’re proposing that the scheme avoids any building in the swampy bits. We are not proposing any tunnel through the swampy part of the Basin, but instead through the quite different geological strata of the side of Mt Cook. Directly in front of the War Memorial there is some very hard rock below a shallowish layer of gravel and clay. To the side of Mt Cook, in the Tasman St area, the harder rock is a lot further down, and the top layer is gravelly, but not rocky – and not swampy either.
    We’ve consulted with a geological engineer and on his advice, have concentrated any digging in these much firmer areas of soil, rather than any digging into that boggy surface we call the Basin. It also means that this Option X scheme could be built with virtually no disruption to traffic, as most of the work is to an area currently unused and sitting vacant.
    Lastly – did we make ourselves heard a couple of years ago? You bet we did!

  13. Patrick Avatar

    Option X is an inspired solution! Well done and thank god for the AC! I did read somewhere that the AC was looking into having a quantity surveyor look at Option X and come up with a realistic estimate of how much it would cost? Is that still the plan? It will need to be robust as NZTA and Ministers will swiftly take the knives to it and it can’t afford to be discredited easily. Option X will most likely be more expensive than the currently proposed flyer option. That’s clear. However, as Guy points out, given Option X avoids the need to plant concrete supports into boggy soil (surely a questionable geotechnical consideration from the outset), or the erection of grandstands to placate non-existant cricket supporters (dubious as hell), plus the considerable urban design benefits presented by Option X, the difference in cost may well be minimal. But we ‘do’ need to know what it is going to be.

    Keep up the good work.

  14. Thanks Patrick – yes, you’re right – the supports for any piers or columns will have to be piled very deeply to get down through the swamp and bear on good solid rock below. That’s likely to be quite a long way down, but is perfectly achievable. In the case of an earthquake centered close to the heart of Wellington, the Basin area is highly likely to suffer from quite severe liquefaction, and NZTA know their design will need to take that into account.

    We hope to have some info back on costs within the next week.

  15. Guy Tapley Avatar
    Guy Tapley

    Guy M – how come you know so much about tunelling?

  16. Guy T – I worked on Underground projects for over 3 years in London, including time on the Jubilee Line – at the time, one of the biggest construction projects in Europe. Having a healthy reading of Tunnels and Tunneling Monthly doesn’t hurt either. Architects do more than just chose paint colours as you know! There is something fascinating about the large scale tunneling project that I find really interesting – on the Jubilee Line we used about 8 fully earth-shielded Tunnel Boring Machines, and the project dug a total of 8 rail tunnels beneath the river Thames, in a variety of soil types, and several kilometers of boring through and under existing city streets, through existing buildings, and below Victorian era railway arches.
    Sadly, no, I was never allowed to drive one of the TBMs.

  17. Pauline Swann Avatar
    Pauline Swann

    Peter I think you will find a number of us made submissions to Regional Transport committee, GWRC, in April 2009 to the proposal to build a flyover at the Basin reserve and that the flyover was being listed as the No 2 Transport priority for the region.

    We made the point then re cost escalations as in less than 18 months the cost of the flyover had increased 12% from $24m in 2007 to $27m at the beginning of 2009 and now Mr Joyce wants to borrow $30m! for the saving to motorists of about 11 seconds….in this connection just recently I had to make daily visits to the hospital at varying times of the day and rarely had any holdups.

    We still consider the massive concrete flyover will have a disastrous effect on our Iconic sports ground, due to the noise, visual and atmospheric pollution. In 2009 public consultation was largely ignored despite 79% of submitters strongly opposed to the plan and the current pretence of consultation is a farce….bring on Option X.

  18. David Stevens Avatar
    David Stevens

    I think that Option X has great merit, and we (Wellington’s citizens)need to make sure that this option is seriously considered by NZTA. As Pauline mentions above, previous public consultation has apparently not made a lot of difference to the NZTA’s thinking.

    The NZTA flyovers options are not attractive, and as discussed above are likely to be costly given the extensive piling etc required on the swampy Basin area.

    A great attraction of Option X is that as well as achieving grade separation of the East/West (SH1) traffic from the North/South (Adelaide Road to/from Kent & Cambridge Terraces), it provides a proper area for an attractive and appropriate Memorial Park to be developed in front of the National War Memorial and a proper pedestrian (and cycle) link via Tory St into the heart of the city.

    Surely savings from not building the flyovers would mostly cover the cost of a cut and cover tunnel from Sussex to Taranaki Street?

    I’m not clear how buses and other traffic to Wellington College and the other schools in the area would be accommodated, but the concept of a more open sector between the Basin and Government House is worth developing.

    In the longer term I am also of the view that light rail will be needed to connect the Adelaide Road area with the CBD, government offices area in Thorndon and the railway station. Actually shorter-term rather than longer would be better!

  19. Michael Gibson Avatar
    Michael Gibson

    What is the latest estimated cost of the tunnel compared to the 2009 estimate of $27,000,000 (sans new stadium)for the flyover?

  20. Imagine if we could claim this as a public space and solution to mixed traffic and an entrance to our inner capital city from the airport – I’d forgotten to dream NZ was capable of doing something that wasn’t a half pie compromise!

  21. This is a very interesting idea, but ignores the large volume of traffic which needs to get in (and out) of Wellington College and St Mark’s School. If you can find a way to address this, it would add considerably to the feasibility of the option.

  22. Don,
    thanks – yes, we have some extra info regarding this area. You may like to check out the sketches on

  23. Stephen Avatar

    Just following up my comments on whether one lane to Newtown/ Island Bay / Berhampore is adequate given the Arch Centre is following the WCC opinion that traffic volumnes are not going to increase – the Wellingtonian had a article confirming the construction of the supermarket in Tasman St. Surely this must impact traffic volumes.

    Also if light rail is the preferred option going ahead – thats another reason why I like the flyover to faciliate the tracks going straight from kent cambride to adelaide road.
    If light rail were to go around the basin on the option X proposal – what time impact would this have on the route?

  24. Stephen – interestingly, at the time of the Resource Consent for the Supermarket on Rugby St, the traffic engineer’s report said that it was unlikely to cause any noticeable, appreciable, additional congestion, as the road was already congested…

  25. If you are interested in knowing a bit more about the Supermarket proposal, we discussed it on the Fish at the following link:

  26. Stephen Avatar

    Good article Max. Many comments reflect mine.

    Guy – I fail to understand your point or the traffic engineers logic. It like saying we are in debt so lets borrow more.
    If congestion is already at maximum that further development wont make it worse – isnt that a major cause for concern as it impacts the cities ability to do business – hence we need to fix it and I am concerned that Option X only makes this worse – not better

  27. Stephen – yes, I probably came across as being flippant – not intended. I’m not a traffic engineer, but their rational is: the use of supermarkets is primarily spread throughout the day, not concentrated at evening rush hour, and certainly not at morning rush hour. Traditionally, supermarkets were used by women mainly during the day – but now, we tend to shop at all hours – especially evening and night. Saturday morning and Saturday night are tow of the busiest times. So, even if there are 170-odd car parks there, it will be a continuous, gradual turnover, rather than a big rush, and certainly not conflicting with rush hours.
    At least, that’s the way that I understand they think. I’m not saying I believe it or disbelieve it. Currently however, the south side of the Basin has tremendous congestion – but this is caused by the conflicting needs of SH1 traffic and the more N-S local traffic. Any scheme, either A, B, or X, that separates out these two traffic streams by ‘grade separation’, will resolve this – traffic to that south side of the Basin will be far, far less than it is now.
    Hope that helps?

  28. Stephen Avatar

    Thanx for clarification on your thoughts but its just that I dont agree with option X.

    yes grade separation will help with congestion but to me it is nowhere near as good or as future proofed as a flyover to the north of the basin for the reasons stated before.

    Personally keep the tunnel part of option X but ditch the rest.

  29. This has real potential and should a serious option for consideration, particularly the Buckle Street tunnel

  30. Stephen, thanks for the feedback. Please make sure you submit your feelings on the proposals to NZTA, especially that you believe a tunnel is necessary. Cheers!

  31. I like the idea of a tunnel under a Memorial Park green space/recreational area linked to activities/businesses around it. I can see how traffic from south to north flows over the tunnel but am not sure how traffic going north to south gets around the Basin to Newtown and beyond? Does this proposal feed into the two tunnels as proposed by NZTA? WIs there any risk of flooding in the tunnel in the event of heavy/continuous rain?

  32. Gerry, The traffic north to south follows the line of the green buslanes on the accompanying plan. We’re continuing to work on the scheme to refine it and to get it ready for formal submission to NZTA.
    The twin tunnels, as proposed by NZTA – you are presumably talking about the proposed new Mt Vic tunnel which will sit alongside the existing Mt Vic tunnel? Our scheme works with or without the extra tunnel, in the same way that the existing tunnel continues to work – admittedly it is at full capacity, but it does still work.
    The new cut-and-cover trench under Memorial Park is installed at a slight angle (3.5% or 2 degrees), which means that there is absolutely no way that it will ever flood.

  33. Brilliant work thank you AC. A new park means more interesting walking/cycling routes around the city. But we love our cars and I doubt traffic will decrease, so I’m probably in favour of another tunnel, but definitely not a flyover, can we have one without the other? Perhaps another tunnel could be dedicated to public transport and taxis/shuttles only to facilitate the airport. Bring on light rail, more parks, and easier private car driving- can we have it all? And that idea about advertising to help pay for it seems good.

  34. Stephen Avatar

    i like how you remove any connection to government house even further away from the city

  35. Steph, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head there – what if a new tunnel was dug, but instead of it just being for cars, if there was some way of restricting it to, as you say, public transport only, then would that speed things up or what!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *