Council to Consider Bus Plan and Cuba Mall Extension

29 May 2009

Wellington City Councillors will next week consider opening Manners Mall to buses and extending Cuba Mall down to Wakefield Street - a proposal that would improve bus services, create new public spaces and better pedestrian links with Civic Square.

The recommendations - part of a package of changes designed to make bus journeys through the city faster and more reliable - will be considered by the Council's Strategy and Policy Committee on Thursday 4 June.

They include improved pedestrian areas in Dixon, Wakefield, Mercer and Willis streets as well as changes in lower Cuba Street that would give pedestrians priority but still allow limited vehicle access. 

The Council's Principal Transport Advisor, Greg Campbell, says quality public spaces and pedestrian links are vital and lower Cuba Street is seen as a missing link, connecting people with the waterfront and Civic Centre.

Bus route improvements are urgently needed too because congestion - particularly at peak times - is holding buses up and inconveniencing the growing number of Wellingtonians who use them.

"We know that many people are very concerned about the prospect of losing public space and we have worked hard to address that by suggesting greater changes in lower Cuba Street.

"A recent independent report by Opus International Consultants shows there are considerable travel and cost benefits in allowing buses through what is now Manners Mall and we are recommending that happens," he says. "The key difference is that to compensate for the loss of public space, we are now recommending lower Cuba Street becomes a shared area where pedestrians have priority but cars are still welcome."

Limited vehicle access is proposed, including parallel parking, but the area would look and feel like a mall, vehicles would have to travel at walking speed, give way to pedestrians and could be excluded altogether for events like the Cuba Carnival. Similar areas are working very well in Melbourne and a number of European cities and one is being considered for central Auckland.

Mr Campbell says research shows most people who use Manners Mall are just passing through - only four percent of those surveyed stayed longer than five minutes.

"By extending Cuba Mall and allowing buses through Manners Mall, we have an opportunity to create a new, more attractive pedestrian space, stronger pedestrian links to Civic Square and the waterfront, and a quicker, simpler, more obvious bus route," he says. "The proposal is in line with the Ngauranga to Airport Plan and an important step in improving the main public transport route through the city.

"We are recommending these changes because we believe they make good sense for business, tourism, retailers - and our transport network. We think it would make the city more attractive and help attract new investment. But it is important to remember that no decision has been made. City Councillors will debate and vote on this next week."

Councillors will also consider associated proposals to extend the 30kph speed limit (already in place in Lambton Quay and lower Willis Street) to Courtenay Place and Manners Street; to put traffic lights on the three pedestrian crossings in Courtenay Place and ban the right turn from Victoria Street into Manners Street.  About 40 additional on-street car parks are also proposed.

The Opus report looked at four possible options - rerouting buses via Manners Mall; an 'enhanced status quo' including traffic lights on the Wakefield Street pedestrian crossing by the City Council building; having buses running both ways on Dixon and Willis streets; or having buses running both ways on Mercer/Wakefield, lower Cuba and the Courtenay Place end of Manners Street. The Manners Mall option provided the greatest time savings and cost benefits for bus users.

It is the route buses took through the city until the 1970s when Manners Mall was created and Greater Wellington Regional Council and city bus operators are keen to see a return to that.