The plan is part of a package of changes designed to make bus journeys through the city faster and more reliable. It has the support of a number of organisations concerned about the city's future, including Greater Wellington Regional Council, NZ Bus, the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce, the New Zealand Transport Agency and Wellington Airport.
The plan is an essential step in improving the main public transport route through the city, is in line with the city's transport and urban design strategies and aims to make Wellington more vibrant.
It is also critical to the Ngauranga to Airport Plan, which was agreed last year and contains a series of projects designed to make the journey between Ngauranga Gorge and the airport quicker and easier for people regardless of how they travel.
Mayor Kerry Prendergast says over the past few months Councillors have heard from a large number of Wellingtonians concerned about the potential loss of public space, as well as others who support the bus route improvements.
"We have heard very clearly that people value the city's public spaces and don't want public transport improvements to erode those. At the same time, if we want an internationally competitive city that's easy to get around and improves the experience people have in Wellington, we must make changes that will reduce the congestion and delays that hold buses up and frustrate the growing number of people who use them.
"Our Council transport planners and urban designers went back to the drawing board following feedback from the public and have come up with an amended plan that the majority of Councillors supported today. It will allow buses through Manners Mall, but will also give pedestrians priority in lower Cuba Street.
"This hasn't been an easy decision for us and we appreciate the revised plans won't satisfy everyone - particularly those who want Manners Mall retained as is - but on balance, we believe it is the best thing for Wellington. We hope people will take the time to look at the revised plans and the benefits of new public spaces, better pedestrian links and a quicker, simpler, more obvious bus route through the central city - one that would be suitable for future public transport options."
She says before making their decision, Councillors carefully considered the amended proposal in light of the consultation feedback, the petition opposing the plan and the many emails they have received over the past few months.
They have also taken into account the results of an AC Nielsen survey which showed just over two-thirds of the 500 people surveyed supported the plan to put buses through Manners Mall, and an independent assessment of the bus route options which showed Manners Mall offered the best cost and travel benefits.
Mayor Prendergast says quality public spaces and pedestrian links are extremely important for cities to work well, and a redeveloped lower Cuba Street will provide a better connection with the waterfront, Civic Square and the Willis Street/Lambton Quay area.
It is proposed that limited vehicle access, including parallel parking, will remain in order to support local businesses, but lower Cuba Street will look and feel like a mall. Vehicles will have to travel at walking speed, give way to pedestrians and could be excluded altogether for events like the Cuba Carnival. Similar 'shared' areas work well in Melbourne and a number of European cities and Auckland is currently considering one in its central business district.
New and improved pedestrian areas in Dixon, Wakefield, Mercer and Willis streets have also been approved over the next five years.
"We have a great opportunity here to create some really exciting new public spaces and I hope Wellingtonians will get involved as we look at the design of these areas in greater detail."
Councillors also agreed today to extend the 30km/h 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 planned.
The next step is detailed design work on the new shared space in lower Cuba Street and the changes to Manners Mall. Further public consultation on aspects of the project will be carried out as the Council works through the processes that are required to make the changes happen.
The redevelopment of Manners Mall and lower Cuba Street is expected to happen in the middle of next year and will be part-funded by the New Zealand Transport Agency.