Wellington City Council's Deputy Mayor Sarah Free says the changes are designed to help with social distancing, and give people more choice in how they get around by making it safer and easier to bike in this part of the city.
“Wellingtonians are normally big public transport users. But in Alert Level 2 and potentially also 1, not so many of us are going to be able to travel that way because of reduced capacity on buses and trains,” she says. “So, in the wake of Covid-19, like many cities around the world, we are looking to repurpose space on some of our streets for walking and biking.”
It’s proposed one of the two traffic lanes along Featherston Street will become a temporary bike lane. This will link through to Victoria Street via Hunter Street, providing a dedicated bike lane through the city from Ballance Street to Abel Smith Street.
The temporary changes will form part of the main bike commuter route from the north and make it safer and more appealing. It will also provide a clear link through to Willis Street, close to where the proposed temporary bike lane up Brooklyn Hill will start.
Where possible, more space will also be created for pedestrians to walk, queue or safely pass each other on Featherston Street, which in normal times is one of the city’s busiest streets – used by about 13,000 pedestrians a day. This will be done using space on the seaward side of the road that is normally used for parking.
To provide more space for people on foot and bikes, space for general traffic will be reduced while the Covid-19 related changes are in place. It will also mean changes to some taxi stands, loading zones and bus stops. The concept plans include a temporary bus lane on Victoria Street between Dixon Street and Willis Street.
Deputy Mayor Free says the Council is providing a two-week opportunity for some initial public feedback before making a decision on 24 June on whether the temporary changes will happen – an opportunity people in many other places haven’t been given ahead of similar changes.
“Once they’re in, if approved, we’ll make it easy for businesses and the community who use these routes to provide suggestions and feedback, and some adjustments are possible. What we learn will also help us design and create better public spaces and shared streets in these, or other locations in the future.”
Councillor Jenny Condie, Associate Portfolio Leader for Transport, says these are temporary changes being made in very unsual times, which align well with city and regional goals – including the plan to move more people with fewer vehicles, make healthy transport choices an option for more people, and reduce emissions that cause climate change.
“We know many Wellingtonians are passionate and committed to doing their bit to help fight climate change – and that a lot of us also enjoyed being able to safely bike with our families during lockdown. So the things we learn from these, and the other temporary changes planned, can ultimately help us make the city a healthier, more sustainable and appealing place to live.”
If approved, the changes are expected to be in place as long as safe distancing may be required – which could be until there is a vaccine. No one knows exactly how long that will be.
“I’d like to see the changes stay in place even if public transport does get back to normal soon, because some people will prefer to bike to maintain a safe distance. We need to maintain that option, because like other countries, we could return to higher alert levels in the future. We just don’t know.”
She says when the prospect of applying to Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency for funding for these projects was mooted a few weeks ago, community representatives and individuals urged the Council to be bold, move more quickly, and do even more to enable physical distancing and increase transport choices.
“We know the removal of car parking will be a concern for some, but we also know from a lot of research around the world that removing car parks for bike lanes and widening footpaths generally has a neutral or positive effect on retail and hospitality businesses.
“We want to work with and support local businesses as we make these changes – so where we can, we’ll provide more space for queuing or sitting.”
In the wake of Covid-19 restrictions, cities all over the world are moving to create more space for people to walk, bike, queue and relax. With restricted capacity on public transport, large areas of London are being closed to cars to allow people to be able to safely walk and cycle.
Other cities have made big and rapid changes too – from hundreds of miles of new bike lanes in Milan and Mexico City, to widening footpaths and pedestrianising neighbourhoods in New York and Seattle.
In Auckland, 17kms of temporary bike lanes are in place already, and footpaths have been widened.
Feedback on the Featherston and Victoria Street proposals can be made online until Thursday 11 June. If approved on 24 June, the changes are expected to be in place by the end of July.
If approved, the changes will be 90 percent funded through Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s Innovating Streets programme as a Covid-19 response project. The Innovating Streets programme uses tactical urbanism to move towards the Government’s longer-term objectives to create safer, healthier and more vibrant towns and cities.