It’s been over a year since the much-maligned Wellington Bypass was opened. How does it stack up?
“The bypass” as it is invariably known was a motorway extension that knocked through one end of central Wellington’s bohemian arm to smooth out the east-west crossing. I wrote about it before, first back in Sept 2004 and then again when it opened this time last year. I also made a post that linked to a a good roundup at BuzzAndHum.
In the 2004 post I was a bit florid, but I still agree with what I wrote. Here’s the key bit in terms of what I expected would happen:
Cuba Street is the seat of the city’s creative energy, its endless innovation, its diversity. It is the city’s soul… [The bypass] will carve a symbolic wall through Cuba Street itself and cut it off from the extensions of the Cuba-Street-idea – places like Aro Valley, Brooklyn. It will have a huge effect on the city.
Now, I’m not saying that the bypass will definitely change everything or will definitely be the tipping point. There’s no way for us to know that. But it will cause significant change, of that we can be certain. If it comes to pass, Wellington will not feel the same. The balance will be shifted. If worst comes to worst, the balance will be completely upset.
(I also took a couple paragraphs to ridicule the pro-Bypass argument that it would add to business productivity by getting staff to work a few minutes earlier.)
I hit the same themes a year ago:
This is a significant step away from the kind of Wellington I feel we should have towards one that we should avoid… [The arguments against the new road are] speculative and subjective. There is no set of facts that could convince a Bypass-backer that the new road creates an unpleasant psychological barrier or squanders the area’s value. However, it is crucial to remember the other side of the coin, which is that the rationale given for the bypass was, and is, nonsensical. The bypass will not significantly improve congestion in the city, as car traffic will expand to meet the available roadspace. The bypass will not improve the productivity of Wellington’s business community, as was so earnestly claimed and debated in the Council Chambers. These claims are, quite simply, ridiculous. And they have cost us $40 million, and one more chunk of the city’s soul.
So, one year on, and Wellington’s new road is heavily used. I notice myself how it is now easier and faster to get from the motorway to the basin reserve; I wonder, however, how much of that is due to the rolling green lights that you always get on the bypass, rather then the new route itself.
I also notice how it’s made many other journeys through the city more annoying. Heading east from Aro is a nightmare, for one thing. The lanes and lights in many of the changed streets are a real nuisance. Crossing the bypass in either direction is usually a hassle.
However, I’m not a heavy driver and especially not in peak traffic times, so I can’t speak to the ultimate success or failure of the time-saving claims that built the bypass.
What I can say is that the bypass has indeed torn a swathe through a part of Wellington with a lot character. Upper Cuba and upper Willis, in particular, show the effects of the Bypass. The Bypass itself is lined with scenic gardens that no human will ever use, and beautifully restored residences that no sane human will want to live in. It’s notable how lifeless the bypass is, compared to all the other streets around it. It’s a corridor of dead space.
Overall, while I’m glad that I get to drive across town more easily, this increase in ease is hardly compensation for what has been lost. (And considering the environmental impact of driving, making it easier to drive is hardly a straightforward positive.) I feel that one year on, the key fears of the anti-bypass campaigners have been realised. A chunk of Wellington has been sacrificed for something that is, ultimately, of very little worth. The money should have been spent elsewhere, for example on public transport – Wellington’s public transport system is massively in need of investment.
That’s my take on the bypass, one year on. What say you?