CAW quoted in Capital Times article on Danish design

Danish architect Jan Gehl was asked by the Wellington City Council how to improve Wellington urban design. Are his recommendations still of value?

World-renowned urban design specialist Jan Gehl visited Wellington in 2004. He said the city needed greater pedestrian priority, cycle lanes and light rail.
Commissioned by the council, Copenhagen’s Gehl came up with about 94 recommendations, from taming vehicular traffic, stepping up pedestrian priority, supporting alternative transport, and improving links to the waterfront.
Councillor Celia Wade-Brown says that despite agreeing on a series of principles, the council has failed to follow through on them.
One of Gehl’s major points was that Jervois Quay acted as a barrier between the waterfront and the city and the four lanes needed to be reduced.
“Our thoughts were that this road needed to be downscaled into a city boulevard with maybe half the lanes it has today,” he says.
Other mini-highways such as Kent and Cambridge Terraces should be converted into city boulevards also, he says. Wade-Brown says none of this has happened.
“Kent and Cambridge Terraces are still less attractive than they should be and with fewer traffic gaps it could be a lovely boulevard,” she says. “Jervois Quay remains a huge barrier between city and waterfront. Trees in the middle have not made less traffic. Crossing times for people on foot are too long and dissuade people going to and from the waterfront.”
Gehl’s strongly recommended a reduction of vehicle traffic in the city.
“Wellington is no exception from the general [worldwide] car invasion. A number of streets appear to be urban highways instead of city streets,” he says. “Pedestrian crossings are either complicated or have short crossing time. There is a high level of land use for parking in the heart of the city.”
Council spokesperson Richard MacLean says the council has vastly improved the pedestrian environment of the city since Gehl’s visit.
“We’ve slowed down the speed limits along the Golden Mile and there’s an enormous amount of traffic-calming work (such as speed bumps) in Courtenay Place and Lambton Quay side streets. I think we deserve a big tick in terms of these techniques.”
MacLean admits, however, that Gehl’s recommendation of reducing roadside car parking in the city has not happened.
“Apart from proposals for things where we have bus lanes, which will have undoubtedly reduced parking, we’re not in the process of starting some car park culling programme,” he says. “You can’t get rid of them without providing alternatives, and most retailers in the city would scream blue murder.”
But Gehl says alternatives must come in the form of supporting other transport, namely cycling.
“Copenhagen is a cycling city with 37% of all commuters going on bikes. This high population of cyclists has an enormous impact on the quality of the city, where city streets are freed up from traffic, where speed is slower, and where cyclists are able to stop and park easily and be part of whatever is going on,” he says.
Melbourne has managed to raise its cycling population 10 times just by painting in cycle lanes and adding barriers in heavily trafficked streets, and New York has rolled out 300km of cycle lanes over the past two years, he says.
“This is a cheap investment compared to what the city would have to invest to transport these people with public transport.”
Cycle Aware Wellington member Patrick Morgan says Wellington City Council is not doing enough.
“Wellington is a long way behind the rest of the world. The council’s idea of cycle lanes is to allow them in bus lanes, and most people find that intimidating. It’s not going to encourage people to take up cycling,” says Morgan.
He praises the council for the proposed Great Harbourway between the city and Petone, and the Thorndon Quay clearway in the morning, but says overall the performance is poor.
“We’re falling behind. The goal of the City Council cycling strategy, their goal is to make it safer for people who currently ride, but do nothing to encourage more people to ride.”
Looking to the future, Gehl says Wellington needs to start making long-term transport investments now, and that building more freeways is 20th century thinking.
“I favour a light rail option that can serve the city centre and relieve city streets from congestion,” he says. “Light rail is a long term investment that pays off. Several cities have successful light rail systems that have greatly improved the city centre and have defined future growth corridors. Strasbourg, Lyon and Bordeaux in France are examples.”
Wade Brown says that while Wellington is generally moving in the right direction, we need to do more, and quicker.
“The people-friendly development of inner city public realm is crucial for all workers, shoppers and visitors and the environmental and economic success of Wellington.”

What Jan Gehl said on contentious Capital issues:

Manners Mall:
“Pedestrianisation is not the ultimate solution. There are many other attractive arrangements where a public transport corridor can be ideal. Manners Mall might be a good option.”
Variation 11:
“I favour public involvement. No one can effectively prevent anyone from speaking out their opinion in
the press...”
Basin Reserve Flyover:
“Freeways and flyovers have had their period and 21st century traffic solutions are more sensitive to their environment. If the overall objective is to move traffic from the waterfront there might be ways of carefully planning for a freeway linkage, making sure it doesn’t add to the general capacity and thus invite more cars.”

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