This is the op ed by Save the Basin spokesperson Alana Bowman which appeared in Tuesday Dominion Post. There may be some slight variations between this version and the version published by the DomPost.
When building a structure, the property owner instructs the builder. Not the other way around.
When the New Zealand Transport Agency demands to build a flyover in the heart of Wellington it forgets its role. As a government agency that builds roads, it provides advice but residents who live there, the owners, provide the instructions.
The builder certainly should not threaten the owner, as NZTA did in its December letter to the Wellington City Council warning that the funding for the whole regional transport plan could be pulled away because Council wanted to look at alternatives to a flyover at the Basin Reserve.
Had NZTA respected the majority of submissions opposing the flyover, progress on resolving the issue would be underway. But NZTA ignored those instructions and instead offered only a choice of where the flyover would be located, not whether it was wanted at all. The majority of submitters wanted “No flyover!”
The Save the Basin Campaign reflects those views. We are neither led by, nor a front for, any political party. The campaign includes members of various political parties, and many who are not members of any party, and every political party in New Zealand will have members opposing it. What unites us is not politics, but opposition to this outrageous flyover proposal.
We appeal to the government to instruct NZTA to reflect the majority view, as it did with the War Memorial Park, and require a design without a flyover.
Knowing residents don’t want a flyover, NZTA now rebrands it as a “bridge” in Jenny Chetwynd’s November Dominion Post article “How a bridge will untangle the Basin.” If that doesn’t convince, NZTA also tries the even more ludicrous “slimline elevated street.”
A smart, efficient solution to transport problems is needed for the region and Wellington. Eastern residents and airport traffic want less congestion through the Basin Reserve, travelers throughout the city want more frequent and less costly public transport, and people appreciating the Wellington skyline want to retain that open view.
Other large cities have solved these issues without flyovers. Why is NZTA unable to do so?
A flyover would block views along Cambridge and Kent Terrace, creating a barren, cold space underneath to invite graffiti and danger from opportunists lying in wait. Three storeys tall, it would dominate the area from the War Memorial Park to Mt Victoria tunnel. The tacked-on pedestrian/cycleway would exceed NZTA’s promised maximum 12m width.
The proposed flyover’s height would project increased noise and add grit to wind-born pollution throughout the area. The trajectory of travel required from the Mt Victoria tunnel to meet up with the War Memorial trench will create a roller-coaster ride.
Built just 20m from the gate of the Basin Reserve cricket ground, one of Wellington’s places of pride, and level with the R A Vance Stand, its noise, vibration, and dust would forever destroy the unique atmosphere of this historic and world famous cricket ground.
The trustees of the Basin Reserve face a difficult, and probably painful, choice. If they don’t oppose the flyover, they may persuade NZTA to “mitigate” the degradation of its environment with a modern grandstand and player facilities; but by opposing it they lose an opportunity to improve the grounds with no cost to either the Trust or the city.
The problem lies with the flawed design of any flyover.
Melbourne tore down a flyover in 2001 saying it created a “psychological barrier.” The London Evening Standard, in 2012 summed it up well: “Flyovers are so outdated we need tunnel vision. The truth is the flyovers are eyesores that are as outdated as their crumbling structures suggest. They’re the legacy of a failed vision that London’s planners dreamed up during a post-war vogue for redesigning the city.”
A Somerville, Massachusetts flyover’s “underside is a lunar landscape of concrete dust, litter, and pigeon droppings” said the transportation director. “It just repels you. Of course, the 1950s planners who built the overpass paid little heed to the people who might walk, bike or reside in its shadow.”
The New York Times denounced Louisville’s planned flyover: “The proposal, so clearly out of step, has been met with grass-roots opposition and is now in the courts, tied up over issues about financing, tolls and the environment.”
Cheers rang out when San Francisco’s Embarcadero elevated freeway – one long flyover at its waterfront – was torn down in 1991.
Now Auckland plans to remove one of its more offensive flyovers, at Hobson Street, because it is a “blight to the area, obscures views to the waterfront and is a barrier to pedestrians.” Other cities around the world have done the same – Toronto, Seoul, Boston, Milwaukee, Vancouver, Trenton, Portland and Chattanooga.
The government’s current development of the War Memorial Park, of which we can all be proud and enjoy, should be supported by a traffic option which extends its parkway to include the Basin Reserve, not an ugly, towering motorway flyover.
The anger expressed by many editorial letter writers and submitters reflects the frustration that something should be done, and quickly.
The Save the Basin Campaign urges NZTA to abandon its stubborn insistence on an outdated, impractical flyover.
With a more forward-thinking, urban-friendly alternative, we can just get on with it to ensure that Wellington is better placed to accommodate future population growth and innovations in transport technologies, and enhance, not hinder, the progress of a modern capital city.