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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38 Number 8. 1975

On the Road to . .

On the Road to . . .

In last Thursday's Dominion (17 April), there was an Insight article which served as a timely reminder to us of the Wellington City Council's proposals to extend Victoria Street. In a series of closed door meetings, which may even date back as far as ten years, the City Council has been working out an idea of a new arterial route from Wakefield Street through to Webb Street, running more or less parallel to Willis Street. This new roadway will follow more or less the present lines of Farish Street, Herbert Street, Sturdee Street, Cumberland Place, Crosby Terrace and Evelyn Place. It appears to have been designed to link in with both the urban motorway and with the North-West Connector, both projects which, if not abandoned completely, have been substantially amended. And of course, the construction of such roads will involve the destruction and demolition of many present useful buildings, as part of the City Council's apparent policy of turning central Wellington into a high-rise jungle.

The effect of something like the Victoria Street extension project would be much the same, in terms of the pattern of inner city life, as the foothills motorway project. It will encourage the movement of motor vehicles, particularly the cars of commuters, into and through the central city — in this case, specifically the Te Aro flat. But, in some ways, the effect of the Victoria St. extension will be worse than that of the motorway. The effect of a major roadway in an urban area is to form a barrier to pedestrian movement, especially if there is a heavy flow of traffic.

The heavy traffic flows along the waterfront, for example, serve to cut the city off from the harbour, so that the City Council's new maritime park along the waterfront between the Taranaki St. Wharf and Queens Wharf cannot be generally utilised.

Let us look, then, at this aspect of extending Victoria Street. The first thing to suffer would be the Civic Centre, which the City Council is planning to extend and develop at great cost. The necessity for people to cross heavy traffic streams would result in a substantial fall in the usage of that area for leisure purposes. Fewer people would use the public Library, and fewer people would sit on the lawns in the area during their lunch-time hour. But maybe the City Council would prefer people to be confined in their shops and offices. Or perhaps our new liberal, socially-concerned City Council is proposing the Victoria Street extension as a means of discouraging the alchoholics from enjoying the sun in front of the Town Hall — with the idea of cleaning up the city. But, regardless of the purpose, the City Councils plans will only serve to cut the main part of the city from one of the few areas of open space in the area.

Another way of looking at the Victoria Street extension is a means of allowing more and more cars to go nowhere. The foothills motorway was proposed as a means of enabling motorcars to get better access to the Te Aro area, but unfortunately, the planners forgot to ask the question of what should happen to the cars when they get there (see Salient Vol.37, No. 21, P15). Essentially the same problems are posed by the Victoria Street extension — what traffic is to be enabled to move where, and what will it do when it gets there? There will still be no parking space for the traffic that has been enabled to move more rapidly and easily across Te Aro flat. And we must remember that the Victoria Street extension was designed to link in with the North-West connector — with the abandonment (or at least postponement) of plans for this, one wonders how the Wellington City Council envisages all the extra traffic being able to use its short-cut to Karori. It is perhaps worthy of note that the City Council gives more attention to the interests of the people of Karori than it does to the interests of the people in Aro St. and the Te Aro flat.

The basic idea underlying the whole proposal is that more cars want to come into the city, and that they should therefore be encouraged to do so. This was the same outlook that prompted so many people, including the present mayor (who is regarded by so many people as being a forward-thinking liberal), to condemn the Minister of Works for proposing to stop the foothills motor way at Ghuznee street. Such a policy strikes me as being short-sighted. For, as soon as one bottleneck in traffic flows is removed (in the case of the Victoria Street extension, the relevant bottleneck is argued to be Willis St.), some other part of the roading system develops bottleneck symptoms. In other words, the extension of Victoria Street to relieve congestion in Willis Street is only likely to lead to the development of congestion problems elsewhere in the city.

There is another aspect to all this. In general, the move to relieve congestion problems at peak hours by the construction of new roads will encourage motorists to bring their cars into the city, because traffic movement will appear to be easier. In general, bringing more cars into the city solves no problems, but rather postpones the solution of present congestion problems until they have become worse and consequently much more difficult to solve. In many other parts of the world one finds local governments taking steps to discourage cars from entering cities. Motorways are being stopped before completion, and free public passenger transportation systems are being provided, as it is being discovered that the motor-car makes a negative rather than a positive contribution to urban life. Yet the Wellington City Council does not seem to be able to grasp this, and, less than two months ago, was threatening to raise bus fares.

What is going on in Wellington, then, and inside the City Council? To start with, it is notable that many city councillors have business interests in property and land-dealing and land ownership. The City Council's plans for Wellington's development would appear to be of considerable interest to some people. For one thing, the provision of cheap subsidised public transport must involve an increased level of properly rates, and if you own a lot of land, you are hardly likely to vote for an increase in the rates on it. The concrete jungle approach to the central city area, with motor-ways, express streets (such as an extended Victoria St. would be), and high-rise buildings, is made to measure for people owning central city land. This is because high-rise development increases ground rents (land values), forcing poorer inhabitants of near-city areas to outer suburbs, to be replaced by people who can pay more. Such a policy will tend to encourage dealing in land, and when it is remembered that real estate agents work on a commission basis, the advantages of such a policy are obvious. (Two city councillors described themselves as real estate agents before the last elections). Such an approach also necessitates the removal of working class and poorer people as outer sub-urbs as inner city accomodation becomes too expensive. New sub-divisions are the result, and there is a lot of money to be made in subdividing the land.

Some of these matters do not appear to relate directly to the Victoria Street extension. Yet a closer examination reveals many important matters. The dwindling stock of residential accomodation in the Te Aro area will be depleted even further still, especially as some not required for demolition will be taken over by some of the commercial concerns desplaced by the Victoria Street extension. Other space is likely to be commandeered for parking, but plainly, the available accommodation for students and others in the area will be reduced, with students being forced into higher-rent property if they wish to remain near to the university, or else being forced to live at greater distance from the university with consequent greater inconvenience and heavier transport costs. And what a waste it all is, for the extension of Victoria Street will, sooner or later, only require the construction of additional new roads or motorways elsewhere in the city, with consequent further depletion of the inner city housing stock and further dehumanisation of the city.

Photo of cars in a traffic jam