What I really want from the transport system
By Lynn Jenner
(Lynn Jenner was born in Hawera, Taranaki, and now lives with her partner on the Kāpiti Coast. She has both a masters and PhD in Creative Writing from the International Institute of Modern Letters at Victoria University, as well as an M. Ed., Dip Ed. Psych. and Dip. Teaching. Before she took up creative writing at the age of 49, she practised as a psychologist and counsellor for 25 years.
She’s won major writing awards and has now begun an in-depth study of the processes and personalities involved in the Kapiti Expressway. Today we publish the first of a series on the Expressway project.)
Forty odd years ago, in the wee small hours, I sat on a bulldozer which had been left parked outside the Captain Cook Tavern in Dunedin. I thought about how cool it would be to drive it around, but I didn’t know how to start it, and there was no Google in those days, so I just sat there for a while and then went home.
In November 2015, at an Expressway Open Day, I climbed up into a digger and sat there for a while until it became clear that I was stopping a line of small boys from getting their turn so I climbed down again.
I have always had an interest in holes too, the deeper the better. I stand on the edge and look down at all the different sized pipes and cables, and if I can, I ask the men down the hole what they are doing.
I’ve always been interested in how people earn their living, what exactly they do and what purpose they see in their work. But before the Kāpiti Expressway came along, the abstract word ‘transport’ would have caused me to start thinking about leaving the room or even the country.
For most people, roads are ‘just there’
If your mind is on the mêlée of your life, as mine mostly is, roads are just there. If they are open, and you can go where you want to go, you don’t think about them much.
Trains the same. If they turn up when you expect, if there’s a place to wait out of the rain, if you can afford the fare, if they are clean and they nearly always work, you might not think too much about them either.
But when these systems don’t work, and you need them to carry out important parts of your life, you start thinking about them much more.
I don’t think I had given more than ten consecutive seconds of thought to any road until I lived in Palmerston North in the early 2000’s and needed to go to and from Wellington every weekend. That’s when I found that Highway 1, between Otaki and Wellington, didn’t work.
By 2007, when I moved to Kāpiti, I knew quite a lot about exactly how that part of State Highway 1 didn’t work, but I would not have had much to say about what needed to be done about it.
(Possible Break — heading to be decided)
In the ten years that I have lived in Kāpiti, roads and trains have come into focus for me and I have started to think about them quite a lot. As always with me it has been a slow process of noticing things that I didn’t use to notice, thinking about things that were happening and listening to what other people had to say. The latest thing I have been thinking about is how decisions are made about transport.
I know now that my personalised view of problems and my vagueness about solutions is not uncommon.
Apparently public opinion on transport can be divided into several reasonably discrete groups.
The biggest group are people who, like me in 2009, are mostly concerned with what affects them directly. We want everything. We want easy parking, uncongested roads, good public transport, walkways and cycle ways and probably also protection of the natural environment and our built heritage. We don’t want the parking spaces outside our house to be used for a new bus lane.
The second group have a strong view about how transport should operate, based on environmental concerns. These people want things to change now, which means more money spent on public transport and making cycling and walking safe, and they don’t see loss of parking on roads or loss of car access to retail areas as a reason not to make changes.
Back in 2009, and now, I have a foot in that camp too. I want transport to be somewhat ideological and I want that ideology to be about environmental sustainability.
The third significant group are people with businesses dependent on road transport and cars. These people want to preserve and enhance road and car-favourable developments. Their view is ideological too, but favours what business needs right now.
My own straddling of the first two groups shows that the groups are not ‘real’ or permanent. A person could even have opinions with elements from all three positions. But it is interesting to realise that planners could never please the ‘silent majority’, because that group wants to keep everything, gain new elements and lose nothing. (to be continued)
The Steven Joyce Plan
Back in 2009, when Steven Joyce, transport minister in the newly elected National government, issued a statement that the Wellington Northern Corridor (Levin to Wellington) would be one of seven Roads of National Significance, he and the party had an electoral mandate to make new policy.
You could argue that people had voted for a pro-business, pro-road transport party and therefore he was giving the public the sort of transport policy it wanted.
However, at that time, I wasn’t thinking about who understood what in the 2008 election and the subtleties of Joyce’s mandate. I just noticed that a decision had been made and that it affected me.
On 19 March 2009, Joyce released this statement:
“These are seven of our most essential routes as a country, that require work to reduce congestion, improve safety and support economic growth.”
“The purpose of listing roads as “nationally significant” is to allow the government to have input into the development of the land transport programme and the National Infrastructure Plan from a nationwide perspective.
“These roads are already very important in their respective regions. We want to signal to the NZ Transport Agency through the Government Policy Statement their significance to the country as a whole.”
I understood the first sentence. Reducing congestion and improving safety were important to me, because they affected me daily.
Economic growth was something I understood too. That was a National government priority, but not my priority. Quite the reverse. I equated economic growth with greed.
I aligned myself with the idea that the pursuit of growth is an idea which has been responsible for colonialism, degradation of the natural world and exploitation and impoverishment of workers everywhere.
It was a surprise to me to hear that a ‘nationwide perspective’ was to be applied to this stretch of Highway 1. I wasn’t sure what that meant since I understood State Highway 1 was already managed by a government body rather than a local body.
And I certainly didn’t understand what ‘the land transport programme’, the National Infrastructure Plan’ or the ‘Government Policy Statement’ were and how these might be the way in which a ‘nationwide perspective’ was to be applied to what Kāpiti people referred to as ‘The Highway’.
You would have to be an expert in ‘government’ language to understand these terms, and you would have to be willing to read these plans and policy statements to really understand what policy goals were driving this announcement.
Even now I don’t understand the reasons for couching a public announcement about transport in these terms.
Fortunately, you don’t have to understand every word of what someone says to understand the intent. From 19 March 2009, when Joyce made this statement, it was obvious to everyone in Kāpiti that things were going to change around here.
I had that feeling you get as a little person when some big powerful person takes an interest in your affairs. You know that they have an agenda, because normally you don’t count enough for them to be interested.
From Western Link Road to four-lane Expressway
And sure enough, by the end of 2009, we knew that Kāpiti would have a four lane expressway which would not follow the line of State Highway 1 but would use land previously reserved for the local Western Link Road.
Our local interests, represented by the fact that we had voted in a mayor whose platform was to start building the Western Link Road, were over-ridden.
At the time, I saw the road freight industry and the oil and car industry as the main beneficiaries of this Expressway, and the Kāpiti natural environment as the loser.
Joyce’s statement that ‘Work on State Highway One between Wellington and Levin, the major route in and out of the capital will come as long-awaited relief for the lower North Island’ made it sound as though the whole ‘lower North Island’ would be breathing one long and unified sigh of relief that a solution was at hand to the years of congestion and accidents that had been a problem for decades.
But it wasn’t that simple, and it still isn’t.
Local business people said right from the start that the Kāpiti expressway would be good for the area.
The roads would create jobs for local people, they said, and the project would bring people to the area to live and help local businesses. They were right about jobs. Since the Expressway started to be built there have been hundreds of jobs, and there have been opportunities for local people to be trained and build up skills in the road-building business.
The 18km MacKays to Peka Peka Expressway was completed in 2017.
But by then work was already underway on the Peka Peka to Otaki part of the Expressway and on the Transmission Gully road from Tawa to Ngauranga. Both these projects are close enough that people from anywhere in Kāpiti can commute to the job site.
It was also correct that these big projects would bring people to the area. People working on the Expressway brought their families here, rented houses here and bought houses here.
House prices in Kāpiti, which had been stagnant since the Global Financial Crisis in 2007, began to rise.
The Mayor’s viewpoint
As Kāpiti Mayor K. Gurunathan said recently, ‘It was the expressway that kicked off the latest changes, taking traffic from its traditional route past the districts shopping centres and enticing developers to swathes of land perfectly positioned for commuting to Wellington.’
The mayor is talking about new developments like the 800 home Ngārara subdivision, adjacent to the expressway interchange at Waikanae.
Residents of this new development would have to get a bus to Waikanae to catch a train to Wellington, but they can be on the Expressway in two minutes.
Other factors were operating at the same time, like the rise in property prices in Auckland and then in other centres, and low interest rates, but for whatever combination of reasons, after 2010, property prices in Kāpiti rose.
Between June 2016 and June 2017, Kāpiti house prices rose 18%. Kāpiti’s current population of 52,244 is predicted to rise to 63,685 by 2043. ‘Oh yes, says Kāpiti Mayor Gurunathan, it’s booming.
But in Kāpiti everything comes back to water. Climate change, or a normal variation in sea levels, whichever explanation you prefer, is causing tides to be higher than in the past and land is being lost along the Kāpiti coast.
The Kāpiti council and property owners are already involved in building costly retaining walls to protect houses and roads and water and sewerage systems and everyone is too scared to think about what will happen over ten or twenty years.
The boom might be great if you think only of your equity in your house, but does not help the existing problems caused by rising seal levels. It might make these problems worse.
As journalists Fallon and Maxwell say, the combination of more houses and more rainfall together might be too much for the stormwater system.
There are other worries – a projected increase in rainfall would tax the area’s stormwater systems and a rise in tides already threatens the 1800 houses perched along the coast.
Rail services improve as Expressway is built
Between 2009 and 2017 the comfort and reliability of the Kāpiti train service improved enormously.
Provision was made for double tracking in some parts of the Kāpiti line, which meant trains could pass each other and we could have more services on the line.
More Park and Ride parking spaces were provided for commuters at Paraparaumu and Waikanae, and the commuter line was extended to Waikanae.
The total number of journeys on the Kāpiti Line has grown over the last ten years, from 321,880 in June 2007 to 496,696 in June 2017. At the time of writing ( November 2017) there is no sign that the first part of the Wellington Northern Corridor through Kāpiti discourages people from commuting to Wellington by train, which had been a concern before the Expressway was built.
When Transmission Gully is completed, which is predicted to be in 2020, and the Peka Peka to Otaki part of the Expressway is completed, the longer stretch of easy driving into Wellington may entice more commuters to consider driving.
But if there is a continued traffic bottleneck at the Ngauranga Gorge, which seems likely, that may put people off driving.
Angus Gabara, Acting General Manager for Public Transport at Wellington Regional Council used the phrase ‘natural balancing’ to describe the process by which people stick with their preferred form of transport ‘if it works’.
Right now, eight years after Steven Joyce’s announcement, Kāpiti has a section of Expressway that has [until the announcement in October 2017 that ‘about 14 km of slow lanes’ needed to be re-sealed because of water seepage] been spoken of in the transport sector as an exemplar of how roads should be built.
The role of the Kāpiti Council in the construction Alliance is credited for some of the best features, especially the cycle-way, and pedestrian bridges.
On the negative side, there are ongoing problems for some residents with noise pollution and these people are battling NZTA to get additional noise mitigation.
As far as travel within Kāpiti district goes, when the Expressway became Highway 1, we inherited the old State Highway 1, potholes and all, as a local road that we can use to drive quietly from town to town.
We also ended up with a huge concrete structure towering over the landscape. I still get a shock sometimes when I catch sight of the concrete bridges over streets I use. A part of me still expects to see the sleepy corner and the willow trees that made up the scene until about 2015.
We also have a road system which makes it easier for trucks to move freight to and from Wellington and does nothing to encourage businesses to carry freight by rail or encourage people to refrain from taking their cars into Wellington city.
When you look at all the pieces and what it adds up to, Kāpiti did get a transport package and we did get economic growth.
It isn’t a situation I can sum up as all good or all bad. But, despite the passage of a little time and the inexorable process of accommodation, it still rankles that the Expressway was imposed on us.
I have already owned up that in 2009 I did not know what I wanted to happen with Kāpiti’s transport. Looking back at what did happen, I have thought about the process and the outcomes and what other options there were.
Just down the road, the ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving’ (LGWM) project is a fascinating contrast with the Kāpiti experience. LGWM, or ‘Let’s get Welly moving’, as its friends call it, brings together Wellington City Council, Greater Wellington Regional Council and New Zealand Transport Agency in a Memorandum of Understanding to develop a plan for the development of Wellington’s transport system.
The focus is the area from Ngauranga Gorge to the Airport, encompassing the Wellington Urban Motorway and connections to Wellington Hospital and eastern and southern suburbs.
Back in 2009/10 NZTA made the decision to build the Kāpiti Expressway behind closed doors, then formed an Alliance to build it.
The project faltered at the early stages because of significant community opposition, but by the time it reached the Board of Inquiry stage in 2012 Kāpiti Coast District Council had joined the Alliance and committed itself to supporting the project.
There is no way to prove this but in my view the Council’s change from opposition to support was probably a significant factor in the consent decision.
The Wellington Experience
In 2015, NZTA formed the LGWM Alliance at the planning stage of a transport system for Wellington.
The provocation for NZTA to change its way of operating so dramatically was a group of citizens who opposed the Basin Reserve bridge. This group successfully fought NZTA’s plan in the Board of Inquiry and the project did not receive consent.
NZTA did not back down immediately. It appealed to the High Court to have that decision overturned. In 2015 that appeal failed. NZTA could have appealed this decision, but decided not to.
Instead NZTA decided to work with the other two agencies to find transport solutions that were more widely supported. That was the genesis of LGWM.
LGWM began by consulting 10,000 people about their transport needs and problems and from there developed twelve transport principles to guide a final plan.
These principles are: Accessible, healthy and safe, Better public transport, Clean and green, Compact city, Demand and supply, Future-proof and resilient, Past, present and future, Predictable travel time, Set in nature, Growth, Travel choice, Wider view. These are in alphabetical order not order of importance, but even so, it is heartening to see ‘Better public transport’ and ‘Clean and green’ in the list.
The seven process principles
In addition to the transport principles, LGWM adopted seven process principles: Listen and learn, and be informed and guided by evidence, including smart data approaches, Be bold, aspirational and innovative, Be open, transparent and communicate in plain English, Respect the range of views in the community, Adopt best practice urban design and transport standards, Seek win wins where possible, and Be transparent about how trade-offs are made.
As I write this in 2017, Wellington’s transport system has not been re-made to fit these principles. Perhaps the principles are so ambitious that the reality cannot ever match them but consultation processes from 2015-2017 show that to date LGWM has been consulting widely and making strenuous efforts to present options and trade-offs explicitly. A blueprint of what exactly will happen with Wellington’s transport and how, is expected in 2018.
In a recent discussion, Harriet Shelton, Manager, Regional Transport Planning for the Greater Wellington Regional Council said that when LGWM makes the difficult decisions, whatever trade-offs the final plan involves, the implementation process will need a strong champion.
There will be a need for a strong voice to explain what will be done and why to the city’s residents and the wider region, she said.
Clearly there are some very significant challenges still ahead. Among those are the sheer complexity of the Wellington geography and the fact that Wellington public opinion does not match well with the policy of the 3rd term National government.
Wellington people are very big users of public transport and committed to better public transport as a goal. This government has more readily funded roads. Government policy will change as a result of the September 2017 general election.
With all the complexities and challenges and unknowns, I would like to have had a process like this for Kāpiti. I would have liked a process which could work with national and local interests, Iwi and the Crown, the present and the future, the water and the concrete, all together.