Thinking aloud about some of light rail’s challenges

An email from Wellington Regional Councillor Daran Ponter to FIT raises important issues about the challenges Wellington will face in bringing light rail to fruition. This post considers Daran’s comments on an earlier Q&A post and adds FIT’s observations.

This is really useful and very timely as the government gets closer to making a decision on what priority to give LR as part of LGWM. 

I have to say that I continue to have reservations about a Harbour Quays route, principally because this was so roundly rejected when GWRC proposed bus routes on the Harbour Quays.  This reaction may dissipate though with a fast service and good connections in the suburbs.

It's worth reminding ourselves that whatever route is chosen for light rail, it will have both strengths and weaknesses. There is no perfect route, only a best fit to the requirements and constraints. The Harbour Quays option is one such trade-off. FIT takes its cue from the government's policy statement on transport, which provides funding for urban rapid transit projects. For FIT, rapid transit means high volume, high frequency and fast enough to compete with private car travel.

The main alternative, and the one chosen in the Public Transport Spine Study, is a golden mile route. FIT envisages that the golden mile will be converted into a pedestrian-centric low speed transit mall, with an estimated 30 to 40 buses per hour once light rail is up and running. The generally-accepted international guideline for operating in such an environment is that light rail vehicles are limited to a maximum speed of 20 km/hr. The rest of the line is not long enough, and lacks high speed sections, to recover the delay a golden mile route would introduce.

Light rail construction on the golden mile would be costly and disruptive. Wellington is fortunate to have a suitable surface route close to the city centre. Lacking this option, many cities have little choice but to build rapid transit lines underground through the central city. If an intermediate stop between the station and Frank Kitts Park (900 m) is considered necessary, it would be feasible to run light rail on Stout St to a Midland Park stop.

Research shows that people willingly walk further for the benefit of a faster journey. The route FIT proposes means every point on the golden mile is within a 6 minute walk of a light rail stop. FIT estimates that a well-designed light rail line following its route can achieve a travel time from the airport to railway station of under 20 minutes. In FIT's view, this meets the government's criteria for it to qualify for rapid transit funding.

In relation to hubbing, you will be aware of the push-back we have had from local communities at even 5% of commuters hubbing.  Some of this reaction is due to poor execution on the part of GWRC, but a significant part is a reaction to the idea of hubbing full stop.  Not suggesting this is a show stopper, more that collectively we are going to have a job ahead of to ensure quality connections for commuters (time, ease of transfer etc) and getting commuters into a transfer “groove”.

Those wishing to catch the light rail who don’t live within the 1 km “walk corridor” will need ways to get to their nearest stop. Local feeder-bus services are one option; others include using a bike or e-scooter, getting someone to drop you off, and through-bus services so people have a choice of a faster trip with a transfer or a slower one-seat trip. The strategy is to build more transport choices; people can choose options that best meet their travel needs.

Reconfigured bus stops make light rail transfers easy and quick / Greg Thompson (used with permission)

Reconfigured bus stops make light rail transfers easy and quick / Greg Thompson (used with permission)

Many cities with well-designed transit hubs treat "there and back again" trips within a time limit as a transfer. For example, people can catch a bus or light rail to go shopping, then use a transfer to ride home again. As long as the time between boardings is less than 90 minutes, it counts as a single trip. This kind of policy treats transfers as an opportunity, rather than seeing them only as a problem. Fare policies that treat mobility as a service (unlimited travel for a fixed monthly subscription) also make people less reluctant to transfer.

Hubs are a necessary part of a full anywhere to anywhere transit system. While nobody likes having to transfer, there is extensive literature on how to minimise the impact of transfers. Ensuring light rail delivers a rapid transit service is essential: the time saved on light rail has to be enough to offset the transfer penalty.

Finally I note that to provide a dedicated route across the City significant numbers of car parks will be affected – more than ever before we are going to need a joined-up GWRC-WCC approach on this.

One strategy some overseas cities have adopted is to move the on-street parking off-street. This requires including private sector parking providers in conversations about fostering transit oriented development along the light rail line. Medium density residential development around the light rail stops also reduces the need for parking and needs to be encouraged. Developing a joint GWRC-WCC transit oriented development policy would be a useful starting point.

Pricing policies and charges will need adjusting. The pricing objective is that on-street parking will rarely be more than about 80% full, so that those who really need a park can find one.

Options for extending light rail to Johnsonville

This quote is an extract from an email, to FIT and others, about light rail service to Johnsonville:

…this points to the fact that the Johnsonville line at the very least should be extended through town. ... [A] single 20 km line is vastly superior to two isolated end-to-end lines heading off in opposite directions and sharing a common terminus, each with its own depot, with different vehicles types, and ... running on different gauges. Once you come to accept this and allow vehicles of four-car Matangi unit length (actually 86 m) through the streets during peak hours, then surely using the existing 1067 mm gauge is a no-brainer.

Teasing this out needs definitions:

Light rail
Rapid transit, usually either low-floor vehicles running on-street, or high-floor on separate rights-of-way. Street running light rail has on-street priority and a low-voltage overhead power supply (generally 750 V). Track gauge is usually ‘standard’ (1435 mm) or ‘metre’ (1000 mm).
The main-line passenger trains used in the Wellington area, running in trains of two, four, or six cars, or potentially eight cars after lengthening platforms. Track gauge is 1067 mm.
NZR FP Class 4103 at Khandallah Station / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA

NZR FP Class 4103 at Khandallah Station / Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA

The FIT view on extending light rail to Johnsonville is this:

  1. A single 20 km line is generally better than two 10 km lines, and FIT has no objection to railway vehicles running between Johnsonville and the Airport.

  2. The Johnsonville Line is single-track, and trains can only pass at Wadestown Loop, Ngaio and Khandallah. This is enough for four trains an hour each way, the present-day timetable (service every 15 minutes). Anything more would require double-tracking, because additional passing loops are impractical and offer only limited improvements to service frequency. 

  3. The Johnsonville Line is now operated using four-car Matangis at peak hours, and two cars at other times. These vehicles could readily be transferred to other lines.

  4. Introducing light rail on the existing single-track line would severely limit capacity. Conventional vehicles are typically 30 to 60 metres long, and regulations often set a practical on-street maximum of about 72–75 m. For example, the Siemens Avenio comes in standard lengths at multiples of 9 m, from 18 to 72 m. FIT has planned for up to 66 m vehicles—following Auckland—with a crush-loading capacity of 470 passengers (4 pass/sq m). Conversion to light rail would cap line-capacity at 1900 passengers an hour, about a third of its ultimate capacity using Matangis.

  5. The Johnsonville tunnels are too small for the vehicle-width chosen by Auckland Transport (2.65 m). On-street light rail is low-floor, with a platform height of about 350 mm, and the Johnsonville tunnels are very narrow at rail level.

  6. The Johnsonville Line should not be seen as just for commuters. Urban transport is changing fast, world-wide, and light rail can be expected to provide an all day, every day, frequent service. FIT is proposing a 5 minute service on some sections. Another likely improvement is bus hubs at Khandallah and Crofton Downs, improving local connectivity.

  7. The best available alternative to leaving the Johnsonville Line as-is will be rebuilding in double track, but with long tunnels it will be costly. If and when it is considered, three options seem plausible. All start at a light rail stop in the Railway Station forecourt: 

    • Up Molesworth or Murphy Sts (or a split route using both) to a stop at Park Rd (just beyond Tinakori Rd) then in tunnel to join the Johnsonville Line above Tunnel 5 (Hannover St, new tunnel length 1300 m).

    • Along Thorndon Quay to a stop at the end of Tinakori Rd, then in tunnel to the same point above Tunnel 5, also 1300 m.

    • Along the Hutt Rd to Kaiwharawhara, with a stop, then up the Ngaio Gorge on a combination of cuttings, viaducts and short tunnels. This route takes advantage of light rail’s hill-climbing capability and should be cheaper than tunnels, but it might not be consentable.

  8. In all these cases, the existing track through the railway yards could be converted to a fourth main-line, and the existing Ngaio Gorge tunnels converted to a cycling and walking route. Light rail extensions beyond Johnsonville would be possible. The route might be on stilts down the centre of SH1, to Glenside and perhaps on to a main line hub at Tawa.

  9. Use the same light rail standards as Auckland, including standard gauge track. This would open options for cost-savings through repeat orders.

  10. FIT proposes that the Railway Station to Airport route be built first, followed by an extension to Johnsonville and beyond. if and when funding is available.

  11. There are no technical barriers to converting the Johnsonville line to double-tracked light rail, if there is the political will. Similarly—if funding is available—Wellington could build the whole line starting now.

More questions about proposed route, Answered

The following comments and questions came through the site’s contact form. FIT has omitted the names of the submitters, but the questions raise important issues which deserve discussion.


I WAS in favour of light rail in Wellington when it was proposed through the central city and I am fully aware of its advantages, but now that I know that the route you favour will wreck our beautiful waterfront, I will do all I can to oppose it.

The diagram-map on your website has been cleverly designed to avoid showing that the actual route is along the waterfront. Just as well (from your point of view) as the vast majority of Wellingtonians are certain to oppose that section.

Wellington’s special feature is the waterfront bordering the central city — a wonderful place to saunter. But, wow, it’s a battle to keep the spoilers out.

I’ll do my best to communicate, in conversation and in writing, that your favoured route will wreck most of our precious city waterfront.


FIT agrees that "Wellington’s special feature is the waterfront bordering the central city — a wonderful place to saunter." FIT's proposal does not change this; the proposal is that light rail will replace 2 traffic lanes on the Quays, one northbound and one southbound, with a light rail stop at Frank Kitts Park. This will replace 2 continuous streams of noisy polluting cars with a much quieter clean light rail vehicle passing at most every 5 minutes. In FIT's view, this will enhance not "wreck" our precious city waterfront.

Furthermore we would hope that the introduction of a mass rapid transit option on a waterfront quays route would provide a competitive alternative to private motor vehicles and thereby reduce the numbers of private motor vehicles on the remaining four lanes. It would be desirable to incorporate protected cycle lanes into the design, giving people on bikes and scooters an alternative to mixing with pedestrians on the waterfront.

FIT also considers that the Frank Kitts Park stop creates an opportunity to improve the pedestrian connection from the city to the waterfront, for example in the form of a second city to sea bridge. The light rail tracks would be at street level so easily and safely crossed by pedestrians at any controlled intersection.


HI. Have you considered that the light rail system will need a service depot. If the track gauge and the is compatible with the railway system then servicing could be done at the railway workshops in the Hutt Valley. If not then a service depot would be needed. I don't think there's any spare land along the proposed route suitable for storage yards and a maintenance depot.


FIT has two sites in mind, one of them in the eastern suburbs, but they need to be confirmed by professional studies before they are made public. A likely layout is light rail at or below ground level, with development above: residential or commercial.


I read in the article on stuff (What is light rail, and how would it work in Wellington? by Damian George·16:48, Jan 11 2019) This group’s proposal is for a one lane tunnel for Mt Albert. Is this due to costs rather than having a two way tunnel which increase network capacity and will reduce the need to come back later on to add an extra tunnel. Surely it would be better to provide two way and not have any single line sections. It would end up being like the current bus tunnel where buses have to wait to pass through.


One advantage of light rail over buses is that by giving light rail dedicated lanes and priority at intersections, the service is much more predictable. This means we can schedule light rail operations so that one vehicle never has to wait for another to clear the tunnel. A vehicle will take about a minute to pass through a Mt Albert tunnel. With a planned maximum service frequency of 5 minutes, it is relatively straightforward to stagger the arrivals of up and down vehicles at the tunnel. With stops at both ends (Zoo and Kilbirnie), a vehicle can if necessary be held at the stop for a few seconds while one from the other direction clears.

However, FIT's route also requires a tunnel under Mt Cook from Taranaki St to Adelaide Rd. It is not practical to make both tunnels single track. FIT chose to make the shorter tunnel double track.

In the long term, the maximum practical frequency for on-street at-grade light rail is 3 minutes, maybe 2.5 minutes at a stretch. Higher frequencies generally require grade separation at busy intersections to reduce traffic congestion. In FIT's estimation, a 3 minute service can operate with a single track Mt Albert tunnel and a double track Mt Cook tunnel.

If the preferred route for light rail includes a Mt Albert tunnel, FIT expects that council officers will carry out detailed modelling before a final decision on a single or double track is made.

Questions about the proposed route, Answered!

The Kilbirnie Rongotai Lyall Bay Resident Association approached FIT with a number of questions about the proposed light rail route. As their residents will be impacted / benefited they sought answers to the following questions about the proposal's impact in the Eastern Suburbs (Kilbirnie, Rongotai, Lyall Bay, Miramar, Strathmore, Seatoun, Mapuia).

Proposed light rail route from the airport to the railway station

Proposed light rail route from the airport to the railway station

Q1 What numbers of current bus users do you expect to use Light Rail to travel into the CBD and will this impact our current bus service?

A1 About half on golden mile routes, and yes: see A7.

Many passengers will connect to light rail at a hub, often saving more time on a faster trip than is lost at the hub.

In Kilbirnie, light rail will connect with buses at a hub at the south end of Bay Rd, or in Miramar at Miramar Av near Hobart St.

Q2 What numbers of private vehicles do you expect Light Rail to remove from the roads?

If possible please identify numbers of vehicles going to Airport versus other destinations and the source of your data.

A2 Much will depend on design details. The faster light rail is the more effective it will be, because most transport users choose whatever is quickest and most reliable. We have an ambitious target, an average speed of 30 km/hr including all stops. The more closely this can be achieved, or exceeded, the more effective light rail will be.

Light rail would be more effective if ‘four lanes to the planes’ (including two new road tunnels) was cancelled. Building more roads simply locks in more traffic and greater congestion. A much more effective approach is improved alternatives, especially fast public transport and cycle lanes.

A principal benefit of light rail will be making the inner-city buses much more effective, by relieving a badly overloaded golden mile.

Q3 How will your light rail proposal reduce congestion on weekends when people in the Eastern Suburbs are not going to the CBD (noting congestion is worse on the weekends)?

A3 Good public transport should be equally effective at weekends, and greater revenue (as patronage rises) will allow more frequent weekend services and longer operating hours.

FIT envisages a minimum 10 minute service, from at least 7 am to 7 pm, every day, with less frequent evening and early-morning service. Light rail should run early enough to connect with the first buses and late enough for the last; say 18 hours a day.

Some cities encourage weekend usage by providing additional benefits for subscribers to monthly or annual travel passes, such as free travel for family members on weekends.

We have proposed a stop at the Rongotai Sports Centre.

Q4 How many members of FIT that were involved in this design live along the proposed line and commute daily to work in the CBD?

A4 One (of 7) of us lives on the proposed line, but all have experience of congested commuting. Most of us have lived in or at least visited cities having the kind of system proposed.

Q5 How will people that live more than 200 meters from the Light Rail Stops, e.g. in Lyall Bay, Kilbirnie Heights, on Miramar Hills and north Miramar access the Light Rail?

A5 A typical ‘walking catchment’ for light rail is a one kilometre corridor straddling the line, or say 600–800 metres for a bus line. Data from other cities consistently shows that people willingly trade a longer walk for a faster trip.

Ideally bus lines should cross the light rail line at a hub, but in Wellington a more complex layout is needed. For example, lines 12 and 24 might be joined in a Miramar hub, both timed to meet light rail as well as possible. Similarly, the existing line 23 could connect to light rail at Kilbirnie.

Cycling, or electric scooters, are likely supplements to walking. Better facilities for people transferring, and for storing cycles and scooters, are also needed at hubs and railway stations.

Q6 Have FIT undertaken a formal traffic impact assessment?

A6 FIT expects that officials will carry this out and report the results, before any final decisions are made.

Q7 What advantages are there over a properly functioning bus service?

A7 The question is the wrong way round: in Wellington, a properly functioning bus service needs light rail. Central Wellington has only three north-south streets for all purposes, and badly needs a new, high-capacity public transport route. Bus Rapid Transit on a 2 lane corridor provides about half the people-moving capacity of a double-track light rail line. A subsequent upgrade to light rail for increased capacity would be very disruptive.

Light rail is probably about ten years away, but there is no need for bus route improvements to wait as long as that.

Bus reliability improvements will hopefully begin very soon. Bus lanes can be extended and much-improved, but are not always practical. Other measures include traffic signal priority, junction layout improvements, measures to keep buses out of traffic queues, stop improvements and fewer stops. One quick and easy improvement would be to require cars to yield to buses signalling to leave a bus stop.

Light rail, with well designed transfer hubs, will roughly halve bus numbers on the golden mile, to the point where buses can keep to time and make more consistently reliable connections at hubs. All public transport in the WCC area will function more effectively.

Another light rail advantage kicks in as ridership grows. If light rail takes half of golden mile ridership on opening day, and then takes nearly all inner-city ridership growth on a much-improved system, it will quickly reach 3500 passengers an hour. It will then be cheaper than buses, because the operating-cost savings are enough to cover the capital charges.

Q8 What road works and elevations are required in Kilbirnie / Cobham Drive?

A8 At the busiest intersections, grade separation may be required (such as a rail overbridge). At less busy intersections, light rail priority is provided (other traffic is automatically stopped for light rail vehicles), in the form of traffic lights and in some instances barrier arms.

FIT expects that officers will carry out detailed modelling of every intersection along the route to establish the most appropriate options with respect to elevated or at-grade crossings. Other cities have found to their cost that if you get it wrong, it's really difficult, and sometimes impossible, to fix. Build it right the first time.

Q9 Will the light rail require a subsidy to operate?

A9 It depends. The single largest operating cost component is the driver's pay. In cities with human drivers, light rail services typically require about 1/3 the operating subsidy as a bus service. This goes back to the answer to Q7, that above about 3500 passengers / hour, light rail is cheaper overall than buses. Cities with self-driving (autonomous) light rail vehicles typically require no operating subsidy; the farebox is sufficient. This gives local authorities greater flexibility to introduce pricing policies that encourage public transport use, such as lower fares, at less cost.

Once the line opens, Wellington may wish to consider introducing a congestion charge for cars entering the city centre during certain hours, and using the revenue raised to subsidise public transport. In a polluter pays model, the people causing congestion meet the cost of relieving it.

Q10 How do you propose to manage intersections e.g. at Rongotai and Coutts St so the light rail does not have to stop given there are cycleways, cars and pedestrians crossing the lines?

A10 See A8 above. It becomes much easier when the light rail computer talks to the traffic signals computer, for example, ‘priority in 60 seconds,’ followed by ‘priority in five seconds’ about a minute later. The traffic-signal computer can then plan to give priority for light rail with minimum delays to all. A typical light rail phase is only about 10-15 seconds.

Q11 What is the noise level of the light rail in Decibels and does this peak during braking?

A11 One suitable vehicle (Siemens Avenio) has a maximum outside noise level of 46 dB(A) when stationary, and 70 dB(A) inside at 60 km/hr. No external figure is given, but ‘quieter than a bus’ would be reasonable. Most braking is regenerative, which makes very little difference.

For one example, see the Acoustic Characteristics section of this PDF.

Q12 Where will the light rail cars be stored?

A12 FIT has two sites in mind, one of them in the eastern suburbs, but they need to be confirmed by professional studies before they are made public. A likely layout is light rail at or below ground level, with development above: residential or commercial.

Q13 What is the likelihood that a vehicle accident on the line could block the light rail service?

A13 Crash and breakdown rates are low but not fully avoidable. Cyclists are at some risk, motor vehicle drivers at perhaps greater risk, especially when turning right across rail tracks, light rail passengers at very low risk. Countermeasures include design for good visibility, traffic signals at all intersections, and detailed planning to restart services as soon as possible after a crash or breakdown.

Transportation 2040: Vancouver’s Blueprint for Sustainable Transport, with lessons for Wellington

Public Presentation: Wednesday 4 July, 6:30-7:30pm
Sustainability Trust, 2 Forresters Lane, Te Aro (off Tory St)
Hosted by Congestion-Free Wellington

Dale Bracewell

Wellington is facing major transport and land-use choices as we decide on the Let's Get Wellington Moving process. Will we choose a compact, low-carbon city supported by world-class public transport, walking and cycling? Or will we choose tunnels, flyovers and sprawl?

How have other cities made progress? Learn more in this public presentation from Dale Bracewell, Vancouver's transport manager.

Transportation 2040 is Vancouver’s high-level vision for all modes of transport, with specific mobility and safety goals. Vancouver achieved its interim target of 50 percent of all daily trips by sustainable modes, and is on track to achieve two-thirds of all daily trips by walking, cycling and public transport in 2040.

The presentation will include lessons from Dale’s experiences applied to Wellington.

Submission to LGWM: Light Rail for Wellington

Summary of full submission to LGWM

Mass transit in Wellington City as proposed by LGWM is necessary but not sufficient. To compete successfully with private car travel requires rapid transit that delivers a congestion-free journey — the basis of Scenario A+. Transit Oriented Development around stops is an essential complement to urban rapid transit.

Wellington needs an ambitious goal, that by 2050 over 50% of all trips to and from the CBD will be by public transport. Light rail is a proven, low risk rapid transit option which has been deployed in other earthquake-prone cities. There would be benefits in Wellington adopting the same technology standards as Auckland.

The investor that assumes the ridership risk should have the final say on rapid transit route and technology choice. LGWM needs to set the performance targets for travel time, service frequency, and transfer time at hubs.

List of recommendations

  1. Plan to open a rapid transit line between the railway station and Miramar by 2027, as a reliable and superior alternative to driving.
  2. Agree that rapid transit is a core component of a future transport system designed around the wants and needs of people.
  3. Reconfigure bus services along the rapid transit corridor to aggregate demand and connect at transit hubs.
  4. Develop a policy and guidelines for transit oriented development around rapid transit stops and at transit hubs.
  5. Design the first rapid transit line in a way that facilitates future extensions and connections.
  6. Note that to provide reliable rapid transit for the projected demand, Wellington needs light rail operating no later than 2027.
  7. Note the earthquake risk to light rail lines can be mitigated and other earthquake-prone cities have extensive passenger rail networks.
  8. Note the estimated cost of a first light rail line is $910m and a public–private partnership is one of several possible funding mechanisms.
  9. Choose technologies that are based on widely-used standards, to provide maximally contestable supply and avoid supplier lock-in.
  10. Consider adopting a technology-neutral approach to procurement, specifying the services that the rapid transit system must deliver.


Challenging the road planners

The Regional Council, the City Council and the Transport Agency are currently engaged in their “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” initiative on how to resolve traffic and transport issues in the city. 

Following lengthy public engagement and surveys during 2016, key findings indicated that people valued the compactness of the city and ease of getting around; they want public transport improvements, fewer roads and cars, a more pedestrian-friendly city, and protection for the natural environment. These findings represent an admirable expression of what kind of city environment people would like to see. But achieving them will take a paradigm shift away from expanding the road corridor between the Terrace tunnel and Cobham Drive, which forms a major part of the current Land Transport Plan.

There is much evidence in New Zealand and abroad to indicate that constructing more motorways and bridges through an urban area does not lead to significant travel time savings or easing congestion (which is the common assumption of road and traffic engineers.) Conversely, there is much evidence that total or partial road closures can lead to a significant reduction in the amount of traffic in the vicinity, thereby achieving the easing of congestion that everybody wants. 

American writer and political activist Jane Jacobs spent a lifetime studying and writing about economic development and the decay of city environments. Jacobs did not have a high opinion of traffic engineers and traffic management as it has been practiced over the past 60 years. She castigated them for their failure to ask and address the right questions, and their failure to investigate after desired outcomes are not achieved. 

She claimed that “in the pursuit of maximising traffic movement, traffic engineers have abandoned and betrayed science as it is understood” and she described two examples where communities challenged the professionals and their proposals for traffic improvements. 

During the 1950s she led community action to save New York’s Washington Square, a community park in Greenwich Village, from bisection by a limited access expressway, and to close a 2-lane carriageway through the park to all but emergency vehicles. 

During the debate leading up to abandonment of the expressway and closure of the road, “the traffic commissioner told us traffic is like water: if it is dammed up or diverted from its course in one place, it will find other outlets where it meets less resistance. To close off the carriage road without providing a new road would, he predicted, inundate all the narrow streets in the park’s vicinity with thwarted traffic and belching fumes, threatening the safety of children to the point that they couldn’t even reach the park.” Following a test closure of the road, these predictions did not come to fruition. Nowhere did the traffic increase. Traffic counts were slightly down in the park’s vicinity. “Where did the traffic go? This question was never asked.” 

Jacobs also describes a dispute 30 years later with authorities in her Toronto neighbourhood, where a similar situation arose and was fought by the community. The same water analogy was presented by the traffic engineers and was subsequently debunked. Jacobs writes: 

“Here they are, another generation of nice, mis-educated young men, about to waste their careers on a fake science that cares nothing about evidence, that doesn’t ask a fruitful question in the first place and when the unexpected evidence turns up anyhow, doesn’t pursue it.” 

Once again the traffic flow projections had been discredited by real world experience and once again the reasons why it was wrong were not investigated.

Jacobs also described her observations when travelling by taxi to a downtown destination in Toronto. On a trip from the airport to a downtown micro destination, one part of the trip was along an elevated limited access highway, with on and off ramps feeding to and from the city’s grid of one-way streets. 

“On the expressway stretch the meter is ticking over, the trip seems economical and I am getting good distance for my money. Then I hit a choke point at the exit ramp and from then on everything changes. Considering what it is costing me, I am getting very little distance. I am not complaining about this. As research it is economical. What worries me rather, is the expensive burden on the city and the planet of air pollution and urban road congestion that the expensive part of my trip is registering.

“The driver must weave circuitously around the block, then around another block and so on to reach the correct side of the street on which to deposit me. All the way to my micro-destination, from the moment we enter the street grid, we are surrounded by delivery vans, other taxis, and private cars whose drivers also are attempting to reach their micro-destinations. ….. Our joint circuitous congestion hampers all others attempting to make use of the streets: public transit vehicles, pedestrians and bicycle couriers.”

She identifies what she considers to be two serious flaws. 

Firstly, instead of addressing the question ‘how can we help this great diversity of users reach their great diversity of micro-destinations most directly?’, the designers seem to be asking themselves – ‘How can people reach a macro-destination downtown most speedily?’ 

The second flaw is that the one-way street system leads the driver on a Barnes dance to reach a micro-destination. The no left turns, no standing signs and other rules are designed to keep vehicles out of one another’s way and carry out the theme of a speedy trip. She suggests that perhaps one-way street systems are not such a good idea.

A study by a research team at the University of London and reported in The New Scientist in 1998 tends to suggest that Jacobs is right. This study identified sixty cases worldwide in which roads had been closed or their carrying capacity reduced and its principal findings were:

· Planning models assume closing a road will cause traffic using it to move elsewhere

· Computer models used by urban transportation planners yield incorrect answers

· When a road is closed, an average of 20% of its traffic seemed to vanish and in some cases as much as 60%.

There are many examples where enlightened planning authorities have moved to close highways and channel investment into public transport, walking and cycling to and improve the urban environment. 

Wellingtonians are asking for public transport improvements, fewer roads and cars, a more pedestrian friendly city, and a desire to protect the natural environment. This is achievable, but expanding the road corridor to Cobham Drive is not the answer. 

Maybe closing the Vivian Street off ramp and directing through traffic two way along the existing corridor to the Basin Reserve and beyond would be worth trialling. 

Whatever the outcome, one lives in hope that the Let’s Get Wellington Moving team will take note of the fallacies identified by Jacobs and the positive experience in cities that have seen the wisdom of putting people first and designing transport systems around the desired urban form.

LGWM Submission

Add a Rapid Transit option based on Light Rail

The LGWM Scenarios A to D make no provision for a “rapid transit” option — where “rapid” means public transport fast enough to compete with private car travel. Designating the Golden Mile (Lambton Quay, Willis St, Manners St, Courtenay Place) as the “mass transit” corridor, an area crowded with pedestrians and with many narrow sections, excludes the possibility of rapid transit through the central city. Perhaps LGWM expects a future light rail line will run underground through the CBD — a very expensive option.

The scenarios do not include any measures designed to grow public transport’s mode share, by offering people an attractive and inviting alternative to the private car. Fair Intelligent Transport (FIT) Wellington proposes that LGWM properly assess the case for investing in rapid transit based on light rail now, rather than bus “mass transit” now, upgrading to light rail at some unspecified future date.

LGWM presents no credible proposal for how a future upgrade from bus “mass transit” to light rail rapid transit would be carried out. Evidence from overseas cities strongly suggests that such an upgrade will be difficult and expensive at best, impossible at worst. FIT proposes that in the long run it will be cheaper and less disruptive to build light rail now. FIT estimates that current patronage on Lambton Quay is already close to justifying light rail, assuming buses would carry 25% of all passengers.

This means taking a more strategic approach to public transport than LGWM’s narrow focus on capacity, to include targets for mode share and travel time savings. The primary aim for light rail is to maximize demand by mode shift from private cars. To achieve this: choose a string-of-pearls route, serving locations with high demand all day; foster transit-oriented development along the route; and make the service predictable, frequent and well-connected, with competitive travel times. See Light Rail on a String of Pearls.

Light rail on a waterfront route to Taranaki St offers fast service for through trips, while reducing the number of buses on the Golden Mile to about ¼ of current numbers. Bus trips through the CBD will be faster because the route is no longer overloaded. Suburban bus trips will be faster because CBD delays no longer disrupt the timetables. Connections at hubs will be faster and more reliable because local buses face fewer delays and pulsed timetables become practical.

LGWM also needs to consider measures for managing travel demand. This could include a congestion charge for car trips entering the central city during peak times, to reduce traffic on city streets and make it easier to get around. In addition, review parking strategies around pricing and options for progressively reducing the number of on-street car parks in the CBD.

FIT proposes Scenario A+ as an alternative to the LGWM Scenarios A to D. Scenario A+ is Scenario A plus light rail rapid transit and congestion charging. Completing Scenario A+, FIT endorses calls for multiple safe places for people walking and cycling to cross SH1 between Willis St and the airport.

FIT supports the proposal in Scenario C to move eastbound SH1 from Vivian St to a tunnel on the Inner City Bypass route, provided that this is in addition to Scenario A+. This would facilitate grade-separation between SH1 and FIT’s suggestion for light rail on Taranaki St. The string-of-pearls route proposes a rail tunnel under Mt Albert between the Zoo and Kilbirnie; with Scenario A+ a second Mt Victoria road tunnel for “mass transit” in Scenario B is not needed.

Implementing Scenario A+ will offer many more people the option of congestion-free travel and grow public transport’s mode share. It will make public transport more effective for more trips, including those by bus. Scenarios A to D will not do this. Light rail is a mature, proven, low-risk solution available from a range of suppliers, thus giving maximally competitive procurement. LGWM may wish to consider joint procurement with Auckland, depending on project timing.

FIT proposes that LGWM investigate options for changing current transport funding models so that urban rapid transit projects are funded on the same basis as state highways. Move to a polluter-pays model for solutions that relieve congestion: invest revenue from road congestion charges in public transport. Value uplift capture from transit-oriented development is another potential funding stream.

Light Rail on a String of Pearls

Light Rail on a String of Pearls

Scenario A+ Light Rail Route Map


The suggested route aims to maximise ridership by offering predictable, frequent, well-connected service, and travel times competitive with travel by private car. People choosing light rail enjoy a congestion-free journey. The route can be extended in future, such as to Karori and Johnsonville.

The route FIT proposes differs from the LGWM “mass transit” route in the following ways. 

String of pearls, rather than branching

A string of pearls route offers the maximum number of one-seat light rail trips and many origin – destination choices. A branching route, on the other hand, means service operates at half the frequency on each branch, and people wishing to travel between branches have to change at Courtenay Place. A string of pearls route costs less to build and operate, while delivering a higher level of service. 

The suggested route replaces a Mt Victoria road tunnel with a shorter Mt Albert rail tunnel. It passes through areas with high population density and creates opportunities for transit-oriented development around stops.


Waterfront, rather than Golden Mile

A waterfront route offers a faster service for longer trips, with buses on the Golden Mile offering a complementary slower service for shorter trips. A Golden Mile route offers much better service to the CBD, but would operate at a slower speed through this pedestrian area (maximum 25 km/hr). Buses would need to be relocated to other central city streets, to avoid holding up the light rail service in narrow sections. 

A waterfront route involves far less disruption to central city retailers than a Golden Mile route.

Taranaki Street, rather than the Terraces

A hub at the north end of Taranaki Street in Te Aro supports easy connections to bus services on Manners Street and is close to Te Papa and the site of the future convention centre. A short rail tunnel under Mt Cook from Taranaki Street to Adelaide Road avoids light rail potentially conflicting with traffic at the Basin Reserve.

A Golden Mile route continues on Courtenay Place to Kent and Cambridge Terraces, to the Basin Reserve. One possible option for separating light rail from east – west traffic is a short rail plus road flyover on Sussex Street.

Runway tunnel, rather than Cobham Drive

The route shows a rail tunnel under the airport runway from Kilbirnie, with a stop at the airport, continuing to Miramar town centre. An alternative option would be via the ASB Sports Centre to Miramar town centre, with a terminus at the airport. This would be slightly longer, but cheaper and less disruptive. 

Tunnelling under the airport runway may be impractical, so it may be necessary to use an alternative route.

Scenario A+ Gets Wellington Moving with Light Rail and Road Pricing


“The Let’s Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) proposals are a $2.3bn bust,” says Fair Intelligent Transport (FIT) Wellington.

Space is at a premium in Wellington, yet LGWM wants to pour over 80% of its proposed spending into the most space-hungry transport mode—cars.

“This is magical thinking straight from the 1950s,” says FIT spokesman John Rankin. “We ought to spend public money on solutions that will work.”

“FIT supports LGWM’s Scenario A, to prioritise public transport, walking and cycling in the central city, but it's not enough. We also need to prioritise light rail, road pricing, plus safe walking and cycling. FIT calls this Scenario A+.

“Invest in light rail connecting the railway station to the regional hospital, Newtown, and continuing to the airport, so people have an inviting alternative to private car travel.

“Charge for car trips entering the central city during peak times, to reduce traffic on city streets and make it easier to get around.

“Make multiple safe places for people walking and cycling to cross SH1 between Willis St and the airport.

“We need a bold objective,” says Rankin. “Let’s aim for over 80% of CBD trips to be people walking, cycling and using public transport by 2040. That will enable Wellington to do its share of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to meet the Government’s ‘net zero by 2050’ target.”

“For a city Wellington’s size, light rail is an attractive, space-efficient and affordable mass transit option,” Rankin says. “A person travelling by car takes about 20 times as much road space as a person travelling by light rail. We need to charge people for their peak hour car trips and invest the money in public transport.”

“Our city deserves future-proof transport,” says Rankin. “Scenario A+ will get Wellington moving on all transport modes, including cars."

FIT asks Wellingtonians to reject the failed thinking of the past and support Scenario A+ at