Pedestrian vs Transit: The Wellington’s Golden Mile case

December 1, 2012

Normally, the both, complementing each others, work in harmony, but it happens that an aggressive pedestrianism agenda can conflict with Transit geometry

The Wellington’s Golden Mile case

The Wellington Golden Mile is an area of Down town Wellington, New Zealand, including noticeably Manners Mall, an historically important Transit spine:

Manners Mall/ Cuba Street circa 1920
a busy transit corridor, lot of retail, lot of people – credit photo (1)

Aggressive pedestrianism: the Kiwi version

Manners Mall, strategically located, full of shopping opportunities and pedestrians, made an ideal target for pedestrianization, what has been done toward the end of the 70’s. That was allowed by rerouting Transit on adjacent streets:

The pedestrian Manners Mall was just a small segment, putting buses on a 'slight detour' - credit photo (9)

They put a bus lane through my heart

In 2008, the Wellington city council came with the project to reintroduce buses on the pedestrian mall:

Reintroducing buses in the once pedestrian Mall, make the bus network much simpler

The reasons for this project were to end the Transit issues caused by the rerouting (involved by the Pedestrian Mall) [2]:

  • poor journey time reliability
  • indirect routings
  • poor legibility

Needless, to say, the project has encountered fierce opposition: the arguments are known:

  • What the heck such a few meter of pedestrianized road make a problem?
  • There is plenty of road where the bus can goes: Why absolutely there?
  • Give me a break: It is only a 5mn walk to the bus!

An example of argumentation:

MannersMall-ForumExtract2 examples of discussions surrounding the pedestrian/transit trade off in Wellington’s Golden Mile (click on pictures for better readability)

In despite of the local Green Party support for the plan, citizen feedbacks were overwhelmy negative: 74% opposed to the re-opening of the pedestrian Mall to buses during the first public consultation [8], a sizable facebook group was constituted, and even a song has been written in defense of the pedestrian mall [3]:

Alas for the pedestrian Mall, it is a case of Transit geometry. If one want to reduce auto reliance and have more pedestrians on the street; attractive transit is key, and good transit geometry is paramount. The Wellington people understood those reasons and the proposal was implemented in time for the 2011 Wolrd Rugby Cup.

Today The buses are flowing down on the once pedestrian only mall. Pedestrians are also the winner of this new configuration: A more direct bus route, open more pedestrianization possibilities, while still keeping pedestrian area accessible by transit, and here it was eventually an argument able to sell the project:

The bus returning on Manners mall, allow  more street to be pedestrian oriented space, than before

The buses returning on Manners mall, allow more pedestrian oriented streets than before

The new configuration, not only make sense from a transit perspective, but it also makes sense of a pedestrian perspective, by joining 2 pedestrian areas (that is via Cuba street), now irrigated; and not circumvoluted; by transit

That is in accord to the usually successful pedestrian philosophy at play in Europe, which is not to make life more complicate for transit, but to improve the city livability by discourage automobile use (see also [4])

Transit geometry

AFAIK, transit geometry is a term coined by Jarret Walker, to recover some different transit concepts, which are concretely exposed on a real life example in part 2 from the circling the square series, by Peter Marriott, on the Pricetags blog. The transit geometry concept boils down to mirror the desire lines one (concept often associated to Gaston Bachelard [6])[10]

Aggressive pedestrianism

Thought successful pedestrian areas are more often than not the result of a comprehensive transportation plan, addressing well identified problem, as seen in Europe [4], but also, more recently in New York [7], aggressive pedestrianism is a philosophy at 180 degree of it:

  • A Vancouver example

A Bob Ransford’s post nearly perfectly syncretizes the aggressive pedestrianism philosophy. It illustrates why transit arteries – the path of least disturbance for motorists- are the main targets of the aggressive pedestrianism movement, which unfortunately is still getting lot of traction in Vancouver:

For the out of town reader (and apparently the not so out of town too), What is at stake in the case raised in the Bob Ransford’s post is not 100 meters of road, but the fact that this 100m are on an important transit spine of the Vancouver network, with no obvious rerouting alternative [5].

[1] City of Wellington

[2] Central Area Bus Operational Review, Final report, Opus consultant, Wellington NZ, November 2009

[3] “Manners Mall Emo Song”, Robbie Ellis, 2009

[4] Transit as part of the urban fabric

[5] see block 51: oct 15 and 17th events, a summary, and Peter Marriott’s Circling the square series

[6] La poetique de l’espace, Gaston Bachelard, 1958, Paris

[7] see NYC DOT press release Release # 06-56, October 12, 2006; See World Class Streets: Remaking New York City’s Public Realm, New York City DOT, 2008

[8] Restoring the Golden Mile :Summary of Consultation, Wellington NZ, 2008.


[10] “mirror” because geometry is a rational term whereas “desire” is apriori not. In the case of Manners Mall, the sunny side of Manners mall has sidewalk 20% wider than the shaded side mirroring the pedestrian “line of desire” – Pedestrians, as transit users could prefer journeying thru vibrant street than others for reasons expressed in [4] (which could have to do with some anthropological gregarious trait of humanity among other reason)…


3 Responses to “Pedestrian vs Transit: The Wellington’s Golden Mile case”

  1. […] have the excuse to be in 1970, not even the one of a pedestrian Mall project (like the 1970′s Wellington Golden Mile), only the untold feeling, bus patrons are a […]

  2. […] Integrating transit into pedestrian oriented streets, is also the only way to have an extensive and still successful pedestrian friendly street network. In other word, let transit work, is the first and probably most important step toward bold pedestrianization scheme: An important lesson we could learn more especially fromWellington, NZ. […]

  3. […] if not all, of this principles are what Jarret Walker calls the geometry of Transit, and that is the reason why they are still as valid in 2013 as they were in […]

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