The Golden Mile Project is already a Failure

  • Wellington is growing and committed to increased use of public transport
  • But the Golden Mile Project will not improve bus capacity so how will the 13,000 future bus commuters get to are work?
  • It’s not that LGWM failed to increase bus capacity along the Golden Mile, it’s that they did not even try …

LGWM Golden Mile Project is a Fail

Wellington will greatly increase its bus usage

Wellington faces serious peak time congestion mainly because we so much employment based in our CBD.  We are also a growing city with the Wellington City Council (WCC) planning for 50,000 – 80,000 more residents in the next 30 years.

The answer to Wellington City’s transport challenges, our leaders have repeatedly stated, is the Lets Get Wellington Moving (LGWM) Programme … a $6.4 Billion dollar investment to “Move more people with fewer vehicles”.  The Wellington Regional Land Transport Strategy promises a 40% increase in the mode shares of both passenger transport and active mode so commuters will have a viable alternative to driving.  The objective of the LGWM Programme is increase the performance and capacity of our bus, rail, walking and cycling networks.

What this means in actual transport numbers has not been spelled out by the LGWM team but my previous post “The Lets Get Wellington Moving Commuter Numbers” modelled the expected increases based on the WCC Spatial Plan and the LGWM base commuter data. Based on the latest estimates of population growth from the WCC Spatial Plan, the following outlines the current and future peak time bus numbers coming to the CBD each morning:

Modelled Current and 2036 Bus Numbers based on LGWM Data
Modelled Current and 2036 Bus Numbers based on LGWM Data

In terms of buses over the 2 hour morning peak, this means over the next 30 years the number entering CBD from the south will grow from 154 to 270. Due to much greater population increases, the number of commuter buses from the North will more than double from 146 to 338 (this also assumes Johnsonville Line numbers also increase from 1,289 to 3,598).  This means the CBD bus corridor capacity will need to increase from 80-90 buses/hour in each direction to 140 – 170 buses per hour in each direction.  This is certainly a major challenge to do on a single corridor but it is possible according to the Transit Capacity Manual.

The Golden Mile Business Case

The LGWM Programme has outlined the future capacity problem for both buses and trains noting “Buses and Trains will be over-full by 2028” with future bus capacity shown:

Public Transport Arrivals into the central city (7am – 9am weekdays). From LGWM Context May 2019 page 9
Public Transport Arrivals into the central city (7am – 9am weekdays). From LGWM Context May 2019 page 9

In 2020, the LGWM Golden Mile Project consulted on three options to improve the Golden Mile. The project proposed three options for improvement:

  • Option 1 – Streamline costing between $15m and $22m
  • Option 2 – Prioritise Buses costing between $21m and $32m and
  • Option 3 – Transform costing between $52m and $78m

LGWM has now presented the final Golden Mile Single Stage Business Case (Golden Mile SSBC) which starts by saying:

The Golden Mile is the heart of our City
The Golden Mile plays a vital role in the success of Wellington’s transport system, regional economy and sense of place.  Transecting central Wellington, it provides the core spine for the city’s bus network and enables thousands of people to access employment, do business, shop, dine and to access other central city destinations each day.  It has the highest pedestrian volumes in New Zealand.  Due to its critical functions, the Golden Mile must perform at a high level, both as a transport asset that safely and efficiently moves people and goods, and as an important place for people that is pleasant, safe and  attractive.
Golden Mile SSBC Page 2

The business case recommends Option 3 Transform and is being presented for approval by the WCC on the 27th October 2021 and Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) the following day.

How much will Bus Capacity increase along the Golden Mile?

A key question is how much will Golden Mile bus capacity be increased to support the doubling of future buses travelling to and through the CBD?

It has been long understood that the narrow central section of the Golden Mile is the main cause of bus congestion, slow travel times and unreliability and this is understood by the project:

On some sections of the Golden Mile, it is common to see four or five buses stopping in a series.  At these locations, buses that are ready to move off may be delayed while they wait for the bus or buses ahead to finish boarding or alighting.  Bus stops where it is common to observe platoons of buses are at the Manners / Cuba Street, Manners / Willis Street and Grand Arcade bus stops in the northbound direction, and the Lambton Quay (at Hunter Street), Willis / Bank and Manners / Cuba Street bus stops in the southbound direction.  The capacity of these bus stops constrains the ability to increase bus throughput along the Golden Mile corridor.

Initial analysis of the Golden Mile corridor shows that hourly bus throughput does not exceed the maximum capacity for the Manners and Willis Street bus stops (60 to 100 buses per hour).  These stops have the smallest capacity along the route.  Bus stop capacity, as well as traffic intersections are the two main factors limiting the ability for the Golden Mile to accommodate the forecast increase in bus patronage.
Golden Mile SSBC Page 62 (highlight added for emphasis)

The good news is the Golden Mile Project bus capacity assessment confirmed that Courtney Place and Lambton Quay are wide enough to support the high capacity “off-line” bus stops needed to enable 140 – 170 buses per hour in each direction.

However, in recommending Option 3 Transform the Golden Mile SSBC states:

A critical feature of this scenario was the assumption that a second north-south bus corridor would operate within the Wellington CBD, and would enable the maximum number of buses on the Golden Mile to be “capped” at 100 vehicles per hour per direction (i.e. any additional buses over this cap would be accommodated on an alternative north-south corridor).
Golden Mile SSBC Page 8

So the Golden Mile Project will not significantly increase bus capacity along the Golden Mile as was expected.  The project outlines the reason is because the road space at three locations on Willis and Manners Street is not wide enough to build higher capacity “off-line” bus stops which means that bus numbers must be “capped” at 100/buses per hour.

Of course, any normal transport project would have at least investigated the cost of addressing key constraints such as this 700 metre section of narrow roadway but it seems this was not permitted for the Golden Mile Project:

Golden Mile Project Contraints including property aquisition is ruled out meaning all options must fit into existing roadspace
Golden Mile SSBC (October 2021) Page 86

The reason property acquisition was not considered becomes clear when the amount allocated to improving the Golden Mile by the $6.4 Billion LGWM Programme is understood:

8.1 Indicative Costs
The indicative cost estimates are provided to show the scale of the costs against the assumed LGWM Golden Mile project budget of $40M.

Comparative Cost ranges for Golden Mile Options
Golden Mile Short List Options Report (June 2020)

If, as stated in the business case, “The Golden Mile plays a vital role in the success of Wellington’s transport system [and] Due to its critical functions, the Golden Mile must perform at a high level, both as a transport asset that safely and efficiently moves people and goods, and as an important place for people that is pleasant, safe and attractive …” then the key question is why did LGWM only allocate $40 Million dollars a mere 0.6% its budget to improve it? This seems a totally inadequate amount for what is supposed to be the most important people corridor in the whole city!

The Golden Mile SSBC then goes on to state key Dependencies for proceeding are:

Golden Mile Project Dependencies including the need for an alternative bus corridor
Golden Mile SSBC (October 2021) Pages 86 (highlight added for emphasis)

It will come to no surprise to anyone that there is no information on the LGWM web site on where this critically important “(unspecified) second north-south bus corridor” will go or when it will be investigated even though the Golden Mile is already close to capacity and the Golden Mile Project is not increasing it (talk about kick the can down the road).

Improving Bus Capacity was removed from the Golden Mile Project

Interestingly, improving bus capacity along the Golden Mile was in the original project. In June 2019, LGWM produced its “Problem Definition” for the Golden Mile that concluded:

The large majority of users along the Golden Mile are people in buses and pedestrians. Both of these types of users currently face delays and low levels of service. Significant improvements in levels of service for both people in buses and pedestrians are highly desirable, and will provide benefits to both the transport system and to Golden Mile as a place to live, work, and play.

Although people in buses and pedestrians represent the majority of users of street space on the Golden Mile, this is not reflected in the allocation of street space. On average, 50% of space is allocated to private vehicles although they represent a small minority (10% or less) of users of the Golden Mile.

Bus services on the Golden Mile face slow operating speeds and bus volumes are approaching maximum capacity levels. For buses, improvements should seek to improve speeds and reliability to improve current levels of service. Improvements should also seek to improve bus capacity along the Golden Mile to accommodate patronage growth and improve bus operations.

Pedestrians walking along the Golden Mile face amenity and safety issues. Footpaths are often over-crowded (particularly at pinch points such as bus stops) pedestrians face long delays at traffic signals, and conflicts between people walking and motor vehicles have resulted in serious injuries and fatalities.

To a certain extent, pedestrians and buses are incompatible so must be physically separated to minimise safety risks. In some cases, there will be inherent conflicts between pedestrian and bus levels of service, such as at traffic lights.
Page 79, “Golden Miles Improvements – Problem Definition and Case for Change” (June 2019) (highlight added for emphasis)

In addition the Golden Mile SSBC had the objective of “Increased people carrying capacity of the corridor for buses” as outlined in the contract for services to produce the Golden Mile SSBC:

Original Golden Mile SSBC Objectives including increasing bus capacity
Contract No 1851 Golden Mile SSBC Issued 19 August 2019 page 67

Yet, sometime between August 2019 and June 2020, the LGWM Programme removed the objective to increase bus capacity along the Golden Mile from the Project Objectives:

Current Golden Mile SSBC Objectgive with Bus Capacity missing
Golden Mile SSBC (October 2021) Page 82

It is clear that the LGWM Programme not only set a low budget for what is the critical transport project along the key CBD corridor for Wellington but it also removed the objective of investigating options to improve bus capacity along the Golden Mile from the project.

By capping the Golden Mile Project budget at just $40 Million and removing the bus capacity objective, the Golden Mile Project consultants could not consider options that required the purchase of more land to widen road space. In fact Option 2 Bus Priority was only costed at $32 Million while the recommended Option 3 Transform will cost more than twice this at $72 Million.  The Golden Mile project team did not even consider if spending the $40 Million difference between these options could provide a superior transport outcome. Wellingtonians now do not have the information to consider what a decent investment in a high capacity Bus Priority Option along the Golden Mile.

The LGWM Programme will now claim the Golden Mile already near capacity for buses. But the analysis outlined above shows what really happened is the LGWM Programme has deliberately avoided investigating options to fix the bottleneck bus stops along Willis and Manners Street … it is likely that the Golden Mile is not at capacity but the LGWM Programme do not want people to know this.

Other comments on the Golden Mile SSBC

It should be noted that Option 3 – Transform will probably not improve bus travel times because the recommended Option 3 will reduce road space for buses to be one lane each way for the entire length of the Golden Mile.  This means that the hundreds of buses from suburbs will travel in a queue at the speed of the slowest bus.  Even worse, any bus breakdown or accident will cause the entire CBD bus service to stop, just like it used to with the trolley buses, because buses will not be able pass each other at peak times.

The proposed reduction of bus stops is also not properly justified because any bus travel time savings will be more than offset by the increase walking time by bus passengers.  This increased walking to work travel time does not appear to have been measured by the Golden Mile detailed analysis. In addition the efficiency of the proposed in-line bus stops is very poor as the number of buses stopped goes above two.

It is also important to note that the congestion problem is only during 4 – 5 hours of peak commuter travel and the Golden Mile is not usually congested between 9:00 – 4:30 each day.  The wholesale side road closures and elimination of off peak stopping areas for service vehicles & taxis proposed under Option 3 is simply not justified.

In trying to understand this key Wellington transport project, a range of information was requested from the LGWM Programme including the 2019 reports used above. This including requesting the patronage modelling and economic assessment modelling of the each of the three options on which the Golden Mile SSBC recommendations are based.  However, the LGWM Programme insists on keeping this keeping this key analysis information secret claiming there is no public interest in releasing it.

Conclusion

The key problem with the Golden Mile Project is it has totally failed to identify the investment needed to enable increased bus access to the CBD for most of Wellington City.  Even worse, this failure has been a deliberate decision by the LGWM Programme who removed increasing bus capacity as an objective of the project.  So instead of being presented with options that all support planned bus patronage growth, the business case only says “Additional bus volumes beyond 100 vehicles per hour, per direction of travel are to be accommodated on an alternative (unspecified) north-south bus corridor”.  How are the predicted 13,000 future bus commuters from Wellington’s Northern and Western suburbs to get into town?

When the Lets Get Wellington Moving Programme was announced, Wellingtonians were told it would solve our increasing transport congestion problems with greatly improved public transport so we did not need to build more roads.  No more roads are to be built but it is now increasingly clear that LGWM will not improve the bus public transport used by most non-car commuters. If buses cannot reliably travel to and through the CBD then the whole city strategy for high density housing across suburbs will fail. How can the Golden Mile project be approved with such a major gap in the overall city transport plan?

Finally, it must be noted if the Golden Mile Bus Corridor can be built to handle 140-170 buses/hour during peak times then Wellington might not require a second Mass Rapid Transit Corridor!  When the LGWM Programme should be investigating how to widen 700 metres of Golden Mile road space for some bus stops it is instead determined to justifying spending $2,000 Million on some form of Light Rail mass transit to Island Bay. Such decisions begs the question if LGWM is even a transport project any more?

What is so appalling about this project is not that Lets Get Wellington Moving failed to increase bus capacity along the Golden Mile to support a growing city and mode shift, it’s that they didn’t even try.

 

One Comment

  1. greenwelly said:

    There are only two options for any “alternative (unspecified) north-south bus corridor””
    the first is Victoria and then potentially Wakefield/Taranaki to Courtenay Place..
    BUT they makes the Taranaki /Manners/Courtenay Place interest a real mess…..

    UNLESS its simply a heavy indication that light rail trams are a dead option, and that the second spine will be bus priority lanes on the quays , which will take routes 1 and 2 off the Willis/Lambton spine ….

    27 Oct 2021
    Reply

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