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March 9, 2009 | by  | in Features |
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Mind Your Manners

The proposal for the ‘restoration of the Golden Mile’ has been around for a while now. The proposal to clear out the pedestrian area and construct a two-way bus-only road may mark the end of Manners Mall as we know it. The Wellington City Council (WCC) envisions a utopia for pedestrians and commuters alike, but could these changes really convert Manners from a youth-infested landfill to a perfectly manicured bus depot?

Until the late 1970s, Manners Mall was just a regular street used by buses, trams and cars. The hooligan population was minimal and only a trace of pot could be smelled on the light Wellington zephyrs. The WCC hopes to rebuild the road to its former glory, re-routing buses from Lambton Quay to Courtenay Place. Currently, northbound buses pass through Dixon St and the west end of Manners St while southbound buses pass through Mercer St, Wakefield St, Cuba St and East Manners St.

While there is no doubt that clearing Manners of its teens and odd postmodern seating to create a sealed road will cut the travel distance and simplify the route, it is only going to cut travel time by less than a minute in peak evening traffic. In addition, the WCC makes no secret of the fact that they expect to make a little dosh from this exploit. Wellington City already has the largest bus clientèle in the country, but by 2016 the Greater Wellington Regional Council hopes to increase the current 35 million annual trips to 50 million. Shorter travelling time will hopefully attract more commuters to the bus. These changes may also be a preventive defence for the impending economic crisis. According to the WCC, similar changes to the pedestrian malls in 1960s America led to a “significant improvement in retail sales [and] property values.” However, business owners have expressed scepticism. Twenty-four out of the twenty-eight businesses on Manners Mall have signed a petition to the Council, informing them of their belief that the plan will drastically reduce the foot traffic to their businesses, make business deliveries impossible, and negatively change the character of the street forever. 1605 signatures were received on the Save Manners Mall ePetition, surpassing the previous largest petition received by the WCC of 1354. There are 2458 members of the SAVE MANNERS MALL group on Facebook.

While the Council can be commended for the openness with which they have sought responses, signposting the Mall and producing a brochure outlining proposed changes during the time submissions were open, there are hints that they may have prejudged the outcome. When 74% of the 722 submissions to the council were against the proposal (and only 20% in support), the WCC commissioned a random phone survey by ACNielsen, which reported 68% of the 500 surveyed in favour. Greg Campbell, the council’s urban development and transport director, stated that “Our take on the figures at this stage is this is more a pedestrian’s view of the world,” raising the question of why motorists should be prioritised over pedestrians, given that submissions were open to all.

Business support is similarly mixed, with 56% of votes in the Chamber of Commerce (not local businesses, as reported in The Dominion Post) supporting the change, with 44% opposed.

Apparently this change is meant to “provide a public transport system that can adequately cope with future population growth in the city.” Another result expected from this change is that it will improve “the overall business and pedestrian environment.” One of the submissions to the WCC referred to the restoration as “the last nail in the coffin” as they expect it would demolish businesses during the recession. Nearby open areas may be developed for public use but businesses like Crêpes-A-Go-Go are specifically designed for people walking by or hanging out in Manners Mall. Arty Bees Books recently told The Dominion Post they are against the removal of the pedestrian mall and prefer the centre to be “free of vehicular traffic.” Parking is crucial for customers who are dropping off books; its removal would injure the business. Evidently, by strengthening the city centre, some businesses will be severely weakened.

It can be argued that Manners Mall doesn’t need to be made more “people-friendly” as it is the gateway into the Wellington nightlife and a significant limb to the body of Cuba/Courtenay culture. Aside from the cheery intoxicated students and pub-crawlers, there are those who cast a dark cloud in the area. In December last year, an incident involving a nunchaku-wielding shoplifter was reported in The Dominion Post. The altercation drew a large crowd and became a migraine for the police. It was described by a witness as “just another day in Manners Mall.” Police have noted a drastic reduction in crime due to “an increased police presence, more communication with retailers and the liquor ban.” Manners is notorious for its tales of youth violence; surprisingly this is not a noted point of consideration for the restoration. It is, after all, a reasonable basis for shooing away loiterers in Manners Mall. Nevertheless public support for the restoration has mostly been based on the elimination of these undesirable elements. One of the submissions to the WCC was in favour of the change, simply because they do not currently feel “safe” 24/7 in Manners.

One group of affected citizens have been noticeably left out of the debate. Many of the supporters of the Manners Mall bus proposal have lauded the possibility of ‘cleaning up the area.’ Moving along the familiar group of black-clad teenagers who hang out the front of Timezone. The Council has never stated this as an aim and there has been no apparent attempt been made to approach the Manners emo community to seek their views. At the very least, you would hope this would not be allowed to influence the decision-making process. When it comes to emos, it is very easy to forget that we are still talking about citizens, and attempts to move along other demographics (superannuitants, truck drivers, recent immigrants) would be given short shrift. It can only be hoped that the WCC will act as it should.

In the end, it is a simple tradeoff: pedestrian areas versus commuter travel time. In a city where the quality and quantity of pedestrian areas is supposed to be a priority, do we really want to rip up one of Wellington’s three pedestrian malls?

Share your views with the Council. Email Rose Palmer at goldenmile@wcc.govt.nz or call her to get more information at (04) 801 3775.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Jackson Wood says:

    Ms Prendergast said the 30 seconds saved on each journey was just one part of the project.

    ‘When we talk to people about what would make them change to public transport, one option that always comes up is reliability [of the service].”

    Oh. So suddenly the WCC is listening to people?

    “Mr Foster [The council’s urban development and transport portfolio leader] remained in favour of improving the bus route through town but retained an open mind on whether the mall proposal was the best way to achieve the goal.

    He added that the mall plan would future-proof public transport in the central city because the route would be the most suitable for light rail at a later date.”

    Surely just putting in light rail now would save ratepayers time and money?

    Full story here:

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/dominion-post/news/2264132/Council-cools-on-Manners-Mall-bus-route-plan

  2. Mikey says:

    You’d only save 30 seconds? Fuckin’ harden up people. Also, I would hardly call the bus services here reliable. They’re shit. If they concentrated on actually making the buses reliable then you’d probably save a whole lot more than 30 seconds’ travel time.

  3. james says:

    this is horrible take it off the web

  4. Jason Frick says:

    If you look at the councils plan, an option under consideration is to remake lower-Cuba, where busses currently head southbound, into a mall. Thus, lengthening Cuba St Mall, and uniting it with Civic Square. It’s really only trading in one public space for another, whilst making giving busses more of a priority, and connecting Lambton Quay with Courtney Place. Certainly the businesses face some hardships in adjusting, but measures could be taken to mitigate their costs. In the end it really does create an understandable and more consistent travel corridor through CBD.

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