The Capital Times has a story this week about the intersection of Pirie Street and Kent Terrace, saying that motorists are frustrated at the long delays when trying to exit Pirie Street for Kent and Cambridge Terraces.
As many locals will know, it’s potentially a long wait at the lights. The Capital Times explores the idea that recent (well, actually not so recent) changes to the intersection have resulted in much longer delays for Pirie Street drivers. This is put down to pedestrians suddenly being acknowledged as legitimate road users by the traffic engineers. So far, so good – it’s an interesting hypothesis, and definitely worth investigation.
Then into the discussion leaps Wellington City Council spokesperson Richard MacLean, who in a flash of lateral thinking proceeds to blame the Mt Victoria Residents Association for the changes and resulting delays! It’s a fantastic story – those pesky and pushy residents have been disrupting the flow of traffic due to their unreasonable demands! Blame them!
If only it were true.
What Mr MacLean omitted to do was any actual research. If he had, he would have discovered – as we did – that the intersection forms part of State Highway One, and is therefore one of Transport Minister Steven Joyce’s Roads of National Significance™. The phasing of the traffic lights is therefore governed by the NZ Transport Agency, to which the Wellington City Council makes requests when changes are sought to the operation of the intersection.
When local residents asked for improvements to the pedestrian signaling, it required the intervention of the Mayor and the Council’s traffic engineers to get the NZ Transport Agency to make a trivial alteration to the phasing. And the change truly was minor – we asked that when you pressed the Walk button on Kent Terrace, it activated the lights on Cambridge Terrace and vice-versa. That’s it. No changes to the phasing for cars were requested, nor made (as far as we know). Even so, getting the alteration took nearly a year – the NZ Transport Agency is not what you’d call “responsive”.
However there is a reason why residents have a long wait at the bottom of Pirie Street; it’s that Pirie Street is a local road, and State Highway traffic always has preference over local traffic. It’s a deliberate policy, and the same approach is taken right around the country. This is because – in the mind of the NZ Transport Agency – keeping the traffic flowing on State Highway One adds economic value to the country, while waiting for the interminable traffic light change on a local road doesn’t. Or something.
Thankfully, Mr MacLean goes on to suggest that local drivers use the Elizabeth Street intersection instead, which – as it turns out – is both a good idea and the one thing he managed to get right.