Matiatia – it’s terminal

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    “Can’t we just stick to the shambles that we’ve got already?”

    It’s been my favourite comment of a week in which I’ve got increasingly annoyed at not being able to land on a solution to the interminable issue of our overcrowded ferry terminal at Matiatia.

    Plans emerged from last week’s local board meeting detailing the latest summer “trial” for somehow dovetailing the needs of tourists, tourism operators, commuters, taxi drivers, drivers, pedestrians, cyclists, single and double-decker buses, mopeds – oh, and presumably the odd islander just intent on taking a trip over to the city.

    These trials have brought nothing but tribulations and haven’t come close to a workable long-term solution. And that’s because, for all their good intentions, we’re only shuffling the same chess pieces around the same board without addressing the overarching reality that we’re at stalemate. What’s needed here is some larger vision.

    Even Dennis Scott, a landscape architect of some 45 years whose long association with Waiheke includes studies back to 1988 and project-leading settlement developments at Te Huruhi, Church Bay, Owhanake, Park Point and Cable Bay, describes Matiatia as “unfinished business”.

    Some 12 years ago, his was the winning entry in Auckland City Council’s “Vision for Matiatia” design search. The initial stage of that competition drew around 75 entries from top-grade designers and planners from around the world. From those, five were shortlisted and given a refined design brief (as well as $75,000 prize money). 

    At the time his design received a fair amount of criticism – especially among commuters – because it relegated car parking in favour of public transport. Far fewer spaces, further away from the wharf simply didn’t gel with the status quo which then included parking on both sides of the road all the way back to the Owhanake car park and next to no parking charges. It did however offer a bold and visually attractive entry for the island. Needless to say, the proposal was shelved.

    Looking at that winning design now, though – especially considering the exponential growth in visitor numbers over the past decade or so – and it starts to make more sense. Talking to Dennis this week (ironically, while he was stuck in a traffic jam in South Auckland – as if to prove what happens when planning goes wrong), he recognises that the “conflicts at Matiatia are getting too unwieldy”, and he still can’t fathom why we insist on having a “sea of car parks” as the initial welcome to the island. 

    “It so disappoints me that people have not got their heads around that public space at Matiatia – it’s of so much value. There has to be some other solution for the cars other than bringing people into a cul-de-sac all the time.”

    Dennis still thinks on a large scale. Certainly larger than our annual keyhole “trials”. And, sure, his ideas around moving the boaties ramp around the headland to Owhanake Bay, moving  parking back up the valley and extending his development up the whole Matiatia valley corridor would tend to ruffle some of the island’s more conservative tendencies. But, remember, this is a man whose same vision for Matiatia led him to oppose the 2014 marina bid and who genuinely thinks that Waiheke could be a global leader by prioritising public transport over cars. 

    He’s right, the conflicts have become too unwieldy at Matiatia. Far too unwieldy to be solved by this annual shuffling around of priorities. This year’s “trial” seems doomed because it is still forced into the potentially dangerous mix of pedestrians and cars within a combined car park and drop-off zone and it creates a pinch point of all cars having to exit the bottom car park against both the flow of pedestrians and the continual arrival of taxis, minivans and buses. It also seems to prioritise buses over cars – which will undoubtedly again cause an uproar.

    But it was always doomed. It seems that until we think much larger, accept that our grim grip on the status quo won’t cut it for our growing island, and properly reconfigure all of Matiatia for all of its users, we’re going to be caught in this never-ending gridlock of trials and shambles. 

    • James Belfield

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