Traffic plans for St Hill St to accommodate cyclists and pedestrians have upset a number of motorists but, as MURRAY CRAWFORD explains, the congestion and confusion could have been even worse.
New traffic light configurations and road reconstruction to accommodate Whanganui's new Te Tuaiwi cycleway have generated much debate.
But if not for the perseverance of our early town councillors, we would be enduring a far worse inconvenience — that of railway engines thundering up and down St Hill St. That's what the Government was planning when considering routes connecting branch lines to the main trunk, after a previous plan to run lines along the riverbank from Aramoho was rejected due to excessive cost.
In anticipation of a proposed visit by Premier Sir Julius Vogel, the Herald (1 March, 1876) ran this editorial: "We believe it is intended to make strong representations to Government on the subject of bringing the railway down St Hill Street, a line which would undoubtedly interfere with traffic to a considerable extent and prevent progress to that part of town. But the most inconvenient part of the proposal is that the traffic from the wharfs would be seriously impeded and rendered dangerous. This traffic will continue to increase, and in view of the future, a better route may easily be selected."
The Herald recommended the locally preferred "Churton Street Route", which would also cause the least inconvenience to the Industrial School Estate (now Collegiate, but then sited at the foot of St John's Bush). "The future traffic and growth of the town ought to be a primary element in forming lines for railways," it concluded.
Local opposition along the lines of the Herald's views was voiced to Sir Julius when he attended a meeting of the Wanganui Municipal Council. But the St Hill St option championed by the premier was seen by the Government as the cheapest, and he pointed out that the council's preferred option along the beach (Taupo Quay) would involve the expense of land reclamation, which the Government would not meet.
"Sir Julius Vogel said that they could not do more than contribute the railways," reported the Herald, "but natural works would have to be done locally."
However, objection to the Government's plans were many. They included the cost of purchasing land along St Hill St, shifting the massive sandhill at Cook's Gardens, which at that time stood in its path (along with ongoing protection works), compensation for damage to properties, fire hazards with so many nearby wooden buildings, cutting through busy intersections (Ingestre/Guyton/Ridgway streets and Taupo Quay), to say nothing of the difficulty of negotiating carriages around a sharp angle to access the station. All this, argued the council, would more than negate any savings the Government was hoping to make.
"Sir Julius, having promised to bring the matter before the Minister for Public Works, the discussion dropt," reported the Herald.
But when the Government refused to budge Mayor Watt requested estimates of cost excesses, to which Vogel replied that the Churton route would cost £4400 more than St Hill St. A petition was then sent to the Premier asking that the proposed St Hill St line be diverted to the Churton route as the extra cost would be justified and, "these perils, difficulties and dangers would be totally avoided inasmuch that as Churton Street is situated at the extreme end of the town, the railway crossings would therefore be nearly avoided and the damage to private property very trifling".
The petitioners also declared that, due to "their intimate knowledge of both routes", compensation costs for the St Hill St route would be double that of Churton, causing the Herald to lament: "It must be confessed that in the matter of railway construction, no district in the Colony has been treated with greater indifference than Wanganui."
However, the Government finally relented. Due to the persistence of Mayor Watt and his council, cyclists will now be required to share St Hill St with only motorists and pedestrians.
Murray Crawford is a Whanganui author whose latest book, Whimsical Tales of Old Wanganui, is published this month. Newspaper references sourced from Papers Past: National Library of New Zealand.