On Wednesday Christchurch City Council published their draft suburban parking policy for public consultation.
Like many Council documents, the title makes it sound quite boring, but the stuff in here does have a big influence on our city so it’s worth trying to understand it. I’m going to try do a very brief summary of the document, together with my thoughts on it. It’s all here if you want a closer look.
For clarity, this document does not apply to any privately owned parking, and is mostly talking about on-street parking rather than off-street. It excludes the city centre (the city centre had its own parking strategy adopted in 2015). It is also not just talking about parking for cars, but also parking for bikes, e-scooters, bus stops, loading zones, and even wider transport issues like trade-offs between space for parking and space for footpaths, traffic lanes, bus lanes, bike ways, trees, landscaping etc.
The document is brand new. Currently there is no citywide policy for suburban parking – each area is just done on a case-by-case basis. This allows for some customisation and variety, but also results in ad-hoc treatments of parking and can result in other projects being hi-jacked unexpectedly with parking. Suburban parking has become more of an issue following the outward migration of activity after the earthquakes.
The document gives the advantages and disadvantages of parking as:
These all seem sensible.
The document proposes 10 policies. I won’t go through them all as it would take ages and you can read it yourself if you’re interested, but I’ve just picked out a couple that I think are particularly important.
The policy proposes the following priorities for road space.
These look generally pretty good. I’m not sure why Movement and Amenity are grouped together, I would’ve thought they are completely different and sometimes mutually exclusive. Also the big unknown is how these will actually be applied in real life.
I hope these priorities will make it easier to reallocate space currently used for parking into other, more valuable uses. One shambles I hope (perhaps optimistically) these might help avoid are the various bus lane projects around the city. The fate of the Main North Road bus lanes are currently being decided. For those who don’t know, very briefly 1) Council engineers came up with an efficient plan that would provide big benefits to bus users, 2) a handful of shop-keepers complained about losing 6 car parks (despite there being plentiful side-street parking less than 100m away), so 3) it’s now looking like the bus lane design will be stopped short to retain the 6 car parks, then started again after that, with buses having to merge in and out of traffic at this point. Similar things have happened with the Victoria St and Riccarton Rd projects being heavily compromised to retain small numbers of car parks. In the eyes of our elected members, a couple of loud angry shop-keepers tend to carry more weight than 10,000 happy but quiet bus users. Another problem at the moment is that putting in basic cycle-lanes can be ridiculously difficult if they need space currently designated for parking – it’d be great if the policy made these a little more straightforward to put in.
The policy proposes managing parking in a more rational manner. It acknowledges basic economics, recognising that providing parking has a cost, and that giving parking away for free artifically inflates demand higher than is economically optimal. In the vast majority of the city, we have an excess of parking even when we give it away for free with no restrictions (e.g. most residential streets). In areas where demand starts to exceed supply, the first step is to impose time restrictions to exclude the extremely low value uses, and just allow people who are actually there shopping or visiting. If the demand still exceeds supply, the second step is to lower the time-restriction or extend it to a wider area. If the demand still exceeds the supply then the thirds step is to introduce parking charges (meters). If the demand still exceeds the supply then the fourth step is to raise the charges until it doesn’t. Only when this step is exhausted (which is once the charges start to exceed the cost of providing the parking) should constructing more parking be looked at.
The whole Draft Suburban Parking Policy seems to me to be inherently sensible. It’s basically trying to bring more rational thinking into an area that’s currently managed pretty ad-hoc. Like any new document it will probably have some creases needing to be ironed out as people get their heads around how to implement it, but overall it seems to be a step in the right direction. However the cynic in me suspects there are plenty of otherwise reasonable people out there whose brains switch off as soon as you mention anything to do with car parking, and who will try to kick up a fuss about this. I just hope Council don’t take too much notice of them if they do. One way you can help with this is get in and make a submission to let the Councillors know what you value, and that there are other people out here, not just the ones who complain the loudest.