Now is the time to do something different with the Christchurch Northern Corridor than originally planned. The project, as initiated by the previous government, is nearly built. It would never have happened under the current government’s transport priorities. Despite the change of government in 2017, Christchurch City Council (CCC) and the Transport Agency are continuing with the existing agenda and no corrective action appears to have been taken. Come mid-2020, St Albans will be flooded with a greatly increased number of cars as there is no suitable road space. Now is the time to decide to do something different.
This article describes a proposal that will not result in those negative effects. Under that proposal, the Downstream Effects Management Plan (DEMP) by CCC would not be needed. Brendon has previously posted about road pricing; certainly also a useful tool but not something you can achieve in a hurry as legislation would need to be changed first.
The Northern Arterial, first put forward in 1960, is part of the car-centric planning that New Zealand has pursued since the 1950s. The 1964 version proposed an elevated motorway half-way between Madras and Barbadoes Streets, and a new arterial through North Hagley Park linking Fendalton Road with the central city. The 1987 plan had the Northern Arterial terminate at Bealey Avenue. The version currently under construction finishes at Innes Road. I gave a brief presentation on the history of the Northern Arterial in October 2018.
Feeding a busy but uninterrupted four-lane motorway into a four-lane arterial controlled by traffic lights doesn’t work, and such misguided thinking has turned Brougham Street into Christchurch’s biggest car park. The Northern Arterial is a four-lane motorway that ultimately feeds into a two-lane arterial road; much narrower than Brougham Street. That idea is utter lunacy and drivers will try and find their way through St Albans’ back streets to get out of the resulting congestion. To minimise these adverse effects, CCC is proposing to spend $15m over the next few years; most of it long after the road will have been opened.
How about we accept that the road will open but do something completely different with it? So different that the adverse effects don’t arise either because we don’t have an increase in the number of cars, or because we even achieve a decrease? How could that possibly be accomplished?
The proposal is based on “carrots and sticks”. Carrots as an analogy for making the use of public transport, coming from north of the Waimakariri, much more attractive. Sticks as an analogy for making driving less appealing. We need to recognise that people will always do what is most convenient to them. It’s rather inconvenient to be stuck in traffic. But right now, it’s easy (for many) to find a car park at or near their destination. On balance, driving is more convenient than taking buses (which currently are painfully slow and packed to the brim during the morning peak). Hence the amount of driving we observe. Let’s just clear up the myth that Kiwis love their cars. That’s wrong on several levels and is simply the result of transport priorities that we have pursued since the 1950s. We have created an environment where many people do not consider having alternatives to driving. This car-centric planning has resulted in car-dependency for many and that’s different from a love for cars.
How much more convenient driving is compared to public transport expresses itself in car ownership. In Canterbury, we own 913 cars per 1000 population (2017 data). Those rates are 737 and 661 cars per 1000 population for Auckland and Wellington, respectively. Cantabrians don’t love their cars more than Wellingtonians, it’s simply that driving is easier here than in the capital. And they have decent public transport in Wellington that we can only dream of.
What we should focus on is to get people – not cars – from the north into Christchurch. People are the lifeblood of the economy. Cars are a drain on the economy; NZ$5 billion leaves New Zealand every year to purchase fuel oil, and that’s money that is lost from our economy. A successful proposal would be one that makes taking public transport attractive to so many people that those who need or want to continue to drive don’t require such large roads.
There are three components to the alternative proposal. The first of these is a new high-frequency bus route from Rangiora and Kaiapoi to the city via the Northern Arterial and Manchester Street (the blue line on the map) complementing the much slower bus route from Pegasus that uses Main North and Papanui Roads (the red line).
The second component is provision of bus priority measures. Permanent (24/7) bus lanes are proposed from north of the Waimakariri to Edgeware Road rather than the proposed short high-occupancy morning peak lane on the existing Northern Motorway. A further priority component is for restricting the north-south movement on Manchester Street across Bealey Avenue to buses only; this is so that other traffic is deterred from using this corridor and there would thus be no further need for any priority measures on this corridor.
The first two components are “carrots” but those, by themselves, won’t be enough to deter people from driving. The third component is the “stick” and that entails parking management. Free all-day parking for commuters on roads is abundant in most of Christchurch. The closest free central city parking is just 430 m from the centre of Cathedral Square.
Free all-day parking needs to go if we want to see behaviour change. Parking around areas that create high-parking demand should be charged for (with residents given the option of a paid-for permit) and this should apply around the central city, Riccarton Mall, the university, Northlands Mall, etc. The paid area for the central city needs to extend to the 4 Avenues at a minimum. Park & Ride (P&R) north of the Waimakariri could also be considered and that should ideally be established where it can, in the future, continue to be used when we reintroduce passenger rail services. P&R charges should be set so that the income pays for land purchase and the operation of those facilities.
There are several organisations that need to work together to make this happen: The Transport Agency as the owner of the Northern Arterial north of QEII Drive, the CCC as owner of the roads south of there, ECan to organise the new bus services, and Waimakariri District for new bus stops. This proposal would save CCC the $15m it has budgeted for the downstream effects work and this funding, plus increased parking revenue, needs to be given to ECan so that they can afford the additional buses.
A similar model was used to fund the new (November 2017) bus service in Queenstown, which saw bus use treble from one month to the next. On a per-population basis, Queenstown has since had more bus use than Christchurch.
Technically, this is all very easy and it simply relies on political will. All that is needed is for the key stakeholders to agree that the priority needs to be for enabling people to move, not cars to drive. Hold your local politicians accountable as many want to be re-elected in October 2019.
Update: I presented this proposal to a well-attended meeting called by SARA (St Albans Residents’ Association). It caused lively discussion; there were strong feelings against the road as proposed by the authorities. This alternative plan was well-liked by the community. I’ve uploaded a copy of my presentation. There’s also a video of the presentation (29 minutes presentation followed by 15 minutes of questions).