Now is the time…

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.

Motorways proposed in 1964

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.

Congestion on Brougham Street (Christchurch’s biggest car park)

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.

Canterbury car ownership significantly higher than Auckland and Wellington

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).

New bus route (blue) proposed for the Northern Arterial

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.

Two bus priority measures: permanent bus lanes and a bus-only restriction at Bealey Avenue

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 outside the red cordon

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.

Bus patronage in Queenstown increased 3-fold after a complete overhaul in November 2017

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).

Meeting in the Scottish Society Hall
Mark Wilson, one of the protest organisers, speaking to the crowd

13 thoughts on “Now is the time…

  1. Good post, Axel. Looks like this corridor will be one more serious step backwards for Christchurch, and your proposals are a sound response to it. Someone needs to be engaging in public education on the subject of pricing parking now instead of later when the hackles have risen. I’d suggest the findings of some of the large-scale analyses of the subsidy given to driving need to be included into a campaign by council now. If they don’t take this proactive approach, when every experience shows that responding to outrage is divisive and ineffective, the council could be seen as fiddling while Rome burns. Or, essentially, acting in the interests of the automotive industry at the expense of safety, access, environment and value-for-money.


  2. On the price of parking; whenever I am in Christchurch I hear nothing but complaints from people I meet about how expensive it is. I can tell you, however, that I rarely ever pay. I know where all the free parking is around the CBD (although I usually walk into the city or catch a bus depending where I am staying) and when I do pay, it is colossally cheaper than Auckland or Wellington.

    It’s way too easy/cheap to drive in Christchurch and that’s why you get poor outcomes (and it will only get worse, as you say). You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post:

    – focus on moving people rather than cars
    – more money spent on PT in greater Christchurch
    – increase the price of parking.

    I wonder whether there is a need for simplifying the transport landscape to make this easier to achieve? Having transport fall under so many organisations certainly can’t make it easy to foment change.


    1. Yea I very rarely pay for parking here because there’s so much free parking around. These changes were politically acceptable in Queenstown because they managed to get such a strong media narrative about the money being used to improve public transport. I suspect people here would be the same if we were able to get the media to tell the right story.


    2. Yes, that’s a fundamental problem. We (the St Albans Residents’ Association, some individuals opposed to bringing a flood of cars into St Albans and I) have already presented this to ECan. Yesterday, I talked a senior NZTA staff members. Nobody thus far disagrees with the underlying notion being put forward here. It’s just that it’s leaderless as there are three different organisations that need to agree (not counting Waimak DC needed for some bus stop infrastructure) to make this happen. But nobody owns the problem; individually they all own a responsibility to do what they’ve been tasked with doing. This structural inefficiency is a major problem.

      Personally, I would be in favour of establishing Greater Christchurch, but amongst other problems that would mean splitting Waimak and Selwyn in two parts. The advantages that I can see with doing this would far outweigh the disadvantages, though.


  3. 1) The DEMP is unacceptable. I note from the Executive Summary.

    “The introduction of peak period clearways along Cranford Street down to Berwick Street and possibly other clearways further south makes such routes less safe for cycling, especially during the peak periods. It is not possible to rectify this without widening the road designation and purchasing additional land. Hence the recommended option is to direct cyclists onto other routes. ”

    This is completely unacceptable. Cyclists have a legal right to use Cranford St. Council either legally bans them or provides safe cycling facilities for them. In the days and age of Vision Zero and a climbing NZ road toll it is intolerable for Council to consider implementing measures which are unsafe.

    2) The NROSS study was aware of the issues of traffic through St Albans. To disperse the traffic when it got to the city the study recommendations included i) the Grants Rd Extension to Blighs / Papanui (not adopted by Council) and the Hills Rd Ext to QEII Drive (not progressed by Council/NZTA).

    3) The study did consider an option of stopping the Northern Arterial at QEII Drive. (this could still be done if Council stopped work on the extension) but would leave significantly more traffic on Main North Rd. The intention of NROSS was to allow for future bus lanes to be developed along the Main North Rd corridor.

    4) NZTA subsequently reviewed the Northern Arterial and reduced the number of ramps & the HOV lane is now proposed. Demand along the NA will be reduced, but probably spill onto Main North & Marshlands without transport cost/price changes

    5) I dont think the roundabout at Cranford / NA Ext is the right solution. It should be traffic signals with no slip lanes. This could have then been used to throttle the rate of downstream traffic flow into St Albans & left the queue stacked on the NA Ext (this could still be done). Instead the traffic will mainly end up at Innes/Cranford. I advocated for the same for the Southern Motorway so that the signals at Barrington were retained, i.e. no overbridge until Brougham study done. Instead we have Collins ped signals & Selwyn St having to perform the same function. (Note where I currently live the approach of using signals at the end of the highway is adopted in one location & works well )

    6) Given the earthquake growth in Waimak has probably been faster than without the event. However the provision of the NA will reduce travel time & induce further growth.

    7) Congestion tolls could quite easily be introduced technically on a northern cordon.

    8) With congestion tolls on the northern approach PnR from Waimak would work much more effectively.

    9) I agree that parking charges should be increased. Parking pricing is the most effective TDM if congestion tolls haven’t been introduced. All parking in the CBD needs to be priced including a levy on private commuter parking. (Ideally a transport agency should maintain control of all parking as a TDM)

    10) Without significant cost changes (congestion tolls, parking, fuel excise tax(remove ratepayer subsidy), carbon tax, people will keep driving.

    11) Re Wgtn PT – Wellington is topographically constrained (thus higher PT mode share) whereas Chch is closer to a uniform circle favouring dispersed trips & car travel. Thats not to say one couldnt geographically constrain the Chch network by making a number of links PT only. Given the dispersed land use in Chch (especially now with the CBD not rebuilt) the % of trips from Waimak to the CBD will not be that high.

    12) Making Manchester bus only is good in that it will remove through trips in the core CBD. Further work could be done to turn the CBD into traffic cells & ensure there is off street parking in each cell. This would completely remove all CBD through traffic and significantly enhance the environment.

    13) I agree that a Greater Christchurch unitary authority with a transport agency (same authority or separate organsation) would provide a more integrated approach to transport.


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