One thing I do not hear often is how these cities could look to Christchurch to see an example of what happens when pedestrians are giving priority in an inner city. Christchurch enacted a 30km/h zone back in 2016, and this is already having a positive impact on injury rates. However, the thing that really strikes me about Christchurch is when you are experiencing it for yourself on foot. Sure, Christchurch’s central city is not as busy a Wellington or Auckland (well, 80 per cent of it was destroyed several years ago and is still being rebuilt) but with traffic and people returning, and more on the horizon, it is an interesting test case.
Having wandered around the city myself recently, I can attest that it is a much easier city to explore on foot than, say, Wellington (and yes, I’m discounting hills here!) and I would go so far to say that it is quite a calming experience. While some might point out the difference in number of workers or economic activity overall, which might account for the “calmness”, the biggest observation for me has been the interaction with roads as a pedestrian, which, even when traffic was backed up for blocks (yes, it does that in Christchurch’s central city at times) I didn’t find it hard to navigate, nor find the traffic itself to be too much of a nuisance. That doesn’t mean the city is perfect, it’s still a car-centric cluster overall, but the central city area definitely has room to make the most of its strengths (socially and economically) with traffic de-prioritised and people prioritised instead.
In truth, Wellington does have a lot of 30km/h zones, including in the inner city, and I believe more are being explored. However, it is the overall priority that cars have in the city, and the lack of pedestrian priority and good pedestrian linkages that concerns me. Especially for a city centre that is increasingly peppered with high density apartment buildings, has the highest rate of per capita public transport use, highest concentration of employment, and is the country’s self-proclaimed cultural capital. Auckland is already proposing a wholesale pedestrianisation of its CBD, a really exciting project that you can read about more here. In Wellington, hopefully the “Let’s Get Wellington Moving” project, due to report back soon, will lead to better outcomes for the city.
Meanwhile, I think the changes already achieved in Christchurch’s core, with more to come, will enable some great social and economic opportunities, and have contributed to a really great space.