Curletts Road Abomination

This is a guest post from Helen Fitt who sat down to write a submission on the Curletts Road options and decided that none of them are acceptable and that we should be telling NZTA that this is the case!

Find out more about the proposals at

Why ALL the ‘Curletts Road improvement options’ are bad

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, before cars became commonplace on the streets of the US and on those of the Netherlands, pedestrians, cyclists, and horse drawn carts coexisted. Certainly there were altercations between the users of different kinds of transport and there were collisions but, due to low speeds, very few people got killed. As car numbers grew, and speeds increased, the death toll from traffic accidents skyrocketed. In the 1920s, over 210,000 Americans were killed on the roads, that’s three or four times the toll of the previous decade (Norton, 2007).

share the roadThe eventual American response was to eliminate conflict by designating roads as spaces for cars and removing other users from those roads (whether through law, or through motor industry sponsored campaigns to ridicule ‘jaywalkers’ and create new social norms). As the number of cars grew, so the amount of space given over to cars grew; the number of cyclists and pedestrians dropped, and the liveability of cities declined…but so too did the number of deaths – and that’s a good thing, right?

The eventual Dutch response (which didn’t come about until the 1970s) was to design their roads and road rules in ways that tried to keep users of non-motorised transport safe while continuing to allow them (even encourage them) to use the roads. The number of deaths in the Netherlands also dropped…but this was accompanied by increasingly liveable cities, less space devoted to roads, a healthier population, and less air pollution.

Which nation is now held up as a paragon of forward-thinking traffic design? I’ll give you a clue…it’s not the United States of America.

To be fair to the US, many cities are now adopting policies that place less emphasis on reducing deaths by reducing non-car uses of streets. But it would seem that, even though the US has cottoned on, NZTA is struggling to grasp the concept. The three ‘Curletts Road improvement options’ all rely on the principle of creating more space for cars at the expense of cyclists and walkers. Not only that, they involve removing the trees and the grass from the sides of the roads—actions that seem highly unlikely to deliver pleasant urban environments.

 Colombo St, c. 1930 - before we built mainly for cars

Colombo St, c. 1930 – before we built mainly for cars



The plans also pose a fascinating question about who the cyclists and drivers of Christchurch are. Through prioritising car use in peak hours, and allowing cycling in off-peak hours, we are given the not-so-subtle message that car use is associated with economic activity and commuting and requires efficiency and priority. Cycling, on the other hand, is a leisurely activity that can be done by those without anywhere better to be. Aside from the ire that this may provoke in cyclists (aka ‘me’), it directly contravenes the apparent ethos of CCC’s recent ‘Going somewhere?’ campaign.

Critics will, I imagine, argue that as traffic volumes increase we have to do something to accommodate them and, while we may not want to get rid of grass and trees and cyclists, we have to make some small sacrifices to prevent gridlock. This is a strangely persistent argument, despite considerable evidence from elsewhere in the world that building roads generates, rather than mitigates, gridlock. South Korean authorities demonstrated this particularly well when they took out a major expressway and replaced it with…a river park (and a high speed public transport system). The congestion that critics had feared never materialised. The truth is (no matter how much we may all want to think that we are individuals), largely, we do what is expected of us. If we are supposed to drive (as in 1930s America) we drive; if we’re supposed to cycle (as in 1980s Netherlands) we cycle; and if we’re supposed to take rapid transit (as in contemporary Seoul)…that’s exactly what we do. By creating more space for traffic on Curletts Road, we will create more traffic (and make our city a worse place to live). If we create more space for cyclists and pedestrians…well, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out what will happen.

Let’s say ‘no’ to all of the proposed plans for Curletts Road; let’s tell NZTA that this is urban planning from the 1920s and it should be put back in its box and back on the shelf in the history museum archives where it belongs.

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