One of the more contentious issues recently regarding Christchurch’s Major Cycleways revolved around the proposal to purchase two properties in Somerfield to create a new link between Roker and Barrington Streets as part of the Quarryman’s Trail cycleway. This option allows a quiet street route for the cycleway rather than the original concept for a separated cycleway along busier Milton St, which would have eliminated much of the on-street parking there as well.
I was rather surprised by the level of vitriol stirred up about this issue (not helped by The Press trying to milk it for all its worth – sigh, when might we expect our local media to come up with any positive stories about cycling?). There seemed to be a number of different angles taken to this saga by both media and commenters:
- The owner of three of the units potentially in the firing line was profiled as she would have to move from her long-time home. There was a back story about her grieving over the death six months ago of her mother (who lived in one of the other units) and Council sending her deceased mother letters about the proposal. Sorry, but communication mishaps like that happen; had the property details been updated at Council?
- People have asked why carparks are being prioritised over houses, evidently demonstrating a lack of spine by the City Council. I’m impressed (if a little suspicious) that suddenly so many commentators have realised that car parking isn’t the be-all and end-all to city life. I’d actually call it pragmatism on the part of Council; they’re already buying a fight by removing enough carparks on other parts of the Quarrymans Trail (and have encountered similar opposition elsewhere in the city); here was an opportunity to come up with a solution that didn’t remove carparks and was just as direct (and probably more pleasant for cycling). The extra saving of not building a separated cycleway on Milton St (instead of a greenway treatment on Roker St) more than offsets the property purchase costs too.
- A number of public comments have suggested that demolishing two houses seems crazy when Christchurch has “a housing shortage.” I think they’ve been watching too many news articles about Auckland; post-quake Christchurch did have a housing squeeze when we needed places to hold all the displaced families while their houses were being repaired and also the rebuild workers. Now, apparently landlords are finding it a struggle to attract tenants, and property prices here have flatlined. In the bigger scheme of things too, two houses are not going to influence Christchurch housing supply either (and maybe some smaller units could be rebuilt on the land left over after the cycleway construction).
- There have been suggestions that quiet Roker St will be “turned into a thoroughfare”, with “concerns about the extent of parking loss and the effect on quiet streets.” Um, it’s a neighbourhood greenway, folks; I think some are confusing the pictures of the separated cycleways along other parts of the route. There will be no extra motor traffic, negligible parking loss (a couple of traffic calming devices only?) and I’m not sure how a bunch of extra people cycling will greatly change the quiet ambience of the street. Let’s not forget too that Roker St residents will benefit from a handy new walking/cycling link to shops, bus stops, etc as well as direct access to the cycleway route themselves.
- The general tenor of the saga suggests that people will be getting turfed out of their homes before they know it: “I’m in a really bad situation. I’m putting people on the street. That’s horrible.” We’re talking about a cycleway that probably won’t start construction until next spring – nine months away, plenty of time to make other arrangements. Most normal tenancy agreements only require three months notice.
- There almost seems to be some conspiracy implied by the fact that no-one knows which properties are being purchased yet – what’s the City Council not telling us? Last time I checked though, most property purchases were a confidential arrangement between buyer and seller; why would these ones be any different?
- Similarly, the owners won’t get financially stiffed from the exercise; typically in a situation like this people are handsomely compensated for more than market value to mitigate for the disruption; it is only if someone digs in their heels that Council might have to invoke the Public Works Act.
Sorry if some of these thoughts sound a bit terse, but should losing two houses for a cycleway be such a big deal? Overall, I can’t help wondering whether some of the arguments presented are actually a smoke-screen for some closet NIMBYism or just some good old anti-cycling sentiment (not that anyone would say that out loud…). Or maybe it’s just that cycleways are still seen as a “frivolous” extra, compared with “important” stuff like roads and pipes…
I’ve had people ask me “well, what if it was your house?” Ironically I used to live only about 15 houses away from the area of interest on Barrington St. Of course, it’s all hypothetical until it actually happens but, if someone was going to compensate me well enough to easily find another place to live, cover my moving and other costs and then some, I think I could happily see the greater good.
What’s particularly ironic is that on the same day that a big fuss was being made about this proposal, The Press was also reporting on the sod-turning for new motorways north and south of Christchurch – motorways that will purchase dozens (hundreds?) of properties and affect numerous houses and businesses, as had been reported before, but now don’t rate a mention. Instructive is the comment in that last article: “We don’t want the motorway here. Who does? But that is progress, isn’t it? You just have to accept this as progress.” So are cycleways ‘progress’ as well? Just like the properties purchased to extend shopping mall carparks, enlarge intersections, create four-lane roads…
The Press’s editorial “Christchurch cycleways worth supporting but compulsory demolition a step too far” seems to sum up the underlying mantra: of course we support cycleways, but they’re not so important that we should purchase land for, especially where actual people live… This seems to forget a key reason why we are investing so heavily in cycleways – the road safety and physical inactivity concerns that are shortening the lives of so many Christchurch residents. Is that important enough?
In my younger days, I used to amuse myself by dreaming up potential cycle routes across the city, often requiring just one strategic property purchase to unlock a major connection. When Christchurch’s annual cycleway budget used to stumble along at $1-2 million a year, there was never any possibility of actually purchasing any land to achieve these. Now that we have access to significant funding, it would be disappointing to think that we are still being held back by traditional ways of thinking about the role of cycleways…
Is it too much to expect to purchase properties to make better cycleways?