District Plan Review – Boring but Important stuff for cycling

The Christchurch City Council is currently starting to consult on its review of the District Plan. For those not familiar with city planning, this might not seem terribly relevant to cycling, but in fact arguably it’s the most important document of them all when it comes to making a cycle-friendly city. How? read on…


So what is the District Plan? Basically it’s the rules by which our city is allowed to develop. Whether someone wants to modify their house, expand a shopping centre, create a new road, or even a whole subdivision, they are bound by the rules contained within the District Plan (which is legally enacted via the Resource Management Act). These might include regulations on where you can build things, how big they can be, what standards they should conform to, how much parking they need, and so on. Because many of these developments are there for a looonnngg time, you want to make sure that you get them right from the start. Short of having another major quake, it’s pretty hard to change a “poorly designed” development once it’s there (e.g. if it’s in the wrong place, isn’t cycle-friendly, etc).

Major changes to District Plans are not something done that often, once a decade if you’re lucky. Our existing Christchurch City Plan was already due for updating prior to the quakes; obviously now we’re looking at quite a different playing field. Also in the last decade we inherited the Banks Peninsula District Plan too as a result of amalgamation, so that also needs to be incorporated. They can also be quite contentious affairs – witness the ruckus that has been happening up in Auckland lately as they develop their equivalent, the new Unitary Plan.

So what things might be of relevance for cycling to consider in the new District Plan?

  • The Plan sets rules around where developments of different types can be located. Historically that often meant that different land uses were kept apart, e.g. you would live in one location, work at another, and shop at another. However more enlightened planning these days typically allows more mixed-use zoning, so that (for example) you could actually live above where you work or shop (or at least be in the same neighbourhood). That makes it more likely that you might walk or bike for those trips rather than a driving trip across town.
Port Moody, Vancouver: higher density mixed-use living - a friendlier place to bike
Port Moody, Vancouver: higher density mixed-use living – a friendlier place to bike
  • The Plan also specifies the level of density of developments that are allowed; this could for example encourage more use of 3-4 storey residential developments commonly found elsewhere in the world (i.e. higher density, not high density). Why is this important for cycling? Because it allows more people to live in the same space and thus we don’t have to build so many developments out on the fringes where the only option is to drive there. It’s also a great way to get more people living in the central city where cycling can conveniently access many destinations. Pretty important to get the urban design of these developments right though; again, the rules can specify details on this.
  • The Plan sets out rules for how much parking is required for different development types. Already Christchurch’s Plan is probably better than many in NZ in requiring reasonable amounts of cycle parking with developments, although it isn’t always strongly enforced. We could do better at requiring better quality cycle parking too, in terms of security and shelter. What’s more insidious however is when minimum requirements for car parking create extensive amounts of asphalt that hardly provide an incentive for someone to cycle instead (and often look pretty ugly too). It’s looks like we are already heading in the right direction, with the Central City Recovery Plan proposing changes to the District Plan to remove minimum parking requirements in the central city. Recent NZTA research also highlighted how car parking right outside the door is not that big an issue for shoppers, despite what retailers seem to think.
Covered bike parking outside a supermarket in Nelson - should that be required for similar developments here?
Covered bike parking outside a supermarket in Nelson – should that be required for similar developments here?
  • The Plan also sets out requirements for what new streets should look like, for example in subdivisions. Historically these provisions in most District Plans have been based on the NZ Standard for subdivisions, NZS4404. The old Standard was very traditional about ensuring that there was sufficient space for unimpeded movement by motor vehicles, e.g. wide roads with large radius curves. However the 2010 edition of NZS4404 now recognises the “place” function of many local streets and has recommended more constrained street environments that encourage lower travel speeds and discourage unnecessary through-traffic. It also recommends wider connections between streets (i.e. alleyways) to improve security and convenience. So hopefully the new Plan will adopt the key principles behind the new Standard.
A typical "local" street in Christchurch - and we wonder why people cycle on the footpath...
A typical “local” street in Christchurch – and we wonder why people cycle on the footpath…
  • The Plan also sets out the city’s road hierarchy and how various travel modes should be provided for on different street levels. The City Council recently prepared its Chch Transport Strategic Plan, which proposes a more sustainable transport system that acknowledges the “place” function of many streets. The new road hierarchy proposed in there needs to be incorporated into the new District Plan; there will then be a legislative requirement for any street works or new developments to adhere to the new requirements (e.g. provision of suitable cycling facilities where designated, appropriate speed limits).
  • The Plan also identifies reserves and other off-road corridors, so cycling routes through these areas can be identified and maintained. The Plan can also ensure that new subdivisions include suitable provision of connections via reserves, alleyways and other off-road corridors, to encourage the use of active modes (especially when there are culs-de-sac in the road network).
A nice wide off-road corridor in Halswell
A nice wide off-road corridor in Halswell

District Plan reviews don’t happen overnight; this one is targeted to be concluded by 2016 (and that’s quite quick for a Plan review). So this is really just the start of the conversation. There are a few ways you can get involved for now:

  • There are a series of drop-in sessions around the community where you can discuss any issues of concern with Council staff. Some have already happened, but there are further ones in the next fortnight in Papanui (2 Sep), Halswell (3 Sep), Central City (4 Sep), Lyttelton (9 Sep), Wigram (10 Sep), and Akaroa (11 Sep).
  • There’s a series of “online conversations” being set up to collect people’s thoughts on what they want to see. It’s a bit like “Share an Idea”; you just type in your thoughts and you can see what others are saying. Already there seems to be a lot of support for better cycling…

Don’t worry too much if you can’t get too engaged at this stage (and that can be tricky when you haven’t seen what is proposed yet); as the draft chapters of the new Plan are notified, you’ll also have the opportunity to comment formally on them.

What would you like to see in the new District Plan?


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