Guest Post: Christchurch Will Never Be Amsterdam

Regular contributor Robert reflects on his recent overseas travels and more local happenings:

This week I rode along to City Council Chambers to present a 5-minute oral submission to the hearings panel concerning lowering of some central Christchurch speed limits from 50 km/h to 30km/h.

The submitter before me repeated the sentence –

“Christchurch Will Never Be Amsterdam”

several times in his submission. This seems to be a favourite phrase of those who oppose any form of change in the rebuild of our city, whether it concerns the provision for safer cycling or not. In this consultation, the issue was to formalise a 10km/h speed restriction for vehicles around the new outpatients centre at the hospital, safety for all road users, and consistency of speed limits for St Asaph Street to align with Tuam Street going the other way (both of which are light-phased for 30km/h flow already).

Like Christchurch, Amsterdam has some beautiful gardens

It was the reasoning behind the reference to Amsterdam that bemused me the most. Firstly, the submitter had lived in the city for 15 years and had marvelled at the wide roads and faster speeds that the CBD area had afforded his smooth passage around it for the first 5 years, and now the changes were a complete disaster. The CBD is dying he stated, there is no hope for it if these maximum speed reductions are implemented. Having lived in Christchurch for more than twice that period of time I really wanted to tell him that the Christchurch CBD was ‘dying’ long before I had arrived, and lowering the speed limit a little was hardly going to make that much difference. Indeed, another submitter with a similar story had to concede when questioned, that a lot of the problems of access were due to the road works, rather than the speed limits.

Build what you had before and you will get what you had before – a dying CBD.

Like Christchurch, parking is usually an issue somewhere in Amsterdam

Amsterdam does not have earthquakes, he continued, implying that we needed a wide and fast roading network in the CBD in order to maintain safety for evacuation in the event of a disaster. Yet on 22nd February 2011 the city had 50km/h speed limits with nice wide streets and an entire afternoon of traffic gridlock. I took 2 hours to walk home, my partner came a similar distance from the east driving a work colleague home in her car – journey time was 4 hours. One of the reasons I regularly now ride a bike? Simply that for the last 8 years central Christchurch has been considerably more accessible by bike, than any other mode of transport. A great comfort in the event of another disaster.

My submitter friend also acknowledge that St John Ambulance were not opposed to the speed limit changes, then went on to say it wasn’t fair because they could speed up in an emergency, but others were not permitted to. Somewhere, I heard violins playing…

Like Christchurch, in Rotterdam this time, sometimes the slowest mode of transport delays every other mode on the street

And finally – worse (bitchiness alert): this submitter declared he had fled the city on account that Christchurch City Council had approved to levy ratepayers for a proportion of the rebuild cost of the Cathedral (I kid you not). So now, in order to do business in the city he drives every day from Rolleston, and is very concerned that an extra one minute to complete the journey along St Asaph Street east to west will be a severe impediment to the ability to run a business in the CBD…

As it happens, I visited Amsterdam earlier in the year and hope that you like these photos.

Like Christchurch, both Amsterdam and Rotterdam have twin story bike parking
Like Christchurch both Amsterdam and The Hague have ordinary looking people riding bikes
Unlike Christchurch, The Netherlands DOES have a dockless bikeshare, complete with parking problems (same Mobike system we nearly had BTW)
Christchurch is yet to get one of these (Madurodam mini-city); one day perhaps (although the model Lego New Brighton Pier at City Council is pretty good). Note the little bikes…
Not too many of these here either…
Some of this style of road would be great for Christchurch
Like Christchurch, the weather can be cloudy in Amsterdam
Like Christchurch is now slowly getting, The Netherlands has streets that are more like people-friendly shared spaces

(Editor’s note: it’s useful to remember that Amsterdam wasn’t always like Amsterdam either…)

Will Christchurch ever be like Amsterdam? Do we have to be?


4 thoughts on “Guest Post: Christchurch Will Never Be Amsterdam”

    1. Pity they also don’t have any buses going from Rolleston to the city. Even one bus per day would save a few cars having to travel to and park in the CBD?

      1. The Yellow Line goes to Rolleston about every half hour on weekdays, including some express services (no stops before Hornby)

  1. Hi Robert, excellent essay disarming those frequently heard biased arguments against a more walkable and cyclable environment in Christchurch. And although ChCh is clearly still far away from being Amsterdam, there has been a lot of positive change in the last two, three years! The city’s on a good way – let’s keep on cycling and make it all happen!

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