It’s almost hard to believe that it was seven years ago when we were pondering how to rebuild our transport networks in Christchurch after the earthquakes. Christchurch City Council had a go first, but then the Govt Agency CERA took over and in August 2012 we saw the first glimpses of the brave new world…
Last Monday, CERA’s Central City Development Unit (CCDU) released their Central City Recovery Plan, promising a more compact central area, bounded by a green “frame” and home to a number of designated precincts for different activities. Having had a few days to digest its implications and see some feedback from others, what are the likely implications for cycling in the city?
Here are the key elements that seem to have some implications for cycling:
- Development of the Avon River corridor as an area that “will give priority to people and provide for cyclists and pedestrians.” This would hopefully make it a lot easier to cross over the busy roads that have limited the River’s use as a corridor in the past.The Plan suggests that it will provide for commuter cycling on the true left bank (Cambridge Tce side), although one would hope that it is feasible to ride on both sides. Hopefully also it can link with the proposed Avon River pathway to the sea.
- There are a lot of other traffic-free areas planned to be enhanced, such as The (Cathedral) Square, Victoria Square, and some retail areas like Cashel St. Most of the Plan images generally show these as just walking environments, but hopefully the powers-that-be will recognise that formal bans on cycling in these areas will be counter-productive. There is also mention of new “pocket parks” and “eco streets”, which also have the potential to create additional cycling connections if well planned – perhaps a place too for some neighbourhood greenways?
- Residential demonstration projects to “ensure that a high-quality inner city living environment is created.” We know that cycling is more likely to be done for shorter trips so, if you want more people to cycle to facilities in the new central city, having them live there is a pretty good start. Pre-quakes, Christchurch had an incredibly low number of people living within the Four Avenues; there is now a chance to greatly improve that, and for central businesses to get a target market that won’t be relying on car parking to get there.
- Creation of a “Frame” along the south and east sides that will provide “lengthwise open space corridors for walking and cycling.” Having had the privilege to spend some time living near the Park blocks in Portland, Oregon, I think these could be a fantastic central city addition. Together with the Avon Corridor, they should provide some useful traffic-free links for cycling around town, although as always the devil will be in the detail…
- There are also some specific comments in the Plan about “streets for cycling” that sound promising. These include “cycle lanes… separated from nearby traffic and footpaths”, “shared slow spaces within the heart of the city”, “a growing number of high-quality cycle parking facilities”, and “a cycle route between the University of Canterbury and central Christchurch”.
It is important to remember too that what was released last week was a land-use plan. Now that this provides more certainty, CCDU can work on developing the accompanying transport plan (you can’t plan how to move people until you know where they’re going…); indeed that has been identified as one of the priority tasks for the next 100 days.
The cycling-specific feedback from people interviewed by The Press was generally fairly positive. Clearly two concerns were:
- Will this green and walk/cycle-friendly vision actually see the light of day? Christchurch residents are not surprisingly a little weary (and wary) of previous “cycle-friendly” plans that have not really seen much evidence of stuff happening on the ground. Jan Gehl’s brilliant Public Space report (2009) was watered down to a hesitant action plan, the last Council Cycling Strategy (2004) has never reached its stated aims and indeed was halted by a Council moratorium on cycle facilities in 2005. And does anyone remember the Metropolitan Christchurch Transport Statement? However, is the difference this time that we have a major game-changer with the quakes and a clear and loud message from the residents via Share an Idea?
- The Plan proposes a fairly nice central city, but how will you get there from the suburbs? It’s no good having a cycle-friendly core if people still don’t feel comfortable riding in from their homes further out. Rather like the residents saying “remember to rebuild the suburbs quickly too”, the success of this for cycling will hinge on making it easy for people to cycle everywhere around the city…
In both cases, that’s why it’s vitally important to make submissions on the draft Christchurch Transport Plan currently out for consultation (I’ve no doubt that it will end up tying in with the CCDU Plan more now). There are a lot of great ideas for cycling proposed in that, but it’s important to let Council know that they are still very much wanted, and wanted SOONER rather than later. Submissions close Thu 23rd August 2012 – have your say!
What do you think about the Central City Plan? Did it help to make cycling better in town?