The Greens, the only party to oppose CERA, hosted the first in a series of public meetings last night to present an alternative vision for Christchurch’s earthquake recovery – with the first focussing on the CBD. There was an impressive turnout, around 200 people, and amongst the crowd I spotted CCC councillors Chrissie Williams (chair of the transport committee) and Yani Johanson, and former ECan councillor Eugenie Sage. There may well have been others that I missed, though there didn’t seem to be any CERA or government representatives (perhaps they didn’t want to be known). The meeting was convened by Green MP Kennedy Graham, with help from colleague David Clendon MP.
There were five main themes:
Because of the length of this (my notes ran to 1400 words!), I’ll only focus on the transport side of things, though if there’s public demand, I can write up the rest. My notes in green italics.
The meeting opened with an overview of the situation, and the need for civic engagement over the next 9 months for the recovery of the CBD. Kennedy Graham spoke first of his ability to look at the strategic level of the city, and his hope that this series of meetings would aim to strike a balance between expertise and public vision. Though it was still early days, the process for rebuilding needed to be carefully managed. He also pointed out that decisions did not necesarily have to be made in 4-5 months, and because of the realities (geotechnical report will not be ready until June, Civil Defence constantly updating demolition map), there was plenty of time to engage the public’s vision into planning outcomes. He noted the desire of Christchurch citizens to be involved in the decision-making.
The Transport section was presented by Professor Chris Kissling, who looked at new possibilities for Christchurch’s transportation infrastructure. Firstly, he highlighted the need to build and use energy efficient transport networks, which will shape land use, and also the need to integrate with the new technologies available to us. Transportation and land use is a chicken and egg situation, where one will shape the other, but we know that low density is very inefficienct. A transportation network must have resilience as the utmost priority. He also stated that cars are convenient, a private-vehicle future is most unlikely, because car-free living only really works in village-type environments.
He also emphasised the need for transport corridors to enhance the garden city image and also that people cannot be second class citizens in their own city. In order to reconquer the city from cars he suggested:
- Lowering speeds as one nears the central city.
- Only separated transport can go fast (ie trains/trams, busways).
- Ring routes to discourage centre city thoroughfare, but must be smooth flowing. The carrying capacity of the Four Avenues can be increased quite easily,
- Existing rail corridors must be used, not abandoned. The older suburbs were built around tram lines, the infill of the city is due to cars. Rail corridors can shape city once again.
- Integrate bikes with public transport: including bikes on trains (as used to happen on Chch trains, which can’t be easily or well done on buses.)
- Must compare energy costs (running costs?) with capital costs for transport.
- Use train-trams! He suggested that a single tram track down Riccarton Ave, connecting with the current tram network, and exiting back to the mainline at AMI Stadium.
- Need a Bus Ring, not an exchange, where buses loop around the CBD (a smaller area than today, I forgot the exact boundaries) and return to their suburb, with just the hybrid-electric shuttles providing inner-CBD.
- Buses (and later perhaps trams) must have priority in traffic. Bus priority must be mandatory.
- Car parking only around the edge of bus ring.
- Escalating parking charges to encourage public transport use.
- All private car parking spaces must join the electronic sign network.
- Oneway streets can’t be used for cross-CBD traffic. This would be replaced by the ring route. Access to the CBD must be easy, but not through traffic.
- Christchurch’s motorways under/slated for construction must have High Occupancy capacity. NZ cannot continue to build motorways without futureproofing. Electronic variable payments can be used for tolling to manage congestion.
- Cycleways must be enhanced, and can be built into/through city blocks.
- Airbridges (the Elevated City concept) can be connected, to create a new street level.
After the presentations, there was a split into workshops on each of the five topics, with the transport one largely agreeing with Prof. Kissling’s suggestions. There were a couple of curious/crazy suggestions for some topics; someone suggested that we look at the models used in Wellington and Auckland’s transport governance as an example for Christchurch, though this was quickly rubbished. There was a suggestion for a monorail (seriously?!) from the CBD to Rollestion and Rangiora, and that canals could be used for transport in the eastern areas (which were unrepairable and would revert to wetlands).
Aside from that, there were a lot of suggestions for ways to improve all aspects of the bus networks, from better nighttime buses, to cheaper/free fares for ratepayers, to much better bus shelters. I’m pretty sure NZinTranzit was there plugging his busways too. There was also a fair bit of bike-related suggestions; from bike-sharing, better bike paths, better signs, greatly improved safety (for children), and lock-and-ride facilities spread around the city. There was also support for bike-share and car-share systems, presumably integrated with the public transport network. Cr Williams also noted the need for better pedestrian integration, and that we needed to focus on a pedestrian-first city.
Overall, the meeting produced a vision for a central district that was multi-use, and also multi-precinct. The idea that the CBD is primarily a Central Business District was supplanted by the desire for a Central Entertainment/Civic/Public/Human/Living/Education/Environmental/Community/Cultural District that was much more than just a commercial hub. I think this is the most important concept – one that has been lost on Bob Parker, CERA, and central government. A lot of the businesses that have relocated out of the city will have formed strong roots in their new locations. It will be difficult to attract them back immediately, and if they are brought back, it runs the risk of becoming a 9-to-5 CBD with the current focus on businesses. That’s not the kind of district that holds the central attention of a city. It’s the kind of CBD that was dying before the earthquake, as technology, working practices, and jobs shifted away from the idea of a central hub.
A vibrant central hub is the heart of the city, and Christchurch needs a vibrant heart to stay alive. It’s the heart of the city that its citizens want to have. It’s the heart of the city we’ll miss out on if the government continues to avoid public consultation.