Athfield wants trams gone as part of CBD revival

Posted on May 5, 2011 by

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Our favourite ”architectural ambassador” is at it again, this time not just having a go at the one-way streets and buses in the CBD, but also having a crack at Christchurch’s beloved trams! From The Press:

The central Christchurch Bus Exchange should be replaced by two terminals on the edge of a reduced central business district, Wellington architect Ian Athfield says.

A vision for rebuilding the quake-shattered city was urgently needed, he said in Christchurch yesterday.

“It’s really important we get a vision for this place, and it has to be done bloody quickly.”

The city centre should be contained within Tuam, Kilmore and Madras streets, with the bus terminals on its edge, with only dedicated services allowed to operate within.

“Get rid of the trams, get rid of the one-way street system, get rid of those buses that don’t need to run through town, get rid of the underground bus station and we allow people to come back into town,” he said.

Athfield was appointed as ”architectural ambassador” after the September 4 quake and since then has pushed several radical ideas for rebuilding the city.

In March, he called for an end to one-way central Christchurch road system and bus routes through the central city, threatening to walk away from the recovery the demand were not met.

He has also suggested the earthquake will end urban sprawl in Christchurch, increasing house density around suburban centres, an argument strongly refuted by green site developers.

I think that at least some of the antagonism towards buses in the CBD comes from a perception that they hold up traffic rather than from a perception that their absence would enhance the atmosphere of the CBD. This is really the wrong way to go about it, and if Ian Athfield is not approaching it from this angle then he needs to make that abundantly clear.

Rather than banish buses to the outer edges of the CBD I believe it would be much better to ‘manage’ them by creating a dedicated bus route through the inner CBD, much like a full-time bus lane or even bus rapid transit. It could be achieved by converting some streets to form a non-stop strategic route right through the CBD dedicated to buses.  This way you clear other streets of buses and can prioritise them for pedestrians, cycles and slow traffic while the bus route is clearly for buses only (and, of course pedestrians and cycles) and no car or other motorised traffic.

Athfield’s suggestion of having bus interchanges at two locations on the edge of the CBD raises issues around access and also potentially causes problems for transfers between bus services, making public transport less user-friendly. I have to ask what Ian Athfield’s plans for car access are, because apart from the notion of getting rid of the one-way system (which is a barren car-riddled wasteland at the best of times) he seems to be mainly having a go at buses. Ultimately, despite his general views on urban planning indicating otherwise, he seems to be outlining a CBD with poor public transport access which is mainly car focused. Perhaps that is not his intention, but that is the way it seems.

Poor public transport access to the CBD can only be negative, so we have to be careful about what is intended here, how such a move might affect the gains already made in enhancing the bus system to date (particularly through routes) and ultimately how it might effect how people choose to travel. Yes, we need to create a people friendly, world-class CBD, but we shouldn’t try to achieve that by banishing buses to the extent that we make the public transport system ineffective. I know of no other modern world-class city that does such a thing and we shouldn’t try to be the first.

As for the trams, they seem to be getting a pretty bad deal here, and it’s entirely undeserved. Arguably, they don’t cause much interference, actually enhance city space, and could potentially increase CBD accessibility. I don’t really understand his point on this and can’t fathom what kind of problems they might pose, particularly for a potential future ‘people friendly’ CBD.

While I admire Ian Athfield’s bravado in putting forward radical ideas, I think they are a little too ‘sweeping’, general, and ultimately impractical. Having said that, there are certainly some ideas in there worth exploring further, especially his views on the one-way streets (which arguably are detrimental to the CBD and aren’t needed) and perhaps his call for a more people friendly CBD (if I don’t entirely agree with his method).

Strangely though, many of his ideas potentially contrast with his views that Christchurch’s suburbs become more dense, particularly around key nodes, rather than continuing to sprawl. Strong public transport and urban planning go hand in hand so it is odd that he is really getting stuck into the public transport system, as though he doesn’t see a need for it to perform much of a crucial function at a. Odd that his views suit a city with good public transport connections then. I also notice that The Press article mentions opposition to his greater urban density idea from greensite developers. I believe his idea has a lot of merit, and is certainly backed up by the Greater Christchurch Urban Development Strategy, but the mention of such opposition certainly does not surprise me!

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