There are a few voices out there that have been consistently making the call that what we need in the CBD is “better” access for cars and “more parking”. Christchurch has a history of car dominance over the last 50-60 years, so I fail to see how we could get even better access than we have had. If you want to be picky, you might have had trouble finding your ideally located park, but you have that problem everywhere else too. We can provide all the car parks we want in the CBD, but is plentiful parking really that important to its revitalisation? The truth is, I never had much of a problem finding a park in the CBD before at all, and yet the CBD was still in a downward spiral as far as I could see! Once again, we seem to have people calling for a continuation of existing failed policy to provide solutions to problems it helped create. How the heck does this happen?
During submissions on the draft Central City Plan today, Richard Peebles called the Plan “anti-vehicle” and said proposed restrictions on cars and parking should be removed. Well, I think the current and previous policy has actually been overwhelmingly “pro-vehicle” and pretty much anti every other transport mode, with the evidence suggesting this has largely been to the CBDs detriment. Once again I have to ask where the heck that policy has got us? A decaying CBD, soulless areas like Tower Junction, congestion, poor environments, unsafe streets for people and cyclists, increased travel costs and so on. Is that really the stuff of a progressive world-class city? Do we want to keep going down that path? Do people like Mr Peebles ever get out of the country? If they do, do they ever look to see what other world-class cities are doing or have done in these situations? My theory is that some people simply can’t understand that we pursued an avenue of pro-car transport policy, and equate access with cars and only cars.
At the malls you don’t have to pay for parking, as they provide their own car parks for customers, but in the CBD you mainly do as the CCC owns the car parking buildings. Should we make car parking free in the CBD? Why? Who pays and who benefits? How do we manage congestion? How will it affect the CBD? Will that kind of place be somewhere people actually want to go to and invest in? Is plentiful car parking the answer with other cities that have successfully revitalised their CBDs? These are questions we need to ask before accepting such claims that car parking is the critical part of the draft Central City Plan. Like I said, to me there was not really a problem with the number or location of car parks in the CBD anyway, so what obvious benefit would there be to providing more car parking? It is time we looked at a different avenue of thinking in regards to accessibility, and I feel the restrictions imposed on car parking, and promotion of other transport modes in the draft Plan go some way towards this. Provide for cars but don’t build the CBD around them Of course, a large proportion of people in Christchurch depend on motor cars for their everyday transport. Does this mean we must cater to that figure overwhelmingly when designing and implementing future transport policy? If anything, it illustrates the problem of accessibility to other transport modes we have in this city. Build better, safer cycling infrastructure, and people will use it. Make streets more pedestrian friendly (rather than car friendly) and they will walk. Develop useful, high-quality public transport and they will use it. This isn’t rocket science, we just have to get out of our current way of thinking.
Lastly, my main point here is that we must build a CBD that people will want to come to. An abundance of car parking has not and will not achieve that. You go to Tower Junction to buy crap, not to have an enjoyable day. That is not to say that we don’t need car parks but rather that it is not the be all and end all of a successfully revitalised CBD. A people friendly core, better cycle and public transport access is very critical if we want this thing to work. Cars have a place, but they should be at the bottom of an upside down pyramid in terms of our thinking and priority. People will not come to the CBD just because of a car park, and if they do it will have all the ambience of a big box development.