Looking at the removal of the one-way system

Posted on November 9, 2011 by


If it ain’t broke don’t fix it right? Some might say that well known old saying applies to the one-way system – it works well, does the job, so why mess with it? Yet, the draft Central City Plan proposes to do away with the one-way system altogether, and move through traffic out to the four avenues. Are they mad? Some say they are. However, there are always two sides to every story…

I thought it was about time I took a look at some of the other aspects of the draft City Plan, and the future of the one-way system is both a major part of the rethink of transportation in the city, and a controversial issue. For many, it is a popular move. The one-way system is seen as an ugly, polluting, dangerous barrier between different parts of the CBD, which encourages traffic through the heart of the city, most of which is ultimately bound for elsewhere. It is also seen to discourage development, something seen quite clearly along Lichfield and Barbadoes Streets. Others, however, see it as a backward move, that could cause further congestion in other areas (for example, the avenues), and removes a system that was designed to do a specific job and apparently does it quite well.

However, is the one-way system really not broken? Sure it does the job intended, but is it the best way to do that job? Should we even desire for the job needing to be done to such an extent? Yes, it moves thousands of cars through the CBD, but in doing so it creates an unfriendly, noisy, dirty and dangerous environment for pedestrians. It hinders accessibility between different parts of the CBD, and seems to be largely devoid of life. Then there is the fact that the one-way system is primarily used to cross the CBD rather than get into it. So the one-way system effectively downgrades the CBD’s ambience and environment for little benefit to it. Meanwhile, out on the edge of the CBD is a ring of roads that seem perfectly designed to handle all that through traffic, with the obvious benefit that it would divert all that traffic away from the heart of the CBD and provide a much better environment. I am of course talking about the four avenues, and it is essential that people who view the dropping of the one-way system are reminded that an alternative is being implemented to take up some slack, in the roading sense at least, while improved public transport and cycling infrastructure will take up the rest of the slack as well as future growth capacity.

Imagine for a second that Lichfield Street is a bustling two-way slow road, tree lined with shops, cafes, restaurants, bars, offices and apartments lining its length. Perhaps even a light rail line runs along it. Traffic is limited to 30 km/h and so it is safe to walk across and cycle along. Imagine too that Barbadoes Street is the main thoroughfare of a bustling high/medium-density residential area, with cafes and other shops dotted along it’s garden like length, and Durham street is a slow road next to the river with wide footpaths, cycle lanes, and lots of activity. The reality is, we can either continue to let the car dictate the shape and form of our city or we can shape it the way we want it and look towards smarter solutions to solve transport problems. If the overall goal, as we look forward, is to move the city toward more walking, cycling , and use of public transport, then removing the one-way system to create a better environment and moving through traffic to the four avenues makes perfect sense.

might say that while traffic from the one-way system could be shifted to the four avenues, that might create significant congestion and wouldn’t work, right? I don’t think that is necessarily so, and if the goal is to get more people onto other transport modes then I don’t see what the problem is, particularly as you would still be accounting for CBD through traffic via the four avenues anyway. According to the draft Plan, the conversion of one-way streets into two-way will reduce traffic dominance and the impact of heavy traffic volumes. It will reduce the capacity of the road network in the central city but will create an environment that supports multiple modes. In essence, the aim of the entire plan is to create a substantial mode shift from cars to multiples transport modes (including cars, but not dominated by them) as well as an improved environment within the CBD. The conversion of the one-way system back into two-way streets fits comfortably, and strategically, within that aim. 

Focusing through traffic onto the four avenues also affords us the opportunity to look at the layout and function of Moorhouse, Fitzgerald, Bealy and Park Avenues so that they can operate in the best fashion for the city. This is possible because these roads are for the most part very wide and don’t really have the constraints on either side of them that the current one-way streets do. To me, it is about utilising our resources better and getting a superior result. The removal of the one-way system from the CBD coupled with a refocus of that traffic onto the four avenues and a stronger emphasis on active and public transport modes is a winner in my books. The avenues will be redeveloped to form an orbital route for vehicles to travel around and to the Central City. This includes developing priority for orbital traffic at intersections and so on, to ensure efficient movement, along with better information systems, separate walking and cycling lanes (albeit, where possible) and an enhanced streetscape (mainly Moorhouse Ave, which really needs it). When the project is completed, it will allow all one-way streets to be converted to two-way (although the orbital project says completion in 2015, while the two-way conversion says completion 2020…). Some streets are planned for conversion within the first two years, with the remainder (those with the most traffic) being converted once the avenues orbital system is up and running, so there might be a lag between those two dates.

So is the one-way system not broken, or was it broken all along? I am going to go with the later notion and believe the benefits of removing the one-way system are far far greater than leaving it in place, especially when you take into account the other transport related points of the draft Plan. If we are to achieve the aims many of us have indicated we want for Christchurch, then we simply need this to happen.