There is no doubt in my mind that Christchurch does need some significant highway improvement, particularly given the growth in the north and south (and the Christchurch RoNS have strong BCRs). However, I have always been concerned at the lack of balance in transport funding earmarked for greater Christchurch, and have had cause for further concern that this unbalanced approach would continue in future. There is a very good example of what happens when you have an unbalanced approach to transport weighted towards the car. We don’t have to look far, it is called Auckland – a city that clearly illustrates the problems that arise when you do little more than build motorways for 40-50 years and is now playing catch up in other areas. I cannot fathom why anyone would want to follow that route, or allow it to happen to their city. A while ago the government remarked on possible additions to its huge highway spend up, dubbed “Roads of National Significance”, which included SH1 to the north and south of Christchurch (in addition to the projects already underway to the north and south). I wondered then if we would hear more about this toward the election. Well, now we have – it is roads, roads, roads, for Christchurch.
There are no further details as yet on these possible projects, so it is not entirely possible to make a judgement on whether they make sense yet, but I have to ask where our heads are at when simply approaching this on the issue of balance. We have a basic, barely functioning, and largely ineffective public transport network, especially when compared to Wellington and Auckland. There are a plethora of projects that could be funded to improve that network in the short to medium-term, that would undoubtedly improve the effectiveness of the system, and ultimately lead to growth in patronage. This would be of massive benefit to Christchurch, particularly in the earthquake recovery phase it is currently in, and could be implemented very soon. Improvements to the public transport network would also have benefits for the city’s road network as well, and should be part of the package to get this city moving in the right direction.
When it comes to public transport projects, it has to be realised that the light rail project is in its infancy. Certainly, I hope that good progress is made and that a sound business case is put forward in the near future as the Central City Plan is finalised. Until then though, it is merely a proposal that warrants further attention and investigation. However, there are a plethora of much-needed and delayed public transport projects which, if given the funding, could be of significant benefit to Christchurch. Here are some projects I think should receive priority and funding:
– fast tracking already planned bus lanes along key routes
– bus priority signals at key intersections and congestion hot spots
– developing planned suburban interchanges at key suburban centres
– new Lyttelton ferry terminal
– cycle parking facilities
– park and ride at Rolleston, Lincoln, Rangiora and Kaiapoi
Why there is no money forthcoming for these undoubtedly useful projects is beyond me, while we seem to be perfectly capable of finding billions of dollars for these highway projects, many of which struggle to make economic sense. There are undoubtedly more areas we could look at that as well, especially cycling. In a city like Christchurch, where a large proportion of the land is flat, it is simply astounding that more money has not been spent on improved cycling infrastructure. Sure, the draft Central City Plan is all over it, but other than that there is very little in the way of funding or attention from central government. There would be huge benefits if cycling funding in Christchurch was increased, you don’t have to know much to see that it would be money well spent. Big gains in that area could be made.
All in all I find it disappointing to see that in addition to the current plethora of highway projects currently under construction or slated for greater Christchurch, we are to get yet more and there appears little or no attention is being paid to other areas where money might be well spent. Note that I am not against spending on roads entirely (I largely support the current projects, which have a high BCR and seem to make sense) but find further additions, without making funding available for other areas, perpetuates a policy of unbalanced transport spending, which I believe is ineffective and unsustainable. With blind commitment to RoNS and little money going elsewhere from central government, I can only hope that political pressure to implement the final City Plan will result in the kind of balanced transport spending we need.