The battle over whether to do away with, or keep, minimum parking requirements has been a controversial issue. Minimum parking requirements do damage to the urban environment, and damage the viability of public transport, especially when you consider that they are effectively a subsidy for using your car. If your goals are to increase public transport use, and create an inviting, vibrant, and people friendly urban environment, then minimum parking requirements are probably one of the best ways you can go about ruining that. It was therefore not surprising that in the original draft Central City Plan, it was proposed to do away with minimum parking requirements, and replace them with maximum parking requirements – that is, setting a maximum number of car parks per section. This idea did not go down too well with some in the business community, and to be honest I can understand to some degree.
The solution to the Council’s dilemma (not wanting to encourage a “car-centric” CBD, while at the s ame time meeting the demands of business) has been to drop the maximum parking idea in addition to getting rid of existing minimum parking rules. The idea is that businesses can have as much, or as little, car parking as they want. The obvious worry with this is that it could go one of two ways. So what is in the final draft Plan that will discourage businesses from developing huge car parks and turning the CBD into this:
First, we have the slow core of streets, where a narrower street space will be shared by pedestrians, cyclists, and cars, with priority given to people. This will hopefully discourage trips into the CBD by car by those who do not really need to. Of course, the idea is that people will actually want to go into the CBD in the first place, so they will do so despite the “hindrance” of it being difficult to access by car (of course other easy ways to access the CBD need to be in place, but more on that later).
Another key move is the proposed removal of plot ratios. This is ostensibly to reduce the impact that lower building height restrictions may have on floor space, by allowing an increased floor area (of course, height limits can also be broken through good/sustainable design anyway). However, I do have to wonder if the other main benefit of this, from the Council’s perspective at least, is to provide further incentive for reducing the amount of car parking on each property in the CBD (well, at least exposed, uncovered parking). In other words, trade your car parking spaces for the opportunity to add more floor space. In addition to this, it is also proposed that new developments be built up to the street along 100 percent of the street frontage of properties in the core of the CBD, and 65 percent of the street frontage in the fringe area. This should at least avoid having car park frontages.
Of course, in order to do all this, there needs to be alternative high quality ways for people to access the CBD. Thankfully, the final draft Plan has taken care of that too. The final draft Plan proposes some significant improvements to the public transport system. The details are yet to be fully worked out, but the overall aim is to increase the proportion of people who utilise public transport (i.e. getting to a situation where most people using vehicles to access the CBD are those that actually need to be using a vehicle for the trip). Needless to say, this will need a complete rethink of how public transport services are provided in Christchurch. Delineating rapid transit routes to form the backbone of the public transport network, upgraded bus routes, improved infrastructure, investigation of commuter rail, making the tram part of the public transport network, these are all measures which will go some way toward achieving this.
Likewise, greater pedestrian priority within the core and improved pedestrian access within the CBD, including the development of new and existing lanes and courtyards in city blocks, further encourages developments built around people, not cars. The same applies to plans for improved cycling infrastructure.
I do wonder if the maximum parking idea was a bit of a red herring all along. In anycase, it seems to have made the concept of getting rid of minimum parking requirements more acceptable, and it seems the Council are confident that car parks won’t get out of control in the CBD. With the other proposals in the final draft Plan likely to deter an abundance of car parking, I think they will be pretty confident of that. It will be interesting to watch and see how the city develops without a minimum parking requirement in place, although it remains to be seen how much support it will get from CERA and the Minister. Given how interrelated a lot of the measures are, with some depending on the implementation of others, it may be difficult to disagree.