The Canterbury Regional Land Transport Study 2012-2042

Posted on February 15, 2012 by

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Over the last few days I have been having a read through the Canterbury Regional Land Transport Study (RLTS) 2012-2042, and it is quite an interesting read. The RLTS identifies the region’s transport needs and the roles of all land transport modes, and identifies how planning, engineering, education, encouragement and enforcement methods are to be utilised to provide for the future land transport system of Canterbury. The Land Transport Management Act 2003 (LTMA) requires each region to prepare a Regional Land Transport Strategy, and the Canterbury RLTS is prepared by the Canterbury Regional Transport Committee. The RLTS sets out a thirty year vision for transport and enables the regional council to provide guidance on the land transport outcomes sought by the region. The Regional Land Transport Strategy 2012-42 replaces the Regional Land Transport Strategy 2008-18.

The RLTS influences how the region’s transport funding is used and provides direction to organisations, such as city and district councils, and the New Zealand Transport Agency, as they develop and implement transport projects. In short, it is an important guiding document for transport policy and funding in Canterbury and Christchurch.

The objectives of the RLTS 2012-2042 are to:

  • ensure a resilient, environmentally sustainable and integrated transport system
  • increase transport safety for all users
  • protect and promote public health
  • assist economic development
  • improve levels of accessibility for all

The outcomes identified to deliver these objectives are thus:

There seems to be a lot about “choice” and “diversification” in the RLTS, which appears to be a good sign early on. The requirements for achieve the objectives include:

The key area that I am concerned in is the Greater Christchurch sections. A recurring theme throughout the document is the need to increase transport choice, and move more people onto active and public transport modes. On page seven it says:

Some road space within urban areas will be reallocated for safe use of active modes and efficient and attractive public transport… In Greater Christchurch investment in public transport services and infrastructure will be concentrated on high demand corridors supported by connecting services.”

So, what does that mean? Reading between the lines, it is support for greater road space to be utilised for cycling, walking, bus lanes, and perhaps even light-rail where appropriate. It is a signal that the policy of developing road space primarily for cars, has not worked in the past, and is not desirable going forward. Continuing to place all our eggs in the basket of adding capacity to roads to overcome congestion and increase accessibility simply won’t work. We must use our road space better. There is also a hint at the requirement for the development of rapid transit corridors, and perhaps a hierarchical system for public transport routes. Taking the map of proposed “commuter rail” lines from the draft Central City Plan, and if we overlay key bus routes, we can see how connecting services could feed in to a rapid transit “backbone”.

Further to this, the RLTS proposes; “Integrated land-use measures to improve local access and mode choice.” Higher density developments around key nodes and along the “high demand corridors”, allowing people the choice of living and working in close proximity to high quality transport networks. Land-use planning and transport planning are closely intertwined, so it is good to see that the RLTS acknowledges this. If we want a high quality public transport system, we are going to have to pursue the right land-use policies to support it.

Good, compact integration and urban design provides a high level of access and mobility and reduce energy use.”

The role of different modes and importance of balancing funding across different modes in the future Greater Christchurch transport system, is an area of intense discussion in the RLTS. The RLTS clearly indicates that if we are to meet our objectives, the number of people walking, cycling, and using public transport will need to increase substantially.

Unlike the government, it would seem that the writers of the RLTS recognise the folly of spending all your transport funds on roads. The RLTS is pretty clear in indicating that there should be a more balanced approach to transport spending in the Greater Christchurch area following the current and upcoming spending on the RoNS. There has been indication that further RoNS are being lined up for north and south of Christchurch, but apart from a motorway extension that bypasses Woodend, I can’t really see anything further that would be required beyond what is currently planned to happen over the next 10 years – other than incremental safety improvements.

The RLTS says that improvements to some high volume strategic roads that pass through the urban area are planned early in the strategy period (an allusion to RoNS?), but goes on to say that other transport modes, and more efficient use of vehicles, will need to be supported in future. I have said this time and time again on this blog, particularly in reference to the RoNS programme. The “roads only” approach, or its cousin the “roads first because that is all we can afford right now” approach, simply does not work and is a waste of resources.

Walking is given a much greater priority over the strategy period. It realises not just the need for improved infrastructure that encourages walking for general small trips, but also the role walking can play in connecting to other transport modes, including cycling and public transport. This is an important aspect, and is why the CBD and key nodes need to be easy to walk around. Take, for example, a situation where you might catch a bus into a station in the CBD. More people are likely to take that bus, if at the key destination the street space is pedestrian friendly, providing a safe and comfortable walk to wherever they need to go. The same goes for other nodes. In terms of cycling, the strategy identifies the need to develop a complete cycling network to meet its objectives. The RLTS correctly points out the crucial role cycling can play in the transport system, because of the much smaller road and parking space cycling requires, along with the obvious health and environmental benefits. The integration of cycling with public transport, walking, and even car travel, is hinted at, and illustrates how an integrated multi-modal approach can aid accessibility and use of desired modes.

The RLTS reiterates the crucial role that public transport can play in the transport system and the importance of focusing services and investment in high quality infrastructure and priority measures along key corridors. Again, the RLTS identifies the need for a “backbone” to the system, and the need to support this with a local network that connects with it at key interchanges. Remember the post I did not so long ago on creating a network based public transport system, which was designed around transfers rather than trying to avoid them? Well, looks like the RLTS is pointing in the same direction.

So, the way that these objectives are to be achieved is by shifting the balance of transport investment over the next 30 years, from a predominantly road focused approach to funding to a more multi-modal approach. The RLTS says;

To achieve the regional outcomes over the next 30 years, a shift in the balance of transport investment is required. A more multi-modal approach will shift investment away from providing additional road capacity towards active management of the road network to optimise its use. In the short-term the strategy is to complete planned strategic infrastructure improvements and over time reduce investment in road improvements and increase investment in walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure and services. This shift in expenditure will need to be supported by actions to achieve better integration between transport and land use, measures to educate the travelling public and pricing signals that support a more efficient and multi-modal use of transport capacity within the region.

Below is the short (1-3 years), medium (4-12 years), and long-term (13-30 years) staging of delivery to achieve the objectives.

As can be seen in the projected staging of transport measures, first we have a shift after about 10 years away from major state highway projects (RoNS). Seriously, after the current batch of RoNS are complete, what other major highway projects are going to be required? Especially if the aim is to increase the proportion of trips made by active and public transport modes. Another key move is getting away from providing copious amounts of cheap car parking, a move that will be undertaken in unison with improved walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure, as well as changed land-use patterns. I have talked previously about the folly of minimum parking requirements, and how they effectively amount to a subsidisation for car use. The approach taken toward parking in the RLTS is in-line with that of the Central City Plan, and is a good objective.

The big question however, is funding. The RLTS must work within the likely level of funding available over its lifespan and must take into account the Government Policy Statement on Land Transport Funding. I have to ask, how acceptable will a balance shift in transport funding be to the government? The government is currently eager to commit funding to big road projects, but will they be convinced that it is a good idea that money for future state highway projects are proposed to be turned into rail, bus, cycling or pedestrian projects? We know they are keen to earmark more money for RoNS in Greater Christchurch, so there is the possibility that while the RLTS directs more funds into public and active transport, the government continues to pour money into big state highway projects. That would kind of work against the objectives of the RLTS, Central City Plan etc.

Looking at the graph above, we can see that road spending – capital and operational – will account for about 67% of transport expenditure in the short-term (almost 40% on capital) but will decline to about 60% overall in the long-term, with capital costs to decrease and operational to increase to about a 50/50 split. Despite the general approach towards a more balanced approach, roads will still receive the majority of funding – something I feel is very important to point out. Notably, public transport, pedestrian, and cycling expenditure increases over this period, accounting for about 30 percent of the total in the long-term.

The point about most money still being spent on roads is quite important. Right now in Auckland, Mayor Len Brown has put up for debate options for the city to self-fund key transportation projects. Little attention has actually been paid to the fact that these projects include many/mainly roads, with most attention in the media focusing on the city rail link, which has attached negative connotations towards it in recent days. There is danger to be had if there are complaints about a more balanced transport approach, with increasing money going to public transport. The truth is, 60 percent of funding is still proposed for roads, and operational spending on roads actually increases. This is an important fact that needs to be made very clear as we move forward, as both this document and the Central City plan are aligned quite well in this way of thinking.

I like much of what is in the RLTS, and find it encouraging that it is largely in-line with other important strategies and documents concerning the future development of Christchurch. This is a promising foundation from which to build from. However, I look at recent events, particularly in Auckland, where local government objectives are being stymied by central government political ambitions. Time will tell whether these common ideas across Greater Christchurch local government can survive the expected scrutiny and interference that central government might apply.

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