The Press reports today that traffic congestion in western Christchurch is on the rise. Congestion peaked in the months following the 2011 February earthquake, but had begun to ease by mid-year. However, congestion is creeping back up again, with Christchurch City Council road corridor operations manager Paul Burden calling it a “new normal” as new travel patterns in the post-quake environment begin to cement.
Riccarton Rd, Blenheim Rd, Fendalton Rd, and Russley Rd are all key roads which have seen an increase in congestion, sometimes as much as a 10 per cent increase when the normal rate of increase was 3 per cent per annum. Congestion on these major routes is having a knock-on effect onto other roads too, such as Grahams Rd, Greers Rd and Waimairi Rd, as people try to find alternative routes to avoid congestion hot spots.
“In some areas there’s as much as 10 per cent heavier flows during peak times and peak times is when the network fails to cope. A good example of that would be Riccarton Rd now. It just does not move freely from about four o’clock.” – Christchurch City Council road corridor operations manager Paul Burden
Certainly it would appear that what we are being told here is that we need to embrace what is essentially a new normality on the roads. It therefore begs the question, what do we do about it? If people are going to have to put up with being stuck in congestion, what other options can we develop?
Certainly, we could up the capacity of roads, but ultimately we are simply shifting the problem elsewhere (remember we are already seeing knock-on effects away from the major arterials) and increased capacity will only fill up again in time, meaning we are back to square one. Given the issues now being faced in the west, perhaps it is now time to start looking at the increased role public and active transport can play along some key routes.
We have had plenty of discussion on here recently about the need to establish a core network of bus routes, so why not start moving in that direction. Giving greater priority to rolling out bus priority measures, as was planned, along Blenheim/Main South Rds, and Riccarton Rd would be a great first step. The situation certainly calls for this project to be given priority as it would provide an alternative to sitting in congestion and would up the capacity of those roads immensely (more buses, faster buses).
This may also be an opportune time to look at establishing a core bus route linking the CBD, Riccarton, University, and Airport. Yep, that is the route of the CCC’s proposed light rail line (although I prefer to think of it in my head as simply a proposed rapid transit link), and I think it would be a good idea to initially establish an intensive bus service along that route (bus priority, 15 minute frequency, high-capacity buses etc) as it generally serves the areas currently affected by increasing traffic congestion. If a success, it might be used as justification for upgrading to light-rail.
While we are on the subject, earmark Riccarton as the first suburban centre to receive a transport interchange. These have been long in the planning, and the concept appears to be getting a lot of attention in the recovery of the city. Given the traffic conditions in the west, part of the overall response, in addition to bus priority and improved services, should be to well and truly establish Riccarton as a public transport hub.
The key will be to get the funding together for these kind of measures. I have no doubt a lot of this is on the board, but the situation as it is calls for alternative transport solutions to be given the priority they haven’t in the past. There is no doubt it would be money well spent Essentially, what I am saying is that the west can be used as the litmus test for planned city-wide transport reform, with the first small steps to be taken today. There is a justification for it, so why not take advantage?