Decades ago, city leaders recognised the importance of ample parking to the viability of the central business district, and purchased and leased land to create the two main parking precincts, Montgomery and Buxton squares. Wakatu and Millers Acre add to the off-street, metered, parking facilities. Other than on some Saturday mornings, there is usually sufficient space for motorists to park up within a block or two of their destination.
Longer-term parking, for city workers, tends to be around fringe areas: St Vincent St, Paru Paru Rd, near NMIT and the Wood. The tendency in recent years has been to add parks while also expanding the metered and time-restricted areas. A number of designated residents-only spaces have also been set, both on the city fringes and in popular areas where parking is restricted: near the Wakefield Quay restaurants, for example.
Attempts have been made through providing designated parks to encourage car-pooling, while boosting public transport remains more popular politically than in practice. The challenge to Nelson from Richmond with its mall and free parking, and the need to provide sufficient spaces in central Nelson to counter these shopper attractions, have long been recognised.
However, times change and the city council is ramping up its efforts to encourage a greater culture of walking and cycling. A target of 25 per cent of all home-work trips to and from the central city being by cycling or walking within six years has been set. This is timely and appropriate - though how achievable it is has yet to be seen.
Councillors are weighing a plan to create a better, safer cycleway in St Vincent St. Up to 135 car parks would be lost, and no doubt that will be of real concern to businesses in the area and current regular users of the parking. Under the plan, angle parks on the southeast side of the street will go. Instead, there will be a 3m-wide, two-lane cycleway closest to the footpath, then a lane for parallel car parking, the normal twin lane roading for vehicles, another parallel parking lane and the northwest footpath.
This seems radical - especially the car-parking lane on the eastern side, separated from the footpath by a two-way cycle track. But it makes sense in that the parked cars separate cyclists from the moving traffic. As long as motorists don't try to use the cyclists' space to manoeuvre in, and passengers emerge from their cars with due caution, the system could work well. Nelson's rate of cycling accidents is way too high, and if initiatives like this boost safety and also encourage more current motorists to hop on bikes instead, they are to be encouraged.
The more who do so, the more that the potential for congestion will be relieved, and of course the health aspect and rising petrol prices are other factors.
The council mucked up badly with its endeavours to spruce up Montgomery Park, lack of appropriate consultation leaving a half-million-dollar red mark on its books while achieving absolutely nothing.
Consultation will be an issue with the plan for St Vincent St, too, and the idea is far from getting sign-off. But it is appropriate that it is in the public domain, and it will be interesting to see where the debate leads. The loss of that many long-term parks is significant. But let's not dismiss the idea yet.
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