City congestion demands action

BRING THEM BACK: The distinctive yellow hybrid-electric shuttle buses that used to run in Christchurch could ease ...

BRING THEM BACK: The distinctive yellow hybrid-electric shuttle buses that used to run in Christchurch could ease congestion immediately.

OPINION: 

What infuriates you most about getting around Christchurch?

Is it the continual congestion? Is it the patched and potholed rollercoaster roads; the single-lane slalom courses between orange cones? Is it the unsynchronized traffic lights and the lack of right-turning arrows? Is it bad and inconsiderate drivers? Is it the lack of parking? Is it the lack of a first-class public transportation system, off-road cycle tracks, and proper pedestrian crossings?

Is it journalists going on about these things? Yes, of course it is.

What infuriates me is that many problems are preventable: It makes zero sense that in the 21st-century, Christchurch is grappling with traffic issues that were glaringly obvious in the middle of the 20th century.

One property industry leader was quoted in this paper saying we should not impose other cities' solutions on Christchurch, like cycle lanes or light rail; this is a "driving city". Unfortunately that attitude is part of the problem.

I like cars and driving (on smooth free-flowing roads where I can put the cruise control on, listen to music, and enjoy the scenery) - but driving in our quake-damaged city is stressful.

One person per vehicle, driving everywhere, and using more land for parking is not sustainable.

To be an eco-friendly, future-focused city, Christchurch must learn from best-practice solutions that are already successful overseas.

Even Auckland is finally expanding public transportation, including a rail network - something it should have done 40 years ago. New Zealand's largest city, with a population of 1.5 million, is small by world standards. It is easier to get around larger cities overseas. Christchurch is far smaller but rates poorly for accessibility.

It is not just the earthquakes. We all understand that roads got hammered. Scirt (Stronger Christchurch Infrastructure Rebuild Team) is doing a tremendous job repairing underground pipes carrying vital services, together with roadways and bridges. Obviously, disruption is unavoidable. Many roads are patched and peeled, bumpy and bothersome. Some drivers have had to replace their cars' suspension systems multiple times.

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Yet, regardless of the quakes, increasing congestion should have been foreseeable, even if the city had expanded at a slow and steady rate.

It is not just population that has risen; so, too, has vehicle ownership.

As subdivisions multiply, planners seem to give little or no consideration to where residents work and how they get there. The result is that roads that had only light traffic have become busy main arteries. (An example is Sparks Rd to Halswell.)

Why, then, has road design barely altered since the 1980s? Quite simply, traffic engineers have failed to keep up with changing patterns of population and vehicle use.

Visitors to Christchurch are amazed how hard it is to turn right. Many intersections have no right-turning arrows, forcing drivers to take heart-pumping risks turning on amber or red. It now pays to plan your trip to avoid or minimize right-hand turns.

Unsynchronised lights can mean a 30kmh crawl from one red light to the next. A doctor told me it took him an hour to drive from Moorhouse Ave through the city to Bealey Avenue in peak hour traffic for a meeting. That's crazy.

Driver behaviour doesn't help. Sins include failing to indicate, use correct lanes, give way, doing U-turns anywhere, and texting and making phone calls while driving.

Perhaps our whole road culture needs to change. Cyclists weave over several lanes of traffic and pretend red lights don't exist. Pedestrians wander out into busy roads. (Opposite CPIT is bad.)

Let's show more patience and courtesy. Please.

Parking wars have broken out in parts of the city. Central city developers want more parking buildings, but that is not the answer: Parking does not occupy vast areas of space in other cities.

The solution is obvious: better public transport. That could include utilising existing mainline rail for connecting commuters from outlying parts of Canterbury. A streamlined bus network is likely to make life easier for some but not others. It makes no sense that different organisations (the city council and ECan) run the buses.

In the central city and inner suburbs, congestion would be eased at a stroke by bringing back the yellow hybrid diesel-electric shuttle buses - axed in a shortsighted move by the previous city council.

The park-and-ride shuttle bus system for Christchurch Public Hospital appears to be a success. That is not a surprise. The only surprise is that shuttles are not used more elsewhere. For any major sports event, show, or public gathering, run special buses. How hard can it be? Free buses to Riccarton and Papanui roads were being put on after yesterday's Cup Day at Addington - a good move, if limited.

Unless local authorities make better transport a priority, and smartly, congestion will only worsen - and the city's future as an attractive place to live, work, and visit - will suffer.

 - The Press

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