Editorial: St Asaph St squeeze is asking too much
OPINION: It was a well-intentioned idea to make a better version of what we had. The new, accessible Christchurch that emerged from the earthquakes would be a haven for cyclists and pedestrians without impinging too much on motorists.
"Key cycling routes will be prioritised for cycling and have separated paths where possible to provide safe and comfortable routes," it said in Christchurch's Accessible City transport plan, released in 2013. "Prioritised intersections along these routes will have improved safety for cyclists, especially from turning vehicles. Other streets will have improved cycle facilities to address safety issues as necessary."
On St Asaph St, though, things are a little askew. As part of the city's transport overhaul, the one-way thoroughfare has everything it used to have – two westbound traffic lanes with parking on each side – plus a kerbed bike lane. Space is now at a premium. Any motorist who has found themselves abreast with a bus on the svelte new layout can testify to the intimacy of the setting.
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An audit of the recent restructure has recommended a raft of changes as a result, including cutting the speed limit to 30kmh and improving access to on-street parking. It also suggested shifting road markings to allow more space for parked motorists opening car doors and adding edge lines to reinforce lane position. Businesses owners on the street have been concerned about the safety of the cramped new layout. People were "just about getting wiped out" climbing out of their cars and into traffic, one said.
This situation was avoidable. Doing nothing to encourage cycling on our post-earthquake streets would have been negligent in the extreme, but carving off so much space to demarcate a cycle lane seems just as deleterious. Instead of reducing a safety risk on a key city route, it shifts the hazard from one group (cyclists) to another (motorists trying to exit their cars). The way around this was to compromise somewhere on the design: narrower kerb, one-side only car parking, something. No amount of judicious road marking after the fact is going to make the street any roomier.
It may seem a simplistic question, but how would you not see this problem coming? There is a very obvious result when you try to fit more things into a finite space. Christchurch city councillor Deon Swiggs observed the situation was a "classic case of engineer-driven design rather than urban-design design". The council, having last year batted away a proposal to cut St Asaph St to 30kmh, is mulling it once more. The narrowness of the road was a major factor in the reconsideration, Swiggs said.
In Christchurch's unprecedented transport overhaul, different streets present different challenges. A concerted effort has been made on Manchester St to widen the road and make room for extra services. This may not have been possible on St Asaph, but the street needed a more elegant solution than eating into the available space with a standalone kerb without sacrificing something else. Cambridge Tce, particularly between Gloucester St and Worcester Blvd, feels uncomfortably snug for similar reasons.
The Accessible City plan has faced its challenges in recent months as frustration grows over the never-ending cycle of roadworks and the effects on parking, traffic congestion and businesses. Politicians of all stripes have called for a review. People will put up with a lot if they believe the pay off is worth it, but if the results are claustrophobic new layouts like St Asaph St then their patience will evaporate.
The rebuilt central Christchurch must be more cycle-friendly. Most motorists understand this. They are prepared to accept compromises like 30kmh speed limits and a "core" that largely excludes vehicles. Squeezing them out of the remaining space is asking too much.