A few seconds longer for a safer, more vibrant, attractive and liveable CBD
OPINION: The Christchurch City Council has announced it is permanently reducing the speed limit on many of the roads within the four avenues to 30 kmh.
This seems to have gained a degree of negative comment with people complaining that it is going to make their journeys longer and suggesting the council is anti-car.
The reality is that for someone who chose to drive through the city centre a permanent speed limit reduction to 30 kmh would have no or little impact on journey times. Even if someone were able to drive through the city centre at a consistent 50kmh then reducing their speed to 30 kmh would actually only add a minute or so at most to a journey.
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Even at the best of times, driving through the city centre involves stopping at traffic lights or junctions and being in traffic. And of course we are hardly at the best of times with ongoing road repairs meaning many journeys are far slower and less direct. So this speed reduction will have little impact on journey times.
It is worth mentioning that such a speed reduction dramatically improves the chance of someone surviving an accident. Very broadly, if you are hit by a vehicle travelling at 50kmh you have around a 10 per cent chance of living, at 30 kmh, your chances improve to around 90 per cent.
Of course, the plans for the central city are to encourage through traffic to avoid the 30 kmh roads and instead use roads that are better designed for flow traffic. This approach is common in many parts of the world, where traffic is discouraged from driving through city centres.
Although important, speed and safety are not the key issues here. The fundamental question is, what do we want our central city to be like? Back in 2011 the people of Christchurch were asked what they wanted from their city. They responded in huge numbers in the Share an Idea campaign.
People said they wanted to see walkways, greenspace, markets, riverside features, and for it to be safe and eco-friendly. Fewer cars was also a significant theme. There was no demand for more cars, big roads and faster speeds.
We only have to see the recent attendances at the Noodle Market and Lantern Festival to appreciate that people enjoy coming into the city to attend events. Consider too the popularity of the Margaret Mahy playground.
Around the world there is a growth in the idea of "placemaking". This is not a new concept (it originated in the 1960s), but it is growing in popularity and being implemented in cities all round the globe. It is the idea that you create/design/plan public spaces so that they that promote people's health, happiness, and well-being. The many excellent Gap Filler and Greening the Rubble projects that we find around some of our transitional spaces typify this.
I doubt many Christchurch residents would dispute that pre-2011 Christchurch's city centre was not working as a destination. Yet we have stunning botanical gardens, one of the largest central city parks in the world, a beautiful meandering river and some (albeit less than pre-2011) wonderful heritage buildings all set in a flat landscape that is perfect for walking and cycling.
The building blocks for a great city centre are in place if we can get the flow of traffic right. While there is ongoing debate about the merits of some of the flagship projects and the concept of the precincts, the reduction in speed limit to 30 kmh is a win-win in that it will make the city more walkable and liveable.
It is also worth noting that we are not alone in implementing slower speed limits. These have been implemented in parts of Wellington and Hamilton along with many parts of the world. In Europe there are major campaigns to reduce speed limits to 30 kmh (20 miles per hour in the UK) in residential areas and city centres. The campaigns have slogans based on liveability not safety; "making your place a better place to be" in the UK, and "30kmh – making streets liveable - in continental Europe.
Surely a few extra seconds driving across the city is a price worth paying for a more vibrant, attractive and liveable city centre.
Simon Kingham is a Professor of Geography at the University of Canterbury. Among other things he teaches a graduate course on Resilient Cities that is part of a new Master of Urban Resilience and Renewal.