An Accessible City: It's no piece of cake
Abandoning An Accessible City would be dumping problems of congestion pollution on the next generation, writes 27-year-old ROSALEE JENKIN.
OPINION: Ever heard the phrase "you can't have your cake and eat it too"?
It's ringing loud and true in my ears these days, along with the sounds of construction and road works in central Christchurch – activities which are causing more than a little frustration.
Let's get one thing straight though: a large amount of the chaos and frustration being attributed to the Accessible City project is due to private construction. For example Hereford St is impossible to navigate lately simply because buildings are being demolished and erected. It's nothing to do with changing street layouts. To blame all the chaos and frustration on the Accessible City plan is a mis-identification of the problem.
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Reality check: we're in the midst of rebuilding our city. An Accessible City is one aspect of the rebuild, and involves changing the layout of roads and streets in order to create shared spaces for cycling and walking, and putting traffic-calming measures in place.
Other aspects include demolishing condemned buildings and erecting new office spaces, housing, retail and hospitality businesses.
All of this is happening simultaneously, and it would be a miracle if things didn't get a little chaotic at times. Perhaps there are things that could be done differently – better co-ordination of projects, and support for small businesses who are genuinely struggling as a result of road closures. Perhaps these are things that need to be considered.
What should definitely not be considered is scaling back or watering down An Accessible City in response to short-sighted frustration. This long-term plan will improve Christchurch's traffic network for everyone. Note the key terms here: "long-term" and "everyone".
Here in New Zealand, we are way behind the times. We're still building wider motorways instead of utilising passenger rail, and we tear our hair out at the thought of the car-sized patches of land outside our stores and houses being reclaimed for bike lanes or green spaces or pedestrian boulevards.
If only we were better at accepting the wealth of research out there – not to mention the countless examples of great cities around the world that made these changes decades ago – that points so clearly and undeniably to the fact that reduced speed limits, less on-street parking and more space for people on bike and foot actually benefits everyone in the long-run.
There are the abundant health benefits of course, but let's not forget the economic benefits. The research is clear: bike-friendly businesses do better. And what does it mean when there are fewer cars on the road? Motorists spend less time stuck in traffic – win/win.
Central City Business Association's Brendon Chase told the meeting between business owners and the mayor, "As an anchor project, [An Accessible City] is different because we have to live through it - it won't just appear from behind a hoarding."
Mr. Chase, you have hit the nail on the head. An Accessible City won't happen overnight, and it won't happen without the road works getting in a lot of people's way. I'd like to highlight a recent comment by the wise Professor Simon Kingham on the Facebook page of a city councillor who, on this issue is sadly not being so wise: "We cannot assess the success of the Accessible City Plan now; it is still a work in progress. Let's not confuse the short-term impact of road works and the inconvenience they bring with a long-term plan to bring life to the city."
We'll never be able to enjoy the benefits of a truly accessible city – that is, one that caters to all citizens of Christchurch – if we're not prepared to let the council get on and build one.
We also can't go around saying things like "but why do the separated cycleways or spacious footpaths have to be at the expense of narrowing traffic lanes or removing car parks?"
Why? Because that would be having our cake and eating it too. Either we follow the trends set by some of the most livable cities in the world, which prioritise healthier forms of transport, or we remain stuck in the past by continuing to accommodate more and more cars and watch pollution and congestion continue to grow. As a young person with a lot of hope for the future of Christchurch, I certainly know which option I prefer.
So please, councillors and Crown representatives, I implore you to stick to your guns. If Christchurch is to be a truly accessible city, this plan must be seen through to the end. Know that although many of us feel the frustration of the current situation, there are plenty who are excited by your vision, and grateful for your courage to see it through.
Rosalee Jenkin is a Christchurch member of youth advocacy group Generation Zero.