Plans for post-quake Christchurch promised a focus on transport alternatives and a compact, pedestrian-friendly core. But media generated hysteria over car parking – and the meddling of Gerry Brownlee – is threatening to send the city back to the 60s, writes James Dann.
Since his appointment as the head of CERA, Gerry Brownlee has often been called the “rebuild tsar”, but perhaps a more appropriate Soviet sobriquet would be “Rebuild General Secretary”. The Bryndwr Brezhnev has ordered the construction of pointless concrete monuments, used the powers of the state to acquire property against the owners will, and exercised his iron will to suppress dissent whenever he sees fit. His most recent edict has seen him take aim at the free-wheeling free loaders who choose to ride cycles in Christchurch. For too long they have had it easy, riding on unprotected roads, periodically being hit by cars and trucks. No more, says Comrade Brownlee. No more!
The accessible city plan – developed by CERA then handed off to the council, is “about upgrading the travel network to provide a compact, people-friendly core and about supporting the economic, social and environmental recovery of the Central City.” Sounds awful. Brownlee said “I think it’s a laudable idea that we become a pedestrian city, but you’ll get a pedestrian economy as a consequence.” Given Simon Wilson’s description of what removing cars did to Fort St, I think Christchurch would kill for a pedestrian economy right now.
Cycles aren’t even the real problem, but have been made into one by a minister who wouldn’t know one if it was deep-fried in tempura batter and placed in front of him. Over the past couple of weeks, The Press has made a cycle-shaped piñata, then given politicians like Brownlee, Cr Deon Swiggs and Labour’s Christchurch Central candidate Duncan Webb a free swing with the bat. Parking nightmare! screamed the front page on Monday. An editorial called St Asaph St “claustrophobic”, saying:
“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).”
Sorry, if you think getting out of your car is as dangerous as riding a bike in Christchurch then … I worry for you. Here’s a simple guide for getting out of your car safely. Look in your mirrors, and turn your head, to see if there are any cars coming. If there are no cars coming, get our of the car. If there are cars coming, wait approximately 10 seconds until there are none, then you can again attempt to get out of your car. Now you are outside your car – please look up wikihow to learn some other basic life skills that appear to have completely bypassed you.
In one of the busy cafes on “claustrophobic” St Asaph St, Catarina Gutierrez takes her morning coffee at a leaner, looking up to notch another dash on her tally chart. She’s monitoring the number of cyclists that use this stretch of road, one of the separated cycleways that the council has started rolling out. On the morning I join her, our conversation is constantly punctuated as she records another rider. 110 people bike past in an hour. Gutierrez is doing this to try and get some data on the number of people using the cycleways, ammo to try and combat the concerted campaign against the “accessible city”. This back-of-an-envelope survey is supported by the most recent council work, which showed a “21% annual increase in the number of people cycling into the City Centre”. So how have the cycleways become the target? Are they they victim of their own success?
The source of all this anger is carparks – or the perceived lack of them. However, there are plenty of car parks in central Christchurch. In the east of the centre city, from Manchester St to Barbadoes St and beyond, there is nothing but carparks, endless expanses of uneven gravel, patiently waiting for the the Brighter Future that never comes, meticulously policed by the Wilson’s enforcement team. In fact, figures from the council would suggest that there are in fact more carparks in central Christchurch than there were before the quakes. No, the issue here is free car parks.
There is of course no such thing as a free car park. Someone always has to pay. The developer lobby, frequently given uncritical coverage in the Press, want the Council and ultimately the ratepayer to pay. One of the most brazen attempts to fleece the ratepayer came from Calder Stewart’s Kevin Arthur, who wants someone else to pay for a carparking building next to the movie theatre he’s constructing:
“[Arthur] said paying $4 an hour was likely to “frighten off” movie-goers, who would instead patronise suburban theatres with free parking. “We’re hoping it will be about $1 an hour. We’d love to see the council step in and provide a subsidy for that because it brings people back into the city.”
If your business model requires a 75% subsidy from the ratepayer, then frankly, your business model sucks and you should think about doing something else with your life. We know how much parking costs. There are plenty of studies into it. If you can’t factor it into your planning, then don’t try and blackmail a cash-strapped council for it. Notorious left-wing rag The Economist has a fascinating piece about the cost to cities of car-parking, with a stern warning for developing countries to avoid making the same mistakes made in the West. Of course, totally absent from these discussions is any forward thinking about the effects of climate change, or moving away from carbon-emitting modes of transport – though that isn’t too much of a surprise given Gerry “sexy coal” Brownlee’s skeptical take on global warming.
On this very website, Simon Wilson has been writing thoughtfully and provocatively about Auckland’s transport woes, including floating the idea that the CBD could go car-free. While that might be unlikely, it’s at least a debate that befits a city that sees itself on the world stage. The debate down here shows that the limit of our ambitions is to create a bustling 1960’s agricultural service town – Timaru, but with a university.
Christchurch in 2017 is a town that will entertain a $25,000-per park subsidy for a car, but says “leave it to the market” when it comes to residential accommodation. It’s a city where the vision is as transparent and thin as the glass cladding each dull new building, where the opposition is on the same side as the minister, where the main news outlet is complicit in the takeover. There is some hope – if there was one person who wasn’t going to put up with Brownlee’s shit, it’s Mayor Lianne Dalziel, who has already called this needless meddling out for what it is.
Cycling isn’t for everyone – and it will never be. But motorists need to remember that every cycle means a car that isn’t occupying a carpark. The more people on bikes, the fewer people that you’re competing with for your precious carpark. Motorists already get a disproportionately large amount of money from local and central government. The future of our city’s transport network shouldn’t be dictated by a man who probably orders a Crown limo to take him from his office to the bathroom and back. We need politicians who are looking out 10, 20, 50 years into the future, not just looking for a cheap shot and 60 minutes free parking.
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