Saturday, March 31, 2012

One-Way One-Way, Another Christchurch Option?

There is great debate in Christchurch at the moment about removing the twin sets of one-way streets that encircle the central city. This system, completed in 1972 has a through route in each direction heading south north, west, east on each side of the city centre, Cathedral Square.

The two main argument against these streets appear to be they pull (unnecessarily) suburban traffic through the central area, using the city as a short-cut across the central city block. Secondly they tend to kill streets commercially and appear to be less safe relaxed spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. A major factor is the speed of the onrushing wave of traffic on synchronised lights, also the fact that it is difficult to go back if a parking space is missed or on the other side of two lanes of fast moving traffic.

The arguments for removing the one way system to me seem very weak - many of the two-way streets in the city are already clogged, and converting all streets to two-way means more traffic coming down Colombo  and Manchester Street, or along Tuam Street. If all streets are clogged, all stop-start, often clogged and unpredictable then one is as good as another.

I well remember one of the worst features of living in Christchurch back in 1970 was getting across the area between the four avenues, a real drag, if in a hurry a bloody nightmare. The city is just a big grid, so every 500 metres or so, cars came to an intersection. In those days only some of the intersections had lights, so it was look both ways stop-start. Oops. brake hard, unseen car coming. Nose-to-tails and cyclists being knocked off bicycles seemed common then. If lights are not running to a pattern ( common name= one way system) traffic is slowed just by virtue of the size of queues to get across each intersection.

Few things seem more likely to kill the central city faster and promote suburban malls better than this bizarre idea of making it twice as it hard to move around between the four avenues and neighbouring areas, making every street a clogged up Manchester Street.

There is however a middle alternative that might also be worth considering, one I suggested back a year ago (original article) having only a "one-way one-way system" and this as a clockwise circulating route only. [Orange in map above] The suggestion is that it operate as a self-contained separated circuit not continued or starting from the four Avenues (reverting to two way at the corners of the one way circuit).

The paradox here is that this pattern is essentially a square route to go diagonally!!  It is an internal short cut (or at least simple way of going corner A to corner B) for those moving across the city.

The shorter length of the section of each of the four streets (above) that is actually designated one-way coupled with the fact that two way streets and variable traffic lights have to be negotiated to get on to and off to these the one way portions, considerably reduces the "let's cut through the city with minimum stopping" appeal. Whose going to drive from Carlton Corner via Victoria and Salisbury all the way around this loop (Barbados and St Asaph Streets) just to get to the Public Hospital? Better to go via Deans Avenue. But for genuine internal travel involving only "two sides of the one-way square" it offers ease, simplicity.

Someone wants to get "across" the central area - one diagonal slice of the square -  avoids having to get into the super congested streets now such as Manchester St or Hereford St, or indeed even trying to nut through, on the move, the best step combination of streets to follow.

Another feature of this one-way one-way system is that it pushes the circulating traffic out a block further, and leaves the current anti-clockwise streets closer to the heart of the city free to revert to two way or restricted traffic streets, giving a larger flexibility and potential car-less (literally, less cars) inner city breathing space. This includes freeing Kilmore Street past our awesome Town Hall, as well as Lichfield and Madras Streets, both streets wide open [alas, a little too literally!]  for higher intensity apartments and smaller shops and cafes, three or four storeys of apartments above, European style.


Those who know Christchurch well will know that the only (current) one way street significantly an "impacted street" in this formula will be Montreal Street where it cuts between the Arts Gallery, The Parker-Marryat Tower block , and the access to tofro the central city AND the Arts Centre and Museum and Botanical Gardens.

This is a high pedestrian usage area and the core of the main tourist zone (also traversed by the Heritage Tram). Being intersected by the one-way boy racer try-out zone is a bad match, a poor fit indeed. Yesterday's The Press editorial suggested that Montreal Street one-way could be slowed and this certainly the obvious budget solution, big 30km signs from the Avon to the Victoria clock-tower and traffic signal phasing adjusted accordingly. But one way or two way Montreal Street will always be busy and always divisive of the city's foremost pedestrian zone.

Ever the frustrated artistic director, in the long term I suggest a graduated slope down to three adjoining tunnels - one for trams; one for pedestrians and wheelchairs; one for cyclists and skate wheelers. This is not a huge nor expensive engineering challenge, it is a case of cut and cover and the triple tunnel pattern, with two solid reinforced internal walls and two external walls it would of course be super strong.

The facades could be done as slightly modernised versions of traditional rail tunnels, an attractive inviting (slightly mysterious) set of three curved archway facades, faced in blue stone, perhaps stone from the former - and I imagine never to rise again - St Lukes or some other poor lost church;  the inside in graffiti-proof tiles in bright light colours and with hidden soft tones light. We are of course only talking of about 15 metres of tunnel, a road width, the exit side visible even before entering -  albeit it would need suitably elegant, long graduated, "natural" slopes leading in and out.

Beautifully done the stylistic pedestrian subway could adds another feather in Christchurch's appeal, for residents and tourists.  The suggested tunnel is iconic postcard stuff - a distinctive landmark pedestrian and tram tunnel tying the new city (for that is what it inevitably will be!) with the old quarter. How many hundred thousand tourists will be photographed in front of those iconic triple tunnels, how many times will a Christchurch heritage tram emerging from the (mini) Moorhouse be caught on dvd (watched by politely nodding relatives in Korea or Tennessee, moments, before they nod off, but activating on waking, nonetheless, strange desires to go to see Christchurch themselves !!).**


As for Tuam Street [Green line at bottom in map above] - I think it should be widened to a major Boulevard from Hospital Corner through to where it joins (to a realigned corner) at Fitzgerald Avenue - essentially a a continuous through road "straight" from Church Corner to Aldwins Road. A road six lanes wide in some places, with segregated cycleways and bus lanes and parking bays, narrowing only to the core lanes (no parking either side) at points where the the few new, heritage or quality buildings remaining can not be demolished. (As suggested here) This would be our premier  Parisian style tree lined boulevard, suitably renamed (I can not think what) though similar "varding" could be done to the other streets marked green above too.

The idea of putting big box retail in south area which, should be home to the most attractive higher density housing in the city seems bizarre. With so few high rises, and much lower high rise office blocks likely, it seems to me Central city needs a hugely increased residential population to create a residual street traffic/commercial base, necessary to replace thousands of office workers lost.

A somewhat dated vision (in some aspects) redeveloping the same area - given most the buildings involved have now been destroyed - is contained in another previous posting Will the Real Garden City Stand-up". This suggested integrating gardens with housing, and communal facilities, particularly for the over 45 year old "kids left home" market as an anchor population around Manchester Tuam, with more student/young city worker orientated flats on the further (east) side of High Street.

**NOTE: When I was a sight-seeing bus driver/ commentary speeler I came to realise not too many cities south of the equator were offering a more or less semi-authentic dose (albeit mini-dose) of "ye olde England"(Arts Centre, Museum, Provincial Government Buildings, Cathedral, Sign of the Takahe etc). I discovered that as well as selling peeks at our awesome nature Mt Cook and Milford Sound,  "midget England" in Christchurch had its own strong appeal,  far beyond what most of us locals realise for tourists - Kiwis from up North, Aussies, Koreans, Japanese, South Americans, Yanks  -  many people who might never get to see the real thing.

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