Car-centric carriageway clogging culture continues in Christchurch [1]: Introduction

In recent months there has been a lot of work being done by Council to determine a possible solution to traffic safety issues at the intersection of Harewood, Breens and Gardiners Road in north-west Christchurch. This intersection currently sits around 62nd in the list of the 100 most dangerous intersections in the city and therefore does not qualify for major improvement works in the next decade (Long Term Plan) which will address only the top 20 dangerous intersections.

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The Council’s reports on the issues initially recommended that traffic lights should not be installed on this intersection and it should be changed into a left-in, left-out intersection. So far so good. However, after undertaking more reports and public consultation, a bizarre recommendation that the LILO option be modified to allow a right turn from Harewood Road into Gardiners Road was added to the options. Apart from the increased risk of an accident by allowing a right turn, it would be possible for people wanting to go straight through from one side to the other to just drive through the gap in the median strip, thus foiling the LILO safety improvements.

The reporting found that there was no evidence of increased safety from installing traffic lights at this intersection. This is easy to understand – because accidents are often caused when people run red lights. Of course, the fact that we have never had more than one red light camera in the whole city, and that the Council does not want to spend any money on buying more of these cameras, is also a factor. The volumes of traffic actually using this intersection at the present time do not justify traffic lights.

However, the Waimāero/Fendalton-Waimari-Harewood Community Board met last Saturday and completely ignored all the expert advice and reports and voted unanimously to recommend that traffic lights be installed at the intersection because a vocal group of residents had been demanding this and because it is an election in a couple of weeks and most of the board are standing to win back their council seats. Now, we know that similar things do happen from time to time across the City where staff get overruled for similar proposals. An example we saw recently is the Sumner Road – Bridle Path Road intersection at Ferrymead Bridge, which was going to be made a LILO intersection when the bridge was renewed and widened to four lanes some years back. This intersection instead had traffic lights installed. However this is a quite different situation in that there is no convenient access to Bridle Path Road elsewhere for traffic except by making a huge detour down Tunnel Road to Heathcote several kilometres long. In that case the traffic lights were quite justified. The Harewood-Gardiners-Breens intersection case is very different. There was to have been a signalised pedestrian crossing to cater for school students, and there are numerous other streets nearby that can be used to access either of the side streets.

This decision essentially amounts to having a very expensive signalising of this intersection (over $1 million) put in place for a handful of residents who are apparently unable to drive a few hundred metres further via another intersection nearby. But there is more to it than that. Installing the lights will make this route more desirable to use and therefore guarantee an increased traffic volume on the side streets, creating more problems for the people who live along them, and helping to ensure the streets in the area become clogged up with increased numbers of cars. The issue is simply that here is a community board that believes only cars matter. The same board wants to stop money from being spent on a cycleway in their area, and they have also voted down  improvements at Greers Road and Memorial Ave intersection that would speed up bus routes. All of these situations illustrate why community board should not have decision making power over transport networks in their area, because selfish local interests will take precedence over the needs of the entire city.

We’re also aware that the High Street redevelopment proposals have been having hearings at the Council in the last couple of weeks. Despite the efforts of a few people such as us with well presented safety rationales, no doubt cars will also reign supreme there because of the nonsensical belief that ratepayers owe every business a free supply of on street carparking outside their front door. This issue has, however, been exacerbated by the greedy developers’ political party abolishing business requirements to provide off street carparking with the recent changes to the District Plan, another act of stupidity that the Council appears to be remarkably slow to address. In the High Street case, the businesses have asked for even more carparks to be provided over and above what has been designed in. Obviously this is a complete folly when we look at the rest of the City pedestrian malls which are doing a roaring trade with no car access to their front doors.