COVID has made rapid changes to the way we use our cities. Lockdowns are the most obvious change, but even after lockdowns people are looking for ways to move around their cities while minimising interaction with others that might expose them to COVID. This unfortunately has meant a reduction in the use of public transport. But we have also witnessed an uptick in active modes as people in lockdown move around their neighbourhoods in a safe manner now that so fewer cars are clogging the streets. People have reclaimed this part of the public domain.
Waka Kotahi, New Zealand's Transport Agency, has allocated funding
for urban interventions called Innovating Streets. This apparently pre-dated COVID but has been a timely programme to trial changing the urban streetscape in ways that promote the active modes of walking and cycling.
"Through two rounds of funding, Waka Kotahi is supporting councils to create vibrant neighbourhoods that make streets safer and create more space for people."
In Christchurch this has meant new funding for:-
- Ferry Road Cycle Connection: This project involves trialling a temporary cycle connection along Ferry Road between Fitzgerald Avenue and St Asaph Street, connecting the Heathcote Expressway major cycle route to the central city.
- St Albans School Safety Improvements: This project involves closing off Sheppard Place, on a trial basis, to vehicles on school days at drop-off and pick-up times to improve safety for St Albans School students using active transport modes.
- Beckenham Neighbourhood Improvements: This project involves trialling lower speeds, safe crossing points, and intersection changes in the Beckenham area bounded by Tennyson Street, Colombo Street, Waimea Terrace and Eastern Terrace.
- Selwyn Street Intersection Improvements: This project involves trialling intersection changes to make it safer and easier for pedestrians to cross Selwyn Street.
These are all good projects, and it is fantastic that they have funding. However this is only a very small part of what is required to change our streetscape. It is a stopgap programme, with a stop-start timeline, when what is really required is a strategic plan to improve our neighbourhood streets.
There are several problems with the way it is planned. The main one is that such a sporadic programme will be costly. And the scale means that the per unit cost is high.
If there was a mandate for cities to plan for Low Traffic Neighbourhoods across their entire footprint then there would suddenly be the scale that would ensure construction companies would fund the staff, material, and equipment to serve this new market. Certainty would drive down the risk, and thus the price.
The other aspect is to roll these projects out with a regular cadence so that capacity is not strained. This means that there will always be adequate resources to serve the project, and again this would reduce cost as the market would have certainty their investment would be deployed.
Another aspect of a comprehensive rollout strategy is the ability to make the construction anti-cyclical. Such regular projects could readily be ramped up or down to reflect available resources. If there was a housing slump, then the timeline for this infrastructure could be reduced, allowing contractors to move from the slumped market to where the projects are. This throttle control would both aid and support construction companies, workers, but also ensure that prices across the construction industry are stabilised.
Certainty takes out the risk, and scale provides incentives to invest.
What we see at present is a start - but we need more... of what? What are Low Traffic Neighbourhoods? And why should we care about them. I'll post shortly on this and provide a link back here.
This strategy would indeed be innovating streets... and in other welcome areas of urban intervention like Light Rail... and I'll have more to say on that too.