Copy of a submission made to the Christchurch Central City Plan, 16th September 2011
Although light-rail was raised by many respondents in the “Share an Idea” consultation, this somewhat amorphous term has been rendered in the draft plan largely as a plan for an urban tram network. I assert that a more important interpretation of the desire for rail-based transit can be realised by focusing firstly on commuter rail, alongside other transit modes (including an urban tram network).
The major loss of residential housing in the east of the city as a direct result of the 2010/2011 earthquake sequence has exacerbated a crucial shortage of new housing in Greater Christchurch. Development of new housing satellite towns as opposed to on the city fringes offers the opportunity to concentrate services, commercial development and public amenities in these towns, leading to increased quality and stability of the services, and reduced time and cost of travel to access these services. As satellite towns grow however, so will the total number of people commuting into the redeveloped city centre.
If it addresses the needs of commuters, the inner city redevelopment plan can have a positive influence far beyond the confines of the inner city. Lest Christchurch suffer the car-travel hell that is the daily commute in many other major western urban centres, we should plan for and implement good public transit services. Extensive research shows that in order to offer an improved experience, public transit must be cheaper, faster and safer than car travel. These must therefore be the three bywords of any public transit planning: cheaper, faster and safer. In every city in which public transport offers an improved experience over car travel, that public transport is well patronised, and therefore generates good revenue and therefore is sustainable.
It is my assertion that the redevelopment pressures on Christchurch today will mean that catering to the transit needs of medium-distance commuters will have the strongest positive effect on the life and development of the inner city. The possibility for rapid and cost-effective travel from relatively dense satellite urban centres to Christchurch will particularly enable the moderate-to-high density development which is envisaged throughout the inner city redevelopment plan. Because of this target group, I believe that we should focus on implementing commuter rail, alongside the critical development of the bus network and the desirable goal of supplementing heavily travelled bus routes with urban trams. Focusing on development of commuter rail on grade-separated track has the potential to enable large numbers of people to live in satellite towns and work in Christchurch, because it is only commuter rail that can achieve the three goals of being faster, cheaper and safer than car travel for this potentially very large target group.
Commuter rail is also likely to have lower costs and faster time-to-implementation than the other modes foreseen in the plan, primarily because the tracks are already on the ground and run to the two most important commuter towns, Rolleston (southwest) and Rangiora (north). Additionally, the majority of the southwestern leg to Rolleston is already double-tracked and has few level crossings, allowing trains to reach higher speeds, therefore easily satisfying the requirement of reduced travel times in comparison to vehicle transit.
Key tasks in implementing commuter rail in Greater Christchurch include:
In conclusion, commuter rail is achievable without astronomical outlay, and will enable fast, cheap and safe commuter travel from satellite towns into the inner city. An inner city that is easy to reach will be more supportive of retail and leisure options as well as a logical and attractive location for businesses to base their employees. Adopting commuter rail as a key component of the broader Christchurch public transit mixture will result in an increased likelihood of realising the remarkable vision set out in the inner city redevelopment plan.
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