The Comfort Pursuit

Accessible cities and Christchurch: Moving in opposite directions

Christchurch Central City is largely a one-way system, intended at freeing the traffic and letting it flow. But it has just been decided the Central City is now going to have a speed limit of 30km/h.

I always tell my students that the best way to slow down traffic is to make the drivers fell less ‘kings’ of streets. Take a shared street, for example, what makes it work? Is it the paving? The lack of division between footpath and road? The urban furniture? Yes, these are all pieces of the game indeed, but if you are a driver you certainly have felt at some point that what makes us slow down is the unknown.

More than traffic signs, elements that make us be careful are trees that narrow views, people that might cross at any time, seats close to the road. Even in a shared street, if there are not enough cyclists or pedestrians drivers can still speed up. And they will. Every time they feel safe, they will.

Christchurch streets are on average 20m wide. This means car park in both sides, plus two lanes, sometimes a bike lane. But I’ve heard many times locals complaining that streets here are too narrow (!!). Want to slow the traffic? Create the environment for it. But in Christchurch, we increase the flow and decrease speed limits. It seems to be exactly the opposite of what literature and experience says.

Want to make a more “Accessible City”? Talk more to urban designers and less to traffic engineers, and read Jeff Speck please (his TED Talk is below). Although in New Zealand we have larger influence of British culture, our cities and towns have a love affair with American style.

Would you speed up in the streets below? I certainly would not.

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  1. Check for instance:
    Carmona, M., Tiesdell, S., Heath, T., & Oc, T. (2011). Public Places – Urban Spaces. Taylor & Francis.
    Gehl, J. (2010). Cities for People. Washington DC, USA: Island Press.

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