This week in Christchurch I attended a breakfast lecture by visiting planning consultant Todd Litman from the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, British Colombia. He was advocating the benefits of “multi-modalism” transport planning – which basically means modern transport planning that spreads the focus over several forms of transport options – cars, public transport, cycleways, and walkways, when developing a transport plan.
This has been the Green Party’s modus operandi for transport for as long as I can remember, and it was encouraging to hear a visiting expert advocate for this sort of future forward planning specifically for Christchurch. We could be the best practice model for New Zealand and enjoy the many economic, health and community benefits that a multi-modal transport system would create.
As my colleague Julie Genter has pointed out, spending money on improved walking, cycling and public transport infrastructure is far more cost-effective than putting more money into highways.
Mr Litman gave the example of supporting local businesses. Suppose you could walk to your local shops, to more of the services and activities you wanted to access, instead of needing to drive a car – you wouldn’t need to spend as much on petrol (supporting foreign oil companies) and would instead have extra funds that could be spent on supporting local businesses (in Todd’s case, supporting micro-breweries).
A community where people walk and cycle more will be a healthier community. Todd Litman asked the Christchurch audience an interesting question, “who here, as children, were chauffeured to school by your parents?” I didn’t see any hands raised, though there could have been 1 or 2. He then asked, “and who here, is now driving their children to school?”, a large section of the audience raised their hands. Todd continued “but do children nowadays not have the same number of legs that their parents had?”. He made a very good point, especially given the National Government’s destructive proposals for Christchurch school closures and mergers.
Education Minister Hekia Parata’s agenda for Christchurch will result in fewer schools, and those left will be super-sized. More students will have to go by car or bus rather than being close enough to walk, scooter or bike to. We know we have a growing obesity problem in New Zealand. We need to allow the same healthy start for today’s students that many of us enjoyed by having local neighbourhood schools that kids (and parents) can walk to.
Multi-modal transport design also promotes community cohesion. Todd Litman said that in Victoria B.C, walkability is the city’s most valuable asset. It is an easy city for tourists to explore, and for locals greater foot traffic encourages more social interactions. People say hello when they walk which they can’t in a car. This promotes community cohesion, security, and ultimately more liveable communities.
We could have all this in Christchurch. We have the perfect conditions for it, a very flat city (easy for cycling and walking) that is in the process of being redesigned. A Green transport plan for Christchurch would focus on multi-modal transport design that is inclusive, safe and accessible.