This is an idea I have been discussing for a little bit, with anyone who might listen. I thought I would try and outline it here. As I’m also running for community board at the upcoming local body elections, you can consider it a ‘policy’ of mine.
One of the worst decisions that has been made under Bob Parker has been the extension of the tram route. I went and spoke in opposition to this at council, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it uses ratepayer money to subsidise the infrastructure for a private company – to the tune of $11.5 million. If the tram was such a great success, then the Wood Scenic Line ltd, who operate the tram, could have put the money up themselves. Instead, the citizens of Christchurch continue to subsidise this novelty attraction, whilst money for public transport continues to be overlooked, and bus prices keep going up.
Secondly, the way the decision was brought to council was almost a fait accompli. When the Cashel Mall upgrade was undertaken, the council decided that they might as well still tracks down that part of the mall, just in case they decided to expand the route. Subsequently, they took the tram extension to council, and then said “well, we’ve got the tracks down Cashel Mall now, it would be a waste not to extend the rest of the route”. It wasn’t open, it wasn’t transparent, and it wasn’t a robust process.
Thirdly, the route of the extension is, quite frankly, mental. Yes, going down High St and Poplar st might be a nice idea – but to get there, you have to run a tram through one of the busiest intersections in town – the Corner of Lichfield, Manchester and High Streets. This is already a 5-way intersection; running a slow moving tram through there will completely ruin the inner-city’s primary west-east one-way street. As someone who lives near the corner of Cashel and Manchester, I can vouch that that intersection is already the most clogged in town; multiple times a day there will be drivers who are stuck in the middle at a red, being tooted and sworn at by people like me for their idiotic use of a motor vehicle. While I don’t usually advocate for motor vehicle rights, this can only make access to the inner city harder – and I don’t think that’s what we want. Cycling advocates would also point out that the tram tracks are not particularly cycle friendly either. I think point here is that tram = terrible for everyone else.
Lastly, the council have argued that running the tram down the High St / Poplar St quarter will enhance business, despite vocal protests from business owners and residents. High Street has flourished (at least before the quake) in recent years, to become a hub for fashion, art and food. While the art galleries have progressively moved elsewhere, they have been replaced by flagship stores for brands such as World, Workshop and Moochi. The bars and cafes in Poplar St have – as I mentioned in a previous post – been through a few iterations, but they seem to be getting it right. This seems to be a perfect example of how the free market can work things out without the intervention of Council. So what does council decide to do? Intervene! As a point of comparison, look at New Regent Street. Lovely, cute little street which the tram has run along since it’s inception in the 90′s. How are the businesses doing? Not great really. Plenty of empty shops. So why do that to High St? Why run the tram lines to the polytech, when it’s a tourist tram that goes about the same speed as one can walk? If you want students to use it, then build us passenger light rail, not tourist light rail.
The route selected for the tram extension fits with the Council’s strategy to revitalise the Central City, linking destinations north and south of Cathedral Square. The tram is expected to attract more development in the up-and-coming area in the Central City South.
I guess as you can guess, I’m not the biggest fan of the tram extension. The reason I bring it up now is that in the wake of the quake, it seems even more insulting. We’re trying to rebuild the city, and the council will argue that there aren’t the funds to help with the preservation of heritage buildings – yet we need to continue with the tram extension ‘to bring people back into the city’. Before the quake, this was the Council’s idea of vision for the city – high cost, low return, intangible benefits for citizens. Now, post-quake, it is an insult to the businesses and residents of the South-East of the CBD, who would rather see money going into the strengthening and saving of buildings, and the development of empty sites such as the Para site on Manchester St. Instead of merely trying to “attract” development, do development! Now, more than ever, is the time for council to step up and take responsibility for inner city revilatisation, rather than just waiting for some benevolent developer to do it for them. I am calling on the Council to put an immediate halt to the extension of the tram route, to focus on reconstruction efforts that will benefit the people who live and work in this city – not just the ones who want to take photos of it from a slow moving tram.