Build it and they will come - and most will bring their cars

Christchurch's rebuilding central city has cinemas, new library, new shops and bars, new cycleways and bus lanes.

But where will drivers park their cars?

There are new ways of getting around post-earthquake Christchurch, and they are starting to put paid to the old ways.

As shining new amenities open, new transport ideologies, street layouts and parking buildings are being put to the test.

Some motorists are still circling central city blocks hunting for an on-street parks, while more nimble drivers have adapted to high-technology parking buildings and the ever-shifting locations of vacant lot parks on unsealed sites.

The council's 2015 central city transport plan tries to discourage driving in town and encourages public transport, bikes and scooter-share type schemes. Speed limits have been cut and many on-street parks have been removed to make way for bus and cycle lanes.
But cars are a reality with a population close to 400,000 residents, and the central city has five new parking buildings.

Paul Lonsdale, manager of the Central City Business Association, says the "significant roll-out" of new buildings in the city this spring and summer will mean all the new parking put in place will be needed.

Last week's opening of the $50 million Hoyts EntX cinema and foodcourt complex has drawn in more people, and next week's opening of the new central library, Turanga, is expected to do the same..

The next few months will see more shops open on Cashel St, the Riverside farmers market by the Bridge of Remembrance completed, and the restored Town Hall back in business.

Lonsdale says local businesses are already reported the Hoyts opening's "very positive effect" on shops, bars and eateries. "There were a lot of new people who hadn't been into the city – the crowd has been different."

He says that while the city's "significant parking facilities" mean the city is "certainly not short of car parking" and also has good bus facilities, some areas could prove to be trouble spots.

The non-existence of parking buildings just north of Cathedral Square could cause problems when the new library opens, he believes.

The only off-street parking nearby is on unsealed sites, mostly run by private operator Wilson Parking with a small amount provided by council and one Gap Filler lot. 

A parking building is part of the plan for the performing arts precinct opposite but looks unlikely to be built before more organisations, such as the Court Theatre, arrive in the precinct.

Mayor Lianne Dalziel says as well as the new parking buildings, public transport has to be part of the solution as the central city get busier. 

"These great new facilities are going to bring hordes of people, especially young people, into the city."

Dalziel says she would like to see organisers of major events or attractions arrange deals for discounted or free bus trips.

Steffan Thomas, Christchurch City Council's manager of transport operations, says there are "plenty of parking options" in the central city and advises motorists to use the one-way network and follow the signs directing them to parking buildings.

Parking occupancy had risen a small amount in its Lichfield St parking building since the Hoyts launch, he says.

Christchurch's new central library, Turanga, opens next week and may put stress on car parking in the area.

Car parking buildings in the central city, mostly privately owned, have plenty of room for motorists prepared to shop around - about 3000 spaces. 

Council has the Lichfield St building which can hold 805 cars, and the Art Gallery parking building in Gloucester St which takes 105.

Privately run buildings are The Crossing in Lichfield St with 534 spaces, the West End building in Hereford St with 680, the Innovation precinct building in Madras St with 359, and the Hereford St building with 570. A new building at The Terrace in Hereford St will add 400 spaces next year.

There are multiple off-street open air parking sites, most under the Wilson banner. A major player in the North Island, Tournament Parking, has no sites in Christchurch.

On-street parking is available on most central city blocks with restricted time periods – city council figures say the central city has about 1700 on-street parks. Payment  at meter boxes is by cards or smartphones.

Recently the council extended a first-hour free offer at its Lichfield St building until the end of January, and private owners the Carter Group have launched a two hours for $2 offer at The Crossing building.

Thomas says council is open to introducing other deals.

"Staff are currently investigating other parking initiatives to incentivise central city visitors and to support all central city businesses," he says.

Prior to opening its new complex, Hoyts, which does not have on-site parking, approached the council in an attempt to negotiate a parking deal for movie-goers using the Lichfield St facility across the road. 

Thomas confirms that no deal was done.

Hoyts did not want to comment on its discussions with council, but a company spokesman says getting to the multiplex would "be easy for customers with a variety of options through great public transport or car parking close by".

Wilson Parking confirms that it already does validation deals with businesses for parking, but the details are commercially sensitive.

"Normally parking validation deals arise because a retailer has decided to subsidise customer parking," a spokeswoman says.

Most city parking buildings also have space booked permanently by businesses, especially corporates, for staff parking.

All the new buildings use technology to measure and advertise occupancy rates, and to charge motorists. 

More advanced technologies already in use overseas could be used to improve on-street parking in the city too.

Earlier this year Christchurch consultancy ViaStrada suggested the city look at San Francisco's "demand-responsive" pricing, which balances parking supply and demand using an app. The scheme is said to have reduced double parking, cut traffic by a third, reduced air pollution and made finding a park easier.

Dalziel says she would "like to see that as the sort of thing we could do – it is technology driven and we've been doing some projects to understand what we would need to be a smart city".

She would like to see Christchurch introduce a smart card and app for the public to pay for car parking, rates, public transport, the library, and similar services.

Public submissions on the city's new regional public transport plan, open now for feedback, will help shape future developments, Dalziel says.

"I just thing that we need to get smarter." 

Parking stations already use new technologies and could handle new card of app schemes.