Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Christchurch's lost western busway

"I believe had the Garry Moore admin, or the previous Bob Parker admin, been on the ball that most of the more expensive section, to build a cut and cover tunnel under the rail corridor and Southern Motorway, would have logically been met by NZ Transport Agency in the course of widening the Southern Motorway."



A simple technology - extending the cycleway tunnel before the embankment for a widened southern motorway is being built while a campervan traverses the older section of motorway.   

NZ in Tranzit argues by not planning an adjoining bus-only tunnel the city is throwing away yet another chance to create a bus system that is truly effective and attractive to large numbers of commuters

The city's manager has been commanded to go forth and investigate rail options. Wellington's rare circumstances aside, anyone more familiar with public transport patterns would probably think it seems a somewhat laughable mission in a city of the size and low density and shape of Christchurch. In the meantime, as part of a tragic farce that has been unfolding for almost a decade now, the city leaders ignore the window of opportunity that still exists to create a far simpler and more cost effective technology, building segregated public transport (only) corridors to by-pass heavily congested areas. These  allow buses or one day (perhaps) light rail to be highly competitive with private cars. Without the limitations and restrictions that apply to on-street bus lanes segregated busway systems that are completely segregated at key points can provide fast, frequent and direct services and carry very large numbers (using articulated buses if needed) even in peak hours.


A symptom of this ongoing  failure in leadership on public tranport issues, a leadership needed to help keep Christchurch congenial to live in but economic prosperous and competitive with similar cities elsewhere ,  appears to be the throwing away of the opportunity to link the whole rapidly growing west side of Christchurch with such a direct busway.


The nature of Christchurch is that the city north and south is divided by the huge swath of the South Island Main Trunk Line railway corridor. On one hand this attracts a constellation of industries from Woolston to Islington (abouut 10km), what this blogster calls the "indycorr"; on the other hand it creates something akin to a broad river, which can only be crossed at certain points.

About ten or more years ago 12,000 people worked along the indycorr....I don't have any modern figures but the extent of new building especially office parks suggests it would be probably closer to 20,000 today, perhaps even more. The effect of concentrating workplaces and concentrating traffic along certain corridors means extreme congestion at peak hours, workdays, a largely dead and empty of people area evenings and weekends.

Attempts to offer concentrated bus services to this area are limited mainly to north-south routes crossing it around Sydenham-Addington. Large industrial, research and office park areas such as Birmingham Drive and Parkhouse Road have no bus services whatsover!! Attempts to service these areas back in 2001 were abandoned back (after only three months odf a trial) after congestion so delayed buses on the two routes attempted  few people considered them worth catching.***

Despite some of the lowest "commuting to work by public transport" stats of any CANZ bus system, Metro has not chosen to try again!


Theoretically the new extensions to the Southern Motorway will absorb some traffic west of the CBD, but the addition [supposedly] of 6000 new office park jobs in the Addington area of the indycorr alone would seem to scuttle that. It seems to me more, not less, traffic is likely to come off the motorway and to flow onto Curletts Road overbridge....at peak hours the current view from the crest of that over-bridge ...cars and trucks as far as the eye can see! And judging by overseas studies and the new Blenheim Road overpass at Moorhouse, the classic situation will be new traffic generated by new opportunities fills the gap as quickly as water fills a hole dug in the beach!

The Urban Development Strategy signed off by the Christchurch City Council and other area bodies expects 12,000 homes to be built in South West Christchurch and 200 hectares of land converted to industrial use in the next 35 years [the South West Area Project - SWAP]. Many of these residents will either funnel up towards workplaces in the city, via Halswell Rd-Lincoln Rd or Milton Street, or need to travel tofro workplaces in the indycorr itself; or to travel across the indycorr tofro workplaces at the university or at or near the airport in the north and in the northwest of the city.


To throw away the chance to build a north-south axis busway corridor across the west side of the city before it guets built out seems contrary to all the fine words about making a more liveable city, getting commuters out of cars etc. It also seems to be blissfully ignorant of the importance of separated corridors for public transport to move along - light rail included.


The sad thing is building a southwest-northwest busway at this stage of the game would be comparatively easy. I believe had the Garry Moore admin, or the previous Bob Parker admin, been on the ball, that most of the more expensive section - to build a underpass trenching or cut and cover tunnels under the rail corridor and Southern Motorway - would have logically been met by NZ Transport Agency in the course of widening the Southern Motorway.

The expense of the total busway, likely to be in the low tens millions, but this looks rather small beside the approximate $260 million of Canterbury taxes  [our pro rata share] that has been used to build two busways and expand and upgrade rail in Auckland and Wellington!!


During the Christmas break the dwatted wabbit decided to go and recheck the best likely alignment of a western busway with his camera. It is a bit like being an archaeologist going to see ruins before they are built or, indeed, not built!!  Although busway buses - possibly articulated and hybrid or electric - might extend right out to Sheffield Tech Park and the Airport in the north, or to Barrington Mall or the new shopping centre planned at Henderson (and then to Halswell) much of this can be done using existing roads or new ones, with or without bus lanes or traffic light trigger mechanisms to favour buses.


The core section this busway advocate sees is that which would need most of the major infrastructure works - the busway trunk core between the University and Hoon Hay Road. Not only does this virtually never contest traffic - all crossings of major arterial roads would be by underpass (the motorway) or governed by traffic lights favouring buses (for the 20 seconds or so it takes a single bus to cross a road) but the proposed route is almost a straight line, in this suggestion, minimum corners making for a faster smoother, no fuss ride.


I share some of these "holiday snaps" below


Congestion at corner of Lincoln Road and Whiteleigh Avenue, December 2010; hard to see this will improve with increased housing in south-west; increased office park development in immediate area and easier access to this key are via new motorway. The abject failure of Christchurch City to establish bus lanes a decade ago is obvious, and can only add to congestion and may prove politically very difficult to retrospective impose. The suggested busway would by-pass this area and congestion along associated streets.


City bound -stop at University of Canterbury, Ilam Road, crossing point of several routes. Not only a major passenger traffic generator location in itself, but also a key transfer zone for western areas, and between northern areas and southern areas. Five years ago two bus shelters was probably a classy act but nowadays given the large numbers who board or transfer here during the uni term, seating and shelter for 6-8 persons [in all weathers] is decidedly a very low quality service.  Room exists to widen the road by a bus width each side and introduce simple islands and lanes, creating a transfer piazza, without detracting from the natural beauty of this location. Ideally the shelters each side of the road should  more in the nature of the bus station in China below, with heated rear areas, open till 8pm and toilets and other facilities.


I believe a Metro system that was genuinely committed to creating viable alternatives to car use would negotiate with long distance coach and shuttle services to exit the city tofro North Hagley Park, Fendalton Road, then Ilam Road back to Riccarton Road, and then west or south.  In this way they avoid Christchurch's most congested road and consolidate any en route stops into one key location well served by local bus routes. Incorporating a long distance western-city bus stop in the university - stops allows "bus-to-bus-direct-to-home-area" transfers to The Orbiter, Metrostar and various suburban routes, collectively covering much of the city.

Suggested busway travels down Ilam Road, crosses Riccarton Road into Middleton Road, until Blenheim Road. This is latter is a tee intersection but in the busway scenario buses would activate a straight ahead traffic light and travel into a segregated bus-only lane heading directly towards the rail yards. Currently this is blocked by a not so very flash or large industrial building, which does not like it would cost a huge fortune for the city to purchase and convert to an access lane to businesses at the rear, plus a segregated bus lane ramping down to pass under car parks or an adjoining scrap metal yard before running under the Middleton railway yards. This is easier seen looking at the yellow building below, from the rear (see photo underneath).


Older industrial building on Blenheim Road immediately opposite the exit of Middleton Road. Below the same building from the rear, from the lane that runs down the south side.


Below; A new building is to be currently about to be built compromising or reducing options for the pathway of bus corridor. Public transport corridors need long uninterrupted linear sections and their value can be defeated by other infrastructure blocking their path. Christchurch City Council may have already thrown away several opportunities to create effective busways (or light rail corridors) for future citzens.  


Although using trenches or the - relatively simple - cut and cover tunnels needed to traverse the Middleton railway yards may seem daunting there is actually seems rather a lot of room, to build the busway in sections, moving the main trunk line over temporarily (which will ultimately also create an extra heavy grade track through the yards for coal trains etc). In the scenario suggested here the tunnel emerges up through an area of industrial car parks at the top of Midas Place, roughly behind the cellphone tower, left.



Midas Place [below] is a wide street, perfectly capable of including (if necessary) bus lanes to ensure free movement onto Annex Road, heading towards Birmingham Drive


Below; this is view looking north of the point where Annex Road now joins onto Birmingham Drive. Although the area in front of this photo is well developed with industries, the area behind the photographer remains open to building a "show piece bus laned, cycled laned road". This is obvious from the next photo below also taken looking north




Turning around to face southwards - the cycle subway built when Annex Road was cut in half by the building of the first section of the Southern motorway (two lanes only). Now this road is being doubled to four lane width, so too must be the cycle subway. Conveniently the subway can be built before the roading embankment is built over top - a considerable cost saving which would also have worked in favour of building a busway tunnel as well. The cycleway is currently closed for the rebuilding (the colourful grafitti was done by artists from Programme legit not taggers)


Emerging from an underpass (bus only) buses would come up outside the Annex Road entrance to Hillmorton Hospital (treating mental illness). This entrance is about 10-12 minutes walk from the nearest bus route, on Lincoln Road, most unpleasant in wet or cold weather.  I believe this sort of distance is completely unacceptable for a major hospital and sector of the population (patients, visitors, visitors from out of town,  medical staff, lower paid cleaning and catering staff etc) which will include a higher than  average number of bus dependent people. Getting a viable bus route into this area and the new upmarket housing areas nearby is no easy proposition - but easily accomplished as a side benefit of a frequent busway system.  In co-operation with the hospital there is ample room to widen the road and build a proper bus stop and shelter here.


Note that housing areas are already well separated by continuous high fencing from the road area (on the right side behind tree boundary) and therefore unlikey to be effected by regular passing buses, anyway nowadays relatively quiet vehicles.


Below; This road becomes broad and particularly beautiful as it incorporates full grown trees from the former hospital site and from employee housing areas of old. There are few house close to the road itself.

Annex Road (the southern portion) emerges out at Lincoln Road. Straight ahead in the photo below the view is towards a clump of trees and within them several houses and a dental clinic in a converted house. These are built on the banks of the Heathcote River, still relatively small at this stage.



Just how much will be cut away from this grove of trees is apparent checking out the street level view on Google earth for this location Place Google's wee man on Lincoln Road just above the Spreydon Domain sign and note how fence lines are all being adjusted wider to allow road widening to four lanes (location rather strangely photographed on a wild winter's day following a hailstorm by looks). This is the only area where it would be necessary to acquire several residential properties.  Compared to the hundreds of houses demolished to build Brougham Street expressway, or Westfield or The Palms, a relatively small impact project that will benefit thousands of public transport users for decades to come, and help remove thousands of cars of the road..


After passing around the back of the small shopping centre the suggested busway would join onto Hoon Hay Road. Presumably if 12,000 houses are going to built in the South West area in the next 35 years this road will need to be four-laned. But even without this measure it offers a clear straight run way down into the heart of south Christchurch and the distant hills, with easy access to a busway transfer terminus at Barrington Mall and another at Halswell via Henderson.

This busway would travel from Barrington Mall to Birmingham Drive and the University and onto the aiport or northwestern areas virtually non-stop in peak hours, shaving clumps of minutes of the same congested car journeys...it would open the northwest to the southwest and vice versa. It would traverse severl very attractive treed areas and would have been a showpiece busway attracting international attention and kudos I'm sure.

But alas not to be...back in the car you guys!

I am reminded of a line from Bruce Springsteen (from his evocative song "My Father's House" on the haunting "Nebraska" album)

..."out on the highway, our sins lie unatoned."


*** Note (June 2012) Since this was written Metro has created a link to Birmingham Drive - a rather convoluted one not able to offer fast access - through one of the heaviest congestion areas in Christchurch - Route 40 map

1 comment:

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