Friday, August 5, 2011

ECan promising big bus changes but will city get behind them?

Good quality free flowing public transport relies on intelligent committed land use which inevitably involves some property purchases, albeit mainly frontages at busy intersections

Can Environment Canterbury, parent body of the Christchurch and Timaru bus services, come up with relevant route and schedule changes, post the earthquakes which have destroyed large portions of Christchurch's central city area?

Today's news; local paper The Press, reports a $40 million plan to restructure routes with more emphasis on suburban hubs.

Given the many years of failure by local councils to invest money (and/or secure it from Government at levels consistent with funds given similar sized greater Wellington) in infrastructure it will be a hard act to carry off.

Creating a bus network that can be competitive in the face of suburban congestion  without the council providing infrastructure such as segregated bus corridors, or traffic signals or land use design favouring bus priority etc may be a case of trying to make a silk purse out of a sow's ear!

For instance - for Barrington Mall, Eastgate and The Palms to work successfully as hubs it is necessary to get all buses inter-acting through two core adjacent platform areas - those heading into the city, those heading out from the city, with cross town routes such as The Orbiter and The Metrostar also having "hop off one bus; hop on next bus" transfer fluency.

Ideally these should not be on major roads, or if so, at areas that can be waisted - slowed central traffic lanes, with crossing zones for pedestrians and segregated bus loading and passing lanes.

A factor is the need to avoid dragging buses around deviations to line up with such transfer hubs that are too devious or extended, tedious for through passengers wishing to get to work or home; and not to have any significant residential area unduly bombarded by bus services if it can be avoided.

At The Palms this pattern can best be achieved on New Brighton Road (with buses tofro North, such as currently 45 and 60 travelling along the back of The Palms along Golf Links Road). To get the necessary roading space to create multiple lanes will require purchase of frontages (mainly institutions and older rental houses) opposite The Palms on New Brighton Road and probably a whole property for an enclosed waiting area on the sunny side of the road [click here for a previous posting on this issue]   Although a busy road, this would seem to be the only free flow option and the section of the road between traffic lights could be waisted to shelter off bus loading areas.

Post quake repairs on New Brighton Road - the potential for the council to negotiate the purchase a four metre wide frontage of these properties - empty sections, older rental houses, or a church carpark - and build both bus station on one property, and an exclusive bus lane from Ajax St - Marshlands Road (with all city bound buses 60,70,45,46 - and The Orbiter and The Metrostar west (and a future airport express service) is obvious, to anyone who committed to public transport.
The more likely result based on the last decade - council inaction and agreement to a allow a large modern building to be built to the boundary of a property, destroying this bus opportunity forever.

At Barrington to bring The Orbiter into alignment with city-suburb routes (and away from the unpleasant if not dangerous stops near the mall entrance on super busy Barrington Street) the council will need to erect traffic signals at the corner of Simeon Street and Milton Street, allowing anti-clockwise Orbiter buses to  make a right turn exit to head Southwards - also of course useful thousands of cars exiting the mall.  To create a hub zone there is not impossible but as the mall is being extended, and possibly one entrance to the carpark by the in bus stop removed, opportunity to create an enhanced hub zone may have already been lost rather than gained.

Are effective bus services in Christchurch being steadily foreclosed by lack of adequate strategy and planning? It often seems so - this is the extension of Barrington Mall, viewed from Athelstan Street, the only natural slower street upon which to build a safe and userfriendly bus interchange. Whether this current addition to the Mall will help or hinder a future bus station is anyone's guess. Identifying this location and others like it well in advance could have led to negotiations with mall owners to get a win-win solution

At Eastgate, trying to create a transfer zone on Buckleys Road is quite out of the question, it would cost tens of millions in concrete and steel infrastructure to straddle the road, and still not be a pleasant place to wait for buses.  A far better solution - a win-win for all, would be for the city and mall to negotiate to buy some of remaining few properties on Linwood Avenue [Google maps > Medical centre - 279 Linwood Avenue] and to rationalise the current car park and library access pattern into a proper actual road (with judder bars)  - "Eastgate Lane" from Russell Street to Linwood Avenue, with a proper set of traffic lights (linked to the Aldwins Road lights in flow pattern) exiting and entering off Linwood Avenue (including bus priority signals) and removal of other exits in the Avenue. A bus transfer station with sunny courtyard type waiting areas, as well a heated waiting room to 8pm, could be erected in that configuration, allowing buses from every direction to pass through the same centralised point - buses  tofro the east entering via the new (widened and part fenced) street  through the middle of the car-park. For passengers and pedestrians this would mean minimal and safely controlled involvement with car traffic - certainly not the highly dangerous four lane acceleration zone dividing stops currently offered at Buckleys Road for transfers and mall customers. Combining the Eastgate bus transfer hub with a re-landscaped pod that includes the existing library and current (or re-configured) medical facilities would also link the bus to key user groups, including independent children, retired people and those with medical problems that limit easy mobility or using a motor vehicle.

Eastgate bus stops - totally unsuitable for many transfers (such as from eastern suburbs to the rapidly growing Ferrymead industrial/commercial zone - those stops 200 & 500 metres away this point) and highly dangerous, in traffic speed and exhaust fumes exposuure

A legacy of years of Council inaction; low quality public transport access to Eastgate forces children, high school students, mothers with young children in tow, and the elderly,  amongst others,  to negotiate four lanes of fast and dangerous traffic, to access bus stops opposite this mall entrance. Redesign of the mall carpark, the area near the Library and  traffic exits tofro Linwood Avenue could see Buckleys Road,/East-city routes and The Orbiter all operating through a single pleasant platformed station at the rear of Eastgate

These are just three examples of the sort of infrastructure that needs to be built - along with a great many more "hot spot" bus lanes - not whole routes but inside lanes at traffic signals (cars left turn, buses only straight ahead) controlled by intelligent traffic signals that can read public transport needs and adjust timing of phases accordingly.

Hot spotting - in comparison to the grand whole route part-time bus lanes (3 only!) built so far,  a hot-spotting strategy would identify every choke point for public transport and build shorter "Queue jumper lanes" exclusive or combined with left turning traffic lanes with intelligent signals (adjust phasing as it goes until any - straight ahead -bus in lane is through). Opportunity for such a lane is still not foreclosed at Clarence Street from Railway line (bus only by pass lane at Tower Junction exit)andd then approaching Blenheim Road (this view looking south). Protecting lanes for future builds, imporatnt is as actually building them

The council promised to spend $15 million - less than the cost of one remote suburban railway station (Swanson, $24 million in Auckland) about three years back but doesn't appear to have done a bloody thing! The only major investment apart from some rather half-hearted, part-route, part-time bus lanes in the suburbs (but not at the key bottlenecks) has been the $28,000 spent by the Mayor and cohorts going to visit four North American cites, five or more times bigger than Christchurch to "study" light rail - unfortunately that has nothing much to do with public transport relevant to this city.

In a deeper sense this city hall fascination with light rail ($5 million trams in new modernistic bodies that will probably date badly in style yet be too expensive to replace, as was the case with the other old trams in the 1930s) has cost millions of dollars in lost opportunity to get on with building an effective public transport network system in Christchurch which can only be primarily bus based.

The dumping - apparently permanently - of  The Shuttle, possibly the most successful, cheapest to operate and heaviest loading per dollar spent, small city central circulator bus in the developed world, seems to me to be symptomatic of a city transport system that is being led by politicians that lack any serious knowledge or competence in the public transport arena. 

The idea that ECan can turn around our bus system by putting buses, unsupported by added bus lanes, priority and infrastructure, including easy switch transfer stations and bus rapid transit segregated corridors,  into a new configuration and come up trumps is, to say the least,  optimistic!


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