Monday, August 1, 2011

Lack of concerted council policy hits a brick (well, concrete) wall

NZ in Tranzit - opinion

Back in 2007 a press release (on  May 18th, The Press ) noted that the Urban Development  Strategy had strengthened the case for Canterbury's transport funding.

Indeed. three months before, in March (The Press 19th March 2007) a euphoric combo of ECan and the Christchurch City Council  announced expected growth of bus services to be at the rate of an extra one million passenger trips per year until 2016; and expansion of the Bus Xchange by 2010; and the implementation of ten (count them !!) bus priority corridors at a cost of $11 million dollars; and plans to spend $15 million dollars on nine suburban bus interchange stations.

Needless to say virtually nothing of this has been achieved. The chance to receive (Labour) Government funding for a worthy project, wide open at same time this Government  voted hundreds of millions to commuter rail and busways in Auckland and Wellington, never it seems seriously tested by Christchurch transport leaders.

After the creation of  rather indifferent bus lanes (no bus priority at the many of the most congested points, road sections) on three routes, the new elected National government stepped in and decisively withdrew almost $5 million funding for cycle-ways, safety programmes and further bus lanes.

Mayor Bob Parker's response was not to get on his hind legs and fight for fairness for our city, to battle for our rights given the huge expenditures in Auckland and Wellington, but rather to fantasize a government cutting a few million might bankroll light rail costing hundreds of millions.  Based on their stunning knowledge of the engineering science of public transport he and two executives immediately went off to "study" urban renewal and light rail in four cities, none less than 2 million in metropop, three in the country with arguably the least adequate public transport systems in the developed world.
Whatever kudos Cap'n Bob might win for earthquake recovery he certainly is no leader in understanding or building effective public transport!

Instead Canterbury taxpayers have recently been invited to subscribe for the umpteenth time, their normal 13% share to added commuter rail costs in Auckland and Wellington. Coming on top of almost two billion spent in the last decade these added costs have amounted just in the last 30 days, to a total of over $228 million. This adds up for local taxpayers to about another $30 million dollars (thanks Cantabs - you are ace! Thanks for giving up your bus lanes and cycleways for us Jafas, big of you guys!).

With only four years on the case (most of those well before any hint of earthquakefest) such is the real funding level, political leadership or commitment to public transport in Christchurch planners have failed to publicly put forward a single suburban interchange proposal. This is a great pity because as with bus rapid transit corridors opportunities are being lost all the time and some may never be retrieved.

For example it does seem a great pity that (without a pre-existing game plan to work from) the council was not able to negotiate with the owners of the lovely old shops at the top of Victoria Street, that were demolished due to the severity of earthquake damage. In this scenario council would have purchased  about the front 4 or so metres to allow road widening at one of the city's busiest intersections - allowing for short term parking bays at all times AND a cycle lane, left turn cars/straight ahead bus "queue jumper" lane, given much of the Papanui Road bus lanes benefit is undermined by the queuing in Victoria Street. And the earthquake should not have effected funding, any local body seriously committed to giving buses priority at intersections would have earmarked and priority ranked multiple locations years ago, with a funding pool available for flexible and fast response, as opportunities arose.

Nor should the fact that these buildings were unexpectedly destroyed, first one block in September, then the next in February, have been a factor - at any time fire can destroy a major building - in this case a N.O.R. (Notice of requirement given council first option to purchase the added frontage) should the building ever HAVE be demolished or replaced - respecting the historic character of these attractive buildings, first option would always be to support repair.  As can be seen in the photo below, with scaffold erected for repairs to September's earthquake (and building already started on the adjacent cleared site) this lovely old building was no match for the extreme violence of February 22nd.


Now the owner of the first empty site - who bought the original building for its heritage character and intended to fully strengthen and restore the original building has started a rebuild - and as is his right is building right to the footpath, though ironically only one concrete wall is fully extended (the rest of the building indented). Photo below shows all. As this building presumably will stand for at least 50 years, when Christchurch metropop might be 6-800,000, and congestion (from electric cars?) tripled, the failure to widen this intersection when the opportunity arose - and not least to assist the free flow and safety of cyclists and buses (maybe one day light rail or flying pigs) this piece of wall will stand forever as an example of the council's foresight!  

And a bloody good example of how little it takes to undermine effective public transport in Christchurch - in fact it takes nothing, do nothing and bit by bit the chance of a top quality bus (or tram) service is undermined.

The same classic pose (sleeping!) that lost the chance for Christchurch to build a hugely useful bus way under the new motorway ramp !





It is often said in public transport world that the corridor is more important than the mode (bus or tram etc). By the time Christchurch final wakes up to modern transit technology and finally gets moving I suspect we won't be going very far (and that at great expense) - multiple opportunities are being thrown away year by year through amateurish leadership and lack of commitment to what most matters in public transport, movement.

Lack of concerted council policy hits a brick (well, concrete) wall might seem logically impossible but the above example shows with the current city team (a) it is possible (b) all you have do is fantasize light rail - it has cost the city millions already!

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