Saturday, March 31, 2012

One-Way One-Way, Another Christchurch Option?

There is great debate in Christchurch at the moment about removing the twin sets of one-way streets that encircle the central city. This system, completed in 1972 has a through route in each direction heading south north, west, east on each side of the city centre, Cathedral Square.

The two main argument against these streets appear to be they pull (unnecessarily) suburban traffic through the central area, using the city as a short-cut across the central city block. Secondly they tend to kill streets commercially and appear to be less safe relaxed spaces for pedestrians and cyclists. A major factor is the speed of the onrushing wave of traffic on synchronised lights, also the fact that it is difficult to go back if a parking space is missed or on the other side of two lanes of fast moving traffic.

The arguments for removing the one way system to me seem very weak - many of the two-way streets in the city are already clogged, and converting all streets to two-way means more traffic coming down Colombo  and Manchester Street, or along Tuam Street. If all streets are clogged, all stop-start, often clogged and unpredictable then one is as good as another.

I well remember one of the worst features of living in Christchurch back in 1970 was getting across the area between the four avenues, a real drag, if in a hurry a bloody nightmare. The city is just a big grid, so every 500 metres or so, cars came to an intersection. In those days only some of the intersections had lights, so it was look both ways stop-start. Oops. brake hard, unseen car coming. Nose-to-tails and cyclists being knocked off bicycles seemed common then. If lights are not running to a pattern ( common name= one way system) traffic is slowed just by virtue of the size of queues to get across each intersection.

Few things seem more likely to kill the central city faster and promote suburban malls better than this bizarre idea of making it twice as it hard to move around between the four avenues and neighbouring areas, making every street a clogged up Manchester Street.

There is however a middle alternative that might also be worth considering, one I suggested back a year ago (original article) having only a "one-way one-way system" and this as a clockwise circulating route only. [Orange in map above] The suggestion is that it operate as a self-contained separated circuit not continued or starting from the four Avenues (reverting to two way at the corners of the one way circuit).

The paradox here is that this pattern is essentially a square route to go diagonally!!  It is an internal short cut (or at least simple way of going corner A to corner B) for those moving across the city.

The shorter length of the section of each of the four streets (above) that is actually designated one-way coupled with the fact that two way streets and variable traffic lights have to be negotiated to get on to and off to these the one way portions, considerably reduces the "let's cut through the city with minimum stopping" appeal. Whose going to drive from Carlton Corner via Victoria and Salisbury all the way around this loop (Barbados and St Asaph Streets) just to get to the Public Hospital? Better to go via Deans Avenue. But for genuine internal travel involving only "two sides of the one-way square" it offers ease, simplicity.

Someone wants to get "across" the central area - one diagonal slice of the square -  avoids having to get into the super congested streets now such as Manchester St or Hereford St, or indeed even trying to nut through, on the move, the best step combination of streets to follow.

Another feature of this one-way one-way system is that it pushes the circulating traffic out a block further, and leaves the current anti-clockwise streets closer to the heart of the city free to revert to two way or restricted traffic streets, giving a larger flexibility and potential car-less (literally, less cars) inner city breathing space. This includes freeing Kilmore Street past our awesome Town Hall, as well as Lichfield and Madras Streets, both streets wide open [alas, a little too literally!]  for higher intensity apartments and smaller shops and cafes, three or four storeys of apartments above, European style.


Those who know Christchurch well will know that the only (current) one way street significantly an "impacted street" in this formula will be Montreal Street where it cuts between the Arts Gallery, The Parker-Marryat Tower block , and the access to tofro the central city AND the Arts Centre and Museum and Botanical Gardens.

This is a high pedestrian usage area and the core of the main tourist zone (also traversed by the Heritage Tram). Being intersected by the one-way boy racer try-out zone is a bad match, a poor fit indeed. Yesterday's The Press editorial suggested that Montreal Street one-way could be slowed and this certainly the obvious budget solution, big 30km signs from the Avon to the Victoria clock-tower and traffic signal phasing adjusted accordingly. But one way or two way Montreal Street will always be busy and always divisive of the city's foremost pedestrian zone.

Ever the frustrated artistic director, in the long term I suggest a graduated slope down to three adjoining tunnels - one for trams; one for pedestrians and wheelchairs; one for cyclists and skate wheelers. This is not a huge nor expensive engineering challenge, it is a case of cut and cover and the triple tunnel pattern, with two solid reinforced internal walls and two external walls it would of course be super strong.

The facades could be done as slightly modernised versions of traditional rail tunnels, an attractive inviting (slightly mysterious) set of three curved archway facades, faced in blue stone, perhaps stone from the former - and I imagine never to rise again - St Lukes or some other poor lost church;  the inside in graffiti-proof tiles in bright light colours and with hidden soft tones light. We are of course only talking of about 15 metres of tunnel, a road width, the exit side visible even before entering -  albeit it would need suitably elegant, long graduated, "natural" slopes leading in and out.

Beautifully done the stylistic pedestrian subway could adds another feather in Christchurch's appeal, for residents and tourists.  The suggested tunnel is iconic postcard stuff - a distinctive landmark pedestrian and tram tunnel tying the new city (for that is what it inevitably will be!) with the old quarter. How many hundred thousand tourists will be photographed in front of those iconic triple tunnels, how many times will a Christchurch heritage tram emerging from the (mini) Moorhouse be caught on dvd (watched by politely nodding relatives in Korea or Tennessee, moments, before they nod off, but activating on waking, nonetheless, strange desires to go to see Christchurch themselves !!).**


As for Tuam Street [Green line at bottom in map above] - I think it should be widened to a major Boulevard from Hospital Corner through to where it joins (to a realigned corner) at Fitzgerald Avenue - essentially a a continuous through road "straight" from Church Corner to Aldwins Road. A road six lanes wide in some places, with segregated cycleways and bus lanes and parking bays, narrowing only to the core lanes (no parking either side) at points where the the few new, heritage or quality buildings remaining can not be demolished. (As suggested here) This would be our premier  Parisian style tree lined boulevard, suitably renamed (I can not think what) though similar "varding" could be done to the other streets marked green above too.

The idea of putting big box retail in south area which, should be home to the most attractive higher density housing in the city seems bizarre. With so few high rises, and much lower high rise office blocks likely, it seems to me Central city needs a hugely increased residential population to create a residual street traffic/commercial base, necessary to replace thousands of office workers lost.

A somewhat dated vision (in some aspects) redeveloping the same area - given most the buildings involved have now been destroyed - is contained in another previous posting Will the Real Garden City Stand-up". This suggested integrating gardens with housing, and communal facilities, particularly for the over 45 year old "kids left home" market as an anchor population around Manchester Tuam, with more student/young city worker orientated flats on the further (east) side of High Street.

**NOTE: When I was a sight-seeing bus driver/ commentary speeler I came to realise not too many cities south of the equator were offering a more or less semi-authentic dose (albeit mini-dose) of "ye olde England"(Arts Centre, Museum, Provincial Government Buildings, Cathedral, Sign of the Takahe etc). I discovered that as well as selling peeks at our awesome nature Mt Cook and Milford Sound,  "midget England" in Christchurch had its own strong appeal,  far beyond what most of us locals realise for tourists - Kiwis from up North, Aussies, Koreans, Japanese, South Americans, Yanks  -  many people who might never get to see the real thing.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Professor Newman Inspires at well attended meeting; NZ in Tranzit remains critical nonetheless!

Last night I attended the public lecture by Dr Peter Newman, Professor of Sustainability at Curtin University in Western Australia. He was brought to Christchurch by the Canterbury Branch of the New Zealand Geographical Society - a big thanks to them. It was an impressive speech and an impressive turn-out for a rare meeting on concepts of public transport. My guess would be be close to 200 present.

For years when asked about my interests or "how do you spend your time?" I have said  "public transport is probably my main interest". Silence. Large silence..... followed by a spoken or unspoken "Umm, yes, well...". I see people struggling to respond with an intelligent comment other than "Oh yes, I caught a bus once" (though some try something fairly similar). In that silence hangs the statement "How on earth can anyone be interested in a subject so simple, mundane, colourless."

On February 2nd 1970 emigrating to the South Island and Christchurch as a 19 year old I bought a copy of "Time" magazine on the Lyttelton ferry and read a story about an ecologist called Barry Commoner predicting global warming being caused primarily by coal fired power stations and vehicle exhausts. He forsaw devastating consequences - one of the first such stories to go front cover on climate change. It was my epiphany, I thought (and have never changed) "There's got to be a better way, we can't destroy the world for something as meaningless as the convenience of a car". 

I started an organisation called SAPT - Society for the Abolition of Private Transport" made a poster and spent hours wording a manifesto.  And didn't know a soul in Christchurch.  In the time I started making friends, mostly on the political left, but of course one comes into the world of social acceptance on other people terms...even greenies were more interested in cycling than public transport. My secret fanatacism had to take a back seat ( in a bus of course).  But it has remained an abiding interest, including 14 years city and city sight-seeing bus driving and two transport history books. Public transport has been a life-long theme, a quasi-regious commitment and mostly unpaid vocation, a mushroom spore popping up in the right conditions, as in recent years the under-world of bloggery.

I say all this because it has essentially taken forty two years to actually see another living being "in person", an intelligent, well studied and practically grounded  in the industry person, stand in Christchurch and speak on public transport in a well informed conceptual way. It is the rarest of moments to see the sort of concepts,  raised or at least hinted at by Barry Commoner in "Time" as what the world needed to do, finally landing in Christchurch. Newman's speech resonated with the depth of his knowledge and glowed with his broader vision and knowledge. We have caught up at last with the future.

The speech last night was the end of a personal phase to me - discussion of public transport at conceptual levels much deeper than some politicians viewpoint (inevitably poorly informed or a fantasist given the minimal depth of study or status given the subject even by Labour and the Greens) has at last entered the public realm in Christchurch. Concepts of land development and shaping cities and creating alternatives not only to car usage but to car ownership were discussed as norms, not impossible dreams. It is putting public transport (and active modes) centre-most in planning, world changing, that I find so attractive in Newman's vision and practises. That it could be possible, that it should be possible. 

I think the silence and bewildered stare that so long greeted my comment "I'm interested in public transport" may be about to go. End of a phase for me - prophet in the wilderness stuff. But  Dr Newman's visit is merely the start of a long curve I believe Christchurch must travel. 

Not that I didn't feel quite a few critical thoughts during the Professor's speech. There were three major areas where Professor Newton failed to impress me - his "busism"; his dubious generalisations about light rail statistics and his sloppiness of not clearly descriminating in many comments between rail and light rail and, in this sloppiness, a seeming advocacy of light rail as a goer right now for Christchurch, all rather at odds with his own record and strategic stance for Perth.

Newman certainly did not dismisss buses out of hand, or get into that either/or dichotomy to any extreme degree, but his speech was marred by a certain level of "busism" devaluing buses or placing them on a lower level than rail options. Busism (with parallels to sexism and racism) basically grossly underfunds or exploits bus systems, keeping their infrastructure at very low quality levels, gives them much of the crap work, and then says "oh but buses can't do/don't attract etc etc". 

As is usual with comments that denigrate buses,  such "no clear routes-not like rail lines"; or as Newton commented at one point (i.e. words to the effect) "you don't get buses going under over" crossing other traffic (implied as you do rail); or trams being quieter than buses - these comments actually reflect not on buses in themselves (as a concept)  but on the appallingly low level of investment in buses in most cities for the last sixty years.  This was made clear by a first question from the floor when a speaker correctly identified that Newman was largely "comparing apples with oranges" (I presume he meant comparing systems built for tens of millions per kilometre with $10 million-plus light rail dollar vehicles with conventional bus systems that often have nothing spent on their carriage way, road surface. curb separation, off street routing or priority of right of way over other traffic,  and in which buses are typically bought bottom dollar at $400,00 per vehicle). Professor Newman's comments about buses bunching up reflect systems operating without centralised controls - trains don't bunch because they have movements mediated by signals from a central control, as also operate in some of the more sophisticated bus systems in South America. (more discussion on some of the concepts at play, here). Trams don't queue?? Yeah right.
Again Professor Newman's  air of dismissal about Bogota, Curitba etc busways as "funded by the world bank" was trivial - light rail is funded by gold, coal, iron, oil, gas and steel mining and production in most parts of the world. Countries, states or cities that lack these big earners aren't exactly leading the rush to build light rail, a form of public transport that is incredibly expensive.  The simple reason is many countries, cities, regional administrations just don't have that much dosh to spare in their budgets to go plonking huge sums of money into one single tiny strip of a city's public transport system! This is particularly when the over all budgets must also cover hospitals, education etc. Or, they must borrow the money for needed infrastructure, doubling the costs and deeepening the debt trap - a huge difference in total real costs per kilometre from the generous grants shovelled out by Governments in Western Australia or Alberta, for example. In these circumstances busways carrying hundreds of thousands a day seem to me to represent a wise investment of limited money to help access and support the infrastructure of industry capable of lifting the economy. Istanbul, Jakarta, Capetown, Johannesburg, Lagos, many Chinese cities are aming those leading the way in bus and busway evolution. Busways of course also work better in some areas than rail options, especially lower density cities where multiple routes can directly feed onto one fast corridor into the city - much faster than feeder routes and transfers to a rail system.

Wealth-wise New Zealand sits somewhere in between developed Europe, Australia etc and much poorer developing countries (aggravated by our low population and taxation base) and it can not for one moment afford to be so dismissive of bus options and busway options. These might benefit so many more people across a wide spectrum of a city and cost so much less than singular light rail corridors.

In similar vein Newman's  extensive statistics did not offer any evaluation of journey times across whole cities and how these are effected or reduced by different modes. When light rail lines typically only cover 15-40km, as in many cities (or in Melbourne less than a third of the city)  one has to ask how long is it taking everyone else, who doesn't live close to light rail, to get to work. Christchurch has at least 250 km of bus routes (90% plus of the population within 500 metres of a route) and neither a few strips of light rail nor feeder buses travelling, mostlyway out of their way would offer city wide public transport system of equal quality and equal rapid access.

As for saying there are 100 cities in the USA doing light rail - even the extreme light rail advocates (who include every little movement or proposal by some opposition council member in their light rail lists) would be pushed to find fifty. Very few cities under a million attempt light rail unless supported by a large metropolitan tax base or large provincial funding base (like Ontario's substantial fuel tax dedicated to public transport).  The old light rail advocate trick of fluffin' the facts, describing cities with their large metropolitan areas by the population figures of their hub as "small cities" also arose.  To describe Strasbourg - the centre of a region slightly bigger than Ashburton district with a population of 1.7 million - as a small city is slightly misleading, the more so given the high Government and regional funding of public transport in most more densely populated European provincial areas (in Germany, for example, the city itself only meets 10% of the cost of light rail projects!).

But the thing that made me most smile (I didn't get chosen amongst the hands raised for questions) was how Professor Newman almost seemed to be advocating light rail as suitable for Christchurch at this stage - he certainly talked more about light rail than conventional rail.** This is curious indeed when he himself is very clear in his writings that the correct strategy for Perth (four times bigger than Christchurch) was to build up its convention commuter rail system first, before it considered light rail. To quote from the Professor's own impressive saga of the struggle to reintroduce trains  -

  "The Perth Rail Transformation; some political lessons learnt"

"The opportunity to build light rail has always been an intriguing and tantalising thought for myself and others in Perth. I have done several plans for how light rail could work in Freemantle, my home-town, and other potential routes across the suburbs. But in reality light rail would not have worked in the long corridors of Perth until a substantial, fast, heavy rail system was in place down each corridor. Bus linkages were another important part of that transformative process"

Dr Newman was certainly a bit of an evangelist, albeit a good humoured and relaxed preacher,  keen that we too should all see the light - light rail that is. But to be fair he did not exclude or dismiss other mode options, had a broader view, and it was, after all,  a public speech, not an academic lecture. One expects any speech introducing large concepts to be a bit broad, expressionist, generalised  in its advocacy, Such speeches  are not the time and place for an exact accounting and it is inevitable in their main thrust they tend to downplay or push aside contradictory details.

The more important aspect is that sort of inspiration and leadership is very much what the city needs if it is to find a place for public transport far far greater than has been the case for many decades.  The Canterbury Branch of the NZ Geographic Society and Professor Newman have both done Christchurch a great service.

** Notwithstanding his excellent choice in the  sample of a potential rail map for Christchurch!! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A Bicycle City Built on Rails


A previous suggestion has been made in several  NZ in Tranzit postings, that the city look at building a major new grade separated western rail corridor between Islington and Redwood. Also suggested - a  loop via Pegasus in North Canterbury and short branch commuter line across from "Styx Junction" to Prestons, linking into major new subdivisions ar Belfast Park, Highfield and Prestons itself with bus connection to Parklands. (Map below)

This combination could be be built through mostly open farm land, land that in many cases is already tabbed for multiple new residential and industrial areas, dark green (residential) and light green (industrial) in map above.

Building rail before (or simultaneous with) other developments is agreat chance to get top quality infrastructure and best practise roading and facilities integration with rail, and to do so cheaper than retrofitting existing neighbourhoods.  In effect the pattern suggested above creates a very versatile figure 8 commuter loop route with spurs. This pattern links into outermost areas - Rangiora, Pegasus/Woodend and Rolleston to the South. It also links into the Christchurch International Airport, Addington stadium and Event centre complex, the central city, multiple residential areas (mostly new or ripe for redevelopment in greater intensity) and connects to almost every significant employment zone in greater Christchurch. All this whilst offering a major upgrade for freight access tofro the city that will protect the city for decades to come.

For commuter train services on the "8 plus spurs" pattern many, many different operating schedule options and combinations would be possible. Some of the more likely - direct trains running Rolleston - City - Heathcote at all times;  the all embracing Rangiora -Styx - via Airport- Hornby -City- Heathcote service probably at all times, including evenings and weekends; express railcars Either from Prestons or from Rangiora-Papanui-Addington (driver reverse cabs) - city centre - Ensors Road or Heathcote ( Rangiora service mostly in peak hours). A extra morning/evening workers trip on businerss days might run Addington-Papanui-Redwood -Airport- Islington- Rolleston, to offer direct Rolleston connection to North western suburbs. Their are many other possibilities. Presumably fine tuning would determine the most effective patterns across the decades.
Roughly the same distance as Upper Hutt is from Wellington, Rangiora trains would probably take about 35 minutes to city centre via Airport, but of course no traffic congestion delays, no worries.  And as industry and commerce will build as near as rail as possible, many passengers will be travelling only tofro Belfast, Orchard Road or Hornby; with other passengers transferring to Rolleston worksites at Islington Junction. The long loop via Airport  with grade separation would allow comparitively fast speeds, feeling faster (less journey time) than it actually is, but inevitably add time to a direct route to the city centrer. To some extent this is the price of building rail in as city currently so small and low density as Christchurch -  the need to incorporate as many passenger traffic generation points in a route as possible

The phasing and integration of services would be logically mediated around junction points at Styx, Islington and (to a lesser degree)  Addington, so that getting off trains at any of these points would allow transfer without undue waiting to a different direction.

Live anywhere, work or study anywhere, socialise anywhere - and do it by rail (and of course well timed feeder buses). Or for many, an even better  option - bike and rail.

An exciting potential,  arising from the western rail corridor and associated links being built before streets, houses and industry, is the possibility to create a fantastic network of mostly off-street cycleways radiating out from every suburban rail station. Also cycle specific subways under the railway line, going where no cars can go.  And very attractively so to! The entrance facades of subways or fencing and landscaping along bike, skate and foot-ways [and wheelchair friendly paths] could perhaps be attractively surfaced with part of the surfeit of cut blue stone, sand stone and limestone stone extracted from the rubble of irreparably earthquake damaged masonry buildings. Likewise wind studies of factors such as sou-westers and nor-westers could determine best option for yawing and tacking of paths and small hills and embankments, also made of rubble  base, combined with strategic planting mitigate weather effects.

Rail and bike appears to be an unbeatable option for future proofing the city against severe rises in oil prices or shortfalls and delays in supply that may eventually arise in a tight market place. The likely irony of any increased and new oil production in New Zealand,  or New Zealand waters,  is that world auction market prices will ensure most of it is pumped straight overseas with no pricing or access advantage to locals (as we see already with meat and dairy). But the building of a super system of bike, skate and pedestrian corridors radiating from each suburban station, and a forward **section in many carriages where bikes are put in floor level racks, would allow fantastic access at very low cost across most areas of greater Christchurch.

Got a job at a factory on the outskirts of Rolleston, or Woodend but live in Bromley? Six minutes bike to Woolston Station, put yer bike on train, enjoy a thirty minute train ride with a book, computer, newspaper or daydream, take bike off train, bike four minutes [avoiding 20 minute walk] - the same scenario can be repeated in thousands of combinations if  cycling is given major status and (literally!) built into the railway network.

Although some rail systems around the world offer some cycle acess, with a few exceptions  it seems this is often only during off peak periods, on specific services only, mainly aimed at sporting cyclists or involves physically lifting bikes, or manouevring bikes into racks suspended from ceilings and other less than friendly combinations for the average commuter including those wishing to avoid tearing clothes or getting oil stains on them..

There would seem to be a unique opportunity for Christchurch to punch above its weight, yet again become one of the world's premier city of cycles.Christchurch could commit to a massive upgrade of cycle connections linked to a new commuter rail system by creating the budget structure and and carriage capacity for a full wheel on, park in rack, commuter friendly bike-rail service, every day or evening, every trip.

Much of the focus of cycling in Christchurch has been sports cycling, "I'm in training" ; to this could be joined by a whole large new culture of sophisticated and rail supported utility cycling, in the European style, "Yeah? Well I'm entraining too" .

Christchurch, A city of bicycles once more? This time a much vaster Christchurch city of bicycles, a city of bicycles built on rail?  On yer bike and watch out Mark Twain!!

**A friend who worked in the UK said his train allowed bikes ast the back of the carriage, but every stop he would feel twitchy, in case someone was nicking his bike - as locking and unlocking wastes time, a wiser solution would seem say, the front third of a carriage devoted to racks,  within everyone's view

Friday, March 23, 2012

Brownleeway in the Green Lane for Government only??

Bus users in the far south of the city will welcome the new bus lanes being built by NZ Transport Agency through Sockburn and Hornby along Main South Road (a.k.a State Highway 1).

But hey there - does anyone smell a slight whiff of hypocrisy in the stance of the National Government and that of its transport arm, NZ Transport Agency??

Isn't this the same political/planning machine that two and half years ago, in November 2009, withdrew $4 million of previously agreed funding for Christchurch City Council planned bus bus lanes, as well as reducing cycleway and road safety funding drastically.

As a consequence several equally congested areas of the city and inner suburbs have had bus lane programmes pushed back several years.

Viewed against the needs of The Orbiter or multiple buses along Riccarton Road, for example,  one would even ask whether bus laning at Hornby is not jumping the bus priority funding queue!!

Sad that one of the -  very very few -  infrastructure changes ever made to assist bus movements in Christchurch, despite a decade and a half of empty promises and Council bumbling,  should be at the cost of bullshit and double standards!

UC lecture: Does rail have a place in a rebuilt Christchurch?

Public Notice

International sustainability transport expert Professor Peter Newman from Curtin University in Perth will give a public lecture on this topic as the inaugural New Zealand Geographical Society Canterbury Branch Visiting Fellow on 29 March from 7pm-8pm in the Undercroft (bottom of the James Hight Building) at the University of Canterbury.


This should be interesting, Professor Newman is one of the major figures of public transport thinking in Australia, often quoted in studies and news media. And few cities and states anywhere have made such an impressive commitment to public transport as Perth and Western Australia.

This said it may pay to keep in mind (I hope the professor does) that the population of Western Australian is only half that of New Zealand but the GDP per capita appears to about two and half  times that of our own country.  WA is one of the world's richest political entities.

30% Bus increase

Last year the State Transport Minister (he with the most marvelous of names - Troy Buswell) boosted Perth bus services by a staggering 30%.
“Through this Budget, the Liberal-National Government is boosting Transperth’s annual bus service kilometres - a measure of the distance for which timetabled bus travel is funded - by an initial 3.3 million kilometres next year and a total of 15.2million kilometres per year by 2015-16,” Mr Buswell said. This roughly equates to a 30 per cent increase on current services." said Buswell in a news media release.

This must be set against Christchurch' situation, where 17% reductions in in public transport expenditure  costs are - I have been told  - already in process. 

A Government that did not respond to Ecan requests for assistance to buy or lease two or three large van size buses to serve quake stricken areas with badly ruptured roads is a Government that hardly going to step in and give Christchurch the much needed extra funding help to refocus its public transport system to a new reality, bus or rail.**

$5.4 billion funding increase!!

The increase in bus funding in Western Australia was part of a larger $5.4 billion package, announced in May 2011, to expand Western Australia public transport in general, including $134 million for increasing bus coverage and $40 million for new buses (on top of the existing ongoing fleet replacement budget); $249 million for the completion of an underground bus station in 2015 of ; a substantial upgrade $5.5 million for Mirrabooka bus station the northern suburbs transfer point in Perth. Minister Buswell also noted that Buswell says the acquisition of bus depot facilities in Bunbury, Busselton and Dunsborough will enable improved operation of regional town bus services. 

To give some context $5.4 billion is more than the entire amount spent on public transport vehicles and rail, busway and bus infrastructure for the whole of New Zealand over the last decade!!

As for Christchurch, it does not have a single proper suburban bus station  - Council and Ecan only really got going with the public transport revival mid 1990s and projects as simple as this take time. Decades in fact. 

 And despite a big tourist base Environment Canterbury is committed to avoiding at all cost operating, coordinating, networking with or advertising any regional services, preferring instead for Canterbury taxpayers to send all their transport dollars to fund regional services in other provinces (including pro rata, about $4 million of Wellington region's Wairarapa line). 

Buswell added a traditional political jab to his $5.4 billion media release  “The State Government is investing in new buses and trains as well as improving the road network across WA and addressing the projects ignored by the previous Labor government.”

Yes. Amazing. Yes. All done by the Tories!!! Where as in New Zealand the conservatives in Government are only prepared to pour billions into motorways but only a few tens of millions into  Wellington and Auckland commuter rail,  whilst cutting funding to Christchurch public transport, even cutting bus lane funds and cycleway funding (well before the earthquakes).

Indeed the National Government has become something of a laughing stock, with its 1950s attitudes of "more motorways"virtually extinct in any other part of the world and a disaster in the USA.  Not so funny for Christchurch locals though really,  as the multi-million dollar expansion of the Southern Motorway gets ready to dump thousands more cars into the already bottle-necked Riccarton-Tower Junction-Addington and Moorhouse areas as well as Brougham Street.

So rail may be on the books, a way Christchurch or even Government could move.

Interesting indeed to here what Professor Newton might say. How to do public transport on a minuscule budget?

**I am presuming that Ecan moved to make such request

Related stories NZ in Tranzit advocates commuter rail to complement a vastly improved bus service

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

USA's Redcoach - Going Where Buses Must Go!

I often decry the chronic state of public transport and bus services in the USA but there are always exceptions.

RedCoach, a state wide service provider in Florida is amongst those redefining the concept and nature of inter city coach travel.

This photo is part of their promo but you can watch a whole You Tube ad here.

Sorry folks; NOT likely to be seen in Canterbury New Zealand, at least not as a regional commuter service.

Regional commuter useful services are  just not on the Ecan books - despite all the fatuous huff and puff stuff about getting people out of cars or addressing longer journeys.

In contrast, NZ in Tranzit believes a bit of commitment, vision and negotiation could put together eight services, spread fairly evenly each day, Timaru to Christchurch and vice versa.  Notably by adding in the specialised Metro services to provide commuter useful morning and early evening work and schools links, provincial access to Christchurch events, appointments and international flights, and potential for return day-trips shopper specials etc for city folk.

XPT* buses (coaches) such as this - with leather seats made from Fonterra's million and one retired dairy cows!! - could add strata and value to public transport.

On the other hand there is another rural option and one we might well see much sooner.

 Flying pigs.

** XPT = Express Premium Transport (mooted by NZ in Tranzit)  - Fares are set to offer subsidised discount fares in rural areas (with ratepayer and taxpayer input) equivalent in spirit to subsidised fares around cities.  These apply in rural areas where buses (coaches) stop as needed at the designated stops.  But as services approach cities, into overlapping metropolitan area services the buses stop only at limited service stops, city bound passengers can board but a higher fare rate applies recognising faster more comfortable service.  For  example a 50-100% added fare cost would apply loading when picking passengers up within metropolitan city areas also served by conventional city buses, such as north of Burnham or South of Woodend in greater Christchurch.  Those passengers  within city boundaries prepared to pay higher fares, for quality and journey speed,  help cross subsidise costs of services to less populated rural areas.

Long term this is seen as way of introducing added strata of public transport, recognising "one size fits all" is never going to shift a population away from cars - every product in the world is marketed in multiple quality and pricing levels (including air travel and many long distance rail systems), let's get real.

As forseen,  payment subsidy per passenger trip/kilometre would apply to higher quality services, probably based on standard service fares, irrespective of the service quality. With XPT services city area passengers (but not rural ones) would be paying about two thirds of the farebox, rather than just 50% - a similar same principle as applies in the case of taxpayer funding of integrated schools.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

North New Brighton bus services could be improved despite system wide cut backs to bus services

It is fairly obvious that bus cuts are on the way in Christchurch, very drastic reductions by rumour.  The services can be hacked to bits, trimmed back in a rough and ready fashion or this can be an opportunity to create better and frequent services, using a limited resource more wisely  Frequent corridor buses with useful "community service tails" as in the case suggested here, offer one alternative 

Palmers Road residents have complained about the lack of bus services from this North New Brighton enclave to New Brighton shops and services. Particularly effected are some using walking frames who face a 500 metre walk. After the earthquakes damaged roads in this area the 84 New Brighton via Avondale service was withdrawn.

David Stenhouse, Metro's new passenger services' manager is quoted in "The Mail" as saying how the affected residents lived with 500 metres of three bus routes. This squared with the policy that at least 90 per cent of residents should be no more than 500 metres from a bus route. "We won't be making any changes to current services, " he said.

One part of me totally agrees with this response. It is good Stenhouse does not mince his words, buses can't go everywhere and it is better not to pretend otherwise or weep crocodile tears. The criteria of a service within 500 metres is in fact very intense by world standards for small cities  - many cities only seek to meet access to public transport criteria of 90%(or less)  within 750-1000 metres. 

The 84 Route loop formerly traversed inside the triangle formed by the Metrostar (Keyes Road) , 40 Wainoni Route (New Brighton Road) and 7 Queenspark route (Bower Avenue) - all 15 minute services. At no point were the roads traversed at any a great distance from adjacent, more frequent, routes. It was also cumbersome, tight and tedious, rarely in my few experiences picking up any passengers in this loop on the half hourly (hourly evenings,weekends) service. Few other routes in Christchurch were so indulgent of a very small sector  - it seemed to be designed (over a decade ago) by an amateur planner bending to the demands of the loudest squeaky wheel, rather than working to effectively meet the overall needs of an area. Hard reality says chop it.

And yet ...

....and yet Stenhouse ignores that Metro's bus service access from North New Brighton area to the New Brighton shops, services, cafes and library is really far from effectively structured.         I know from my industry experience what a large number of North New Brighton residents look to the beachside hub as their local centre and point of identity and yet bus access is far from simple or convenient for most residents.

The three routes serving this area to New Brighton's hub all tend to skirt the residential areas, traversing routes patterns with significant dead-sides, instead of through the MIDDLE of actual residential areas.

Route 60 (via Parklands) instead of travelling through Effingham Street travels first past Golf Course in Beach Road to travel down Marine Parade for 2-3km - I am sure hundreds of beach goers catch buses day and night, 12 months a year - and the seagulls deserve a bus service more than rate paying residents! And  Wainoni 40 route dead-sides against the Avon River embankment all the way (1.5 km) from Bower Bridge.

Metrostar offers 15 minute services  via Keyes Road to a Golf Course and Rawhiti Domain and a new electricity substation (for tourists who enjoy engineering projects). Only the top end of Lonsdale Street gets steady patronage.   However Metrostar, for all its peripheral nature,  is the only service in the large arc between New Brighton Road and Marine Parade - the whole centre of this residential area - that actually serves New Brighton. 

An alternative would be to run 40 route up Bower Avenue as far as the intersection with Palmers Road (which curves around to meet Bower Avenue just south of the roundabout) and then run through and down Baker Street before rejoining New Brighton Road. This is a far less precious, fiddly loop than previously, and importantly connects a much larger chunk of North New Brighton, including Bower Avenue, various side streets and enclaves such as Freeville School. Not only New Brighton, but also the local high school (Aranui) and Eastgate are then linked into this much more frequent route. At the same time for most passengers along Wainoni Road it is remains a straight run into the city - the loopy bit at the eastern end does not effect this and is largely local servic orientated. For some of the day Wainoni 40 is a 15 minute service, the bottom line for a bus service to be widely attractive, not to need a timetable (especially if consistent departure times apply each hour).

               No not the Metrostar, despite the orange route colour! Here this colour is is used to suggest 40 Wainoni route replaces the role lost by the removal of 84 route creating a more frequent and more widely accessible link between North New Brighton and the seaside hub.. This also offers the enclave  west  of Bower Avenue bus access to New Brighton

This makes far more effective use of such a frequent service than running beside a river. Although not every need can be met, looking at the street and alleyway pattern, very few residents will as far as 500 metres from this service.It has no right hand turns across heavy traffic and river end residents of the enclave can still reasonably access stops at the bottom of Bower Avenue or Baker Street or on New Brighton Road sections still traversed.

The Metrostar could remain on Keyes Road or possibly, instead, run via Rookwood Avenue and Bower Avenue, and Marine Parade bringing a big chunk of North Beach into gteater access with this useful (The Palms/adjacent schools, Papanui Road, Westfield, University, Hornby etc) service. This still dead-sides beside a bit Marine Parade and Thompson Park, though providing access from the east end of Lonsdale St, but the combined changes of these two routes offer get very much bigger bang for the buck than the present "empty vessel" hollow shell of peripheral routes.

Ideally Metrostar and 60 would enter New Brighton by looping around Hawke Street and back around to Beresford Street,  better  covering the several schools and access to supermarket and library, and creating a sensible single stop for all services instead of the bizarre fragmentation as at present, a source of great confusion and distress to visitors, and annoying to locals, another sign of ineffective bus management.

It is fairly obvious that bus cuts are on the way in Christchurch, very drastic reductions by rumour.  The services can be hacked to bits, trimmed back in a rough and ready fashion or this can be an opportunity to create more effective frequent services, using a limited resource more effectively. As suggested here. Make some of the frequent service arterial corridor buses work harder at their tail end. Far from losing a service residents in this area - much extended in catchment - would get a better and more frequent service.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

KiwiRail See No Prospect of Lyttelton Commuter Rail link

KiwiRail have made it clear they are not interested in integrating commuter rail into the Lyttelton scenario. This is clear in a submission made to the Christchurch City Council Draft Recovery Plan for Lyttelton. 

The core historic commercial area of Lyttelton was devastated by the February 22nd earthquake in 2011.  The city council has just published a summary of the 197 submissions made on Lyttelton's recovery strategy ( access to the full PDF doc is available from a link at the centre of this CCC website page). 

The section on rail access is summed up in the paragraphs quoted below.

"Light rail and train transport options were commonly commented on. There was quite a lot of support for light rail in particular, as well as Lyttelton to central city links. It was commented that it  could be a good tourism venture but it might be costly.

We strongly support the creation of a passenger rail link to Lyttelton.
Infrastructure is in place and with sufficient planning the existing rail link could
effectively be used for both freight and passenger services. This would enhance
Lyttelton’s accessibility for local people, visitors and cruise ship passengers, and
would add to Lyttelton’s viability as a destination (submitter 144).

Kiwirail did however make the following comment:

While we appreciate the Council’s desire to provide better access to the  coastline, it is likely that most (if not all) the existing land capacity we currently  utilise for our operations will still be required to meet future demands. For this  reason, we are keen to ensure that our operational conditions (including the rail  footprint) remain largely the same as they are today (submitter 195)."

This blogster believes the KiwiRail response is (a) predictable (b) totally justified in any quick calculation of cost-benefit ratios. Pursuing commuter rail for Lyttelton is in reality a non-issue!!

I am no supporter of  sloppy or wasteful use of public resources that also bring public transport into disrepute when the same systems if well planned can be so much more practically,  socially and financially cost effective.

It seems to me too many people approach rail options full of fantasies and dreams rather than any sensible calculation of costs, even in the broadest way. Unfortunately few things are so dear to create and can leech public money so rapidly and continuously as a train service failing to attract adequate patronage levels.

I am hardly in a position to do a sophisticated study but below is a few guesstimates based on my knowledge of localities and typical rail costs etc.  I was a local business association representative on Banks Peninsula Promotions, an unpaid BP District Council organisation, keen to attract business/tourists to Lyttelton back in the early 1990s, so these are not new issues for me.

Lyttelton has a resident population of about 3,500 (at most) and nowadays probably an influx of workers well below 500* in any work day, some of these on shift work outside normal hours or visiting (briefly) seamen.  To this might be added 1,400 (many retired) living in Diamond Harbour, Purau etc and 2500 in Heathcote.  To this might be added (generously?) 1000 tourists averaged a day(mostly day or evening cafe traffic trips by city residents) .  Many of the tourist groups will of course already be traveling by car or tour bus, day tripping around,  and cafe entertainment groups will typically also share a car, or be families going to Corsair Bay etc, too far for most from the rail line.

This gives a "top" user possible catchment base of 9,000 - - all added together still below the 10,000 suburban population enclave that, I believe, is normally considered the minimum necessary catchment to sustain a half hourly bus service in a New Zealand city.

Very few commuter rail systems in European cities attract more than 25% of commuter traffic and that is with these offering services every three minutes  (etc) and complex subway and rail networks.  Wellington by far the best patronage of any small rail system in the developed (high car ownership) low density world gets 17% of commuter trips (ostensibly)  - lets say Lyttelton achieved 12% - 1050 passengers a day - on a half hourly service (circa 50 trips per day) that equates to about 20 passengers a trip. However these same passengers will have to walk up the steep hills a considerable distance (far more than with the bus routes) and in most cases, at the other end, get a connecting bus into the city, to jobs, to their holiday accommodation or the bus exchange point to transfer to elsewhere.  Hardly appealing or likely to "enhance Lyttelton's accessibility" as suggested in the submission quoted above.

Operating costs per kilometre for commuter trains are typically double those for a bus service,  though this would probably increase significantly with the sensible, safe, supportive (for elderly, handicapped, tourists] and attractive system of having a guard host-person for every 70 seater carriage unit,  as is done in Auckland. 

Nor is this is not counting the real cost of aggregated annual capital expenditure to be paid off across the years, say three $15 million dollar double DMU units to serve Lyttelton.

It would seem to me to be even be at the very bottom margin of viable for rail, the population/casual use upon the corridor served  would needed to be at least triple the present - and this in a bay and a valley both hugely constricted from significant growth in residential areas or industrial and commercial employment zones.  And this does not even address the added complications of delays, breakdowns and complex schedules needed if the bottleneck tunnel and rail yards must be shared between constant coal and freight train, shunting and commuter trains.

Instead of wasting $45 million on trains, and double the operating costs, for less effective services,  it would be better to build on the strength of Lyttelton's existing fairly high frequency bus services, two routes one (28) to city operating every 15 minutes week day, day-times. Much could be done to improve these - and (a) links to the Diamond Harbour Ferry - bizarrely not even served by the 535 bus route,  nor linked times identified on 28 route timetables (b) a future commuter rail station at Ferrymead and/or Ensors Road (c) The Orbiter at Ensors Road (d) CPIT at Sullivan Avenue and City (d) the tourist and university zones west of the city.   

The potential exists to up Lyttelton (and the other main arterial high frequency routes 3, 5, 7, etc) into a branded service with guaranteed consistent 15 minute services between set hours (notably until 11pm).  This would be particularly important for Lyttelton hospitality trade, the more so if such a branded service linked to tourist accomodation and more concentrated younger singles flatting and hostel residential zones.

There maybe a place for commuter rail in greater Christchurch but commuter rail to Lyttelton would not be a sensible call, now,  or indeed, probably ever.

* I have excluded truck drivers delivering to and from the Port in this guess.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Funny bus shelters!!

Love this picture! (no it wasn't posed) .....photographed in a relatively light south-easterly wind/rain a few weeks back at the temporary central bus station* ....not even sure how this guy managed to sit on the seat itself, which was soaking wet as shown in photo below .....


It certainly it does not bode well for the oncoming winter. Far more vigorous (and bitterly cold) wind and rain combinations are of course the winter norm in Christchurch. Presumably hundreds will have to stand getting soaked, at least around the legs, or crowd uncomfortably -  "cattle class"as they call it in Melbourne -  into the fairly limited space in the completely covered waiting area.

Isn't it a bit weird or bit rich calling this a bus "shelter"?

At least down in Southland (overseas readers - New Zealand's southern most province - next stop Antarctica) they are honest about the local bus service being operated by a bunch of comics and comedians . Love this  photo too, a school bus shelter spotted while holidaying in Colac Bay.

* Predicted for two years use only -  by the same crowd who predicted by 2012 Christchurch would have nine bus routes bus laned and six transfer stations built and achieved only a 20% success rate. Bets on five, six, seven years anybody?

Eastern suburb bus passengers get food for thought - during the two hour wait - or long walk home

"Foodstuffs has announced it is building a new Pak 'n Save supermarket next to its existing store in Christchurch's eastern suburbs.

The Wainoni store has superficial earthquake damage and Foodstuffs says it will be cheaper to build another store rather than make repairs. The current store will continue trading while the new $25 million development takes shape. Building is expected to start this year."
- Radio New Zealand News Item

An interesting indicator of the revival of eastern suburbs post [we hope "post"] major earthquakes.

Foodstuffs obviously believe even with conversion of some riverside areas currently red zoned and likely to become parks or paddocks (or at least no longer residential areas) there will be plenty of demand for this strategically placed supermarket.

It is a sharp contrast to the Ecan/Metro stance, which has downgraded bus services to this area by over 50%, with residents using this supermarket between 9am and 3pm  expected to wait 30-120 minutes (yes two hours!) for a bus service to the surrounding areas in the middle of the day!!

Does anyone seriously expect the elderly or transport dependent to wait two hours for a bus to and from the supermarket?  With gaps between services this ridiculously large it will mean taxis or help fromfriends and relatives will still be on the agenda for many east-siders.  This is not a happy way to live - relying on others and having to request help is often humiliating for people whose self respect is closely linked to retaining maximum freedom of movement and independence.

And so much for paying Ecan transport rates!

As for those away from bus routes in Dallington, Avonside, Aranui etc hoping to get to work or school, No service for you at all. What a farce.

Meanwhile Dame Margeret Bazley pockets her $1400 per meeting to oversee the effective operation of Christchurch buses!!

What a bloody insult to those already disadvantaged, economically and by earthquake damages!! What a pathetic response ECan!