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


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