Saturday, November 16, 2013

Busway corridor through Riccarton ticks many boxes



Noosa Bus Station, Queensland just after completion, stylish and spacious 
(photo displayed on the website of  designers Guymer-Bailey Landscape Architects, Brisbane)
 (a link to further  photos of this project below)

I have made a submission to the proposed Riccarton Road transfer station consultation.

As there is a very big chance this submission will be deemed outside the terms of reference of the review, and not even viewed,  I share here publicly some of the aspects raised.

If nothing else, it is good to share a range of more realistic options for better public transport.

This submission suggested the "Smart Way" concept (previously raised on this blog) of building a mostly segregated busway corridor parallel to Riccarton Road from (at least) Mandeville Street to Wharenui Road and possibly (or later) Middleton Road.  On-street Bus lanes would operate between the railway crossing and Mandeville Street, and between Wharenui Road and Church Corner. These lanes would affect very few properties (most commercial) that do not already include on-site car parks.

Essentially most buses coming from the city would make a 30 second deviation off Riccarton Road at Mandeville Street, then enter on a new cut-through bus/cycle/pedestrian only access lane to Dilworth and Maxwell Street, interconnecting with other routes at a bus station rear of Westfield mall. Most services then run south of,and parallel to, Riccarton Road  until  Wharenui Road and special signals to turn right towards Riccarton Road, making a 30 second return journey to bus lanes on Riccarton Road, This completely by-passes the worst of congestion, and by-passes the complex and bus slowing traffic signals at Straven Road and Clyde Road. New, simple bus only or bus priority, traffic signals at Clarence Road, Matipo Street and Wharenui Road would support this rapid transit corridor

No businesses in the central commercial core will be effected by bus lanes or indeed, as now, by having too many buses along this shopping street. Some additional on-street car parking spaces would be likely. Shop customers etc will be able to enter Riccarton Road commercial area from various points/bus stops and the suggested bus station location itself, less than 2 minutes walk away (equivalent to one city block away).

About twenty properties would need to be purchased but most in the path options of the suggested route appear to be older housing stock in poor condition rented to (what appears to be) groups of students and/or houses in streets reclassified L3 or L2 intended for higher density redevelopment.  The indicative route does not appear to threaten many (if any) long established family homes or elderly residents, where special support in relocation in the same area may be needed.

In short a good opportunity still exists to stake out a rapid transit corridor before the spread of new developments - such as the flats being built in Rattray Street in the photo below - render an effective relatively straight running busway corridor route a dead duck. The development of quality high density housing should be in symbiotic and mutually supportive relationship with increased public transport access, not in conflict with it!



It is not possible to show the route suggested in submissions, which can only be indicative anyway, because I am not in any position to suggest which particular properties would be needed from several dozen possible, a sensitive area of course itself subject to negotiations and multiple other factors.etc.

However I estimated the busway corridor put would cost around $25 million - a very modest amount nowadays. To get perspective here, the former Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore said in 2005, "When we rebuild an intersection it takes a million dollars".

The cost estimate is of course highly amateurish but is based on purchasing the 20 or so properties including the usual compensation payout, at average  cost of $500,000 - this is a fairly generous estimate with few over $400,000 -  ($10 million). Further costs would come in construction /reconstruction of the roading surface of the busway at the back of the Westfield Mall and as it crosses these cleared sections and several small side streets heading westwards ($10 million). Potential exists to actually cut one or more of these smaller streets into two cul-de sacs, with bus and cycleway crossing in between the ends of these residential enclaves.

Lastly there would be the building of a proper, spacious attractive bus transfer station on Maxwell Street - probably the best site is at the end of Rotheram Street- - so the bus station itself becomes a very easily accessible and highly visible part of this very lively and busy entertainment and shopping zone (including Westfield Mall entrance and Hoyts 8 entrance).


Rotheram Street, entrance to Westfield, Hoyts 8 and the street itself home to several major retailers and cafes and restaurants.  Riccarton Road (see Metrostar bus in background) is less than 2 minutes walk from the area of the suggested busway corridor. Some property purchase, committing part of the street to median bus lanes  and good design  of a multi-platform bus and transfer station would lift this side of Rotheram St and hugely increase the presence, status and effectiveness of bus services on Christchurch second most important transport corridor.


Recent images of Noosa Bus Station (built for $10 million Australian, including much recycled material) above convey for me something of the feel to me of a quality bus interchange. This said Noosa's design is primarily built for the much needed shade from hot sun factor, at Riccarton in Christchurch a (smaller) design would need to focus on more sunshine and reducing wind effects, with perhaps some distinctive Christchurch branding element. Apart from a big illuminated Metro sign, and bright lights at key points, creative use of neon sculpture or neon banding around loading verandas, could add vivacity and the warmer tones, often so needed in public transport station design, to avoid overly cold or desolate night settings.

A major facet of the roadstead of the busway corridor itself would be the addition of a broad cycle and pedestrian way separate but beside the busway, the green park-like corridor landscaping, and a range of devices to reduce visibility and noise of buses to neighbourhoods. As quite a lot of park land and roadside berm is involved, and the width of most sections is equivalent to up to 10 buses parked/passing side by side, and only room for two lanes and a cycle-pedestrian way is specifically needed, there is a big margin here for re-orientating existing park footprints, or even selling surplus land to adjoining houses, adding buffering or redevelopment potential. Modern diesel is anyway much quieter and less polluting, but it is also likely some sort of fully electric buses will become mainstream over the next decade, While most houses will be no closer to passing buses than houses on bus routes on existing streets, one of the advantages of a segregated busway is that  ideally houses (unless multi-level apartment blocks) will not even see passing buses, a chance perhaps also to screen the ugly carpark buildings for the residents of Maxwell Street!  To give absolute "light rail quality" smooth operation (and avoid neighbourhood vibrations) the busway surface itself would be especially compacted to a high degree. If trees are saved or planted to the side (particularly where they do not overly block the sun) looking along the cycleway or busway would be avenue (and only 200 metres away from a clogged and congested arterial road!).

Running between busy town centres yet completely by-passing congested roads, in the UK. The recently opened Eclipse Bus Rapid Transit system in South East Hampshire utilises a former rail corridor, the bus corridor suggested through Riccarton would have similar elements but a wider land area allowing an adjacent but separate wide cycle and pedestrian way and substantial landscaping. Photo Wikimedia Commons

This minimum disruption effect is very important because, eventually and at its peak operating times the busway might be expected to carry 50-100 buses an hour, including possibly one day articulated buses or double deckers. This "phasing in" period over an extended period allowing residents (the area appears to be mainly rentals anyway) to relocate and their place to be taken by those who love the easy car free access to facilities the busway delivers  -such as airport, university, Riccarton, city, Addington etc and the Orbiter and MetroStar routes. Noted too, this is an area where scores of houses were removed to extend shops,  malls and carparks, and subject to extreme car traffic, and steadily being rebuilt in apartments.. Indeed, a major cost-benefit advantage would be the added development of new higher density housing - anyway expected - sooner and perhaps to a higher standard than some of the rather gross new "low block sheds on a concrete apron design" student housing units currently being privately built.

A major "tick" factor is taken together the residential area north of Riccarton Road (much of it in motels, Deans Bush and single unit professional housing), the commercial area of Riccarton and the Mall, and designated higher density  housing areas between Riccarton Road and Blenheim Road, despite superficial appearances, are better served by the Maxwell Street axis than Riccarton Road. Public spending should aim to serve the most people per dollar, and running bus services along side rivers, sea fronts, green spaces, or as current, along the northern edge of a huge potential bus user catchment, does less justice than centring the key route corridors through the middle of this sector. Capturing the residential fulltime working or studying bus user means buses supply  4-600 bus trips year for that person (and cuts car use by same amount) and this also needs to be equated against casual shoppers taking only one trip a week etc, in planning. 

Another "tick the box" factor is the great flexibility both in building such a busway corridor, in day to to day operations, and in contingency. Not all routes need to operate the entire length - I have suggested The Orbiter would be the key one, because delays on Riccarton Road ripple right around Christchurch, leaving a lot of people pissed off at missing Orbiter to [less regular] radial route connections, and buses falling over each other, instead of evenly spaced.  Just the increased efficiency of  the Orbiter might generate another half million passenger trips per year. In the long run this might run right through to Middleton Road. 

In contrast the Metrostar would need to return to Riccarton Road at Matipo Street to be able to access Clyde Road.  (although why Clyde Road is not taken straight through to veer onto Wharenui Road, simplifying this clumsy intersection with its huge delay factor is not known). Longer distance services Hornby, Rolleston, Lincoln, Darfield, Ashburton, Timaru etc  would more likely continue very much on the straight , dropping down Mandeville Street to a new busway through to Maxwell Street, the bus station, and then onto Wharenui Road, and back onto bus lanes along Riccarton Road, What can be adjusted is the portions "Vis Busway" "via Riccarton Road", and over time which new routes are introduced. Presumably the busway would be mostly double laned (though only half the tarsealed width of a conventional road) which allows buses to pass each other when one bus stops for passengers, and in appropriate situations for fire, police and ambulance provides fast access way through an often highly congested part of town.

Yet another 'tick' factor - not only is this concept future proofed for increasing capacity and the number of routes operating through the multi-platform station - it actually lays the groundwork for the future. In the first instance a cycleway under Deans Avenue and via Brockworth Place then under the railway line, crossing Mandeville Street and then straight along the new busway corridor, to Wharenui Road with minimum cycle car interaction. Later - when the city hits 750,000 in 206? - perhaps adaptation to also carry a light rail line, from hospital corner through Hagley Park under Deans Avenue, under Brockworth Place (that area) and the Railway Line to  Maxwell Street and the interchange, then to Middleton Road. In a city as small as Christchurch and in a country with barely half the wealth per capita of Australia, the only sensible path to light rail - is (a) very long term and  (b) via rapid transit corridors first established for buses, with capacity for future joint use by both modes.  

This $25 million "guestimate" could be way out, I am the first to admit, but even at double the cost, measured across the 25 year cost-benefit evaluation of a major infrastructure project, it would seem to be extremely good value for money. I don't know how many passenger trips travelling by urban bus are made each business day on Riccarton Road nowadays, but ten years ago in 2003, according the New Zealand Bus and Coach Association* it was 9700, so let us say 10,000 nowadays. For simplicity let's also add only half that amount of passenger trips on Saturdays and Sundays (is probably higher but this can cover public holidays too). At a rough guess 60,000 bus passengers per seven day week, just over 3 million passenger trips per year.

That is to say - without any future passenger growth purely because of city population growth, or any added growth because of the popularity of an ultra-smooth, no delay, much faster (especially in peak hour) bus journey through Riccarton - of 75 million passenger trips over 25 years. (approx 30 cents per passenger added cost, decreasing in real cost with inflation). Actually busways have done very well around the world and there is every likelihood in the same period, patronage will increase dramatically, doubling or tripling in relationship to population size over 25 years. 

This is a city building piece of infrastructure. This so in a way not really possible with merely some part time part way bus priority lanes and a storefront transfer station with limited capacity, lacking any larger style, grace or presence and without sufficient cycle-bus facilities or significant capacity for growth.

I have requested that this idea - the whole question of servicing Riccarton Road area - be put out to a bona fide transport planning consultancy to fully investigate all the options. I don't believe councils that are prepared to roll over and accept a mere $6 million input from Government for something as important as one of our two primary transport corridors*  are doing their research or homework properly.

It is not appropriate that we in Christchurch expect the $5 billion plus in public transport infrastructure, received and planned for Auckland. 

It is not appropriate that we in Christchurch - who do have the restrictions of narrow land corridor geographic factors of Wellington -  would expect over $1.2 billion  spending on public transport infrastructure, done and likely in Wellington (once a bus rapid transport or light rail city- Kilbirnie spine system is agreed upon, on top of the $700 million rail upgrade). 

It is however appropriate that a city of metropolitan population 400,000, already struggling to recover from a major earthquake, on the verge of a genuine long term congestion growth, with increased growth on perimeter areas should expect to spent around half $500 million in the next decade on public transport infrastructure. And it is appropriate that a very significant portion of this come from central Government as is the case with virtually ever major infrastructure project in  New Zealand, and as is the pattern in most countries of the world. And not least, appropriate as a reasonable minimum degree of equity with the northern cities, in support of Christchurch to build a prosperous economy and livable city.

As a starter - a busway corridor through the most congested part of Riccarton, with a bus station linked to every major corner and facility in greater Christchurch - built for somewhere around $25 million, (ok even twice that) - is tremendous win-win-win- win.




*(ie North to Rangiora; west to Rolleston)

**Lift bus use or spend $169m on roads The Press June 11 2003

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