Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Lack of Rapid Transit plan leaves Christchurch vulnerable


Despite attractive new Metro marketing and an impressive new post quake central bus station being built Christchurch continues to blither around in the appalling incompetence which has long marked public transport planning in this city.

Yep - Christchurch still misses the bus, train and everything else!

Any city worth its salt must look at making public transport work effectively, and the core of planning is a "rapid transit plan". This is the technology and land use to attract and move large numbers of commuters quickly from home areas to major employment zones.

Auckland's whole multi-billion public transport system is based around a rapid transit plan put together in 1995. They worked out where they needed to go and a step by step plan to get there. This consisted of four rail corridors (including a de facto loop around the central isthmus) and a segregated busway up the North side of the Harbour. Over the last 20 years Auckland's confident approach has won significant funding at every step, quite a lot coming Canterbury fuel tax dollars.

Likewise Wellington had identified how to upgrade its rapid transit network by the beginning of this century (almost 15 years ago) and identified it needed to upgrade its suburban rail network, including new carriages, stations and trackwork through to the Wairarapa; and double tracking and electrifying the Kapiti Line north as far as Waikane. Again year by year these goals won funding and were achieved. About $700 million of work done, much of it Government funded and also quite a lot of it coming from Canterbury fuel tax dollars .

Christchurch? I've been watching since I  purchased my first computer back about 1995 (virtually 20 years) and the only thing even remotely comparable to a mass rapid transit plan I've seen was a plan in 2003 to put part-time, part-way bus lanes on nine routes.

It a minimalist policy which the various city authorities anyway proved incapable of achieving or even getting part done before the incoming National government withdrew (the tiny) funding in 2009. Within  six weeks of the Government cutting their cycleway and bus lane funding in Christchurch from $4.5 million to $1,5 million, transport minister Joyce gave a cheque of $88 million to Wellington Regional Council for a second and final payment of the new Matangi electric units! Not a squeak from our insipid leaders!

The aim of mass rapid transit is to create conduits where public transport vehicles do not have to compete with other vehicles.

Another aim is to address longer journeys where these conduits allow for genuinely competitive journey times with private cars, and which address the longer commuting journeys which cause and suffer the greatest pollution and congestion.

Being a keen fan of public transport I have tried for many years to get public authorities in Christchurch to follow best practise concepts, used all over the world, of basing our public transport around a core rapid transit plan. This is like a skeleton around which all other public transport  and active transport planning is built. Every single written or spoken submission, or approach to a civic leader or political candidate has been rejected, even when I have merely requested that concepts be investigated.

Once I was told by a very arrogant woman chairing an Ecan committee, patronising words to the effect "Don't you worry [your silly little head?], we are protecting our rapid transit corridors" . It is absurd as the city has never identified its rapid transit corridors!

These do not necessarily follow existing rail or main road corridors, because often the greatest through flow advantage - and the least disruption and political resistance in the building or in operation of such a corridor is precisely away from existing networks. The key is to link major housing, commercial and industrial areas - delivering people to key traffic generators - whilst simultaneously by-passing or minimising interaction with existing congestion.

For example it is quite clear that it is not possible to built mass rapid transit on Riccarton Road.

In the first case it is a major (car) traffic corridor, so any significant permanent and full-time tram lines or bus lanes, will further impede normal traffic. In the second place it is lined by shops and clumps of take-way outlets all of which rely upon motorised traffic and will resist bitterly by all owners. Thirdly it is intersected at Clyde Road, and Clarence Road by two very busy complex intersections, where giving buses (travelling several different ways) priority every time  - a minimum requirement of rapid transit - is quite out of the question. Fourthly Riccarton Road has a very large rental housing/professional apartment/ university student flatting sector to the south - key transport users - but half of this is out of easy walking bus access, and by contrast correspondingly little by way of bus user catchment to the north side of the road.

How can public transport bring huge numbers of people through Riccarton heading for the city AND also directly to Riccarton (notably Westfield) AND to an effective exchange point to head north and south to Addington etc, without stopping for other traffic?


This is a busway corridor crossing many minor side streets and threading between houses (on a hedged and treed landscaped bus, cycle and pedestrian corridor ) in a way that buses can be given total or very high priority at every intersection crossed,  between Mandeville Street and Wharenui Road. This by-passes Riccartion Road congestion but not Riccarton itself - giving best option access to the Mall at Matipo Street and again Rotheram Street (main suburban bus exchange) while directly servicing and helping to grow a huge potential commuter market in the block between Riccarton Road and Blenheim Road.

It requires the purchase of perhaps 15 properties (the line shown here is only indicative) mostly run-down old houses used as student flats which will soon be demolished for apartment blocks. This potential straight through  corridor will be almost certainly be lost within the next few years.

A radical suggestion here is to split Middleton Park in two - the football fields there realigned but also given embankments with a shelter trees - and take a tar sealed busway through the middle of these embankments with safe pedestrian crossings included. This allows (a) very deep penetration of an area poorly serviced by immediate public transport (b) linking a future obvious busway under the motorway and under the railway - cut and fill tunnels costing less than $30 million all up - from  the south-west via Annex Road to join up at Middleton Road,  straight from to Riccarton and city, to be factored in for the future. (c) an exclusive corridor that can later if deemed necessary be converted to light rail - indeed taking straight under the railway line and  Deans Avenue and a corner of Hagley Park (the 50 year plan!) .

Instead we have yet again as in 1996, and in 2007, the pathetic farce of pin -in-the-map planning at Riccarton Road as Ecan and the Council and the local retailers and Mall management fight over which in the worst place they can put a bus station!!

And of course with Gerry's jackboot on the throat of Christchurch our fuel taxes are sent to Auckland !


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