Thursday, November 12, 2009

Putting transit through the Mill

One of the very big network shifts in the recent Metro route changes has probably gone unnoticed by the general bus user, but I suspect over time will become very popular with the many who will benefit. This is the large number of city areas now linked to Addington.

From the east comes 21 Ilam route Mount Pleasant, Linwood Avenue, Gloucester Street, and all of Colombo St down to Moorhouse. This also, of course, links Ilam and the University transfer point to Addington, a service also offered by The Orbiter, which connects many areas of the southern Spreydon-Cashmere-St Martins area of the city as well. Links from the northeast - Parklands, the Burwood area and The Palms - are achieved through 70 route, now combined as a 15 minute through route with the main Lincoln Road route, 7 Halswell. This is complemented by the vastly increased services to Kennedys Bush, running along much of the same route, but leaving the Bus Exchange via the former 7 route (Colombo Street/Moorhouse Avenue) - the 7 now running via Hagley Avenue and the Public Hospital. From the north the reconstitured Redwood service, 22 Redwood-Spreydon runs through Northlands and Papanui Road, offering direct connection to the Public Hospital and touches the same Addington area (at Grove Road) before linking the Selwyn shops and Spreydon to the same corner.

Addington? Are you joking do I hear you say?. That depressed conglomeration of narrow streets, aging houses and old shops, attracting, south of the railway line anyway, so few of those monotonous chain shops that make every mall the same as the next.  The Addington that when  I first came to Christchurch forty years ago looked like a replica of Sydenham, double storey Victorian and Edwardian buildings lining the street from immediately across the railway line southwards -  but now looks like a grenade has scattered all coherent historic ambience to fragments.  No. Not that Addington. The Addington of which I speak is still being born. The new (re-routed/linked) bus services run via the potentially busiest, most intense "industrial" and housing area of the city. Along with the Tower Junction big box centre north of the railway line, Westpac Stadium, and the (currently under-utilised) railway station the Addington area is (a) going through a major identity change, including home to three major office park projects expected to provide work space for almost 6000 workers (b) has the largest single contiguous triangle of inner city land - between the railway line/Whiteleigh Avenue/Lincoln Road - that is almost totally derelict and/or filled almost entirely with very old and substandard warehouses, yards and housing. In other words, a rare section of the city on a steep upward trajectory where total area-wide planning, rather than piece-meal development, is ripe for implementation.

Being an amateur busspotter, a keen amateur not tied to any bureaucracy or busy defined work schedule, has all the playing-God-in-a-small-domain fun of creating a model train set. But a virtual one using the whole city as a canvas and calling forth all sorts of interests, options opportunities and limitations. And God knows might bring forward some idea of social value that can benefit the lives of thousands, and the environment. I dig the word "model", as in Christchurch becoming the model of one of the most superb small city transit systems in the world (goal) but the word "train" shakes my head in doubt. I have read enough about rail and light rail to see these are shooting far above our city's weight, and anyway can not offer rapid transit access to the whole collar of outer suburbs, in a way that bus corridors can, or at a much greater frequency. Unlike a rail variant along a single corridor bus rapid transit can offer a 15 minute service around the operating hours clock, and be complemented by a dozen or more other peak hour routes (express variation) feeding directly into these corridors and running key stops (2 or 3 at max) directly into the city. Potential 95% of the outer areas get a home area, direct service (no car parks, no transfers) faster than car travel utilising judiciously designed and landscaped bus corridors. This is a very impressive model train set indeed, but a more apt one adopting the US slogan - think rail, build bus. (to see a model on a larger scale check out the Human Transit site, listed in my rabbit-like profile, and take a tour of the Brisbane Busway)

In search of a potential western or southern rapid transit corridor, and to correlate what seemed at least possible on Google maps (no doubt becoming the bane of public transport reviews!), I often go walkabout. One absolutely bleak grey winter's Sunday morning, last year, with a chill chill wind scudding spits of rain and crumpled newspapers across almost empty city streets, I caught a bus to Addington and went for a wander. It says something for the state of this area that large parts, out of sight of the public eye, were unfenced and accessible with little sense of trespass (though presumably someone owns the land) - particularly the wide corridor between warehouses and the old Woods Mill landmark, formerly a multi-track rail siding. Old corrugated iron warehouses, loose sheets banging in the wind, the weeds and incipient broom colonising the old railway gravel, a yard filled of seized cars, the various For Sale signs - behind the old five or six story brick flour mill, there was enough material here for at least three different songs by Tom Waits! To the south there is a large residential area, of in most cases very old (without being historically charming) houses, often flaking paint or rusted roofs, adjoining Whiteleigh Avenue, barely as yet penetrated by the new two or three storey block of flats. I am an intuitive thinker [Carl Jung's definition of "intuitive" = seeing the possibilities in any situation],a joiner together of dots. The pokie machine in my brain was running all the high scoring symbols on the one line, lights flashing and bells ringing simultaneously. Wow - what a unique opportunity for the city to build a bus-rail centre by going under the line at Clarence Street; by factoring in routes and public transport infra-structure before redevelopment; what an opportunity to complement the intensity of office park development with urban redevelopment of medium rise apartments, four or five storeys, small shops and cafes below, a la Paris, in the European style, perfectly situated to access university, hospital, central city. Yeah, sure there is a nearby railway line, just as in thousands of parts of Europe and Asia, people who attracted to vibrant high density living will hardly find this a major deterrant, even if presuming sound can not be mitigated and broken up (indeed some of the most expensive houses in Christchurch near Mona Vale are built at eye level with adjacent rail!).

Strangely this area - with all its potential to address sustainable transport goals; intensification of inner city housing and with (by virtue of adjoing office park areas) a forseeable evolutionary path unfolding as day time gift shops and boutiques and office worker cafes> night-time restaurants>boutique hotels related to conferences and business travel - doesn't even feature on the published maps of expected city housing intensification. The one area with the greatest potential to pre-plan an attractive infrastructure - building entirely new lanes or new streets - is a blank. Likewise exactly how such a small area twice intersected by the railway line on major arterial roads (Lincoln Road, Whiteleigh Avenue) will absorb the 4000-5000 extra cars a day, that on current commuting patterns will be needed to convey the workers to these office parks, plus the increase in traffic coming from new subdivisions at Halswell, Awatea and Henderson, is obscure. These streets are already congested and the new overpass to Blenheim Road is filling with cars as fast a hole in the sand fills with water. Whether the city should be trenching the rail corridor, or tunnelling the roads under the rail or building more (awkward ugly) overbridges seems to be nowhere raised in the public arena. Whether the city should be creating bus underpasses - hardly rocket science and relatively cheap technology - doesn't seem to be on the horizon either (that irritating rabbit suggests underpasses are never on the horizon but I'll ignore him!)

Auckland's latest spend up the $409 million Victoria tunnel will off course be partly funded by taxes generated in Canterbury (say $40 million). The amount of money Canterbury taxpayers have now spent on upgrading Wellington rail and Auckland rail and new busways, hundreds of millions, is an impressive show of commitment to public transport by our province!! Alas the foresight to use our political clout, before it is completely lost to the "SuperCity", to help finance and build quality public transport and urban redesign infrastructure, over and beyond the Bus Exchange, right here in Canterbury, obscurely seems to miss our civic leadership. But bless their cotton socks Metro has at least realised where the action is gonna be, and within the parameters of a conventional bus service, very much put the new Addington in the loop, indeed in various loops. No transfer needed services from multiple points across the city and by virtue these travelling via the bus exchange - a multiplicity of services per hour between central city and the little tiger crouching around Woods Mill.

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