Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bus Diary - Life on the streets without a car (1) Sockburn to SaveMart

My niece heading south to a polytech course, stayed over in Christchurch last weekend. She needed to buy some items for her specialised course from a discount supplier in Christchurch. I checked out the location of this discount shop - oops right down in the heart of the Parkhouse Road industrial enclave. No direct bus service into that area, and probably wouldn't be anyway on the weekends, even if Metro did run bus services to this major industrial/office park area. On the other hand the Metrostar would carry us right across the city to near that area; and I happen to know that tucked away behind Alloy Street, near Sockburn roundabout there is a footbridge across the railway line, that will cut walking distances in half. It is perhaps the most hidden, least signposted piece of non-vehicular  infrastructure in the city - even when we got to the entrance alleyway I had to stare hard at the pattern of wirenetting fences to figure out where the actual pathway was. While my niece went shopping down Hayton Road I went cruising around the footbridge, the Sockburn overbridge and the underpass that runs under it, taking the odd photo.

Amongst all the other opportunities being  lost or potentially lost by Christchurch civic authorities, in having no visionary rapid transit plans is the rail corridor south of the station itself. It seems to me there is a great deal of under-utilised land on or immediately adjacent to this corridor, that could be restructured to carry a guided busway, a light rail corridor, or just a dedicated commuter line, between Christchurch Station and Rolleston. There is even an unused bay in the portals under the Sockburn Bridge (see photo above ). No doubt KiwiRail will say sharing this corridor in any format whatsoever is a non-starter. No organization wants to reduce their options or share space with other systems, but as the bus lanes on Papanui Road underscore the point; when a city moves from the provincial to the metropolitan every bit of space becomes contested by multiple different users, and much tighter, and more specifically designated land use is inevitable.

Needless to say I am more a fan of the guided busway idea than rail - very smooth passage (the new guided busway in Cambridgeshire UK claims passengers can drink coffee whilst the bus is in motion). Such a busway might need to be ramped onto some sort of embankment, to give a safety margin that running closely alongside trains would otherwise not provide, but could also pass over intersections, or shift from one side of the rail corridor to another. Mega bucks, but not absurdly so, given the hundreds of millions being spent on rail commuter systems in Wellington and Auckland.  And of course buses can feed onto or off from the high speed guided section of the busway onto conventional streets. Indeed the one-direction only (outbound) underpass that runs down the side of the Sockburn overbridge and then turns right underneath it, and up into Racecourse Road offers an added point where access to a busway built beside the rail corridor could be immediate and useful.

Top photo shows this one way only underpass; and a few metres further along the same built up ramp the rail underpass portals. This would raise some very interesting dynamics for a busway -  presuming such a corridor could be created; routes from the city might run the entire length to Rolleston, but services via University and Church Corner, and to and from Hei Hei or industrial areas could join or leave at this point.

The main value of course is that was such a busway possible and was ramped or grade separated from other traffic and  had no conflicting intersections etc, it would allow a travel time from Addington to Hornby of about 5 minutes, or to Rolleston of perhaps 12 minutes, at 80-100km per hour.  Such times would be hugely competive with cars and traffic jams, particularly in the peak hours! Because buses can begin and end in people's streets, or outside their office,shop or factory, it would also be hugely competitive with rail systems, voiding the need for clumsy, expensive or intrusive park and ride journeys/bus to station journeys.  Given the relatively short distances involved transfers of any sort are to be avoided as far as possible.
A downside is some parts of the busway could only be one lane, operate in one direct at a time, but the short distances involved, good scheduling and a bit of train control style technology could presumably deal to that so no bus ever appeared to wait.

A downside for me, was to get the best shot of the overbridge portals I had to descend onto the track itself (extremely carefully, though no trains were about) - vigilant neighbours or cameras ensured two policemen arrived almost immediately. Yes it is illegal. I was firmly but pleasantly escorted off the line. Not being a spy movie they did not pull the film from my camera or grind the memory card under their heel.  Yehaa, I had the photo I wanted. I rejoined my niece.

After shopping at The Hub (mall) in Hornby, whilst I lolled around the simple but attractive multiple bus route terminus with its brilliantly large overhanging roofs in shade tint glass,  my niece decided she wanted to check out the SaveMart clothing warehouse in Shands Road. Another industrial area, and residential corner of the city not served by a bus route. After a very hot 20 minute walk - summer has got here! - we arrived to be greeted by a petition on the counter, already several signed pages in size, for a bus route to this area!

I told the lady behind the counter of the difficulty of getting response from Metro or Ecan - in my experience, across many years,  these bureacracies have their agendas and rarely move off them, even if the suggestion is coming from other organisations of presumably some political clout, such as the City Council, Transport Agency or bus or taxi operators.

Though I didn't bombard this women with such details I think much it has to do with the rotational nature of the tender systems - routes to an area reviewed every three years and then bound in contracts. From an outsider's view this seems to greatly impair opportunity for independent moves. In similar vein the rather "conservative in style" strategic plan plots everything out years ahead, but I suspect at some price of having little room for ideas not thought of back at the start. The city has spent 13 years struggling towards on-street bus lanes which have their role but can not deliver the top class direct city-outer suburb (in 10 minutes) type links that other cities are now creating with off-street, segregated (or segregated in part) busways. No provision has been made for this because no one - and particularly not the politicians or policy makers - is tracking the growth of this phenomena overseas. Beyond all these factors a simple fact is that extending a route even by a couple of kilometres can end up costing thousands, indeed tens of thousands in extra fuel, labour costs and vehicles needed, so it is not easy.

Back in 2008 I put forward the concept of shuttle buses from Westfield to Birmingham Drive; and Westfield to Parkhouse Road, to Metro. I thought it was rather a clever and well thought through concept, carefully timed, offering both frequent peak hour departures and continuous day time services (for part-time, late starts, early finishes, job applicants etc) using only two buses on each route. I was told it would be evaluated in a review in 2009 of services to this area (none to that immediate area at present, though workplace to several thousand workers). Well that year has come and gone, what ever rabbit hole that disappeared down it wasn't one known to this rabbit. I have also put forward suggestions at some other time that a service to the Edmonton Road area - another industrial enclave not serviced  - be tail ended onto one of the mainstream routes that currently terminate a Hornby. Indeed a fish hook shaped route could run down Shands Road as sought by SabeMart and their shoppers and back up Halswell Road to this very area, at least in working days.

What amazes me is not that a particular suggestion from one person is ignored (cheeky bugger what does he know about bus planning!) but that the issues that provoke the suggestions are not addressed, in anyway, year after year. There is a credibility gap here, on what is being said and what is actually being done. Complete lack of bus service to some fairly large areas of industrial and office park employment hardly fits with Environment Canterbury's claim to be trying to attract people onto public transport!

I hardly knew my niece previously and the sort of walk and bus, chat and shop, casualness, spread across several hours, that comes with catching buses offered a rare opportunity to spend some time with her. It was unusual, I think we both enjoyed it. There is a lot to be said for a day just mucking around on buses, an old fashion spaced casual quality of life that racing around in cars, do your shopping, race home, easily misses.


  1. City fathers have given away rail alignments I believe in the past that would take trains into Christchurch. These could even have been used for a busway.


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