Tuesday, April 27, 2010

City to Burwood, Prestons - fifteen minutes by busway?

    "What is needed are public transport systems - additional to those already operating - which in effect "leap across" the inner suburbs [or in reality "cut through them, rarely stopping] and link the outer areas to the central city with ease of access and short attractive journey times".

Mercedes CapaCity Buses - carrying up to 193 passengers - on segregated busway lanes in Istanbul. With recent extended vehicle length for trucks is it possible than vehicles of this size and quality could one day service specialised busway corridors in Christchurch ? (photo source wowTurkey.com) Click on any image to enlarge

The dweaded wabbit has been flushed out of hiding by the need to float a few new seeds of thought into the the public consultation on the Prestons development. Prestons is a huge housing development planned by a consortium of Ngai Tahu (the South Island's largest Company), supermarket chain Foodstuffs and Singapore linked developer CDL Land New Zealand. If permitted it will eventually cover an area bigger than Hagley Park and house 6000 people. I have had several looks at the plans, and a tiny portion of the vast reading matter (literally volumes of info!).  On the basis of a nosey rabbit scan it seems impressively well thought through and well suited to the Christchurch of today - mainly the classic suburban homes, but also greater housing concentration around the core areas, which also include school areas and shopping facilities etc. Also what looks like good bike and pedestrian pathways and easy access to central core bus routes already identified.

The ironic thing is that it falls outside the designated areas of the Urban Development Strategy  which is designed to try to stop random spread of the city (or Rolleston and Rangiora) and concentrate more population growth in the centre. This said the Preston scheme hangs together well, is substantial and long term in nature, the money and expertise appears to be there and ready to go, and the big players are definitely not in the fly-by-night class, and are very committed. "Prestons" may indeed have a strong case for rezoning, not least on the the basis all giant masterplans immediately get overthrown by a compelling contradiction (Murphy's Law of Planning).

Space is our greatest wealth in New Zealand and even though I tend to be much more an urbanite than suburbanite, I respect there is and always will be great value for families in having a detached house, a fenced yard, a bit of land to swing a cat (yeah right rabbits harbour malicious thoughts towards cats!). I'd much rather see a sophisticated transport public system sustaining a spread out life-style, than every one having to huddle in those horrible Auckland style minimalist (dare I say it) rabbit hutch size flats. As I say space - in the street, in the mountains, in the room size, in the house size, in our sections - makes us very wealthy as a country. "We got plenty of nothing" so let's not be in a rush to throw it way!! The actual amount of land used for urban areas in NZ is really fairly small, despite stereotypes of urban sprawl devouring all. The main consequence is congestion when lots of folks from perimeter areas try to simultaneously drive into the central city areas - logically the closer one gets to the centre the more crowded and gridlock vulnerable streets become, the less options to widen or change them.  What is needed is public transport systems - additional to those already operating - which in effect "leap across" the inner suburbs [or in reality "cut through them, rarely stopping ] and link the outer areas to the central city with ease of access and short attractive journey times.

In Christchurch , which does not have elongated narrow valleys or coastal corridors or estaurine traffic choke-points (let alone the larger, high density population or big local and national taxpayer base) that make possible and foster rail usage I  suggest busways - or "Bus Rapid Transit corridors" offer better option.

I have been interested in busways for most of the last decade and have had plenty of time to think about options in Christchurch. These are relatively limited in every area of town, without massive social disruption and huge costs. Generally judicious linking of secondary (uncongested) arterial roads with some bus only infrastructure could produce very fast corridors (the buses don't actually speed - they are fast because they are never held up by traffic and their routes are short-cuts).  Wellington has 210,000 people living up the Kapiti Coast and Hutt Valley corridors served by commuter rail - this pattern bears no relationship to Christchurch in any depth analysis. Most - two thirds - of the greater Christchurch "outermost 210,000 residents" live not in Rangiora or Rolleston but in areas contingent with the core city areas, showing in the Mickey Mouse ear pattern in the rough map below, and this ratio will not change.  Identifying our city's peripheral population is based on drawing a circle at approximately 5km radius from the city centre and then looking at the major residential or activity areas built, or planned, out beyond that circle; one of these is the proposed Prestons suburb, and also across Burwood, Tumara Park, Parklands and North Beach, North Shore.

It is my belief that each of these outer areas should be able to reach the city in peak-hours in less than 25 minutes (cuurently typically 35-40 minutes) by bus rapid transit corridors - fifteen minutes picking up looping around the outer residential area then feeding onto the busway trunk corridor which has various technologies to give the bus uninterrupted flow -  ten minutes to the city non-stop [or key stop only] from the point where the route crosses that circle; in the case of the eastern mouse ear that is Breezes Road or in the north east, where New Brighton Road encounters the Avon River.

Rough schemata of outer areas needing fast direct public transport connection to the centre. Red lines indicate possible busways needing  significant infrastructure, green lines bus routes enhanced with added lanes at lights or traffic light priority. If you look closely there are  some orange lines, indicative only, branching out from each busway trunk route - peak hour express routes using the busway trunks. Alternate to the Marshlands busway indicated above is the suggestion below.

Busways (in USA bus rapid transit corridors) are based on giving buses much the same infrastructure base and clear run advantage of trains. In particular this is achieved by using a mix of bus lanes on roads shared with other traffic (some times curbed against other vehicles using them) and queue jumper lanes and/or GPS activated priority at traffic lights; also typically using completely segregated bus corridors built on shoulder lanes of motorways, or utilising former railway lines, or cut through from one area or set of roads to another by purchase and removal of certain properties. Trenches or subways or bus tunnels can be used to keep public transport separate from other traffic or even (as mentioned in a recent post) carrying bus lanes across the top of buildings! Typically peak hour buses are express and virtually don't stop outside their pick up zone or stop only at key stops, which have enclosed waiting areas, platforms and real time signage. At busier stations passengers typically pay their fare at an automated turnstile to get onto ther loading zone, computerised technology insuring multiple bus doors line up at these points, so passengers can just enter, any door (at platform level) and minimal time is spent loading passengers. In some busway systems guide wheels built onto the side of steering wheels allow buses to use concrete (and grass!) guided busways at much higher speeds and very smooth running surface. Of course, unlike trains, even guided buses can enter or leave busways at any point, in effect being like carriages sharing a central trunk route but breaking off top service immediate neighbourhoods. Given the land needed for car parks for those transferring to rail - over 4000 rail-linked car parks in greater Wellington  - this is not only far more convenient for passengers but also significantly lowers commuter impact on quiet suburban neighbourhoods and reduces overall infrastructure costs.

Below in a rough map I illustrate a potential Eastern and North-eastern busway pattern based on the bus rapid transit concepts now being successfully adopted worldwide (though "successfully ignored" for over 15 years in Christchurch).

Note; June 2011; The map below predates the nine months of earthquakes that destroyed much land in the area described. Whether this would make building the proposed alignment easier or more difficult; or more vital or irrelevant, is hard to forecast.  Prestons itself seems more likely to go ahead.

Let's take a journey on the busway suggested above
...first step recall USA expression "Think rail- build bus" - this is a level of commitment to public transport similar to that normally only given rail

From the new Bus Exchange up Colombo St and through the Square but exiting via Worcester Street... crossing Manchester Street...

Worcester east of Manchester is now primarily a parking zone and it would become more so but with an attractive platformed bus station in the centre of the road ...bus loads pre-paid passengers

..bus moves off and descends ramp that takes it into a tunnel under the western road of Latimer Square and under the square itself, in a trench or actual tunnel cut in the wide gap between trees where the road used to be...perhaps it will be a full tunnel or perhaps it will be a securely attractively meshed trench with wild roses growing around it ... there is enormous scope for something very special architectecurally, such as an underlit water-feature built on the busway tunnel roof - bus continues under Madras Street ...or even under  Barbadoes St too...to emerge back up on Worcester Street

......continues down Worcester to Fitzgerald with traffic light priority according to a computerised formula - will hold green light or start green phase slightly earlier but not entirely disrupt Fitzgerald Ave flow pattern (giving 75% priority)

.....along Worcester Street, light priority means it never  has to stop crossing Stanmore Road. With most through traffic now channelled on Cashel and Gloucester Streets, Worcester more than ever becomes a bus and cycle way, at Stanmore Road another attractive centre road small platformed bus station...

....at Linwood Avenue another station then the bus again travels into an underpass (there is a segregated lane for bikes and pedestrians) and emerges on the leg of Worcester Street east of Linwood Avenue

...continuing east along Worcester St (east) the bus veers left several hundred yards before Worcester St itself encounters Woodham Road, here the bus enters a wide green boulevard wiith landscaping, cycleways,pedestrian where several houses have been purchased and demolished to allow a direct busway alignment from Worcester Street - room for a Dallington rapid bus station - before crossing Woodham Road onto Ngarimu Street, with bus activated always green lights...(journey time from city approx 6 minutes).

..at the Woodham/Ngarimu bus lights express buses to New Brighton and to South Shore leave the busway turning right into Woodham Road) to travel to Pages Rd having avoided most congestion associated with the inner city,  Linwood Ave and Eastgate, and saving approximately 7or 8 minutes in total journey time

..crossing Woodham Road the bus continues up Ngarimu Street,

....with express busway services to Wainoni and North Shore via QEII turning right along Durnanon and emerging on Wainoni Road - having avoided most congestion associated with the inner city, Linwood Ave and Eastgate, and saving approximately 7or 8 minutes - perhaps also having a queue jumper lane and traffic light priority at a widened Wainoni Road and Breezes Road intersection

....Services to Burwood and Prestons traveling along Ngarimu Street then cross a purpose built bridge about 500 metres south of the Dallington Bridge - this bridge has lanes only for buses [single lane-peak hour demand urgency only flows one way] and cycles and pedestrians. Perhaps it curves as it crosses, perhaps the current steel footbridge in this area is relocated and extended further seaward to link New Brighton Road (and the busway) across to Avondale. 

The busway corridor then travels along Locksley Terrace especially widened or re-structured by extending the grassed stop bank out across the road  to include a semi-segregated full time enhanced surface 60kmh peak-hour direction bus lane beside the river with great views on the way to work. (contra peak buses just use road) .....until traffic light access (and bus priority) turning right onto New Brighton Road (journey time from city approx 10 minutes)... if unfamiliar with this area search for "Locksley Avenue" in Google Maps here, you can even get street level views).

.......along New Brighton Road about a kilometre then left into Burwood Road (traffic lights to assist city-bound bus access onto New Brighton Road) continues up Burwood Road to  queue jumper lane at QEII Drive lights, peaks hours moves off 10 seconds ahead of other traffic, continues up Burwood Road to Hospital (journey time from city approx 15 minutes - current journey by bus takes 33 minutes ) and then to Tumara Park and Parklands, or to Prestons.

Of course not all buses would be express in this manner described. This is primarily a peak hour pattern for those travelling directly to the city or across the city , and therefore not needful of going through congested areas near malls, and not stopping from a certain point onwards. Conventional routes would continue to offer the city-via the mall-outer suburb pattern as now. On the busway corridors themselves a branded service (like the Metrostar) could offer a 7 day a week all stops service, stopping at some intermediate street- side stops, between the primary location platformed mini-stations, for those who wish to travel into the city and don't need to go via a mall. Even so a much faster journey.

I imagine such a busway as described here might cost several tens of millions, and still come in far cheaper than a comparable rail or light rail that could only travel to one terminus area as compared to six or seven express routes feeding into the busway above.  I envision the busway along Worcester Street and right upto the point where it joins New Brighton Road not as some heavy industrial corridor but rather a "green river" - all car traffic beyond Stanmore Road along Worcester Street, Ngarimu St, and Locksley Terrace being much more  "access to neighbourhood" orientated.  Less  through traffic, and apart from a flurry of buses on business days only at peak times, these streets would be less busy than most, and have a 15 or even 10 minute constant branded busway service. Every busway is a chance to enhance the area through which it passes! From another angle, each busway trunk route is also a tree root keeping the central city and outer suburbs connected, the city as a whole cohesive and alive.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

One-way ticket from Annex Road - more lost busways!

 "...the real value of installing an Annex Road busway underpass, now whilst it can be done relatively cheaply, is as a first step towards creating a direct bus corridor between the northwest of the city and the southwest of the city"
Every area in the world probably has one, a colloquial saying for "you're nuts!".  It is the sort of saying that kids pick up in the playground and use easily and often. It usually refers to the location of the local mental hospital and more often than not also involves a "one way ticket". In Christchurch the old saying used to be "You need a one way ticket to Annex Road". This road was a side entrance to the sprawling Sunnyside Mental Hospital. [To my overseas readers, no, I am not joking. Sunnyside was its real name!  In recent years political correctedness and bureaucratic mundanity has renamed the facility "Hillmorton  Hospital", sure not so bizarre but also erasing a bit of local colour and history from our city]. Sunnyside's main original wards and offices were astounding buildings, huge gables and towers in the gothic style, perhaps the cat's pyjamas in the 19th century but looking distinctly creepy by the end of the 20th century. [Take a peek into the 19th century here ]. Eventually bit by bit all of these older buildings were demolished. The current Hospital is much smaller in size and consists of linked modern single storey villa units, very much towards the back of the original grounds and backing onto the broad corridor of land occupied by the Southern motorway. Sadly - for a facility that may involve a lot of residents on day release, or visitors, without a car, it is a very long walk from Hospital to nearest bus route, somewhere like ten or fifteen minutes, totally unsuitable access on a wet or cold day or if carrying heavier gifts, fruit etc for residents.  Nor is it a location that seems likely to support a bus route in and by itself.

When the fairly short motorway link was built acouple of decades back, the function of Annex Road as a connecting road between two major arterial roads, Lincoln Road and Blenheim Road, was removed, displaced further south onto motorway-linked Curletts Road. Annex Road itself was cut in half and one end, near the hospital became something of a relatively quiet lane in an area ringed by huge old English trees such as oaks and elms. The other end of Annex Road, from Blenheim Rd,  became one of the through-routes to part of Christchurch's biggest concentrated employment zone outside the CBD - the Birmingham Drive section of the Woolston-Hornby industrial corridor. A cycle subway was created under the motorway along the previous Annex Road alignment linking two parts of the city now divided by the roaring river of motorway. Starting very soon the southern motorway is to be widened  and extended with an added overpass across Barrington Street. On its planned journey from Brougham Street to the Main South Road, the Christchurch Southern Motorway will eventually include several pedestrian and cycle subways, an  on-ramp off-ramp junction at Curletts Road and arterial roads underpassing the motorway at Awatea (where big new subdivisions are planned) and Aidenfield (where many new streets have already been built).

It seems a great pity that while the chance exists it appears no serious consideration has been given to building a bus-only subway under the motorway, parallel to the existing cycle subway. I might be wrong, I'm no engineer and only going on simlar jobs, but I imagine that building a single lane reinforced concrete chamber less than 100 metres long with electronic controls to avoid car usage would add up to less than $6 million, if done in the course of other work planned. The value of this may not be immediate obvious so I'll explain more.

One of the really curious aspects of the bus network in Christchurch is if you look on a Metro map there is a whole wedge of Christchurch that gets no immediate bus service at all - the Birmingham Drive and Parkhouse Road industrial and office park enclaves. How can a city that lays claim to be trying to get people out of cars and adress climate change and peak oil threats not run bus services to areas where thousands of people work?  One of the reasons is that peak hour traffic in this area is so heavy that previous attempts to create bus services have foundered on the impossibility of maintaining timetables and the failure to win patronage for such a slow service. Travelling through from Lincoln Road -  in a way that cars can not do -  via a new bus subway under the motorway, and popping up in the middle of the Birmingham Drive  with no queues and no waiting offers a very good alternative option to this.

Measured across 25 years of infrastructure evaluation the value of servicing Hillmorton Hospital and Birmingham Drive industrial area in this manner might even make the bus subway cost-effective in itself own terms.  However the real value of installing an Annex Road busway underpass, now whilst it can be done relatively cheaply, is as a first step towards creating a direct bus corridor between the southwest of the city where huge new housing areas are planned as part of the 35 year developmental strategy known as SWAP (SouthWest Area Plan)and the northwest of the city. This bus corridor could plug deep into existing areas - such as those around Spreydon, Barrington, Somerfield, Westmorland and Cashmere, but also into the newer planned suburb of Henderson, using Hoon Hay Road as the main conduit.  Creating a link from Coppell Place - (the old northern end of Hoon Hay Road ) around behind the current small shopping area on Lincoln Road would need the purchase of two or three properties but allow buses to come straight off Hoon Hay Road, via an attractive stream crossing and then to cross Lincoln Road at their own set of traffic lights and continue up Annex Road, under the motorway and into the heart of the Birmingham Drive industrial enclave.   A further bus trench and subway tunnel built under the rail yards - between the end of Midas Place (off Annex Road) and the intersection of Blenheim Road and Middleton Road (circa $10 million?) would carry buses - at great advantage compared to cars queueing on Curletts Road - straight up towards the University of Canterbury.  Presumably the same route could carry on up to  Memorial Avenue, Sheffield Tech Park and the Airport and other associated industrial areas built or planned in the Northwest, such as those around Johns Road. 

Passing under the rail yards, offers opportunity for a commuter rail station at this location, a rail/bus centre with escalators to the bus tunnel below, offering direct transfer access from the Rangiora-Rolleston rail corridor across a broad sweep of western Christchurch - inluding the University and other points identified above. However, as is much more possible with busways than rail, all these aspects could be set aside, protected and budgeted fore creation across several years. Busways can be built in sections, reverting to conventional streets until a futher segregated section is built later. The key of course is identifying and purchasing or protecting the needed corridor early (I suggest before 2003!)

What seems to me to be most significant about this route is not just the directness of the route and the number of major trip generator facilities it passes but the extent to which it cuts through congestion, by-passes delay without much need for complicated and semi-useless (continuously invaded, or blocked by parkers)  bus lanes on busy roads or shopping corridors. Whilst the Southern Motorway will absorb traffic off Blenheim Road etc on the east-west axis it seems to me will also inevitably attract or dump more traffic onto Curletts Road, greatly adding to congestion around Parkhouse Road etc.  In contrast this every day "ticket to Annex Road" avoids queues at Hoon Hay and Lincoln Roads; avoids on/off turning queues to Lunns Road seeking to access Birmingham Drive; needs only a short bus laned section on Birmingham Drive itself, but is at the very core of the area ; runs under the rail yards and has its own traffic light crossing of Blenheim Road; and when the intersection of  Ilam Road and Middleton Road is  finally widened and aligned to be a normal intersection  buses could have their own lanes.

Total busway cost - some of it subsumed in the cost of upgrading Middleton Road and the Riccarton Road crossing - I would imagine less than $25 million. The actual amount of segregated busway - behind the shops at Hillmorten; under the motorway; under the railway yards - is relatively short but combined with key arterial roads the corridor delivers very good westside access not currently available and not even easily available by car. The cost is not big bikkies compared to similar projects elsewhere and way below typical rail project costs such as electrifying and double tracking Paraparaumu to Waikanae at $92 million or the $28 million dollars it cost to build Panmure rail/bus centre in Auckland.

I think anyone familiar with traffic congestion patterns and with public transport's strengths and limitations in Christchurch will realise this has the potential to be a very,very, popular route, capable of supporting a seven day a week 15 minute branded service, with opportunity for the infrastructure to be used by other future routes, such as industrial services from Hornby or Halswell.


It is said and over and over again, in studies or comments from professionals in public transport planning around the world that transit is failing to make a significant dent in car usage because it is so heavily focussed on routes travel into the central business districts of cities where usually less than 25% of the population work and fails to link up work locations in suburban areas. Here is a great chance to swing that around in our city.

Unfortunately I have talked in the present tense the opportunity is almost certainly lost.The motorway is already planned, preliminary work has started around Brougham Street. The likelihood of interrupting heavy motorway traffic in years ahead to build a busway underneath seems virtually zilch. It is a case of no return.

Definitely a one way ticket from Annex Road.

Another lost busway!

Friday, April 23, 2010

National policy; City kids should pay more while country kids ride free

"Given the context of it you can't help but think there is a bit of a threat contained within it."
- Brent Efford "Morning Report"

School's out 3pm!! Auckland's western commuter rail service gets swamped with high school kids at station after station, travel cost about $15 per child per week. National wants the parents and ratepayers in cities to pay more for their children's public transport whilst gifting country parents $1700 per year per child in school transport -  no parent contribution expected!

The National Government is making scant attempt to disguise the fact that it intends to rule in favour of its own sectional interest groups and supporters. A recent piece of over-ripe hypocrisy is the decision to charge country school kids no fares whatsoever for catching buses to school, whilst expecting thousands of city children's parents to pay for their kids to travel to school. An education department report - presumably originally ordered by the Labour Government - noted the injustice of thousands of city parents paying for school bus fares for their children (including contracted services) while country parents made absolutely no contribution. It was brushed aside by National's Minister of Education Anne Tolley in September last year**. The current cost per year of transporting 81,000 country school children is huge, $141 million, and is expected to rise to $159 million by 2012. It beggars belief that a government theoretically claiming to be managing New Zealand better, sees no no need for parents of these children to make at least some token contribution towards these costs. The typical fare paid by children busing or catching trains to high schools from areas which have no high school (many more bus or train by choice to religious or specialised schools) averages around $2.50-$3.00 return cost per day, or $12.50-$15.00 a week in school term.

Nobody would expect country children to pay ro-rata for the extra kilometres they have to travel, but surely some standard rate boarding fee for school buses buses should apply in the country as in the city? Or no school fares apply at all, anywhere!  

If country parents paid a standard fare comparable to a two section city trip (in Christchurch, basic city wide Zone 1) during the roughly 39  weeks a year of school days this would generate approximately $35 million per year.

We get a much clearer picture of the extent of National Party distortion of the economy to meet their own traditional sectional interests when we realise that this week Minister of Transport Stephen Joyce is bemoaning the Auckland and Wellington commuter rail systems operating at a 20% "shortfall" equivalent to $20 million a year. Joyce himself admits public transport is subsidised all over the world [Blog note; virtually everywhere, apart from London, some major Japanese cities and Hong Kong] costs off set against saving in roading or otherwise impossible gridlock congestion levels, and keeping the elderly, disabled and non-driving age population mobile it is unclear what this strange new transport term "shortfall" means". Joyce is wanting the local regions to foot the bill, ignoring 170 years of New Zealand history - that we are far too small in population for any major infrastructure system not to require significant input at Government level. All transport including roading in New Zealand is heavily subsidised from general taxes.

As Brent Efford of  Wellington rail advocacy group Transaction told Radio New Zealand's "Morning Report" in response to Joyce's sounding off  "Given the context of it you can't help but think there is a bit of a threat contained within it." Auckland and Wellington rail carry 8 million and 11 million passengers per year, so a subsidy of approximately a dollar per passenger trip towards operating costs seems an unusually low amount for a government to be making. Given many of the new rail and light rail systems established in other countries often cost taxpayers as much as $15 per each passenger boarding one wonders where Joyce is coming from.

Well some might wonder, others have a fair idea!

**Source; Tolley rejected school bus cut; HOW THE COST WILL RISE

BEAUMONT Nathan. Dominion Post. Wellington, New Zealand: Sep 16, 2009. pg. A.3

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Jumping off trains in Portsmouth

Our market research showed that 46 per cent of rail users would take the coach if they were offered a comfortable journey with leg room

One of my recent submissions to the Metro Strategy Review 2010 was the suggestion for regional bus services, coming from places like Waipara, Oxford, Darfield and - most logical of all Timaru and Ashburton. The relative subsidy cost of these would not appear to be huge, spread across several rating districts, and would probably be anyway recouped by a great many Canterbury residents in just a couple of trips a year, by an elderly relative, a trip to a show or voiding the need to ferry teenagers around.  At the moment virtually all morning bus and coach traffic is out-bound from the city mornings, in-bound afternoons - good for tourists but generally not so useful for locals.  Commuting workers, or students coming back from overnight visits to parents in rural towns, or visitors to the Ellerslie Flower Show, or those wishing to attend medical appointments or visit sick friends in Christchurch - most of the day to day demand is to get into the city early and return home later in the day. Equally the same applies for people heading into Ashburton from the south, or perhaps to Rangiora from Oxford. Obviously it does not take a rocket scientist to identify this possibility, and I won't be the first to raise it. Accepted it may fall outside existing budgets, but I raise it anyway, (as I do!) and I include it with a funding concept that appeals to me.

In this submission I have also suggested a two tier pricing concept allowing cheaper fares in country areas, but others allowed to board at limited number of specified stops within the conventional Metro bus operations area - at Kaiapoi or Rolleston for example - if they pay a surcharged fare from these stops. I call this theory XPT - Express Premium Travel - and have visions of coaches with large XPT imagery painted on the front. The theory is that a few extra metropolitan area passengers paying 150% fares ["2 passengers =3" ] would boost income, and allow top quality buses to be used for these regional services. In return these city area journey-joiners get access to certain places without need for transfer journeys (eg Burnham-Airport or Kaiapoi-Sheffield Tech Park in Wairakei Road), and to less stops, and superior comfort and speed, including Wi-fi acccess and possibly leather seats. 

Underlying this is the basic knowledge that any big transport system - the railways of yesteryear, the airlines of today -  prosper when they can offer stratification of quality and fares, 1st and 2nd class; business and economy. I consider myself fairly much a democrat by personal nature, but it is ludicrous to think in a world that has status hierarchies, quality and pricing variation in almost field of commerce, not least in car options, that public transport will gain in popularity if it stays with the "one size fits all" attitude. It is my belief that people who can pay more will pay more if it gets them better services and quality, and expresses some degree of status superiority. Introducing rural buses with a premium access component offers a good pilot to try the concept out.

Although we often hear the cry "Bring back the Southerner" (former rail service Christchurch-Invercargill) according to a study made near the end of its life, in its last years it was only averaging 60 passengers a trip, just absurd for the costs involved in operating rail. 
Modern quality coaches are usually far more comfortable  than any clunking and jolting NZ rail service ever could be, particularly with Canterbury's flat terrain as an added advantage. Last year I travelled all day by Intercity Coachlines double-decker coach Christchurch to Invercargill. Even this champion busspotter had visions of an aching back and chronic bus-lag by such a long journey's end. In fact the seating and leg room and air bag suspension (and the float along view from on high) was so comfortable that when I got off at Invercargill about 8 hours later bizarrely I felt refreshed, almost as if I'd just had a massage.

It is interesting, in light of the personal atitudes I espouse above, to read an article in The Daily Mail  about the launch of First Group's Great Britain Greyhound bus service, which started in September last year, in which the UK Manager for Greyhound, Alex Warner says,

" Our market research showed that 46 per cent of rail users would take the coach if they were offered a comfortable journey with leg room and 75 per cent of coach passengers would switch companies if they were offered an executive travel experience at a good price."

I find it very interesting to see that no special candle is held for rail by so many of those who use it regularly, and that so many people want "executive travel" at a good price. The rail lobby is so fascinated with things on steel rails, they often seem to lose sight of the fact that most public transport users want the best mobility options - frequency, reliability, consistent departure times, spread of service hours, range of direction options, comfort and speed of total journey time home to destination [etc] -  trains are interesting but not that interesting if they don't deliver what is needed or other systems do it better.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Going fast - a busway lost?

I have been campaigning since 2002 to have local public transport planners and civic authorities investigate the potential of corridor through St Albans towards Northlands for a busway alignment and direct cycleway to city. Originally I sent letters to the newspaper, in 2005 I sent a beautifully prepared simple clear document with maps to Garry Moore (then Mayor) and to ECan our public transport parent organisation. In 2007 I circulated an extended version of the same scheme - now with a busway corridor right up to Belfast -  to about 35 candidates to the local body elections. One or two were polite enough to say "How nice dear".  In that time Ecan investigated rail twice (ridiculously expensive and unsuited). Never once have I heard the slightest squeak from any corner that busways were being seriously looked at in Christchurch.

Obviously once built this corridor would be there for all time, so to speak, could not be built out however big or high rise the city became. It seems a good investment before the options are built out, for instance larger modern flats built right in its flowpath, costing a fortune to uproot. With two Council housing complexes and the Council owned Edgeware Pool site in the most obvious pathway options for relatively cheap redevelopment of the partly run down area were manifold. Amazingly what could be an 8 minute journey by bus direct from the central city to Northlands, some of it through attractively landscaped green bus (and cycleway) only boulevards, not only bypassed all the heavy congestion on Papanui Road or Cranford Street but could be achieved with minimal social impact, expense in building or operation. It could be operated by a branded service, every 15 minutes, supplemented by key stop only express buses coming from Styx,Belfast, Redwood, Kaiapoi, Rangiora etc. in morning and evening weekday peak hours. If it ever became viable to operate light rail then this corridor would already be built - and indeed could be built precisely to allow for that future option. (It is almost an industry standard now to build a busway as a precursor to light rail in overseas cities). Never once have I heard the slightest squeak from any corner that busways were being seriously looked at in Christchurch.

During these eight years Auckland received $200 million from the Government to build their Northern busway; and then a further $20 million towards their $46 million Central Connector busway. (and zillions more for rail).  During that period that period cities all over the world from the huge (Beijing building 20 busways) and sprawling (Johannesburg building 270km of busway) to those small and closer to Christchurch in size and demographic patterns -  such as Halifax, Ottawa,Winnipeg, Gatineau, Calgary etc in Canada -  were investigating and building busways, typically a mixture of on-street bus lanes and bus-only separate corridors, bus-only shoulder lanes, underpasses etc.

One of our nearest neighbours, Brisbane has built the most sophisticated busway in the world, in one section buses travelling to a bus station at third storey height and other points into underground stations and trenches that completely by-pass congestion. The Gold Coast's planned light rail corridor - 17 km and $1.8 billion (and rising) is estimated to be accessible to 20% of the population. By contrast the Brisbane busway [also of course very expensive!] runs for several hundred kilometres of route - by virtue of the fact that 117 different bus routes feed into and get the benefits of the segregated corridor system. A system that benefits everyone. Something, obviously a bit more modest in size and engineering could obviously be looked at for our city. Never once have I heard the slightest squeak from any corner that busways were being seriously looked at in Christchurch.

This week I posted off a submission to the Metro Strategy 2010 Review. Above is the alignment of the Northern busway I see as possible. Given express buses would not stop between the Supa Centa and Bealey Avenue (or only stop at key stops) and the actual distances are not huge, it would take around 10 minutes Belfast to the city by bus in peak hours! Not only a huge saving in commuter hours but also of course, greater economy in bus use and driver hours per kilometre. The submission is a parting shot really because the Northern motorway coming down past the east side of Redwood is already planned and has as far as I know, no provision for a bus only lane to cut down the side and then through onto Grimseys Road. There is a cycle subway under QEII Drive at the bottom of Grimseys Road but I have never heard of any bus underpass planned. The area east and immediately north of Paparoa Street School and the Rutland Street Reserve, farmland and floodplain, which could be reconstituted into an attractive park, cycleway and skirting the edges on a fenced embankment, a busway corridor, has been subdivided and presumably sold off. The Edgeware Pool site - which coupled with a couple of older single storey Council Housing complexes - gave great potential for an exciting redevelopment of the area and an Edgeware bus station has been sold off.

We have not only missed the bus, or tomorrow's light rail corridor - as a city we are too stupid to even realise it! Somewhere in between city hall's preoccupation with rail fantasies and building heritage tramways and Ecan's narrow vision of a good conventional bus system, a gift handed to the city on a plate got thrown out, potential to lever up tens of millions in Government funding was ignored, great opportunities got washed away. Without a squeak. 

Friday, April 16, 2010

Princes into Frogs

"It astounds me, the genius of Metro planners that again and again, they can take a multiplicity of services and by the most deviously clever planning render them down to a skeleton service"

I have just been down Linwood Avenue way. I finish out there when I do late shifts (not very late really, they finsh at 8pm). I could have walked up to Eastgate, the shopping mall in this area, I sometimes do. There are six routes channelling past the Eastgate entrance on Buckleys Road. The most regular is The Orbiter (as the name suggests a cross-town - or rather around the suburbs - frequent service bus) but it is no use for what I want. Of the five routes from Eastgate's front door stop that are central city bound two No 49 Parkside (from Northshore) and No 51 Tower Junction (from New Brighton via Aranui ) do not operate an evening service, so that leaves just three routes heading for the city centre  past Eastgate entrance after 8pm and each hour.

The sequence of evening services, the pattern of minutes past the hour that each service departs Eastgate, is as follows.

Route   5 (Hornby)        12 and 42

Route 40(Parkside)     17 and 47
Route 23 (Hyde Park)  15

Note that three services run past Eastgate within a five minute band, at 12,15,17 minutes past hour; 25 minutes later another two flow past, again within a five minute band; 42,47 minutes past the hour, followed by a gap of another 25 minutes. I am not the world's best mathmetician, that is for sure, but I have a sneaking suspicion five buses are delivering all services within a ten minute time span so there are fifty minutes and two pointlessly long gaps in every hour with no bus service. 

It astounds me the genius of Metro planners that again and again, they can take a multiplicity of services and by the most deviously clever planning render them down to a skeleton service - the witches caldron here turning five services an hour into, de facto, only a half hourly service!

Indeed to achieve the present masterpiece of route planning it is necessary for Route 40 Parkside (via Wainoni and Eastgate) bus to depart New Brighton at 03 and 33 minutes past the hour, exactly one minute after the Route 5 Hornby via Aranui and Eastgate departs at 02 and 32. These services both offer a fast direct link to the city. Apart from the very widest section of the Aranui block between 40 and 5 routes, for most of their journey these are fairly well an either/or option for a great many Stanmore,  Linwood, Wainoni and New Brighton residents. Or they would if timed to run in an alternating pattern!!

Now the No 40 Wainoni-Parkside bus is not tied to any through route, and presumably could be ratcheted forward or back in time,to create something much closer to 15 minute service pattern with No 5 Hornby - for example 12 27 42 57 past Eastgate (and presumably almost virtually in a 15 minute cycle out of New Brighton for the city).

As I said I could walk up to Eastgate but I'm running a bit late and wow - who wants to finish work in an evening and then miss the bus (well, actually three buses!) and have to wait a total of 42 minutes after work to get out of the neighbourhood and homeward bound?! So instead of rushing that way I stay out on Linwood Avenue where two more routes head townward. Route 21 Ilam goes past the southern end of Eastgate (about a kilometre from the previously mentioned Buckleys Road stop) at 22 minutes past the hour; and route 35 at 38 past the hour....sixteen minutes apart, forty-four minute no bus gap - sigh. But at least within my required time range.  

I catch it a few stops back from Eastgate, at a pleasant clean quiet stop. By the ambient light of the illuminated advertisement in the Adshell shelter I am able to spend my dalliance waiting a few minutes reading the 35 and 21 timetables on the pole. Hmmm.

I read that on Saturday evenings and all day Sunday, these two routes both  leave Woolworths at Ferrymead via Linwood Avenue and Eastgate to city at the following minutes past the hour - Route 35 ;03/04, Route 21; 02 (Sat eve) 57/58 (all day Sun). What by all rights should be a half hourly acccess option, to local shopping centre Eastgate or to the city centre for everyone living down the bottom end of Linwood Avenue and adjoining housing sub-divisions towards Ferrymead has by a stroke of magic - pfff! - been made an hourly service.

Christchurch's Metro have done so many things right - it is an attractive looking service - but they have such an enormous distance to go, many hard miles ahead, in actually planning an effectively timed and integrated service!! (That is - the principle purpose of a bus service).

Yes it would take bloody hours, days, weeks of shunting operating times, route patterns, schedules, to arrive at the very best option templates, at integrated patterns flowing and out of areas like cogs in some giant clockwork mechanism, same core pattern every hour within certain parameters. It would probably need different core patterns for different times of the week - perhaps 9am-6pm  Mon-Sat; and 6pm-11pm evenings and Sunday all day 9am-9pm, with added services here and there, after school, peak hours, Friday and Saturday night etc (note;key word here is added services, not varying the underlying core pattern, strong and predictable as a rock - added services that would in many ways be more flexible to plan or alter than at present). Some allowance would also be needed for foreshortening of running times at quieter moments - "services from outer terminii may leave slightly later than listed times on weekend and public holiday mornings before 11 am and after 5pm; arrival and departure times at central city remain the same" [so much better than all those silly fussy and confusing minor changes such as 03 some hours and 04 other hours, as with route 35 mentioned above!].

The effect would be to absolutely minimise the sort of anomalies described above or in the equally dismal and wasteful, pathetic Saturday night and Sunday services to South Christchurch, such an insult to the consumer, from Redbus or Metro (it isn't clear who).  
Indeed a chance to create templates of absolute consistency through which routes are woven - for instance a guaranteed and systematic 15 minute mall-city departure time, from every major mall in Christchurch, every hour - not 10 mins, then 3 minutes, then 22 minutes etc but simple and consistent  eg 05 20 35 50 or 12 27 42 57...and through which heaps of added services can then also be woven. With so many buses on the road now it is surely within reach of existing service levels, it just needs absolutely committed planning. In tems of various monitoring criteria (such as maximum waiting time for next bus to points A, B etc ) I guess it would improve existing service patterns 25-50%, with most improvement on off peak periods.

With the National Government historically no friend of public transport grander dreams might have to move down the back of the bus. But this does offer public transport authorities a chance to examine current services more deeply, integrate, fine tune consolidate. Or, at very least, stop turning princes into frogs!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Rabbit, ferret, British bulldog (it's such fun having a blog after years of trying to go straight!)

This is just a "filler" photo - I am ferreting away at the moment (can rabbits ferret?) putting together a submission for Metro's long term public transport strategy for Canterbury. I have the spectacular luxury of being able to do what I believe is right and best irrespective of whether anybody listens and the incredible (even to me) toughness just to plug along however many knock backs or rejections I get. There is something perverse in my soul that likes a long tough fight! One of the great models of tenacity must surely be Winston Churchill - I read somewhere he didn't speak until he was five - this the man who delivered the greatest speeches of the 20th century!! He maintained (at least publicly) an unrelenting dogged faith and belief in victory when Britain virtually stood alone after the fall of France and of about six or seven other countries to the Nazis (New Zealander David Lowe's cartoon of a British soldier waving his fist at the spectre of Hitler after the fall of France, with the caption, "Very well, alone then" said it all).

When British Prime Minister in 1938 Neville Chamberlain returned from his third flight to negotiate with Hitler "If at first you don't suceed, fly,fly and fly again" with a meaningless scrap of paper assuring an end to Hitler's conquests, "peace in our time", Winston Churchill,  with only five supporters in the British house of Parliament (which has I think around 600 members) growled "We have surrendered without even firing a shot" and warned that the young men of England would yet pay a terrible price for attempt to get peace at any price.

Of course I'm no Churchill and somewhat to the left of that old Tory but he is an inspiration nonetheless!  In Christchurch we have Maor Bob Parker ("show pony" so apt)  promising "rail in our time" and yet I honestly can not find a single example of effective rail built in cities under 2 million in CANZUS* in the last couple of decades.....we don't have the population intensity, or the huge taxpayer bases of Germany, France or many smaller European countries where a little railway line goes a long way (5 times the immediate population) and Government can afford a bit of dosh (20 times the taxpayers per kilometre of line!).

This is not a scientific survey - the door is still open - but every modern rail or light rail project I read about in CANZUS is haemorraging money like a stuck pig and that is usually just on operating costs; add in the infrastructure costs amortized across the standard 25 years and many systems are paying $5-15 everytime a passenger boards. If we are going to spend megabucks I say look to Brisbane - 117 bus routes feeding in through bus corridors (trenches and underpasses) racing through the central city and ignoring congestion. Infrastructure investment that benefits the whole city!! We have so much we could learn from the small (and larger) cities of Canada and Australia if we just kicked out this boys and their toys rail fantasy.

This is a photo of the Bus Station under King George Square in the centre of Brisbane, part of the Brisbane Busway network. 

* The Ghost who walks. Oops, wrong comic.(whose old enough to remember that one?)
* (start again) CANZUS =  Canada; Australia;NZ and USA  ("the country cousins!!")

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Making tracks - Easter Monday Night in Christchurch

Heading off to the pub -  my reward after a few virtuous hours mining beautiful rich soil from our very large,  long term, composting pile -  I spied my new 2nd hand digital camera and thought why not zip that in a side pocket. These little cameras are so easy to carry in a deep pocket, ready for when the mood takes or the situation calls. Also I love photographing the mundane - we don't realise until several decades later how historical many of the features in photographs become, the fashions, the vehicle styles, technologies, shop names, atmospheres.

It is a public holiday, Easter Monday, one of those funny nights that doesn't quite fit in any convenient pidgeon hole - perhaps a few more people around than the usual Sunday or Monday evening, a few buskers livening the night, but all in all a pretty mellow mood. I guess even aggro or hyper types can't maintain their extreme energy for four days (although I did see a huge bar room brawl of shift-workers on a Queens' Birthday Monday in Auckland many years ago). 
Top points to our bus authority, Metro, for running Saturday  timetables rather than Sunday timetables [with lesser services] on every public holiday except Xmas Day and Good Friday.
I see more than a few public transport authorities, in USA, for example that don't run any service at all on their dozen or so public holidays, despite the out-dated American attitudes of public transport being primarily a social service to the poor!  Anyway let's not get too generous towards Metro, I am waiting for a bus to go home about 8ish o'clock - theres the "same old, same old", unnecessarily long gap-crap.  A service with five buses up that road each hour, that should by rights and commonsense be running at consistent intervals every 15 minutes.

Ooops, I suddenly remember that they are extending the tram tracks up from High Street into the Square [Cathedral Square, the centre of the city]  over the weekend. Trainspotter photo op a few blocks away!! And I have my camera en pocket. Cor, first off the press. (or in the first 20 more likely!)  Don't you love it, how "spotters" and collectors of any ilk can always manage to find the object of their excitement is unique, an astonishing moment in the history, or gadget that must be preserved, come what may. Although there are twenty five other cousin objects that all look alike to normal human eyes, apparently the F45Jc model is earth shatteringly different! Yes here I stand looking at the new tram tracks curving up from High Street into Cathedral Square exactly as they did until 60 years ago. . A profound moment in history. Yeah right. 

The intersection above, Colombo Street and Hereford Street, and much of the area around the southern exit from Cathedral Square has been closed off by traffic detour signs and witches cones all Easter to allow these tracks to be laid. In the old days this area used to be called " the bottleneck", I don't hear that term much nowadays - perhaps because traffic congestion is no longer such an unique feature! When traffic surveys were done in the 1920s and 30s over 7000 cylists passed through the bottleneck each a day!

All this said (or is it "this sneered..." you cynical old rabbit) Christchurch has some fairly classy old (but fully restored) electric trams and trailers and early twentieth century and a few trailers from the 19th century. These travel around the central city in a loop route, the service almost entirely orientated towards tourists. Locals can bring proof-of-address and get a relatively cheap annual pass. I tried it one year, thinking of it as an all-year "free" pass to travel down to the Arts Centre/Museum area. But it was chronically slow, I could have walked there and back in the time. Tram operators give great commentary along the way, it is not just a trip on a tram but also a mini-sight-seeing tour of inner city Christchurch, stopping here and there to take in the sights. All added value for visitors, but not much use for locals with ideas of using the tram as a sort of back up central city circulator transit. I am sure there is some secret game plan to add modern day light rail vehicles into this tramway system somewhere down the track (so to speak!)  but it is hard to see how, particularly with so few sidings where the marginally faster local trams would need to pass the show and tell stop-start heritage trams. 

Restored 1910 Boon Tram and trailer of the same era on Christchurch Heritage Tramway - Wikimedia

I think our tramway is cool but as I get older I realise that everything - everything - in life is a two edged sword - something good will usually have a price or downside, not too many things in life don't cast a shadow.

It is one of the more bizarre things about our city, that our city council has done a good job at creating in a central Bus Exchange, albeit it now needs to be replaced by a far larger and more sophisticated model, and improving bus shelters etc but lags years behind many other cities in NZ, Australia or Canada (our nearest cousins) in the key area of public transport - mobility - in developing rapid transit systems, whether rail or busway. Even bus lanes which took over 12 years to get started have now been short-sheeted by the National Government pulling out about $3 million in funding (whilst in the same period giving Auckland commuter rail and loaning Kiwi Rail, combined, over a billion dollars! BTW does anyone else in this city ever get the feeling we are being shafted?).

Rail has been checked out twice by Ecan and found hugely expensive - I think of rail in Christchurch as similar to hiring a back-hoe at $500 an hour to dig your little back garden vege patch, so totally out of proportion and a pointless added expense, doing a job that will be anyway less than effective than a small more specific technology such as spade or rotary hoe.
Light rail has no obvious benefit - we don't have any corridor it would be of value except perhaps City-Westfield-University but this is already served by buses every two or three minutes on multiple routes which operate faster and more frequently than any modern tram system could, and offer multiple direction travel without the need for transfers. Spending hundreds of millions to replicate - less effectively - existing services would do nothing except drain money from other city wide public transport improvements. In contrast building a few busways and a few bus (and separated cycle/pedestrian) only underpasses at about $5-10 million a time, at several strategic points around the city would in contrast cut millions of hours of travel time for commuters across a broad spectrum of the whole city.

The segregated busway concept, that makes Canada's capital city Ottawa and adjoining city Gatineau, combined population about 1.3 million, the most effective of the smaller city public transport system in the whole of North American - carrying 110 passenger trips per capita per year does not even get checked out. Never has any study been undertaken of this technology despite is widespread application in big cities and small, and which so much more relevant for smaller cities. Meanwhile Christchurch carries about 40 passengers per capita per year. Incidentally 110 passengers per capita per year is about twice the passengers per capita per year of the public transport system of Portland, Oregon one of the wonder cities of light rail our Mayor went to study.

Equally across the Tasman, bus use in Brisbane, Australia's fourth biggest city has rocketed a phenomenal 50% in five years (while Sydney's has slightly declined) because of the building of exclusive busways that allow buses from many different parts of the city to cruise without stopping through the inner suburbs and central city and drop people at stations, underground or otherwise completely segregated from conventional traffic.

So when I look at those beautiful new tracks running up through High Street Mall (below) and curving up through the bottleneck towards Cathedral Square, I can't help thinking, we're on track ...but to where?

Also, one of my vast sea of followers drew my attention to this article on Stuff

Saturday, April 3, 2010

October Elections for ECan, why not? Restore democracy now.

I see in this morning's paper [The Press 3 April 2010] that 57% of people surveyed question the period of time that National Government appointees will run Environment Canterbury.

Why will it take so called trouble shooter experts three and a half years to right a structural problem? They have already been given extra powers that Environment Canterbury sought for years but were denied, in a huge piece of political chicanery that one of our few remaining independent newspapers has researched and exposed

Yet the competence of these persons, given military style top down authority (not subject to elected processes) is such that they will need three and half years?  In what sense in that case are these commisioners going to be more effective than the present elected and now deposed-by-coup body? Or is it just a sleezy trick to give disproportionate power to minority rural sector and the huge corporate farming sector, both traditionally National Party bases, and disenfrancise the majority urban centre which tends towards the left and towards wanting to protect the environment and see resources used sustainably in a thorough way. Why should the regional governance be governed by the ethos of the National Party for three and a half years - including probable cuts to public transport given National's history - when that is not for what citizens have voted?? 

Friday, April 2, 2010

New Elections for ECAN Now

Throughout history democratic countries have sometimes faced an  administrative situation seen as untenable and unworkable. At such moment usually the President, Prime Minister, the Governor General will dissolve the Parliament or organisation concerned and call for new elections. Those who know their history will know of the Jack Lang Government in NSW in the 1930s, or the Gough Whitlam Government dismissal in Australia in the 1970s, or for that matter the fall of many coalition Governments unable to function effectively in Italy and elsewhere.

Such dissolution of an elected body is an extreme case for scenario for democracy. The next step beyond that is one where one party seizes power and throws out or imprisons existing elected members and puts in its own non-elected ruling aparatus.

The failure of the Labour Party, the Progressive Party, NZ First, the Maori Party and the Greens (etc) to respond instantly and adequately to the unbridled and savage attack on the voters of Canterbury is appalling. To say that Environment Canterbury was performing badly, or that the councils of all sub-districts of Canterbury could not work with Environment Canterbury is irrelevant.  Many governments and city councils perform poorly or poorly in some aspects but they are not in the New Zealand tradition thrown out of office and replaced by Russian style Commisars given unchallenged power. Those who recognise and criticise what they perceive as inadequate performance campaign to have it addressed and  have the governance replaced by their own alternative at an election -  that is the nature of democracy.

There is only one place in system of democratic governance to challenge incompetence, address structural weaknesses in a situation and offer solutions - the polling place.

Our democracy is the single biggest quality of life aspect of New Zealand, more fundamental even that National Parks or water quality. Once it is gone, all else can go, and will go, because those who would rob a nation of democracy will surely have little compunction about using their unrestrained powers to further their own sectional interests at the expense of the nation as a whole.

There can only be one banner raised, uniting ever decent New Zealander against this sleezy outrage so belittling our countries greatest asset and freedom "New Elections for E-Can Now!"