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

1 comment:

  1. Wow, love the restored, old Boon tram! What a sight! :)