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!


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