Sunday, May 30, 2010

More from our burrow council

I am doing a bit of busspotting research into underground bus stations overseas - not as common as I thought though still very state of the art. The  most zooty found is probably Helsinki's Kamppi Centre, this includes 6 floors of underground shops and  the underground city hub for local bus services and for long distance bus services.  Next door is the countries biggest cinema complex and a metro rail station.  Greater Helsinki is about the population of greater Auckland, but far denser. Also of course, it can get very cold! Underground malls etc are not uncommon at the lattitude, anywhere in the world.

I include two photos below per Wikimedia commons

In a previous posting I suggested that if cards are played right the extra $21 million dollars to put the Christchurch Bus Exchange underground would seem relatively easy to recover given the marketable asset of a high concentration of foot traffic - tens of thousands a day - passing through this area. I suggested a hub tower building with parkland/grassed areas around it forming an added sounded barrier, with natural light wells to the bus station below poking up here and there, could be attractive for a wide variety of uses. 

In fact digging back in archives I see [and had forgotten reading] that the Bus Exchange plans are already well advanced;

The Press of 7th July 2009 reported; 

"The new $119 million Christchurch bus exchange will create an urban park, taking up a central city block, with a large glass dome at its heart". 

The glass dome allows natural light down in to the six metre-deep underground passenger lounge. Judging from overseas comments this seems to be an important ingredient in any underground facility - Auckland's Britomart does it superbly. The constant running water across the main dome creates a very beautiful dappling effect of light, as if in the forest or a cave near water. It's a real winner.

According to the same Press article;
"Passengers will reach the lounge on escalators from Colombo St. Buses will enter and leave the underground interchange on ramps, merging with traffic in Lichfield and Tuam streets. Mayor Bob Parker said the decision to put the exchange underground was driven by concerns for pedestrian safety. ....The exchange deals with 110 buses going in and out over the busiest hour, but the new complex will be built to cope with 370 buses in and out during the busiest hour by 2040. The foundations of the exchange will be strengthened to allow tall buildings either side of the bus exchange site. One option being considered is to build an $83m central library on the bus exchange site, with construction planned to begin in 2019." 

Even without an adjoining  library it would seem obvious to me there is a heap of potential in this building - as mentioned previously (and in an afterthought response to my own posting a mini-supermarket, for once not orientated to cars). Also several levels of food service - such as a burger chain, a healthy cafe, a more upmarket bar-cafe; a shoe repair and drycleaning agent, a newspaper/magazines and cigarettes and postcard kiosks; left luggage lockers, a taxi rank, a carshare parking space; a rental car outlet, or long distance bus docks and booking agents, a police or transport police booth... the list goes on. It is hard to believe that rents from all the components in a major transport terminus can not be structured in to recover some of that extra $21 million. Indeed it surprises me that one of the local infrastructure outfits isn't keen to build and lease back to the council, pocketing the extra subsidiary function rents as well.

As rabbits too often say, dig this! I am a full time bus user - ease of movement for me is everything. Generally I believe palaces are for politicians and big noters. And yet...dig this too ..... the dynamics of creating a building of this size and significance of the new Bus Exchange are that it should be done to maximum quality and effectiveness right from the start. The money needed for suburban exchanges - the most important ones I would imagine at Riccarton- Westfield, Eastgate and The Palms (with a pedestrian subway under the road to the in-stop) can be found and suburban exchanges built bit by bit across the years.

If there isn't enough gold around, then we will just have to dig that up too!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Happy Birthday from Denmark!!

Popular bus drivers - Christchurch has always had a good reputation for good bus drivers, good service.  I catch 20 - 30 buses on a quiet week, so I'm encountering all firms, many different drivers, a few them old mates, some new friends, most strangers. There's always the odd exception but I think this tradition of good service is still very much alive.  Most people call out thanks to the bus driver when they get off a bus in Christchurch, for good reason.

Driving the same route mostly, albeit in rotating shifts, or driving the same route/same trips every day allows bus drivers to get to know regular passengers, and vice versa. Indeed the short empathetic conversations of "how's yer Bert's lumbago?" variety with diverse people, and hugely diverse types of people, is one of the big stimulus factors, can make for a richly fulfilling day. In the old days with greater public transport use and more stable neighbourhoods this often meant passengers knew each other better as neighbours and would discuss things including bus drivers at their stop. This led to more than a few presentations for popular bus drivers - here in Christchurch,1957, Albert Gardenbroek found a conspiracy of passengers on the Sumner route lead to a decorated bus for his coming marriage. Twenty nine passengers signed a birthday card and put money in the hat to buy Albie and his wife-to-be a wedding present - a mantle clock. (Not because he ran late the passengers assured The Star photographer who took the snap above - he always managed to deliver his passengers "in The Square exactly at 7.54 am"). Albie himself went on to clock up about 55-60 years Christchurch city bus driving, only possible since the compulsory retirement age was abolished.

However it would be hard to beat the popularity of the driver in this U-Tube from Denmark - how passengers responded when they found it was their favourite bus drivers birthday (thanks correspondent John for forwarding this one)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gang threat to buses in Christchurch

It is unclear whether recent actions by gangs of bully boys, gangsters and crooked "law" makers so twisted they would make an honest drug dealer blush will effect Metro bus services in Christchurch.

Acting under the mantle of being a Government and the false smile of John Keys, laws so devious, so unjust, spurious and disgusting they overturn the very basis of common justice and centuries of evolving parliamentary law have been introduced to allow farmers and large milk companies the opportunity to ride rough shod of the public good in Canterbury.

Under the Nuremburg Laws no Jews are allowed ... Oops, that one might come later!! 

Start again, under the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commisioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 the Minister of the Environment is empowered to over-ride the laws and statutes of New Zealand, without even asking Parliament, and decide at his own choosing when and if New Zealand environment law applies in Canterbury!! (and only in Canterbury!)

Monday, May 24, 2010

New Darfield service being piloted

A correspondent from West Melton assured me that a new bus service from Darfield was due to start today. Searches of Ecan and Metro failed to reveal anything but it appears it is being done as a private initiative by Redbus - details here

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Lessons from Ottawa's BRT & Christchurch Bus Exchange - Dig for Victory!

I direct readers attention to two of the latest postings on Jarrett Walker's "Human Transit". What I love about Jarrett's blog is he appreciates public transport is as complex and multi-levelled in its nature as any other form of industry. Doing public transport well is actually fairly difficult and few cities achieve it, too many subtle factors not taken into account. In these two postings Jarrett looks at the strategy and stylistic and image aspects of Ottawa's bus rapid transit - Transitway - system, which is amongst the most successful public transport systems in the carworld, particularly of those within CANZUS, in patronage per capita and percentage of commuters using public transport..

In this first posting he identifies that Ottawa failed to create enough room for the extra buses the success of the busway created; in the second posting he argues against the fad for ultra-modernistic design in buildings (as he has previously in regard to public transit vehicles) given the potential for any over-stylistic object to become very dated looking fast.

Good points to remember for the new Christchurch bus exchange !  Re this major project I think it would be madness NOT to build underground, given that grade-separation is probably THE most dynamic trend in quality bus systems overseas, and allows buses free flow egress and exit (with the same stature as railways). Heavy vehicles looking for a gap in the traffic should not have to be negotiating a clear passage through pedestrians including children and teenagers who can't be trusted not to take opportunist runs at gaps between buses. Not a good situation!

Keeping pedestrians and buses separate is just one of many benefits from going underground.
It also allows a central tower block to be built/sold, developed in a public/private partnership - an underground bus stations ensures minimal noise and pollution - which surely must recoup some of the $21 million extra the council will need to go underground.  An attractive earth roof with grassy park area and natural light wells to the exchange below would achieve much of that insulation. Such a tower block which can accessed or be accessed by just about every bus route in Christchurch must have huge market potential for myriad uses - hotel, backpackers, student flats, medical centre, retirement penthouses, ESOL college, carparking building, Kindergarten or day care centres - a whole vertical village could be built above a bus station if constructed to avoid noise, vibration, and pollution. A key factor would be the buses enter and exit via tunnel ramps some distance from the tower building.  I say dig for victory - suburban exchanges can be built piecemeal, bit by bit over the years, upgraded at different stages, the bus exchange is a "one off". And before suburban exchanges, anyway, we need a properly integrated pattern of services, not the patchy and uneven mix that currently operates.

As a recent Press editorial headline said of the new bus exchange -   "Do it right".  Public transport terminals need to be among the signature buildings in a city, places to be hugely proud of and that help define tourists experience, first and last memories, such as the grand old railway stations of USA captured in this photo essay here .

It seems a great pity that Christchurch which has had public infrastructure funding equivalent to about 1.5% of the $2.1 billion plus spent in Auckland and Wellington should now start squabbling about minimal amounts in an ad hoc either/or equation.  Implementing a strategic plan to build appropriate bus rapid transit corridors and get more peak hour commuters onto buses and getting a better level of integration and bus flow to each area are the real priorities I see.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

And now for something completely different.....on yer bike. in Trondheim and Oamaru

Hmmmmm...will Christchurch's Metro up for putting  one of these on Hackthorne Road? I suspect not...

A comment on the blog that carries these  photos said ...."I was in Trondheim a few years ago, and it seemed only old people or fat tourists used the lift. Most of the locals would cruise up the hill like it was nothing".

We only have one set of hills near Christchurch - not being an athlete I find it macabre that so many people want to get up early on a Sunday morning, don garish gear and ride up the very steep Cashmere  area roads onto the Port Hills.

However I imagine I am one of the very few people in the modern world to have ridden a draisienne - the very earliest form of bicycle invented by Baron Von Drais (about 1819). You just straddle it and stride along, it is faster than walking on the right terrain, once if you get the hang of it such as this young "gallant" in the picture below

Thanks to the website in the UK, I'm sure they won't mind me stealing this image for a couple of seconds

The unique chance to ride this machine -  such an historic wheeled vehicle, virtually the beginning of the modern age -  arose while visiting Oamaru with a group of friends.
It is a town I stay in often, quite the most magic, beautiful, walkable little town,and rich with scenery, nature and history, The wide main shopping street - trees down the middle like some big hearted wide-verandha Ozzie country town - suddenly turns into something far grander and more elegant, indeed more so than most cities much larger.  Oamaru has  a distinctively old fashion European ambience in its old quarter full of grand old carved limestone buildings. Also filled with more than a few eccentric or unique characters! You'll find them easy enough in the various shops, cafes,galleries and pub in this part of town!  [I include a few photos at end of post]

The draisienne is a replica displayed in the latest attraction in Oamaru's historic quarter.This a marvellous little vintage bicycle museum, shop and headquarters of their active penny farthing (etc) club "The Oamaru Ordinary Cycle Club".  I don't know if they intend to let every tom fool and his dog ride the draisienne but they must have instinctively realised I might be an esteemed writer on things transport and generously plonked it out on the road for me take a spin! As the Bishop said to the actress getting my leg over was the hardest bit. Of course reality is somewhat more humdrum than the young message boy with with rouge on his cheeks and tiny feet racing to a date with a person of ambiguous gender in the photo above. My ride was more dedicated to staying upright and not falling off from laughing too much!! But as you can see stripped of my normal lean mean carrot munching wabbit costume I cut a most gainly figure on wheels. Yeah right.

Come on mate. on yer bike,  or whatever you want call it 

Ps I'd show more photos of Oamaru but too many people might want to go there....

Photos ; from top First post office (now restaurant), in front the unusual and touching war memorial statue; corner of the second post office in early morning sun; fairies part of the many enchanting details of the "Wonderland" statue in the brilliantly designed botanical gardens; ruins of old 1867 gaol and stables; view towards the clock and bell tower of the second post office (now Waitaki District Council office - the bell still chimes out the hours, and each quarter hour, in dignified manner); National Bank and former Bank - now the Forrester Art Gallery, a gallery on par when any city gallery and the inside of building itself is a masterpiece of Victiorian grandeur! All photos from RabbitPress


Auckland's Northern Busway ridership grows 20% in one month!

It must be among the world's most dramatic spurts in public transport use. Busways appear to have been a big hit where ever they are built but it would be rare for any system already well established to achieve a 20% growth in ridership in one month!  

More Aucklanders are jumping on trains, buses and ferries.

There were 918,000 train passengers last month, up by 14.3 per cent, according to figures released by the Auckland Regional Transport Authority (ARTA) today. ARTA will put two more trains into service later this year to deal with the rise in demand. Bus passenger numbers are also up 5 per cent. The rise comes as Northern Busway users climb by 20 per cent in the month of March alone. Ferry users have also increased by 3.5 per cent over the last nine months.

The NZ Herald (4 May 2010)

The Northern Busway service runs from Auckland's CBD, over the Harbour Bridge and up the side of the motorway spine to Albany.  The busway first planned back in the late 1990s was originally expected to cost $130 million (NZ Herald 25 November 1999) but mushroomed across the years to cost $310 million - $200 million from Transit NZ (now part of Transport Agency NZ) and the rest - mainly towards the cost of large park-and-ride stations, from local councils.
It first operated as a partial service (using the motorway itself ) in 2005 and opened with a mostly segregated 8.5 kilometre busway in February 2008. About 70 buses/hour use the busway during the peak morning period but the busway is designed to accommodate up to 250 buses/hour by 2016.  Of bus services using the busway, some travel the full 18km journey  Albany to Britomart stopping at all stations, others only stop at some stations, and sections of the busway are also used for internal services bewteen areas on the North Shore and to and from Takapuna. Buses depart during peak period every three minutes.  

                             Photos ; Top, mely completed bus lanes 2008 Wikiedia Commons; 
Branded service with powerful fast Scania buses
Albany Park and Ride Station after the rush hour
Smales Farm busway station - all DWelch 2010

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Stagecoach monitor system - further details

A little more about the cowboy radar spotter. I realised afterwards that the description of the system didn't give a full picture of how it worked. This is how Stagecoach's own website "Greener Travel " section describes it;

"Stagecoach is also testing a hi-tech in-cab driver system to improve safety, reduce fuel costs and cut carbon emissions. The initiative is in partnership with GreenRoad Technologies, a leading driver safety [and high tech fleet management] company, on the bus network in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria. The system monitors up to 120 driving manoeuvres, such as speed, braking, acceleration lane handling and turning. Data is sent in a continuous stream to GreenRoad’s web server and analysed, providing information about a driver’s performance. Instant feedback is given to the driver using red, amber and green lights on the dashboard and optional SMS or email messaging."

Though not painted as such this is also a policing mechanism, though how overbearing this is would depend upon where the company draws the line in tolerance. For this reason it may be viewed dimly by some bus drivers!! As it gives drivers themselves the power to measure their performance and adjust their behaviour, is it really so onerous?

Personally I think just as air and rail travel is highly controlled by governing mechanisms and professional expectation parameters, if the bus industry wants to move in to the 21st century and become truly the sophisticated, high tech, quality service system it could and should be, then journey management devices like this are of major benefit, for all parties, not least of course the passenger.

A Footnote; Another habit that I believe belongs fifty years ago is the clumsy changing of drivers en route - which can take from two or three minutes on a good day, and occasionally five or eight if the relieving driver is late turning up! There has to be some better system.

When the public transport takes itself and quality standards seriously so might the rest of the world!

Take the Money and Run

"Greater Wellington is only marginally larger in population than greater Christchurch but has received roughly 13 times more Government funding towards public transport infrastructure than Christchurch"

Reading the news the other day I see Christchurch East MP Lianne Dalziel (Labour) is campaigning to keep the new Bus Exchange above ground and to use the extra $21 million saved to build suburban exchanges. These have had to be canned because of lack of Government funding. Without a clear and well thought through "mass transit" strategy, one that will secure funding because it knows where it is going (from the next Government if not this one) this sort of ping pong game with relatively small amounts is inevitable.

I 'd like to put this amount in context of spending on public transport by the only other city of similar size in New Zealand, Wellington. It is my experience that most people in Christchurch have absolutely no idea how many of their tax dollars have been shipped north to fund commuter rail and busway infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington, now well over $2.2 billon spent or in process of being spent.

Allowed this is a simplification, it nonetheless stands in the larger moral sense, that 13% of this funding came from Canterbury taxes - about $265 million. In return as far as I can figure out we have received one sixth of this amount to spend in Canterbury - about $47 million [promised].
Even pathetic amounts for bus lanes and cycleways have now been seriously chopped.

Greater Wellington is only marginally larger than Christchurch in population but has received roughly 13 times more Government funding towards public transport infrastructure than Christchurch !! Two reasons
(a) Greater Wellington does has a stronger case because of its geographic footprint ...but thirteen times stronger?? Yeah right.
(b) Christchurch/Canterbury has no case! Literally.The city has evolved no major rapid mass transit strategy beyond a conventional bus system with part-time bus laning on some arterial roads (so those services can run on time). No projects = No funding; Result good bus service attracting minimal peak hour commuters! Crazy; we have the resources here already to build the best small city bus system in the world crying out for vision.

Here are some bits and pieces brought up from files I made after 2004 (earlier ones were lost in a computer melt down) just to give an idea of how hugely expensive rail is to implement - and remember this only an upgrade, not starting from new.


WELLINGTON (metropolitan population c415,000)

[s] note some amounts may be subsumed in larger payouts/agreements to pay and are therefore bracketed to avoid confusion and not included in running total . Some amounts, or increases on original amounts not included - actual total is likely to be less than full amount.

Purchase and rebuilding of 18 former British carriages for Wairarapa Line $10.6 million one-off grant from Labour Govt; balance from Tansfund $25 million (running total .. $25 million ....) Dominion Post Nov 20 2004Upgrading of stations and lengthening of platforms on Wairarapa regional line . ($5 million) (running total .. $30 million ....)
$30 million for (trolley?) buses [s?=$65 million for trains] Funding boost from Labour Govt - Dominion Post 28 Jan 2005 (running total $60 million) [note NZ Bus Ltd also spent $45 million on new trolley buses]New trolley bus overhead $13 million "the greater share" [a guesstimate $9 million?]...Greater Wellington Regional Council "the rest" .(... running total ...$73 million) Dominion Post Feb 13 2006
* Ninety-six new rail units now being built in Korea, arriving in 2010 and 2011. Cost $235 million. (... running total ...$308 million)
* Extension of double tracking and electrification from Paraparaumu to Waikanae. Work began in December 2008 and is due to finish by the end of 2010. Cost $92m. (... running total ...$400 Million)
* Eleven extra substations and upgrade work to the 14 old ones. Work began in January and should finish this year. Cost $30m. (... running total ...$430 Million)
* Overhead wiring upgrade. Old wooden poles replaced with steel ones and an extra 400 kilometres of wiring over the 102km network. Work to continue until 2011. Cost $30m. (... running total ...$460 Million)
* Signalling upgrade: 30 per cent of old signal circuits being replaced with fibre optic cables. Cost $20m. (... running total ...$480 Million)
* Platforms rebuilt or resurfaced and tracks moved at other stations to accommodate new trains. Extension of platforms on Johnsonville line. Work to start soon at Epuni platform and then at Petone from September. On the Paraparaumu line, work will begin before the end of the year at Redwood and at Pukerua Bay in 2010. Cost $22m.(... running total ...$502 Million)
* Johnsonville line - making tunnels bigger, changing track alignment and extending passing loops to allow for longer trains. Job done. Cost $10m. .(... running total ...$512 Million)
* Third line into Wellington allowing reduction of peak-hour bottlenecks. Work began February 2008 and should be operational mid 2010. Cost $40m. .(... running total ...$552 Million)
* Extra storage for trains and an upgrade to the maintenance depot at Wellington. Cost $35m. .(... running total ...$587 million)
* Additional storage for trains on the Kapiti Coast. Cost $15m. (... running total ...$603 million)
SOURCE for all above current projects  Dominion Post. Wellington, New Zealand: Aug 3, 2009.

CHRISTCHURCH metropolitan population c390,000

(running total $0.0 million) As far as I know Christchurch funded its own first Bus Exchange, which cost $20 million, out of rates in some sort of redevelopment or lease back deal with a well known developer.

New Bus Exchange The New Zealand Transport Agency has agreed to contribute $45m, for the above-ground facility, which is estimated to cost $85m (but not a further $21 million to built the facility underground) . (running total ....$45 million) The Press 11 May 2011
Bus lanes on nine routes $5.5 million towards creating on-street bus laning agreed under previous Government reduced under National Government to maximum of $1.64 million. (running total... $46.6 million)
Cycleways $2.5 million towards creating new cycleways agreed under last Government cut by 80% to $510,000 (running total ... $47.1 million)
Suburban Bus Exchanges - no money

Note; I am only a part-time amateur "bus and train spotter" and may miss or misinterpret information. Please feel free to email corrections or additions to this list, sending to  Mail received and comments made off line are always treated with absolute discretion, recognising 80% of people seriously interested in public transport are employed in the industry or elected officers (another 28% are trainspotters in love with steel rails!) who can not freely or publicly comment without risking compromising their career! -DW

Friday, May 14, 2010

Stagecoach service won't carry the cowboys any more

One of the great disadvantages of catching buses is that passengers put themselves at the mercy of the driver. Every now and again (in my experience very rarely in Christchurch) one strikes a driver who seems determined to drive as roughly as possible - accelerating violently, braking suddenly, taking sharp corners at such speed that passengers are almost toppled to the floor. One idiot cowboy like this does enormous damage - thousands of people who tried buses or tried using them for a short period - have gone back to using cars or other alternatives after enduring a really unpleasant trip. Apart from the straight physical discomfort or the worry the driver might hit some innocent pedestrian or cylists, there is something that really grieves the soul to put oneself totally at the mercy of another person and be abused and humiliated in this manner. This is particularly so for young, insecure or very macho males, who find the whole business of being dependent upon another driver very grueling in the first place ("real men" prefer rail !). This said nobody likes a cowboy driver - public transport is first and foremost a service industry and those who take no pride or interest in providing a good service are in the wrong industry. Of course, sometimes a bus can be faulty, gears snagging, brakes locking etc and should be changed over, sometimes a driver may be too inexperienced to realise how much impact their lurch factor has on passengers.

UK based operator Stagecoach has come up with a device that will rid their ranks forever of cowboys and allow drivers to develop best practice public service by monitoring the effect of their driving. For Stagecoach it is also expected to save significant fuel and reduce carbon dioxide generated by tens of thousands of tons. The scheme is expected to recoup its costs within two years.

An article in "The Times Online" (16 April 2010) says
Bus drivers are being told to ease off the gas, change gear less often and brake less violently. And a flashing light system in the cab will tell them how they are doing: green for safe and efficient; amber for less efficient; and red for poor driving. It is all the idea of Stagecoach, which says that it wants to save fuel - and help the environment.The bus and train operator said yesterday that it would introduce eco-driving techniques for all its 14,500 drivers through a recognised training course.

and after describing several green initatives by Stagecoach on its rail services continues .......

Stagecoach's rivals, including First Group and Go-Ahead, have also been training bus drivers to use less fuel. Public transport companies faced huge fuel bills last year after hedging their consumption while oil was trading close to its peak price of $150 a barrel. Although the oil price fell heavily in 2009 because of the global recession, public transport groups had to pay the rates they had struck in 2008. Fuel prices have doubled since January 2007 and more than quadrupled since 2002. Industry experts have suggested that introducing electronic diagnostic devices that measure driver performance can reduce fuel consumption by as much as 12 per cent, but bus companies say that there are other factors, including the age of the bus and the type of environment it is run in. A Stagecoach spokesman said: "The cost of fuel is just 15 per cent of the overhead, so there are lots of other factors, which mean it is difficult to simply say that this training or this device will reduce the cost of running a bus by so much. This is genuinely about reducing our carbon footprint and improving the passenger experience."

FOOTNOTE: In another Times Online article, a couple of days after the above item, there is a good summary of where Stagecoach is today . About six years ago after Stagecoach nearly went down the gurgler, losing hugely on international operations, notably it bus companies in the USA, it withdrew from many peripheral markets to consolidate its operations in the UK. This included selling its Auckland and Wellington bus operations to Infratil, a New Zealand owned infrastructure company in 2005. These services are now operated by Infratil owned NZ Bus under various localised flagships ("Go West" for western Auckland service etc). What is curious is that after the larger Stagecoach operation was sold, in 2007 Stagecoach co-founder [with his sister] Brian Souter brought controlling interest in the relatively modest (120 buses) Mana Coachlines in Wellington and Souter Holdings continues to operate this small outpost of the Empire. This was some years ago but still adds a touch of irony given the title of the very recent Times online article, "I'm not about to buy small businesses - but big ones, that's a diffrent matter"

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Winnipeg - Another city Under Achieving!!

One of the ideas I advocated a few postings back was that a bus subway should be built under the new motorway, up into the Birmingham Drive industrial enclave. This in turn would also allow a future tunnel under the railway line to create a direct route from Barrington Mall and all areas of the southwest, built or planned, straight up to Hillmorten Hospital, Birmingham Drive, Blenheim Road, Riccarton Road, the University, Sheffield Tech Park employment zone, the International Airport and existing and future industrial development along theJohns Road area (see here for map). The area around Birmingham Drive (and Curletts Road, Blenheim Rd) are among the most poorly served by public transport and the most heavily congestedin peak hours..possibly more so once the new motorway dumps more cars off motorway onto Curletts Rd. Today I realised this building busways under a railway line is exactly what is being done in Winnipeg, a medium size city of 690,000 in Canada

I have long been aware that the city was building a 3.5 kilometre bus rapid transit - bus only corridor, which would allow 17 different transit routes to feed in and out of the city without having to compete with on street traffic, which itself is part of a much longer long term bus corridor to the University. I just hadn't grasped that it involved a major under rail tunnel. Just to keep the flag flying until I can get back from other calls upon time in my life, and back to local public transport issues, here are some direct links to (a) photos of the tunnel under construction (b) info about the Winnipeg BRT system planned.

Incidentally Winnpeg also has a Mayor bedazzled by Light rail, even when all the experts and city, provincial and national funders are saying no way can such a small city carry this project. Here's part of a story "City Explores Light Rail Options" from the Winnipeg Free Press of 31 Jan 2009 (My Bolding!!)
In September, the city and province announced a $327-million plan to connect downtown and the University of Manitoba with a 9.6-kilometre bus corridor. Work is supposed to begin this summer on the $138-million first phase of the project, a 3.6-kilometre link between Queen Elizabeth Way and Jubilee Avenue. When the project was unveiled, the word "bus" did not appear anywhere in the official announcement. Katz, who has favoured light-rail transit over busways since he was first elected in 2004, made it clear he viewed a bus corridor as the first step toward another form of rapid transit. "Light rail is just around the corner," Katz told reporters when the busway was announced, prompting questions about the specific timeline for rail-based rapid transit. In 2005, the Katz-commissioned rapid transit task force concluded it would cost Winnipeg up to eight times more money to build a light-rail track and purchase train cars as it would to build a bus corridor.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Rutland Park - historic photos of twenty years ago (photos taken 2010!)

This area and that behind the fence was the best bit of "wheel estate" in Christchurch. It was pivotal - quite literally pivotal - in the future of public transport in Christchurch. From this point almost a fifth of the city's geographic footprint and towns north of Christchurch are serviced by a pattern of express buses and full-time BRT corridor buses to and from Redwood, Belfast, Styx Mill, Northcote and the Airport-Johns Road industrial areas that developed. It was realised that purchasing this area could enhance the lives of tens of thousands of residents who never actually set foot on it, removing most the traffic stress of congestion as buses whizzed in and out to town by-passing Papanui Road and Cranford Street, served by conventional routes.  It was redeveloped as a beautiful park running between Rutland Street and Grassmere Street, with a fenced off busway embankment around the back.

Here is another view of this land, as it looked in 2010, over to the left of the photographer in terms of the above photo

In the far distance can be seen some big box retail buildings that were on Cranford Street, though this style of shopping has gone out a great deal.  Everybody in the city knew this bit of land, the paddocks to the westside of the road at the top of Cranford Street but usually people saw them from the Cranford Street side only. This photo was from Grassmere Street. They still make a delightful break in the built-up area, especially for busway passengers heading in and out of the city - sometimes they have rolls of silage or hay spread across the freshly cut fields, like a scene from a Van Gogh painting. This in the middle of a busy city! They could never be built upon or built out, because they are a flood plain - a depressed area (but happy to be depressed if you know what I mean) that in times of heavy and persistent rain will offer a big soak pit, much needed ina city built upon a swamp.

Quite apart from any momentary flooding, the access to a steady stream of water, at the top of the former Rutland Reserve allowed a wonderful opportunity for a water feature the length of the northward extending park, a meandering stream which many of the people from the older persons housing and retirement villages nearby enjoy strolling along and sitting by as they chat on park benches. Below is a primitive map from years ago - it certainly brought home to any observer how the busway cut straight down between two of the busiest city arterial roads, Papanui Road and Cranford Street, completely by-passing the congestion and much of the stress feeling of rush hour.


It probably didn't not look like a jewell in "wheel estate" when the photos up above were taken but was a priceless asset just rescued in time. Two or three properties at the Rutland Street end of the busway/Rutland Park had to be purchased, but the houses themselves were able to be moved to other sites, already treed and landscaped ready to accommodate them. It proved to be a busway of astonishingly minimal social disruption, in the making, in the number of residents directly effected, in the ongoing social impact - and has been to the benefit of hundreds of thousands - indeed millions - of commuter trips across the decades since.

In 2030 our time-travelling rabbit - well into his seventies - went for a journey on this same busway - albeit being inclined to wander in his thoughts, the old bug-head travels via the Hutt Valley railway station, Manor Park, in  1965 and the Edgeware electric tram in 1910!!
See article below (he does rabbit on!!)

Time-Traveller Rabbit Rambles in Rutland Park, 2030

When I was a young teenager starting to spread my wings - I spent several bits of time in the Hutt Valley and Wellington, usually with two or three other 14 or 15 year old boys. We would travel from our country town to the exciting metropolis, for a day or overnight, granted brief trial independence on the condition we stuck together and didn't talk to suspicious male strangers, and rung home now and then if we were several nights away. We stayed in youth hostels and lived on baked beans and meat pies! Some part of that time was always spent "riding the rails" on those most exotic of all vehicles, the Wellington's electric rail units. It was as if some part of New York had been transferred into NZ, the doors all opening simultaneously, the electric whirr of acceleration, the rush and roar of a train passing in the opposite direction, the sudden change of pitch in the clackety clack as the units crossed and re-crossed the Hutt River, the grumpy guard in his crumpled uniform shouting "All tickets from Naenae!" 

Along with much other exotica, for small town boys (in an era when probably not one in 20 kids and then mainly only the rich ones travelled overseas) was the stream of place names. Sometimes the guard shouted the name out, "Next stop Taita" - sometimes the smaller stations just flashed by, the name had to be read at lightning speed. "Waterloo" "Wingate" "Woburn" all were as romantic sounding to me as some remote Pacific Islands.

My favourite was "Manor Park" - it always sounded so grand, so stately! In reality it was just a very small pocket of ho hum houses huddled inside a small pocket of land trapped between the Western Hutt Road and rail line and the curve of the Hutt River...I suspect the origins of the name possibly had more to do with a post-war developer (or perhaps the builders of the golf course there) talking up the real estate values.

Adding the word "Park" as I discovered in more cynical adulthood has long been a suspect title in the world of urban development. Christchurch's first electrified tram route to eastern areas of St Albans, about 100 years ago, went by the route name "Edgeware" - the longest intersecting road, of this area being Edgeware Road. North of this the locals called the area "the swamp" - very spongy, flood prone, market gardens that in the same period were being drained drained and converted to new subdivisions. Adding a park, literally, and calling it St Albans Park gave license to change the name of the area and the tram route to "St Albans Park". Which is good because Christchurch is flat and amorphous without  many clear boundaries between some  areas and it helps to have definite names for the east or west, north or south of some of the larger districts. such as St Albans. It needed a more definitive, separate name.

Just as I once travelled through the Hutt Valley on rail, hissing momentarily to a halt and seeing the distinctive large NZR platform sign "Manor Park" recently I have been travelling through the central St Albans area on the busway system. It is very evocative of those youthful trips that bring back memories of mad repetitive silly humour of boys of that age, those rail trips through the Hutt Valley of the early 1960s. Of course it is 2030 this year, I am retired, too old to get my ears in a flap, it is inevitable I'll spend a lot of time mooning on about the past. But modern bus technology - the longer articulated buses with computerised stabilisers, hybrid engines quieter than a small truck, continuous variable transmission (accelerates and decelerates with no obvious gear change) and the vibration free, lurch free quality of the busway roading, means that a rapid bus journey nowadays is little different in feel from a journey on a rail unit, or tram, indeed smoother for that matter. And the way they have stations with proper entry level platforms, sometimes enclosed shelters, it feels like those rail journeys of old.

Travelling up Rutland Street we pass Rugby Park - well it used to be Rugby Park, recently they named it after that famous rugby player, you know whatshisname...damn can't remember!! There is a bus station there but I don't catch the name on the sign nor can I see the electric station name sign the front of the bus, nor here the automated voice "Next stop..." Well if I don't wear my glasses, or hearing aid.... Still the way the rugby authorities and the council worked to incorporate the beautiful big trees into the design,  is impressive. They also have a big platform for rugby match crowds, now so many catch public transport.

The bus slides effortlessly away from the platform to cross Innes Road (always green for buses) and next stop is at the top of Rutland Street near Paparoa Street,. Aaah, that station name "Rutland Park", now I realise that's what got me thinking of Manor Park - all those long ago moments of youthful awakening to the wider world around (ok so it was the grotty old Hutt Valley - it was still young and fresh in my eyes!!). Unlike the name St Albans Park which never really stuck the name Rutland Park "took" - it gave identity to that area between St Albans and Papanui and part of that is the beauty of the actual park itself. This was always designed more as a minature botanical gardens than just a wide open space, though that there is too. It was primary built for the quadruple purposes of flood control, busway embankment, school access and "older people" open space. It was fairly clear as soon as the busway was on the drawing board that any housing area near a busway was going to go up in value, here in Christchurch, as overseas, because of the intensification of the area to take advantage of the easy frequent access to the city or Northlands. Up towards Northlands and down towards Edgeware, Caledonia Road etc of course that is high rise apartments, around Rutland Park this is mainly a proliferation of older persons housing and retirement complexes. Building the park - basically extending the Rutland Reserve northwards alongside the school there - connected up Grassmere Street and Rutland Street in a "no car access" - pedestrian, cyclist, friendly way.

It is a very direct route to the city and for cylists a lot less traffic to contend with, the whole route length into town. The swales and winding creek and water features created down the middle of Rutland Park offered a broad meander pathway of gentle slopes and rises and the occasional bridge, very attractive (and more than a few subtle handholds and plenty of seats to rest here and there and toilets at each end of the park- sigh for the troubles of aging!) all particularly orientated for the larger than usual number of older walkers that use this park. Of course there are also some beautiful shrubs and rose garden areas, as well as native bush enclaves. Near the eastern edge, towards the old Paparoa School there is a motorway - no, I joke - but it is a sort of the equivalent of a motorway, a bike motorway, a tarsealed cycle way so broad that it has room for slower, younger children idling their way to school, and on the right the de facto "commuter" lane for adult cylists travelling faster to and from work. Hundreds of people bike down this route everyday, being off the busier main roads. The cycleway area being open and wide away from the more treed and bushed meander path it also is a "safe about strangers" area for children walking or riding to school - hardly a moment without a cyclist or several passing. There is no easy place near this cycleway for ill intent to hide. The cycleway even has a a "downpour shelter" and fuel station - a set of drinking fountains including one easy to use whilst stopping on a cycle - a halfway point between the city and Northcote or Redwood  for many cycle commuter.

Behind all this is a contoured treed embankment with bedstead fencing - this is the Northern and Belfast busways, curving back to rejoin Grassmere Street (the Northlands busway) or the Belfast Busway branching off to the north, across the floodplain towards Belfast (passing under Cranford Street and under QEII Drive) . The great thing about building infrastructure from scratch was that they were able to create a very attractive busway of minimum intrusion, quite separate from pedestrians or neighbouring houses, barely visible as it skims behind the trees at 70km per hour. And of course at peak hours extra buses coming from other points in the north not served by either of the busway routes, also use this quick access to and from the city in rush hours - non-stop I think it only takes them 7 minutes from Northlands to the first one-way cross street near the Casino, compared to the conventional bus services for those travelling down Papanui Road which take about 14 minutes.

Compared to building a railway line or light rail corridor this busway was fairly cheap, but with its park on one side and open paddocks and underpasses, its away from the traffic feeling, it feels very classy. Unlike trams which date and get tired looking are hugely expensive to replace these buses are replaced with an entirely new fleet every ten years, latest technology included, and still less than a fifth the prrice of the cheapest smallest tram! Also I remember in that period Auckland, about 15 years ago, was buying up and demolishing literally hundreds of houses and businesses to bring rapid transit to Manakau; amazingly in Christchurch we needed to purchase less properties than the average Shopping Mall carpark expansion - for the whole city and seven rapid transit routes!

Thank God we got political leadership dedicated to serving the whole city in a balanced way, before the fuel, power and water crisis, rendered using cars for commuting to work a pointless and silly waste of money.  A team that had the nous to identify and take possession of all the key points that would make rapid transit possible, before they were compromised and built over. Made it a much nicer place too - I remember how ugly those crowded streets, bumper to bumper queues, vast car parking areas had made the city - nowadays that car traffic is lighter in the rush hour at least kids can cycle to school again. It is so important that children have the space to slowly grow wings, bit by by bit moving away from home. It is one of the many spiritual damages an over-dose of car addiction was killing in our society. Yeah going for holidays to Australia with the parents may involve traveling further, seeing more, but it is the act of leaving parents behind, by bicycle, bus or train, discovering the world on one's own terms that really counts.  

I wonder if some kids, barely teenagers, perhaps up from Rakaia or down from Cheviot, buzzing up and down the busways, eating chips and giggling and hooning about, still feel even just a small tang of the exotique when they see these new names like "Rutland Park" and experience the energy of a vibrant city, the same sense of a world to discover myself and my crazy mates felt.  

Zzzzz -  oops I must have drifted off again.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rea Vaya Scores Before World Cup

In a world where infrastructure projects of all sorts so often run over-time and over-cost Johannesburg' giant Rea Vaya ("We are moving") Bus Rapid Transit System (BRT) network is coming into land, all wheels out and ready, as planned for the World Cup in 36 days time. 

The bus rapit transit (or busway) system was chosen as most cost effective mass transit system for the modern era and for a country with South Africa's level of wealth (not so huge now apartheid has ended and infrastructure needs to be built to benefit and support all people, not just a minority sector). Commuter rail already exists between Soweto and industrial areas but does not cover large areas of the city or access the CBD. It would have been hugely expensive and socially intrusive to retro-fit commuter rail without achieving a particularly wide spread of services. Light rail would also be hugely expensive and due to the prohibitive cost per kilometre also circumscribed in its reach.

The City of Johannesburg - metropolitan population 3.8 million - instead  has chosen to build 330km of bus rapid transit corridor, based upon having middle lane busways completely segregated from other traffic. Rather than traditional bus stops there will be more widely spaced enclosed bus stations along the routes and a control centre similar to a rail control system to ensure an even and regulated bus flow. These unimpeded corridors will carry high tech low environmental impact buses - the trunk routes mainly articulated buses with 112 passenger capacity  - to transport passengers comfortably and quickly around Johannesburg without having to compete with cars in many areas. The buses will have street level doors but those that travel only on the Rea Vaya trunk routes - including articulated ones,  will have doors, both side of the vehicles, cut at a height to allow  platform level entry at bus stations.  A system of feeder buses to Rea Vaya stations will link outer areas to the 330km of main route. Buses will operate at two to four minute intervals during peak periods, and seven to ten minutes during off-peak periods. The system will be operational from five in the morning to midnight.

This system - inspired by the success of similar ones in South American cities - was planned several years back to be ready for the opening of the 2010 FIFA World Cup  South Africa is hosting.  What is even more surprising is the tough environment in which Rea Vaya is being built. Presumably a legacy of apartheid Johannesburg bus system (Metrobus) has only been carrying about 20 million passengers a year - little more than Christchurch buses. Apart from the rail system, a very high proportion of commuters depend upon informal, chaotic  mini-bus taxi system which in some cases operates on the margins of safety and legality, and has seen violent "turf wars" between competing taxi groups. Most but not all the taxi federations have excepted the proposals of public transit authorities, designed to help drivers shift to other transit occcupations, given that Rea Vaya will drastically reduce patronage of minibus taxis. This has led to violent strikes in which bus depots were barricaded, tyres burnt and stones thrown at buses. More recently shotgun attacks on Rea Vaya buses have led to several injuries and a recent death. In the other some parts of the planned system have brought NIMBY resistance from wealthier communities.

Despite all these factors the City of Johannesburg has been determined to push ahead. Rea Vaya will be 33% bigger than the tramway network in Melbourne (a city of similar population 4 million). As buses can operate much quicker than trams and will not have share on-street lanes, the potential of Rea Vaya is to create a new benchmark for segregated lane busways as the most cost effective and user friendly mass transit option in almost every urban situation, but particular the lower density cities of the "new world" including New Zealand.

A minibus taxi in Jo'burg typically of the hundreds that sprung up due to an
inadequate public transport system in past years - Source Wikimedia

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Ottawa transitway - outer suburb residents keenest bus users

"Greater use of higher frequency, short trips by inner city residents is fairly common in most systems; the more interesting and unusual figure is the high bus use by residents living much further out. Presumably it is because the dedicated busways offer such a competitive advantage against car travel and car congestion over the longer distances.

OC Transpo Articulated bus in Ottawa - Rob Huntley; Wikimedia Commons

An interesting public transport statistic - (there are dozens but this is perhaps one of the most revealing) - is annual passenger trips (or ridership) per capita.

Mayor Bob Parker and his team chose to go to Portland. This is a city that has earned a big reputation for its very green, social, community orientated development. I don't want to knock that but it does need to be kept in perspective. Ridership per annum in greater Christchurch (include Rangiora, Lincoln etc) pans out around 43 trips per resident a year, average - Portland with 101 million passenger trips (2008) for 2.1 million metropolitan population pans out around 50 trips per resident per year average. For a city five times the size of Christchurch this is actually a rather modest patronage. By contrast the greater Ottawa area (which includes the separate city of Gatineau across the River) at 1,450,000 total polulation a smaller city/urban area than Portland, averages well over 100 trips per resident per year -  twice as successful in attracting public transport patronage as Portland.

How much research does the Mayor's office do before spending $28,000 of public funds??!! 

An interesting aspect of Ottawa is that apart from 2 million passengers per year on the O-Train (a 8km light rail utilising an old rail corridor) all of the current 111 million passengers per year carried on the Ottawa (92 million) and Gatineau (19 million) public transport systems are carried by bus, including many kilometres built (more planned) of exclusive busways and trenching etc underpassing other roads etc. It is possible on many Ottawa bus routes to run into the city from outer areas and barely stop, completely by-passing other traffic in totally segegated bus lanes or bus corridors, or passing underneath it.

More statistics - normally transit usage is closely linked to city size, it increases exponentially the bigger the city. Running contrary to this normal pattern Ottawa is only slightly below the much, much larger cities of Montreal and Toronto in percentage of peak hour commuters carried by public transport - all around the 20% mark - and also ahead of larger Vancouver. What seems particularly interesting in both the inner suburbs and the very outer suburbs this 20% percent peak hour patronage moves up towards 30%. Greater use of higher frequency, short trips by inner city residents is fairly common in most systems; the more interesting and unusual figure is the high bus use by those residents living much further out. Presumably this is because the dedicated busways offer such a competitive advantage against car travel and car congestion over longer distances. This is important because it is the car drivers making  the longer journeys that cause and suffer the most from congestion, and loss of "living time", and do more damage with climate change gases.

Ottawa strategic plan is to move towards implementing more light rail, firstly on a high usage corridor that includes a 3.5km section underground through the central city, at a phenomenal cost in billions. This is partly because it never had enough room on the surface to accommodate the multiple number of buses arriving and departing the central city area - a key problem Brisbane has directly addressed right from the beginning. Light rail has its place at the evolutionary end of a process which begins - possibly decades in advance - by creating rapid transit corridors, offering frequent services and relatively brief journeys using buses. Along these corridors density will naturally grow or can be factored in.

A wise city will do everything to identify and protect valuable "rapid transit" (by any mode) corridors early on.