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.


  1. If the bus exchange had a basement, wouldn't it flood? We are in a swamp and the Drainage Board are pumping water out of chch constantly.

  2. They seem to have ways of handling these things. I guess a major aspect is that the whole Bus Exchange would be an enclosed unit, like a bath inserted in the ground and ramps and escalators running doewn into this. I'm guessing some sort of provision to deal with flooding, whether through seepage, water run off from vehicles or surface water flooding and pumping out water is presumably built into any large underground car-park or basement area in Christchurch or elsewhere.

  3. Ps - I forgot to add supermarket to the Bus Exchange tower - imagine how potent that would be for most bus users, if they could buy groceries at a supermarket immediately above the bus exchange instead of all the hassles of breaking their journey at a mall on the way home. "Hello darling (phone rings at work) can you pick up some more eggs and some baking soda on your way home? " "Yep sure I'll get at the supermarket above the Bus Exchange" or "I'll get it when I transfer at the Bus Exchange"
    Perhaps a 20 year lease to such a location with immediate foot traffic in the tens of thousands would generate $20 million itself or heaps more.I say again Dig for Victory!!

  4. There is a basement of the current bus exchange, it's used by Unlimited Paenga Tawhiti

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