Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Life in the fast lane...or even in the bus lane

Anyone who travels across the motorway, over the Curletts Road overbridge, and up through Curletts Road to Upper Riccarton, morning or evening will be familiar with the huge sea of cars that swamp this area at peak times. Yet not a single existing bus route offers the same link...


I have taken to carrying my camera when I go out - the most innocuous scenes can have meaning to me in terms of some larger global picture! Here is northbound traffic on Christchurch's Papanui Road at 4.30pm, on a today's winter evening (2nd June 2010).
Clearly the bus lanes are working well - it constantly amazes me the "duh" factor when people write letters to the paper about "empty bus lanes"... I mean like an unimpeded bus takes about 30 seconds to appear and then pass out of visible range so if there are 40 buses an hour (potentially 1500-2500 passengers) in any give rush hour the bus lanes will have a visible bus less than a third of the time. Duh? That's how they work.

However this said, I think bus lanes go so far and no further - they're are judging by comments, opinion pieces and news items on the web (measured since about 1998 when I first started internetting bus stuff) constantly under invasion from (a) opportunist motorists, breakdowns, ignorant or stupid car parkers  (b) motorcyclists, cyclists, taxis, high occupancy vehicles, private bus companies, emergency vehicles...all of whom want a slice of the action but who bit by by bit erode the clear run nature of a bus lane.

Here are some headlines and news snippets  of the last month from an RSS feed

Transit lane cheats in the fast lane will be in the firing line from today (May 10) with the arrival of reinforcements in the fight against traffic congestion.Acting Transport Minister Craig Wallace said transport inspectors would use their new powers to pull over motorists driving illegally in transit and bus lanes in the state's south east. SUNSHINE COAST NEWS AUSTRALIA;
New York City Transit is looking to spend $167,000 on cameras that could help crack down on cars parked in bus lanes, according to agency documents. NEW YORK USA;
Despite taxi drivers in Swindon being allowed to use bus lanes from this month, many have said the new rules do not go far enough. Since May 1 cabbies have been able to use the town’s 12 bus lanes but are still not permitted to use bus gates – shortcuts that bus drivers are allowed to use. SWINDON UK
Parking in a bus lane causes minimal upset to bus users and as only a few radical thinkers will park there it gives them the chance to park with a low risk of having to pay for parking. Bus lanes take up too much of the road and are empty most of the time any way, so very little distruption is actually caused." LETTER TO "THE SCOTSMAN" re item in opinion piece about bus lanes
Over the next few weeks, police in Montreal, Laval and Longueuil will be keeping a closer eye on reserved bus lanes. It's part of an annual awareness campaign co-ordinated by the Agence m√©tropolitaine de transport, which co-ordinates public transportation in the region. ... The campaign runs until June 18. Motorists caught using reserved lanes could face fines of up to $200. MONTREAL GAZETTE
Nottingham City Council plans to install digital cameras at a cost of £68000 to catch drivers who ignore signs banning them from bus and tram only lanes. ...NOTTINGHAM UK
Enforcement has also been poor to nonexistent. The District needs to pass a specific ordinance to prohibit cars from bus lanes and it needs to settle on enforcement mechanism(s), such as cameras mounted on bus shelters similar to speed and red light cameras, or assigning of ticket writers specifically to enforce the lanes. WASHINGTON DC USA
Traffic congestion can be reduced with a special bus lane that is separated from other commercial vehicles. The lane will be exclusive for buses and will be separated by a divider to prevent other vehicles from entering the special bus lane. This special lane has been implemented in Bogata, Brazil and Bangkok KUALA LUMPUR

What all this tells me (month after month, year after year, same problems, constantly different cities) is that bus lanes are under constant invasive pressure, and even those that have existed for years, require constant policing and expensive surveillance systems. It doesn't take much to block a bus lane and it is presumably a factor in why many cities are now moving towards completely  segregated busways or to implementing ones that by-pass (or run over or underneath) congestion sticking points.

I have suggested several potential busways in Christchurch - running northwards, eastwards , and a western link service - I can see further potential using the High Street, Madras St (segregated contraflow lane, outbound buses), Glasson St (laned) Burlington Street, Milton Street and Frankleigh St (centre laned busway when road widened) corridor to  Hoon Hay the new SWAP area; and a busway utilising elements of unused or under utilised land beside the main southern rail corridor

I am not against on-street bus lanes, they are valuable on certain arterial roads and indeed they may play some minor role in the busways suggested above. My fear is that we are so "insular" in the South Island (as one overseas correspondent to NZ in Tranzit recently described Christchurch attitudes to public transport) that we really have not grasped (A) that except for specialised situations of very heavy traffic (bulk freight or massive numbers of passengers) rail is steadily  becoming obsolete, a dinosaur transport technology from a past era. (B) segregated busways are dramatically surpassing light rail as the dynamic trend in the developing world and in the low density high car ownership world, and probably running equal with new rail and light rail projects even in intensely populated areas in Asia and Europe.
The kilometres of segregated transit lane being created in four areas alone Johannesburg 330km, Capetown , Tshwane 472km, Kuala Lumpur 320km, will probably equal over fifty times the total new light rail track created in the world in the next ten years. 

Indeed the ENTIRE track length in the 23 cities in Europe under 500,000 population with light rail  systems- over a 1000 kilometres in total -  I would speculate is barely four times the length of Christchurch bus routes.

Anyway enough of the raving rabbit loony!!....out in the fog and rain today. With-in the space of about 60 seconds, several great photos of bus lanes being compromised. Below, at top - a car pulls out of McDonalds finds no space to get back into the main flow so, after dillying for a few seconds takes off up the bus lane! Below that  - a few metres further along a car has run out of gas and the Metrostar hesitates for about 40 seconds trying to find a way to get past, until a motorist allows him to pull out around the car. 

No big delays for sure. But do we want a truly sophisticated rapid transit system, outer suburbs- city busway, equivalent to rail in quality with potential to attract 10-20% of commuters [as per Ottawa or Brisbane busways] and be economically attractive and competitive with other cities, or do we just want to settle for  "ok bus lanes" - good enough -  with potential to attract maybe 5-10% of passengers measured across all modes? And bus lanes taking 22 years to implement 1997-2019!

Busways won't wait - in two, five or ten years most potential corridors will be gone, built out by office block, motorway, high rise and residential subdivision politically impossible to change. In my experience good strategies and good win-win solutions can take months or years to come together, the most obvious things are not seen whether they be concrete ideas or subtle factors that recommend or reduce the value of other ideas. Notwithstanding giving much thought to cross-town links in the west, on and off across the years, the combination of Hoon Hay Road and Middleton Road (to university and airport) utilising Annex Road and the relatively simple and inexpensive technology of a bus tunnel beside the cycle subway under the new motorway, to Birmingham Drive and a further bus and bike subway connection under the rail yard, is a very recent realisation to me. Anyone who travels across the motorway, over the Curletts Road motobridge, and up through Curletts Road into Upper Riccarton, morning or evening will be familiar the huge sea of cars that swamp this area at peak times. Yet not a single existing bus route offers the same link, let alone offers it faster and better than cars can do, as this simple hugely direct busway route (linked to major passenger generators) would do if implemented.
This is one busway option that won't wait!

All about to be lost because we don't yet have a political leadership, aware of world trends in mass transit; a leadership aware of the major structural "failings" or limitations of our otherwise good bus system; aware of comparable infrastructure spending in Auckland and Wellington (hundreds of millions) and a leadership fully committed to getting the best possible public transport system for our city and its ratepayers.

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