Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saturday Night at the Movies - buses in tubes

Winding down a lovely sunny winter's day (enjoyed at Diamond Harbour sitting on a deck, looking across the sparkling sea to Lyttelton) but a rather uneventful Saturday evening.
Heading to the computer I thought I'd check out You Tube to see what sort of vids exist on Bus Rapid Transit systems around the world. This is the technology being adapted by a great many cities around the world - moving large numbers of people and covering far great distances than light rail systems typically do. This is achieved for something like a quarter the cost of on-street tramway systems, plus whatever other infrastructure is needed or chosen (segregated corridors bridges, underpasses etc).

The overall impression from looking at about 40 systems is the widespread use of articulated bus (or bi-articulated buses) and centre lanes - mostly but not always curbed against car invasion. There aren't so many wide streets in Christchurch suitable for busways up the median - though an obvious possibility exists with Milton-Frankleigh Street which will be widened to accommodate the heavy traffic likely as the large South West Area Project (SWAP) housing develops. However busways are not even in the imagination of the Christchurch City Council. The Council - it  appalls me - is currently throwing away a hugely valuable chance to build a relatively cheap bus subway under the new motorway at Annex Road). Instead filled with the haunting romance of rail and the faux promises of new urbanism it has just voted;

"That the council instruct the Chief Excutive to undertake fully detailed investigations on and report back on the following topics no later than during the 2011/2012 Annual Plan process based on the learnings, examples and opportunities identified during the study tour;

(iii) The scope, opportunity, scale, costs of developing a rail based (including street car, light rail and heavy rail) to facilitate and support urban regeneration, in concert with existing and future public transport tools and mechanisms

To their credit Councillors Yan Johannsen and Chrissie Williams did not support this absurd motion. Any one who has half a lick of sense knows rail in any format is hugely hugely expensive [to implement; to maintain; to operate]; knows rail can only run in a very limited alignment (which means its useless to 80% of the population, who nonetheless must fork out the huge costs, in one way or other) and just a non-starter in low density cities under about one million people. Looking at the 120 cities in Canada, Australia, NZ and USA  with metropolitan area populations between 300,000 and 1 million I can only find one proper suburban rail network - Wellington NZ (pop 410,00) and about a dozen - Wollongong, Newcastle NSW; Bridgeport, Connecticut etc which get some backflow benefit from mainly peak hour regional rail services to larger cities, such as Sydney and New York. None of the factors that make rail possible or necessary in Wellington, albeit still highly subsidized, exist to any substantial degree in most other "Canzus" cities - including Christchurch.

Ditto light rail - apart from a handful of Heritage tourist trams - in Christchurch NZ, in Little Rock Arkanas etc - I can only find only one city under a million metropop in Canzus currently operating a  modern light rail  - Tacoma Washington (city population 200,000 but its transit system serves an immediate county population of around 650,000.  This cost $US80 million to implement, runs 2.25km in the central city and carries roughly the same amount of passengers per year (one million) as "The Shuttle" service in Christchurch. This bus service, even with its more expensive iconic gas-turbo electric buses, was presumably implemented  for less than $2 million, one 20th the cost!!

With the rapid advances in road transport,  rail technology - always rather clumsy and overscale for many purposes - is becoming obsolete in areas that do not offer large loadings or long distances, whether bulk freight or tens of thousands of passengers a day. Why isn't our council studying ALL public transport options, to find the best for the city?

As some of the you tube clips below show, bus rapid transit systems can handle tens of thousands of passengers a day, hundreds of thousands a day in some of the megacities like Jakarta and Istanbul. By way of "review" most the clips chosen here are promos for transport authorities, or for World Bank or independent foundations (read neo-conservatives) based in the USA. Not my normal bed-fellows, but I buy the inherent strength and sense of the actual ideas  which would offer rapid transit for all of Christchurch, an impossibility with any rail variant.
Making things happen with BRT (7 minutes) Bogota, Curitiba, Brisbane - footage and brief interviews with civic leaders and planners. And part 2 of the same follows here. The deep south of the USA has some of worst public transport systems in the developed world, low investment, low frequency (often no evening or weekend services) but as always there are exceptions. Birmingham Alabama offers a promo of a centre city bus rapid transit  system in planning. 
K- Street Busway (proposed) Washington DC another 3D animation of a proposed central city busway, also without (it appears) curb separation of lanes as adopted by most the systems shown in subsequent clips. While we are in big cities in USA let's go to a short clip about New York's Select Bus Service through to the Bronx - not a super committed segregated busway but offering some BRT elements. Eugene Oregon a city with a metropolitan population slightly smaller than Christchurch, but spread across quite an elongated area started the EMX (Emerald Express busway) using conventional streets. However buses travel mostly on completely segregated lanes, often very attractively landscaped in a way that seems very  appropriate for a smaller city. Here is a slightly hippylike ad for EMX

Heading north the third highest patronage in Canada, per capita, after giant cities Toronto and Montreal, comes in Ottawa - a city that has only one short light rail (though more planned) but a huge sweeping network of segregated busways - almost like mini-motorways for buses only. So heavily treed and greened are some of these corridors it is hard to believe one is travelling through a city with a metropop about the size of Auckland. What a restful way to go to work in a busy city!  Hop on an Ottawa BRT bus here. And down to Mexico City and their Metrobus BRT system  

Hey senor and senorita -  don't you know buses can't carry the capacity of light rail? Apparently not !!

Just for a classical finish back to South America and the TransMilenio in Bogota, Columbia and a bus only roundabout.  Although Bogota's going around in circles I think they know where they are going a little better than Christchurch, which is wheeling out all the old-new urbanist stuff holusbolus, without great depth of analysis, and continuing  as it has for a decade, to blow away its real public transport assets.

1 comment:

  1. Here is another vid that shows TransMilenio. Having ridden "BRT" from Boston to Vancouver; I am still most impressed by TransMilenio's infrastructure and frequency.