Saturday, July 17, 2010

Suburban bus stations in Christchurch (our presumptious big eared friend plays architect!)

     Both photos BRT station in Hangzhou China. Thanks to Karl Fjellstrom and ITDP

Creating suburban bus stations is not quite as easy as it seems. Ideally you want all buses to feed through common points and in a logical pattern (services bound for the city at one platform, outbound at another; and possibly dividing these categories into broad segments - services to city via Southern area , via Northern area etc).  It is rare to find a situation where bus stations can be built that do not interrupt the natural flow of routes - route A and B work ok, but route C and D have to go around a block to be aligned the right way.... a tedious deviation if one wants to make journeys as straight and direct as possible. Or if off road, buses then have to pull out of the station typically crossing over busy roads.

Generally modern suburban bus and rail stations (especially BRT stations) seem to be heading mostly towards the  "H"  principle, in which the uprights are the parallel platforms and the crossbar is - according to intensity of bus traffic or (if platforms are either side of a busy road) car density - a pedestrian crossing, an overhead walkway, or and underground pedestrian subway linking the platforms.  When there is an overhead walkway - often with elevators or escalators that "H" pattern operates vertically as well as in the mapping sense, such as in the photo below of Swanson rail station in west Auckland.
Swanson Station Each tower holds an elevator as well as a stairwell Photo NZ in Tranzit

A common feature nowadays of  rail stations and busways (and even of roading around Christchurch) is to have the central area or islands between up and down services divided by chest high bedstead fencing, to channel pedestrian traffic into safe movements. Walking to the local shops feels tedious when you own [and are addicted to!] a car but quickly becomes an easily accepted part of life once you stop owning a car. In similar manner  walking across overhead walkways or down pedestrian subways when the opportunity exists to duck more directly across a road or railway line can seem tedious.  Remove any option for shortcut and no problems or suffering is felt!

Photo does not capture height of the central fencing too difficult to climb or jump

Recently the issue of suburban bus stations in Christchurch has arisen again and (as I enjoy doing) I have had a chance to ponder possible locations and designs. Over the years and here and there around the world I haved pick up a few concepts that add to the mix.

I have arrived at the conclusion that suburban stations appropriate to Christchurch need;
(A) an outdoor area, open to the sun, perhaps with a sheltering  wall or belt of shrubbery or planters and flax.
(B) a verandha area right across [the normal footpath area] to the edge of the platform where the bus stops. 
(C) and an internal seating, similar to the Bus Xchange area with glassed off with doors opening out onto the  verandha. 
To get such bus stations built right to the edge of the road means incorporating the through footpath into the verandha area, that is there is wide enough passage and clearly marked for footpaths to curve through the bus station, between the loading platform and the fully enclosed waiting area. For example looking at the photographs of one of the Bus Rapid Transit stations in Hangzhou [above], the wall at the back of the seated passengers would become a half trellis, and behind that a broad footpath and then the glassed in part of the bus station. With real time signage passengers don't need to be able to see the bus coming, though earlier "Boarding now" style wording could be triggered 2 minutes before the bus appears for those in the enclosed area. 

The set up envisioned here has four components - viz internal waiting room; outside area; verandha area; a well defined covered pedestrian concourse through the middle (or alternately curving around the back of the whole complex). Getting adequate sunlight and shade, and wind buffering for the more exposed areas is a key part of design and may require seasonally orientated skylights (eh the central concourse and verandha get more sunlight in winter). Many of the early open platform stations, built in the UK etc (even the original Britomart bus station in Auckland) were either too exposed and windswept or too gloomy and several sizeable bus stations, such as Luton, UK which theoretically had years of life have been demolished as anachronisms, a sort of depressing old public service "cruisers for loosers" image  that belongs 25 years back in the ugly hard face of Thatcher's Britain.

Christchurch has two prevailing cold winds - the southerly [winterly rain etc] and the nor-easter [fresh to icy cold on-shore breeze] and a bit of architectural genius or even pivotable sculptural panels could drop the effect of these down to a murmur, bearable for people already out in the cold, reducing use of the heated internal waiting area by the more able bodied most days.

Another factor is make a bus station an attractive place to wait but not so much so that it becomes a hang out for lowlife or even a meeting point for boisterous young teens flexing their muscles (notably vocal cords) - the latter not necessarily evil but typically disturbing others a great deal and often because they jostle around and high five etc so much it is unpleasant for the fragile body and reaction speed of the older and the elderly.  One reads about overseas situations where people needing to catch buses try to avoid using bus stations because they are so seedy!! CCTV cameras, in my experience of working with these, need to have a head and shoulder type entry point camera, in order to match up later blurry pictures of thieves or assailants etc Often the culprit is easily identified "in a red and white jacket, see he's lifting her purse off the seat etc" Sure, but with no clear facial image of the man in a red and white jacket, the purpose of CCTV is rendered meaningless! Security guards are of some use, but have limited legal powers and it seems to me usually better in two or a team. But this may be too expensive or anyway difficult to empower in smaller suburban stations - good design seems to also be a crucial factor.

Arranging seating so there is some privacy but still some visiblity of one area with another, and so the area offers no big de facto "stage"  areas for loose units to do theatrical bits,  seems one possibility. Seating could have intimate pockets, looking outwards in various directions, perhaps partly obscured by flax in planters etc but the pockets never so private as to feel safe for drug dealing, illegal transactions or violent or bullying behaviour. Having a parking bay at the rear for service vehicles that can also be used by police or ambulance in emergency is another useful facet. Ideally a bus station should be "safer than houses"   

The verandha area - immediately adjacent to the point where the buses pull in could mainly be leaners. In a fully purpose built integrated system such as NICERide (advocated by NZ in Tranzit!) service flow pattern is such that waiting time is minimized as is waiting time for passengers  transferring between routes... noted; this is not the current pattern to any great extent, especially after dark when the greatest gaps in service occur!

A key component of the concept here is that the internal waiting room with air conditioning etc can be closed earlier than the cessation of buse services themselves, for example at 8pm. This recognises that most those most in need of enclosed shelter , the more vulnerable parents with younger children, disabled and elderly do not travel significantly in the evenings. This also recognises most of the policing difficulties (and potential for generating a bad name for that bus station) will occur "after dark" and particularly towards the end of the evening when drugs and alcohol typically fuel disorderly minds. Or where drunken up-chucks or surreptitious peeing could leave its mark! Having the large verandha area - also with real time signage and CCTV  - and mainly just leaners,  leaves more than adequate shelter (far more than current simple bus stops) with very little to vandalise, and with a tile or concrete type flooring area capable of being hosed or indeed hot-hosed down before the start of the next morning.

I see the most likely priority suburban bus stations in Christchurch being the existing multi-route hubs, mainly at shopping mall complexes. Theoretically priority for implementation would be based upon (a) numbers of passengers catching buses (b) numbers of passengers transferring between routes at that point (c) other factors weighed (is this the only point south residents can access the University from, is there a major aged population in this area, new subdivisions planned in area etc).

In rough order I'd guess from my own full time bus travels, observations etc a priority ranking  of Westfield,  Northlands, The Palms, Eastgate, Barringtons, University, Hornby, Airport, Belfast, and New Brighton. I'd also throw in QEII and Avonhead Mall - both well located and pivotal points particularly as more routes run past these points. The key point of these node points - in an integrated system - is that you can travel to these points by one route and leave in five or six different directions by other routes. Alternately you can drop off spouses, teenagers, aging parents or guests at these points, knowing for sure they will not wait more than 8 minutes for a bus to the city weekdays in the day-time and not more than 15 minutes off peak.

In an integrated system regular bus users would soon know they can hop between these bus stations and get to where they are going in several different ways, in time probably recognising the fastest pathway of transfer (which may not be the most obvious). In an integrated pattern, they would not in normal circumstances miss transfers because two routes do not arrive and depart simultaneously as is too often the case currently.

The Palms ideally would suit a bus station built into the northern area that is being rebuilt (I think - but am not sure - that the Library may be purchased and relocated to allow the mall more space) so that east-west buses loop around and then back onto Golf Links Road and then onto New Brighton Road.  But this raises another factor with bus stations - if all services are channelling along the same road can the local neighbourhood stand the stress? - in this case all routes (about six) would have to run along the same partly residential street, dozens of buses an hour. Alternately a far-sighted council might buy land (curently older housing) on the South side of New Brighton Road and built a larger waiting room on the sunny side of the street (with a new inset more accessible inbound bus stop) and an overhead walkway or subway across to the northside with a smaller enclosed and elongated out-stop. Route 60 from Stanmore Road and 45 North Shore would need to deviate along this stretch of road to bring all six routes into the same inbound/outbound conjunction, these routes continuing up Golf Links Road to rejoin Marslands Road north of the The Palms. The northside bus stop on New Brighton Road is currently an always-shaded and often freezing cold exposed bus stop, heavily patronised, accessing two frequent cross town routes and two suburban routes. The bus station in the scenario here would straddle New Brighton Road. Similar effect could be achieved at Westfield - perhaps by going under the road with a wide well it pedestrian subway - the outstop being the larger area (by purchasing some small part of the Westfield Mall carpark) and connected in the H fashion to a l;onger narrower elongated in-stop, with heavy grade  bedstead fencing channeling all east-west car and cycle traffic between the two halves of the station.

In New Brighton - the only part of Christchurch where local politicians are organised enough to calling for a bus station the same H pattern could be created. This could utilise part of Beresford Street (which is equivalent to about 8 lanes wide) between the recently purchased community board rooms and the current three shelter 40,5,83,84,51 route in-stop on the opposite of the road. Here there would be no need for overhead or underground pedestrian access, rather a pedestrian crossing point linking a mix of well designed islands, with bedstead fencing and a  humped, slowed and narrowed road corridor (slow - bus zone)  between platforms.  A  waiting room complex built alongside the community rooms - or even  extending to part of the rear of the next section, linked to the walk through shopping corridor as well - could provide in-stops for buses to the city via QEII and the Northeast (Metrostar, 60, 83,) that depart heading east first; a further island for Southshore passengers and dropping off (only) passengers from the city; and (as now, with upgraded waiting facilities) across the other side of Beresford Street in-stops for services to the city via Eastgate, Aranui and Wainoni (5,40,51, 84) . The adjoining car park offers park-and-ride space if there is demand for such, perhaps amongst older residents.

Park up space for buses could be in the same adjacent area, around the streets on the carpark perimeter, each with a proscribed terminus route,  possibly with a gated fence to park the bus closely alongside to allow total security for drivers to leave empty buses and stroll across to a staff toilet and possibly a small (shared by all firms) staff room with hotwater etc included, all with easy overview of buses and CCTV coverage of waiting areas. There are cafes closely adjacent.

New Brighton bus station  is not a priority in any wider picture that I can see but it is a start and perhaps most of all, a potentially very useful model to pilot station design, from many angles, before the city commits to building far bigger and more complex suburban bus stations, such as The Palms or Westfield which require the centre bar of the H to go over or under busy traffic roads. Linked to the purchase and makeover of the Community Board rooms it is a chance for the city council to commit to the principle without a huge expense (less than a $1 million?), even in a period where they have had to put suburban bus stations on the back burners.  

1 comment:

  1. The Hoyts building on Moorehouse would make
    a good temporary bus depot once the cladding
    was secured and covered walkways put to bus
    stopping areas out the back.
    Features: close to central city
    originally designed as a terminus.

    Jimmy from Christchurch