Saturday, August 28, 2010

Snakes on the track - Christchurch-Auckland rail corridor upgrade

"But hey, like Johnny Cash " I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend...."

I don't know much about rail at all but it would seem to me that if the Christchurch-Auckland Rail Corridor  is going to be a real goer surely a primary need will be to double-track much of the line heading out through the north of Christchurch"

Did anyone else in Christchurch feel a minor ground tremor back in May when the Government announced the $4.6 billion attempt to return rail to some almost level of commercial viability including focussing on long haul freight on the "Auckland-Christchurch corridor".

What a funny feeling that last expression gave me!

For years I've been a mainlander and studying (in my own way) developing transport infrastructure, mostly passenger transit orientated, in New Zealand. In the last decade this mainly consists of reading about new motorways, ring roads, bridges, transmission gulleys, commuter trains, electrification, etc in Auckland and Wellington!! Here in Te Wai Pounamu we have had our self-funded [first] Bus Exchange; the somewhat bizarre elimination of trains from Christchurch's centre to a rather strange tourist train only station, without free directional flow in Addington; the upgrading to more and bigger West Coal coal trains and the impressive Otira viaduct and associated work - yet none of this huge compared to what Maui's fish has gobbled up from the national kete!

Not much seems to happen in the sleepy south! All the money spent on transport infrastructure has flowed north (our contributed share, pro rata, a few hundred million). The feeling for me, for a very long time, has been New Zealand in the world of tran-sport is a game of two halves. But one of the teams forgot to turn up. When Stephen Joyce used the expression "Auckland-Christchurch rail corridor" it almost felt like, hey, someone remembers we are part of the NZ economy!!

To hear that the Government was committed to spending big money in the South, on the Southern motorway, was quickly followed by a second earthquake - the strange concept that Christchurch should be economically brought into conscious committed rail connection with Te Ika a Maui (where 75% of the population live). A major investment is to be made in to upgrading rail ferries and lines to reclaim much of the long haul trade railways have lost (down to only 18% of this freight sector nowadays), on the "Auckland-Christchurch corridor" - this mysterious term that marries Auckland and Christchurch in one phrase, so close the warmth of each other breath is felt, with a hyphen for a witness and a few hundred kilometres of steel rail for a wedding ring.

It sounds great to me, foccussing rail on long haul and bulk loading is doing what rail does best! By my reading, all this sort of "branch lines to little towns stuff" was already on the way out, even as far back as the 1930s. Rail used in that way was ridiculously expensive and clumsy, many times more so for a country with such low density as New Zealand, but the only option in earlier decades of settlement for many back country areas. From about 1930 onwards improvements in roading and the evolution of the diesel engine into the mainstay of trucking and bussing rendered using heavy rail infrastructure to pull only handful of wagons or one or two passenger carriages absurd. This is even more so given in both small freight and passenger traffic, rail offers only a part journey. Much extra support from smaller vehicles with rubber tyres is needed for small use rail to even operate, real costs even higher.

As will be obvious from past raves, although I read all the local books and mags about rail and feel the normal human being's awe for these mighty machines, and get shivers up my spine with steam whistles blowing, I am not ultimately a rail spotter.

But hey, like Johnny Cash, " I hear the train a comin'; it's rollin' 'round the bend...."

I don't know much about rail at all but it would seem to me that if the Christchurch-Auckland Rail Corridor (let's get these names in the right order!!) is going to be a real goer surely a primary move will need to be double-tracking much of the line heading out through the north of Christchurch. No serious 24-hour a day modern urban freight corridor is going to be competitive relying on that rather anaemic single track up through Bryndwyr and Papanui, and again after Styx Bridge, through Belfast.

And where is the politician in Christchurch who will go door to door selling the idea to these inner areas near the existing line (which include top of the market housing) the city's need for rail to double-track and the line to become a much more active industrial corridor; or where is the Green shine council  to tell the cyclists on that marvellous cycleway no more, "on yer bike but not around here", we need the land for double tracking.

I don't know anything about rail but I think the case for a new double traced western entry corridor into Christchurch via Styx Mill area, via the Airport and down to Islington - before curving back towards Hornby, the city and Lyttelton - is surely stronger now than ever. It allows top, latest, rail infrastructure technology to be built from scratch and protects and enhances Christchurch's economy, its major export sectors and guarantees rapid reliable access tofro Lyttelton. With the existing Bryndwr-Papanui- Styx Mill corridor it creates and protects a very useful potential passenger train loop - with three spurs, for future generations.

I strongly believe whoever gets elected to Christchurch City Council needs to begin immediate talks with KiwiRail and Ontrack (does the latter still exist?) and with Christchurch International Airport Limited and needs to sound out if there is value and viability in creating a western city entry corridor from Islington to Styx Mill for rail freight purposes, one which might also open the door to a modest passenger regional rail system, and commuter system, if not mmediately one day. Upto the 1980s railways held such a corridor that ran to Sockburn, but this was was sold off in the new right's "fire-sale the family jewells" is a difference era, a different location, a different economy. I am sure it warrants examination anew.

This is the tail of an upgraded line stretching alway from Auckland to Christchurch . I presume it would cost a couple of hundred million plus (no rail is cheap) but if KiwiRail and other parties saw a good balance of cost-benefit ratio in this, then it seems to me there is some small chance, then and possibly only then, to piggyback a modest regional and commuter rail system onto the added line capacity, one which could be built simultaneously with new infrastructure.

The line through Bryndwr and Papanui might then revert to be used only for commuter trains, part of a very useful loop allowing access tofro central city in various patterns from both north and south. In contrast heavy freight could almost always run past the western outskirts of the city and under an enclosed trench by-passing under the airport area.

My arrogance in suggesting this is aburd I know; at least I can claim some background in the bus industry but what would I know about rail?? Bloody hell mate I don't know much at all.

But I do know new industrial subdivisions are already being built at Islington and near the airport at Dakota Park and along Orchard Road which might benefit from the added rail access factor; or they could severely compromise future options. What makes this issue particularly poignant to me is that almost all the land needed is not built upon, yet, is still in open farmland already tagged for factory and subdivision; some of it lies in the airport noise zone and seems admirably suited to a rail corridor, which can if need be, itself be noise reduced by using embankments.

How sickening it would be to find the city - despite all its rail fantasies - never deeply examined this possibility. And this scenario of blindeness seems quite possible, given the past decade when opportunities were let slip away for lack of common rapid transit strategy. Indeed ratepayers are still waiting to hear when this city is going to get a comprehensive forward thinking strategic rapid transport plan - more than buses (even on lanes) and more realistic than unanchored rail fantasies.

The upgraded Christchurch-Auckland rail freight corridor will snake its way up to Auckland, funding already assured.  I think it is a snake Christchurch needs to grab by the tail!

Food for thought in new Christchurch Transport Exchange design?

Christchurch's new bus exchange will doubtless be a little more modest
than Antwerp Centraal Station, the grand stack above, but making life
easier for bus users by including the full range of facilites needs to
be acommitted goal from the start. 

Recently I have made several references to having shops and in particular a small supermarket built into or adjoining the new Christchurch bus exchange.

My motivation for this began a few years ago after reading comments by Hobart geographer and urban transport researcher Bob Cotgrove.  

"The mistake people continually make is thinking people who drive cars can make the same journey by public transport," he said. "It's not true. Some people can, those who work in the city and stay all day, but fewer and fewer people do that. Working mothers are a big proportion of the workforce and they're very busy, they get children to school, drive to work. During the day they might visit a friend or a sick mother and pay bills."
(The Mercury Hobart of 30 August 2007)

Ask anybody why they don't catch public transport and the most likely three answers are likely to be (a) doesn't go to where I go (ie direct from my home location) (b) it doesn't go at the right time (b) it is too slow.  The fourth most probable answer would be is "I need the car to do things on the way home".

Continuing with this scientific approach [ie invented statistics!]  I would  say averaged out across all motorists commuting to or from work,  the most common additional activites before or after their own work journeys or entwined with this journey could be ranked as follows  
- grocery and supermarket shopping
- deviating to drop off workmates at a bus stop etc  or to transport them all the way home 
- other shopping or picking up items from service outlets eg dry cleaning, refuelling car etc
- picking up children from school, day care centres, after school visits to friends places
- picking up spouses from other workplaces and other locations
- visiting friends or relatives on the way home

If public transport wants to provide a user-friendly service to all residents; cut into car use and delay or reduce full or second car ownership (for example students, young couples, two car famillies,retired couples) it needs actively foster support mechanism to address some of the needs above.

Perhaps the easiest to address is (arguably) the most common - buying groceries. There are several obvious strategies - ensuring that every route has access to a supermarket or shopping complex, that stops are well located for trolleying groceries to within the immediate proximity of the bus, that all the very big shopping mall/supermarket complexes have high visibility real time signage of bus departure times due outside. 

A classic example in Christchurch of poor relatedness of bus stop location to the local supermarket is at New Brighton. For some reason when the Metrostar typically stops about every 400 metres on its cross-city journey but when it arrives in New Brighton's commercial area it stops only once up in Hawke Street, then not again for almost 800 metres, until it is right around in Oram Avenue. In doing so it drives right past the busiest places in New Brighton;  the beach front, the library, the New Brighton club and - perhaps most strangely the supermarket.  Needless to say anyone buying groceries has an unnecessary 300-400 metres to lug the bags, either back up Hawke Street or around to Oram Avenue, in neither direction is it possible to use a supermarket trolley. 

With a consciously planned passenger supportive transit-grocery shopping policy, this sort of thing would not be happening, every attempt would be to maximise access and minimise weather exposure and distance for those carrying groceries to the bus stop. Indeed it is possible that other routes serving areas primarily reliant on this shopping complex - North New Brighton and North Beach for instances could be brought into New Brighton via the same route, increasing service frequency to the area. As stated in a past posting I believe (good!) access tofro supermarkets, at least one on every route, should be one of the 12 standard route planning criteria

But nothing will be more effective for more people than having a modest supermarket in the new bus exchange. This would doubtless focus, more than most such supermarkets, on key ingredients and easy to prepare or precooked evening meal type food. For those passing through the Exchange, from the city or transferring en route, such a form of shopping could be an extremely attractive alternative to battling the suburban supermarket car parks and early evening queues... an incentive to use the bus rather than drive.

I am all for grand effect and a public building that has style and stature but I think it would be horrible it the new Bus Exchange is just some egotistical statement of pure architecture, a sterile chamber, all marble and glass without also having somewhere within its layout the many valuable shops, foot outlets and services many other transit stations around the world host.

In the UK it is big business as indicated by the web page for [what appears to] Britain's equivalent of Ontrack, Network Rail which owns, manages and leases  over 480,000 sq ft retail space at 18 of the largest stations across the Great Britain. Note all the amenties and shops at Birmingham Station as one example.

But I have only just discovered we have an example much closer to home - a supermarket in Wellington station established four years ago. You can even stick your nose in the door for a 360, here.

As in all matters pertaining to public transport I support the concept  "Think rail - build bus" ...give buses the same investment and infrastructure levels of rail.  

Here some recent remarks from Newsweek about railway stations.... the newly restored St Pancras Station in London seems to have two good  ideas we could copy!

"Among the many fine sights to be seen while traveling by train, few are as pleasantly surprising as the terminals one passes through. Madrid's Atocha Station, a large building with wrought-iron design built in 1892, boasts a large tropical garden complete with palm trees and terrapins. It also has a nightclub for those who feel like strutting their stuff while waiting for the train. Shopaholics will appreciate Berlin's Hauptbahnhof, which has 80 stores that sell everything from flowers and fruit to jewelry and eyeglasses. And London's recently refurbished St. Pancras International features the longest champagne bar in Europe and a new farmers' market set to open this year."

Above Bakery in concourse at East Croydon Station UK - Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Who's for the NICERide?

People often say "What a great bus system we have in Christchurch" (which doesn't mean that person uses it). I say compared to what ? Are we talking about buses as we knew them thirty years ago or buses in many other small cities in the USA or Canada or Australia etc - well yes we are doing reasonably ok in most respects (though very poorly in attracting peak hour patronage).

However I find the whole concept of how public transport is operated in Christchurch incredibly outdated, tramway era thinking, we have the reliable buses, the low floor access and vastly reduced dwell time of Metrocard loadings, the computerised systems and radio connections, we have buses galore duplicating each other's services but we don't have a 21st century bus system.

I have added my concept NICERide to the "Pages section" (or see one of side boxes ). I invite you to come join me on the NICERide; real public transport for the future.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Airliners of the Road?

....but don't let's fool ourselves, the technology here will quickly mutate into tomorrow's urban express buses, the shortest haul airliners, airliners of the road.

A Neoplan Megaliner at Osaka 2007 Wikimedia Commons

I am an old fart myself, but I do stay young in some areas of life. One of them is bus technology. 

I may be mistaken but I have a very very strong sense buses rather than light rail will become the real carriers of modernistic transport in the years to come. It is more a whiff in the air than a provable scent!  But I have been reading public transport on internet for 15 years, I trust my intuition here. Too many threads in the wind to ignore. It is only the timelag - the way the older generation trapped in a past reality sees things (eg stinky slow buses) that blocks this realisation more fully.

Most things light rail does can now be matched by buses, far more cheaply with superior frequency for the same dollar invested. Need it be said buses also offer  far more potential choice of direction  and, increasingly, greater comfort and cruisy smoothness. The principals of hybrid engines do not appear been 100% cost/effective or successful with all bus systems, but who can doubt - reading around the traps month by month - that very very quiet buses, with effortlessly trolley bus like acceleration and deceleration and whose engines stop and start where todays' buses idle are likely to be the norm for new buses within the decade. On present trends many of these buses will likely run mostly on "grade separate" (segregated corridors)  rarely interupted by other traffic flow along special smooth road surfaces. Who can doubt this will become the industry standard within a decade now urban and long distance buses are getting decent levels of  investment and research?

One thing though, capacity won't change much, the human bum stays the same size!  In other words even the most modernistic 64-seater tram still seats 64 passsengers. Strangely (so odd!) a 64 seater bus does as well! The difference - the much vaunted "greater capacity of trams" - used to be standing passengers, trams with their heavier bodies could hold more standees. Well we are talking decades old heavy rail technology - the modern alloys, carbon fibre and many other materials used in bus construction and the vastly superior diesel engines can now carry the same loads at much lower body weight, articulated and bi-articulated buses typically carrying 100-200 passengers, as a norm in many cities with some (well, at least one, in Shanghai) carrying 300 passengers.

But do we really want to go back to standing passengers??? For goodness sake - hey people let's go green - get out of those comfy car seats and get squashed by total strangers in a 20 minute standing journey before and after work each day? Fantastic prospect!! Perhaps a necessity in big cities but in Christchurch ??  Come on, come on - wake up! We are living in the 21st century! Even today, already, we have the technology to give every passenger a quality leather armchair, footrests, coffee tables, wi fi, choice of ten channels (or none) - we have the capacity to shift public transport from bottom order transport to the best - sit back and relax, bliss out - that interlude between home and work could offer the best part of the working day!

Our culture (or perhaps it is only the culture of the older, 30 years plus generation)  is so used to thinking of public transport as a bottom order system (albeit modern urban buses are light, warm, smooth  and attractive). And yet, it is more of a mindshift that a financial one, to leap into saying public transport is a system capable of beating cars at their own game, cheaper and better, faster and more relaxing. Fun. Why spent $4 million (the current price Melbourne is paying for each new smaller tram) for a new 64 seater tram when that same money will buy four top quality articulated buses SEATING 400 passengers in what could be extreme comfort?

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor bus in Stockholm Photo Karl Fjellstrom IDTP

For the price of a few kilometres of light rail Christchurch could have buses that depart every 5 minutes (12 per hour) along major trunk routes rather large light rail  trams, but which only run every 15 minutes [unless we spend absurd amounts].

Instead of light rail services lrunning to  huge "park and ride stations" of around 500 cars - overseas often a source of irritation if near suburban neighbourhoods, with  car doors slamming from 6am, traffic jams in quiet streets, or worse overflow of cars parked outside the houses all day;  instead of running to a car park along a single line we could leap into the future to realise the huge potential of modern buses. At the end of the express trunk bus (or BRT) route - along which the outer-suburb and rural buses have only stopped at a two or three platformed bus stations and never at traffic lights - four of those 12 buses per hour each peak hour veer left to serve neighbourhood A (with a 15 minute service), four go straight ahead to serve neighbourhood B (with a 15 minute service) and four of them veer right to serve neighbourhood C (with a 15 minute service).

Here is a U-Tube about the new Neoplan double-decker long distance coaches. [note -Neoplan is a cutting edge subsidiary of MAN, engine makers to many of Christchurch's Designline-built buses].  Sure they they look a bit weird, as all modern technology first does, but I don't doubt we are seeing the future norm. These are top line European tour coaches [even if  their interiors win awards in bad taste] but don't let's fool ourselves, the technology here will quickly mutate into tomorrow's urban express buses, the shortest haul airliners, airliners of the road.

The sort of shift in younger thinking which has helped boost very rapid growth in the Megabus inter-city systems in the USA and UK  - as in news item below -  also transplates into urban city transport for the city transit leaderships that can recognise it and repond

"Fifty-five percent of MegaBus' passenger demographic is made up of 18 to 34 year olds, whom they categorize as "young professionals." This group tends to watch their spending on travel and is looking for value, convenience and amenities such as free Wi-Fi plug-ins for cell phones and other electronic devices; they want all those features that currently they can't always get on other modes of transportation, Moser says.
At 60 percent, the majority of the customers who use MegaBus tell the operator they would have otherwise taken their car for their trip. "We're getting what we believe to be a modal shift, getting people out of their automobiles. With fuel prices, the cost of driving your car, parking in these cities, wear and tear on your car, and just the hassle of driving in some of these cities has [caused] people to look for alternatives," Moser says. He adds that these amenities allow riders to keep their connectivity with the rest of the world while traveling economically when going from one city to another. In April 2006 MegaBus operated in seven cities in the Midwest. Since then, the carrier has grown its operation to 40 cities in the Midwest and the Northeast."
Metro Magazine July 2010

UK Megabus Photo- Wikimedia Commons

OR consider another recent observation, in a New York Times article

"We're starting to see briefcase-carrying travelers use the buses because of their cutting-edge image and Wi-Fi," said Joseph Schwieterman, a professor at the Chaddick Institute who has studied intercity bus companies. "We did focus groups with people in their 20s and when we brought up Amtrak, they rolled their eyes."

"Thinking Outside Rails and Runways, And Taking the Bus" [Business Travel] Ken Belson.
New York Times May 6th 2010

USA Megabuses waiting outside Penn Station NY    Photo. Wikimedia Commons

The moment enough people in Christchurch realise this, the the future lies with buses, especially outside huge and dense cities,  is the moment that Christchurch becomes a world leader in high quality multi-direction, computer networked, public transport, the first real city to comprehend buses done well, very well, with all thetechnology at ourfingertips, will encourage people to leave cars at home, cars left purely for casual pleasure and social travel, because bussing is so much better, offers superior experience, more relaxing, quality peak hour transport.

London based Neoplan (note Wi-fi  access advertised on frontage) Source; Wikimedia Commons

InterCity double-deck Scania coach at Taupo on Auckland-Wellington run - a smoother ride than rail?
Photo D Welch

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Quality Transit -The Bus Stop's Here!

The Well Dressed Bus Stop!!

In a previous posting I identified nine major multi-route junction points likely to become transfer stations, if the authorities can ever get their act together. These are locations where large number of peoples have to wait for buses, either because of adjoining activities (malls, airports etc) or because they are major  points where people transfer between bus routes.
I suggested only these potential bus stations would currently have sufficient patronage to warrant enclosed waiting air conditioned rooms etc

I also suggested  there are about 16 other locations around the city which could benefit from a sort of "transfer node" status - essentially just enhanced bus stop configurations and facilities. Every node point opens up multiplying opportunities for moving easily and more rapidly around the city and moving more directly without doubling back. Although this may be pooh poohed as excessive by planners  not having this built-in mobility option is as silly as saying motorists can't drive down certain city streets, with this block applying to 50% of all streets.

This last posting has caused me to give some deeper thought to the humble bus stop. (.....Oh strange boy...)

 Here's a list of potential facets I have figured out that a well dressed bus stop could have to support bus users. Also conversely, to deter any behavioural or criminal problems arising which are likely to discredit bus use, always an added factor in public place design. There is already some obvious hierarchy about bus stops - busier ones tend to get the bigger shelters, or real time push-button machines, with the very busiest the overhead plasma signs. But I am not sure how "scientific" it gets beyond that.

I have put facets that I can think of in a evolving hierarchy of sophistication (and no doubt often increasing costs). Presumably the council already has some basic criteria for "what goes where" but it would be good to see this extended to incorporate many more facets and more consistently to established criteria. One of the great things the council has done - beyond the Bus Exchange and The [central city gas-electric hybrid] Shuttle - is to put lots of new bus shelters everywhere over the last decade. Unfortunately in most cases the attention to the sort of quality infrastructure standards described doesn't go much further, as becomes obvious when a wider range of support technology is suggested.  This said some of the present shortcomings sheet back to the Metro information marketing side.

Anyway I was astounded by how many facets can go into creating quality bus stops - at the risk of boring your pants off I list them below,( if anyone sees other ideas please let me know)

Welcome to the obscure world of bus stop technology!!
underlined = click to external sample  Comments relevant to Christchurch or NZ situation included here and there

1. Bus Stop Identification
Clear Signage - sign on lamp post or pole
Branded or Stylised Signage on pole or own stand
Illuminated signage - I love that distinctive illuminated dark blue/white "metro" signs at plasma sign stops!
Neon signage
Also - Off-route directional sign to bus route/stop

Hamilton NZ uses pole signage to offer a clearly branded Night Rider route

Stylised bus stop markers are used on several name branded routes in Christchurch

2. Vehicle Stopping Space
Road marking to accommodate single bus length
Road marking to accommodate multiple bus lengths
Roading surface at stop levelled to avoid excessive lean and strengthened for smooth transit
Curbed island to separate bus stop from main traffic flow
Bus lanes in curbed channels through extended bus/pedestrian only plaza
Curbed island to separate bus stop from main traffic flow or plaza area with bedstead fencing that can not be climbed over

Segregated bus stop lanes with a range of other supportive infrastructure -Paris
Photo; Karl Fjellstrom and IDTP

3.Underfoot surface quality
Sealed ground area where there is no footpath eg in rural area
Sealed conventional raised footpath with curb, narrowed to allow incut of bus stop
Sealed conventional raised footpath with curb, normal width maintained
Sealed conventional raised footpath with curb, expanded width or in plaza format to allow for      passenger loading and simultaneous pedestrian through-flow
Sealed platform ramped or raised to offer door level loading
Sealed platform to offer door level loading with bus stop alignment poles to ensure buses stop in correct position
Sealed platform to offer door level loading with bus stop alignment indicator lights to ensure bus stops in correct position
- as for previous with platform edge fencing system to ensure passengers line up at correct front door passenger loading point position
- as for previous with platform edge fencing system to ensure passengers line up at correct loading position ALL doors (in pre-pay on entering platform area system)
- as for previous with platform edge fencing system to ensure passengers line up at correct loading position all doors in prepay system and bicycles line up with bicyle loading doors/front racks (see video on link for simple effective transport including bikes)
Sealed platform as above with sliding glass doors opening in response to bus signal

Attractive use of bedstead fencing (fancy grade) to protect from uneven ground
and use of a north facing wall  as part of weather protection, shelters with extended
overhang roofs against sun and rain - Hornby multi-route interchange Christchurch

4. Seating
No seating available
Bench seat no back rest
Bench seat with back rest
Contoured bench seating
Padded seating
Padded Seating with arm rests
Lounge style airport furniture

Notes; (A) Quality of seating also closely linked to existence or not of overhead shelter and protection from hot sun,  or from rain at the time and afterwards eg wet seats etc (B) typical modern pattern appears to be to have seating in sets of two, or less than 800mm long, or contoured in some way, to minimise people sleeping on bench seats, notably in semi-enclosed shelters

5. Shelter facilities
No shelter - stop placed in exposed place
No shelter - stop placed beside hedge or fence likely to mitigate windchill
Shallow shelter [less than metre deep] with slight overhead verandha lip and side walls
Deeper shelter [1-3 metre deep] with similar depth verandha roof and side walls
Canopy Shelter - more than 3 metres deep - roof across entire bus loading and/or pedestrian area, some walls
Enclosed fully walled roomspace with opening and shutting doors to loading area
Temperature controlled waiting area

Simple but attractive bus stop in Waikato though probably better in
milder  rainy climate than one with cooler winds

Roof over style bus shelter on Melbourne's "yellow orbital route"

Wide veranda spaces and pedestrian areas at Gangdin BRT station,
70,000 bus passengers a day move through this area! Photo; Karl Fjellstrom and IDTP

6. Timetable and route information
No information posted at stop
Separate timetables for some routes but not others, posted
All timetables relevant to stop posted separately
Custom made (for that stop) listing of services and relevant timetables
Large multi-route map for city/area of larger city
Press button or computerised map/route finder system

Hornby interchange - A rare attempt in Christchurch to present multiple-route timteable information in a collated and readable format - most other multiple route corridors have [multiple] poles festooned with separate time-tables (sometimes with some routes missing) with no attempt to offer user friendly summary information

7. Real Time Information
Stop/shelter has signage detailing live contactable information systems
Stop has push-button real time showing how many minutes away the next departure from that point
Stop has plasma sign listing multiple departure times (eg next ten departures)

8. Food and drink - "Snaccess"
No available food or drink supply
Drinking fountain with-in easy access of bus stop
Stop is adjacent to convenience store
Stop is adjacent to lunch bar or bakery or takeway food facility
Stop is adjacent to sit down cafe facilities
Stop has automatic snack food and drink machines
Stop has inbuilt cafe or takeaway food counter
Stop has multiple takeaway food counters and cafes and bars attached

The reassurance of being able to have sit-down food and drink whilst never losing sight of the real time signage advising how minutes away your bus is - Hamilton Transport Centre (NZ)

Signage at bus stop indicates closest public convenience
Bus stops (notably transfer locations) specifically sited to be within a minute or two
    walking access to conveniences eg shopping malls
Public conveniences less than 100 metres and visible from bus stop
Bus stop includes conveniences built discreetly into stopping zone area
Street map of local area (in vandal proof casing) at or close to bus shelter

Phone booth visible from bus stop but out of voice range approx 25-50 metres away

10. Rubbish and Vandalism
Public rubbish bin attached to bus stop pole shelter
Public rubbish bin sited 25-50 metres from bus stop
Public rubbish bin and glass and alumin recycling bins stationed 25-50 metres from bus stop
Bus stop and shelter cleaned regularly
Bus stop (busy) and shelter cleaned and hosed every morning
Bus stop (busy) and shelter steam cleaned and hosed every morning

11.Transfer other bus services
Bus stop is poorly related to other bus stops in area, in and out stops dispersed
Services fulfilling similar functions go from different bus stops in same general area**
Services fulfilling similar functions go from different bus stops in same area but each stop clearly indicates departure options available at adjacent stops**
All bus routes in both directions channel through this stop (same stop)**
All bus routes in any direction are immediately adjacent, adjoined by platforms or protected road crossings design or technology
Timetable and real time information systems conveyed in formats that assist easy transfer
Stop offers access to local area shuttle or van-taxi drop off system for area or zone

** Reference here is to on-street suburban bus stops not to bus stations with separate platforms for different routes etc

12. Transfer to or from other modes
Stop has ample on-street or off-street free parking for park and ride
Stop has ample on street parking always available for pick up or drop off purposes
Stop (in busy area) has always protected "kiss and ride" spaces for bus/car car/bus transfers
Stop has immediately adjacent taxi rank on busy road, flag stop facility
Stop has immediately adjacent taxi rank with taxis usually waiting or taxi phone
Bus system has way of pre-ordering taxis to this bus stop in advance.

Clear and simple bus-taxi-bus access at Hamilton (NZ) Transport Centre

Stop has bicycle parking stands not visible from bus stop.
Stop has bicycle parking stands visible to bus stop
Stop has secure storage facilities with attendant for bicycles
Stop has real time signage indicating current availability status of bicycle racks on specific service due at stop

13. Health and Safety
Curbing or platform areas have "rumble pads" to warn those with sight disabilities of edge proximity
Buses engines do not idle in pedestrian /passenger areas if stopping more than 30 seconds**
All vehicle areas are fence protected, particularly against impulsive movements by small children in waiting areas
Restricted access to vehicle area for cars, eg restricted "drive through" ability
General area has CCTV cameras (recorded information)
General area has CCTV camera live feed to bus agency and/or accessible as needed to emergency services
General area has multiple CCTV cameras including face to face skype type info/emergency call out system
General area has evening floodlighting

Bus stop zone, plaza or shelter facilities are specifically designed to be non conducive to inappropriate or illicit activity - from urinating in the bus shelter to drug dealing or robbery - with only partial screening of separate areas from passive surveillance or cctv

Police, or transport police, or security/info officers familiar with stop locations, make random visits or patrols, in the case latter two groups, able to offer advice and support to patrons.

** I would guess from present trends/technological advances that within the next few years it will become standard for ALL new buses (and probably at least some cars) to have systems that seamlessly stop and restart engines idling at traffic lights and bus stops. Idling engines are said to create four times more pollution than when a vehicle is moving, where engines are more efficient, and to consume circa 9-13% of all fuel consumed so there is plenty of incentive to improve and apply this technolog

Odd Footnote; When a once proud main-line country railway station
becomes little more than a see through bus shelter! Taihape.

Ps The humble Bus Stop immortalized in the arts here - and what else could it be but...

Monday, August 16, 2010

In a Manor of speaking

I grew up in Wellington province 60 miles (100km) north of the city and I remember the excitement of early independence, emerging adolescence, around 12 or 13 years old when I and a couple of other boys were allowed to travel away from home, if we agreed to stick together and not talk to strangers. On school holidays this included Friday day trips to Wellington, 9am railcar down and the 9 pm railcar back [ this later trip ran on Fridays only]. My mates and I  scoffed endless rubbish food,  rode escalators up and the cable car up and down, and took the tram out to the zoo and back, gigling ourselves silly with our secret stock of endlessly repeated "in" jokes and special sayings ("We laughed to the tears ran down our legs").  On at least one occasion we even went to see some movies in  a middle of the day,  I vaguely remember a tarzan movie amongst these, showing at the continuous movies theatre, the Roxy, with a distinctive curved deco style facade and a foyer plastered with gaudy posters of  brazen passionate women and macho heroes. 

Small town boys in the early sixties mesmerized by a city. every bit as exciting to us as New York!

It's cliche' but has to be said - Wellington, with its ornate Victorian houses cascading off the hills into the gully of narrow city streets below, the slithering whisper of trolley buses has always punched way above its weight in visual intensity, noise, smell and atmosphere.

This has nothing to do with transit [but it's my Blog, yeah, so I decide!] and I use this wee nostalgic rave as a chance to promote another NZ blog I enjoy - The Architectural Centre . This blog currently has a posting showing a wonderful set of photos of cinemas around the Manners Street area in years gone by.

Isn't it amazing with all the modern technologically we can not achieve the magic combination of exuberance and dignified power and restraint of the best of the old picture palaces. Or the wonderful depth and complexity of old Edwardian facades, dozens of elements beautifully composed and balanced. An advantage of being a city bus driver, in and out of the city centre several times a day, sitting at traffic lights enjoying the micropause -  the city landscape, the these grand old buildings become your workplace, as familiar as the rooms of your own house. Even today I can generally remember what once stood on this or that corner, if it is on a bus route or former bus route.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Going Suburban

Out bound buses loading at Northlands Mall, Christchurch July 2010. Immediately before the arrival of these buses several children on skate board,  an elderly lady, and a young family with a child in a pushchair and another three or four year old held by the hand all had to walk out onto the road itself , and along gutter area the the path of incoming buses, to get past the large group of children and other bus patrons blocking the footpath. NZ in Tranzit suggests part of car park needs be purchased to give adequate room and shelter for patrons and safe through passage for pedestrians at this prime suburban exchange spot   Photo; David Welch

Hey you can't say the loud-mouthed self opinionated dwatted wabbit isn't one hotshot journalist, he's so close behind the latest hot news its still positively steaming!!  Catch this report he just chased to ground, the inside story -

"Furthermore in the city centre, and possibly in the principle suburban centres, it may be desirable to provide properly designed bus stations with shelter and other amenities for passengers and staff. This is particularly necessary for long distance road services which require terminals in the city centre."
p35 Christchurch Master Transport Plan Adopted in Principle 4 September 1962*

Violin strings playing, pages falling off a calendar, more pages, oops, calendars falling off a wall, walls cracking with age! Oops, the distinctive snorting snore and clacking noise as Father Time nods off and his false teeth clatter to the floor ....48 years of time travel later we arrive back in the present...dum de dah....

New Central City Bus Exchange Plans
- an opinion
New Central Bus Exchange - I am very impressed by the fly-over [it stretches my small brain - can such tiny cameras really be strapped to flies?] offered on The Press website. Cool. It has won its First award already - the premier Nine Carrot Gold award  from you-know-who!  I am impressed by the design and use of space and by the grand concourse. I am impressed by the multiple escalators/stairs wide enough to film a remake of the Battle of Potemkin staircase scene and this time better than ever with a twin size pram. I love the dappled light effect of the overhead three pronged boomerang structures (something similar in effect, utilising natural light creatively, really uplifts the whole feel of Britomart in Auckland).

I am also glad to see (from the map in paper format Press) that only the corner shops on Lichfield are being demolished. The ones further southwards are hardly major architectural gems but I'd still like to think that either they will be saved or some new shops capturing something of the intimacy of the existing thoroughfare will be preserved. Too much open space created around a building can get plain bleak, a bit horribly UK 60s (and not swinging London). And this might be the case if no shops were left to line Colombo Street.

Although the new Exchange appears to be very much a "architectural statement building" with big angles and planes and heaps of window glass and marble (or whatever) I personally hope it is not going to be ONLY an "architectural" building - not toooo arty, remote and austere!

I dream of  a living breathing colorful space. By this I mean somewhere off to the side from the underground bus zones there will also be pockets with warm cafes and newsagents etc and perhaps a mini-supermarket and a play centre other easily accessible resources. A bit like the Kampii complex in Helsinki [which dear reader have to look up yourself, the links to the underground shopping mall itself just don't fire on this blog and I don't speak Finnish, period].
And of course the new Bus Exchange will have a taxi rank and long distance bus station included. (This latter thanks to the masterly planning of 1962, speedily expedited, as one would expect in a city that gets more tourists than Hawaii!)

What really really excites me most of all is that we are seeing buses getting some of the investment and glamour so long only allocated to rail systems. Most people don't realise we have never really done buses in that way conceptually. Never "thought rail-built bus", built classy facilities with constant integrated flow of services. It is my opinion people and politicians in Christchurch [note the separate categories, the cheeky bastard ] have not even begun to understand what can be done with buses, or indeed what is being done overseas with buses. There is a whole dimension of public transport unexplored. Ironically it seems to me, we are within a hair's breath of being able to create a world leader small city in bus use, a magic computerised, co-ordinated 19 hour a day network, constant flow or travel direction choices in every direction. A key factor here is multiple node points with real time plasma signs, and press button link maps, options instantly seen, which ever way you go you can get to somewhere else.

Part of this would be multiple suburban bus exchanges...

Suburban exchanges and transfer node points
Big Jim's campaign is pitching it as a sort of either or scenario - if the central bus exchange goes underground we can't afford suburban exchanges. I disagree here, firstly because it inherently buys the National Party scenario of continuing to pump money into finishing northern projects that Labour started [admittedly the nats can hardly do otherwise!] while dumping on the south, knowing we will be too feeble to tough up for more.

I don't care where the economy stands or wobbles - a Government that can let country parents get off scot free - absolutely no school bus fares whatsoever, however token - and then ask taxpayers to fork out every penny of the $140 million plus cost to subsidise children in [what else?] almost entirely National Party electorates does not have a moral leg to stand, on in turning down Christchurch, the countries third city and a key tourist dollar pivot, for a few tens of millions.

Secondly the essence of suburban exchange priority lies with concept, identifying and protecting the location and the timing of the buses. In other words getting a total game plan is the real key - the buildings can come later. In most likely cases the property needed (roading and footpaths) is already in Council hands, and probably only half a dozen properties need to be purchased (or sections of car park as in above area) near The Palms, Westfield and Eastgate malls.

Recently out of curiosity I plotted out locations where a bus transfer station would probably be valuable (in a properly integrated network that didn't run multiple services with similar functions simultaneously). These are points - usually intersections or shared road corridors beside local services areas and/or core-need retail providers - served by a least two bus services to the city and usually either a third suburb-city OR a crosstown service (Metrostar, The Orbiter, or cheekily a potential route from Papanui to Northlands via Burnside and Avonhead Mall I have pushed for a year or two) .

In all I identified 25 potential stations. Phew!!  In 2006 the Metro/Council game plan there is only 9 suburban stations. This said the actual requirements in the infrastructure needed in two thirds of these transfer nodes would appear to be minimal - essentially mainly fairly normal bus stops immediately opposite each other or slightly staggered with a road narrowing to allow safe pedestrian passage at the rear of each bus stop and real time plasma signs to calculate transfer times. In some cases if outbound and inbound buses travel along the same stretch of road all stops can be on the same side. The ideal is to create (especially evenings and weekends) a co-ordinated pattern that feeds the multiple routes through these stations in a logical predictable and consistent way. In a well co-ordinated system an adequate safe zone and wind protected larger "roof over" style shelter is enough for these minor transfer points (not every meal needs to be a banquet!).  

A key factor as a middle term goal would be to be able to guarantee that buses run to and from the city - by various routes - every 8 minutes in weekdays and every 15 minutes evenings and weekends from or to any one of these 24 nodal points.
We are a car addicted society and though Christchurch is too small and rotund in geogaphic size for park and ride (except perhaps Rangiora, Kaiapoi and Rolleston) there is much potential in everyone knowing the nearest regular flow bus station with a kiss and ride 2 minute parking zone to drop off or pick up spouses, kids, or guests with guaranteed 8/15 minute access to/from city centre.

And ditto, guarantee regular access to a major supermarket if the bus station itself is not at the supermarket or mall already, as most would be. This whole system is more a matter of using existing resources (timing and route planning) better and will probably need less than 10% service increase to achieve these constant flow patterns at 24 stations city wide. Hundreds of thousands of hours of bus operation time (and passenger time) are currently apallingly wasted each year through sloppy co-ordination.

I identify six major bus stations - Northlands, The Palms, Eastgate, Barringtons, Westfield and the University on Ilam Road, as primary ( I would imagine Metro does too). To me Barringtons and the Canterbury Uni multi-stops could be carried by broad piazza style platforms, "waisted street" loading zones and bedstead fencing to focus and protect movements,  as described above. And some re-routing (for instance to access Barringtons transfer point, The Orbiter might make a minor added loop** around via Simeon Street to interact at the primary transfer stop presumably as now in Athelstan Street, with the several city-southwest routes.(and Governors Bay service and a busway via Hoon Hay Road to Birmingham Drive, the Uni and the airport in my vision).
(**when I say minor I mean this is a huge re-scheduling exercise, just to make the pattern two minutes longer !! But re-scheduling is the essence of suburban stations and successful nodal transfers points)

The other four exchange points in bold above need underground or overground access across busy roads and probably some adjoining property or carpark purchase to create large enclosed shelters and other major investment. Only these six stations, as named above,  and perhaps five others, "intermediate" level transfer nodes (Belfast, New Brighton, Ferrymead, Hornby and Airport) would carry the constant traffic currently that suggests thought need be given to creating a partially enclosed (heated/cooled) waiting area. Which itself only needs to be open 6.30am -8.30pm or similar only - if sufficient verandha are is available outside these times (explained more fully here

If money is short but a game plan exists, do they all need to be built at once? Do we have to go through the same farcial, stodgy,  twenty two year process of making bus lanes?? Or rather lost opportunity and NOT making bus lanes and not least (appallingly) throwing away rare opportunities to build segregated bus corridors at key points like under the motorway at Annex Road and Grassmere St. across to Grimseys Road. Goodness we've waited 48 years already since the idea of suburban stations was first mooted - if the city develops a game plan of "what needs to go where" it can fill-in the jigsaw pieces as it goes and possibly do so cheaper in many cases than would otherwise be the case by combining the planned transfer node with roading redevelopment or associated new commercial developments.

For example if roading arrangements at some other less important identified exchange point is being upgraded or rebuilt for other reasons, why not do that bus station at the time, even if ahead of other possible priorities? Say for example the Merrin St/Withells Road roundabout was being converted to an intersection with traffic lights or to made the roundabout a bit more big vehicle friendly [as a sideline to my job across the last five or more years I have watched dozens of trucks and buses get half way round this road control and then have to back off to realign!!]. How much extra budget does it take to shape new curbing to accommodate a transfer node bus stop pattern in this shape instead of that shape? Or to build a bigger (but not necessarily fully enclosed) waiting station and wire in an overhead plasma sign at the time. To re-route the buses slightly to allow tight transfer between two (and possibly three or four) routes so transferring passengers can easily make the switch, ideally without having walking around into another street or across busy unprotected roads or (as at Barrington at the moment) navigate between four widely dispersed bus stops on different streets and sections of streets.

But even with suburban stations in sight (ok, ok,  on a very distant horizon if you squint hard enough!!) it is hard for planners to make choices until the city knows exactly where it is going!
In my case I believe in an integrated network total mobility pattern I call NICERide - today's routes better timed and in a few cases slightly re-routed to criss cross in constant and predictable,  interactive flow patterns, every hour the same according to only two variations.  
In the NICERide scenario there are two underlying core patterns (A) 9am-6pm Mon-Sat; and (B) Mon-Sat 6pm-11pm and all day Sunday - during these hours the core services run to the same pattern every hour, either A or B pattern applying..additional services in the peak hour etc or middle of the day Sunday on one or two routes etc do not alter the underlying core service pattern, which is itself hugely user friendly for pulsed (alternating or staggered) services through each area and for transfers at node points along the way - ideally arrive from anyone of six directions/transfer to depart in any one of six directions. In this scenario having only nine big note transfer stations would be too little - yes they are needed but so too would be16 lesser identified transfer nodes, essentially mainly fairly normal bus stops immediately opposite each other or slightly staggered with a road narrowing to allow safe pedestrian passage at the rear of each bus stop and real time plasma signs to calculate transfer times.

I believe If Christchurch had a game plan of an integrated system of routes, rapid transit busways, express peak hour cross town options and co-ordinated bus timetables we could be sneaking in a city wide bus network as painlessly, cost effectively and little noticed or resisted as the current tramway (read light rail loop) being built in the central city!

Piggybacking costs and integrating construction into anyway planned or needed street reconstruction and upgrades, where real costs are minimized or spread, makes sense.

** Found hiding in the University of Canterbuty library in the most incredibly fusty and outdated section on public transport technolgy, concepts, planning this side of the black stump !