Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Proof that the future doesn't exist? Or is it just a very long wait?

"Girl on a wall" Sculptor Clemen Pasch;
Photographer Turelio. Installed 1979
Aachen, Germany. Wikimedia Commons

Unbeknownst to the wabbit, his concern about the lack of designated mass rapid transit strategy in Christchurch (and therefore the inability of the present administrations to protect future busway and rail corridors) is being echoed in Auckland.

Ok ok, the fluffy one's ego is big but not quite that big. Echo?? The flutter of a butterfly's wing made reverberate around the whole world but he doubts if the wave of his fluffy paw does. He won't even try to pass it off as "great minds think alike". Reality is you don't need an echo chamber or a big brain to see that the future must be planned and the bigger or more extended (including linear) the project is the greater the run up time must be. A week may be a long time in politics but a decade is a mere weekend when planning major infrastructure.

The event to which I refer is reported in this morning's NZ Herald;

"Six organisations including the Transport Agency, KiwiRail, the Auckland Regional Transport Authority and Auckland International Airport Ltd are preparing to sign a memorandum of understanding to begin detailed planning investigations for airport rail services through both Onehunga and Puhinui. Auckland Regional Council and Manukau City Council have also agreed to sign the document, even though they are about to be supplanted by the Super City. Despite the gulf between leading mayoral candidates John Banks and Len Brown over when airport rail links should be built, both agree that preferred routes should be "future-proofed" early against encroaching land developments. Mr Brown is campaigning for a railway line to the airport via Onehunga within 10 years."

Boldness my addition - read whole news report here. [Noted - on the NZ Herald sidebar of the same article an interesting backgrounder about city-airport rail links in Australia]

As always when I read of such large spend ups (or wish-lists) in Auckland I think, "For goodness sake, how much money does it take to get a jaffa rolling?" This population of the Auckland metropolitan area is only three and half times the population size of Christchurch but has already had at least thirty times the Government investment in public transport infrastructure that Christchurch has had in the last decade ($600m Project DART rail upgrade; $200m Britomart; $500 (loaned) electric train purchase; $220m segregated busways; plus etc). Now they are talking in the same article about tunnels under the Waitemata, tunnels from Britomart to Karangahape Road (or somewhere), loop routes to the airport - a billion here, four billion there!!

I don't blame Aucklanders - it is a huge amount of money to recover but Auckland is the country's biggest productive muscle, and due to motorway madness and ignoring overseas trends as ended up with very high wastage of its GDP on transport, undermining its ability to compete with cities overseas. So its catch up mode. I don't blame Aucklanders so much as wonder where Christchurch has been for the last decade. It not only missed the boat, it missed the train, the bus and the cycleway. And not least it missed that merry old gentleman, Mr Cullen, with his bag of money to hand out.

Christchurch started off jumping to the head of the queue with our bus system early adopting technologies such as Real Time signage, computer chip cards, GPS bus tracking etc, excellent systems some elements still not implemented in many bigger cities such as Auckland and Sydney. And our city started off be developing a very comprehensive relatively clear and simple bus route network, including the Orbiter, Metrostar; the city council chipping in with The Shuttle, quality shelters widely implemented, and building the Bus Exchange (as far as I know without any central Government funding).

Back about 2005 we seemed to be going somewhere! But it seems to me co-ordination between city and Ecan was more a diplomatic nicety than a gritty working party approach to strategies and securing funding. Whilst Auckland and Wellington developed clear mass transit strategies for upgrading and extending rail (both) and busways (Auckland). Christchurch, never really analysed where it needs to go. Most the dynamic forms of transport - from light rail in many European centres to busways in China, or heavy rail almost everywhere - is grade separated - has its own segregated lane or separate corridor and does not compete with cars for the greater part of its journey. That is the essence of mass rapid transit. Implementing on street bus lanes is a fall back solution when circumstances don't allow otherwise, bottom level stuff, around for forty years in some cities, always hard to police. In Christchurch they appear to have been the nearest thing to a rapid transit strategy and the council couldn't even achieve this - it took 12 years to get three routes part-laned, part-time, and final completion of the remaining six has now been pushed back to 2019!

Far from future proofing the city;

- the land that allowed rail to enter from the north and turn towards the city was taken to build the Blenheim Road flyover and commercial buildings, absudity, decreasing future options drastically.

- the Bus Exchange was outgrown ..bizarre really ...not that it grew too small so soon but that it had so little leeway to expand anyway built into its planning!

- the already appallingly slow and inept bus lane strategy, defeated by retailers in Riccarton in 1997, decided to go sideways with 18 months delay whilst bus boarder trials in Hills Road were held. The political nous of a mouse would see this was never gonna sell to the voters, an absurd waste of time and a delay that has cost the city lost millions in bus lane funding. Was it really so strangely unpredictable that the National Government was never going to back public transport to the extent Labour traditionally has.

- the pressure to look at rail led to two fairly informal studies by consultants, we learnt the ball park figures. Looking at things generically to me is 90% a waste of time - public transport is so dependent for success on getting lots of factors right, getting the stars in conjunction, it is working from the more precise costing of specific projects we arrive at the generic understanding of broad possibilities.

- in the last decade no investigation appears to have been made of segregated type busways (despite Auckland scoring government $200 million for their Northern Busway and the growth of this phenomena overseas). Council owned Edgeware Pool was sold off although any strategic study would consider this one of the city's prime obvious busway alignments to allow very quick access to Northlands, Belfast and North Canterbury! The Southern motorway makes no provision for a simple bus underpass (for instance off Annex Road) that would have allowed public transport easy fast access to one of the city's biggest industrial/office park zones in Birmingham Drive areas - an area with no current bus service because it is too congested to get effective bus services in there!

- the Urban Development Strategy is created by several local city councils, Ecan and Transit NZ, obviously all car drivers around the table because rapid (public) transit corridors which seem to form the very skeleton and prime basis of city plans and green rebuilds just about everywhere else don't even feature. High density zones are nowhere linked to fast busways or a rail network.

- Christchurch gains a Mayor of vision, unfortunately an idealistic vision overly imported from overseas without too much modification or adjustment to Christchurch conditions or the size of our taxpayer/rating base [but at least he's having a go!]. A trip to the country that arguably has the poorest public transport levels of any developed country to visit their hugely subsidised systems in cities all at least five times the metropolitan population that of Christchurch provides a pleasant outing but agenda sees what agenda sets out to see, no objective evaluation. The slim, mainly generic, report with no serious number crunching did not suggest a good investment of $30,000 plus in rates money.

- The normal amateurish Christchurch level of research and misreading of public transport by those who neither use it nor study it, continues with CEO Marryat sent to research rail options rather than council employing qualified persons to research strategic transport needs, area by area and offer comparable evaluation of ALL mode options.

- new Government imposed Ecan commisioner Rex Williams sets a target of 30 million passengers a year for Christchurch Metro by 2020, almost a doubling of patronage in ten years.
Yeah right. Measured against cities elsewhere this sort of growth will need huge investments in rail or busway corridors, infrastructure needed to capture peak hour commuters, not very likely given above record. Nor very likely given Metro's current so-so growth, arrested bus lane projects, and inability so far to create attractive fast express route services commuter services to the outer suburbs, or create busway corridors.

It would be humorous if it wasn't sad, that a childlike "saying so can make it so" replaces strategic grunt and hard miles research. The recent low quality route changes in South Christchurch and North Eastern suburbs, cutting services in some areas and duplicating others unnececessarily, and creating extravagantly devious routes, whilst destroying almost all north-south travel and QEII access options for eastsiders, says clearly to me "we don't know where we are going, we have no strategic criteria, no expanding vision to implement, we are not even working in concert with the city council's pool policy".

- There is no sense of vision for me in the transport side of the Anderton campaign. Rather we are hearing a mundane "a bit more of this or that, and let us not expect the Government to front up with the full Bus Exchange cost. There sense is that he has no deep roots in local affairs, too long in Wellington, so no organic policies arise. I am not hearing let us stand up for our city and say we want a better share of public transport funding than "Auckland 30 Christchurch 1" . We want a support packet for bus exchange underground AND for bus lane completion AND for suburban bus exchanges AND for cycleway expansion AND for rail and busway corridor research. If you don't have a game plan what can you work and strive towards, what can you win or find funding towards?
All these things not happening, opportunities missed, going backwards, or running purely on fantasy. All proof that the future does not exist in Christchurch!! Yet

Monday, September 27, 2010

Riding the rails on the western range, complete with google map

After Christopher Robin went to bed the stuffed wabbit awoke on the shelf. "Hey winnipeg wanna play trains?"  There was a loud snore, the sickly reek of stale honey on the bear's breath filled the room. "Well if he won't play I'll  gonna do it anyway" said the scraggly bunny, wide awake now, jumping down. He pulled out a map of Christchurch and  spread it on the floor and wound up the clockwork train.  "Hmm" he said, "What's going to work best with such a small population?"

Yup a man who doesn't believe Christchurch can support commuter rail until it gets much bigger (or fuel goes up or some other pattern changes) has spent his weekend playing trains, just looking at some possibilities that rattle around in his head. 

As the dream of commuter rail is an ongoing affair in Christchurch I have entered this as a "Page" - a permanent fixture on the sidebar that does not get buried under subsequent postings. It is listed as Western Rail Corridor and the page itself has a link to a Google map, It was made using the user-created maps system. Google map system is free but an absolute torture to use! Ridiculously difficult to delete things, even following their instructions (maybe my computer isn't set up right!) and difficult not to make mistakes. But the map does give a rough idea. As in all public transport there are multiple trade-off factors here and extensive cost benefit studies would be necessary, looking at several options including the old "Do nothing"

Of course the key element would be if KiwiRail itself saw long-term value in this option (for freight).Even so, in the end commuter rail can never be substitute for a better bus service  - even in places where commuter rail use is heavy,  buses still typically carry a very high percentage of local public transport passengers!. And too often rail gets funding into the tens (if not hundreds) of millions and one wonders if that sort of money was used on buses, creating segregated busways, or underpasses or bus only flyovers etc whether a better return for the investment would be achieved, as seems to be suggested by the success of sophisticated busway systems in Ottawa and Brisbane and more recently in various Chinese cities

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Reviewing my first year as Capt'n of my own Blog

A Spring Stocktaking ........

It is now 12 months since I figured out how to make my first posting on NZ in Tranzit. Yes it's the talkative wabbit's birthday!  I suspect this may be boring to others but a time to do a spring stocktake for me ...hardened readers may find it of mild interest!

Since September 23 2009  I have made 117 postings, not counting about a dozen entries on the "Pages". I get very little correspondence - about 50/50 online and privately, and about 50/50 junk mail/serious. In a way I suspected right from the start I wouldn't get much correspondence because such a high percentage of readers are probably employed in some way linked to public transport and it would be difficult to express opinions without compromising ones' job security or advancement. I luckily stand outside this, though with many casual and informal connections to various people and facets of local infrastructure and transit and a depth background in both. The dwatted "wabbit" alter ego stuff, a photo found from my youth, preserves a small degree of privacy for one who works on counters dealing with thousands of patrons a year....the astute Fudd-like hunter maybe able to find a far less debonair truth deep within these pages. 

I have received roughly about 70 communications in the last 12 months, the most valued generally from local polticians and community activists. This is partly because, if I write about bus services to a particular area of the city I often send all local community board members/Councillors/known local community activists/appropriate journalists etc an invitation to read the posting and the little blip in readership in the next 48 hours suggests at least some do so. My main interest is to raise awareness of public transport options, foster wider understanding, stir up thought and debate. Although I'd like to think that I have some bloody good ideas (spouting off so much as I do!) it is more raising the issue that matters, public transport is actually a vast and multi-faceted field with many contradictory factors to balance so there is never any absolutely "right way". Ideas  promoted in NZ in Tranzit are only some amongst many possibilities. Careful analysis beyond my capacity or professional cost/benefit studies may reveal better ideas than those suggested here,the key thing is to see the issue itself gets addressed.  

Unfortunately it often seems public transport decisions (that affect the lives of thousands) are being made on the basis of some political whim or kneejerk reaction to a vocal minority rather than indepth research and strategic criteria. Typically the complexity of doing public transport well is completely under-estimated by members of the public or politicians (for example check the complexity of doing bus stops well, see recent postings here,  here,  or here).  Because everybody has seen or even ridden on buses or trains members of the public or elected officials presume an expertise - without any further study or research. The public hold opinons about public transport - simple authorative statements like "We need rail" or "We need smaller buses at night" with a confidence  they would never presume about what type of wharf cranes or wjhat type of medical equipment other public authorities (also partly  tax funded) should be buying!

In reality a large percentage of the public don't understand the most basic realities - transit is a largely tidal flow system and empty or part empty buses/trains is inherent in the system, just as empty coal wagons are inherent in trains returning to the mines on the West Coast rail line! Also, the main costs of buses are labour and maximising bus capacity (larger buses even if only part filled most of the time) is far cheaper than running smaller buses in almost every context. Not least it avoids the added capital and operating costs of running two sets of buses for different times of the day. Underlying these factors - transit is also an "averages game" - cut out evening or weekend services and you will lose a certain amount of everyday day-time users (including some 500 trips per year plus commuters like myself) people who won't rely on public transport if it has limited hours, leaving them stranded. They will create other systems, socially and personally less effective. In this sense there are always a few are ghost riders on later or lightly used services - they may only ride these later buses tend times a year - but full time use at other times pushes up patronage figures, levers the average.  The key marker of success is the average passengers per trip or per kilometre across the year, not any one trip. As with many small businesses, the most successful can often be the least ostentatious, with factors such as route length, group tendering of routes and scheduling patterns able to bring better economies of use on some routes [irrespective of patronage appearances] than others. 

Getting back to the blog, until I discovered how to install a visitor counter I was fairly much under the impression I only a few readers. At times I despaired "What's the bloody use!! A voice in the wilderness...dancing around his juniper tree like the mad holy man in "The Life of Brian", you're nuts man, give up". But I like blogging and a few supportive gestures and comments held me there.  My shock on installing a visitor counter about late February was to discover about 150 visitors a week. Oh my God!

Still, I thought, the internet is so vast, surely these are in great part random hits occurring across the world (perhaps 5% NZ) from people cruising the internet.  About three months ago I found Blogger was offering a simple statistical system for analysing page hits per day, week, month etc and could also identify country of origin. Upto yesterday, since February, the counter had clicked over 7000 page views with currently 50.5% of these originating in NZ, 22% in the USA; 7-8% each Australia, Canada, UK; followed by Germany and Brazil, and then China, Russia etc in tiny numbers. Last month (28 days) I received 1,966 page views...over 900 hundred from NZ readers ... an amount I find astounding for a subject like public transport!  It bodes well for the future of our society that there seems to be so much active interest in this alternative to private car use or ownership.

Apart from the odd letter to The Press,  which only allows any idea a couple of paragraphs, all my ideas in the past have never got much beyond being read by a few (usually unknown) planners or politicians sitting in session on route change or strategic long term planning reviews. Often response was minimal or non-at all, a pretty tough call on the heart and soul when the submissions had taken weeks and dozens of hours to prepare. In a way many of my submissions were "ideological" ...arose out or promoted some larger concepts such as Bus Rapid Transit or intelligently integrated services or bringing information about ALL bus services (public/private, urban/long distance) under one umbrella. They were too big for the scope of the review or the understanding of planners who may be too overworked handling nitty gritty details to have time for the larger vision.  A blog is so much more suited to this "inspirational" or "political" role, not least because new concepts need to get a foothold in the public imagination before politicians or planners are likely to call for their investigation.

A key example; Bus Rapid Transit is advancing (appropriately) at a rapid pace around the world as an alternative to conventional bus systems and to light rail . In Auckland over five years ago two different busways received Government funding of $220 million in total whilst Christchurch politicians were looking the other way busily discussing the pros and cons of a hypothetical rail system. I find it bizarre (and ultimately appalling) that to the best of my knowledge the busway concept has never been seriously investigated by either of the two main public authorities in Christchurch though it obviously has huge potential to move far more passengers than any rail system city wide, and at a fraction of the cost and social disruption. Instead we have had an excruciatingly slow and painful process dating back to 1997 to achieve three part-time part route bus laned routes (with an 18 month detour into the "bus boarder" which was never going to be "politically acceptable") with Government funding now severely cut for future routes! "Mass rapid transit planning is by nature linear - rail, light rail or busways or heavy bus use corridors and need an extended free run alignment - planning  must be started years in advance to achieve good results. Beyond some part-time bus lanes, or a few extra express buses, - our city doesn't even have a significant mass rapid transit strategy. In fact it doesn't even run buses to some key employment zones! 

Although the Blogger stats system only reveals the number of visitors to a list of the 20 most read postings, it is extremely reassuring to me to see four out the five most frequently read postings are postings about the Bus Rapid Transit concept and its potential in Christchurch. The single most read posting,  day after day,  is "City to Burwood, Prestons - fifteen minutes by busway? which perhaps best expresses the BRT concept in application. Readers presumably include many Christchurch residents, the audience I most seek. I have also seen reference in the last few months to busways or bus rapid transit in newsmedia by journalists and politicians - usually ineptly and poorly understood, but at least the concept is finally getting presence in local debate.

Posting referring to quality standards in bus scheduling - a little dry as a subject perhaps but surprisingly one that  attract significant interest, perhaps from those who rely upon buses most and identify with issues raised.  Items about "Designline" (bus manufacturers originally from Ashburton) and another about new approaches to buses in New York, both feature in the "top 20" and get many visits (presumably from US readers). An fairly early article about regional commuter services from Timaru to Christchurch  and Christchurch Airport (not rocket science to create but currently none!) is another posting fairly constant in the "most read" listings. New boy on the block picking up extra readers most days is the very recent postings about the potential of a western-airport rail corridor. Suprisingly the earthquake postings - included as much for general overseas/other centre interest as relevance to transit - get very few visits, and therefore do not distort what appears to be a genuine interest in public transport or rail or buses from most readers. It is gratifying too that amongst the recently started "Pages" (on sidebar) the NICERide concept gets by far the most visits of these pages, the idea of bus services being a disparate group of routes is an anachronism now that modern technology, bus reliability and fast loading, lanes and bus based traffic light controls, communications and GPS tracking devices, make an integrated mesh or mosaic system possible, particular in smaller cities with less regular services.  

I get a lot of fun out of blogging and enjoy reading a range of other blogs that have a good mix of personal character, humour, information, analyses and criticism and a wide range of bits and pieces - it is a unique new form of journalism, partly magazine style very much "in the moment" ( a photo taken on the street and posted ten minutes goes world-wide instantly) and yet also offering an enduring encyclopedia - posts written months or a year** ago are still being read every day, the gift that goes on giving.  All in all blogging is so suited to my (verbose!) character, love of storytelling, writing and tying together quirky things and my deep and nosy interest in local infrastructure, architecture and public systems!

After years of frustration it is nice to know the little man can still have some influence on public life. At last Joe Bloggs has a voice!!

Thanks to all, readers and contributors, and fellow transit fans and bloggers .

**from tomorrow

Monday, September 20, 2010

Postcard from the Past - Cathedral Square c1969

This is "the Christchurch" that so many older people will remember best from the 1960s and 1970s  - cars, buses, cyclists, running right around the Square (and yes, even back then at nights, boy racers in modest amounts looping the loop - but not too much, being obvious prey for traffic cops). The United Services Hotel - background - had a cosmopolitan ambience that gave old fashion strength to the Square as a public place. Even the fire escapes in some curious way work with the design. With its huge limestone blocks (and a bit of strengthening) would it have weathered the recent Earthquake? The Catholic Cathedral of the Blessed Sacrament of similar material and also strengthened is damaged but repairable. The removal of this landmark building about two decades ago did much to kill the Square as the "heart" of the city, the building that replaced it is not unattractive but completely lacking in the necessary presence for such a role. The BNZ has had a makeover since, with a curved soft green glass feature added, down the wall facing the viewer in this postcard,  and looks more attractive in her middle years than she did here, a fairly boring 60s building.

see also - Item 3 "The end of the Empire" - recently added to "ChiCha a little history"

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Can Sydenham afford to rebuild without re-zoning?

Interestingly I was back in Sydenham again yesterday and I don't think any part of the city is so consistently ravaged as the old commercial heart of Sydenham. The whole street from Colombo Street overbridge to Brougham Street and Sydenham Park is like a maze - every bit one side or other of the street fenced by safety fences or a wall of protective containers and narrowed to one way passage. It is not only the new bus lanes being built (below) that are somewhat obstructed!

The other side of this equation is that the damage is greatest because Sydenham still had a significant number of older - 19th century - shops, dating from its heyday as one New Zealand's most prosperous energetic towns.  Underlying this is not so much committed preservation as the economic decline of the northern end of Sydenham as the centre of commercial activity.  The home of most national chains and franchise has moved south of Brougham to the area opposite the park. A big factor here as with suburban shops and malls is the shops in this area offer extensive car parks immediately around the buildings. 

A major question mark would seem to hang over Sydenham's blighted heritage buildings - can the owners/city afford to rebuilt which inherently must include strengthening and upgrading  (not just the repairs covered by insurance) when the area itself appears to have been struggling for years to retain tenanted shops or accommodation above them?

Can Sydenham afford to rebuild heritage buildings when - and I hate to say this as a non-car owner and heritage lover - when the style of shops with only parking kerbside in front has become essentially an outdated technology? 

Can Sydenham afford to rebuild without re-zoning? 

In June I suggested that history has shown the conversion of the entire area from older working classes houses into industrial area was probably a mistake... it has created an enormous dead (at evenings, weekends) swathe separating the city and CBD from Southern suburbs. I suggested back then [regrettably in creating a link to the current item I somehow deleted this earlier posting!!] that the area between Gasson Street and Durham Street - one block each side of the central Colombo St corridor - should be given a special designation of mixed use allowing light industry, commercial and recreational and residential area, to be built side by side within certain noise/pollution parameters. My vision was of four to six storey apartments being built bringing a 24 hour a day life back into area, with light industry and wharehousing etc continuing cheek by jowl, recreating the more lively atmosphere of human activity that some people prefer - including immigrants, students, retired people who like to see the world at work around them [hopefully readers who never saw the June 19th article "Saving Sydenham" can get the ghist from this quick description]

This would be a 20-30 year evolution, a reversal of the previous trends within a specified area, but would generate its own special dynamic, attractive to certain people who prefer to live within noisier, more energetic and alive neighbourhoods.  I believe the earthquake has accented the case for such a development, restoring heritage shops that are not the heart of a lively living community including residents seems pointless. From an opportunist viewpoint the removal of one or two damaged buildings, beyond saving, might also open up possiblity  [again I hate to say it, but let's be realistic!] for more parking immediate adjacent to shops. Also for the creation of some attractive park and performance areas and enhanced landscaping.

An added  wild card factor here is the potential to build a railway station in the land immediately below the Colombo Street overbridge. Readers of past postings will know I don't believe Christchurch is big enough to sustain a commuter rail system but paradoxically also seem to be the only person advocating investigation of a double track railway line from Islington up past the Airport to Styx Mill (then to Belfast, Kaiapoi and Rangiora etc).  This creates multiple passenger traffic generating points, needed to compensate for the relatively small size of population such a system might serve.

Lately my views have evolved a step further and I have come to play with the idea that both the current [slightly absurd] station at Tower Junction and the line between Addington and Papanui (perhaps even Styx) should be dumped completely. This land (except for the marvellous cycleway) could be sold off for commercial development (current station and area) and housing (current line through Fendalton-Bryndwr-Papanui) adding a bit to new rail funds. This puts all eggs into one basket - double or even in part triple tracking from city to Islington...with a rail trench under Lincoln Road and Whiteleigh Avenue...double tracking north and south from the threeway Islington rail junction.  Entry to the city from the north on tourist and commuter rail via the Airport would add extra few minutes, but if the line is brand new, heavy duty, totally computerised and totally grade separated (all overbridges or underpasses, no level crossings) there is no reason for commuter trains not to achieve an attractive fast paced journey. To me the logical place to terminate such tourist and commuter trains is not Addington but at a new station built on  the large apron of land immediately adjacent the former goods shed in the photograph below (or possibly in an attractive conversion, within them).

An interesting facet of this scenario - obvious in the photo below - is the by-pass effect of the current main lines for shunting  and the passage of freight and coal trains to Lyttelton - unlike many other situations these would not run through the station area and platforms but around the outskirts, greatly minimising rail congestion and potential for accident. Possibly the sheds themselves could be flashed up into a classy station, long distance bus station and shopping mall....making the areas at the north of Sydenham prize real estate for office parks and residential areas - residents easily accessing major industrial zones ...Addington, Middlepark, Parkhouse, Hornby, Islington, Rolleston, Airport, Johns Road, Belfast etc . Or easily accessing those same areas and Sydenham and city for residents from Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Belfast, Styx etc. All that is needed to top off this combination is to build the northern busway I have long advocated, from Belfast rail/bus centre  through to Grassmere (underpassing QEII drive and Cranford St) and then straight down Rutland and Caledonia and Durham Street.

It is a damn pity I think our city is too small to have a commuter rail system..............but it doesn't hurt to know where you are going well in advance....unlike normal future development transit corridors are linear and need very long term planning only takes one or two new buildings to render a transit corridor inoperable or hugely more expensive to build. I don't know who owns this land but I can't imagine it will stay vacant and open, not built upon indefinitely!

Saving Sydenham might take vision and imagination more than just money.  It might take more than painting by numbers, it might need to go beyond the writing on the might need tagging the area fror future use, now...... (and other puns to weak to be worth using as an excuse to include one small sample part of the magnificent multi-panel tag art wall on this building)

Friday, September 17, 2010

NEWSFLASH Geyser erupts in Christchurch, Army, Police move to take Control

Wabbit doesn't normally do "news" (his last newshound scoop, news from 1962 was a tad past use-by-date) but loping home this afternoon he found a quiet suburban street blocked by army and police ....Christchurch gets more bizarre by the moment !!.....because a huge geyser had erupted.

But rest assured dear local readers,  not a reawakening of the Lyttelton volcano (last eruption 5 million years ago or was it 12 million) - nope just a major water main playing havoc  - and I'll play newsboy [NZ "in-joke"]. No doubt the pipe has been stressed by the repeated earthquakes [a good kid's story -  "The big water pipe who couldn't" - "I just can't take anymore, I can't, I can't!!" gurgled the large concrete pipe "There. there dear you've wet yourself" said mummy earth, "And you've pissed all over me, you bloody little brat" she said throwing a large earthquake in disgust] .

The pipe burst into outer space throwing blocks of tarseal everywhere and flooding poor old Abberly Crescent . Obviously the army and police need to be called (if only because they are getting very bored guarding piles of bricks that used to be buildings) and this added immensely to the occasion.

Small stuff really but as I have readers in Latvia and Poland I feel absolutely honour bound that I must be get this world shattering news onto world circuits before anyone else does ......hey bro and sis democrats don't you just love the way modern technology is upping the quantity, quality and independence of news from all sources?  Imagine all the "what-a dick-head-you-are-youtubes" of Adolf Hitler that might have circulated, him been putting his hand across his crotch, as he often did in photos,if youtubes were around in 1926?  [apparently this posture is a subconscious fear of wolves ripping out one's genitals!]. 
Anyway here are the pics from earthquake battered Christchurch only 40 minutes ago; you read it first on NZ in Tranzit !! (oops forgot to mention all Metrostar buses are being detoured around same great sinkhole - I knew there was some public transport connection)

"Excuse me madam the Government of Fiji has taken over NZ and we suspect you may be trying to smuggle the collected writings of Helen Clarke in your glovebox" 

"Are you sure this is the way to the blind instititute?"

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Simply Effective Sydenham Park

During the disruption to normal routes and services immediately  after the earthquake, I happened to end up at Sydenham Park at twilight, waiting to catch a bus northwards. I thought here is a good model of a potential bus transfer node point and had my camera so I took this photo.

The first thing that strikes most readers looking at this will probably be nothing strikes them!  It is an extremely mundane view. Possibly the most boring sight in the Southern Hemisphere.

Ok not quite that bad.

This simple photo contains some KEY ELEMENTS of infrastructure for a successful integrated bus system.  In my thinking apart from about 6-9 major transfer stations such as The Palms and Westfield, Christchurch could one day have about 15-20 such "transfer nodes" type stops vaguely resembling the picture above. This stop, an instop, on the major multi-route corridor heading south from the Bus Exchange along Colombo Street Bus Exchange to Milton Street - at which point one route (15) veers off to the left/east ; two routes (10,12) continue straight ahead/south ; three routes (8,11,14) veer off the right/west. It is about 6 minutes south of the city Bus Exchange.

The elements it contains are (a) a bus shelter (b) real time signage, albeit the often unreliable push button sort (c) a pedestrian crossing with traffic signals to cross to the road (d) and to cross to the rear of a bus stop for the same multiple bus services travelling in the opposite direction (e) an exclusive bus lane for quick exit from the bus stop regardless of the size of the main lane traffic queue (f) a public toilet of the sort that has separate cubicles opening straight outside and which avoids nefarious characters hanging about (g) a public park in which enthusiastic (or bored) children might play or adults might rest in on a sunny day if real time shows the wanted bus service is still 15 minutes away (h) it has a range of shops within a minute or so walk, including the immediately adjacent Funky Pumpkin vege mart [veges often the heaviest lug weights for noncar users], the Mobil Service Station convenience store for smokers and ice creamers;  Pizza and Liquour Stores amongst various others.

This seemingly simple stop has eight useful components.

If it was an official transfer node, such as I suggest in the NICERide concept it might also have  a larger roofed area associated with the bus shelter, a plasma type real time sign on a pole (showing all services due...including those at stop across the road), a floodlight for evenings and a CCTV on a pole, and space to ensure cars stopping to use the toilet do not intrude upon bus access. If need be the bus shelter might be set back into the park slightly to ensure easy through access for non-bus patrons. If a bit further out from the city it might also have a roofed bike rack, included in the CCTV camera range!

Although a high proportion of passengers using this current stop may be able to choose from more than one passing route to access their distant destination,  I imagine very few patrons use this as a transfer point at this point in time. The current way our local Metro services are scheduled and marketed the value of this sort of stop at the moment for making transfers is about five points above zilch! But if readers take a peek at the NICERide concept (in the sidebar "Back at the Depot - Permanent Pages") they will see a very user friendly sample timetable. Sydenham Park is nowhere near the eastern suburbs used to illustrate this concept but the same integrated patterns concepts would apply - services from the stop photographed above might be shown a bit like the New Brighton box, grouped in general areas routes serve. 

I'd imagine the current official attitude would be "Why do we need a transfer point here? - it is only 3 kms from the central Bus Exchange!!". 

The two main points I'd raise in response are;

(A) We already have a transfer point here! Wherever more than one bus services passes the same point we have a potential transfer point - why are we throwing these assets away with such a poorly co-ordinated and poorly marketed early 20th century style system??

(B) To travel from this point to the bus exchange and back will take a minimum of 13 minutes (6 minutes each way and at least one minute to cross the road) on earth does Metro/ECan?Christchurch City Council believe for one minute people can be wooed away from car use if to travel for instance from Tennyson Street to Hoon Hay Road) every passenger has to waste 13 minutes travelling into the city and back out again to achieve transfers.

On the other hand how many additional options would exist with a NICERide map (or dialling up info about a well co-ordinated NICERide system)? Plug into the Orbiter at any one of five points? Go by route z to a point then transfer to another route to travel back inwards, rather than work only in a from the centre outward direction. All options visible with a 30 second scan!

We have a great bus system as far as it goes but as in most other cities, it doesn't go far. Our transit authority still trying to hock off linear route systems with a minimal number of cross town services, in an uncoordinated fashion as an alternative to car use. No one seems to pay much attention to the fact that cars can go anywhichway and cars are what buses are competing against. The reality is not many people will forsake cars in a hurry in the best of circumstances but as we are all paying for a bus service why not make one that is at least in the journey time/cost ratio highly competitive with car use? One that not only has well planned routes (stay on the one bus) and cross town routes (not every crosstown needs to be a major service) but is brilliantly easy to switch routes (at any one of 25 instantly viewable node points and transfer stations), minimises waiting time between alternating routes and allows every passenger to choose from simple to compare options to achieve the fastest or most useful service in any direction.  

Amazing what a simple bus stop can tell us if we have the ears to listen!!

NOTE; For a completely different angle on Sydenham see a newly added Page "ChiCha - a little history"

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Yikes - will this move the earth too?

Correspondent Glen, (see last posting), has alerted me to this fabulous new invention  Amazingly it is born out of Christchurch by inventor Grant Ryan. And isn't it great it has received such strong backing from local innovation funding sources. Love the youtube ad, though a friend who saw one of these in operation wondered about the fairly high speed on pedestrian areas. I wonder too about balance and backpacks - not many people without a car travel without some sort of hand or back luggage. Perhaps if it becomes a popular form of transit it will also impact upon the shape and nature of public transport.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Christchurch getting back on feet - and wheels

Christchurch (and NZ in Tranzit)  are very much on the move again. Although the possibility of strong after-shocks remains, the city of Christchurch is now getting extended periods between felt earthquakes. The old wabbit pokes his head out of his burrow but feels it a bit churlish to be rushing into critiques of this or that bus system for a day or two, so he's just saying hello to one and all.  

The photo above,  a dinky little bicycle (well it does have two wheels) presumably powered by electricity he spotted zooting across Latimer Square the other day. I've never seen one before - does anyone know anything about this machine?? 

For those curious about the earthquake I enclose a few photos as a "Page" (see side bar). As the central city was cordoned off these do not show most of the larger buildings that came down in the earthquake, but does have a link to wikipedia and a very, very graphic earthquake and aftershock map.

The photo below shows part of the long queue of detoured buses heading down Durham Street (the Bus Exchange still off limits) on the first day services were resumed.  I suspect that closed businesses and the complications of moved stops and detoured routes probably made it the lowest earning business day in local public transport history - even in peak hours I never saw more than five passengers on any of the buses I caught. The level of response or need is impossible to predict in such a rare post-disaster scenario and  I for one thank Metro for working quickly to give carless people a chance to get around the city as soon as possible after several days hiatus.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

All Shook Up!

As readers may be aware the city of Christchurch, New Zealand.  was hit by a 7.1 richter scale earthquake at 4.35 am yesterday morning. It lasted about 40 seconds, I think - it sure felt much longer being there!.  I live in a 150 year old non-reinforced two storey brick house! Being upstairs in an older brick house being shaken like it was in the jaws of a dog, kneeling in the dark because it was too hard to stand, with the frenzied shaking and with the roar and clatter of our huge old Victorian chimneys disintegrating  is not a recommended experience! 

But allelujiah the wabbit lives!! An even more amazingly so does everyone else in Christchurch! Astounding given that about 500 plus buildings are damaged and 90 inner city buildings (mainly heritage ones and old character buildings are severely damaged, some semi-collapsed no one was killed and only two people severely injured! As we are getting constant and often sharp after shocks I am keeping this post short  (wow some good came of the quake then!!!) so I don't need to spend too long in this still shaky house, for the next few days. Will post some pics next visit - I believe Wikipedia already has a web page anyway.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More about Christchurch's transport woes; new Colombo Street transit lanes blocked by vehicles ....boy racers ....buses not meeting contractual, without light, taxis not meeting standards


Obstructing the Tramway.

Charles H. Lewis was charged with having on April 2 wilfully, and without lawful excuse driven upon the line of the Canterbury Tramway Company, Limited, such tramway being authorised under the provisions of the Tramways Act, 1872, there remaining "in such a manner and for such a time as to obstruct a carriage using the tram way." Mr Cowlishaw appeared for the company, and Mr Stringer for the defendant. J. Evans Brown, Chairman of the Company, produced the order in Council authorising the line, and the deed of concession between tho City Council and the Company. The line had been duly inspected and reported fit for traffic. John Smith, guard employed by the Company, deposed that he was with the 4.40 train going along Colombo street. At the loop line by Montgomery's they were stopped, defendant being on the line with a brake and a pair of horses. He declined to move, although several times requested to do so, and notwithstanding the information that people were being conveyed to the railway. The train was delayed six or seven minutes, and the train was missed. Lewis told witness he was doing it more for a test case......[ the arrogant bastard was duly fined by the unsympathetic magistrate]


Furious Riding

George Robertson was charged with furiously riding a horse along the Ferry road on March 24, the evidence being to the effect that accused and another man— on the day of the Regatta— were racing their horses, notwithstanding that many people were on the road. Thomas Pepperill, the second man referred to, was also summoned. Both denied having ridden furiously. His Worship said there was no doubt the accused were riding recklessly. Fined 10s each and costs.


A Wandering 'Buss

William Hayward, summoned for running his 'bus on a route other than that allotted to him, without advertising the alteration, produced copies of advertisements inserted by him. It appeared that accused was licensed to ply between Christchurch and Sumner, and turned back at Lichfield street,- not having gone the full extent of his route. Accused said it was raining very hard, and there were no passengers. He did not think he was required to do the journey under the circumstances. His Worship said opinions differed on this point. Accused contended that the 'bus never started on its journey. He was there to fulfil his advertised engagement if there was anyone to go, and there was nothing whatever in the Act to compel him to go 16 miles without a passenger. His Worship held that accused did start on the journey, and that he might be fined. He was, however, content to admit the explanation, as accused might have been under a misapprehension.


No Lights.

M. Goodger, for not having proper lights on his licensed cab, was fined 10s and cost 2s.— Wm. Jordan and Michael O'Keef were also fined 10s oach.

All items  from a single day's court news in 
The  Star,  Christchurch,  12 April 1880, Page 3

Hey, is nothing new?

There's a lot of Christchurch transport history and, for me, a bit of personal history, linked to "everybody's the day in court" here.This was only a few weeks after the first tram cars in Christchurch, pulled by Kitson Steam trams, began running;  I have lived in one of the houses that Tramway company founder J.Evans Brown - "Yankee" Brown -  lived in during that period and have been able to access his dairies (ex the archives in North Carolina USA) for historical research. The names of the lawyers, Stringer and Cowlishaw  became associated with  streets and multi-generational legal families in Christchurch - one of the Stringers became a Supreme Court Judge. 

During the 2003 Reunion of former Christchurch City bus drivers and 100th anniversary of the founding of the Christchurch Tramway (later Transport) Board one of the original steam trams - one of the few still working in the world - was brought up from Ferrymead Historic Park on a low loader and eased down on to the city's Heritage tramway tracks. It ran for a day ran for a day along city streets. Sitting on an open deck of a tramway trailer behind my surprise was actually how comparatively little steam, smoke or cinders ended up in the face, though perhaps a side wind helped. Along with being one of the few living people in the world to have ridden a draisienne (search term in  previous posts for stunning expose' !) I also enjoy the small (and somewhat obscure) honour of being one of the few humans living in this world to have ridden along city streets in a tramcar pulled by a steam tram.

One hundred and thirty years ago horses did the speedster role and reading old papers it is common to note accidents, collisions or horses kicking or throwing riders leaving a trail of maimed and dead just as cars to today!;  The William Hayward with his errant 'buss, was presumably Billy Hayward who later operated a sizeable livery stable, horse omnibus and later motorised taxi service from "The Rink" in Victoria Square. He also served on the Tramway Board for years and was still there - fifty-two years after the court case above - in 1932 when the trammies went into a bitter and at times violent strike over the dismissal of 12 men including popular union president Jock Mathison. I interviewed Mathison fifty years later in 1977 for the book I wrote on the 1932 tramway strike, by which time he'd been a Member of Parliament and Minister of Transport 1957-60. He remembered Hayward the CTB Board member as a hard bitter old man and commented on the absurdity of a taxi operator being on the tramway board. Mathison himself went from trammy in 1926 to Union president (sacked in 1932) to Labour Board member 1933, and was a member on and off across 50 years, and indeed Chairman of the Transport Board when he died in 1982. Amongst the other trammies I interviewed in the late 1970s was Laurie Donnelly, who started in 1908, did 40 years retired in 1948 and was still alive (as was his wife) in their late 90s thirty years later. It felt like a small honour to capture something of this event and era, before it was lost forever.

When you research and write history the most valued comments come from those that were there at the time; I was hugely chucked when an elderly Wellington lawyer - who had been a boy in Christchurch the 1930s - told my brother "Tell your brother that he really captured the atmosphere of Christchurch in the 1930s" .
I received similar comments from two other elderly survivors of that era.

It is no big deal I know, but it's sort of nice having these connections and root strands weaving back in the city's history and the public transport industry. One does not have to travel far for nourishment or stimulus (or non-malicious gossip) when the roots reach deep! Mind you as these events show, all past eras are there in the present, like layers of lasagne, the same mix of personalities and character traits, the same structural pattern of conflicts of interest, even the same names.

The more things change the more they stay the same.

NOTE This material is sourced from the fabulous PAPERS PAST website - if you have ancestors in New Zealand or want to find out about anything at all from New Zealand's past,post 1840,  using keyword and date search, and many other refinements, this website offers unprecedented access to the past from full  reprints of dozens of NZ newspapers up until 1909 and a already, few past this date (Wellington's "Evening Post" to 1945). For anyone who searched history in past years - which can include endless hours of scanning tiny print newspapers with minimal headines -  the ease and depth, and breadth of material brought to the surface, as well as the speed of acccess is absolutely incredible!!