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

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