Monday, February 28, 2011

Our Home Town

A bit of earthquake coverage, beyond that of newspapers, which touches the heart. A range of photos by Brian Neller (never met) on his facebook entry captures many of the older parts of the CBD and on the streets in the immediate period afterwards. Regular readers might note a building that appeared behind Charlie Chaplin in my New Year posting has now collapsed completely.  Thanks to to Bruce Springsteen (knowing his reputation he will certainly not begrudge this use) his song "Your Hometown" is used as a very evocative backing for post earthquake slide show by Blair Granger (also total stranger) . Bruce's haunting tones may help other highly stretched locals and ex-pats shed a welcome tear for our own beautiful but oh so terribly damaged hometown;  tears to relieve that heavy-heavy stress of these black days. (ps Facebook links may not work for all viewers, or work at all - I have never tried this before)

On a friend's Facebook to another friend, she says, "I drove past the Bealey Ave end of the cordon [around the no entry CBD area] on Barbadoes today, after returning a 6 year old boy who had stayed with us back to his mum in Brighton - thought of you but got distracted by the moment happening on the cordon - a man on a bicycle breaking down sobbing and the army dude walking over to him and wrapping him in his arms...."

What an amazing little cameo that moment is. Let it stand for all that can not be said, too big for any words to render.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Devastating Earthquake in Christchurch

As I presume most NZ in Tranzit readers will probably know, after riding out a 7.1 richter scale earthquake in September last year with no loss of life, Christchurch was hit yesterday by an extremely violent type of aftershock of 6.3 richter scale.

This earthquake has essentially taken out almost every older building in the city - a city renowned for its traditional buildings and English charm, its lovely old world elegance.  It destroyed almost all the older heritage buildings that had survived the original quake. This latest quake occurred in the lunch-hour and the massive widespread collapse of buildings or their facades caught thousands of people at work or out on the streets in their lunch hour. Several modern hgh rise buildings also suffered chronic structural failure. How many people are buried - dead or alive - under rubble remains unknown, though rescue crews have saved several dozen from beneath fallen buildings.

To put it mildly this changes everything. For ever. I have no idea where the future will carry Christchurch. Or at a more personal level my own life or NZ in Tranzit,  debating options for the future of public transport in Christchurch. The sort of critical analysis and advocacy I post here seems suddenly trivial in a city which will probably have to reroute its bus service to avoid the CBD for months and possibly downsize its bus system, as well everything else merely to struggle to stay afloat for the next few years.

Please excuse me if postings remain somewhat only erratic in the coming months. In the meantime  I hope the ideas suggested here, whether for local projects (that can translate to other situations) or in general, will continue to inform and inspire. Thanks.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Housekeeping, stats for first recorded year.

Beautifully made replica of a former Southland railcar, built on the same type of Ford T chassis and motor as used back in 1925 - now in the  brilliant little railway museum at Pleasant Point in South Canterbury. This has nothing to do with the article and that is not me!!

It is now about a year since late February 2010 when I installed the Blogger "Stats" device. This tracks the number of page views for the most read postings, and number of page views in total (by day/week/month/all time) as well as country of that the page viewer is based within, referring sources and main search terms.

In the year to 21 February 21st 2011 I have had 14,599 page visits. Visits per month are more or less steadily increasing (but nothing in life is certain!) and I am currently averaging over 250 kiwi reader page views a week.  It is nothing earth shattering by web standards but very pleasing to me personally, allowing that discussing the nitty gritty details of public transport is hardly everyone's keen interest.

It also represents a huge jump in [potential!] readership from the three or four unknown Metro or Council employees that used to be momentarily exposed to ideas similar to those expressed here. These were made in formal submissions to strategy and route change reviews etc that took weeks or months to compose and I suspect they slid past the gaze of these few officials and into the bin barely stopping.  The modest blips in readership following in the day or two after postings specifically about Christchurch suggest many of the current 250 weekly kiwi page views are made by Christchurch and (strangely enough) Timaru based readers.

Obviously quite a few visits will be accidental or oncers but this said, the unusual spelling "tranzit" creates a strong natural filter, and the Google intro lines clearly indicate this is not a bus company/booking agency etc. Also quite large numbers of readers are introduced via "Human Transit" and "Christchurch Transport Blog" etc [I hope it flows both ways] and this certainly suggests there is plenty of depth and genuine interest there too. On top of this if I post an item on local issues I quite often invite relevant MPs, Councillors, community board members, bus operators, resident associations and various other effected persons to check out the posting. It is used sparingly (no one loves being bombarded by a fanatic) but if the posting is read -  and I do get occasional comments or  a "thank you" -  it does mean at least some alternate vision of public transit beyond that of Metro and Council or the Mayor is being heard in local affairs.

Indeed in the last few months I have heard ideas I've been pushing for ten years without response suddenly popping up in the last elections, in public discourse and appearing in strategies...of course there is no guarantee where the ideas originated .... but well, well, who knows,  maybe I'm having a little influence. Anyone who has been involved with public submissions over a long period knows just how incredibly difficult it is to influence powerful bureacracies or alter pre-set agendas (however seemingly stupid in some cases!) - difficult even for large organisations like the Taxi Drivers Federation or the Transport Agency, let alone individuals.

Who would imagine that blogging from a dark hole  could be both fun and seemingly so influential, even in the teeniest way?

Former ARA bus, buried deep in Waitakeres, Auckland

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Railing against the odds

Currently the city council is running a North-West area review consultation. This concerns mainly the land between the airport and the city's current edge, from Styx Mill down to near Russley.  Simultaneously the Council voted last year for the CEO to organise a study of rail options for Christchurch.  I believe that both of these review parties should be getting a professional evaluation done of bringing rail into the city via a western rail corridor, more or less along the lines suggested above. I have no background or deep understanding of rail but the inherent potential of this concept (versus the current minimal Belfast-Addington link which has no real future proofing) seems far too strong not to be examined in greater depth in consultation with Government, KiwiRail and both major political parties. The concept of an upgraded double tracked freight corridor also appears consistent with the current government commitment to developing an upgraded "Auckland-Christchurch" rail corridor.

A scenario such as this above would probably mean the majority of freight, long distance passenger trains and commuter rail from the north would loop into the city via the Airport (and just as importantly associated industrial zones) and down through Islington, Hornby, and Addington. It is suggested that all the ingredients (the bare bones unscathed by an earthquake) for a multi platform rail and long distance bus centre could be built around the old goods shed immediately beneath the Colombo Street overbridge. 

Potential "state of the art" huge covered open space, for markets, concerts, and  including through rail to Lyttelton and (safely separated)  a city central Christchurch rail terminus -  a central motor force for Sydenham revival?

This may have potential as part of the Sydenham revival (not least because higher density apartments dwellers in that area would have excellent access to several major work zones by rail) as faraway as Rolleston and Rangiora. There could also be added eastern stations at (formerly known as Lancaster Park) and at Ensors Road with obvious value  for CPIT Sullivan Avenue campus and The Orbiter links.

The suggested western rail corridor could be built from scratch across what is currently essentially bare land (though temporary housing might be built on sections until needed) this line would ideally be double tracked all or most of the way and be completely grade separated - no need to reduce speed for  level crossings, no potential accidents with motor vehicles etc. Future housing areas could be planned with the rail link central to design, even if the line itself was not built immediately. Passing the airport area would be done by excavating Orchard Road down to create a dig and cover tunnel, with possibility for a 24/7 segregated freight only through passage and a separate underground passenger rail platform, glass doored off. About a kilometre of trenching of this nature would be needed, similar to that undertaken at New Lynn in Auckland recently.

Workmen preparing to lay railway lines through the newly built New Lynn trench in Auckland Feb 2010

Although this added loop from Styx Mill (Barnes Road area) to airport zone and  Islington and then turning towards the city (on existing corridor) to city extension involves adding 10 kilometres to the northern access it links many existing and new residential and work areas (from Rolleston or further south and Rangiora and all areas between), allows fast trains and heavy trains to move quickly in and out the urban area with far less disruption and allows freight to flow straight from Lyttelton northwards (or vice versa) without reshunting. Potential exists to create a complete new marshalling yard, if needed, at (the aptly named) Islington Junction. For commuter trains it would allow various options for a co-ordinated pattern of fast access in any direction, with transfer points at Islington and Belfast. While it is impossible to even guess the cost-benefit ratio of this proposal, it is certainly likely to have multiple benefits and the cost (in the low to medium hundreds of millions?) would be consistent with rail expenditure in Wellington and Auckland.

In defining the long term strategy and protecting the designated corridors for future use, the adoption of such a strategy would place Christchurch on the mass transit foundation needed to carry it through the coming century.

All been said before in NZ in Tranzit (last time the late Johnny Cash even sung the intro!) -

Railing against the odds?  As usual.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Wabbit finds it hard to punch too many holes in Metro's magnificent Metrocard

Old style CTB concession card c1960?

Christchurch Transport blog provides a very good background piece about Environment Canterbury's decision to charge for new or replacement Metrocards from April 4th. I more or less agree with all said.

From my reading about chip cards used on other public transport systems I have come to believe the fair city of Christchurch, NZ  probably has the best value public transport "loyalty" system in the world.

The system works as follows, card can be loaded on the bus or at the central bus exchange on the bus for multiples of $10. It will be soon also be possible to load cards online or at public libraries.

The first time in the day it is used it saves 25% on the cash fare and gives UNLIMITED transfers in the next two hours. By comparison a cash fair allows only one transfer within two hours.  If used again after this two hour period has expired it again gives 25% discount and allows UNLIMITED bus travel for the remainder of that day, right through to last buses about midnight (even if it is still only 10.30am in the morning). By comparison a second cash fare, at the 100% cost, gives only a further two hours, one transfer. Further travel after this period requires further cash payment.

But wait there's more.....

If used any five days, Monday to Sunday, twice a day as above (two fare deductions made two hours or more apart) all subsequent travel is completely free. Essentially this means for most Monday-Friday commuters tofro work or school all evening and weekend travel is completely free. Or put another way for a full time bus user like myself the weekly fare top up needed is $23 for about 25 trips week on average, less than a dollar a trip including trips that can be 15-20km or more, if travelling right across the large single fare zone that incorporates most the city. (One of the things I love most about no longer owning a car is not only the absolute low cost of Metrocard but also the absolute pre-paid predictability of my weekly travel budget  for moving around town. At the same time this still leaves me free to choose to take an occasional cab if the cost/convenience ratio and my budget coincide, or accept rides from people already travelling in the same direction.

But wait there's more.....

If I have any money at all on my card (say I have been out of town and broken my normal pattern) - I mean even just 5 cents credit on my card I will still be accepted as a passenger and given the same rights and privileges applying to any passenger in my situation (unlimited transfers next two hours; unlimited transfers all the rest of the day; unlimited transfers all weekend etc). The system debits me and next time I reload it will deduct the outstanding amount, and show the remaining balance. An intelligent presumption has been made that whatever minor losses are made from this, by those leaving town will be more than off-set  by the interest garnered from credit on cards not used, in similar circumstances, gathering interest in the Metro bank account. There are moments it's a God-send  (oops forgot to get some money to top it up) and I would say will be so for many children, or at least their parents if stretching their last dollar too payday. Giving rides on any remaining credit, avoiding arguments,  is just another way Metrocard speeds up  the system and cuts down on the dwell time a bus spends loading at a stop.

But wait, there's NO more (for thieves etc)

If a Metrocard is lost or stolen, even if this is not realised for a day or two, the thief can usually gain very little. As soon as it is realised a quick call can assure that the card number registered against one's name becomes invalid. It is not possible to spend large amounts off the card because of the daily limit. The card can neither be bled nor hemorrhage large sums before cancellation, and the thief by trying to use it risks exposure (at very least the cards are retained by the driver).  For the previously registered owner a new card can be issued and existing balance of funds from the old card transferred, although it does cost a $10 replacement charge. This makes it safe to deposit large amounts on the card - for instance at the start of a holiday break or the Christmas period, or a big back pay etc one can "get travel costs out of the way" by depositing the equivalent of several weeks bus use in advance. On the other hand large deposits are NOT necessary, to get the benefits of loyalty discounts is the case with monthly passes in many parts of the world, sometimes costing $100-200 or even just the hefty up-front $60 of the CANRide cards formerly used in Christchurch, see below [who would have thought this old busspotter junk would come in use one day!! - the concession card at the top of the posting  I found fallen down behind the mantle piece in a derelict house about twenty years ago]. [note; it appears this security to load large sums without risking much if lost or stolen will be lost under new proposals; a particularly great loss for parents of older kids and teenagers who typically lose cards more often and whose parents it appears willno longer recourse to recovery or transfer to new cards of previously loaded larger amounts]

One of the last of the old monthly passes. CanRide was subsequently remarketed as the easier "Metro"

But wait there's less!!  yes...lesss

Yes 70% less time spent loading passengers according to Metro a few years back. And what an ABSOLUTE DIFFERENCE such a user-friendly chip card system has made to bus travel in Christchurch. Nowadays it is not uncommon for buses to swoop into the stop, two or three passengers board, almost without pausing or slowing their pace at times, just flashing their cards (often still in a clear face section of a purse or wallet) and away again. Likewise the single zonal fare covering most of the city has drastically reduced complicated arguments about zones with disgruntled cash passengers or lengthy calculations and long winded explanatory conversations with tourists.

But wait there is a huge amount more - yet to be realised (i.e. turned into reality) !!

The whole stop-start (and lengthy stops of 30 seconds to 2 minutes) of 20th century bus services is gone. Coupled with the Gold Card (nationwide free travel card for pensioners), low floor buses, better faster engines, bus lanes and traffic lights triggered to go green or stay green for approaching buses, and GPS logging of journeys (for both passenger "real time: signage and centralised "flight control" type systems) the faster and more reliable journeys now possible have the power to make revolutionary transformation. If we drop this ridiculous fussiness about every bus down to the exact minute (arrives 8.27, 9.26 etc) a legacy of old railway systems and Victorian era anal problems, and instead make every departure time "within five minutes of the time stated" (but absolutely 99% guaranteed) we can move towards integrated network systems, in which all buses flow to distinctive easy to remember core patterns, not only of departure but across the whole network. Like the circuits on a computer card chip itself all he routes interconnect making it possible to  passengers to access the whole city in any direction fast and frequently merely by knowing simple formulas. "Mosaic" network travel replaces clumsy route by route systems as the standard model. Much of this is inherent in that computer chip card with its inbuilt record of loadings, transfers and short dwell times. This radical transformation of how bus systems are planned and run, has yet to be realised in New Zealand (apart from a few long eared and long toothed profitless prophets like the mad wabbit and his NICERide concept). Tis indeed amazing how much, the whole future perhaps, can be read on those small cards!!

Getting back to the minutae there is one other aspect I like about Metrocard - this is  more a personal matter I suppose - I like the way Metrocards (unlike Snapper cards in Wellington) can ONLY be used for public transport. In the old days of it was possible to accidentally spend one's bus fare (can I buy you another drink, or on the spur of the moment buying a soft drink a pie or newspaper etc and only to remember later -"Oh  damn, I've spent my bus fare (or enough of it to render catching buses impossible). And of course kids constantly lost or deliberately spent money given to them for bus fare. I doubt the voice of an old duffer will be heard on this issue but I still prefer the simplicity of a bus fares only card. Multiple uses cancel the security of a guaranteed fare available.

All in all the existing Metrocard has to be the ace of transit chip cards! It offers one of the best discounts (relatively few systems offer 25% savings), is the easiest to use, most flexible in amounts loaded, best security against loss or theft, offers best transfer benefits and excellent "loyalty" rewards - commute with us to work or school and travel free at evenings and weekends!

Saturday, February 12, 2011

New buses in Selwyn Star livery hit the road

According to the Urban Development strategy Newsletter, December  2010 "Environment Canterbury and Leopard Coachlines moved 'heaven and earth' to ensure the new Selwyn Star services began in November, despite other unscheduled earth movements. The original plan had been to to roll out a fleet of brand new, locally built, Selwyn Star buses at the beginning of November. Instead the bus builder's factory at Rolleston was badly damaged by the Greendale-earthquake so delivery to thirty-two new bright yellow state of the art buses has been delayed until early next year" ....and are now appearing on the road.
This one spotted turning from Waterloo Road (the country-quaint fast track to Rolleston) and heading back onto the main road just before Rolleston itself.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Gong Shuttle huge success

Wollongong is not a huge city - at metropop of 284,000 one of the smallest CANZ cities monitored by NZ in Tranzit and even at 80km from Sydney has a considerable rail commuter population ...each day over 8,000 residents use the trains, primarily to Sydney  and there is also a smaller backflow of  commuters in the reverse direction, to Wollongong itself from areas further north. With much of Wollongong strung out along a narrow coastline strip, a bit like the Kapiti Coast north of Wellington, it is an area well suited to rail commuting.  However it news of  the recent success of a new bus service that most impresses this blogster.

A couple of years back in March 2009 Wollongong, whose bus service is operated under the overall auspices of the NSW State government, with tendered routes,  introduced a service that appears, in style and concept, to be similar to Christchurch's "The Shuttle" (free inner city service). The Wollongong service, operating on three different route patterns, links all the key high transit user generation dots together - University, Station, Hospital etc - and creates a 15 minute circuit, with no charge applying.

A few days ago Wollongong MP Noreen Hay yesterday revealed 3,011,939 passengers used the shuttle last year, a huge jump from 1,699,194 in 2009.  Measured against Christchurch's million pax per year  inner city shuttle passengers (and the metropop of Wollongong itself) this is an astoundingly successful bus service by any standard and the growth rate that is staggering.

Advocates of "free bus services" will no doubt jump on the band wagon [or at least the free bus!] saying dropping all fares is the key factor but I would be a little more questioning. In the first instance The Shuttle in Christchurch is also free. And in general bus fares in Christchurch are already fairly low (and the more you use buses in any week the cheaper they get if you have a metrocard) and overseas studies suggest frequency and reliability come in well ahead of cost in bus use surveys. Indeed, from what I've read (somewhere, way back),  "no charge" systems tend to achieve a patronage plateau of how many extra passengers they attract and that is it - in the meantime the service has generated no extra capital to expand as is the case with more conventional systems sharing costs between users and taxpayers. A classic example is the Belgian town of Hasselt, centre of the Limburg, often cited as a "no fares" success.

As usual it is very hard to translate the European situation to New Zealand - Hasselt ostensibly has a local poplulation of 70,000 but its land area would fit within the "Four Avenues" in Christchurch and it is surrounded within a few kilometres by a multitude of small to medium settlements and villages. Perhaps more to point, to get some comparable measuring stick, it is the capital of the province of Limburg with a land area slightly smaller than Timaru district but with 20 times the population [826,000 compared to 42,000 for Timaru district].  Hasselt has a completely free bus system, which at last count readable in English, 2006, carried 4 million plus passsengers per year. Amazing (by New Zealand standards) for a town of 70,000!  But is it really amazing for a population centre of a relatively small area, with almost double Christchurch's population?   The city of Hasselt appears to have achieved a significant service for a very small city but, as always, in public transport matters there are about a dozen key statistics that need to be viewed in totality to really determine success. In general regional taxes seem to play a far bigger funding role in European countries, not least because small cities in effect serve extensive peripheral populations using these centres and often arriving by the train services that only very densely populated areas can render viable. It would be interesting to know the funding sources involved.

In Wollongong's case, it would also be interesting to know what percentage of Shuttle passengers are coming off or getting on trains, and also what percentage are students, our own University in Christchurch being outside the free fare CBD area. This said the "Gong" shuttle does not seem to travel far outside the CBD areas.

But yes - astute readers,  you are right, there is indeed a twinge of parochial envy in my voice, (i.e. one green busspotter wabbit here!!) - a  shuttle in a city two thirds the size of Christchurch carrying three times more passengers than The Shuttle in Christchurch? Man they must be doing something right.

What a pity our own city doesn't look around the world for all the truly successful public transport systems (of any mode) in cities similar to Christchurch (hello, not Seattle??) and try to analyse what makes them work rather than pursuing extreme case fantasies of rail that have almost no precedent in a city of our population, demographic character, shape or density and can only be a very long term strategy, at best.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

My ironic birthday

Wednesday 2nd February morning 7am
I just realised a few minutes ago, reading the paper, that this is my "birthday".

It is ironic because I am reading about Cyclone Yasi in this morning's newspaper which shows Yasi in an aerial photo as about one fifth the size of Australia itself! 

God help the poor Aussies.

As the oceans warm up it was predicted that hurricanes (cyclones, typhoons, hurricanes are all the same thing by a different local name) will increase in number, intensity and reach. And this is exactly what appears to be happening all over the world.

Hurricanes need warm oceans to feed their velocity and as the world's oceans get warmer, it seems even just a teeny bit warmer,  this added capacity assists hurricanes to move further north and south of the equator and achieve greater destructive power. A couple of years ago an area in Brazil not previously considered vulnerable to hurricanes got an unwelcome visit. The same potential to cop damage from a dying but still huge weather system presumably applies in New Zealand. Two of New Zealand's most expensive disasters were caused by the tail end of Cyclones. There was Giselle in 1968 which was downgraded to a super tropical storm by the time it hit New Zealand but still had enough power, when combining with an upward heading southerly, to sink the Inter-Island ferry Wahine, put winds upto 275Km an hour through Wellington and kill 53 people. Cyclone Bola hit the east coast of New Zealand dumping millions of tons of water onto farmland valleys, washed away the main bridge in the town of Wairoa, did widespread damage to enormous areas of farmland, killed 3 people and (according to an article in The NZ Herald 26 March 2010) cost the country $332 million.

There is nothing to suggest Yasi is heading this way but over the next few decades I would imagine if oceans continue to warm the potential for more tail end storms causing hundreds of millions worth of damage will also increase. And far more often than was the case last century.

Reading about this huge cyclone in Australia (and who can not feel for Queensland which has seen weather events so huge one politician described it as "biblical") before breakfast  I suddenly caught today's date, 2nd February. I always think of this as the day my adult life began - I had already lived away from home (teens did in those days) but this was moving to a new city and island, on my own.

It was this day,date, forty-one years ago I came to Christchurch, for the first time to live. I remember myself as a spotty, skinny 19 year old coming off the Inter-Island Ferry at Lyttelton, stranger in a new land ....well it was a bit different from the North Island !!  

Somewhere in my journey down I purchased a copy of "Time" magazine to read. This had a cover story about the potential of coal fired power stations and car exhausts (which generate heavy carbon molecules quite distinct from natural carbon sources in the atmosphere) to cause warming of the planet with potentially disastrous consequences. Wow, I was stunned. [And 41 years later, thanks to the miracle of the web I can even show the cover - though ironically it doesn't look anything like the NZ cover that I have always recalled),

I thought then and I still think now - "bloody hell, why destroy the planet just for the convenience of driving to the dairy". Happiness and the quality of life has very little to do with ease and comfort, indeed it is almost in reverse proportion beyond a certain base comfort level.  To me, too much comfort kills the freshness, sharpness and passionate richness of life. the texture of that comes from being immersed in life, not just driving past it. I thought then and I think now is there not a way we can redesign public transport to make it an alternative to car use and ownership?

This "Time" magazine cover story was radical at that time,  it represented one of the earliest intrusions into mainstream public consciousness of environmental issues, from a prestige mainstream publication widely distributed throughout the world (this was before internet stole the fire from such mags). Without knowing a single person in Christchurch I felt a sense of mission to save the planet (don't ya love the kid's optimism!!). In the quiet of my rented YMCA hostel room I started an organisation, the Society for the Abolition of Private Transport, (!!) and spent many hours chewing on the end of the pen as I tried to word the manifesto and the first pamphlet. I also designed a [hideous] logo, of a fern leaf over a cog wheel, made a poster and stuck it on my wall. I was and remained the only member!  But it began a lifetime interest in public transport which has taken me into 14 years driving buses in city and sight-seeing services, researching and writing two history books and various articles, dozens of suggestions and about ten formal submissions to local transport reviews and more recently this blog,

The only thing where I - and most other people interested in the environment - got it wrong was the timing and scale of global climate change and its effects. It is happening so much faster and so much more violently than earlier predictions. And the danger of reaching an irreversible tipping point escalates all the time, when Yasi type storms occur not once in a hundred years but every decade, or even more often, making conventional living, infrastructure, farming, food production etc extremely expensive. Or not viable at all.

Public transport remains almost at the level of a cocktail party issue - oh wouldn't it be nice to have a lovely shiny new light rail system. Actually to me it is deadly serious, one of the core issues of the years ahead, one of the core technologies by which we can try to improve the quality of life (walking, talking, living on foot,connecting to each other, alive on the street). A chance to replace what amounts to an addiction to car use and the accelerated blended (and blanded!) quality of life it delivers with a different combination for achieving mobility. One that doesn't waste a fifth of one's working life to get a vehicle ill-suited to half the tasks  and only used (moving) on average one hour in 24!!  One way we can create systems that don't kill the planet. 

It is ironic that such a devastating storm as Yasi should fall exactly 41 years to the day on the anniversary of the "Time" article seeking to awaken the world to the consequences of filling the atmosphere with heavy carbon molecules, my spiritual birthday as an adult and public transport advocate.

Christchurch's lost western busway

"I believe had the Garry Moore admin, or the previous Bob Parker admin, been on the ball that most of the more expensive section, to build a cut and cover tunnel under the rail corridor and Southern Motorway, would have logically been met by NZ Transport Agency in the course of widening the Southern Motorway."

A simple technology - extending the cycleway tunnel before the embankment for a widened southern motorway is being built while a campervan traverses the older section of motorway.   

"To throw away the chance to build a north-south axis busway corridor across the west side of the city before it becomes built out seems contrary to all the fine words about making a more liveable city ..."

Noted Some parts of this article were edited in 2018

NZ in Tranzit argues by not planning a simple, adjoining,  bus-only tunnel the city is throwing away yet another chance to create a modern bus system that is truly effective and attractive to a large numbers of commuters

The city's manager has been commanded to go forth and investigate rail options! 

Wellington's rare circumstances aside, anyone more familiar with public transport patterns would probably think it a somewhat laughable mission for a city of the sizem low density and shape of Christchurch. 

In the meantime, as part of a tragic farce that has been unfolding for almost a decade now, the city leaders ignore the window of opportunity that still exists to create a far simpler and more cost effective technology, building segregated public transport (only) corridors to by-pass heavily congested areas. These  allow buses (or one day perhaps light rail) to be highly competitive with private cars. 

One symptom of this ongoing failure in civic leadership on public transport issues, appears to be the throwing away the opportunity to link the whole rapidly growing western side of Christchurch with precisely such a direct busway.

The nature of Christchurch is that the city north and south is divided by the huge swath of the South Island Main Trunk Line railway corridor. 

On one hand this attracts a constellation of industries from Woolston to Islington (about 10km), what this blogster calls the "indycorr"; on the other hand it creates something akin to a broad river, which can only be crossed at certain points.

The effect of concentrating workplaces and concentrating traffic along certain corridors means extreme congestion at peak hours, workdays, a largely dead and empty of people area evenings and weekends.

Attempts to offer concentrated bus services to this area are limited mainly to north-south routes crossing it around Sydenham-Addington. 

Public transport sent to the back of the queue

Large industrial, research and office park areas such as Birmingham Drive and Parkhouse Road have no bus services whatsoever!! 

Attempts to service these areas back in 2001 were abandoned back (after only three months of a trial) after congestion so delayed buses on the two routes attempted  few people considered them worth catching. Despite some of the lowest "commuting to work by public transport" stats of any comparable CANZ bus system, Metro has not chosen to try again!

Yes? Am I missing something here? Public transport leaders say they are trying reduce congestion, surely that is not solved if buses merely join the congestion, making bus journeys [with their pulling in and out of traffic pattern] even longer -- two or three times a long as car journeys!!

Motorways a tried and true solution for postponing congestion at huge cost

Theoretically the new extensions to the Southern Motorway will absorb some traffic west of the CBD. 

However the expected addition of 6000 new office park jobs in the Addington area of the indycorr alone would seem to scuttle that. 

It seems to me more, not less, traffic is likely to come off the motorway and to flow onto Curletts Road peak hours the current view from the crest of that over-bridge and trucks as far as the eye can see! 

Judging by overseas studies and the new Blenheim Road overpass at Moorhouse, the classic situation will be new traffic generated by new opportunities fills the gap as quickly as water fills a hole dug in the beach!

The Urban Development Strategy signed off by the Christchurch City Council and other area bodies expects 12,000 homes to be built in South West Christchurch and 200 hectares of land converted to industrial use in the next 35 years [the South West Area Project - SWAP]. 

Many of these residents will either funnel up towards workplaces in the city, via Halswell Rd-Lincoln Rd or Milton Street, OR need to travel tofro workplaces in the indycorr itself; OR to travel across the indycorr, tofro workplaces at the university or at or near the airport in the north and in the northwest of the city.

To throw away the chance to build a north-south axis busway corridor across the west side of the city before it becomes built out seems contrary to all the fine words about making a more liveable city, getting commuters out of cars etc. 

It also seems to be blissfully ignorant of the importance of separated corridors for public transport to move along - Bob Parker's light rail included.

The verry sad thing is building a southwest-northwest busway at this stage of the game would be comparatively easy. 

I believe had the Garry Moore admin, or the previous Bob Parker admin, been on the ball, that most of the more expensive section - to build a underpass trenching or cut and cover tunnels under the rail corridor and Southern Motorway - would have logically been met by NZ Transport Agency in the course of widening the Southern Motorway.

The expense of the total busway, likely to be in the low tens millions, heaps yes but this looks rather small beside the approximate $260 million of Canterbury taxes  [our pro rata share] that has been used to build two busways and expand and upgrade rail in Auckland and Wellington!!

During the Christmas break this blogster, the dwatted wabbit, decided to go and recheck the best likely alignment of a western busway with his camera. It is a bit like being an archaeologist going to see ruins before they are built or, indeed, not built!! 

 On a West to south corridor  busway buses might extend right out to Sheffield Tech Park and the Airport in the north, or to Barrington Mall or the new shopping centre planned at Henderson (and then to Halswell) in the southwest fast bussing these areas can be done using existing roads or new ones, with or without bus lanes or traffic light trigger mechanisms to favour buses.

It is core section this alignment this busway advocate sees is that would need most of the major infrastructure works - the busway trunk core between the University and Hoon Hay Road. 

Virtually a straight line exists from the University at Ilam and along Middleton Road to where this busway corridor could pass over Blenheim Road and under the railway yards, under an electronically gated bus subway into 

The proposed route is almost a straight line, in this suggestion, minimum corners making for a faster smoother, no fuss ride.

This core route section should never have to contest traffic - all crossings of major arterial roads would be by underpass (the motorway) or governed by traffic lights favouring buses (for the 20 seconds or so it takes a single bus to cross a road), 

I share some of these "holiday snaps" below

Congestion at corner of Lincoln Road and Whiteleigh Avenue, December 2010; hard to see this will improve with increased housing in south-west; increased office park development in immediate area and easier access to this key are via new motorway. The abject failure of Christchurch City to establish bus lanes a decade ago is obvious, and can only add to congestion and may prove politically very difficult to retrospective impose. The suggested busway would by-pass this area and congestion along associated streets.

City bound -stop at University of Canterbury, Ilam Road, crossing point of several routes. Not only a major passenger traffic generator location in itself, but also a key transfer zone for western areas, and between northern areas and southern areas. Five years ago two bus shelters was probably a classy act but nowadays given the large numbers who board or transfer here during the uni term, seating and shelter for 6-8 persons [in all weathers] is decidedly a very low quality service.  Room exists to widen the road by a bus width each side and introduce simple islands and lanes, creating a transfer piazza, without detracting from the natural beauty of this location. Ideally the shelters each side of the road should  more in the nature of the bus station in China below, with heated rear areas, open till 8pm and toilets and other facilities.

I believe a Metro system that was genuinely committed to creating viable alternatives to car use would negotiate with long distance coach and shuttle services to exit the city tofro North Hagley Park, Fendalton Road, then Ilam Road back to Riccarton Road, and then west or south.  
In this way they avoid Christchurch's most congested road and consolidate any en route stops into one key location well served by local bus routes. Incorporating a long distance western-city bus stop in the university - stops allows "bus-to-bus-direct-to-home-area" transfers to The Orbiter, Metrostar and various suburban routes, collectively covering much of the city.

Suggested busway travels down Ilam Road, crosses Riccarton Road into Middleton Road, until Blenheim Road. This is latter is a tee intersection but in the busway scenario buses would activate a straight ahead traffic light and travel into a segregated bus-only lane heading directly towards the rail yards. 

Currently this is blocked by a not so very flash or large industrial building, which does not like it would cost a huge fortune for the city to purchase and convert to an access lane to businesses at the rear, plus a segregated bus lane ramping down to pass under car parks or an adjoining scrap metal yard before running under the Middleton railway yards. This is easier seen looking at the yellow building below, from the rear (see photo underneath).

Older industrial building on Blenheim Road immediately opposite the exit of Middleton Road. Below;  the same building from the rear, from the lane that runs down the south side.

Below; A new building is to be currently about to be built compromising or reducing options for the pathway of bus corridor. Public transport corridors need long uninterrupted linear sections and their value can be defeated by other infrastructure blocking their path. Christchurch City Council may have already thrown away several opportunities to create effective busways (or light rail corridors) for future citzens.  

Although using trenches or the - relatively simple - cut and cover tunnels needed to traverse the Middleton railway yards may seem daunting there is actually seems rather a lot of room, to build the busway in sections, moving the main trunk line over temporarily (which will ultimately also create an extra heavy grade track through the yards for coal trains etc). In the scenario suggested here the tunnel emerges up through an area of industrial car parks at the top of Midas Place, roughly behind the cellphone tower, left.

Midas Place [below] is a wide street, perfectly capable of including (if necessary) bus lanes to ensure free movement onto Annex Road, heading towards Birmingham Drive

Below; this is view looking north of the point where Annex Road now joins onto Birmingham Drive. Although the area in front of this photo is well developed with industries, the area behind the photographer remains open to building a "show piece bus laned, cycled laned road". This is obvious from the next photo below also taken looking north

Turning around to face southwards - the cycle subway built when Annex Road was cut in half by the building of the first section of the Southern motorway (two lanes only). Now this road is being doubled to four lane width, so too must be the cycle subway. Conveniently the subway can be built before the roading embankment is built over top - a considerable cost saving which would also have worked in favour of building a busway tunnel as well. The cycleway is currently closed for the rebuilding (the colourful grafitti was done by artists from Programme legit not taggers)

Emerging from an underpass (bus only) buses would come up outside the Annex Road entrance to Hillmorton Hospital (treating mental illness). 

This entrance is currently about 10-12 minutes walk from the nearest bus route, on Lincoln Road, that's a long way to a bus stop and most unpleasant in wet or cold weather!!  

I believe this sort of distance is completely unacceptable for a major hospital and sector of the population (patients, visitors, visitors from out of town, medical staff, lower paid cleaning and catering staff etc) which will include a higher than average number of bus dependent people. 

Getting a viable bus route into this area and the new upmarket housing areas nearby is no easy proposition - but easily accomplished as a side benefit of a frequent busway system.  In co-operation with the hospital there is ample room to widen the road and build a proper bus stop and shelter here.

Note that housing areas are already well separated by continuous high fencing from the road area (on the right side behind tree boundary) and therefore unlikley to be effected by regular passing buses, anyway nowadays relatively quiet vehicles.

Below; This road becomes broad and particularly beautiful as it incorporates full grown trees from the former hospital site and from employee housing areas of old. There are few house close to the road itself.

Annex Road (the southern portion) emerges out at Lincoln Road. Straight ahead in the photo below the view is towards a clump of trees and within them several houses and a dental clinic in a converted house. These are built on the banks of the Heathcote River, still relatively small at this stage.

Just how much will be cut away from this grove of trees is apparent checking out the street level view on Google earth for this location Place Google's wee man on Lincoln Road just above the Spreydon Domain sign and note how fence lines are all being adjusted wider to allow road widening to four lanes (location rather strangely photographed on a wild winter's day following a hailstorm by looks). This is the only area where it would be necessary to acquire several residential properties.  Compared to the hundreds of houses demolished to build Brougham Street expressway, or Westfield or The Palms, a relatively small impact project that will benefit thousands of public transport users for decades to come, and help remove thousands of cars of the road..

After passing around the back of the small shopping centre the suggested busway would join onto Hoon Hay Road. Presumably if 12,000 houses are going to built in the South West area in the next 35 years this road will need to be four-laned. But even without this measure it offers a clear straight run way down into the heart of south Christchurch and the distant hills, with easy access back towards to a busway transfer terminus at Barrington Mall and another at Halswell via Henderson.

This busway would travel from Barrington Mall to Birmingham Drive and the University and onto the aiport or northwestern areas virtually non-stop in peak hours, shaving clumps of minutes of the same congested car would open the northwest to the southwest and vice versa. It would traverse severl very attractive treed areas and would have been a showpiece busway attracting international attention and kudos I'm sure.

But alas not to be...back in the car you guys!

I am reminded of a line from Bruce Springsteen (from his evocative song "My Father's House" on the haunting "Nebraska" album)

..."out on the highway, our sins lie unatoned."

*** Note (June 2012) Since this was written Metro has created a link to Birmingham Drive - a rather convoluted one still not able to offer fast access - through one of the heaviest congestion areas in Christchurch - Route 40 map