Wednesday, March 30, 2011

When bus shelters get too untidy...

In response to a recent posting about the artful and obvious logic of putting a bus stop in Hawke Street, New Brighton, opposite the supermarket, regular correspondent Kiwi Louize said...

I agree wholeheartedly. The Oram Ave stop is a desolate place. Freezing winds in winter and leering drunks who I used to worry would follow me home (as a kid). There could easily be a stop before this terminus close to the beachside playground, chartered club and supermarket. It’s the sunny side after all!     March 29, 2011

Further investigation reveals that the current status of the Oram Avenue bus stop has received a ZZ rating from international bus shelter consultants Stand-Hard and Pause. While hoons and leering drunks may remain a threat, this is now joined by a very uncomfortable seat, difficult to read signage and brick dust getting up one's nose.

The good news is that the stop is no longer shady and cold.

Ps. Note no one died or was injured in the making of this particular report! But the owner did suffer the loss of this large, former, suburban cinema which he had worked hard to convert to his home. As the owner was friendly enough to show me, after we got chatting outside a few months ago, this building was extensively earthquake strengthened with steel girders bearing the roof load in the former theatre auditorium. He was inside at the time of this extremely violent quake and no doubt this saved his life. Whilst the building itself did not collapse in the ferocious February 22nd eathquake the whole front facade fell onto the street. Machinery was used to drop the remaining building and as in so many city situations causing unavoidable collateral damage. I imagine the on-going aftershocks, danger involved and time needed to remove the adjacent bus shelter and real time pole rendered saving this unviable (I can't imagine too many heroes exist who want to risk their life to save a bus shelter!)   

Speaking as one of the few people [busspotters!!]  in the world who has ever misspent even a few hours photographing bus shelters here and there it does make for a rather interesting photo!  Below are buses at the Oram Avenue terminus with the building still intact back in 2010

There would seem great potential in this site to create a bus terminus/transfer station capable of being used by all routes tofro New Brighton. It seems unlikely the current owner would choose this site to rebuild a private residence without the character building factor and I would imagine the adjoining tyre company is not site specific if adequately compensated. Indeed, if such a building was built very solid [!!] and adequately soundproofed,  a small cinema complex and/or seaward facing cafe-bar  could be built on the airspace above the sunward facing ground floor bus station underneath. In this case a private company might consider it viable to finance and build, with a permanent ground floor tenant in bus operations.

As Shakespeare noted "Ill blows the wind that profits nobody"

For a previous NZ in Tranzit posting discussing a site possibility and the general viability and relative priority of building a proper bus terminus station at New Brighton check out here 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Redbus, Ritchies amongst firms competing for Dunedin bus routes

A report in the Otago Daily Times yesterday lists several firms not based in Dunedin competing for local bus route tenders. Despite the fairly modest size of the Dunedin system and small number of routes involved the keen competition may reflect an increasingly competitive bus industry. A potential shrinking or at least (to coin a phrase!) "shakey" market in tourism and reduction in what appear to be high bus-user ESOL students numbers, and reduced patronage in Christchurch in general (by virtue of population reduction and mass job losses likely, reducing key repeat user daily commuters) tough times may be ahead. Add to this the fairly aggressive spread of Waikato's GoBus into the South Island and all firms may be looking to widen and strengthen their footing. With Dunedin's eight year long tender Ritchie's gain a small but solid little foothold in Dunedin (helped by the Intercity long distance coach services they also operate through Dunedin) but will no doubt be looking for more routes long term to get greater economies of scale. Ritchies pulled out of suburban timetable bus services in Christchurch many years ago but have regained operation of local services in Timaru, the original hometown of the Ritchie family. They retain extensive school bus runs in many other areas.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

The Art of Bus Stops (New Brighton)

NOTE; This posting was in preparation before the devastating earthquake - while it seems a bit trivial in the present context, there is also the need to begin to move on, get back to normality as far as possible. Also to think of more pleasant things. I think it might be a long time before the reviews of the alterations to the play area (CCC); and to The Metrostar route (ECan) get back in process but when-ever do comments here might be relevant. Or as always, possibly have some greater "universal" relevance to non-Christchurch readers

"I have long  been moved by the artless and unsympathetic location of bus stops on Hawke Street for Metrostar buses"

I am not a particularly adept gardener but I do love landscaping. It is a real challenge to prune trees and shrubs to create a pleasing shape and integrity in themselves, and a harmonious relationship to each other. I like creating natural looking shapes (or at least curved and gracious shapes) and visual corridors that lead the eye down or around interesting foliage lined paths, or which present the best vista. When I am armed with secateurs and loppers I become an ultra fussy "barber" - "snip, snip, stand back, snip, standback,  etc.  Or the caricature of the "French" painter who spends five minutes pondering the effect for every one minute making a brush stroke.

Back in August I  exposed my ultimate X-rated busspotter nerd status by seriously discussing bus stops (for God's sake has this man no life??)   I described the dozens of components that I see as necessary to consider in creating successful bus stop. Despite the fact the August posting was possibly the most comprehensive publicly accessible media discussion ever held on this subject, a subject so mundane it invisible to most people,  I now realise I missed at least one further aspect to be considered - aethestics.

Is a bus stop naturally composed in the landscape, logical, predictable and harmonious in its surroundings?  Obviously the answer will have to be, alas too often, "no but what else can we do?" Bus stops usually must go where they go for practical reasons. But sometimes planners and post hole digger people DO have a degree of choice.

All this is brought home to me by the current review of Council plans to revamp the children's playground on the land immediately above the beach at New Brighton. In the past 11 years I calculate I have arrived at this point in my travels about in excess of 2000 times, catching the Metrostar, to employment in the area.  Where I get off the bus is not significantly effected by shifting or adding stops as suggested below (it would be a 3 minute walk from either direction) but  I have always been moved by the artless and unsympathetic location of bus stops on Hawke Street for Metrostar buses.

I believe Metrostar is now Christchurch's fourth busiest route. The bus travels all the way from Halswell to New Brighton picking up from heaps of locations, including tourist motels along the way. But when it finally gets to this economically struggling beach village what does it do?  It drops kids and others way  up near the school  (300 metres from the sea) - fair enough -  and then travels down Hawke Street and then along Marine Parade and then back into Beresford Street,  around a U-shaped dogleg to Oram Avenue (also about 300 metres from the sea).

The distance between stops, in a built up commercial area, is the better part of a kilometre without stopping. Ironically it is past the busiest areas; past the local Club where so many people retired go; past busy shops with immediately adjacent carparks; past the Countdown Supermarket, the only one for the whole coastal area; past  the best and most obvious beach access (and area most likely to have safe swimming area flags monitored by New Brighton SLSC, New Zealand's oldest); past the childrens's playground; past the iconic built on the beach library which I believe gets about 7000 vistors a week; past the even more iconic lengthy modern pier, tourist and local landmark, and fisherman's favourite spot*. 

It is not a huge exercise to walk the quarter to half kilometre back to these spots, but why should bus passengers have to do this?  No one visiting the beach, club, supermarket, library etc with a car would park almost half a kilometre away if they can find a closer carpark.  Why should a bus service that claims to be offering quality transport not stop at a convenient location?  A secondary factor is that the Oram Avenue whilst ok most of the time occasionally gets a bit of bluster, bullshit and aggro, mostly fallout from two pubs and one bottle store immediately adjacent. "Unwelcome attentions' (for male or female) might best describe mainly minor scattered incidents I've seen across the years.  Some of this also comes from the intimate (lean out the window)  proximity of hoons in cars slowing to turn out of Oram Avenue, right beside the shady and [in winter] very cold stop, overlooked by no other facilities. Not the world's worst bus stop but nor is it the best**.
[**Note; the former movie theatre beside and overshadowing this stop was completely demolished after its facade collapsed during the Feb22 earthquake - obvious potential now exists for a proper Metro terminus. As well as the Hawke Street stop advocated here!]

If an extra bus stop was to be created immediately the back of the club in Hawke Street (and a return flow stop alongside the supermarket carpark oposite) it would really help all sorts of passengers, but obviously most of all the elderly, the mother's with children, the grocery shoppers of North New Brighton, the stranger or tourist trying to locate where they are to catch a bus back. In terms of evening security close to the busy supermarket it would offer a far less exposed place to wait. This location, Hawke Street near Marine Parade, to me is an attractive and natural gateway to New Brighton. In one 10 second glance, all elements can be instinctively sumarised - the club, the beach, the playground, the pier, the libray, the return stop back the way they came (for later). The mall one block over is more likely to attract tourists post the pier, beach, library, when stomachs rumble or (let's be honest) a cold wind blows the visitors inland towards greater sheltered areas.

But beneath all the practical reasons for an extra stop close to the corner of Marine Parade and Hawke Street, there is my pseudo-landscape gardener's arty farty instinct. If you are delivering people to a beach, if you are trying to increase the popularity and image of a slightly depressed beach suburb, isn't it natural to stop right where the vista begins, right at the centre of the action. Look folks, here is the sea, the park area, the pier stretching out over the ocean, the magnificent library.

Look kids, mums, dads, teenagers, tourists, no unnecessary struggle back from stops far away, get out of the bus and onto the beach or into the grand new playground. It is natural, harmonious, it feels right for a happy day at the beach, it is adding art as well as sense to bus stop location.

If I read the plans for the upgrade right, one of the great folk art icons of Christchurch, beloved by generations of pre-school children* remains serenely centre piece. The squirting whale in the children's paddling pool will NOT be removed.

At least that bit is done to the highest artistic standards!

* I could have photographed this earlier in the day when it was absolutely covered with all the little kids in their togs clambering up the back of the whale. What a great photo but alas for lone males this sort of thing can be too easily misconstrued nowadays, it just feels too weird to even go there. So we get whale all alone later instead, having a rest from his daily summer labours instead

Friday, March 18, 2011

New Zealand's Need to Save Face

Just another common place New Zealand main street ? Or a treasure we need to
acknowledge and pro-actively work to preserve across the nation?

Waimate's former post office, now restored/maintained as an Information Centre - but under current policies only few such buildings find a new use and in some cases get added earthquake protection
I have just had a wonderful (not least, aftershock free!) seven days holiday perambulating about the lower South Island, including overnight stays in such small towns as Waimate [main street, photo above] in South Canterbury and super historic old gold mining town, Lawrence in Otago.  It has come home to me the single most significant day-to-day heritage feature of most people's lives are not churches or grand houses and the buildings typically preserved for public visits but the Victorian and Edwardian Street (and occasionally art nouveau, art deco etc) main street and central area facades. To me these these define the character of home and home town location and keep alive a deeper richer sense of community and history in a more daily accessible sense than any other single heritage feature. The Christchurch double earthquake sequence has really brought home to me the sadness of losing these multiple buildings felt as friends here in my hometown.

Christchurch, once so deeply dipped in street facade character, has probably lost 70% [??? -wild guess] or more of these facades and their buildings, mostly in about 10 seconds on February 22nd!  But many of the older small towns in New Zealand still retain them, adding much to their charm. Unfortunately we now know only too well these heavy and ornamental facades can be extremely deadly in an earthquake. It doesn't even need total collapse of the building itself, for these facades can peel off and collapse in seconds, taking the lives of any shoppers and pedestrians and passengers in passing buses and cars below, as occurred a few weeks ago in Christchurch's February 22nd frenzied 6.3 Earthquake. Although the towns named above are some distance from a major faultline, many other New Zealand towns are much more vulnerable and, indeed,  any place in this country can still have a freak, if rare, earthquake.

Heartbreak for some in this high fashion "face peel" on this 1905 building
in Merivale, Papanui Road, Christchurch - can new internal building bodies be
fitted and yet  retain old facades to forestall such losses elsewhere? 

I know the Historic Places Trust does much work in identifying and recording Heritage buildings but wonder if any nationwide consistent pro-active "main street" focussed project has been undertaken?

Years ago I had the idea that a low bed truck could move along central Christchurch Streets, stopping every 50 metres, for a photograph to be taken either side of the road, and these could be created into long streetscapes, to be shown at the Museum or Art Gallery every decade or so. I would imagine these "oh I remember..." "Ohh that was where..." displays would be hugely popular as well as unique historical records. Having to recently evacuate my house the thoughts on this idea I wrote about fifteen years ago this turned up in the files hastily being moved - I thought how ironic now!  Alas, what a record this would have been, not just earthquake stuff but many older buildings demolished in the last decade captured in locational sequence. Hopefully Google earth's pages of street level views - far more advanced technology - might be saved as a time capsule type category for Christchurch's by some technolgy..

I think a major lesson of the Christchurch earthquake is the need for the Government itself to fund a complete study and photographing recording of older central streetscapes around New Zealand.

Secondly I think they could create some sort of base criteria for funding subsidies for saving of these building facades , based on population size, cost per building, degree of common use of the building or capacity for a new stronger building to be attached to the facade, added value in terms of tourist appeal etc. This might start from a base of five building facade reinforcement etc funded for any settlement over 500 population and then add another building for each subsequent 1000 residents...not that this would be absolutely hard and fast but it gives a framework for funding and appeal structure for special cases - such as the town of Lawrence whose cracked bricked buildings appear so terribly vulnerable to Christchurch eyes, even though a very large earthquake would probably be a freak event in this zone.

Communities might have to raise part funding and Lottery type funding, with the Government itself meeting a set amount up to a limit per building. Other buildings might also be saved, as they are anyway, sometimes by private iniative but it would definitely assure some key mainstreet landmark facades were retained (and safely so) across all New Zealand. Indeed it would open a business opportunity for travelling tradesmen with big hydraulic bracing machines etc to specialise in facade restoration, as part of an existing building or held in place whilst a dangerous old shell is removed and a new reinforced concrete body is built in its stead, the facade then anchored to this new body many times more safely than present. It does not seem impossible.

Whilst the purist might say save the whole building (and I imagine this would always be the first point of consideration) the cost of saving hundreds or thousands of whole buildings and (if possible) making them earthquake resistant across the whole nation would be phenonemal. There are heaps of significant buildings where total restoration is viable and warranted and occurring  - but most main street facades hide redundant upper storeys, unsafe and poorly designed for modern needs work and living spaces - indeed many are vacant and unrentable. The very fact they still stand is often because they are in less prosperous areas or suburbs, but interior rebuilds offer whole new modern [and ultra safe] housing, shopping and office space possibilities. In this situation the heritage facades could (and I imagine, as years go by, increasingly will) add value to what are often otherwise bland modern buildings.

Derelict building in Waimate, with a huge facade. Could the facade be anchored, repointed and reinforced from behind, and bedded back into a new super safe, light airy modern interior of reinforced concrete for shops, malls, offices or apartments? Thousands of facades might be saved nationwide and many areas regenerated if a major Government commitment was there and strategies and technologies developed.

I believe Government (in co-operation with Historic Places Trust if possible) should pursue a pro-active policy of "Saving Face" - identifying, recording, working with owners of "main street facades" to review options, designing engineering programmes and machines to stabilise and brace for facade eathquake strengthening and/or interior demolition and rebuilds [new concrete modern buildings with friendly old faces!]  Saving facades for generations yet to be born is not about preserving history in the clock stopping sense, it is about saying "Hey these are our every day heritage encounters, we can't save enough buildings in total, but we can save hundreds of facades, honouring and carrying forward the heritage of New Zealand's earlier urbanisation and inbedding it in the future. We can not preserve the total object as such in many cases but we can carry forward the richness of street scene ambience and a heritage spirit.

The gift of the Christchurch earthquake to New Zealand  - recognition that saving our wealth, prosperity, character (and tourist value) means New Zealand needs to get off its bum and start saving face!!

Sunday, March 6, 2011

You know you're from Christchurch when ....

Don't read this wrong; disasters can be very specific; across town many cafes are open and booming. This is inner city area, closer to the earthquake epicentre, in Barbadoes [sic] St. Here some lads put together a vege stall for inner city residents, post earthquake. In the background one of Christchurch's great institutuions for over 20 (or is it 25) years; PIKO wholefoods shop. Photo Thanks Briar Cook

This local EQ Facebook site says it alllllll   For details of what was a particularly ferocious earthquake, even by global standards check out details here

Temporary Bus System in Christchurch

The Orbiter in new guise as a "Link Service" at Parkside termius near Christchurch Public Hospital.
In the background one of the new "Selwyn Star" buses, which now operate services to Rolleston, Burnham and Lincoln.

Post Earthquake II - It appears the Central Business District of Christchurch will be out of action and not available for public access for several months whilst about 500 buildings are demolished and thousands of others checked, repaired or strengthened. Like most public transport systems the Christchurch Metro system pivots around the CBD so this will present huge complications. As a first step towards restoration of public transport in Christchurch bus routes that used to travel through the city (eg from an outer suburb in the north to and outer suburb in the south via the CBD) have been split in half and now for the moment are operating only hourly 7am-7pm travelling to/fro one suburban terminii to a "close to city area"terminii  on the outskirts of the cordoned off CBD area. These city terminii/transfer points are the Public Hospital for buses from the south and west and Bealey Avenue (between Durham and Montreal Street corner) for buses from the north. The Orbiter buses are being used to provide a 15 minute link service between these two terminii, by skirting around Hagley Park. The roads on the eastern side of the "Four Avenues" appeared too ravaged or close to dangerous buildings to support any link from that area at the moment. There will be no fares charged for the next two weeks.  For more info see Metro website (on side box to right)