Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Little value seen in extending Metrostar service back through south Christchurch

"I think extending The Metrostar as proposed in the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy - particularly extended back through south Christchurch - is just a waste of resources, better spent on advancing development of a much needed western suburbs link service."

MetroStar - about to head westwards from New Brighton across the inner northern suburbs to Halswell. But is a likely return loop via the city's southern suburbs truly warranted or should Metro be looking to target resources to other areas of greater obvious need first?

As mentioned in the last posting I am not sure whether Metro's review of cross town services, The Orbiter and The MetroStar has now closed its letterbox flap or whether the whole process has been up-ended by the explosive disruption of the devastating February earthquake.

Metro when it advertised the service review cautioned transit consumers and other interested persons about not expecting too many changes. This said there has long been an expectation that The Metrostar is one day going to become a completely circuitous route, a sort of elongated east-west version of The Orbiter, travelling in a loop across the northern part of the city and then back across the southern part to arrive back where it starts at New Brighton. According to the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy document this extension is meant to occur in 2012 following this review.

But why? My question is why presume this needs to happen?  Metrostar works well as an east-west cross town but does it make sense to make The Metrostar a circuit? 

Is this concept based on serious analysis of demand patterns?? Or is just some "pin in the map, sounds good suggestion of planners or politicians who haven't done sufficient homework to be making such suggestions? Is it a sort of "imitate The Orbiter and expect the same success (despite lacking similar key ingredients?). To me it feels like sloppy planning which will cost other higher demand areas a more adequate service for several years to come.

Busy cross town routes rely on connecting a lot of dots - serving many major traffic generating points. The current Metrostar itself serves (and links to en route residential zones) New Brighton, QEII, The Palms, the combination of schools in the Palm's area (Shirley Boys High, Shirley Intermediate, Marian College), Shirley Community Centre, Edgeware, Merivale, Heaton Intermediate, St George's and St Andrews,  Christchurch Boys High, Riccarton and Westfield Mall, University of Canterbury, student hostels, Church Corner shopping area, Villa Maria College, Riccarton High School , Sockburn, The Air Force Museum, Hornby Mall and surrounding areas, Halswell.  

But when I try to find a similar string of jewels in the potential pathway of a Metrostar return route across the southern part of the city it turns up mostly blank. Sure there is Pioneer Stadium, Barrington Mall, Cashmere High, Princess Margaret Hospital, Steiner School and a few minor shopping areas, then Eastgate Cowles Stadium etc ....but not really any big traffic generators not already well serviced. Certainly not, as far as I can see not the sparkling base of activity focal points that coould create sufficient demand to warrant wasting money dragging Metrostar back to New Brighton across the south and east areas.

The south and eastside links that are  most needed  -  tofro Barrington Mall or Ferrymead or Eastgate from surrounding areas, are already largely implicit in well-planned existing city suburban route patterns. Add to this; much of the south city suburbs from Hoon Hay across to Beckenham and Opawa are anyway well served by the existing loop pattern of  The Orbiter (which operates at 10 minute headways for much of the working day).

The south and eastside areas not being serviced are mainly the larger industrial enclaves - Edmonton Road area south of Hornby; Parkhouse Road enclave and Birmingham Drive (and nearby Hillmorton Hospital) or even Addington-Sydenham in general - areas that need specialised peak hour routes, ill suited to The Metrostar style 18/7 operating week of a high profile cross town route. They need peak hour business day routes only - notably directly from key eastern transfer points at Eastgate and Ferrymead running directly east-west through Sydenham and Addington, by-passing an unnecessary trip to the Bus Exchange.

It is not often I campaign to NOT have a bus service!! Perhaps it is a Wabbit first!  But with budgets tight and getting tighter (partly due to the incredible retro 1950s car-use orientated National Party policies) I do not think this city should be wasting  money on expensive high frequency services along routes which would clearly seem to have insufficient locations likely to generate high frequency demand.

I think extending The Metrostar as proposed in the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy -  if extended back through south Christchurch - is just a waste of resources, better spent on advancing development of a western suburbs link service. 

 A  broad area I see as grossly under-serviced and well suited to a Metrostar type branded operation - albeit more modest in scope - is the need to offer a cross town route cutting across western city-suburbs radial routes between Northlands and Bryndwr, Fendalton, Burnside, Avonhead, Russley and Hornby. I don't live in these areas, but have a long familiarity through employment factors and like all car-less people (who don't JUST catch buses to work but travel in all directions) regularly catch buses here for social reasons. Apart from the immediate catchment zone of "The Orbiter" it is very hard to travel cross radial in this area. Indeed I am amazed so many VERY busy locations are so sparsely serviced - often services in two directions only or no services at all, when really the whole area cries out for a far richer network of services and travel options. According to the 2010-2016 Metro Strategy document it is not intended to investigate further cross town links to 2015, four years away. I think this is far too long as far as the gaping gaps in services links in the western suburbs go. Amongst other things this policy fails dismally to support the multi-million dollar investment in pool and fitness complexes at Papanui (new) and Jellie Park (upgrade) made by the Christchurch City Council.

I have suggested such a route to Metro a few years back (in the days when I did such crazy things!). Below is a crude map of the central portion of this suggestion with potential to run to Russley (and possibly Hornby) off-map extending to the left, and definitely to Papanui Road heading into Northlands off-map to the right. Described below, north to west, this seemingly simple route incorporates facillities generating potentially thousands of bus passenger movements a year tofro malls, swimming pool complexes, libraries, educational and work zones - links in directions not being offered at all in most cases.

How can a bus system not go where so many people go and claim to be effective?

Double click on image for larger size

Consider the following factors; despite the plethora of routes tofro Northlands, on Metro's map there is a fairly large residential sector immediately south of Northlands, around Blighs Road and Wairakei Road towards Bryndwr for the population of which Northlands is the nearest major suburban hub yet has no bus access to Northlands whatsoever! Bizarre!

This includes the southern area of the zoning area of Papanui High School and catchment area for the local new pool complex, library, cinemas etc.  As the suggested route turns from Blighs Road into Wairakei Road it enters the northern part of the zone of Burnside High School - over 2000 pupils and 200 staff in total, those living in this area here currently have no bus access at all from this direction.

Travelling along Jeffries Road (or Via Glandovey Rd/Fendalton Rd/Clyde Road if Jeffreys Rd is too narrow) the route passes Christchurch's second busiest library, Fendalton, which I believe attracts over 300,000 visitors a year, another major local facility (and passenger traffic generator) ill served by the current limited route patterns for older residents and kids etc in the northwestern suburbs it was built to serve. Passing through Ilam Village - with its supermarket, doctors, hairdressers, neighbourhood cafes  etc an immediate service centre for the broad area being traversed by this suggested route  - the suggested route then travels via Ilam Road to pass Jellie Park Aqualand, Swimming and Fitness Complex (another huge generator of traffic, probably approaching half a million annual visitors including of course many kids and teenagers).

Turning right into Memorial Avenue the west bound route then passes a useful transfer point to The Orbiter or 29 Airport services, and passes Cobham Intermediate School and Christ the King School - adding another 1000 students and 100 staff to the 2200 based at the adjacent Burnside High. Not to mention the major entertainment facility, the Aurora Centre. My calculation of 3300 kids/staff in this zone is 33,000 movements a week times about 40 weeks a year. And barely serviced by Metro by current route patterns!! **

Currently*** only two bus services a day - a deviation of 23 route before and after school - link this huge educational and employment zone to the Avonhead, Hyde Park, Ilam and Russley areas from which many pupils and staff are drawn (and of course no timetable services at all link to the Fendalton, Bryndwr areas). One bus before school, one bus after school. If kids or staff finish early (or work or play sports late), go sick, have appointments during the day etc it's stiff bickies with current Metro policies.

Turning from Memorial Avenue left into Grahams Road and then Merrin Street the proposed route links to Avonhead Mall before travelling down Withells Road then across to Russley at Bentley Street and transfer options to 84 buses to Hornby [possibly only some trips a direct link to Hornby]. This would make Avonhead Mall - served by this suggested westside link service plus routes 35 and 3 -  a minor node point for transfers - to Airport, University, Burnside, Fendalton, Northlands and Hornby. Excellent!! It is not only major glamour transfer stations Christchurch needs - it is also a range of associated node points where transfer tofro travel in six or more different directions is possible, allowing many options and fluid movement for transit consumers across the city.

My guess is that this relatively short "Western Link" (Northlands-Russley) service could probably offer a 30 minute service using only four buses at peak hours. And joining all the dots, in the right way will build up a very solid patronage as the years go by, with added frequency likely.  It is an intelliegently designed  route adding many new options and linking many very popular facilities in ways not currently met at all, by any current routes. In contrast taking Metrostar back through South Christchurch would entail big extra outlay for few benefits and mostly doubling up existing connections, a knee jerk route concept I suspect not based on focussed planning.  Well might the gravel voiced ghost of Lee Marvin sing "I was borne on a wandering star!!"

So yes, I oppose extending MetroStar when far more effective bus systems are needed elsewhere!

**School populations are based on pre-earthquake and long term patterns. It is recognised both Papanui and Burnside High Schools are both currently time-sharing facilities, with Avonside Girls High and Shirley Boys High respectively, because earthquake damage has rendered these latter high schools out of action temporarily.Currently ** * = before the earthquake disrupted services patterns for the immediate future

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