Friday, September 30, 2011

Law backs flash messaging to motorists passing school buses

Tranzwatching in New Zealand

Amendments to sveral NZ laws come in to force this weekend. One of these expands the situation under which motorists have to slow down to 20 kmh when passing school buses stopped to load or discharge students.  The official details are as follows;
There is an existing requirement for drivers to reduce their speed to 20km/h when passing a stationary school bus, displaying a school bus sign that is stopped to pick up or drop off school children.

From 1 October 2011, drivers passing a stationary school bus displaying an optional ‘school bus’ sign with flashing lights, will need to reduce their speed to 20km/h. The bus driver will also be required to only operate the flashing lights for up to 20 seconds before and after the school bus has stopped. This will help to warn motorists that they need to take care and slow down as they are approaching an area where children are likely to be crossing the road.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Green Party document puts Christchurch light rail proposal in wider perspective

Saturday morning traffic on Hagley Avenue queues at Moorhouse Avenue, - the Green Party campaigns  to have continuous bus lanes set aside  and access way for public transport protected (see case study below)

NZ in Tranzit - opinion, mine and others

I recently received a copy of the submission the Aoraki branch of the Green Party made to the Draft Christchurch Central City plan. The submission paints a very much fuller picture than the casual comments I made about the Greens last week.

These comments suggested that the Green Party (which has announced it will support 60% Government funding for light rail in both Wellington and Christchurch) was jumping on the band wagon, so to speak, backing light rail on knee-jerk and mythology, rather than careful research.

This submission to the Central City earth-quake recovery plan makes it very clear the Aoraki Green Party is by no means blindly supporting light rail. Rather the party is very keen to see this option much more carefully and professionally investigated, wants to see all processes in this decision making being very much more transparent, and wants more effective support for bus systems, including full length bus lanes and separate busways, to be identified in the central city plan.

The Green Party also raises a big question mark (one I very much share) over having four bus stations in central city rather than one  "The reasons why street stations are favoured over a central bus interchange are not clear"  It is very unclear to me what modelling in overseas cities exists to show that this is added complexity is more effective, and if so, how well the overseas factors translate to Christchurch.

Having a single interchange point has always been one of Christchurch's great strengths and one of the factors that for several decades gave the city the reputation of having the best bus system in New Zealand.

In contrast the current "two exchange" policy. originally implemented as an emergency measure but still operative many months later, has been a profound disaster for many Christchurch bus users, greatly wasting time and helping drop patronage post-quake by an astounding 55%.  This is a drastic impact far beyond any immediate earthquake effect (after all 95% of people still have to travel to work, study etc somewhere) that seems to be nowhere evaluated, modified or addressed  month after month,  raising very serious questions about the city's commitment to bus users and indeed, actual competence to operate public transport infrastructure.

This certainly does not bode well for multiple city exchange points!

It could prove very silly to abandon what works well, particularly as the proposed "Katmandu" site of the single exchange planned between Lichfield Street and Tuam Street by virtue of its location will allow buses to serve the central city with far less intrusive routing than has previously been the case.

Unlike many other political statements about public transport, which talk in generalities, the Green party submission identifies very specific needs and trends. Although I am not a member and consider myself independent on public transport matters, I reprint the section on public transport here in full (with the party permission).....

Green Party Submission to Draft Central City recovery plan
       - transport sections dealing with public transport and cycling reprinted in full

P89 People on public transport

Light rail Any feasibility study for light rail should examine how any new lines can best be integrated with the existing heavy rail infrastructure with its links to Rolleston, Rangiora and Lyttelton.

Greater transparency is needed around the “early outline investigations” and other light rail studies which the CCC has commissioned. These should be publicly available to encourage informed public debate. More information is needed on the costs and feasibility of light rail, its economic benefits, how it compares with other options such as improved bus services, and possible rail routes. Feasibility studies and investigation work should be done now.

Cities with light rail are fed by a bus network. In Christchurch they could also be fed by a cycle network. Given Christchurch’s suitability for cycling, Stage One in improving the connection between the central city, university and airport should be creating an off road cycleway, before any capital expenditure on a light rail link.

Change requested: Undertake feasibility and other investigations for light rail between 2011 and 2015. Over the next four to five years capital expenditure should give priority to improving facilities for active transport and bus infrastructure and services.

P91 Buses and street stations

A more strategic and energetic approach to public transport provision across the city is needed which identifies, designates and protects public transport corridors for busways and light rail in the Plan and in CERA’s Recovery Strategy. Land use planning should follow public transport corridors.

The City Plan and Recovery Strategy should identify public transport corridors for busways and potentially future light rail and control development in these corridors which would compromise their function, and ensure new development is close to these corridors. The Plan rules in Volume 2 do not appear to do this for the central city.

Bus patronage in Christchurch has slumped. Improving bus patronage is an immediate priority and needs greater attention than it receives in the draft Plan. Bus systems are flexible and the rolling stock already exists. Increased investment in bus infrastructure now can enhance a future light rail network by providing well patronised and operated feeder services.

The current bus lanes on Colombo St and Papanui Road are not continuous which reduces their effectiveness. Continuous busways are an immediate priority. Creating more dedicated busways will reduce travel times and is likely to increase bus patronage.

The reasons why street stations are favoured over a central bus interchange are not clear.

Improved bus services require stronger co-ordination between the CCC, Environment Canterbury and district councils and additional travel demand management studies and planning.

Changes requested:  Commit to establishing more dedicated busways.

Establish a joint working group of council and ECan and NZTA under CERA’s oversight tasked with preparing a transport recovery plan as part of the Recovery Strategy with public input by June 2012.

P93-96 Streets for people and streets for cycling

The Green Party seeks a city where it’s easy and safe to walk and ride. Getting out of our cars and walking and cycling more keeps us healthy by increasing levels of physical activity. It encourages social interaction. It reduces our reliance on imported oil and benefits the planet by reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The lack of strong commitment to cycling is opposed. At present less than 1% of the City Council’s transport expenditure goes on active transport. The estimated spending noted for plan projects suggests there will be no significant increase. The City Plan and the LTCCP should be amended to redirect at least 10% of roading expenditure in greater Christchurch into facilities for active transport if plan targets and vision statements are to be achieved.

The City Council, ECan, CERA and NZ Transport Agency need to prioritise investment in off road cycleways and walkways through and around the central city and suburbs. These routes can connect public spaces and existing community facilities and existing and new public spaces.

The redevelopment of main streets to provide separated cycle lanes is supported. Infrastructure Design Standards across the city need to be amended to ensure continuous, off road or kerbside cycleways are part of all new roading and reconstruction projects for collector, arterial and local roads.

New outdoor lighting should be “smart lighting” which adapts to natural lighting conditions, reduces glare, avoids light spill and saves energy.

Change requested: Amend Policy 7.93 (Vol 2) to read:

“Actively encourage cycling as a transport mode including by:

a) providing a safe cycle network of continuous, connected cycle lanes separated from traffic in the Central City including on all distributor streets, the full length of the Avon River Park and on streets identified as “ways”.

b) providing conveniently located cycle parking facilities.”

Allocate capital expenditure to achieve this from 2012.


Protecting our public transport corridors - not!

NZ in Tranzit offers a sample case of how talk is rarely matched with actions when it comes to creating quality bus services, unimpeded and able to maintain schedule

Years of prattling on about protecting public transport corridors by public authority has borne remarkably small fruit in Christchurch. Despite the momentary hiatus of Saturday traffic in this photo, this is the approach to one of the most congested areas of Christchurch  - Moorhouse-Addington (where four office park developments alone expect to create workspace for 6000 more jobs and massive future redevelopment of this rapidly regenerating area is clearly on the cards). This is already a busy intersection and obviously it will become more so. Clearly bus lanes can not built here without taking up the main straight through lane for all traffic.

Photo shows two of the three older houses on the eastside of Hagley Avenue which have been purchased by a company that has applied to build a five storey office block with ground level car parking at its rear on this site. Clearly now and increasingly more so with every decade as Christchurch grows, traffic is likely to increase in this area and along this corridor and by virtue of this demand for public transport. Indeed there is every potential for a very effective bus lane to be built from Tuam Street, giving buses a virtually non-stop run from the city to the start of Lincoln Road, including a sympathetic intelligent traffic adjustable signal phasing at Moorhouse Avenue.

Logic would suggest Council negotiate with the company to purchase an extra 3 or 4 metres of frontage of this building site at the approaches to this congested intersection. This would allow an added straight through "queue jumper"  bus and cycle lane, with a left turning lane for cars on the inside of this. Car parking at the rear could be altered, or might even go to a second level, possibly even with Council funding support- cars can park anywhere but bus or light rail must have specific land corridors.

This is just one of many instances that safe, fast, reliable lanes are NOT being identified and protected. It goes without saying, that once large buildings or new buildings compromise public transport and cycle advantage options they will be extremely difficult and expensive to try to reclaim later.

Is this future corridor being protected? It does not appear so to me.

When I hear phrases "a high quality, efficient, reliable and affordable public passenger transport system" (this one from the Draft Central City Plan page 91) I know this is just another great load of bunkum. It is the same nonsense that was talked repeatedly in past reports ten and fifteen years ago, in 2006 and more recently by Ecan's Transport appointee Rex Williams setting a goal of 30 million passengers per year by 2020!!

These sort of achievements take strategy, committment, funding, grunt and attitude not fatuous fine words.

Spelling it out is simple (if ironic) - if you want quality bus services you spell BUS without a Q in front!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Is a bird? A Tram? A train? A bus?

Tranzwatching new public transport technology in Germany

 I've always found combination tools fairly bloody useless.  I mean things such as a garden handle with a hoe at one and a rake rake at the other of the single handle; or Swiss army knives with a dozen different functions - ok in emergency but no substitute for the real screwdriver, corkscrew etc.

I'd be surprised indeed if a vehicle combining tram-train and bus managed to really deliver the unique benefits of each transport mode well. But a group of German inventors associated with the Fraunhofer Institute have developed an interesting a hybrid zero emission [at delivery point] light-train-bus they have named the AutoTram  aimed to give bus flexibility with light rail features.

Rather than running on a single charge like an electric car, or a system reliant upon multiple expensive lithium batteries to last hours the AutoTram only goes about 1.5 kilometres before requiring another 30-second jolts of energy fed into supercapacitors. The designer's thinking, it appears, is  that in the urban passenger service context, reloading the sparks at the same time they load passengers, will not impair the progress of the vehicle.

Not so sure in our NZ context where not every stop has passengers waiting or indeed takes 30 seconds to load. Also where making four or five times a 30 second stop to reload energy, during the course of say a 12km suburban route could get rather irksome!

Nonetheless in a world looking for answers to combat some extremely black clouds, peak oil and climate change,  on the horizon no new technolgogy can be dismissed out of hand.

Says the head of the Institute team that developed the AutoTram, Ulrich Potthoff,
 "The system could, though, be attractive to European cities that want to prettify certain historic areas. Even if AutoTram system is more expensive than buses, cities like Milan and Dresden might be prepared to pay a premium to do away with ugly overhead lines and screechy tram lines, in favor of a quiet, clean, and wireless alternative."

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Speed of cars passing school buses bigger issue than seatbelts - MP

Tranzwatching school buses in NZ

Waitaki Member of Parliament Jacqui Dean says that cars failing to reduce speed to the required 20 km an hour when passing school buses loading or discharging school children is a bigger issue than whether seat belts are installed in school buses.  The problem is caused by local drivers and not just tourists.

A report in The Timaru Herald notes that 20km signs are being painted on the back of some buses and buses shelters to try to create greater awareness, and some rural womens' groups are calling for flashing signs on the buses to be used when dropping passengers.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

When magic didn't work so well in Paris?

                                                Light rail - Paris. Wikimedia Commons

There are many magic incantations abroad at the moment!!

"We need light rail"

"light rail is faster" 

"rail has much greater capacity"  

"rail only needs one driver to pull hundreds of passengers so is much cheaper" 

"rail is more environmentally friendly" 

"buses don't have the capacity to handle large numbers"

"light rail attracts people who won't use buses"

All these statements are essentially half truths or outright gobbledy gook. They are lazy thinking - statements having some elements of truth or being partly true, but always only in certain specific situations.  Or they ignore context and downstream effects. 

The magic incantations above can not be assumed, wishful thinking doesn't work for major infrastructure.  Light rail (or commuter rail) is not like tinkerbell's dust spread over a magic castle, "when you wish upon a star" etc - build it and it is guaranteed success. 

Loud opinions can be loosely put but city planning needs precise and accurate forecasting and cost-benefit studies.

Let us not forget the original forecast for the Heritage Tram, back in 1995,  was 1.3 million passenger trips a year - in fact it has never exceeded 300,000 passenger trips a year to the best of my knowledge. Council subsidies had to be rearranged! 

I like that tram system - its elegant old trams -  and I think it did a huge amount for tourist  images of Christchurch, it has significant added cost benefit factors. As do the iconic cartoon friendly shuttle buses. Something unique and distinctive. In contrast a modernistic light rail is so common place to most European and Asian tourists that it will just be wallpaper, as meaningless as a picture of a bus, not an attraction in itself.

The idea that building a light rail through congested Riccarton will be faster, or address the need to get people making longer journeys (across the whole city) on to public transport is illogical; another idea that is highly suspect is that light rail will get people out of cars in a way buses will not.

There have been many successful rail and light rail lines (especially if you do not factor in the fixed costs) but there have also been plenty that bombed or failed to attract significant patronage or created unforseen side effects. 

The comments bring home the complexity of evaluating such projects, of public transport in general

All that glitters is not gold; all that is green is not green. (How sad the Green Party, running on mythology and knee jerk rather than careful research, backed light rail in Christchurch!)

Fixed rail systems in particular in countries lacking density of population need to make sure they join a lot of dots and join them well, cleverly, astutely, they need to do this even to achieve minimum viability (ie not cost the taxpayer $10 per for every passenger boarding).

Doing public transport well is bloody difficult and needs utmost commitment to getting multiple factors right.

It is not a fool's game but attracts politicians nonetheless.

(cheeky bugger!)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Three more busway projects for Auckland

Encouraged by the great success of the Central Connector and Northern busways, three more busway projects look to be on the books for Auckland

Akoranga station on the Northern Busway. The covered walkway extends across the Motorway to the campus on the opposite side.  In Christchurch a far more modest programme of suburban bus transfer stations, announced in 2006,  has made no progress in five years of Parker led governance, despite all the usual Council rhetoric. [click on image to enlarge] per Wikimedia Commons

Although the exact parameters of the terms busway and bus rapid transit have never been officially defined (if that is indeed possible) a general consensus seems to be emerging in public transport circles that four major components need to exist;

(a) bus lanes segregated in part or whole and/or fully separated from conventional road transport

(b) priority signals or grade separated intersections

(c) bus level platform stations with pre-pay boarding systems

(d) real time signage

Auckland's Northern busway meets all these criteria

The main elements of the busway are an 8.5 kilometre bus only roading, over 6 km of this on an entirely segregated road beside the northern motorway, five main stations air conditioned with platform loading and large car parks, and bus laned roads in the North Shore Takapuna areas on roads feeding buses onto the busway. 

The Northern busway reduced public transport traveling time from Albany to the city down from 57 minutes to 25 minutes. The system is even competitive with cars -  according to a report in the NZ Herald  travel times on the Northern Express from Albany station to Fanshawe St at peak can be almost half those of cars, 24 minutes as compared to 45 in a car. Buses depart for the city every 2-3 minutes in peak hours.

The busway opened in 2005 (fully in 2008) and patronage rose at 77% in the second year, and five million passengers trips were taken within five years. Patronage is still increasing in double digit figures, 19% in the year to June 2011.

The Central connector in Auckland's downtown area sees buses accessing the Central city by bus lanes and Grafton Bridge which has been converted to a bus only corridor during daylight hours.

The New Zealand Transport Agency were so impressed with the success of the northern busway in 2007 they began researching extending a mostly grade segregated busway a futher 16 kilometres north to Orewa. In November 2008 the NZ Herald reported

"Auckland's booming Northern Busway is being eyed up for a $700 million to $1.2 billion extension to Orewa.  The Transport Agency is considering extending a two-lane highway for buses from Constellation Drive to at least Silverdale, superseding a previous plan to rely on motorway shoulders for trips north of Albany.  Its new proposal would involve building five tunnels and seven bridges, including a flyover of the Northern  Motorway, leaving North Shore City and Rodney District to construct bus stations along the way - at Rosedale, Redvale and Silverdale."

After a hiatus of a year or two, it seems, this investigation resumed early this year with NZTA hiring international engineering giant BECA to scope out the needs of the project, which may be some years away but needs land corridors that will be needed to be identified and protected before they are compromised by new developments.

Although National is not as committed to growing public transport as the Labour Government was, (to say the least) it has made it clear it may support busway projects where seen as more cost effective than rail and wants busways investigated as an option to a central underground rail loop.

This potential Government funding of busways is good news for the AMETI project - the Auckland Manakau East Tamaki Inititiative, a $1.6 billion (plus) redevelopment of rail, road, busway and cycleway patterns for south east Auckland areas. Government funding of $429 million has been allocated to the total project to date.

Part of the AMETI project (which requires the acqusition of 329 properties and removal or demolition of most buildings upon these) is the proposed building of a central median lane busway between Panmure, Pakauraunga and Botany.

As  international public transport planner Jarret Walker says, although median lane busways can sometimes make turning movements more complicated for other traffic " a median BRT solution looks and feels like a separated busway, and its dedicated median station infrastructure makes the service look both prominent and permanent." 

Whether centre lane or curbside lane, there appears little doubt this project will go ahead, in line with the overall strategic goals of the whole project (best described in the AKT blog here).

Now more Auckland citizens, living in the west but out reach of easy access to the western rail line who are pushing for a western busway of their own, running from Te Atatu to central Auckland. According to a report in The Western Leader   "A proposal to build a dedicated busway alongside the north-western busway motorway has won support from the Henderson-Massey Local Board. It has included the idea in its draft annual plan. Labour MP Phil Twyford put forward the proposal and says the could be built, including new bus stations, for about $350 million. It would run from Westgate to either Pt Chevalier or the Auckland CBD and include stations at Te Atatu, Lincoln Rd and Massey." 

Given comments by Minister of Transport Stephen Joyce about Aucklanders using bus corridors this project could well get wheels on it [literally!] before too many years have passed (or maybe as soon as Phil Twyford's party regains the seats of Governance).

The spread of busways - and the desire to built these corridors, often cheaper than rail and delivering greater service frequency, speed and accessibility across wider spectrum of suburbs (without need for time losing transfers) when  "open" available to use by multiple bus routes - is not confined to Auckland.

Busways (more commonly called bus rapid transit in North America, and Quality Bus Corridors in the UK) are part of an international phenomena that has fostered significant growth in bus patronage where implemented. This is particularly so in South America, where many of the busways concepts were first developed (notably in Curitba and Bogota) but many busway systems have been built around the world in the last decades, the largest such as those in Jakarta, Istanbul, Mexico City, Lagos moving hundreds of thousands of passengers per day. Ottawa in Canada, with a population of only a million, carries more passengers per capita per year on its public transport system than every North American city other than the metropolitan giants, New York, Toronto and Montreal. An unusual achievement for a smaller city - Ottawa patronage figures are almost entirely based on its extensive off-road segregated bus network, though plans are now to also include a light rail extension along one corridor.

Closer to home, earlier this year the Queensland Minister of Transport announced Southeast Queensland bus patronage has surged by a huge 65 per cent over the past six years, to 71 million trips per year. This was more than triple the growth in commuter rail usage. Most of this growth is accredited to the very sophisticated segregated busway system in Brisbane, which allows dozens of bus routes to feed into non-stop busway corridors and trenches straight into the heart of the city without need for time consuming transfers.

In Christchurch no study has ever been done of busways, indeed the key words "busway" and "bus rapid transit" bring up no matches on the city council website.

That such a huge and significant growth phenomena of the last decade as busways/bus rapid transit can be ignored by the Christchurch City Council might suggest to many that those who are paid high salaries to manage efficiently have an abysmal ignorance of modern transit trends (and failure to research properly).

Or perhaps that certain factions may be pushing light rail and their own fantasies rather than investigating the actual resident transport needs and wisest choices for public transport for all of  Christchurch in the broad and professional manner they are hired or elected to carry out.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Lets get back to professional standards in Christchurch city management!!

I have followed public transport issues for over 40 years and I am appalled that this field of social engineering, with as many complexities as any other field of engineering,  is being treated as some sort of “anyone can do it right” system.

We do not choose to purchase expensive medical equipment or wharf cranes on the basis of public or politician whim – why build and run far more expensive public transport on such a ridiculous basis?

Proposals to undertake studies on "light rail" and to create a business case for Government appeared designed to choose light rail without first examining other options, when clearly many other technologies exist to create more effective public transport. Obviously funding is finite and $400 million into one light rail project, a single short line, will seriously compromise other transport options for years to come.

Not least the future vitality of the central city will largely depend on easy direct access from all corners of the city, including public transport. Successful public transport needs to look at access to and from all areas, not just the CBD and Riccarton Road, or even the very limited future light rail network indicated.

I believe the city should set aside (or obtain from NZ Transport Agency) $5 million or sufficient funds to develop a public transport strategy more sophisticated than currently being applied or suggested.

Amongst other things part of developing this strategy would see international consultants, from firms with decades of experience and properly qualified public transport planners and financial assessors examining ALL major forms of city transport options and land use in Christchurch.

This would include conventional bus systems, integrated network bus systems, bus rapid transit, commuter rail and light rail as modes, and off road cycle ways (specifically built to address travel needs) and on-road bus and light lanes, and segregated or off road bus or light rail corridors, and commuter rail (including relationship to freight needs).

Any project involving substantial public funds needs to be determined on professional information and offer appropriate comparative cost-benefit studies to international standards.

 All proposed choices or projects involving substantial funding imput (whether from taxes or rates or other sources) should be taken to a local body election before being fully implemented.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Western Rail Corridor - the real key to powerhouse to commuting in greater Christchurch?

Christchurch Airport station built on a line,  under Orchard Road and Airport Carpark. 
Photo Actually Stockholm underground - Wikipedia

This Commentary was significantly updated/shortened from a posting back in December 2010

In a recent post I advocated building a rail link between Redwood area, just south of the Styx rail overbridge heading west to Johns Road, then past the airport down to Islington, creating what is in effect a circular rail network with lengthy spurs, able to be operated in all sorts of inter-active commuter patterns  (see map below).

Click on images to enlarge (the map above was superceeded in November 2011 by the one below)

As well as adjoining many existing residential areas, industrial and office park areas and major shopping hubs, this network would also serve the airport and the proposed/existing Addington City sports and events zone, and the central city.  

The network as proposed here would serve (and no doubt foster) many new developments, such as Upper Styx or Islington Park. Or  for instance it might add a big boost to redevelopment in the older areas such as those around Charleston, Roimata, Philipstown if,  by boarding a train at Ensors Road,m residents could easily access almost every major industrial-office park zone and several huge retail employers stretching from Rangiora to Rolleston!

Although it lacks the direct "rail to Cathedral Square" quality of the [2012?] proposed light rail route, the circular route pattern in the map above links well over 200,000 of our residents (and 100,000 more across the whole province)  into easy access to the central city by conventional and sturdy commuter rail. 

This would have a huge impact far in excess of the minimal cost-benefits of a singular light rail line proposed to Ilam by Bob Parker's team. 

The commuter rail benefits include a reverse pattern flow - comfortable inner city apartment life-styles fostered in central areas because it is possible to get to work by rail to almost every major employment zone - as far afield as Rolleston or Rangiora. 

Peak hour flow going both ways is a huge financial benefit in any public transport system.

This suggested new line between Styx and Islington would be double tracked with grade separation (NO inter-action with cars etc)/ In  my vision it would be built mainly as part of the  Auckland-Christchurch freight corridor but offer opportunity to structure in commuter rail, presumably also mostly financed by Government and KiwiRail, as has happened in Auckland and Wellington. 

Indeed it would be silly to build such a freight corridor and not factor in passenger transport facilities and land use in adjoining areas, even if some commuter rail links might still be years away.

I believe this link rail project could be built for not much more than the $400 million figure estimated for creating a light rail down Riccarton Road. (comparative new and upgraded railway spending to date in Auckland is over $2 billion, Wellington at least $800 million)

I also believe this western rail corridor delivers far more industrial, economic, environmental, and social punch for the money.

Preserving the current single between Styx and Addington (and the attractive cycle and walkway) this would give Christchurch three lines access tofro the North.  Peak expresses might travel straight to Addington then reverse to central Christchurch, but many other services would loop via airport - most of this route at high speed being grade separated. It offers quality service to multiple hubs AS WELL as the city centre, possibly the only way to generate sufficient usage to make commuter rail viable in a city as small as Christchurch.  

The rail loop corridor protects the long term mobility and potential quality of life of ALL city residents (in a way the Riccarton tram line does not)  if oil prices rise dramatically and permanently, as they may well do now that oil production appears to reached peak production.  

Apart from much shorter drives to car parks at stations at the periphery of the city (eg Russley, Chapmans Road) trains and bikes can work exceedingly well together and some carriages could be designed especially for cyclists, with a network of quality cycleways tofro stations.

It also reinstates Christchurch truly at the centre of the Province in the sense residents from Timaru and Ashburton etc. and from Amberley and Rangiora etc can rail direct to the International airport and sports stadiums.

A great advantage of this rail corridor suggested here is that most of the infrastructure can be built in advance of extensive new housing, commercial and industrial areas - at East and West Belfast, The Styx Centre (Northwood), Styx Mill, Johns Road, Spitfire Centre, Dakota Park, Russley, Masham, Broomfield, Islington Park, the Izone at Rolleston, Rolleston itself, Wigram, Addington and Sydenham and (in peak hours anyway) the expansion of the Woolston industrial area. 

This premature design factor, allows removal of conflict between trains, residents and cars (using over passes, underpasses or trenches and subways and also allows access to the rail to be maximized whether for bike and skateboard or for park and ride and kiss and ride. Glassed off platforms could allow direct access into malls and shopping complexes.

I suggested in my previous posting that the line via the airport could be built in a cut and cover trench (as at New Lynn, Auckland) with a line and station under the length of Orchard Road, adding perhaps $150-200 million to costs). Any station in this area would anyway need to be served by a people mover or a five minute shuttle bus service to airport terminals and work places in the general area.

On my (potted) reading the basic line costs of double tracking and necessary signal cabling etc would be under $7 million per kilometre, including currently rural land purchase; the overbridges (such as Buchananans Road, Yaldhurst Road etc) about $15-20 million each, the smaller stations about $5-10 million each. (These figures are only extrapolated from Australia and NZ projects without all factors known and may be widely astray- welcome more accurate guesses!)

Unlike Bob Parker's inspired (yeah right)  "light rail network" which is expected to to cost $1.9 billion and would take years to develop in sequence, line by line after the proposed City-Riccarton tram line, the Western Rail Corridor and associated commuter system, in one move brings a huge chunk of greater Christchurch into one linked system for (probably) less than $600 million while simultaneously hugely upgrading our rail freight base and its potential doorstop link to industry. 

Commuter rail of course also has much greater elasticity and room for expansion than either buses or light rail - in the event of a new "Lancaster Park" at Addington and big Test matches and similar, adding carriages and locomotives to the DMU unit system means rail could deliver tens of thousands directly into the area, from all of Canterbury - and directly.

The made here suggestion relies on tacking commuter rail onto the Government's Auckland-Christchurch freight corridor upgrade; the probable increased use in public transport post peak oil; onto an effective system based on multiple traffic generator points and multiple use patterns. 

Not least this idea also recognises the greater stability of stony north and west land, which suggests a greater rebuild of thousands of lost houses (from the earthquake) in these areas rather than in the east. With its many swamps and large green spaces (QEII, golf courses, estuary etc) the eastside always was always more of  a challenge in terms of sufficient population and geography, to service with a frequent multi-directional public transport network. 
This challenge seems likely to greatly increase with the reversion of many unstable areas, formerly housing, back to park or paddock. Lyttelton (even adding Heathcote and Diamond Harbour populations ) falls too far short in of any minimum viability for commuter rail, quite apart from the long walk up the hill better mitigated by the bus routes.

The conditions that once supported commuter rail to port are long gone, and instead there is a serious bottleneck with great vulnerability for freight. On the other hand a park and ride (and bus drop off/pick up zone) area at Chapmans Road might attract residents working in the north and west from all of the Sumner/Lyttelton/Harbour area. 

Wellington aside - it is unusual to build rail (light rail or commuter rail) in cities as small as Christchurch, in low density/high car ownership countries such as Canada, USA or Australia (Canzus!) . Over two plus years I have checked out over 120 cities in "CANZUS" between 300,00 and a million in these four countries and Wellington is the ONLY city with its own proper (7 day a week, multiple routes) commuter rail system (Noted - one or two cities have commuter rail links but these are primarily to bigger cities nearby - eg Newcastle to Sydney, Bridgeport to New York)

However a very effective route structure with multiple overlapping functions, and potential for peak hour travel operating in both directions could just put Christchurch ahead of the class, creating a very resilient infrastructure to support the city's growth and economic survival in the years ahead. 

I believe it would be criminal to investigate the current light rail proposal [or the Green party proposal in 2017!!] without a full and proper study of the option above.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

T.Boone Pickens Texas Oil billionaire spells out peak oil disaster our government ignores

Tranzwatching in |Dallas, Texas, USA

Sometimes it pays to hear the message from the horse's mouth and with a Texas style drawl.

T.Boone Pickens,  Texas oil billionaire, conservative, financial backer of George Bush, is investing in USA's biggest wind farm project. 

Pickens doesn't mince his words on the crisis facing the USA (and world) over oil production shortfalls, world demand now exceeding ability of oli wells to produce, in this YouTube from US News channel CNBC

Wikipedia quotes The Washington Post  which has said that "perhaps the strangest role" Pickens "has fashioned for himself is his current one: the billionaire speculator as energy wise man, an oil-and-gas magnate as champion of wind power, and a lifetime Republican who has become a fellow traveler among environmentally minded Democrats ..." .

In an editorial, the New York Times reports Pickens "has decided that drilling for more oil is not the whole answer to the nation's energy problems.