Friday, December 30, 2011

Public transport - Let's get our priorities right!

(Sorry 'bout the long break ....too much eating, drinking, walks and craic... and all the other good things of Christmas...alas a few unexpected nasty earthquakes too!)

A few months ago I tried to put together a more or less hierarchical listing of the functions and roles of public transport, listed - roughly- from the most important [in most cases] role downwards, through secondary or subsidiary roles

It helps to have a generic template of what is sought, even if unique circumstances and locations cause variations from the basic. For example in towns and small cities easily accessible by car and where life for a working age person would be difficult without a car the foremost priority I identified - transporting people to work and study - might actually come in behind "social roles" of transport  for older and disabled people.

But having a priority ranking also can make the small town organising authority say "Wait a minute - maybe there are people in our community needing transport to work whose needs we could meet that we are failing to see? Are we overlooking concentrated residential areas or work locations - such as a hospital - where a well scheduled bus service could attract workers as well as casual visitors? Or (even better) is there a way we might piggyback a bus service offering work access for 9am-start office staff (often women, younger women without cars) from a reasonably populous outlying area or adjacent settlement and integrate it with existing school bus currently arriving at the local High School 8.35am? A case of weaving together a basic service by virtue of identifying and meeting needs of diverse user groups at every stop or in the pattern of the schedules.

A few weeks back professional transport planner, blogster and most recently published author Jarrett Walker described a similar but very different sort of list, what motivates or detracts people from using public transport.

Jarrett Walker's  list is also roughly, generically, hierarchical .. the primary factors (in most cases) first with secondary factors last

Here is how Jarrett put it in the specific posting on his blog  "Human Transit" (with my unnecessary bolding! )

In a recent blog In Chapter 2 of  Human Transit, I argue that useful transit can be understood as involving seven dimensions or elements.

1.    “It takes me where I want to go.”

2.    “It takes me when I want to go.”

3.    “It’s a good use of my time.”

4.    “It’s a good use of my money.”

5.    “It respects me.”

6.    “I can trust it.”

7.    “It gives me freedom to change my plan

What a marvellous system it would be if every route or schedule,  or integration of schedules, or even bus stop location tried to meet these consumer goals!!!

I suggest read Jarrett's full posting

or buying   or borrowing his book for more insight. 

I personally experienced much of the meaning of Jarrett's comments in his blog posting, about "endearing transport" with the heritage trams in heart wanted to use them, even bought an annual resident's pass allowing unlimited trips.

But for all the enchantment and good intention to use the trams as part of my regular transport around that area of the city, once was enough! It was impossibly slow, cumbersome, the commentary to a local (and especially to  former sight seeing bus driver) was well known and predictable, the service filled no role as a short hop quick-trip transport. For all my intentions to come back and use it again, the system did not meet my needs in any dimension and no amount of "well wishing" was enough to use it again.

I can imagine that any Light Rail link from the university might get an opening boost, lots of new patrons, but driving to a car-park in Ilam, then waiting 5 or 10 minutes for a stop-start journey into central Christchurch along congested Riccarton Road -  taking twice as long as a direct trip by would soon lose its thrill to most people in nearby Avonhead, or Yaldhurst let alone be of any use to those living  far away in Belfast, Cashmere Rolleston, Aranui or Parklands!

Habit is about honing life's short cuts, the easiest and fastest, the least stressful...farting around going out of one's way just to ride light rail to get to work  is not likely to be widely adopted or is so only for so long.

To say "we need light rail" or "Buses don't work" etc is vague, amateurish sounding and ultimately absurd, a very unsophisticated call - we need public transport that directly addresses the complex needs of people.

Let's get our priorities right!

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Christchurch - Sure to Rise? A hill here, an embankment there??

A couple of months back I was walking the section of the Little River Rail Trail with a friend.

This former railway corridor skirts Lake Wairewa on an embankment. At times, I'd guess, this heavy shingle embankment built over 125 years ago is up to 6-8 metres high in places.

"Isn't it amazing," I said at one point, "that all this shingle had to brought by horse and cart. Such an incredible amount of work".

We walked another couple of metres before I exploded in laughter at my own stupidity.

"How ridiculous, " I corrected myself, "Of course they didn't bring it by horse and cart, they brought it by rail as the line advanced and tipped it off rail trucks."

It is a truly sad and tragic way to have gained this,  but one asset Christchurch has gained since the year of horrendous earthquakes is an absolutely humungous pile of broken bricks and masonry rubble.

Most of this is at the Burwood landfill and may just stay there - I am not sure how "clean" this rubble is in terms of things that might leach into the ground, or say PVC cabling and all that sort of stuff. Or how much it can be cleaned if needed. But after World War II the bombed cities of Europe made some very attractive hills and parks by piling huge piles of rubble and covering these with earth and trees.

The photo, sourced from Wikimedia Commons, is one of these, a hill park called  Olympiaberg made from rubble generated in the war-time bombing of Munich.

I have advocated building a freight and commuter rail configuration and includes a spur to planned new housing areas at Highfield and Prestons would not take a great deal, while the land is still in farmland to extend a temporary rail line across the Burwood rubble dump.

This would allow massive amounts of in-fill masonry rubble to be carted long distances (if needed) and used to create new rolling land contours here and there around our mostly very flat or very steep city. In terms of building a new rail link between Redwood and Islington, through or past various existing or planned subdivisions and industrial areas, this would offer ample opportunity to create gentle rising parkland style embankments on approaches to over-bridges. Or to disguise or noise reduce airport facilities or, ditto,a shallow rail trench with a mixture of embankment, trees and shrubs and, if necessary, non-visible security fencing.

Of course this could also effect the view of the Southern Alps (which many people value) for those living too close but then again modest hillocks scientifically positioned could also be engineered to mitigate the effect of certain winds - the colder bite of nor-easters in Sumner for instance, greatly enhancing lifestyle and property values in that area.

The mountain of masonry re-sculpted elsewhere not least could ensure that any new railway line from Redwood to Islington via the airport would never need to have level crossings, greatly increasing speed and safety of rail operations.

A curse of the city's flatness is that grade separated crossings of the triple tracked Hornby-Lyttelton railway corridor tend to be huge,ugly and spiritually and visually divisive of the city. The over bridges at Waltham Road; Colombo Street; Durham Street; Blenheim Road extension; and Sockburn, do little for the felt quality of the city and may have contributed to the decline of Sydenham.

Yet as the city and its economic export engine, the Port in Lyttelton, will continue to grow in size and productivity there can not help but be an inevitable increase in rail traffic competing with cross motor traffic at level crossings such as Wrights Road;  Whiteleigh Avenue/Clarence Road; and Lincoln Road. The lengthy coal trains are already slow to cross and further rail traffic is a guarantee of increased traffic delays or congestion OR MORE over-bridges. Indeed it could probably be argued that the biggest problem with creating commuter rail would be precisely this - add another four trains or more each way per hour - the absolute minimum - and there are going to be a huge number of traffic queues at level crossings, not least at peak hours!

The "just another brick out of the wall theory"  may also have a part to play here too - could a half and half railway trench be built - perhaps dropping nine metres down after heading west from Durham Street with some crossings removed and others carried on over-bridges of much less height than those current? This would create a much less brutal assault on the visual environment, such as a four lane over-bridge, more a graded rise than a sharp ascent, across the railway lines at Lincoln Road one of the city's foremost (and busiest)  arterial roads. Not only could the rubble play a minor packing and embankment role in such a scenario - it could also be used to pack the base of the trench - dug out to five metres, heavy concrete sides but filled with heavily compressed masonry fill to the first two metres or some such to maximise loading bearing and ground consolidation.

Every hour or two another lengthy coal train rumbles through Christchurch bound tofro the export wharf at the Port. How much greater capacity can rail grow - including around 16 coal trains a day, freight trains, local shunts - and then include commuter trains; and how much bigger can Christchurch population and motorist numbers grow -  before  a section of trenching and/or several more grade-separate over-bridges become a necessity?

Another possibility - complementing the easy access of the suggested rail corridors to the new premier sports ground planned for Addington (joining the existing race course and Events centre) - would be the creation of new contoured sports grounds of significant portions, with a doughnut of natural grassed embankments, to enjoy cricket or speedway or cycling whatever.  The combination of rubble transport by rail from Burwood and a future railway station being built immediately close to such a major sporting venue (and able to deliver crowds from every corner of the suggested figure 8 and spurs circuit ) would allow peripheral areas such as Kaiapoi or Rolleston a chance to become host to national events of a sporting codes, just by virtue of the quality of access, size of host arena and attractive relaxed landscaped setting of venue.

Obviously I am not an engineer so some or all of this could be totally uneeded, or unsuitable or absolutely twaddle !! But it does suggest there could be much synergy in a commuter rail line to Prestons being temporarily linked to Burwood forest while rubble is remoulded to enhance multiple greater Christchurch areas!

Rebuilding Christchurch brick by broken brick?  Northern suburbs to get park with a view?Christchurch Sure to Rise?   There certainly seem some interesting possibilities here.

I hope so! I am sure the late Thomas Edmonds (cake products)  would not like his famous slogan being used for half baked ideas!

Friday, December 16, 2011

Light Rail Backers Battle On

Bus Rapid Transit is increasingly giving light rail a run for its money in the USA, delivering far more extensive services than light rail can for the same dollar.

Judging by this Detroit news article headlined  Light rail backers battle on common sense is winning out in that city too.

There are some interesting parallels between Christchurch and Detroit here.

In the past the Christchurch City Council ignored the chance to put a very useful direct bus link between new growth areas in the South West (12,000 new houses are planned for Wigram, Awatea, Henderson and Halswell in the coming decades) and the University, Middketon industrial/office park area,  Westfield and the Airport.

Likewise the chance to link Belfast with the central city in 15 minutes in peak hours  by a busway across from Grimseys Road and down Rutland Street and Caledonia Road into the city never appears to have been seriously investigated, despite wide promotion of the concept to Mayor Garry Moore, city and Ecan councillors and local body election candidates in the middle of last decade.

An obsession with light rail in city hall appears to keep city vision blinkered against other forms of public transport technology.  Notwithstanding the huge and continuing success and patronage growth of the Northern Busway in Auckland (over 2 million passengers a year and a bus departing every three minutes in peak hours) Christchurch City seems to operate in a cocoon without conscious knowledge or understanding of this concept (people often mix it up with conventional buses systems or bus lanes only).

So the parallel is not precise. No councilors are specifically pushing busways as an alternative to light rail. But it is clear  in Detroit as elsewhere $500 million can deliver four busways serving variuous areas including the airport and employment zones, compared to the single light rail line proposed.  (This said most US busways do not include much off road or faster segregated corridor running)

In Detroit there has beem debate pitching regional transport needs against light rail.

One big difference, the Detroit Mayor welcomed the busway proposals, ""A light-rail system 3.8 miles up Woodward doesn't speak to regional transportation, not when 60 percent of the employed of the city work outside the city," he said.

Quite so.

In Christchurch light rail as a concept suitable for Christchurch battles on too.

Responding to pressure the Central City Plan now incorporates conventional commuter rail, using the existing rail corridors but retains the dream of a light rail serving Riccarton Road and other suburban areas. The tram-train concept,  which has been developed in a limited number of locations overseas (where trams use conventional railway lines for part of their route) is invoked in the new City plan.

However it is  unclear whether this has been investigated even in preliminary way - it is hard to imagine that any rail vehicle without a full size body and chassis  could safely operate amongst heavy freight trains, including 8 full and 8 empty coal trains a day,  in a situation where curfews limiting freight movement hours would be virtually impossible.

For further info about Detroit's situation, see also "For less than $500M, a bus rapid transit system could cover nearly 110 miles also this report here, in even greater depth, which also addresses the Detroit economic situation (the biggest city in Michigan is expected to be broke in April next year!)

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

In Christchurch an unusual phenomena - a city de-constructing

There can't be too many situations in the world where a modern city deliberately "de-constructs" . In Christchurch - never much of a towering "skyscraper city" anyway -  a number of high rise buildings are being demolished. 

In the very violent 6.2 Richter scale earthquake in Christchurch the extreme ground acceleration in a relatively small area made it one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded (and also rare, an epicentre right under a city centre). Quite a few of the high rise buildings suffered significant structural damage beyond that which is economic, safe or insurable to restore. This occurred despite these being built to very high earthquake resistance standards since the mid 1970s (two earlier built high rises suffered catastrophic collapse with huge loss of life). 

A big relief for all in the city will be the recent engineers report that most of the land in the CBD is stable to rebuild upon, the exception areas being mainly river-side where plans already exist to push development further back. 

Everybody in Christchurch is well familiar with these huge cranes (the one in the photo above is dismantling a 28 storey building. I can't imagine its height) and the sight of modern buildings being de-constructed but I thought it worth sharing some of these unusual images with the many NZ in Tranzit readers living elsewhere in NZ overseas. 

As you can see from the first photo - the very severely damaged Grand Chancellor Hotel,  Christchurch's tallest building until very recently is bent and tilting, and now being taken down section by section after huge concrete blocks were used to stabilise one corner. 

Closer to the camera some degree of normal life has begun to resume, though much of the business life is currently being conducted in temporary premises elsewhere, and some parts of the city remained cordoned off.

Fantastic the spaghetti that goes into making the multiple circuitry of a modern building!

Not even sure of the name of this smaller office high rise - opposite the Bridge of Remembrance - being ball and chained to a (very slow but persistent) extinction about two months ago. 

The ten storey Copthorne Hotel on Durham Street on the way down in early November. In the foreground the Christchurch Casino, built like Fort Knox (of course!) survived well and is back at work

A few weeks later later the Durham Street Copthorne Hotel is a ball of scrap steel
Oh yes -  I forgot the main focus of this blog is about public transport - below the Christchurch Bus Exchange, on a quiet Sunday morning a million years ago, back in early 2010 when we our city had not experienced a significant earthquake for decades! 

The Bus Exchange was a joint private public sort of development, and much effort was made by the developer Philip Carter to retain the heritage facades as part of the site. The Bus Exchange was built as a complex linked to other exits and arcades etc and cost $40 million though not directly  to the taxpayer.  Whilst the original walls abutting the street, shown aboove, were held in place the older buildings themselves were demolished and the Bus Exchange and multi-level car-parks were built behind the facades. 

Alas these buildings also suffered too much damage to repair as shown further below.

Despite all the internal concrete and steel that went into restoring and converting the Bus Exchange building it too suffered major structural damage. It is  beyond repair and is now  inn the he queue awaiting demolition The site had anyway become far too small and clumsy (even within just a decade) for fast discharging and fast pick up and quick departure in busy periods

Friday, December 9, 2011

New link services too little, too late and blatantly insulting to eastern bus users and ratepayers.

 Metro Christchurch has finally addressed the complete collapse of bus services to large areas of eastern Christchurch following last February's major earthquake.

Ecan has announced two new link bus services to the Dallington, Avonside, Aranui and Avondale areas.

Ecan have introduced a token service, two shuttle links with good route structures but so limited in service spread and frequency schedule they do not even offer peak hour services [see here]
This means high school students and workers will still have to walk 15-20 minutes to get to a city bus stop, despite the fact they or their parents are paying full transport rates to Ecan.

A second fact is if vehicles can negotiate roadworks on this shuttle routes four times a day, why not eight times a day, or sixteen times a day?? The north, west and southern suburbs have almost all city to suburb services running half hourly day/hourly evening, approx twenty five trips each way a day.  

In contrast for these eastern residents, already under stress from quake damage,  to access anywhere in the city they must make a transfer, in most cases at Eastgate or The Palms, and quite possibly another transfer at the city bus exchange to get to work, study or social locations elsewhere. Everyone who has lived through the last nine months of the Council/ Ecan appalling muck up - the disastrous twin bus exchange concept  - knows that double transfer can take hours!  One missed connection at The Palms and some one (including the elderly or those with mobility handicaps) could have to wait two hours to get to Dallington Bridge. Its not on.

The new Links are such a pathetic response, so late, so limited, so insulting to people who pay for an adequate bus service and in some cases depend upon it, one can only be suspicious that The Ecan junta, has got the word from higher up in the National Government that the Nats want to pull the plug on decent public transport and need to drive people away from using buses, downgrade the image and quality of bus services! 

If so the earthquake recovery chaos offering an excellent disguise to do so - these are huge cuts - the biggest I can remember since all evening bus services were reduced 50% in about 1979.  It would be extraordinary to think Ecan could cut bus services so severely - upto 50-70% reduction in some major route corridors NOT blocked by earthquake damage such as Gloucester Street; Tuam Street-Harrow Street; Wainoni Road,  Linwood Avenue without huge outcry if politicians and community leaders were not so distracted with other big issues.

NZ in Tranzit says do the decent thing Metro!!

(a) double the service frequency, even an hourly service is pathetic but it would at least place eastside services on par with some of the other quieter city routes, not a totally inferior service. No body should have to wait two hours for a missed bus or connection!

(b) run services 7am - 8pm minimum. People have to get to work or school or can't visit friends crosstown or shop in the city etc  under  the curfew effect of this ridiculously limited time frame. A public authority elected in part to help the transport disadvantaged and public transport dependent have dignity and freedom of mobility does the opposite and places a tight middle of the day only curfew upon these people.

(c) restore a direct city link to North Linwood  to Woodham Road  area - perhaps an amalgam of the inner suburb parts of the 83-84 routes - why should an eastern route corridor not damaged by earthquakes have a 50% cut (66% if you add in 21,83,84 as previously all offering access to this higher density,  North Linwood/Avonside area) while the people of Ilam, Avonhead, Papanui and Belfast etc etc still get four or more services an hour??  Why should North Linwood, Avonside and Dallington people near undamaged sections of route not have bus services, brought within easier walking range?

Christchurch people pay transport rates (directly or inherent in their rent to landlords) why should the bus user needs and services requirements of the east - the areas that  taken the hardest blow from earthquake effects - already suffering financial stress be be treated with such contempt by people who are paid hundreds of dollars every time they attend a meeting?**

** The Chair of Ecan Dame Margaret Bazley receives $1400 per meeting; the members $900 per meeting. This of course is before tax, presumes they bring to their position superior management skills and spend a lot of time outside the meeting studying reports and analysing and creating effective solutions.

Nine months to organise two very part time vans ? Yeah right!

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Canterbury regional strategy firm on not supporting country commuters

Top quality coaches with wi-fi are becoming a world trend in city-to-city services, but commuter friendly bus services are unlikely to ever connect Timaru, Ashburton, Rolleston,  Christchurch and Christchurch International Airport under present Canterbury transport strategies.   (Photo: Two door Tour bus  at  Taihape 2010.  NZ in Tranzit) 

The Canterbury Regional Land Transport Strategy 2012- 2042 has been completed. This is a policy document whuch must be formulated by every Region every few years under the Land Transport Management Act 2003 to determine provincial  transport patterns and priorities.

This strategy document put together with representation from all District authorities and other transport related stakeholders determines policy guidelines across all forms of transport and transport planning for the province. Amongst this is of course public transport and this is examined in the context of both regional needs, smaller urban centres and Christchurch City.

One submission by some one who clearly did NOT want public transport subsidised, in any way, opposed any rate payer subsidy for intercity public transport services.

The "Officer summary of submissions and hearing panel Recommendations to Regional Transport Committee" responded;

"That draft strategy envisages these services will continue to be provided on a commercial basis over the life of the strategy i.e. funded from fares and not subsidised by rates."

Phew that was a close shave!

For a minute it looked there might be an inter-city (and of course "country area to the city") strategy that could throw Ecan into responsibility of promoting more environmentally sustainable transport across the whole province.

A rich irony indeed that would have been! Environment Canterbury, in fact as well as in name!!

It is a great pity though that rabid "busism" (=buses are inferior way to travel; people who ride on buses are inferior; bus services cost more than they generate in downstream benefits) permeates the cow town mentality of the plains and infects even the urban vote in such matters.

Even viewed against other regions of New Zealand** it suggests Canterbury would be better raising ostriches than dairy cattle.

Lack of an intelligent network of commuter (local traveller) buses probably costs the province, its residents and commerce far far more than any minor saving from avoiding the relatively small annual subsidy likely to be needed (less than $10 per household?).

At present virtually all longer distant bus, shuttle, coach services radiate outwards from Christchurch in the morning and head in onwards the city at the end of the day. In contrast services from the smaller urban centres see buses heading towards Christchurch only after mid-morning.

This pattern means country commuters can not access early appointments, work or tertiary study start times in the city; it also means that independent travellers on schedules - 21 days in NZ etc - can not make an early start from these smaller centres (a 10 am-11.30 am start virtually loses half a day or even de facto loses a whole day) and travellers may tend to decide against visting them.

Lack of access to the metropolitan centre Christchurch by user friendly schedules and coach services will be a factor in losing or not gaining population and the income and spending this brings to the district. This is particularly so amongst key public transport user groups such as tertiary students, those with disabilities inhibiting mobility and the aging who become uncomfortable with driving on the busy state highway but want to access family or services in the city on a regular basis. Income from ESOL student boarders are helping pay mortgages in many Christchurch homes but only few will look at accommodation or study where there is not effective public transport support available.

Whether it is one less extra night's stay-over or choosing to retire for remaining life closer to the city, lack of public transport support takes money out of the country district and fails to bring some percentage of tourist dollar into the district. This includes local tourism - surprise, surprise - Ballantynes attract large numbers of (mainly) women shoppers to bus to Timaru after the quake; middle of the day discount return fares and other marketing devices could generate a whole "Girls Day out" revenue stream, Christchurch to Ashburton, or Ashburton to Timaru, as well as other school and interest group options (scholol holiday horse riding options etc). Good infrastructure generates commerce and social support and well being but the Canterbury transport strategy seems to consider a mish mash of mainly tourist and backpacker services, some merely vans, leaving from here and the around Christchurch, on schedules that are of little use to many locals (not least work or study regular commuters) is a sophisticated enough public transport for Canterbury

If oil goes up - and all indications are that once the predicted plateau of production moves into shortfall oil prices will escalate, those living in rural areas will start feeling the pinch most of all - a trip to pick up a new dairy unit worker; or to drop the rellies from Rotorua at Christchurch airport; to ferry the teenagers to a concert in Christchurch; or for a wife from Rakaia to work three days a week in the city will all start to become less viable. The few dollars a year per resident to subsidise a regional bus service will gurgle down the petrol tank in seconds.

It is those making the longest journeys that cause the most pollution [even if less visible], who waste the most time travelling and who will suffer the most from oil price rises.

I don't think anyone who has any familiarity with the Wairarapa can doubt for a minute, much of the small town revival of Martinborough, Featherston, Greytown and Carterton owes much to to the continuation and upgrading of commuter rail to Wellington 70-100km away. The rebirth in image as trendy or attractive places to live, the revitalisation of their commercial and hospitality sectors and other flow on benefits to local infrastructure, comes from attracting and holding young professionals who in turn share their skills and income streams in local activities.

Sadly when the Government of the day, Labour early this century, made available $31 million to upgrade the carriages and stations, park and ride facilities, schedules and feeder bus services to the Wairarapa commuter line, as well as supporting the Capital Connection from Palmerston North 160 km away, Environment Canterbury didn't have the awareness or nous to say

"Oi!! - Christchurch is as big as Wellington; and twice as many people live within our commuting range. Wot about a bit of dosh for us too?  We could do a champion luxury commuter coach service for under $5 million set up! Even do it hourly if we played our cards right...[see this past posting]

Instead our taxes help fund that $31 million plus operating subsidies and many other city-tocity and rural area to town or city operated under the auspices of regional councils, all over NZ but Canterbury.  And five years later the ostrich farmers are still at the wheel, I'm damn sure it won't be a bus though.

Rebuilt British carriages on Wairarapa line cost Canterbury Taxpayers about $4 million (pro-rata as 13% of population). 
A contracted service requiring quality bus (coach)  services offering the same or better levels of comfort across the flat fast Canterbury Plains could make commutes to Christchurch a relaxing time out or time to study and prepare business papers.

We have excellent levels of service in the greater Christchurch area, including Lincoln, Rolleston, Rangiora and Kaiapoi and Diamond Harbour - but almost no commuter friendly services beyond that immediate area, no network pattern, certain none with sufficient frequency, quality coaches and supportive infrastructure to offer sophisticated public transport access to Timaru, Ashburton, Rolleston or Christchurch  workers, business people, students, airline passengers, the variously disabled, tourists and retired persons no longer keen to drive that high speed highway.

In the Hamilton Transport Centre, hub of the suburban bus system AND regional services,  each long distance bus company is given its own rotating timetable pod  - not so easy in Christchurch, where yet again a central city bus station has been designed with no provision for long distance bus services to load or discharge passengers.

To pretend to be addressing longer journeys for the greenhouse gases they generate (a significant factor in the world's catastrophic increase in weather volatility) and working to create an integrated bus service, or be committed to the social good of the transport diasdavantaged, or attracting people out of their cars is the task dumped upon Environment Canterbury but don't expect rocket science when our Regional Land Transport Strategy does not expect any public money to be used in creating an effective inter-city commuter network (except the money we send similar services elsewhere).

**A Regional Council that impresses NZ in Tranzit -
 Bay of Plenty Regional Council and their Bay Bus spread of routes and services including the Twin City Express well timed for early start travel and to put country commuters in Tauranga before work, and home afterwards. Done well a longer distance system, which attracts tourists as well as locals, may not even need a subsidy after the first few years, as happened here.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Missing the boat

Reprinted with permission of the artist Pete McLauchlan

Miss 1. Verb miss the boat or bus to lose an opportunity

A talented pen & ink man, artist and writer of great whimsy and quiet irony, Pete McLauchlan has captured many of the heartland stories, characters and buildings of Christchurch, spanning many years.

This included, some years back now, about a decade of weekly cartoons with anecdotal captions in The Press. It was one of those sections always checked in the weekend paper by myself and I imagine a great many other morning paper browsers too.

Pete is still going strong (house wrecked and about to take his talents to Dunedin) and has recently published a new set of cartoons, astutely grasping the true slogan of recovery for Christchurch is not Rise Up Christchurch but the wonderful mixture of phallic conceit, quality baking powder and Christchurch history inherent in the slogan "Sure to Rise" (Yeehah!!).

This was the iconic slogan and large roof top sign for many decades on the baking goods factory of Thomas Edmonds, a business which carried a little bit of Christchurch into every kitchen cupboard across New Zealand.  Thomas Edmonds himself was a major donor to many city projects.

In this newly publised  "Sure to Rise Canterbury Sketchbook" Pete includes an archival cartoon of the half finished concrete boat, for so long on the corner of Ferry Rd and Ensors Rd. He includes with it black skies and rain, and the a touch of Bob Dylan-ish old testament style prophecy as a caption "Waiting for the flood"

Anyone who has lived in Christchurch for more than a few months will know that that particular yacht never sailed anywhere and probably never would, even with a deluge of Biblical (or Queensland) proportions. In truth 50% of all chosen animals would have baulked at stepping aboard!  The black hull has been in that yard beside Ensors Road towering above the fence for several decades without any significant alteration or futher rigging or superstructure, a common landmark and exclamation mark, apropos of nothing, for all by-passers.

Surprisingly for one as local affairs nosey as myself I have never discovered the actual story behind it - did the owner/home boat builder die without a will, run out of money, discover he had mis-read the plans, get into litiginous law suits or just give up? 

In any event it was not a watery flood of Biblical proportions that carried this ark away but one of the larger shakes in the flood of earthquakes in 2011. It dropped the brick firewall of the old shop beside it, and tilted the boat on its crude cradle support beyond acceptable safety levels. At some point the giant mechanical hand of demolition has just carted away the boat and  the ruined building, leaving nothing but bare land -  as has been the case at scores of sites all over Christchurch.

So at last the boat has sailed, sailed away on its first first voyage, and probably its last, sailed into the mysterious realm of shared memory of soon to be long-gone landmarks, of Christchurch, in years to come ....remember that home made yacht in Ferry Road...of course I do".

In its wake it has left the city great opportunity. An empty site at a strategic location

Although in the glass towers of city hall "Light Rail"  is treated with all the reverence of the second coming, beneath all this blinding light of deliverance,  this city seems to be doing some great things with an existing public transport technology, the orbital bus route, named for unknown reasons The Orbiter. 

This route basically loops around the city centre, via all the main mall complexes, and University and several high schools about 4-5km out from the city centre.  At last count in my possession, before the ruptures of a 8000 plus earthquakes, and back in 2009,  The Orbiter  was carrying 12% of all bus trips in Christchurch, about 2.12 million passenger trips per year.

The Orbiter is also one of the fastest buses in Christchurch by virtue of frequency;  the business day frequency of a bus every ten minutes, greatly reducing the waiting times for next service factor and improving chances of transfer connections, in all a quicker TOTAL journey time equation. Sometimes it is easier to catch an Orbiter on its outward curving trajectory, enjoy a circuitous route, sit a little longer,  than muck around with more direct through routes and transfers.

This said in peak hours, after school onwards, Orbiter services can bog down with several million schoolkids. Or, even worse buses start running in feverish packs, nose to tail. Indeed on one occasion during during the worst of the earthquake period services implosion my ten minute wait became 36 minutes (as I timed at Eastgate a 5.13pm,  heading towards The Palms) before, who would have guessed, all three buses - supposedly separated by ten minutes - arrive menage a trois.

Amazingly this high patronage it has been achieved despite the relatively unsophisticated timing structure and with very little infrastructure support from the City Council, responsible for the land and buildings side of things.

I believe businesses usually prosper, at least in getting established,  by doing what they do well, even better. Build upon success.

Imagine the prestige, status, absolute patronage growth and support if The Orbiter was actually upgraded to have decent facilities, consistently meet transfer connections and run with predictable Germanic precision on time, every time!

Certain devices needed to achieve this are operational tricks, but much also relies upon built infrastructure, land use and signal technology. The primary infrastructure the Council needs to provide comes into two categories - proper transfer stations and speedy access through congested sticking points.

NZ in Tranzit has already raised transfer stations and some of the aspects needed (including a Council that actually commits to building a quality public transport system instead of chasing after the a "one route swallows all funding fairytale" of light rail!). Around the city there are at least a dozen major intersections - usually where an arterial road crosses one of the the four avenues OR the ring road - that need to have bus advantage infrastructure. Most of these are actually on the Orbiter route itself, up for a Bus priority review ostensibly in 2013.

In the meantime a number of opportunities created in part or whole by the earthquake's destruction have arisen. The earthquakes have given the city an unique chance few other cities so readily get - to purchase that relatively thin sliver (four metres?) of site frontage on strategic corners which can increase free flow of cars and priority of advantages or both together.

Without an active strategy now I suspect within two years most most of these sites will be gone, built out for next 50-100 years.

As for example the now gone boat site below.

The big useless-never-go-anywhere-iconic-yacht sailed away into the unknown (leaving only the billboards and empty site, centre right middle distance above). This could be a great opportunity to upgrade the The Orbiter run from St Martins to Eastgate, if the Council worked in with the existing landowner to widen Ensors Road as it approaches Ferry Road to include a left hand (normal traffic) and a permanent bus only "Queue jumper lane". The latter allows buses to get right up to the intersection on their own lane and then get  a 10 second advantage signal phase to get ahead of of all other traffic.

Possibly in exchange for an elongated car yard to Ferry Road itself (traffic and bus lanes use up relatively little land)  the dealer or owner of the land could allow shaving off part of the yard in the photo above, creating a longer tail to the bus only lane.

This is also about the future whereby linking Ensors to Tennyson and Colombo in a better flow may further increase traffic and offer a south Christchurch link; or where other bus routes might a few years hence  run via a Ensors Road rail way and bus station. Going ... going ... gone?

The same pattern suggests itself between Linwood College and Eastgate, with very few people, businesses or households effected by loss of doorstep parking (there is ample in adjacent side-streets). In the photo above four parked cars (and about the same amount further back) block an entire lane, at least 800m, from Harrow Street to Linwood Avenue, a lane that could be used by by at least fourteen buses an hour that currently have to queue for up to three light changes. With such a lane they could get to Linwood Avenue and cross on a bus priority signal.

The photo below shows the empty site where a block of suburban shops on the same corner (behind the photographer in the photo above) suffered catastrophic collapse in February's megaquake. The opportunity to expand the intersection here for a queue jumper bus lane AND a left turning lane for cars can not be ignored - once shops are rebuilt in slab tilt concrete or similar to the existing boundary - this bus-strangling bottleneck will be further entrenched for decades to come!

Even if outward bound buses (The Orbiter, 40 Wainoni, 23 Bromley) heading up Aldwins turned right at Linwood Avenue  to access an Eastgate Bus Interchange behind Eastgate - as they really need to do -  the extra lane can still play a key role.  There are still huge advantages in creating a roading system  whereby buses have first bite (and it would be relatively small and fast) at a signal change.

Every corner site on a busy intersection where a building has been demolished - or has not yet been built - represents an opportunity for the Council to review the traffic management for that intersection.

Underlying this radical step is the second factor - the basic reality of public transport which has become emphatically clear over the last two or three decades as car ownership escalates world-wide.

Public transport competing with cars in heavy congested traffic is an obsolete technology, it's  a dead duck in the water.  It doesn't work! Or rather doesn't work effectively enough to offer a seriously attractive alternative to thousands of people sitting in traffic jams in a slow moving, toxic fuming, climate destroying, but comfortable padded metal box. As long as buses (or on-street trams/light rail) have to stop to load and discharge passengers AND to queue in traffic, public transport can only offer a VERY inferior version of an already INFERIOR stop-start, overlong and tedious car journey.

Unless the Council, responsible for public transport infrastructure (ECan oversees operations) has a conscious strategy of identifying sticking points, listing and analysing each and creating a priority list based on risk of loss of options, current bus traffic, potential bus use and degree of congestion and delay, a modern sophisticated (multi-directional transfer integrated) attractive bus system just aint going to happen!

Don't let us miss the boat yet again!