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!

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