Monday, January 9, 2012

Central Station Bus Station fast, effective, open and attractive in style

Christchurch; after a month or two in operation our post-quake temporary "Central  Station" Bus Station appears to be fast and effective for bus movements.  The design is simple and attractive and open in style.

This latter aspect probably well captures the preference and mood of local citizens! Even if the existing Bus Exchange was not demolition material the public enthusiasm for waiting in enclosed spaces (accessible through tunnel corridors) with several floors of car-parking above is at an all time low in a city where the earthquakes just keep on coming.

Unlike the previous Bus Exchange, which quickly grew to small and had buses queuing to get in and out at peak hours, the new "Central Station" has a simple grouping of bus stops into four main groups, with room for several buses to pull in and out at each and room for buses to move easily past each other.

In a previous blog posting I  suggested that a portacom bus station was a degrading of bus facilities, and sure to last more than 2 years (particularly given the council's six year record of inaction on far simpler suburban bus transfer stations). I wrote, ...." buildings "never designed for use by thousands of people each day have great potential to create a shabby refugee camp status [with] unpleasant windswept platforms". I think there is still this capacity - when earthquakes subside and the normal bitter southerlies and freezing rain of winter  returns - waiting and movement facilities may become rather miserable and forlorn.

In other blogs I chucked off at the lack of integration in our previous bus exchange which was without an adjacent cab rank, had no news and snack food kiosk, cafe or food outlet, nor long distance coach and shuttle stops, left luggage facility etc (comparing Hamilton's NZ Transport Centre and even small town Oamaru facilities). I have even mentioned the desirability of including a small supermarket (as per Wellington rail station, and elsewhere) in any new bus station.

Plenty of casual bike park space and security hoops

Well this is only a temporary bus station, with more platforms and in the opposite direction eventually to come in any larger permanent design not least to avoid travelling around several needless blocks. This was  a hugely clumsy, inferior and off-putting element in the last Bus Exchange and is still so in the temporary one as at current, for north and westbound services. Spending the first five minutes of a journey from the city sitting in traffic queues heading in the wrong direction of one's journey maybe ok on an long distance coach but is the sort of thing that does enormous damage to urban bus credibility and brings buses into contempt and lesser use by commuters.

And temporary that it may be it does offer pleasant landscaping with large potted trees and shrubs, bicycle spaces and a bus stop opposite the station on Tuam Street being used by at least some long distance shuttles and coaches (though I notice also that InterCity Coachlines have set up office in a portacom office on Bealey Avenue in a position not even so easily accessible by most urban bus routes).

Also arguably Christchurch's premier and best coffee wagon - outside cafe tables included - Escarto  Espresso has tucked itself into a niche created between bus station and the large new car park (all of Christchurch is a large new carpark!!! ...this  recent You Tube says it all. (may need a wee nudge at start up)

Joking aside, heaps of cheap parking is sure to negatively impact upon patronage, particularly as lack of bus priority measures **will give bus travel no great advantage over the heavy traffic at peripheral entry points to the CBD such as Lincoln Road  or Moorhouse Avenue). Facilities at the new Central Station themselves are not bad, but will probably need upgrading before winter to keep out cold winds from the shelter buildings and provide greater shelter for boarding queues or tickets to be presold by groundsmen under cover. While several overhead veranda style waiting areas ("three seasons" quality?) are great for room to move, or even move further away from unwanted neighbours,  it remains to be seen (or experienced) how effective mesh walls and other design elements are against Christchurch's trademark colder winds.

Underlying all this for me is the new Central Station embodies the truth that the most sophisticated technological systems are those that carry out complex functions with simplicity, so simple they can be taken for granted, go unnoticed.

Perhaps the politicians were too busy to interfere with their grand schemes and ill informed opinions and left those who are professionals in transport planning and infrastructure just to get on and do the job!

** See second part of this posting - "Protecting our public transport corridors - Not" for an example.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

A reminder in concrete of why we need better city leadership!

 You'll probably need a magnifying glass to spot The Orbiter bus in this congestion under the new Barrington St motorway over-bridge - a small hint of things to come under present council policies??
Or future?

WITH COUNCIL ELECTIONS ONLY WEEKS is good to remember just how badly Christchurch has done public transport planning over the last 15 years and why we need real new commitment to quality public transport. 

(This posting first appeared in January 2012 - some things slightly outdated,  but the essence remains)

Has anyone noticed something rather strange. The road on Barrington Street under the over-bridge on the new southern motorway extension has no room for bus lanes.

This is a piece of infrastructure built for decades to come, even for the day when the city may have a million people. It would seem common sense to have added an extra couple of metres each side combining with the cycle lanes to ensure buses [or even possibly] light rail trams always had guaranteed free flow access.

However we don't have to look ahead fifty or one hundred years to see how lacking in vision the current council leadership as the key local stakeholder that could have pushed NZ Transport Agency to add provision for bus lanes.

Barrington Street to Riccarton Road (via various name changes - Barrington Street, Whiteleigh Avenue, Clarence Street) is one of the busiest stretches of road in the city and very slow and congested in peak hours already - and was so well before the earthquakes!

I say "already" because to the current congestion mix add the completion of around 6000 workspaces and this just in four office parks alone*, let alone all the other work spaces likely to be developed in the vast semi- derelict area around Woods Mill.

On the typical current peak hour loadings of 1.25 commuters per car another 4,800 cars to this area at peak time on business days [the mind boggles];

add the completion of the southern motorway which will doubtless bring thousands more into this area from southern and south-west suburbs via the Barrington Street off ramps, seeking to access Addington, Riccarton etc;

add the planned removal of one way streets in the central city which  also likely to greatly increase traffic use of adjacent roads that skirt the central city [as the red zone closure has clearly revealed] ;

add a further cherry on this glutinous cake mix - conversion of Rugby League Park into a major sports zone, the "new Lancaster Park", which along with the existing 8000 seat CBS sports/concert/expo stadium and the Metropolitan Racetrack will guarantee thousands of cars also in the evenings and weekends.

I say "already" as well,  because although Barrington Street at this point is only currently used by one bus route, The Orbiter, by any standards it is a very successful bus route, with 12 buses an hour travelling along this stretch of Road, Barrington Mall to Riccarton Road (or vice versa).

According to a 2009 report, when Christchurch buses were recording over 17 million passengers a year, The Orbiter was carrying 12% of all passenger trips, which means around two million passenger trips per annum.  This is with only minimal infrastructure support - in our carelessly run city without lanes, traffic signal priority, proper bus transfer stations or integrated stops with other services and schedules  - the sort of structure greatly boosting bus use and bus status overseas. This suggests 3 million passenger trips a year could be an achievable goal with better land use and council support and better scheduling off peak.

Even so, two million passenger trips per annum is about one sixth the the total annual patronage on the Wellington commuter rail network, which carries around 12 million passenger trips a year.

Or it is about one fifth of the rapidly growing but hugely funded  Auckland commuter rail system

As a professional organisation led by our most generously paid and equally professional CEO Tony Marryat will be fully aware from monitoring overseas trends, technology, funding availability etc in other cities (to ensure we get the best possible transport system and comparable benefits pro rata from central Government) almost $600 million has been spent on the Wellington rail network and commuter system in the last decade and well over a billion in Auckland. 

It appals me that it appears to be beyond the capacity of our council to have levered up an extra couple of million in the NZTA $246 million motorway extensions to give a very successful bus route the same sort of infrastructure support that rail gets.

Apparently the council leadership is unaware (but professionally unaware, that's what we pay for!) of the worldwide trend to give bus services the sort of infrastructure support once only enjoyed by rail. Cities all over the world [including Auckland] are building bus lanes (many permanent and curbed from other traffic etc), segregated cut throughs, shoulder lane bus corridors, on-street and entirely segegated busways, under passes, overpasses, bus trenches and tunnels, and in some cases high speed guided busways.

Well yes we do have bus lanes, part part way being painted on some roads and even The Orbiter route is to get some long overdue council support in the way of lanes or signal priority in a 2013 review. This said the 23 year project (1996 - 2019!!)  to introduce a mere nine painted bus lane corridors of the lower order technical standards  would be judged by some to be rather less than dynamic progress!! Many residents will die of old age long before the part route bus lanes - slightly - speed their journey.

So presumably the same council planners must have been fully aware the bottleneck planned for Barrington Street would cut directly into bus lane potential and either ignored this or got knocked by those up stairs, possibly those busy building light rail dreams.

So let's forget any earthquake excuses for being late for school. This motorway project was planned years ago, funding for these bus lanes was probably there for the asking when first planned in the Helen Clarke Labour Government era.

Also planned years ago - the strategic mass transit plans of Auckland (mid 1990s) and Wellington (early 2000s) that have shaped the extension and upgrading of the commuter rail and busway and bus systems in these two cities over the last decade. And - wait for it - won hundreds of millions in tax payer finding (I estimate pro rata over $250 million from Canterbury taxpayers!)

Auckland continues to reap the benefit of (belated) visionary public transport planning with record growth in public transport use and Santa dropped another hundred million in presents in the Auckland bag just before Christmas, according to this Transport Auckland press release.

Auckland is a city three and a half times the population of Christchurch, so it is only fair that it gets about 30 times the funding per capita for public transport projects than Christchurch. Yeah right, good thinking!

I think it is time this city got real. Not only will Barrington Street - Whiteleigh Avenue need to be four or even six laned (probably with minimal on street parking in bays) but it needs full time exclusive bus lanes, guaranteeing whatever the time of day, peak hours or evening show crowds, buses deliver on time every time.

And the sooner the better seeing the way new apartment buildings and motels built to boundary are squandering hope for our future!

We accept hundreds of kilometres of footpath sit empty most of the time - what is such a big deal with having full time bus lanes, also empty much of the time (sign of a succesful bus lane if you can't see a bus!) but always there when needed. Is it so much to ask a few kilometres that have the status of being for buses only. why must we degrade buses to the back of the queue. 

To my mind there is very little point running in running our current, randomly co-ordinated,  largely 50 year old style bus system that costs $68 million dollars a year (half from fares) to deliver poor results and attracts very small portion of the population, even compared to similar size cities elsewhere.

We must start giving buses the infrastructure support to have consistent free-way  - same running time every hour - notably with on-street or segregated bus rapid transit corridors.

* According to a report in the business pages of The Press August 5 2008, "Addington Building Boom", planned projects allowed for ultimately 1500 at  jobs at Hazeldean Business Park; 1500 jobs at Show Place;  and WorkStation55 (Princess Street) capacity 2000 workers. Several other developments were listed (to five storeys and obviously hundreds of workspaces) but precise worker capacity not quoted. Note- The full text of this article appears to be now available on line only at ProQuest ANZ

** The highly congested Whiteleigh Avenue stretch is also served by the new 40 Middleton bus route.

SEE ALSO - Full time (24/7) bus lanes introduced in central Wellington's Courtenay Place

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED AS "Christmas Gifts for Auckland - rejected by Christchurch?" in January 2012

Monday, January 2, 2012

Happy New Year - Despite Everything!!

Last New Year's greeting from NZ in Tranzit included a photo of rather pensive and doubtful Charlie Chaplin in front of one of Christchurch's venetian gothic style buildings.

I like to think it summed up a mood of our city, still getting severe after-shocks, such as on Boxing Day following the 7.1 richter scale earthquake on September 4th 2010. Nobody died and so few were injured in that first huge pre-dawn quake it seemed too good to be true. And alas it was. On February 22nd 2011  a smaller but far more violent, intensely localised quake, hit directly under the city itself in the lunch hour, causing massive damage and injury and killing 182 persons, most of these in two older high rises buildings that suffered catastrophic collapse. The building behind Chaplin in the aforementioned photo, suffered irreparable damage and has since been demolished, as with many other historic buildings, almost all in fact, destroying much of the city's strong heritage character.

Over 8000 quakes (about a third strong enough to be noticeable and some of these quite violent) later the future remains uncertain, especially for residents in the eastern areas. The pattern appears to be periods of receding shakes followed by sudden new large shakes, months down the track. We have to live with this, believe there is light at the end of this tunnel, what else can one do.

The thoughtful pose of the young girl in the advertising on the back of this bus in some vague way echoes the inner mind expressed in the Charlie Chaplin picture, but in this photo above youth and hope exude; there is a future; caught on a moving bus it symbolises for me the promise we can move forward.

Well let's hope so!  Happy New Year to all readers!