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(This posting first appeared in January 2012 - some things slightly outdated,  but the essence remains)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


  1. I disagree. I believe that excess future proofing will lead to unnecessary extra cost to the taxpayer.
    If at every upgraded intersection additional cost is put into future proofing for "when the city may have a million people" we will have a road network that is significantly over-constructed.
    Once the new Christchurch Southern Motorway is completed, the volume of traffic traveling around the Barrington / Jerrold St's intersection (under the new bridge) will decrease.
    Currently far too much money has already been put into bus lanes that are used for 3 hours a day on routes that will reduce in congestion when further planned upgrades are put in place. Look at the Main North Road bus lanes for instance, when the Northern Arterial Motorway is constructed traffic on Main North Road will drop causing minimal congestion and we will end up with an under-used additional lane.
    Also in days where the city's areas of expansion are currently under review, why construct something that may no longer be a strategic route to the city?

  2. The city has a hundreds of kilometres of sealed footpath, no doubt absorbing hundreds of hectares of valuable urban land. Even on the arterial roads, most of these footpaths would be lucky to see 200 people a day use them.
    On the road beside these same footpaths, if an arterial road, pass 30-60 buses a day carrying hundreds or even thousands of people a day. I see no logic in giving pedestrians privilege (yes I know they form a safety buffer too) and yet denying tens of thousands of bus users city wide the benefit of easy fast and predictable public transport movement, just because bus lanes (like footpaths) will sit empty 95% of the time. Is a lane that sits empty 59 minutes in the hour but has four buses pass in 15 seconds, each carrying, say, 17 passengers on average (across peak and off peak) = 68 people, 10 hours a day = 680 (I wont count the other 8 off peak hours) more important as a busway than a parking space for, say, 20 people across the same time space. It doesn't really matter how much congestion exists or not - the value of having bus lanes 7 am - 7pm seven days a week, and thus hugely reliable bus services (and reliable transfers) grossly over-rides a smattering of parked cars that a few planned bays or indicator signs to side streets could easily cater for. Unfortunately to put it crudely the bus user is "a niggar" under the extreme prejudice against bus users "busism" considered worthless, the car owner a superior being, That is for example in the above equation, one car parker =34 bus users. Nothing can remove for one minute the stupidity of planners and politicians who saw Wellington and Auckland receive over $2 billion on public transport and did not even bother to seek the $5 million or whatever to widen the underpass at Barrington to accommodate a separate bus lane - this is not "excessive future proofing" - it is doing the job we pay politicians and public servants to do!