Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Christchurch rebuild - will it create a drain or train?

The Crown Plaza Hotel (ugly bloody thing) and its neighbour, the fairly nondescript Copthorne Hotel (Durham Street) were among the hundreds of buildings compromised by the violence of Christchurch earthquakes, since demolished (amazing machines) and ground to dust (amazing machines). The city now needs tens of thousands of construction workers and rail could play a part.  

The March/April 2012 edition of Architecture NZ magazine features a big article on the post quake rebuild in Christchurch. 

Over 40 new major construction projects are identified, each with a small illustration and expected time of completion, The great majority are blocks of shops/offices/apartments (often a combination of two or even all three), mostly three to six storey buildings, though one or two bucking the new trend not get to get too far off the ground with up to 10 storeys. 

Almost all are expected to be completed in 2012 and 2013. And this is only the tip of the ice berg of the Christchurch rebuild. These are only the first cabs off the rank,  insurance payout and EQC monies etc already in hand.  There are literally hundreds of other mostly substantial buildings to be rebuilt.

It is expected that for the next five years the added construction workforce (and associated families) will increase the population by a massive 26,000 people. The city already has a housing shortage, and tens of thousands of private houses need to be rebuilt to replace those lost in the quake; add to this natural growth and the added accommodation of 26,000 construction workers!!

The potential would seem to exist to attract hundreds if not thousands of skilled and semi-skilled workers from other areas of New Zealand - including from around "the mainland" Te Wai Pounamu into Christchurch. 

But could the other population centres in the South carry such a loss?  

Dunedin, Invercargill, Nelson, Timaru all are relatively small cities where I would imagine the loss of a few hundred tradesmen and experienced workers (including most likely the youngest, the coming generation, tomorrow's replacement of current senior and experienced tradesmen) would impact significantly, and badly, upon local industry and possibly even deflate house prices and rating bases and impact on retail spending etc.    

This potential problem has been directly addressed in Dunedin according to an article in yesterday's Otago Daily Times

According to the ODT article " [Dunedin City] Council economic development unit manager Peter Harris said Dunedin faced significant risks, as well as rewards, that could be "bigger than ever imagined", from rebuilding activity in Christchurch.  "The amount of money that is going to be spent up there is really beyond anything that's ever happened in New Zealand.
"The risks to Dunedin are huge, and so are the opportunities."
The opportunity here would seem to be to create a much tighter regional bloc, all of Te Wai Pounamu, working together, with restoration of Christchurch being as far as possible apportioned across the whole of our island**. 
At least some of the prefabrication buildings, or sections of buildings, or pre-stressed beams etc could be done in other centres, as well as thousands of minor manufactures, keeping the work force in their home towns and local economies benefiting from added earnings rather than losing out. 
In short, the aim - avoiding the rebuild of Christchurch being at the expense of other areas. 
On the other hand it has been suggested workers could commute from other centres - perhaps not daily in most cases but for a week of work, returning home at weekends. Then again the demand for labour might be so high, especially as days lengthen after winter, that some city job sites or major new subdivisions might work a 16 hour day in two shifts, or some workers might work 4 x 10 hours day and then have a three day weekend, facilitating commutes from further afield.  
Why this most interests a public transport blog, is that a strategy of "sharing the burden, sharing the benefits" could also have a huge spin-off for rail in the South Island.  
Indeed this idea is raised in the same ODT article by construction business consultant Graham Williams, who was yesterday named as the Dunedin City Council facilitator tasked with handling Dunedin's response to the $30 billion rebuilding of Christchurch. According to Williams;
"Commuter trains could be used to ferry Dunedin tradespeople to and from rebuilding jobs in Christchurch, to avoid a permanent exodus of workers and their families from the deep South."
Too right! 
Was there ever a better time to investigate re-introducing passenger rail on the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu between Christchurch and Dunedin ? 
In the world of public transport a commuter is an ace in the pack - tourists, shoppers etc will travel here and there, now and then, but each commuter travels (if daily) over 400 trips a year, and even if not daily create a regular and usually predictable flow, a consistent market, for months or years. 
A well planned rail service could match the weekly/daily commuter needs and marry this to the relatively sparse existing  tourist services; then calculate in the potentially large tertiary student movement -  either way; add the weekend traffic to the sports stadiums at (or proposed) near rail in both Dunedin and Christchurch; and factor in  the rising star of east coast tourism (especially for repeat visit tourists)  - notably heritage Oamaru and (further south) The Catlins and Southern Scenic Route; and - the cherry on the cake -  NZ in Tranzit blog's suggested regional rail link from South  direct to Christchurch International airport . Six key markets like pillars of support for general use?
All passenger rail and long distance coach transport in the South Island is essentially "anti-commuter", flows in the opposite direction to the main traffic flows trying to get to work .
The opportunity here is to add in a reverse flow and restore a service*** tofro Dunedin, possibly in the late afternoon/early evening. This would allow early shift workers (who had worked that day, say 6am - 3pm ) to travel home to Timaru or Dunedin same evening at the end of their week (whether that week is 4 days, 5 days, or even 10 days) . Coming up from the South it would allow those starting work the next day most of the day at home and to get into Christchurch before 10pm the preceding night. In a quality service at a good price or employer subsidy leaving cars behind at either end could be very attractive - who wants a long drive at the end of a hard week...the trend to quality leather seating and wi fi resources and travel entertainment and relaxation,  now taking over the world of rail and bus could even reach Ashburton ...and beyond!   There is a huge surge in public transport, all over the world, with further long term oil increases likely it could escalate rapidly. Couple this with the turn away from car use, particularly amongst students and the better educated, who increasingly see travel (even urban bus travel) as time to relax with ipod or laptop etc, not waste time sitting in queues or stressing out.
Add to this mix the suggested tourist (oil fired) Iconic East Coast Steam Train train travelling down to Dunedin on Fridays and back on Mondays - with added student and worker (or rugby fan) carriages; and add to this mix quality same day XPT coaches (luxury buses) leaving Timaru early morning, return after five.  

Wouldn't it be bloody marvellous if the impact of the earthquake recovery rebuild process, instead of knocking the south for a six, lifted the whole abysmal current inter-city public transport pattern out of the doldrums,  into a cohesive layered network of regional services - commuter friendly quality coaches, tofro Timaru - Christchurch; "commuter" useful rail services Dunedin -Christchurch each way after 4pm or thereabouts; and an Iconic Tourist orientated East Coast - oil fired - Steam train (also of use to locals) are just some of the possibilities. 
**NOTE:  Underlying this to, for me and perhaps quite other few mainlanders, is the huge mistrust towards of the enormous political power gifted to an amalgamated Auckland, a city state big enough bully its needs and wants, cutting right  across needs of the rest of New Zealand. This is already happening in the billions of dollars of commuter rail and motorway investment, a per capita spending far far out of proportion to any other city or town. Current Government resistance to Auckland appeals reflect political differences  (love this Chris Slane cartoon) that arise between a National Govt and Labour led Council

But even this natural degree of "balance and checks" could go out the window at some future election, creating a marriage of "same politics" Government and Auckland City State at even greater expense of the other "provinces" and their politicians. In Christchurch's case these "leaders" - it seems to me - have been incredibly naive and provincial, over the last decade winning probably less than 10% per head, of the equivalent transit funding that Auckland has achieved - a distortion far beyond any case for major city centralisation of resources might warrant!! 

*** Much more strongly than The Southerner I remember the hugely useful diesel rail-car that used to run in the 1970s after 5pm arriving in Dunedin about 11pm - fantastic for visiting friends in the day or getting a whole day in Christchurch before getting home to the south. 

Narrow platforms at Christchurch's Central Station creating peak hour crush - already!

These two photos were taken on different days but as I was catching the same timed transfer they are essentially a pair - above about 8.22a.m. or close. Photo above; several buses have just removed a large crowd of transfer commuters (including kids heading to various schools); photo below about five minutes before the time of the above photo the same area with passengers crowding in, people being jostled, stepping on bus lane to get past each other etc. See how the fence creates a sort of divide - a miniature Berlin wall - limited space for thousands of bus passengers - maximises parking space for five extra cars  (driven by the superior race!). 

Why in an area of heavy vehicle movements mingling with pedestrians are the platform widths so utterly budget??  It must almost be a health and safety issue!

Let us please remember bus services are recovering - bloody quickly it seems, even with a central city employment hub that barely exists  - and within a year it is likely the number of passengers using this tiny area will increase significantly. Let us remember there is a world-wide return to public transport in a big way,  including New Zealand (even here, in cities as small as Rotorua and New Plymouth) and this trend is likely to accelerate as oil continues to rise, adding to the recovery pattern in Christchurch a further boosting of patrons. And that adding 26,000 newcomer construction workers will also boost patronage, not least coming into the central city and trying to get out the door of a bus into a jammed platform. Let us remember that Christchurch can be bloody cold in winter - icy, hail, sleet, even snow occasionally - and that not only do the enclosed areas at the Central Station not have a very great capacity but also the "A Stop" in photo here, serving eastern bus routes, is a long way from the covered shelter if you have to push through a crowd or can't get to the front for your bus, The buses often linger for less than 30 seconds at central stops. If you are not there, visible to driver, off he or she goes immediately!

But BLOODY GOOD ON YA MATE. In Christchurch the council is right there on the ball every time! 
Note that about twice the area devoted to the bus waiting zone, where up to 80-100 passengers might be expected to queue at any given peak time moment once buses fully resume, is devoted to the 5 adjoining car parks. In Christchurch the motorist is God - even in a city with almost more parking spaces now than cars (thanks to earthquake clearances) - spending on public transport must take second place to the needs of the motorist.

Yet again.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Aussie thinking moves into the fast lane!

It would be harder to find a more absurd state-the-obvious report than that made recently in West Australia following research by Austroads, the body representing all Australian road authorities. 
According to an article in The Dedicated bus lanes - a centrepiece of the State Government's public transport strategy for the next 20 years - it says could be contributing to Perth's traffic congestion woes. 
Research conducted for Main Roads and other Australian transport and traffic authorities has found some bus lanes have an adverse impact on other road users. While dedicated lanes allowed buses to queue-jump and avoid congestion, they could add to delays facing the motorists they were overtaking.
Has someone missed a cog here? The world is running out of space in central urban areas for everyone to drive to work or make other minor journeys that could as easily be made by public transport. The option is of creating more lanes for cars, typically in rush hour conditions highly unlikely to achieve anything remotely approaching normal car lane capacity of  2400 people per hour. Or to create bus lanes which can  carry 2401 people per hour (if bus 33% full) - an immediate advantage!! But even better, if at capacity loading, bus lanes can carry as many as 7000 passengers per hour. 
Bus lanes have a future and with bus lanes bus journeys get quicker, attract more people that would otherwise travel by car, save more road space - car lanes are finite and under-utilise a rare resource, urban road space. 
World-wide there are thousands of infrastructure changes being made in cities to give buses priority. Priority = buses go first, get first claim to road space. It is hard to read priority as meaning anything else but one system has advantage over another, whoever goes second waits, loses a bit of time.  One wonders what is so different in the meaning of the word "priority" in West Australia that it needs a study to understand it?
Or is it just crocodile tears from the car lobby ?
"The report said full and set-back bus lanes resulted in low and reliable bus times but had an adverse impact on car travel time because of the reduced road space available for motorists. It said dedicated lanes that allowed buses to bypass traffic queues could mean a substantial time saving for buses and their passengers, but this was offset by "additional delay to the vehicles which have been overtaken".
The report said finding a balance between the various road users was a particular challenge in the introduction of a bus priority scheme. 
Yes it is, isn't it. 

Monday, April 16, 2012

When a deviant star needs a Minister's support?

Road Sign from Singapore (Wikimedia Commons)

Lately the enormous post earthquake sewer replacement works in Edgeware Road St Albans, and now further major works in Keyes Road New Brighton, have sent the Metrostar crashing off the straight and narrow, taking the bumpy road of life around some alternative streets.

Two major deviations - In St Albans Edgeware Road East of the shopping centre diverts via Sherborne Street, Canon Street and back onto Barbadoes Street; in North New Brighton beach bound buses from Keyes Road/Bowhill roundabout onwards divert via Baker Street and New Brighton Road to New Brighton.

What a marvellous improvement to the Metrostar route this would be, once these same new roads are repaired, if these became the standard Metrostar route!

Let's face it, the previous (proper) route is a bit "effete" - all very polite and squeaky clean, zooting nicely along, - that is  along the side of rivers, wetlands, QEII vast lawn area, golf courses - one side-dead-side catchments mostly and low density housing between the green-spaces  - looks nice but but not picking up great numbers, not really doing a job of work!

Not really "getting down" bro, mucking in (as an earlier generation would say), not really running where the people are or where a cross-town route would be truly useful.

This blogster thinks these two temporary deviations offer huge potential to create a far better and more popular route - permanently! These new areas passed through are much more vigorously populated catchment areas than most parts of the eastern end of the (normal) Metrostar route.


For example, the Canon Street deviation  links a far greater body of central St Albans higher density housing (built, planned and likely) to multiple employment, study, shopping and recreation etc to facilities. from Hornby to New Brighton. 

The blocks immediately south of Canon Street (and north of Bealey Avenue) are being far more vigorously and intensely redeveloped as medium rise apartment blocks, including the huge Orion site, expected to house, I believe, 1,500 people, than those further north. If the roading is restored (and improved) "looping" through this area would make minimal effect upon the relatively straight forward nature of the route, involving only two extra turns. It would disadvantage very few current route patrons near Edgeware Road who would still remain within easy walking distance of potential stops, in Barbadoes, Canon, or Sherbourne Streets.

Studies show when people have to walk more than 400 metres to catch a bus, the numbers prepared to do so rapidly falls off with each metre [though people typically walk further for high frequency services where minimal waiting time applies]. Shifting the east west axis of the Metrostar closer to Bealey Avenue and all the housing in the designated higher density zones is far more user friendly to far more key bus user groups.


Likewise the current deviation in the North New Brighton area  from the Bowhill Road roundabout then via Baker Street, then New Brighton Road (and resulting increased access from side street)  adds a much bigger residential catchment than the very peripheral Keyes Road. An important added element is that this route variation this gives a very strong and frequent link between a much greater area of North New Brighton AND the immediate local services area hub at New Brighton, including library,shops, medical services, kindergartens, schools, cafes, bars and supermarket.

The current Baker St/New Brighton Road road is so corrugated by quake damage it will anyway need to be seriously resealed, NZ in Tranzit says; why not move the curb a metre or two over (on the generous but meaningless wide grass berm) this would facilitate a wider road, and a smooth quick bus route with multiple side streets, including those of New Brighton Road.

The MetroStar passes the popular PierSide Cafe as it begins its journey westwards from New Brighton. NZ in Tranzit bargues  it could be far more effective in providing a frequent "local services"  link tofro North New Brighton areas


BUT in this fantasy schemata there is still the problem of buses getting across the intersection of Canon Street with busy Madras Street where in peak hours there are few gaps. And BUT there is still the problem of west bound buses turning right out of Canon into the endless river (in peak hours especially) of cars on Sherbourne Street.. Problems, if not so bad currently (with so much inner city inoperative and less tofro city traffic) soon likely to reappear with a vengeance as the city revives.

So yes, my BUT does look big is this context.

I believe it is the case in many places in Christchurch  that buses could avoid a great deal of congestion if the city could create routes that better utilised secondary and feeder roads -  still servicing an area well - yet but able to avoid sticking points and twice daily traffic jams.

But this Metro buses can not do when they can not get across busy contraflow traffic at uncontrolled intersections or those intersections without electronic signals. And usually local authorities do not want to add traffic signals for all vehicles, at that intersection.  These would only encourage unwanted extra general traffic, cars and trucks, travelling on the wrong streets and creating a cross flow in the wrong place, also repeatedly impeding traffic on the opposing "desired" major traffic flow streets.

I believe Government needs to step in and get NZTA to investigate creating the model and protocols for a new format of Give Way intersections, to be used for intermittent (but important) bus services to access, travel across, or merge with busy roads. 

For example a large sign saying GIVE WAY with the international  upside down "yield" triangle below this, and then the words TO EXITING BUSES and a couple of those small very bright skittering yellow lights, embedded in the sign,  activated only by the approach of a bus.

Possibly a bus symbol (side on) might be incorporated too, or the bus version of this tram sign below, erected about two several hundred yards before the bus GIVE WAY

This Amsterdam sign (from About.Com) means "Caution, Yield to Tram Ahead"

Also in a similar vein (for buses coming to the end of bus lanes)  GIVE WAY - then upside down triangle symbol and lights - TO MERGING BUSES

Here is a Singapore Version

and of course to repeat the Singapore road sign at the opening of the post

It is a road control that would need to have some clear rules for application. Certain roads may be too fast or too busy or have too many lanes to comfortably fit such an irregular intrusion.

The exit point (from the side road) might also be redefined, possibly with a specific bus only lane approaching the intersection etc. and possibly only left out, or left in turns permitted private vehicles. 

Logistical problems but none that couldn't be solved if there was a greater political commitment at all levels to buses. The government spends millions on level crossings for trains...isn't it time NZ had legislation to assist our far more widespread school and urban bus systems? Buses are and always will be the prime form of public transport but they are rarely given the funding support and infrastructure tools to achieve quality results. Bus services are hobbled by outdated 20th century attitudes ("busism") and the stigma of older politicians (99% car dependent) oblivious to buses valuable role, their huge potential, and their rapidly improving technical quality and changing status, world-wide. 

This is one of the simplest, least costly and best value for dollar bus priority measures that could be taken, to create these new categories of Give Way signs and traffic management rules specifically for public transport .

We can land a man on the moon, or have ipods that deliver internet images to one's tiny hand device but it is beyond the technical capacity of humankind to invent traffic signage and road marking protocols and  traffic signals working to give bus a priority advantage? Yeah sure!

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Is NZ Transport Agency going about things completely the wrong way?

Roadside berm approaching Memorial Avenue on Russley Road ready for conversion to four lanes and a planned over-bridge on this road over Memorial Avenue.
The government arm responsible for planning transport infrastructure in New Zealand - several name changes down the track called New Zealand Transport Agency - appears to be putting the economic future of Christchurch at risk.

NZTA is planning to build an over-bridge to replace the current roundabout at the intersection of Russley Road and Memorial Avenue. The pamphlet they produced to explain this states;

The existing two-lane section of Russley Road between Yaldhurst Road and Wairakei Road is proposed to be upgraded to a four-lane median separated road. In this proposal the Russley Road/Memorial Avenue roundabout will be upgraded to become a grade separated interchange with Russley Road going over Memorial Avenue.

Four laning Russley Road between Yaldhurst Road and Wairakei Road and upgrading theRussley Road/Memorial Avenue intersection will provide improved and more predictable travel times for vehicles using the Western Corridor between Hornby and Belfast and for vehicles travelling to and from the airport.

The SH1 (Russley Road) Wairakei Road to Yaldhurst Road Four Laning is a key project in the government's roads of national significance programme, announced in 2009.

As with National's simplistic band-standing and flag-waving about so called RONs (Roads of National Significance) there doesn't seem a great deal of depth of thought going into this**. 

Good infrastructure is rarely about the grand gesture so beloved by politicians, it is about dozens of mundane details into the right combination.

In this case of the building the over-bridge Russley Road over Memorial could costs the future city or subsequent Governments tens of millions of dollars

Is Government or Council acting to protect long term city interests?

Christchurch currently has a single narrow rail corridor coming into the city from the north, from Styx Bridge to Addington a corridor intersected by few passing loops and multiple level crossings - a form of grade level inter-action that is essentially obsolete technology in modern city conditions (and was in the Hutt Valley back in 1953!).  This situation is aggravated by the decision back about ten years ago to build a new Blenheim road over-bridge directly off the end of Moorhouse Avenue in such a manner it can never be possible for future trains from the north to turn directly eastwards towards the city centre and towards Lyttelton. 

The Styx Bridge-Addington rail is a corridor also hemmed in by housing, much of it middle to upmarket housing (in Christchurch proximity to railways or airports is considered a status symbol!!) and the city's most effective and attractive cycle and pedestrian "highway".

Northern rail line into Christchurch crosses Wairakei Road - on the right the "motorway" of quality cycle, skate and pedestrian tracks - could this line be double tracked now without destroying this or creating huge local resistance!

Attempted conversion back to double track width would be almost guaranteed political suicide for any Christchurch Council that tried!

By itself this section of line connects few dots for commuters and would struggle to maintain both freight and a constant (two to six trains per hour in either direction) commuter service in good conditions -  let alone when freight or passenger delays, shunting mishaps and minor derailments, locomotive breakdowns, and level crossing crashes, suicides and fatalities to pedestrians block the one and only access to city and Port. If it is to be the tail end of the "Auckland-Christchurch Rail Corridor" (the heavy freight backbone of urban New Zealand) it is a pathetically feeble and emaciated tail! And it has almost no elasticity to protect the future

Most people older than about forty years begin to realise that absolutely nothing in life is predictable. The relatively sparse freight traffic on the northern line today, especially compared to the west coast line, could change any-time. 

Some possible examples - massive dairyfication in North Canterbury requiring coal power from west/container exports via rail ; a new species of fast growing hardwood developed replacing pine forests in Culverden and a creating a huge export industry through Lyttelton (or just a huge demand and very high prices for any wood everywhere in the southern hemisphere);  collapse of the wine industry in the Murray Basin due to global warming water loss, creating a huge trans-tasman demand for Marlborough and North Canterbury wines to ship through Lyttelton; pressure to grow a much bigger city north of the Waimak;  changes in the world economy and a change back to production in home countries with Christchurch again becoming a major manufacturing centre supplying the much more heavily populated north. 

Or the simplest scenario of all - extreme escalation of oil prices due to peak oil demand greater than supply/because of over-estimation of world reserves causing massive rise in commuting costs by private car for those living north of the Waimakariri River forcing demand for commuter rail.........

Just a few of so many possibilities that would make it absolutely stupid for a city to strangle itself by failing to protect or create sufficient provision for multiple freight and passenger rail movements, even if the provision looks 30 or 50 years to the future when population may be a million plus. 

Stupid it might be but this appears to the legacy likely of Stephen Joyce and Jerry Brownlee as Ministers of Transport if Christchurch does not look to putting in place a long term future-proof plan for the northern rail access. (we won't mention the lack of Council vision on this issue to date!) 

The proposed alignment of Russley Road over Memorial Avenue, rather than Memorial over Russley will preclude the opportunity to carry this same over-bridge right across a railway line built in the broad sliver of land between Russley Road and planned (and existing) commercial and industrial land on the west side of Russley Road

Even without shifting Russley Road a few metres over towards the city (allowing very attractive ramping and noise control embankments or planting such as in the photo below of Aidenfield Road ) this land area as shown at the top of this posting  would easily supply sufficient land space to allow rail including double tracking or passing loops for a rail corridor.

Land humps in a flat city! Recently constructed along Aidenfield Drive - these appear to be made from land-scraping subdivision sites. But could similar and other embankments be built on the city side of a suggested railway corridor past the airport and through Upper Styx using earthquake rubble railed to site, as a base? Well planned rail need not be industrial-strength ugly!

Current plans by NZ Transport Agency will block any easy future attempt to build a decent rail access corridor north of Christchurch via the currently open land and airport route - as below. 

This is the only alternate route into Christchurch still mostly in open country, and yet engaging enough with large enough sector new North, North-western and western residential and industrial areas as well as the Airport., Hornby and Addington sports and events zone, before entering the city centre. Unlike light rail proposals it has massive room for "transit orientated development" and (though feeder buses are far preferable) the sort of massive car parks often used by rail and light rail elsewhere in NZ and overseas to boost patronage of this mode*. Traffic flow to such car-parks (unlike those that would be needed for light rail in Ilam) would be counter-flow to city bound traffic requiring little extra roading and making more effective use of roads (though to repeat,  effective feeder buses and a cycleway network are far, far better!!!) 

In contrast later alternatives for a new rail access from the north would massive demolitions of existing housing areas or (if via Airport) per se require expensive cut and cover trenching areas around the airport and under Memorial Avenue near the planned Russley Road over-bridge. 

Lack of foresight could  remove the simple elegance of utilising a Memorial Avenue aligned over-bridge, This allows trains, electric shuttle buses (doing a constant loop around the airport terminals and work zones) and other suburban  and long distance buses and taxis and private cars easy  "under the over- bridge" access, such as a spaghetti junction off ramp, to access this key transport hub. 

The sophisticated first face of a little city with its act together - the point where the tourist goes wow! 

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Nottingham in UK embracing NZ linked bus tracking technology and innovative parking levy to further enhance public transport

Nottingham, UK, city bus - Nottingham has the UK's second-highest per capita bus usage after London. 
Photo - Wikimedia Commons

Long a leader in communications technology for vehicles, Tait Electronics, began in Christchurch many years ago specialising in radio telephones. Now the English arm of Taits has created a system to monitor and adjust bus movements in Nottingham City, without the drivers themselves having to call in their situation. Data retrieved from the new system is also expected to enhance long turn planning. Tait worked together with German transportation technology company Init Communications to install the radio and data system at the depot and on 340 buses.

The spacious new Broadmarsh Bus Station in Central Nottingham - Wikimedia Commons

Nottingham has long punched above its weight in public transport, quality and patronage. Nottingham has a metropolitan base population of 680,000 with another 400,000 people living in an area not too much bigger than Banks Peninsula.. According to a 2010 study it is the least car dependent city in England.  Geographic factors play a large  part - as they usually do in fostering very high public transport usage - the city bottlenecks into an area with limited river crossings and inner city road access, discouraging cars. Population density per square kilometre at 3,600 people is about five times greater than urban Christchurch (840 km2) always going to be a great boon to patronage. But Nottingham is also a rare city that resisted privatisation and where the bulk of public transport remains under direct city control and operation of the City Council and an innovative Labour Party administration.

Much of the success of light rail, in Nottingham as elsewhere, lies with  having dedicated corridors  
segregated from other traffic.   - Photo  (above and below) Wikimedia Commons

The latest Nottingham innovation is a Workplace Parking Levy on any business or educational institute offering more than 11 free car-parks to employees. Unlike congestion charges (as applied in London, Stockholm and elsewhere) WPL does not tax all traffic entering an area, discouraging shoppers and people moving around the city centre, mostly outside the  key congested peak hour periods. Fuel taxes and general taxes spread the costs of new roading etc across all parts of society. However the Workplace Parking Levy concept identifies the main source of the need to constantly expand roading and  motorways and other roading controls is the demands caused  for greater capacity in peak hours.  In cities the world over road space is a rare resource on business days morning and evening and  roading capacity has to be set to meet the huge demand - it is only fair that those whose journeys cost society the most pay more. But instead of taxing the driver the Council taxes the employer and leaves it up to the employers whether they absorb the cost or charge employees.

Workplace Parking Levy systems are a new policy attracting a lot of interest amongst transport operators and public authorities in the United Kingdom and elsewhere. The concept might even find a relevance in Christchurch despite some vastly different factors (not least, post earthquake demolition, heaps of  parking spaces, not enough work places!).

All funds raised by this parking  levy in Nottingham go directly to further improving public transport, notably building a second light rail line as part of NET (Nottingham Express Transit) and includes the movement towards the greater centralised control of public transport - buses and trams - implicit in the new Tait system. The second light rail line follows on the good patronage levels of the first 14 kilometre line (only 4 km runs on streets), which cost £229 million (NZ$430 million) and now carries almost 10 million of the 73 million annual public passenger trips in the Nottingham system. According to the Campaign for Better Transport (UK) research about a fifth of peak hour passengers using trams used to drive cars - and (interestingly) almost half of off-peak tram passengers did likewise. In Nottingham this has been achieved with the need to provide land for only 3000 free car-parks (first line) and only 2,500 car parks second line.

It sure takes a lot to woo motorists - but Nottingham appears to doing much better than most cities.

A case of watch this space - parking space that is.


Oil Production Plateau - is this the top of the bell curve?

From the International Energy Agency

Oil relies upon pressure to get it out of the ground. Everyone is familiar with the iconic photos of gushers, new oil wells that have broken through into an underground pool shooting oil many metres into the air. Oilmen look for such underground pools, formed over millions of years, on harder impervious rock but once this is used up, the rest of the oil takes years to ooze out of the surrounding rocks, like a sponge slowly dripping into the basin. Sometimes steam can be pumped down into the area helping to push the oil out; other times rocks full of oil, if close enough to the surface, can be crushed (using a huge amount of electric energy) and oil extracted that way. Both systems are slow and expensive. As is drilling into the seabed. Not cheap oil as in the past.

The reason why world oil production has probably plateaued (as predicted back in the 1950s)  and will eventually start to decline (as was also predicted back in the 1950s) has very little to do with "greedy Arab states" or aggressive oil companies - it is the natural reality that once all the easy to access and pump stuff is used, the rest will be so very much harder and more expensive and so much slower to extract. Drip feed for a world where demand for oil rises every year; drip feed for all the rich nations who are taught to believe easy oil is some God given right. not a finite commodity that we are throwing away on a million meaningless trips to the local dairy or commuting to work in traffic jams (beside part filled buses).  All at the expense of our grand-kids.

Earthquake survivor speaks

This Biblical (?) quotation above reminds me a bit of the guy walking on a beach north of Christchurch a few years ago who was hit by forked lightning and survived. 

A reporter commented in the paper that when he said to this guy,  "You were so lucky" this guy replied "Well it depends how you look at it doesn't it?"

Monday, April 2, 2012

Better Bus Services and Community Hub result of Linwood Library fire?

 Eastgate Mall - a hub-point for seven different bus routes  - unfortunately current bus services and support structures are organised like the proverbial dog's breakfast.  A example above; Buckleys Road outstop - a major busy stop yet very exposed to noise and fumes pollution from accelerating vehicles;  inaccessible to shopping trolleys despite supermarket and mall proximity; a four-lane road that can be difficult, even frightening for for those with small children, aged, infirm or disabled to get across; also potentially dangerous crossing place with children or teenagers making risky runs between vehicles to catch a bus; in bound and out bound (and exchange) stops split across a wide and busy road, with bus stops for two other "connecting" services up to 500 metres away!!   

How NOT to do public transport infrastructure? NZ in Tranzit thinks so and asks when will the Council start putting their money where their mouth is on transfer stations? ......And suggests why not use a recent disaster to lever up a top quality community facility, possibly at almost no capital outlay to the city?

The Linwood Branch of the Christchurch City Libraries has been closed for over a year due to damage caused in earthquakes. It's absence is a tough call for local patrons and for staff and the Council owned CCL has set up a "mini library" in what is little more than a large room facing onto the yard at the Smith Street Council yard and Service Centre. A further major blow was struck on Saturday when the empty library was entered and set alight

Whether it can be repaired if not is not known, but if the Council wants to make some public transport commitment to the eastern suburbs better than its meagre efforts to date, this would seem a great opportunity.

Ostensibly the Council (responsible for public transport infrastructure) and Environment Canterbury (responsible for overseeing operation of bus routes and services) are intending to build nine transfer stations, and this has been on the books for six years. Only the stop at the rear of the Hornby Hub might pass as a transfer, albeit most its "plus factor" facilities are in the adjacent mall.

Transfers stations make a huge difference in flexibility, options, frequency (another route might get you there before the one you are waiting for) and ability to travel in multiple directions, helping to transcend the limitations of a linear route bus (or rail) system. Stops need to be adjacent and any passing traffic slowed. The public transport agency also need to foster transfers by running its core services in an integrated and easy to remember pattern!.

Whilst the exact location of these, so far fictitious, nine suburban bus transfer stations has not been defined, it is fairly obvious that these will be areas where multiple routes intersect at common locations where lots of people shop, recreate, work or study.

The aim of a transfer station is to provide a place where passengers coming from one direction can switch to one of several other directions, preferably without undue waiting and in quality comfortable secure facilities.  This means channelling the various buses services, coming from multiple different directions, through a common point, ideally in a fairly straight forward deviation  that is not slow, overly circuitous, cumbersome, or held up by other traffic. Avoiding placing undue stress on residential neighbourhoods is also a factor. This can arise if too too many buses are channelled down one particular residential street.

On the Eastside the two most obvious points for transfer stations are at Eastgate Mall and The Palms Mall. NZ in Tranzit has previously raised the question of putting a transfer station at The Palms by taking advantage of the current property pattern (and end of life status) of built properties on the south side of  New Brighton Road, suggesting adding an extra segregated bus lane and a waisted section of road to slow cars between the traffic signals at Marshlands Road and traffic signals at Golf Links Rd.

There is no way that the current facilities at Eastgate come anywhere near the definition "transfer" point Route 21 Ilam-Mt Pleasant buses travelling to or from Ferrymead stop between 300 and 500 metres away from Aldwins Road stops (as does The Orbiter on its temporary route variation), adding in the busy multi-lane roads to cross it is a ridiculous distance from the westside-eastside routes Route 5 Hornby-Southshore and Route 40 Wainoni, and from the alternate Woolston area service, via Bromley 23 route. It's a disconnected mish-mash, limiting options and discouraging bus use and transfers.

As for the waiting facilities the photo at the start of this article says it all. This is a four laned, very busy, road with cars and trucks usually accelerating, typically making it harder or slower for motorists to respond to those who step out or run across traffic lanes. Photo below, for example, could be viewed through the eyes of a 12 year old already late who has said he will be home an hour ago  - "shit there's the bus already, I can't miss this one" runs across three lanes in panic, a van in one blocks visibility in the fourth  lane- screeeech, thump. Good design seeks to minimise such factors! This stop location is unattractive, unattended (and not cleaned throughout the day); overly exposed to exhaust pollution and inclement weather; has inadequate seating and overhead cover; is disconnected from the shopping mall; has a high hazard factor and doesn't offer "hop off one bus - hop on another bus" transfer ease to all routes through this hub.

The irony is that there is ample room in the streets immediately behind Eastgate to create an attractive bus transfer station, with road controls (such as a narrow tiled waist) keeping traffic slow and safe.  A major factor is regardless of whether buses are travelling (roughly) north-south along Linwood Avenue or East-West along Buckleys-Aldwins, or any combination, it is possible to thread the routes through this common station point without in significant sense going out of their natural way or impact upon local neighbourhoods; buses tofro Wainoni and Southshore would travel from or back onto their existing routes at Russell Street (on the eastern face of the mall complex) via the carpark road; tofro Ferrymead do a  simple loop off and back on Linwood Avenue. The Orbiter would be a popular transfer bus, facilitating easy "one stop hop off/hop on transfers".

This could be built without involvement of Linwood Library but if the current building is too badly damaged by fire in brings into question whether a very special council based centre that included a tranfer station could be built here.

Photo on left shows Cranley Street, the road running behind the shopping complex. The only bus currently stopping at the main entrance of Eastgate (most people arrive by car) is this 535 Lyttelton Link bus with a very limited schedule.

Photo ; the sweep of the road from Linwood Avenue with Linwood Library (photographed before the fire) on the left. The large apron of land suggests many different options would exist for a site for a bus station, with or with connection to the library. Behind the photographer lies the road curves around into the main car-park.

Photo looking in the opposite direction to that above; The drive across the carpark is still shown on maps as Cuba Street suggesting it is still a road owned by the city council. If not the Mall management would gain much by swapping 10 car parks for vastly more successful bus link. Road could be widened to incorporate separated bus lanes or traffic humps straddled by bus size axles. Bedstead fencing could direct traffic and pedestrian movements and lanes could keep a degree of segregation between buses and cars. Note; Only some bus routes would not need to use this section of mall roading

For a safe and simple bus flow to occur allowing all routes to enter and
exit with out laborious and irritating deviations, the traffic controls and pattern off traffic islands (as seen below) and lanes through the islands from the Chelsea Street exit north would have to be altered, possibly adding an additional (bus only) set of traffic lights, linked into those at the main Aldwins Rd/Linwood Avenue intersection. Access east of the mall,onto Buckleys Road off Russell Street is already guaranteed by traffic lights.

The Real Opportunity??

The Council could of course build a smaller version of Central Bus Station and in co-operation with Mall Management it would not cost a huge amount. But with the block behind the library currently containing a medical centre in a converted house and a pharmacy, as well as the library, excellent potential may exist for a very solid investment, a private - public partnership a major "community services and recreation" hub at this site.

NZ in Tranzit envisions a bus transfer station with indoor, veranda areas and open landscaped outdoor waiting areas (indoor air conditioned), public toilets and baby change; attendant and bus info person; and adjoining taxi rank; a new library (perhaps on the second floor reached by elevators and escalators); a council service centre (for paying rates, dog fees etc) moved from the obscure Smith Street depot; a community advice or law office; a community board/meeting room for local groups; possibly a dentist, physio and  doctors suite;  a pharmacy and possibly even 24 emergency medical services, or a  police office.  Maybe even a cinema complex.

All in one attractive new complex of buildings, built around sharing synergies and effective resource use. A building complex of presence, without needing to be an ugly barn, if well designed to include various heights, facades and landscaped areas, and suitable buffers to bus noise and pollution.

The east tends to include a greater number of lower income households and this complex of facilities would be a tremendous post quake boost to the area. In contrast to the west and north there are almost no substantial buildings in the east other than the malls themselves. With large chunks of eastern areas losing population and debatable land quality unlikely to encourage major higher density projects such as the (now demolished Kate Sheppard Retirement Village) this consolidates an eastern axis point further westward, linked to higher density housing areas, existing, planned and likely. At the same time a  "to the doorstep" access to council, library and medical facilities (or even to a cinema) for the elderly, infirm or handicapped would be offered by bus routes from seven different directions, would be a tremendous support for these sectors.

With guaranteed - blue-ribbon - long term tenants such as council, library, medical services, police and a cinema, accessed from a giant mall car-park and bus routes from every direction - what a solid investment this would make some far sighted or corporate developer !

Barely any capital outlay would be needed from the Council (hard hit by earthquake costs) or Ecan but an investor or investment group could work to create a very attractive facility specific to the community needs in a council-private partnership - a win-win-win-win etc situation for all parties, not least local residents, a win born from the ashes of a sad act of meaningless destruction.

Well, it all seems possible viewed from the back of a bus - if it's going in the right direction.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Buses important in economy - in UK anyway

Many places around the world are seeing a surge in public transport use. 

Although the spotlight is usually on rail buses carry 80% of  passenger carried by public transport, world-wide, according to the UITP  (The International Association of Public Transport =  L'Union internationale des transports publics) the world's major federation of public transport operators.

In the United Kingdom, as elsewhere,  the role the bus plays in sustaining the economy and social infrastructure is being re-evaluated, seen through fresh eyes. In many ways the bus is so successful, even without supportive funding and priority status on roads, that it gets overlooked.  

The United Kingdom daily paper/website The Telegraph recently carried a story about this process of re-evaluation, with accompanying You Tubes of a panel discussion,  under the headline  "Buses to provide good return for investment"  The story noted -

The bus is too often the unsung mode of transport when it comes to the
contribution it can make towards financial recovery. As we struggle to
come out of the economic doldrums, buses have a vital role to play in
getting people to work and delivering shoppers to the high street.

This September a new report, 'Buses and Economic Growth', will be
published ahead of the party conference season.

Commissioned by Greener Journeys, an organisation dedicated to
encouraging people to switch from the car to the bus, and conducted by
the Institute for Transport Studies at the University of Leeds, the
report will aim to show policymakers the benefits of adopting a
positive approach to the bus as a key form of transport.

An interesting statistics is that even with Britain's extensive regional commuter rail systems and London's underground, buses still carry two thirds of all public transport passengers.  

Proposals in the Christchurch Central City draft Plan that $400 million be spent on a single 7.5 km light rail line between the city centre centre and the university and only $40 million on the remaining 250 km plus bus system would seem to suggest Christchurch too, overlooks the real potential of a competent bus system adequately funded. 

To be truly successful buses need the same status of rail - unimpeded access at all times  - even on the busiest roads or their own segregated busway corridors and to interact in predictable patterns at multiple transfer stations and transfer nodes, so transfers (travel in any direction from any location) are easy to make and easy to remember and involve less than 10 minutes wait at any time. 

Added features for buses themselves, most of them coming in already at various places in the world  - include upgrading buses to more leg room between seats, wider seats (three across) in a more bucket style, plug in wi-fi sockets, top class transmission (no jerk in gear changes), driver smooth flow monitor systems (no jerk behind the wheel), computerised stabilisers, automatic braking, engines that switch off when idling, articulated super buses offering 90 seats, space for 2-6 bicycles per bus. All road surfaces would be regularly checked by computerised sweeps and buses given maximum quality heavy grade road smooth surfaces including as far as possible along curbside bus lanes. 

In key points, to give residents cross town access or access to outer areas directly (by-passing mall area congestion) bus, cycle and pedestrian underpasses of busy roads would be built - such as under the motorway at Annex Road (Western Busway); under QEII Drive at Grimseys Road (Northern Busway corridor) and under Worcester Street at Linwood Avenue (Eastern areas bus rapid access).

At all major stops, attracting constantly large numbers, bus shelters would be upgraded to have legible integrated timetable information (not the current shameful hotch potch!) and real time signage, with shelters big enough to keep off weather, with both inside and outside seating.  Transfer stations would be air conditioned/heated and include a host/security person,  toilets, baby change, telephone,  snack bar, real time signage, kiss and ride 2 minute drop off  parking, an adjacent taxi rank. A number of routes would be greatly improved by subtle route changes entering on to or across busy roads by virtue of bus only traffic signals or a system of high profile signs and activated amber flashing lights, "GIVE WAY To Exiting Buses". Likewise where bus lanes finished a small island between lanes with a similar high profile signage might offer the same advantage, GIVE WAY To Merging Buses. Major bus lanes could include some that are permanent (full time) bus lanes. Some likely candidates - from the rear of the Casino right down Durham Street, Cambridge Terrace to the Central Bus Station;  along Tuam Street from the Public Hospital to the Central Bus Exchange; between Milton Street and Brougham on Colombo;  leading into the Northlands bus stop; from the Barrington Street overbridge to Blenheim Road on Whiteleigh Avenue (southside). These ensure even at times of big events or on Weekends where traffic can just as busy as weekdays, buses continue to by-pass queues and maintain schedules or bank in queues if that is needed. Note; We accept miles and miles of footpath which is only lightly used, empty most of the time, yet it is of course very necessary when needed; despite the bleating of motorists we need to accept the same "empty most the time but available every-time when needed" concept with bus lanes at bottle neck points. A tiny fraction of the total road-space in the city, but a key to fostering more patronage 9and status) of buses and the flow on benefit, more frequent services.
A centralised computer control and a system of cutting in or out of standby buses to maintain schedules on key routes. 

And so on...and on...we spend millions and millions on to nothing on buses and wonder why they can't compete, don't attract any significant portion of journeys!  In Christchurch, though our bus systems are better than most cities (yes, despite my constant criticism), we have barely begun - barely begun - to build a modern bus system suitable to address climate change, peak oil, community enhancement, maximum work access, minimum travel times, and a vibrant lively city that puts people on the streets. 

This sort of system, rapid transit corridors with intersecting hub points, and attractive effective technology is not built for $40 million!!