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.


  1. Dave, so bloody cogently argued, I don't understand why your vision is so divorced from the reality. For my carless days, I'll stick to the bike!

  2. The current mess due to earthquake forced route changes is an example of how Ecan has fallen down since the elected members were sacked. I travel two days a week from the southside to the eastside which involves two bus services - Orbiter and 5 Southshore services. Up until a year ago I travelled more or less the same route every day - and before the earthquakes, the transfer was very fast and often time efficient - when the buses stopped on the same stop, as they did then. Since Ecan changed the bus routes post EQ, the two bus services stop at different stops around Eastgate, which means getting off one bus and walking to the one in front, quite a common situation almost every day before - is implausible now. Eastgate is a particularly bad setup with seven stops on a loop hundreds of metres long. It is crying out for an interchange, even if as simple as the one at Princess Margaret Hospital - where every Orbiter, regardless of direction, stops at the same single stop (a pair of bus shelters) on the south side of the road. Considering how busy some of the roads are around Eastgate, getting from one stop to another can waste enough time to be up for a significant loss of efficiency in transferring between services - and the fact that some of the stops are quite close together means you can end up missing a bus that is doing its timetable adjustment stop literally right around the corner, but too far away to get to in time.