Monday, July 30, 2012

Bus Priority Not Major Council Priority?

Back to the future? 

The more successful that  the Brougham St and the Southern Motorway extension prove the more likely are queues to access these roads, such as this one every evening at Burlington Street. Will this sort of queue also become the norm in Selwyn St? With no support mechanism to protect or enhance bus movements where is bus priority in all this planning?

The first [actually third I now realise - Ed] of the suburban shopping centres make-overs by the city council working with local residents and shop-keepers has hit the streets.

This is the final master plan guidelines for the block of shops in Selwyn Street - many of many which were destroyed in and after (as unsafe) the ferocious February earthquake.

These shops were originally built around the terminus of the electric tramway to Spreydon built in 1915, that is until the lines extended further down Selwyn Street after World War I. These tram lines were still visible in the original concrete roading in street lights when the road glistened after rain as late as 1978 when I used to drive that bus route.

On my God, where the hell is this rambling old fart with his head in the past going now ??  What the hell have trams got to do with this attractive new community centre??

Well, actually things haven't moved too far in 95 years. We aint exactly talking too much about the future here!

The council planners and the locals have created a very attractive plan for little terrace spaces and courtyard like areas, but forgotten we live in 2012- not 1912!

The central bus stop to the area is retained but no real provision at all has made to deal with the enormous increase in traffic likely in the years to come, that will inevitably queue up the heart of this little block as city population and density grows and the long corridor into South Christchurch offered by Selwyn Street becomes de facto another motorway off ramp.

According to the final document of the Selwyn Street shops Master Plan, traffic along Brougham Street approaching the Barrington Street on ramp -- AKA the Southern-Motorway-boot-planter-zone -   is expected to increase from 30,000 vehicles a day to 50,000 vehicles a day by 2041.

With Barrington Street very unlikely to see much reduction in traffic with motorway access expanding its reach and new multi-storey buildings on the way in Addington; and with Simeon Street now removed as access on to the Southern Motorway; and with access from Milton St (and Burlington St)  up to Brougham getting longer and longer peak hour queues, this suggests a great deal more of south and south west Christchurch traffic will funnel up Selwyn St through this potentially charming little shopping area.

Unfortunately with the Council having neither commitment, nor I imagine funding,  to buy property frontages, to inset parking to add segregated through flow lanes and widen footpaths a very congested street appears in decades to come appears about to be about to be set in concrete [ie the shops either side], possibly indeed  future all day traffic burping smokey fumes and noise into the shops and across the delightful little outside cafe terrace zones.

Buses hopefully won't contribute much in the way of fumes, at least after 2020,  given fully electric buses are now clearly going to become the norm within a decade or two. But for buses competing with queues from Selwyn Street south and Coronation Street feeding into this waisted access point, lack of support systems will mean another few decades of substandard public transport. 

When buses are unable to consistently run to consistent travel times every trip a modern sophisticated city wide integrated mosaic system is impossible. If a bus travelling across the city not only has to stop and start to load passengers but can be held up - or not - up to two or three minutes at any one of twenty intersection across the city - we are still driving buses as they were 50 years ago!!

Nor is it likely that the Selwyn St/Brougham expressway traffic lights can play much of a significant role - the vastly greater flow of traffic on Brougham Street will inevitably have precedence and three quarters of the signal time time, so buses at the back will be buses at the back, no time to let long queues across, not only for a minute or two, but possibly for two or even three light changes in the long term.

Even though it would take only a four metre wide slither of a fairly meaningless large green space beside the Brougham expressway to include a bus lane heading north across Brougham Street, no attempt is made to assist buses across Brougham Street with their own queue jumper lane. 

This would allow any bus getting within 6-8 cars of the intersection and any bus seeing the relatively slow four lane hold of the amber lights to switch into that lane and a nice cosy little position at head of the class, nose to the white line at Brougham Street, waiting for the 10 second advantage.

The idea that bus priority can be achieved just by selecting a few arterial corridors and over 22 years of astute planning and fundraising,  bus lane the least busy sections of these corridors  is plainly nonsense.

Quite apart from the hundreds of millions missed in concerted busway funding [not least to Auckland!] this policy of "grand lanes in the future" fails to acknowledge there is a whole circle of intersections,  either across the four avenues or at suburban shopping centres and malls, which block the free and competitive* flow of bus services.

In many ways getting through these choke points is arguably more important to creating a cost effective, schedule guaranteed, transfer friendly city wide bus network than some areas of bus laning already done such as Thorrington.

If a bus friendly intersection control can't be done at Selwyn St (where open council land already exists to subtly widen the road and landscape the surrounds ) where will it be done?

Sorry guys - NZ in Tranzit can only give you a "D" for what would otherwise be an attractive neighbourhood complex, not enough provision for increased through traffic and public transport priority.

Beneath the endless speels of Council-green talk, same old same old. And the talk - as anyone following bus priority implementation across Christchurch since 1996 - exactly that, mainly talk.

But also the continuous and on going failure to secure central Government funding that even in some way echoes the huge sums given in the last decade by central Government towards public transport infrastructure in Wellington and Auckland, directly or in loans on easy terms. Mostly this came from the previous Labour Government but even our road centred Government would have come to the party on basic urban and commuter rail upgrades and I suspect the northern busway (a de facto rail line). It is if nothing else our current Government is a Government with s strong sense of the role socially built and owned infrastructure plays in creating economic growth. 

Indeed National has continued to fund rail infrastructure capital costs in these northern areas and must breath a sigh of relief that Christchurch administrations are far too stupid to reclaim some of their share of the massive amount of taxes spent on public transport in northern cities. 

The real cost is delayed arterial corridor bus lanes and virtually no other en route infrastructure, though it is everywhere obvious around the globe that effective bus services in the age of mass car ownership and congestion need specific land usage, computerised traffic control assistance and free flow infrastructure.

That big (if low key) revolution is happening worldwide but barely - at an elderly snail's pace -  in Christchurch! 

Ironic really because with all the empty sites or buildings to be demolished around Christchurch, no city has ever had so many unique opportunities to create such far reaching ("forever") bus support with so little political resistance and so much opportunity to create win-win solutions. 

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