Sunday, September 16, 2012

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first.

Two buses waiting to get a gap into traffic - on a stretch of road used by multiple routes and hundreds of bus services every week yet blocked by provision of three car park spaces, in an area of  multiple carparks. Photo NZ in Tranzit

Yesterday I had a wee bus orgie - went up to Northlands (in a long slow moving queue, barely less congested than a weekday and this at about 2.30pm), did some shopping and waiting for a bus back down along came a Comet. As I sometimes do, I though what the heck, let's just go bussing for an hour or two  and see what is happening out in the world. I ended up doing the Comet to Hornby then Metrostar to Halswell then back to Papanui Road. I  recommend bussing like this as a nice way to do nothing in particular or just need to space out a bit to let your unconscious come to terms with whatever you are not ready to face. Of course it is never entirely a neutral activity for an old buspotter like me, there are always heaps of things to see and questions raised in terms of public transport.

The first thing is that bloody long queue - everybody knows Saturday and Sunday traffic can be just as congested as weekday queue, albeit less predictable in pattern. It is a bit hard in those circumstances to have  bus lanes activated but I do believe there a number of places around Christchurch where the twin councils, ECan and CCC, should be looking at permanent bus lanes. One is between Hawthorne Street and Blighs Road on Papanui Road - where they are building that stylish new three storey retirement apartments complex, up past the police station and Phone Exchange building. In peak hours this would just be part of the continuous run of bus laned road along the west side of Papanui Road. 

On evenings and weekends if full timed (or 7am - 7pm 7days a week,  bus laned)  it would offer roughly the same effect as a stent place in someone's arteries, guaranteed to keep the flow open. By adapting the traffic signal at the junction of Blighs Road with Papanui to have greater intelligence, outside peak hours week days this would be able to read if there was a bus waiting in that lane (or even within 100 metres of the traffic signal ) and allow the bus/buses a 10 second advantage to move off ahead of the queue and regain the centre lane or to move across into the bus stop. This will effect thousands of people but very few of them residents or motorists. Presumably to get a permit for this extension of the retirement village, there is ample on-site visitor parking (yeah right), and this is backed up by -  de facto - visitor parking on various side streets or parking on the other side of the road bring available. Removing parking on the west side of Papanui Road effects very few private residents and  it also avoids the likelihood of visitors to this new retirement complex slowing, looking for a front door parking space, or trying to back into same space etc, on a road already too busy to need more congestion. A seven day a week bus lane all day is a sensible by-pass of one of the most congested (most likely to be banked up) sections of Papanui Road.

It benefits most thousands of people are off peak passengers in buses, and those further afield on other stops, who rely upon consistent bus times to make transfers tofro these multiple buses coming up Papanui Road. 

Not a huge project but just one of many gains I believe that can be made if we stop thinking, as child might, of putting a toy bus on a toy roading system, and starting thinking "Think Rail - Build Bus" - get people used to the idea public transport has its domain, its place to stand in the world, its status, it has its its de facto tubes along which it flows.

A bit further on we strike the problem I have raised before - the silliness of letting two or three car parking spaces (right beside a substantial network of back alley car parking areas) control the road space used by thousands of bus users. As above in the photo of two buses waiting to get into the traffic queue. 

Ironically when I went to take this photo which is the same two cars but looking back the other way, after the buses had gone  .........

.....  from the same point, I could also see this virtually empty adjacent car park. Below it is reflected in the window of Metro's post quake public office which is in the same car parking zone.

I believe the  stop outside the convenience store beside the Mobile service Station should be moved forward outside the very busy KiwiBank and Post centre, with yellow lines or bus lanes and a widened road then right up through the Langdons Road traffic signals to Northlands main stop. Again a relative short stretch - this time involving some investment in infrastructure but again part of a 7/24 open passage. 

And - while we are on the subject of permanent bus lanes another high density location I would make permanent bus lane is where Milton Street enters Colombo St. The Council/City Care already appears to own the land currently being to store the multiple trucks that carry cones, barriers, signage for manifold ever shifting post-quake road, water and sewage repairs. I believe about four metres in width should be shaved off the side to create a permanent bus lane with a permanently open bus only left turn feeding onto a permanent bus lane up Colombo St towards Brougham St. It could probably be achieved merely by converting the flax bushes [in the photo below] into a hedge or ornamental shrubs with a more narrow footprint. This design might also need a curving island with shrubs or trellis type screen to separate Colombo Street northbound lanes from the bus lane and  buses as they swing around the corner - I think otherwise the unwary might get a bit disconcerted, see a large moving vehicle out of the corner of the eye racing towards them when the lights are otherwise in the cars favour. Non-buses would still turn left when lights favour them in their own lanes. The rest of the road - along Colombo Street is already no stopping or bus lane. With bus priority signals along Milton Street (which is anyway likely to be favoured over Strickland St and over Selwyn Street in signal phasing) and a "Give Way to Exiting buses" light where Simeon St feeds on to Milton Street this gives a more or less guaranteed straight run through from Barrington Mall to Brougham Street, irrespective of traffic queues. 

Working from choke points such as this - "hot spots" - and inserting bus stents to keep the flow always open to me is the logical way to slowly but steadily create consistent reliable bus services, that can run very close to same time every trip (with fast loading Metrocards a big factor too) and therefore a mosaic pattern of interconnected services can be created. At the moment the bus in the photo may have taken only 2 minutes or it may have taken 6 minutes to get from Barrington Mall to Sydenham Park the point  if traffic signals and the stop-start for passengers and the traffic queues vary so much - including Saturday and Sunday traffic 

At a deeper level, much more than just minor pieces of infrastructure - these permanent sections of bus lane are also a statement in the political or philosophical sense.  

If we want equality bus services, we must built bus pathways with all the strength and status of a prestige system - they don't always need to be in direct or significant competition with cars - but they do need to say, as with a tram or train line, the bus goes first. 

Motorists you are welcome to your cars but the bus goes first. That's just a fact of life.

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