Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Central Christchurch - Seen from Above

This photo is doing the rounds on Facebook, not sure of copyright status but obviously those responsible are credited., so I share it. This is our central city, Christchurch 20 months after one of the greatest ground velocity speed earthquakes ever recorded, though only a 6.3 on richter scale. All the empty spaces were once tightly packed with older brick buildings to three or four storeys that were catastrophically damaged, or  higher modern buildings to about 15 storeys (23 in one case) that suffered sufficient injury, cracking or displacement  of joints to sufficient extent they were uninsurable and have since been demolished. The two largest buildings at the top of the photo are to be demolished too. The brightly coloured roof tops belong to "Restart" a temporary shopping complex -  made out of brightly coloured shipping containers and quite stylish looking. I put this in because overseas readership of this blog is now very high and it gives overseas readers (including kiwi ex-pats)  a very good view of what a tough struggle the city faces to be viable, a struggle now being aggravated by a Government that seems to be pushing a very aggressive political agenda under the guise of aiding recovery.

FOOTNOTE (next day)  - I have just been watching footage and reading of the New York super storm damage, an estimated cost to repair damage has been made of $50 billion US.  Quite possibly that will rise but nonetheless it is food for thought on just how really huge the economic impact of the Christchurch earthquakes - with an eventual bill of somewhere between $20 and $30 billion shared between a national population of only $4 million!

Monday, October 22, 2012

"There being no scope to expand the width of the existing roads"

Delhi has one of the largest bus transport systems in India. Buses are the most popular means of transport catering to about 50% of Delhi's total transport demand. But like many other cities, they are stuck in congestion by lack of understanding of how much they can deliver in reducing all traffic if given railway like status and priority.  Photo Wikimedia Commons

Attempts to stop public transport planning by those who believe that having a car gives license to access anywhere -  the 11th Commandment ("thou shall drive and park where you damn well please") are common worldwide. One has only to look around Christchurch to realise we are in the same boat, with a huge bias in favour of car owners in all town planning (despite a bit of huff and puff and green fluff) because "we will always be a car based society" and "cars are obviously a superior form of transport" . 
Smell the busism? I think so. 

It is council policy fequently to give on-street parking maximum reverence rather than working towards designated zones specifically for short hop businesses (takeaways, convenience stores, dry cleaners etc) which allow 10  minute park lots, away from actual traffic lanes.  Instead thousands of bus passengers per year are disadvantaged.

No where in the council thinking is the concept the "bus comes first". I don't mean in the odd bus lane here and there, but in the global sense,  
As in  - "Our first priority is to ensure street and subdivision design and traffic management systems (from traffic signals to underpasses) start from this basis -  the free and unimpeded corridor for public transport to run along" , and then and only then, "Ok now let's see how we can build space for private cars as well in ways that does not compromise the bus service.". In Christchurch Bus priority is NOT a priority and it shows all the time, in the years of failure since the first attempt in 1996 to move foeward bus laning at any but a snails pace; in the resulting poorly designed, 1950s style bus level of integration, that operates despite all the added computer age toys and a relatively modern fleet. Until public transport comes first basically passengers, tax and ratepayers dump tens of millions a year into a service too fractionated and disorganised to attract great patronage [and likely to get much worse]  and which fails to even motorists help by freeing up roads from excessive cars. It is such an expensive bomb. 

But this is by no means just a NZ problem Even in cities as crowded as Delhi there are lobby groups that would rather see the whole city clogged into smoky chaos, than sensibly grant space for buses to run freely. The fantasy that roads can be ever expanded for more cars is now as entrenched in India as elsewhere by the sounds. This has been an ongoing disputed situation for as long as I have been doing this blog (or longer), though so remote from the traffic/population levels of Christchurch I have not followed it closely. Even so it is good to read an attempt to use the High Court to dump a 5.8km busway implemented in 2008 has been rubbished by the judges.

I like the commonsense of what judges Pradeep Nandrajog and Manmohan Singh had to say; 

“There being no scope to expand the width of the existing roads and the population of Delhi continuously being on rise, we see no escape from the fact that the citizens of Delhi have to, one day or the other, use public transport,” 

They said Planning always has to be for the long term, the court said, refusing to call the implementation of the BRT an irrational decision. 

While the same traffic density situation does not apply in Christchurch, the principle does. The moment priority shifts from cars to buses the passenger capacity of that stretch of road effectively triples or quadruples, from roughly 2000 commuters per hour per to over 7,000. But to put that many buses on the road effectively and ways that are not overly invasive takes years of forward planning. It needs a long term bus enhancement programme not the old knee jerk, puppet dance, cutting back of service quality planned.

Victoria Street is the principle outlet to the North and will be so, not just next week, but next year and probably in 50 or 100 years, when the city is a million people. When cities have been destroyed by fire or war or riotous mobs, such as London, Paris, Berlin etc, intelligent planners like Christopher Wren or Baron Haussmann instantly grasped here was opportunity to create wider, straighter, more intelligent street design. We had such a wonderful window of opportunity for the council to purchase an extra three and half metres of the frontage of sites of buildings at this bottleneck, to give a bus only "queue jumper lane" - forever! Instead it now appears to allow traffic coming from the north greater time to turn right towards Riccarton the actually delay time for traffic moving northwards up Victoria Street is to be increased by another half minute!! Which is even more than it sounds long term, because clearly Victoria Street will be first cab off the block as an integrated shopping/medium rise offices street and traffic on this will significantly rise, meaning longer queues and more traffic signal phases missed for buses, possibly not one but two or three extra half minutes on top of the existing 2-5 minutes on many peak hour trips. on a very short stretch of road.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Will fantasy bridge compromise future Christchurch development?

This is the artist's impression of the planned New Zealand Transport Agency Russley Road over-bridge.

NZ in Tranzit estimates the real cost to greater Christchurch could be hundreds of millions in lost economic muscle.

It is part of a limited vision of Christchurch as a off-to-one side boutique city, without giving it the commuter rail, freight rail or buways to make it truly competitive with Auckland or Wellington or to future proof outer area growth against big rises expected in oil costs.

The over-bridge above is designed to span Russley Road, rather than the opposite way (span Memorial Avenue)  the bridge will block for all time an existing opportunity to run a modern high grade rail corridor alongside Russley Road and thus under an over-bridge over Memorial Avenue and linking major new growth areas in the north with major new growth areas in the west (both with major employment zones) and linking both the north and west more effectively to city.

Regrettably despite some nice letters and one or two invitations to speak or write articles about the rail concept below, raised two or three years ago, NZ in Tranzit has never heard even a single voice raised in public supporting of the concept below.  No attempt by the media or any political parties has ever been made to raise this idea or get it properly investigated.

Yet these added rail links (the dotted lines) with their multiple advantages and the top class infrastructure needed to genuinely build a new stronger greater Christchurch would cost less than about one sixth of the total amount spent in the last decade Auckland and Wellington on commuter rail and busways AND give hugely enhanced freight movement facilities and options.

What sort of city and regional councils do we have that don't even commission a study of such a profound foundation for growth and maintaining the cohesion and central city access?  The sort of game plan needed  tie together a much bigger wider area, and west and north based Christchurch, but still keep open and thriving an oil rise-proofed central city commercial/political hub.

Dark green = planned residential areas; Light green = planned industrial/office park areas
Trains from the North (a single track) can not turn eastwards towards the central city (and sea in this map) directly, as a result of an over-bridge built in about 2005, meaning long trains need to change locomotives, but express DMU railcars only need to switch driving ends. The suggested city end rail extension (dotted line past airport) could be built entirely grade separated and entirely banked allowing disguised fencing against intrusion, allowing for speeds of 80k and above between stations or for freight trains. Peak hour commuter services from the North might be delivered by a couple of express rail cars direct and with most other trains running into the city via the Airport and Hornby - serving multiple large employment zones. Services past the city would terminate at Ferrymead (Park and Ride) rather than run to Lyttelton. This system may be far too big for Christchurch in the current but would it not be wise to build in ways that leave corridors free or only covered by temporary buildings ?  If fuel cost go through the roof trains fitted with ample cycle carrying space and a linked network of mainly off road cycleways could make Christchurch the a world leader in fast and effective (and green) public transport  in a low density, small population,  city whose greater urban area already stretches almost 30km as for Rangiora at top of photo.