Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Think rail and build bus" - modern bus systems well advanced in parts of China

A bus rapid transit station in Chengdu, China. Modern bus technology if used well can deliver most the benefits of rail or light rail at a fraction of the cost, lower operating costs, greater frequency and more diverse spread of services.

A few years ago, watching TV I saw a a high ranking Chinese politician being interviewed (I think he was an associate minister of finance or something similar) on a BBC business programme. In response to a comment by the interviewer he said ( the best of my memory), "Oh no China is not trying to catch up with the western world, we are trying to jump ahead of it. We aim to try to learn from western mistakes and not repeat them."

China has many thousands of bus systems* and scores of commuter rail systems, a few underground metro systems but only a handful of light rail projects are planned. And indeed  these few appear to be less about glamour trams and more about lightweight gravel bed trains. By contrast where a rail corridor is not seen as appropriate, bus rapid transit systems, often of the most sophisticated kind and with substantial infrastructure, have been implemented. 

Chengdu with a metropolitan area population of 14 million has a full range of transport options the most recent a bus rapid transit system on a central suburbs orbital route, built on an elevated bus-only roadway. This busway opened this year and is expected to carry 300,000 passengers per day (clearly one doesn't have to have a rail based system to handle heavy loading if the right infrastructure and technology is applied).  
While Christchurch doesn't need elevated bus roadways, applying the principles of rail to buses  - a clear passage with minimum intrusion from shared and conflicting traffic and other modes - can lift main corridor bus services out of last century into what is virtually a whole new mode of transport, as the bus station in the photo above makes clearly evident. 

As the term "bus rapid transit" is a somewhat loose one - now often used by cities that do little more than build partial on-street bus lanes, the Institute for Transport and Development Policy - the leading international body promoting bus rapid transit - has introduced grading standards

These allows bus companies and operating authorities (and the general public) to measure what sort of commitment is being made to create best practice public transport systems. 

*According to World Bank figures, noted a few years back, China also has 294,000 inter-city bus companies. Phew!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Primary "Green Road" corridors suggested for Christchurch

The concept of a "Green Road" strategy as applied to Christchurch's two major traffic flow corridors - northwards and westwards. Indicative map only (busway does not pass through Paparoa School grounds!!).

Red lines = the four highly congested main arterial roads entering Christchurch from west (Riccarton Road; Blenheim Road) and North (Main North Road, dividing into Papanui Road;Cranford Street). Some conventional bus services, with or without, part time/part-way bus lanes will doubtlessly always run on these roads

Green Road services (see below) do not displace these existing services so much as build and channel major "trans-active" growth (cycling and bus travel) through new corridors. These primarily link outer suburbs directly to the city centre, by-passing major congestion. A secondary function is to facilitate easy movement around inner higher density suburbs on high frequency corridors.

Green Lines = Potential "Green Roads" linked roading corridors along which buses and cycles - usually on completely separate lanes - have priority and extensive supportive infrastructure and devices. On Green Roads the roading for cars is primarily related to accessing private homes or businesses, rather than through traffic, with some exits "left turn only etc. Reduced on-street parking - or specific residential or commercial visitor parking bays - rather than curbside would also be a feature on some sections.

Green Lines dotted = expansion in 20?40? years time - room for an underground bus or light rail tunnel under part of Hagley Park and under the rail line to link to Green road west. A cycle subway under the rail line from Brockworth Place could be built much sooner.

Blue Line = Northlands and Nor-West feeder route, not a Green Road beyond Northlands but with added infrastructure support for quality bus services, particularly "Express, via Edgeware" services

Dark Green (left hand side) = existing  rail corridor; any subsequent expansion into commuter rail would add further connections, not compete or render obsolete the suggested Green Road corridors


Most of these Green Roads would be on existing streets upgraded to create superior smooth (and vibration free) roading surfaces to carry buses, including potentially (as patronage grows over time) articulated "bendy buses" or three axle double decker buses.  Potential exists too for all-electric or hybrid buses greatly reducing noise. 

The fact that buses given more or less continuous right of way on their passageways would offer very quick journeys without needing to speed or accelerate fast. Add in special landscaping and some residential buffering and small park zones and throngs of cyclists and this would create a scene often  busy yet one leisurely in spirit.

Most of these Green Roads would be along existing streets but (importantly) along minor arterial and feeder roads where bus services and cyclists are not competing against huge volumes of conventional traffic and where bus and cycle lanes do not actually add to the congestion and road space reduction or fight other uses such as shop front parking.

However the key factor that makes these Green Roads viable is the "cut throughs" - the linking together of existing streets by new infrastructure and/or parkway boulevards that only active and public transport vehicles can use. Some of these involve public land, others require some property purchase. Some like the land around the Cranford Basin, below, has already been purchased for motorway, with ample room to include a completely separate busway (here shown red) skirting the area and crossing over Cranford Street. Adding together northern suburbs built and planned and rapidly growing satellite towns at Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Pegasus and Woodend, probably already 50,000 plus people stand to benefit from this smooth pleasant and quick access to Central Christchurch

It takes political courage to say the long term needs of the city and to relieve congestion must inevitably involve some purchase of private property (with an added compensation) but the areas in the way of these proposed "cut throughs" - on both west and north Green Roads are almost entirely older stock single story rental housing in areas that are anyway likely to be rebuilt as two or three storey apartment blocks within the next decade or two. It will also be much more difficult, politically as well as financially, to rebuild these neighbourhoods to retrofit transit corridors in a few years, and likely to lead to far less attractively planned solutions.

With property purchase comes great opportunity to foster better local community infrastructure, parkways and native bird conservation corridors, enhanced community facilities and new attractive transit linked housing at all social and income levels. Some of the projects could be joint public-private, such as redeveloping the South side of Maxwell Street to apartment blocks, deliberately designed to minimise impact of bus lanes below.

The Green Road projects as shown here might run up to $150 million in total (including some residential enhancement etc) but this seems to me a a very appropriate level of technology, spending etc for a city of Christchurch size, even as it protects corridors for future use. This might include possible later conversion to a light rail system, though the huge cost of these (averaging $56 million per km) makes these currently patently unsuited to such a small city and our rather modest GDP per capita by western economy standards.

In contrast I believe any serious international traffic consultancy study would show the cost-benefit ratios and multiple spin-offs inherent in this "Green Road" (bus and cycleways) suggestion represent a far better return on investment than the rather mediocre bus stations and squashed in low standard bus lanes that form the core of present infrastructure policy. Good transport shapes cities!!

It is also  reasonable and appropriate that Christchurch model its 10 year public transport infrastructure around a budget of at least around $250-300 million - a relatively modest amount, mostly funded by national taxes (reclaiming some small part of our own local fuel taxes) and something quite apart from earthquake recovery funds. This is a more than realistic amount viewed against a minimum  $1 billion (plus) spend-up in Wellington (adding the central spine decision, busway or light rail, to the $700 million commuter rail upgrade of last decade) and $4 billion plus spent or planned  in greater Auckland.on public transport.

Why should public transport in Christchurch a city almost a third the size of Auckland, and only slightly smaller in population be treated in the obscene, amateurish, miserly and ad hoc way that it is currently planned?

Where is the wider vision?? 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Riccarton Road and Quality bus stations - level thinking needed in Christchurch?

Photo: NZ in Tranzit 2010

This is a quality bus station, at Albany on the Northern Busway in Auckland.  The then city Council for the area - North Shore City (now amalgamated with Auckland City), governing a population only three quarters the size of Christchurch (290,000) paid $84 million dollars for fours such bus stations. This investment in busways has seen spectacular growth of patronage on the Northern busway which has virtually doubled ridership expectations, in the five years since completion achieving 2.3 million passenger trips per year. This is even more than Christchurch's highly successful Orbiter was carrying before the quake  A $550 million extension of this busway- mainly taxpayer funded - supported by NZTA is expected to begin construction in the next two years.

Regarding the photo above - note the door level -  and level  bus - internationally now considered a defining hallmark of A-Class quality bus rapid transit systems. 

Photo: NZ in Tranzit 2013

This is the current situation in Riccarton, Christchurch, in-stops (city bound). Both sides of Riccarton Road have a considerable camber, and it is not uncommon for elderly people (in particular) to find entering a bus with a sloping floor somewhat hair-raising, and for people of all ages to occasional stumble backwards. 
This is not a quality bus service, and the Christchurch City Council it appears will have considerable logistic engineering problems, to restructure the roading and footpaths to achieve safe, comfortable and attractive entry to buses, and also meet existing shop doorway entry levels. 

It is amazing indeed that OSH can consider such a steep tilted accessway, used by jostling crowds of all ages, and vulnerable people with age or physical disabilities or carrying shopping, or pregnant etc as acceptable. And has the Council scoped this work and calculated the real cost in remedying this situation, the time and disruption and loss of business to Riccarton Road shopkeepers?

It need hardly be said where buses run on lanes along steeply cambered roads, in gutter-side bus lanes as they do at some points in the current bus system, the sensation of falling off one's seat in to the aisle, or onto the stranger sitting beside one is not considered quality bus travel by most people. 

NZ in Tranzit sees a better way to create quality public transport corridors - by adopting overseas best practice strategies. In these cases falling back on bus priority and on-street lanes is done only when other more effective choices are not available. Preference should be given to creating entirely segregated "bus arterials" where road space is predominantly devoted to - separate - physically segregated bus lanes and off-road cycle lanes . 

To recognise their equal status with the grossly over valued automobile NZ in Tranzit calls these "Green Roads" .  On such roads camber would be minimal and the mini bus stations (rather than stops) have door level loading.

There is ample opportunity - at least currently, perhaps not tomorrow - to build such a segregated busway corridor through "central" Riccarton - with a very sophisticated bus interchange in Maxwell Street - and to do so for less than the cost of two of the bus stations built by North Shore City. 

But it all depends upon a city leadership able to build public transport infrastructure at an appropriate level for a city the size and wealth of Christchurch with in the New Zealand context. 

NZ in Tranzit believes the $6 million Government funding allocated for our premier Western Transport Corridor is absurd, trivial, debased, an insult - measured against hundreds of millions given to Auckland and Wellington, not least the better part of $170 million given for Wellington's Matangi trains only months ago. 

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and the National Government are milking Canterbury fuel taxes for hundreds of millions to send to Auckland and Wellington, while Gerry keeps his foot tightly placed on the jugular and airways of Christchurch city. 

This is blocking the realistic funding base for a proper rapid transit system - rail and/or busway corridors. 

Even before the earthquake the central city was strangulating under congestion - easier to shop at a suburban mall etc Only mostly segregated public transport corridors that deliver thousands of people quickly and easily right into the heart of city, even those from the outermost suburbs, can really create a vital alive city. Bus lanes are mostly elastoplast, not many will get out of bed for a two or three minute faster bus ride, but attractive modern busways build cities.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bus shelters attractive to passing motorists - less than fully effective for bus users?

The upgrade of the bus stops and cycle lanes on Ilam Road, outside the University of Canterbury, present an attractive image, designed in a way sympathetic to the impressively large trees that line the road.

Despite giving bus services a more attractive profile, in real terms (and in university terms) NZ in Tranzit believes these changes bring few extra benefits for actual bus users

Under the new regime the number of seating spaces has been increased by 50% or total seating for about 15 people, on each direction, more if going cheek to cheek with strangers on a bench seat is your thing. 

The area has been tiled, and also offers a better level surface. Unfortunately a rather thoughtless and narrow cycleway has been  built far too close, immediately behind the shelters, a sure recipe for accidents and near misses, especially with less cautionary energies of the more youthful.

Mixing cycleways, bus passengers and pedestrians - too close for sensible comfort or safety?

Unfortunately, too, the Ilam Road university stop us served by two cross town routes and two city suburban routes is probably the single busiest passenger loading zone in the city without some form of overhead veranda protection (including shop verandas), extensive windbreak or inside covered shelter.  

In term time - essentially the colder half of the year - scores of  passengers - students, university workers, transfer passengers - that crowd this area will be left unprotected from the elements.  

The failure to design some attractive greater wind-block shelter from the colder winds and overhead roofing from sudden down pours, hailstorms, snow, and persistent wetting drizzle is obscure. 

However uncomfortable walking to a bus stop may be in bad weather, at least the movement keeps the body warm. In contrast standing waiting at a stop without proper shelter can be almost unbearable. very exposed to cold or wet or both.

Why claim you are trying to attract people out of cars, reduce congestion, address the rapidly escalating climate change etc and treat bus user needs with such obvious distain?  The bus shelter is as much a part of the journey as the bus itself.

It is obscure too why the university itself would not make some of land immediately adjoining the stop, the treed embankment, in the top photo, available - one would think universities at least would support any move to create more sustainable transport infrastructure. 

One can only suspect busism at work here! Had this been a new tail or light rail facility no expense would have been spared in getting door level loading and more adequate or enclosed waiting facilities. 

Last Sunday's summer rain at the temporary central bus interchange.  Capacity for shelter from the storms and colder winds that will not be available at the busy term-time university stop!

I have said before and will continue to say our society is rank with "busism" - the transport equivalent of racism or sexism, that sees bus users as inferior or unimportant and only warranting token support.  

In the same way that certain ethnic groups or women in general were so long cheated off adequate resources to advance -  and then judged intrinsically "inferior" -  bus systems are continuously cheated off the massive investment that rail and light rail receives and then deemed incapable of delivering quality service. 

Most of the cycleway facilities in this Ilam Road rebuilt - see below - seem a major step forward for cyclists around this busy area. 

It is a pity that political commitment to building quality bus infrastructure didn't go further than the (business as usual) mere tokenism and really seek to lift bus use onto a new level.

Cyclists protected from opening car doors and a rather generous footpath north of the bus zone.
Below - attractive, quality, bus waiting facilities in Hangzhou China (Photo Karl Fjellstrom ITDP)

More on the humble street side bus infrastructure at this posting (despite the extremely dry subject much to this blogster's surprise one of the enduring favourites amongst NZ in Tranzit readers - almost 3000 page views in in last three years).

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Road sign = GREEN ROAD - Cyclists and Bus priority. Watch for pedestrians

Following release of the Christchurch Central City (post earthquake rebuild)Transport Plan it has become clear that the city council is prepared to support having certain streets giving priority to a particular mode of transport.

Rather than the private car and commercial vehicle being king and queen of every road and street - with bike lanes and bus lanes squashed into one side - this strategy will see wide pedestrian or  bus or cycling lanes, taking priority in some central city streets. See official map below

NZ in Tranzit believes this is an excellent concept and should also be carried into the inner suburbs and even city wide, on a select number of streets.

Indeed this blogster believes the city should create a concept called "Green Roads" - these are not just a single street, but a number of streets that can be linked together (sometimes by off road segregated corridors) to create attractive corridors in which private cars and commercial vehicles are largely absent, restricted. or take second place to other modes.

A limited number of properties would need to be purchased, demolished or relocated, and the landlords (or in rare cases, owner occupiers) compensated but this also allows heaps of options. These  added features, such as drinking fountains, rain shelters, native forest landscaping, childrens safe play zones, or facilities for the use pf immediate local community such as a tennis or basketball court or a conversation pit.

Total land use planning would ensure a good mix of easy access to a rapid frequent bus service, but shielding and buffering of local housing from any pollution or undue exposure to buses.

Potential exists to create some very beautiful "green rivers" with a two directional busway (on beautifully smooth bus only roading and door level loading mini stations) and adjoining this bus lane but separate in almost every situation wide (4 plus metres) "roads" for cyclists, skaters, pedestrians.

The aim of each GREEN ROAd is to connect the dots - residential areas in outer areas, and in higher density inner suburbs, directly to the city centre and other high passenger traffic generators, such as malls, without being trapped in traffic jams and in ways that allow much higher quality infrastructure than conventional roads or just bus lanes can achieve,

NZ in Tranzit has long promoted the building of a GREEN ROAD (to use this new term)  from CBD to Grassmere Street area, dividing into arms running tofro Belfast and Northlands-Sawyers Arms etc. 

Campaigning on this modest busway suggestion, requiring purchase of about 15 properties, but remodelling a whole area near Edgeware into an attractive mix of higher density social housing, apartments and recreation facilities,first began  in 2002. I would guess (based on other similar projects) would cost approximately $80 million (not counting some work done under housing and parks budget). 

Special features of this Northern Green Road would include a wide landscaped transit and active boulevard, from Edgeware Road to Rutland Street direct; a elongated pak between Paparoa St and Grassmere Street; a bus and active flyover ramp across Cranford Street (about $8 million?) and a bus underpass - beside the bike underpass - under QEII Drive (about $6 million?).

Simple infrastructure across Cranford street, near the pooling basin, a ramp and central viaduct (cost  $8 million?) would allow millions of future bus and bike trips from north of city and from Waimakariri District to travel directly into the city centre via a Green Road under QEII Drive, over Cranford St, around the pooling basin through Rutland Street,  Edgeware, Canon Street and Manchester Street.

Earlier this year, in NZ in Tranzit I have added a similar concept  from Mandeville Street in Riccarton to Middleton Road, and the University. This bypasses almost all the congestion along Riccarton Road whilst delivering maximum access tofro the main people generators of Westfield and the University, and core high density Riccarton residential block. This project would require about 25 properties (mostly run down rentals occupied by students) but come in under $50 million. Later it can be linked,  under the railway line and back towards Hagley Park, Definitely a Green Road!

Both Green Roads could be the first sensible step (securing the land corridors) towards building light rail, probably not in this decade (it is far, far too expensive for our small city and GDP per capita!) but one day, and half the work done already. Alternately the rapid evolution of electric buses may make this unnecessary.

Two beautiful world class rapid transit corridors (but more aptly, potently and attractively called Green Roads) landscaped, a dream for walkers, joggers, skaters, cyclists, a natural environment for face to face community interaction. Corridors that steal almost nothing from motorists, residents or shopkeepers; add nothing to congestion, corridors that deliver on time (with 5 minutes) every time, corridors  with smooth gliding buses (and mini-stations along the way, with minimum delay from intersecting traffic, with maximum opportunity for public-private high density housing within minutes of easy access to CBD.  

All this for $200 million, spread across say ten years, and with Government funding two thirds, and getting off bloody easy at that!

Road sign; 
Green Road 
Cyclists and Bus priority. 
Watch for pedestrians

Definition of road  - a pathway for traffic of all kinds (in New Zealand even beaches are legally classified as roads!) 

... also "road" as a spiritual and philosophical concept, as in "the road to recovery" or "the road forward",

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Wellington Transport Spine Study - Bus rapid transit assessed as a better option than upgrading bus priority or building light rail

Jarrett Walker - Human Transit blog - must have leaned out of the conference room 
window to capture such a iconic photograph of Wellington buses! Here threading along 
Manners Street, a bus only section of Wellington CBD city's narrow streets.

A study by international engineering and transport consultants AECOM has identified a Bus Rapid Transit system from Wellington Railway Station to Newtown, and to Kilbirnie, as the most effective mode of meeting expected growth in Wellington public transport use on this primary transport spine.

The relative costs were Bus Priority upgrade $59 million; Bus Rapid Transit $207 million (both systems direct to either Newtown or Kilbirnie) and Light Rail $989 million, to Newtown only (with feeder buses to Kilbirnie etc.)*

A pamphlet outlining the study finding (or indeed the whole report)  is available to read here, and has inevitably produced a lot of debate and perhaps also some justified criticism.  

Almost 9000 passengers per hour in peak hours are expected to come off trains heading into Wellington central city and work and study zones beyond by 2031 (note; in 18 years time).

This presumes that Wellington rail commuting will continue grow significantly, something I don't think can be automatically assumed given Wellington is already far ahead of many, much, much larger cities, in the proportion of commuters using public transport to commute to work.  Wellington may be prove to be a "mature system", unlikely to grow a higher percentage of commuter use, and any growth pegged to slower population growth. 

Among the critics of the study finding have been retired engineer Kerry Wood, whose analysis of Bus Rapid Transit in the built-up areas of Wellington suggests it is unworkable on a logistic level. I am no fan of light rail (on cost factor/even distribution of quality transport dollar factor, mainly) or of seeing millions more of Canterbury transport dollars sent forth to other centres, but Wood certainly makes a very intelligent and sensible case.  

A bus operator, Mana Coachlines (also operating Newlands Transport, both part owned by Scots transport entrepreneur Brian Souter) , has publicly challenged the way that the Bus Rapid Transit operation is distinguished from Bus Priority. 

It is hard to interpret either motive or logic of the latter critique, because bus rapid transit is given exclusive centre lane road space over much of its passage and its own bus corridor in a new (duplicated) Mt Victoria tunnel, reflecting the "think rail;build bus" status benchmark of  properly constructed BRT. In contrast the bus priority only option assessed was pretty much "more of the same" using the existing Hataitai bus tunnel [originally built for trams in 1905] 

Mana seemed to be implying that use of the a new Mt  Victoria tunnel gave BRT systems "unfair" advantage over bus priority using the Hataitai bus tunnel. Yes. It probably does. Isn't that the very point?

My late grandmother used to have a leather plaque on her wall reading "Never put your wishbone where your backbone ought to be".  As applied to the Wellington transport spine concept it is a rather useful saying!!  

However wishbones may win all the same. A factor here is that every generation wants to redefine the world on its own terms. The generations rise to spiritual potency, centre stage and political leadership as they approach their middle 30s and early 40s and tend to set the dynamic coming ethos and style of their era, of the next decade anyway. The rise of the green public servant may be influential.

Wellington for all its small size has the compressed downtown energy of much larger cities and I have a suspicion that the influence of green, urbanist thinking, finding it hard to ride a bike in Wellington's hilly terrain, maybe extra likely to push through the light rail option, irrespective of the logic or cost-benefit analysis of any such study ! People don't always vote on money factors alone, and light rail is a stylish image, if absurdly expensive.

Several points interest to me in this study. Firstly it reveals further evidence of the growing trend in world public transport to discriminate between types of bus system in planning. It seems to be saying that the days of "good old bus" (chug a lug), shove it on a street and it goes anywhere, don't worry about how long it takes, etc, are passing. Likewise (low status, only partly effective) on-street bus lanes are best value option, if you are trying to build a vital city. We moving into an era of more discriminate targeted use of transit technology, and multiple bus use concepts are now in interplay.

South America has led the way in creating bus rapid transit - "Think rail; build bus" - a system of essentially making bus routes like railway lines, spiritually and often practically, separated from other traffic. A minor subsection of this larger mode - painted bus lanes on city streets where other options do not exist (first done in Chicago in the 1940s)  - has lately been more or less hi-jacked by some cities that appear to be mostly trying to avoid major investment in public transport, and  pumped up with a great deal of huff and puff as "Bus Rapid Transit" even when without any major infrastructure support.

The Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP) is trying to counteract this dilution of a potent concept for transforming cities by creating industry standards for bus rapid transit systems.

Recently it even created a set of Gold, Silver, Bronze grading for Bus Rapid Transit - reported fairly simply in this Trinidad newspaper.

The other thing that goes through my mind is "here we go again". While our new leaders in Christchurch debate how to spend $40 million across 6 bus transfer stations, five more bus lane corridors etc (lets forget about exclusive bus corridors, bus rapid transit etc)-  while we piddle around on such matters - Wellington dismisses the bus priority option identified by AECOM on this corridor (as it surely will) and debates projects costing between (roughly) $300 million and $1200 million!

*Newspaper reports talk of light rail at $1.2 billion so there may be some subsequent adjustment upwards of all these figures that I am missing

Previous NZ in Tranzit blog postings on  public transport expenditure in Wellington

Dom-Post dismisses light rail in Wellington

Take the money and run 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Busway corridor through Riccarton ticks many boxes

Noosa Bus Station, Queensland just after completion, stylish and spacious 
(photo displayed on the website of  designers Guymer-Bailey Landscape Architects, Brisbane)
 (a link to further  photos of this project below)

I have made a submission to the proposed Riccarton Road transfer station consultation.

As there is a very big chance this submission will be deemed outside the terms of reference of the review, and not even viewed,  I share here publicly some of the aspects raised.

If nothing else, it is good to share a range of more realistic options for better public transport.

This submission suggested the "Smart Way" concept (previously raised on this blog) of building a mostly segregated busway corridor parallel to Riccarton Road from (at least) Mandeville Street to Wharenui Road and possibly (or later) Middleton Road.  On-street Bus lanes would operate between the railway crossing and Mandeville Street, and between Wharenui Road and Church Corner. These lanes would affect very few properties (most commercial) that do not already include on-site car parks.

Essentially most buses coming from the city would make a 30 second deviation off Riccarton Road at Mandeville Street, then enter on a new cut-through bus/cycle/pedestrian only access lane to Dilworth and Maxwell Street, interconnecting with other routes at a bus station rear of Westfield mall. Most services then run south of,and parallel to, Riccarton Road  until  Wharenui Road and special signals to turn right towards Riccarton Road, making a 30 second return journey to bus lanes on Riccarton Road, This completely by-passes the worst of congestion, and by-passes the complex and bus slowing traffic signals at Straven Road and Clyde Road. New, simple bus only or bus priority, traffic signals at Clarence Road, Matipo Street and Wharenui Road would support this rapid transit corridor

No businesses in the central commercial core will be effected by bus lanes or indeed, as now, by having too many buses along this shopping street. Some additional on-street car parking spaces would be likely. Shop customers etc will be able to enter Riccarton Road commercial area from various points/bus stops and the suggested bus station location itself, less than 2 minutes walk away (equivalent to one city block away).

About twenty properties would need to be purchased but most in the path options of the suggested route appear to be older housing stock in poor condition rented to (what appears to be) groups of students and/or houses in streets reclassified L3 or L2 intended for higher density redevelopment.  The indicative route does not appear to threaten many (if any) long established family homes or elderly residents, where special support in relocation in the same area may be needed.

In short a good opportunity still exists to stake out a rapid transit corridor before the spread of new developments - such as the flats being built in Rattray Street in the photo below - render an effective relatively straight running busway corridor route a dead duck. The development of quality high density housing should be in symbiotic and mutually supportive relationship with increased public transport access, not in conflict with it!

It is not possible to show the route suggested in submissions, which can only be indicative anyway, because I am not in any position to suggest which particular properties would be needed from several dozen possible, a sensitive area of course itself subject to negotiations and multiple other factors.etc.

However I estimated the busway corridor put would cost around $25 million - a very modest amount nowadays. To get perspective here, the former Christchurch Mayor Garry Moore said in 2005, "When we rebuild an intersection it takes a million dollars".

The cost estimate is of course highly amateurish but is based on purchasing the 20 or so properties including the usual compensation payout, at average  cost of $500,000 - this is a fairly generous estimate with few over $400,000 -  ($10 million). Further costs would come in construction /reconstruction of the roading surface of the busway at the back of the Westfield Mall and as it crosses these cleared sections and several small side streets heading westwards ($10 million). Potential exists to actually cut one or more of these smaller streets into two cul-de sacs, with bus and cycleway crossing in between the ends of these residential enclaves.

Lastly there would be the building of a proper, spacious attractive bus transfer station on Maxwell Street - probably the best site is at the end of Rotheram Street- - so the bus station itself becomes a very easily accessible and highly visible part of this very lively and busy entertainment and shopping zone (including Westfield Mall entrance and Hoyts 8 entrance).

Rotheram Street, entrance to Westfield, Hoyts 8 and the street itself home to several major retailers and cafes and restaurants.  Riccarton Road (see Metrostar bus in background) is less than 2 minutes walk from the area of the suggested busway corridor. Some property purchase, committing part of the street to median bus lanes  and good design  of a multi-platform bus and transfer station would lift this side of Rotheram St and hugely increase the presence, status and effectiveness of bus services on Christchurch second most important transport corridor.

Recent images of Noosa Bus Station (built for $10 million Australian, including much recycled material) above convey for me something of the feel to me of a quality bus interchange. This said Noosa's design is primarily built for the much needed shade from hot sun factor, at Riccarton in Christchurch a (smaller) design would need to focus on more sunshine and reducing wind effects, with perhaps some distinctive Christchurch branding element. Apart from a big illuminated Metro sign, and bright lights at key points, creative use of neon sculpture or neon banding around loading verandas, could add vivacity and the warmer tones, often so needed in public transport station design, to avoid overly cold or desolate night settings.

A major facet of the roadstead of the busway corridor itself would be the addition of a broad cycle and pedestrian way separate but beside the busway, the green park-like corridor landscaping, and a range of devices to reduce visibility and noise of buses to neighbourhoods. As quite a lot of park land and roadside berm is involved, and the width of most sections is equivalent to up to 10 buses parked/passing side by side, and only room for two lanes and a cycle-pedestrian way is specifically needed, there is a big margin here for re-orientating existing park footprints, or even selling surplus land to adjoining houses, adding buffering or redevelopment potential. Modern diesel is anyway much quieter and less polluting, but it is also likely some sort of fully electric buses will become mainstream over the next decade, While most houses will be no closer to passing buses than houses on bus routes on existing streets, one of the advantages of a segregated busway is that  ideally houses (unless multi-level apartment blocks) will not even see passing buses, a chance perhaps also to screen the ugly carpark buildings for the residents of Maxwell Street!  To give absolute "light rail quality" smooth operation (and avoid neighbourhood vibrations) the busway surface itself would be especially compacted to a high degree. If trees are saved or planted to the side (particularly where they do not overly block the sun) looking along the cycleway or busway would be avenue (and only 200 metres away from a clogged and congested arterial road!).

Running between busy town centres yet completely by-passing congested roads, in the UK. The recently opened Eclipse Bus Rapid Transit system in South East Hampshire utilises a former rail corridor, the bus corridor suggested through Riccarton would have similar elements but a wider land area allowing an adjacent but separate wide cycle and pedestrian way and substantial landscaping. Photo Wikimedia Commons

This minimum disruption effect is very important because, eventually and at its peak operating times the busway might be expected to carry 50-100 buses an hour, including possibly one day articulated buses or double deckers. This "phasing in" period over an extended period allowing residents (the area appears to be mainly rentals anyway) to relocate and their place to be taken by those who love the easy car free access to facilities the busway delivers  -such as airport, university, Riccarton, city, Addington etc and the Orbiter and MetroStar routes. Noted too, this is an area where scores of houses were removed to extend shops,  malls and carparks, and subject to extreme car traffic, and steadily being rebuilt in apartments.. Indeed, a major cost-benefit advantage would be the added development of new higher density housing - anyway expected - sooner and perhaps to a higher standard than some of the rather gross new "low block sheds on a concrete apron design" student housing units currently being privately built.

The central public transport axis of Riccarton is not Riccarton Road but Maxwell Street - incorporating both the shopping and entertainment zone and bringing quality rapid transit bus services to the large high density and rental housing area, between Riccarton commercial area and Blenheim Road

A major "tick" factor is taken together the residential area north of Riccarton Road (much of it in motels, Deans Bush and single unit professional housing), the commercial area of Riccarton and the Mall, and designated higher density  housing areas between Riccarton Road and Blenheim Road, despite superficial appearances, are better served by the Maxwell Street axis than Riccarton Road. Public spending should aim to serve the most people per dollar, and running bus services along side rivers, sea fronts, green spaces, or as current, along the northern edge of a huge potential bus user catchment, does less justice than centring the key route corridors through the middle of this sector. Capturing the residential fulltime working or studying bus user means buses supply  4-600 bus trips year for that person (and cuts car use by same amount) and this also needs to be equated against casual shoppers taking only one trip a week etc, in planning. 

Another "tick the box" factor is the great flexibility both in building such a busway corridor, in day to to day operations, and in contingency. Not all routes need to operate the entire length - I have suggested The Orbiter would be the key one, because delays on Riccarton Road ripple right around Christchurch, leaving a lot of people pissed off at missing Orbiter to [less regular] radial route connections, and buses falling over each other, instead of evenly spaced.  Just the increased efficiency of  the Orbiter might generate another half million passenger trips per year. In the long run this might run right through to Middleton Road. 

In contrast the Metrostar would need to return to Riccarton Road at Matipo Street to be able to access Clyde Road.  (although why Clyde Road is not taken straight through to veer onto Wharenui Road, simplifying this clumsy intersection with its huge delay factor is not known). Longer distance services Hornby, Rolleston, Lincoln, Darfield, Ashburton, Timaru etc  would more likely continue very much on the straight , dropping down Mandeville Street to a new busway through to Maxwell Street, the bus station, and then onto Wharenui Road, and back onto bus lanes along Riccarton Road, What can be adjusted is the portions "Vis Busway" "via Riccarton Road", and over time which new routes are introduced. Presumably the busway would be mostly double laned (though only half the tarsealed width of a conventional road) which allows buses to pass each other when one bus stops for passengers, and in appropriate situations for fire, police and ambulance provides fast access way through an often highly congested part of town.

Yet another 'tick' factor - not only is this concept future proofed for increasing capacity and the number of routes operating through the multi-platform station - it actually lays the groundwork for the future. In the first instance a cycleway under Deans Avenue and via Brockworth Place then under the railway line, crossing Mandeville Street and then straight along the new busway corridor, to Wharenui Road with minimum cycle car interaction. Later - when the city hits 750,000 in 206? - perhaps adaptation to also carry a light rail line, from hospital corner through Hagley Park under Deans Avenue, under Brockworth Place (that area) and the Railway Line to  Maxwell Street and the interchange, then to Middleton Road. In a city as small as Christchurch and in a country with barely half the wealth per capita of Australia, the only sensible path to light rail - is (a) very long term and  (b) via rapid transit corridors first established for buses, with capacity for future joint use by both modes.  

This $25 million "guestimate" could be way out, I am the first to admit, but even at double the cost, measured across the 25 year cost-benefit evaluation of a major infrastructure project, it would seem to be extremely good value for money. I don't know how many passenger trips travelling by urban bus are made each business day on Riccarton Road nowadays, but ten years ago in 2003, according the New Zealand Bus and Coach Association* it was 9700, so let us say 10,000 nowadays. For simplicity let's also add only half that amount of passenger trips on Saturdays and Sundays (is probably higher but this can cover public holidays too). At a rough guess 60,000 bus passengers per seven day week, just over 3 million passenger trips per year.

That is to say - without any future passenger growth purely because of city population growth, or any added growth because of the popularity of an ultra-smooth, no delay, much faster (especially in peak hour) bus journey through Riccarton - of 75 million passenger trips over 25 years. (approx 30 cents per passenger added cost, decreasing in real cost with inflation). Actually busways have done very well around the world and there is every likelihood in the same period, patronage will increase dramatically, doubling or tripling in relationship to population size over 25 years. 

This is a city building piece of infrastructure. This so in a way not really possible with merely some part time part way bus priority lanes and a storefront transfer station with limited capacity, lacking any larger style, grace or presence and without sufficient cycle-bus facilities or significant capacity for growth.

I have requested that this idea - the whole question of servicing Riccarton Road area - be put out to a bona fide transport planning consultancy to fully investigate all the options. I don't believe councils that are prepared to roll over and accept a mere $6 million input from Government for something as important as one of our two primary transport corridors*  are doing their research or homework properly.

It is not appropriate that we in Christchurch expect the $5 billion plus in public transport infrastructure, received and planned for Auckland. 

It is not appropriate that we in Christchurch - who do have the restrictions of narrow land corridor geographic factors of Wellington -  would expect over $1.2 billion  spending on public transport infrastructure, done and likely in Wellington (once a bus rapid transport or light rail city- Kilbirnie spine system is agreed upon, on top of the $700 million rail upgrade). 

It is however appropriate that a city of metropolitan population 400,000, already struggling to recover from a major earthquake, on the verge of a genuine long term congestion growth, with increased growth on perimeter areas should expect to spent around half $500 million in the next decade on public transport infrastructure. And it is appropriate that a very significant portion of this come from central Government as is the case with virtually ever major infrastructure project in  New Zealand, and as is the pattern in most countries of the world. And not least, appropriate as a reasonable minimum degree of equity with the northern cities, in support of Christchurch to build a prosperous economy and livable city.

As a starter - a busway corridor through the most congested part of Riccarton, with a bus station linked to every major corner and facility in greater Christchurch - built for somewhere around $25 million, (ok even twice that) - is tremendous win-win-win- win.

*(ie North to Rangiora; west to Rolleston)

**Lift bus use or spend $169m on roads The Press June 11 2003

Monday, November 11, 2013

Yesterday's buses.....

This is a photo taken yesterday, Sunday 10 November 2013, from a bus window, of two Orbiter buses ostensibly operating in  a service where departures are 15 minutes apart . 

Anyone who lives in Christchurch knows that a double-dipping of lime buses is a common sight.

This next photo was taken over three years earlier, on 12 August 2010  - note before any earthquakes - it is an image of what a weekday Orbiter service, ostensibly running at ten minute intervals, can look like on RealTime sign. 

Reading between these tightly packed lines we can see that some poor bastards here, and down the line, will or have been waiting 30 minutes for this ten minute service!

In Christchurch we have a bus system that has proved chronically unable to use its advanced monitoring technology, or to develop  operating strategies, roading controls etc  to keep a scheduled service running at even intervals, and arriving and departing at designated times.  There may be all sorts of good reasons, and many factors involved -  this posting is a reality check, not a finger pointing exercise - but that doesn't change a core fact, the system can not deliver as claimed..

Here is another historic photo - buses queued up to get into the Bus "Xchange" on the 18 November 2011. 

This was a central city bus station serving 360,000 plus people of greater Christchurch in 2000, built for the same price as a fairly minor outer suburban rail station in Auckland, $20 million. It was a joint scheme with developer Philip Carter and the city undoubtedly got a fantastic bargain - and a time bomb because this stylistic world leader bus station had a capacity for growth that was very limited. Oops! Unexpectedly (??) its very success helped grow bus usage much faster than projected.

In the late afternoon of business days, bus queues lined up trying to get in or out, indeed lined, Colombo Street,  the main axial street of central Christchurch waiting to turn into the street upon which the bus station was situated.  

There may be all sorts of good reasons this happened. It doesn't really change much what these reasons were  - again the system could not deliver as claimed. 

Now let us remember the organisations who have not been very effective in dealing with the problems above currently implying that they can operate an effective bus station with only three bays outbound (and one suspects only two inbound) and up to 70 buses an hour in peak hours, from a storefront bus station on Riccarton Road. All of this on one of Christchurch's most congested roads. 

Yeah right, sure. So where are the other two Orbiters going to stop  and wait their turn?  And where are the rest of the routes running early or late going to mark time. 

Oh yeah,  buses can queue in their own special bus lanes. That should speed things up no end! 

To quote a famous  saying  - Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

Unfortunately we are the punters that have to put up with this.  

The much larger question is why is a corridor likely to be carrying (at very) least two or three million passenger trips a year getting only $6 million from New Zealand Transport (central Government) whilst New Zealand Transport Agency is perched ready to pump $550 million into the extension of the Auckland Northern busway towards Orewa? 

Auckland, Wellington, other cities around the world are building rapid transit corridors - commuter rail, light rail and bus rapid transit corridors and segregated busways  - yet Christchurch is still struggling to get buses into the low budget, small benefit, lane of bus priority.

Rapid transit? Busways? Not in Christchurch thank you - definitely not our style. We are still driving yesterday's buses...

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Opportunity shop approach versus busway option in Christchurch?

The Maxwell Smart Way? The generous width of the Dilworth-Maxwell Street corridor, as well as the naturally slowed traffic created by car park buildings, suggests opportunities for an elegant, lanes unimpeded, busway and mostly car-free cycle lane through Christchurch's inner western suburbs. Depending on specific scenarios two or even three lanes could be built left of these parked cars allowing a spacious an attractively designed and landscaped multi-platformed bus station.

A joint committee of ECAN and the Christchurch City Council are proposing to build a new bus station on Riccarton Road. 

The building plans can be viewed at the Council site HERE, and show an attractive lounge area with cafe in a space that appears to about the size of a large village or school hall.

A consultation is being held and if you wish to make a comment you can do so via the website.

It will be of benefit if making a submission to first to look at the Frequently Asked Questions section;

This section opens with a description of the current situation - 

Westfield Riccarton is the busiest suburban bus stop in Christchurch, second only to Central Station. Currently, over 2,800 people board a bus in Riccarton between Matipo and Clarence Streets every day. This  number has grown 40% from just over 2000 in February 2011 before the quake so the importance of  Riccarton as a destination has increased since the quakes. This is impressive at a time when overall patronage has declined, but is also placing a strain on the limited passenger facilities offered there. 

Another motive also expressed, is the need to have good facilities for the hub and spoke transfer system (of sorts) that Metro is now operating. 

This said, because the proposed bus station's nature and location is essentially storefront and roadside, on one of the busiest and most congested roads in Christchurch, the bus station will not have the normal hallmarks of a transfer station - dedicated stands for all buses heading in a similar direction, as has proven so successful in the city's Central Station bus station.

Riccarton road also has a hefty camber, and the roadside location of the bus station amongst shops severely reduces opportunity to create something more akin to level buses and door-level loading, a quality bus feature overseas.

Instead of various services to one broad area (eg South, East etc) grouped around one platform or loading area the proposed bus station will have three allocated stops, with RealTime signage indicating at which of these stops their bus is about to pull in - theoretically in time for passengers to make their way to that location. This worked well in the Bus Xchange, but of course the loading bay pattern was slightly circular and sheltered, and not a public footpath with passengers coming off buses, and others approaching along the street, also filling up the relatively narrow (3 metres wide?) footpath as at the proposed Riccarton site. And also of course without passengers having to cross a busy road to access  platforms on the opposite of a busy proposed at Riccarton.

People wishing to transfer to a bus travelling in the opposite direction (before peeling off north or south) will be advised in advance so they have time to cross the road at crossing lights.

This is certainly no small flaw, with added poor weather exposure and likelihood of teenagers (and others) running across the road when their connecting buses have run late. Situations of obvious stress for the elderly, those with young children, people carrying luggage or parcels etc are clearly likely to arise. The pedestrian crossing will need to operate often, or crowds will block the footpath  and/or jay walking will become the norm, and frequency and length of crossing time will tend to increase bus and car delays on Riccarton Road. 

But it is hard to see, anyway, how passengers even on the same side of the road as the lounge itself will not clash with pedestrians, the inevitable smokers outside or those rushing forwards or backwards to get whichever bus they hope to get.. The pretty picture of the proposed bus station's front facade drawn by an architectural artist is literally one sided, shows only part of the equation  - all passengers are moving in the same direction!!
A busy reality will obviously be much different.

Despite a bit of commentary on the Council website about working in with bicycles, it is pretty clear just from the width of the footpath it would be quite impossible - not least for public safety - to load bikes at this particular stop.

Another aspect is policing - any facility with thousands of people a day  including a higher than average number of younger people (with their natural exuberance -  innocent or otherwise! ) is likely to encounter a small proportion of regular "people management" problems - misbehaviour, drunkenness,,public arguments or displays of anger or pestering and panhandling for money or cigarettes, in worse case bullying and occasionally fighting and assaults. This has never seemed a big element element in Christchurch, but as a contingency that does occasionally happen it must be factored in and properly so. 

Also medical emergencies - heart attacks, asthma attacks, nose bleeds, vomiting etc. These sorts of things are not easy to handle in a tight space where a crisis situation can not be isolated out, ring fenced to allay fears or misguided public interventions, and police or emergency crews cannot arrive quickly, park in a clear space and access the problem easy with facility to create clear safe space for the crisis recovery situation. There is a sort of public misconception that just having CCTV or security guards is enough, but in my experience of working in a busy public space good design also.plays a huge role/ It is not entirely clear this sort of implicit situation governance can be achieved in this lounge, with its very limited space and forecourt zone over which no ultimate control can be guaranteed.

Incidents may be rare but no public space attracting thousands of people per week can afford  to not be very carefully designed to cover all possible contingencies - police park in bus lanes after what appears to be an urgent call out at Central Bus Station on a recent evening.

Why is this being planned in such haste? According to the Frequent Questions section 
Riccarton is a thriving commercial and retail area so lease opportunities for frontage premises on Riccarton Road itself are scarce and do not last long once they are on the market. The proposal to create a new street front passenger lounge will be part of a wider Riccarton Corridor project next year. Suitable premises have been  found, but the Council cannot wait to lease this property until the corridor enhancement is complete, as it is very unlikely that these premises would still be available.

Opportunity knocks - and with a low budget shopping basket -  opportunity shops! 

We have already had one Bus Exchange that became  - very rapidly -  to be far, far too small, leading to bus queues everywhere- how much future proofing - for people or bus movements - is inherent in this proposed design And let's face it - nothing is less attractive in public transport than what the Aussies have dubbed "cattle class" - overcrowding and body crush. 

Good design in public transport is not ad hoc as this project is but part of an overall 20 year plus vision, growing a city in every aspect by growing the infrastructure needed to sustain vitality, prosperity and quality of life. It is hard to see low quality bus lanes [not curb segregated, road surfaced, signalised priority 100%, bus stop platformed  etc] on Riccarton Road and a storefront bus station as a major city builder! 

Another aspect is there seems to be no provision for long distance passengers, or tourist and sightseeing buses to interact at this useful point with its added Orbiter and Metrostar connection, offering faster more frequent access to multiple areas, city wide.  In so far as public transport is the only transport for about 10% of the population (probably over 20% in high student population areas like Riccarton) the "missing link" between urban and inter city travel, is roughly equivalent to buying a car and being told it is not permitted to take this beyond the city boundary.

In the larger sense I wonder whether this constant ad hoc response is actually taking the city far.

According the the NZ Transport Agency funding policy introduced by the National bully boys Christchurch (and other NZ area) taxes are mainly expected to subsidise public transport infrastructure in Auckland and Wellington. This imbalance dates back to the 1920s and is inevitable to some degree but the extreme attitude of the Government, where - at very least - 15 times more per capita is being spent on Auckland public transport than Canterbury ensures Christchurch is so far below the horizon we can barely build effective modern public transport.

According to the Frequent Questions section The proposal to create a new street front passenger lounge will be part of a wider Riccarton Corridor project next year. 

Despite the $5 billion spent or planned for Auckland public transport, and $700 million spent on public transport in Wellington (similar to Christchurch in population size!) this rapid transit option along Christchurch's busiest transport corridor is only being Government funded to the tune of $6 million. This will buy little more than a storefront bus station and a few part-time bus lanes (against strong local shopkeeper resistance, as in 1996 and 2010, no doubt!!). 

AND AGAIN TODAY - [added 14/12./13]

In this sense the new bus station and the primary  decision, to build it on Riccarton Road, represents more of a defeat (of a battle not even fought yet) and a turning away from high quality mass transit by Christchurch authorities.

Not for the first time in this city's recent history there seems to be a failure of vision by those elected and paid to lead, a refusal to even look at the bigger and better long term opportunities, a failure listen to any other voices than paid officials (often repeating past mistakes), a readiness to carelessly throw away windows of opportunity without even investigating them. 

With the purchase of less than 25 properties (all but a few seemingly older stock rental properties occupied by students) the city could build a bus rapid transit corridor and landscaped cycleway all the way from Mandeville Street to Wharenui Road, or even Middleton Road, allowing buses to pass through the greater part of Riccarton ) - about 2.5 km in less than five minutes during peak hour!

Moving the axis of the Riccarton public transport corridor over also makes good sense too because the greater depth of adjoining housing (and potential patronage and "transit orientated development potential) is south of Riccarton Road -  the north side activity and density compromised by motels (only a small proportion of guests transit using), Deans Bush and the  lower density up market properties. Ideally public transport should be growing the city not just a knee jerk response to earthquakes and the momentary effects of unsympathetic Governments.

Rotheram Street entrance to Westfield Mall and Hoyts 8 Cinema Complex, from one of the car-parking buildings. A bus station in the vicinity of Rotheram Street here, built to the same principles as the Central Station bus station, could address many of the flaws  inherent in the proposed shop front model, and help grow the higher density neighbourhood.

In time (30 years or whatever ahead) an added cut and cover tunnel could be built straight across from from Riccarton Avenue under Hagley Park and under Brockworth Place and under the railway line, allowing electric buses** or even (if not an outdated technology by then), light rail,  to sail effortlessly through Riccarton, a mere 200 metres from the traffic queues on Riccarton Road, but, being a transit priority corridor, along a free-flow pathway where public transport vehicles reign supreme. 

Future proof, city building, top quality facilities.  Or the bus opportunity, shop now approach?

Mandeville Street  to Wharenui Road via Dilworth and Maxwell Street  - the potential to incorporate a bus priority corridor stretches into the future  - or not! 

**There can be little doubt now quick wire-less recharging (15 seconds), smaller battery rack electric buses will replace diesel as the main form of urban bus transport around the world. over the next decade or two.. 

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