Sunday, April 28, 2013

Every Picture Tells A Story...

In the last few weeks I have been out walking, or just commuting home from work, and wonder why  the council isn't doing more to help bus users.

The easiest way to tell the story is in photographs;

Whilst walking from Belfast one Saturday afternoon I snapped this rough shot of a B-Line bus approaching Northwood.  B-Line Saturday services are meant to operate every 15 minutes apart. services alternate with a bus to Belfast (edge of the city area) and then the next one, 15 minutes later to Rangiora (a satellite town) via Belfast; next one 15 minute later just to Belfast .. and so on.

The important thing to note here is not the bus but small berm ot ornamental grasses and lancewood trees and the distance from where I was standing on sloping berm and the shorter word Belfast on the destination screen. According to my photo file download this was photographed at 4.34pm

Less than a minute later, as I near the ornamental berm the Rangiora bus goes past - the photo file download says it was taken at 4.35pm.  One must infer one of these buses is 15 minutes late and quite possibly, people in Sydenham or at PM or Papanui  had an unexpected  25 or 30 minutes wait for a "service every 15 minutes" to come along. Indeed it is possible some missed connections they hoped to make -  now 30 minutes behind time. What this tells me - something I already know anyway - is that the bus lanes in Papanui Road are hugely ineffective on Saturdays!!  There is a very simple reason for this. A rather timid local government approach - and one largely avoiding reality -  has made no provision for bus lanes to operate on Saturday. 

Despite the heavy traffic all day long on Papanui Road on weekends, the council appears to have no effective strategy to support buses maintaining schedule.

But what about week days? No better? Here is another photo taken from of two buses queueing through several light changes in Victoria Street in a weekday evening; heading out from central Christchurch, on the same route. 

It mystifies me that if it is expected that Christchurch will recover, and grow, and one day be half a million people, and then one day three-quarters of a million etc - and this intersection is always congested (it was congested when I drove buses 22 years ago!!) - why no attempt being made to create enough lane space for buses before the rebuild started. Or now when parking bays could be built in, leaving the left hand lane itself, parking vehicle free for free flow of buses and cars making a left hand turn, why isn't a bus lane approaching the lights being planned.

Perhaps the game plan to eventually bring buses up Montreal Street and then around onto Bealey Avenue?
But even so at the moment and probably for a long time to come, if not forever, buses are not being given the support here that is clearly available - in other words CONE POWER! (it's everywhere!!). In a city where there is a world-record breaking number roadworks on scores of roads and corners, and slow, temporary lane signs etc, why is it the council not moving to create a temporary bus and left turn only lane at the top of Victoria Street?  Look at all that space in the photos above and below - all for just two parker vehicles.  And people standing in the aisles of some trips now patronage is coming back can look out the window and yes, they get the picture, - pro-active support for  bus users does not appear to be a high priority in this city, everybody else comes first.

In reality the bus laning of Papanui Road really falls short of its potential, because the three major choke points, Victoria Street, Merivale and Papanui shopping centre were "politically" impossible to bus lane. 

Although all areas have alternative parking in side streets or formal carparks, shopkeepers and businesses where people just pop in to pick up  dry- cleaning, a prescription, the convenience stores and takeaway foods especially, all rely upon at least the illusion some parking outside the door is available. 

Here's another picture that tells a story  - takeaway food outlets shoulder to shoulder at Papanui. This strategy of buying or renting fast food outlets, in one long line, is commonplace all over New Zealand nowadays (indeed there is a another similar row of takeaway food outlets, behind the KFC sign to the left). These are special zones with special needs and I wonder if these are really being addressed. Maybe heaps of research and planning work has been done in this area already but a quick flick through the city plan failed to find a designated policy. 

I believe if Council planning actively supported such zones, much of the sting would be taken out of opposition to bus lanes. These areas - as designated takeaway or short stay service zones could be much enhanced by establishing bold signage,well branded short-stay parking zones (15 minutes max) at the threshold area of adjacent side streets, and also by increasing bike stands, rubbish receptacles, outdoor tables, wind shelter, lighting and security cameras. 

Ideally any new zones are built back from the road itself, with frontal parking, as a few already, though provision might be given these to have a large permanent shared frame signage system (as at Malls) on grass berms, to maintain profile to approaching traffic. In the case of existing takeaway and short-stop "zones", or potential ones, each could be analysed for a range of factors and at least some modified, to try to achieve a desirable outcome for vendors, customers, on-road traffic and public transport.   There are various pros and cons with such zoning, but viewed across a decade or two, I believe simultaneously supporting and regulating the location and road frontage of these zones will be of absolute importance in winning more road space for free flow of public transport. 

As the city grows there will be need for a range of bus lanes - not just the grand production ones covering a whole corridors, a little too precious with their multiple signs every few metres, but limited operating hours and effectiveness.  Along with part-time bus lanes I believe we could do with a few "stents" on our arteries - that is short lengths of full time bus laning,. Bus Lane at all Times. Or Bus Lane (arrow ahead) and Left hand Turn only 

When-ever an arterial road is congested or blocked all all different times of the week and even evenings  -  the main sticking points will be almost certainly be intersections and traffic signals. With a stent buses can still slide up to the lights and get a few seconds priority take off or can slide into a bus only lane or bus stop immediately across the intersection. So back to Papanui Road and the fact Metro has created an attractive unified branded service - the B-Line - which is struggling to hold schedule with so little support in the way of effective infrastructure. 

I believe there are four obvious stents (full time bus lane sections) that need to be looked at

(a) As above - Victoria Street from Dublin Street Corner to Bealey Avenue. Building this now is a clear statement of city support for lifting the status and service quality of buses, and means any future  fast food sort of set up will have to rethink how it uses the location. Part of such a stent might be a permanent car park (there is already a temporary one, visible beside the black SUV in photo above).

(b) At Papanui Road & Rugby Street an enormous hypocrisy goes on - and did so well before the earthquakes - and that is that Rugby Street is not actually a very significant secondary through-corridor, but just a rather a fashionably quiet leafy street with multiple traffic slowing devices. It wouldn't surprise me if 5000 cars (and trucks)  a day were using this street to access multiple private schools, Rossall Street and the city west, in rush hour there is almost a continuous flow of vehicles turning in and out of there (see green car etc in photo below). This suggests the traffic signal system should be adjusted to have a further set of lights at Rugby Street itself, coupled with those at St Albans Street (similar to the set up at Clyde Road and Riccarton). to help cars negotiate moving in and out of Rugby Street. Intelligent light would keep a central pool free of queued traffic This would create, the structure to enable a bus queue jumper signal system, not only in the lane here but also across the road heading in the opposite direction. Buses pulling away from the signage ahead would have a few seconds advantage to enter the main traffic lane through Merivale, or when heading into town. Again, a "stent", full time bus lane on the short stretch of Papanui Road between Church Lane and Rugby Street, would empower better access through Merivale with intelligent signals, whilst also supporting reality - the city layout can not support the fiction that Rugby Street is not an important connecting road, particularly as the alternative is a long queue and a prolonged right-turn traffic signal phase off Papanui Road into Bealey already slowing other traffic and buses even further. 

(c) A further "stent"/full time bus lane (and left turn lane for cars) is surely warranted on Papanui Road between Hawthorne Street and Blighs Road, one of the main queuing points on Saturdays as on weekdays. This effects almost no residents, and alternative parking is easily found on adjacent side streets or the other side of Papanui Road. I see no reason that Stent could not extend past the BP service station (with its vast forecourt does it need street parking) Animates etc and up to Blair Street - all these premises  have their own parking and/or Blair Street itself.

(d) A stent from outside the Postbank near Langdons Road corner to the front of mall  bus stops at Northlands (as previously described in this blog posting ) embodied in purchasing a few metres to widen the road shown here to include a permanent bus corrider

In all cases as well as the words "At All Times" or "Full Time Bus Lane" on the road itself or adjacent signage, simply painting the standard dotted yellow line "No stopping" on top of the green would discourage far more casual parkers, than present part time bus lane signage ever does. 

Papanui Road with a mix of part time lanes and stents at key choke points would have far more grunt, and around the clock. This is a bus corridor with a bit of grunt, seven days a week or even busy evenings. 

Every car driver is used to multiple different traffic signs and in different combinations, the green road makings, the yellow lines discouraging stopping, would be self evident. Indeed it is interesting to rarely see people driving in bus lanes even when they are not operative, and short stretches might be to their advantage, it becomes habit to respect bus lanes. 

Added stents offer a different picture of public transport than that the city paints now. When buses are given the space, status and authority to command a bit of road exclusively for themselves then the whole image of buses begins to change, suddenly like rail or light rail, they are perceived as a unique system in themselves, not just another vehicle on the road, but the fastest and most convenient form of city transport for many types of journey. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Joining the dots - why is the Northern busway concept ignored year after year?

Re above - Crossing Cranford Street might be better achieved by a bus-bike only ramped over bridge

Bob Parker recently spoke of land use being intrinsic to good public transport. Yet  Council seems determined to ignore the most useful potential transit corridor of all

In the last decade there have  the massive investments made in rail and busway systems in Auckland and Wellington - pro-rata spending many times more dollars per population on public transport than Christchurch, most of this sourced from national taxes. This was because these cities had identified their rapid transit corridors - Auckland 1995 and Wellington c1999 - and developed specific projects ready to fund. 

To date Christchurch has not even identified a single segregated rapid transit corridor and even its minimum budget policy of part-time bus lanes on nine route corridors (except for the busiest and most congested choke points!) is miles away from completion.  Transfer stations promised years ago are non-existent, and a rather shabby if modern elongated "temporary" bus shelter at Northlands is more of an insult than a quality bus fixture. The city and regional council  doesn't even offer a regional commuter bus or rail system, comparable to those supported in other regions (Wellington, BOP, Waikato). 

Arguably the city has lost some of its best opportunities and chances to develop by wasting months trialling an inappropriate "bus boarder" technology. This strange experiment (obviously hopeful in saving bus lane costs and political battles with property owners adjoining lanes) delayed implementing bus lanes by about 18 months and - predictably - lost transit funding opportunities, always more inherent in a Labour /Green Government.

Then the city lost sensible leadership on public transport with Bob Parker's fantasy about light rail, a very very expensive system (usually very much more so per kilometre than conventional rail) that is usually only found in cities and regions with millions of taxpayers and high density areas (at least three or four times greater than Christchurch). 

Public transport is specifically based on identifying need and then choosing an appropriate technology - this transit 101 level thinking escaped our idealistic but poorly informed  Mayor and the disease appears to have permeated down into administration.  

Th city lost many opportunities to implement appropriate technologies, at relatively low cost . Among these;

(a) putting a bus only tunnel under the new motorway at Annex Road with potential for a further bus only structure over or under the railway yards 

(b) ensuring the Barrington Street overbridge was built wide enough to include bus lanes for The Orbiter (2 million passengers a year and growing, back then) through the Lincoln Road intersection choke point 

(c) holding onto Edgeware Pool site, shifting or removing parts nearby council housing (3 sites) to build a bus corridor  and buying a dozen houses to link the top of Colombo Street to Rutland Street and Grassmere. I would guess a busway (including mini-stations) for less than $100 million - that could carry huge amounts of people from the north directly into the city at one quarter the time of a peak hour car journey on Papanui Rd or Cranford Street. 

This last loss is particularly serious and in recent times has been made worse by the decision to put in a cycleway between Rutland Street and Grassmere. This is an excellent idea of course but is intrinsic (and vastly superior) in suggestions for building a busway. However once the cycleway is entrenched this will politically block the potential for a busway, (whilst subtly safeguarding this area for the eventual extension by the government of the northern motorway to link up with Mays Road and Rutland Street!!)

Anyone who has actually seriously looked at rapid transit corridors in Christchurch - the two main foci being access to the north (existing and new subdivisions, and north Canterbury) and access to the South (Hornby Templeton, Rolleston, central Canterbury etc) can not avoid seeing there is only one logical transit by-pass route north that offers door to door direct service - a busway via Caledonia Rd or Colombo Street then straight through to Rutland Street and Grassmere Street . Route arm no 1  continues and crosses into Sawyers Arms Road (also servicing Northlands Mall); Route arm No 2 (the more important) then turns right  at the current farmland beside Grassmere Street  and runs across to and over Cranford Street (a circa $6 million bridge for buses and cyclists only) continuing across past the Winters Road residential enclave and under QEII beside the cycle subway, to Belfast via Redwood (and under the motorway at Prestons Road) and via Highfield and Radcliffe Road. 

Weighed against all other factors this corridor is;

 (a) located in the best area. covers the biggest spectrum of northern and far northwest areas, Belfast, Kaiapoi and Rangiora. 

Prestons and Parklands are the only large northern residential areas that are a bit too far east to directly benefit 

(b) it is the least disruptive corridor requiring amazingly few property purchases, probably less than 15. This is very low when compared to the 329 properties bought in Auckland for the AMETI scheme, or the hundreds purchased over the years in Christchurch for Brougham Street, Blenheim Road or the recent motorway extension in Christchurch, or of course the vast expansion of shopping malls. 

A major part of the bus-only running zone (80km an hour) - bicycle lane separated for safety - would between Grassmere and Belfast and could built on the edge of land (and flood ponding areas) being taken for the adjacent motorway (see below) 

The fast way to travel - by Bus Rapid Transit - red line to to Northlands and beyond (left)  busway to Belfast veers to left over graduated ramp and overbridge crossing Cranford Street

(c) All the branded service buses will be electric (clearly the coming thing now) running all day everyday, additional peak hour services from diverse areas using the corridor as an "express" direct-to-city service option would operate only on business days and before and after school hours. With an upgraded road surface to avoid noise and vibration, impact on the neighbourhoods traversed would be minimal - quality of access to Northlands/city etc a big selling point in property values.

The remaining houses will benefit greatly from opportunity for new and enhanced parks, green space, associated walking and cycleways - and of course easy walking or cycling to Edgeware, and frequent rapid buses to City and Northlands and elsewhere

A corner  or one side of the road in Massey Crescent might be needed but the existing large trees could be integrated into a green parkway between St Albans Street and Edgeware Road. This also brings an attractive green space into close conjunction with this commercial area at the south end. Fencing, hedges, landscaping would be used to shield and protect privacy and ensure residents got benefit rather than disadvantage from this big upheaval. 

(c) it supports the needed intensification of housing by the associated redevelopment of an old areas Bealey Avenue to St Albans Street into attractive higher density (working age) and because of service frequency and covered stations, higher density retirement villages areas near  Rutland St - Grassmere Street. 

(d) It costs relatively little by comparison to any rail mode and could be spread across other budgets (such as Parks and Reserves for the reconstituted Paparoa Park) as well as getting reasonably good  funding from Central Government. This is on the basis that such a corridor is equivalent to a commuter rail line in Wellington ($700 million spent in last decade!) and also complies with National's  heavy handed Transport Agency edict that funding for public transport in most cases will only be available for projects to relieve peak hour congestion. 

The moving sideways of the tennis club could allow rebuilding of a combination community centre/tennis club. This could also include small young families pool, as one project, access for older children and adults to Graham Condon Pool of course be immediate and direct by the busway!

(e) The busway  can be built for enhanced bus technology, including articulated buses and super quiet hybrid or fully electric buses for the core 18 hours - 7days a week service, yet it is a bus based technology easy to integrate within existing systems, or support back up or complement with conventional buses. During peak hours direct services from other areas or Rangiora etc might also use the corridor with only limited stops, such as at Edgeware. Most additional services operate in a small spectrum, before and well after school hours and weekdays only.Busways de facto can cover unlimited area, as well as a busway specific "all stops service".  This said, creating this route corridor it also allows for the remote possibility of conversion to light rail in in decades ahead, the cost of the corridor already secured.

(f) A high usage , quick and direct, bus corridor is a fundamental component in the central city revival, given that congestion in cars turns people away from using the city in favour of suburban malls. This access could be 12 minutes from Belfast at peak times when cars take from 25-40 minutes to make the same journey - hugely competitive and attractive!! And especially for big events.

I suggested this concept to Mayor Garry Moore in 2005, to all the council candidates in the 2007 elections, to ECan planners etc, 

I have campaigned for years in letters to the paper and in this blog but not once have I ever heard a single politician or administrator say "Let's investigate this concept"

Join the dots...what is it that makes it so hard for our councils to move beyond talk and actually do some hard analysis and actual planning of a genuine rapid transit system? 

in any study of all options, if one ever gets done (and we are not talking just bus lanes with their limited effectiveness and success)  this proposal must rate highly for potential, for all the reasons above. 

Auckland's northern busway now carries 2.2 million passengers a year and over 48% of all commuters accessing the central area by the public transport

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A parkway to Rutland Street - a green way to make Edgeware a vital community hub

Quirky little locals in search of something special for Edgeware !!

So far there have been a number of suburban centre plans, as part of the post quake rebuild. I've seen Linwood, Selwyn Street Shops, Lyttelton and Edgeware and at least amongst these four there is little to impress. Essentially a bit of fancy paving, a courtyard or two, a few building height designations. Clearly planners are working under some sort of budget restraint or orders to keep things low key.

In the case of the inner city suburbs such as Edgeware and Stanmore Road they seem to be planning for the 1980s type road conditions. Opportunities to buy a couple of metres frontage on empty sites were not taken up, despite the chance this gave to provide quality cycle lanes, or bus advantage corridors, or just a wider more attractive street. It is obvious, that a few fancy roading services are not going to stop these areas being heavily impacted by heavy traffic in the years ahead, including traffic trying to dodge impacted traffic on nearby arterial corridors,  such as cars using Colombo Street at Edgeware to avoid longer queues on Sherbourne [even 15 years ago when I had a car,  it was usually faster to get from St Albans to my son's school, Cashmere High School straight down Colombo Street than using the non-flowing smoothly Durham Street one way system!] 

Anyway this city will grow to be 500,000 and then a million people over the next century and Edgeware is sure to be one of the key higher density areas. And if public transport stays as minimal as now inner suburbs will be smothered with car queues most of the day, a combination of their own greater density and people from outer areas driving through them. A vital city centre relies upon quality rapid transit access - but this can also benefit inner suburbs along the way - offering residents fast access in either direction.

Putting Edgeware on busway linked to northern work zones such as Northlands, Airport OR Belfast, Rangiora etc AND to through to City, Addington, Middleton, etc is a superb way - strange as it may seem - to consolidating its central community hub at Edgeware itself.

This because quality commuter public transport systems attract intelligent commuters, in turn better paid and educated and more likely to invest in buying apartments, spend more in local shops, invest time  and energy on local school committees, sports clubs etc. And with less focus on cars streets are friendlier, streets are more interactive, community returns despite the massive destruction wrought by that steel monster the car.

An important face would be the Edgeware Parkway - a beautiful green river of trees and shrubs and facilities flowing from where the busway exits Caledonia Road - crossing Edgeware Road - and enters the area currently occupied by the derelict Edgware Pool Area, a large number of older houses, three older single storey Council Housing Complexes, a tennis club and some tight old fashion streets, before passing along the edge of the Massey Crescent SAM zone and emerging at Rutland Street.  This is an area crying out for redevelopment and in particular some quality three or four storey apartments. These could be built subtly placed in a big tree park like setting as well as rebuilding new council apartments. A new combination community sports hub and recreation hub incorporating outdoor and indoor tennis court, squash courts, a small open air family pool (for under tens essentially) slightly to one side of the present tennis club location, would allow room for a bus transfer station. This would offer enclosed waiting facilities and - east-west meets north-south routes transfers, between The Metrostar and 28 route and whatever mini orbital route replaces the currently unattractive 118 route, and access to a branded high frequency busway route, plus diverse express or limited stop peak hour only buses. Viewed from either Rutland Street or Edgeware Road end it would be a lovely graciously curving high quality sealed busway [only] lane snaking through an attractively landscaped area -  and a few metres to one side or other (or perhaps both) also a similar bike/skate and pedestrian way. 

Buses coming straight through from Northlands or Rangiora and Belfast, would come down Rutland Street, glide through the Parkway and down into the city via Caledonia and Durham Street, large numbers would pass through in peak hours, with the main (18 hour a day, 7 day a week) dedicated buses likely to be electric or hybrid, and articulated , running relatively quietly in these inner areas. Unlike Papanui Road or Cranford Street (still serviced by other routes) these buses would not fight traffic congestion or lights, all roading and signals being in their favour. Rather than "bus stops" they would have small stations with bus door level platforms about every kilometre apart and admission to express buses (by any of the three doors) only by Metrocard (pre)payment to the loading areas/enclosed lounge. Likely stations Rutland Park; Rugby Park; Massey Crescent; Edgeware. With a straight run and limited fast load stops, running times Belfast to city would be less than 15 minutes (at all times) and from Northlands a mere ten minutes. This is where public transport lifts itself out of the 1980s where it more or less is at the present (despite some added high tech features) and creates such a quick integrated movement network, that it really starts ti replace car use. Shopping and services in Northlands, Edgeware, City would vary greatly in style, but all be very accessible, whichever direction one came from. 

Yes,  it would involve the purchase and demolition or removal sideways or off site, of about 10-15 houses. Nothing like the several hundreds now taken for various Auckland projects -  but ALSO avoiding these far bigger Auckland type disruptions in 10-30 years time. There is a lot of knee-jerk about putting people out of house and home, but it is getting a bit passe when most people buy and sell houses every five or ten years, essentially as a form of making money/increasing their wealth along the way. Those dislocated get averaged out current value  and set sum for dislocation (usually $5000 I believe). But if prior investigation identified general criteria of genuine suffering - say for example some one more than 15 years in their house and over 65 who is clearly anchored in that neighbourhood, then social and financial support could be given to either relocate the house itself or the person in the same area. With Massey Crescent - avenues of huge trees on both sides of the road - I find them literally a bit over the top! -  some houses on the western edge might go, but essentially the Edgeware Parkway could pass along the back of most of them, utilising park areas to integrate these trees into the visual grandeur of the Parkway.

The suburban area of St Albans central  has good prospects to be a good solid, socially middling, sort of higher density, medium rise apartment area, with a lovely, slightly quirky  "personality centre" (Bailies Bar is a very solid, classy start to this sort of rebirth!), a local centre not "malled" to pieces by too many same-old same old-chain stores. And with a great community centre/sports hub/bus transfer station somewhere near the current Edgeware Pool site built alongside the gracious curving river green parkland, the smooth Parkway, more car parking nearer the shops. Mostly green and landscaped but including a short stretch of dedicated bus way and separated bike-skate- pedestrian tracks.  Unlike Abberley Park, which is a sweet wee thing of a park, but a little side-lined in location to Edgeware shops,  this Parkway would give Edgeware a spectacular immediately accessible GREEN HEART and relaxation area. Not least a corridor  one linking directly up into areas around Rutland Street, otherwise not directly connected, making Edgeware a far more true centre and village hub of the area.