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. 


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