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

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