Thursday, August 22, 2013

Innovative Bus Lane - Is it taking Christchurch into the future?

Above Redbus vehicle in the frontal livery known locally as "Homer Simpson Underpants" design.

I love the new bus queue-jumper turning lane in Montreal Street -  in fact it is a bloody miracle, given the exceedingly dismal level of growth in public transport infrastructure in Christchurch in the last decade. 

I doubt whether it is a world-first, but I have yet to come across a bus system, whereby a bus coming out of a centre lane cuts across the front of other turning traffic! 

As can be seen above buses come out of a central road lane, heading north up Montreal Street [a one way street] move ahead of other traffic turning (ie veering) left. It sounds dangerous but shouldn't be, working within a specific sequence of traffic signals. Cars turning left as well rely on an arrow which stays red as long as a bus is moving forward on the straight ahead signal and then peeling off leftwards into Victoria Street. Buses are the only vehicles allow to veer off to the left in this phase. Not sure what happens if forward moving lights are already green - do the signals read the situation (ie intelligent signals) and adjust the signal phasing?

Signs inform motorists heading for Papanui Road to continue up Montreal Street rather than use Victoria Street. [see photo below] Yeah right. 

If noticed. 

Ok the signage is piss week in size and stature and also being massively ignored (as far as I can see), not surprising in that it sounds tentative rather than authorative.  But maybe that is just a first step. I am not sure whether the planners are too uncertain of this system to be fully confident yet, or whether this is merely a temporary (medium term post quake recovery) exercise. Needless to say the Government  is unlikely to have picked the infrastructure tabs for a bus system in Christchurch.

Small sign or not I applaud the Council, Ecan or whoever for at last - at long last - moving to try to give active support to Christchurch bus user needs above those of motorists. 

Perhaps it is all part of some long term radical green city plan I have not heard of or missed! But before commenting on this I regret I have to add a bit of reality first to any kudos. Most of the advantage that buses gain at this intersection are lost within seconds as they run straight into the queue of cars are Victoria Street. And on average the buses then take about 6 minutes in idling traffic to reach Bealey Avenue, about 500 metres at most, this representing at least four or five traffic light changes!

If city planning continues in the current direction I imagine Victoria Street will be the most polluted street in Christchurch, with long queues of cars idling most of the day. And I am not sure this is anything to do with earthquakes, or if it is so, whether even longer and more constant queues will be the norm once the central city revives and there bring the inevitable huge increase in people in the CBD working, shopping, doing business etc.

The reason (at the moment anyway) is the reduced phasing of the north bound Victoria Street into Papanui Road traffic signal - I am told by a bus driver to only 19 seconds - barely enough time for half a dozen cars including a bus to get across.  The signal length for northbound traffic has been reduced to accommodate a new right turn arrow for southbound cars turning out of Papanui Road heading west towards Riccarton. 

And this reason is directly linked to what seems to me to be to three long term (non-earthquake related) traffic problems. The first of these is even though the city is expected to grow, 400,000, 500,000, 600,000 population etc over the coming decades and workplaces are increasingly decentralised there doesn't seem to be enough arterial roads. For instance to travel east-west from the north-side of the city, say St Albans towards Riccarton/ industrial areas/university/airport etc there are only Bealey Avenue -Harper Avenue; Innes Road-Heaton street; and QE Drive, that offer "straight through journeys".  

Every other journey path means a complex pattern of turning corners and travelling down roads that have been narrowed, have speed slowing humps, and landscaped berms all designed to convey a genteel elegance. A classic example is the number of cars feeding out of St Albans Street, briefly onto Papanui Road, then right into Rugby St [see photo] to get through to Rossall Street, and access either the various private schools in this block or to travel further west. This is a constant queue workday mornings, despite all the impediments to this flight-path.

I do wonder whether the Council, full of good-hearted people who like to please, has made an enormous noose around its neck by converting so many through roads to "landscaped neighbourhood", politically difficult to convert back to more straight forward through roads.  Has the emphasis been creating a  green, attractively landscaped suburban city to the extent this is a nonsense, when car usage makes such elegant road design of "quiet streets" everywhere unrealistic?  Has the city not been giving enough attention to creating a more comprehensive grid of through streets, as a necessity if it does not want to develop a rapid transit corridor strategy similar to those developed by Auckland and Wellington over a decade ago (and since funded around $2 billion by central Government)

The reason we are getting a rare added bus queue jumper lane from Montreal Street into Victoria Street may be less about a sudden new found commitment to really supporting bus users, than it is about the "unfair delays" suffered by cars turning right out of Papanui Road into Bealey Avenue and westwards. In other words knowing the absolute slowness of queues on Victoria Street, local government is creating a bus lane as a sort of compensation for long neglected bus passengers rather than a positive future facing pro-active support for public transport!

But if we are going to block off through streets and gentrify areas, then maybe Victoria Street is a good place to start. Indeed to be fair there might be some innovative plan afoot to convert Victoria Street to a southbound only (all traffic) and a northbound classy extended footpath area, with a bus/bike lane only running through to Bealey Avenue - all other northbound traffic being "Shopping Precinct only" and Dublin Street being a left in and left out intersection. All evidence points to buses being fully electric within a decade or so, so bus pollution (anyway less frequent) will be a thing of the past. Indeed hybrid buses - slipping past noiselessly in the inner areas - could be employed tomorrow if Government funded bus-based public transport with the same commitment they fund commuter rail - another $100 million plus for Wellington trains last month!

In a scenario like that above, this new bus queue jumper lane may be  just the beginning - and will indeed take Christchurch into the future. But don't hold your breath.


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