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.. 

Reminder - Clicking on most wording in bold will link to other sites


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