Thursday, December 26, 2013

"Think rail and build bus" - modern bus systems well advanced in parts of China

A bus rapid transit station in Chengdu, China. Modern bus technology if used well can deliver most the benefits of rail or light rail at a fraction of the cost, lower operating costs, greater frequency and more diverse spread of services.

A few years ago, watching TV I saw a a high ranking Chinese politician being interviewed (I think he was an associate minister of finance or something similar) on a BBC business programme. In response to a comment by the interviewer he said ( the best of my memory), "Oh no China is not trying to catch up with the western world, we are trying to jump ahead of it. We aim to try to learn from western mistakes and not repeat them."

China has many thousands of bus systems* and scores of commuter rail systems, a few underground metro systems but only a handful of light rail projects are planned. And indeed  these few appear to be less about glamour trams and more about lightweight gravel bed trains. By contrast where a rail corridor is not seen as appropriate, bus rapid transit systems, often of the most sophisticated kind and with substantial infrastructure, have been implemented. 

Chengdu with a metropolitan area population of 14 million has a full range of transport options the most recent a bus rapid transit system on a central suburbs orbital route, built on an elevated bus-only roadway. This busway opened this year and is expected to carry 300,000 passengers per day (clearly one doesn't have to have a rail based system to handle heavy loading if the right infrastructure and technology is applied).  
While Christchurch doesn't need elevated bus roadways, applying the principles of rail to buses  - a clear passage with minimum intrusion from shared and conflicting traffic and other modes - can lift main corridor bus services out of last century into what is virtually a whole new mode of transport, as the bus station in the photo above makes clearly evident. 

As the term "bus rapid transit" is a somewhat loose one - now often used by cities that do little more than build partial on-street bus lanes, the Institute for Transport and Development Policy - the leading international body promoting bus rapid transit - has introduced grading standards

These allows bus companies and operating authorities (and the general public) to measure what sort of commitment is being made to create best practice public transport systems. 

*According to World Bank figures, noted a few years back, China also has 294,000 inter-city bus companies. Phew!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Primary "Green Road" corridors suggested for Christchurch

The concept of a "Green Road" strategy as applied to Christchurch's two major traffic flow corridors - northwards and westwards. Indicative map only (busway does not pass through Paparoa School grounds!!).

Red lines = the four highly congested main arterial roads entering Christchurch from west (Riccarton Road; Blenheim Road) and North (Main North Road, dividing into Papanui Road;Cranford Street). Some conventional bus services, with or without, part time/part-way bus lanes will doubtlessly always run on these roads

Green Road services (see below) do not displace these existing services so much as build and channel major "trans-active" growth (cycling and bus travel) through new corridors. These primarily link outer suburbs directly to the city centre, by-passing major congestion. A secondary function is to facilitate easy movement around inner higher density suburbs on high frequency corridors.

Green Lines = Potential "Green Roads" linked roading corridors along which buses and cycles - usually on completely separate lanes - have priority and extensive supportive infrastructure and devices. On Green Roads the roading for cars is primarily related to accessing private homes or businesses, rather than through traffic, with some exits "left turn only etc. Reduced on-street parking - or specific residential or commercial visitor parking bays - rather than curbside would also be a feature on some sections.

Green Lines dotted = expansion in 20?40? years time - room for an underground bus or light rail tunnel under part of Hagley Park and under the rail line to link to Green road west. A cycle subway under the rail line from Brockworth Place could be built much sooner.

Blue Line = Northlands and Nor-West feeder route, not a Green Road beyond Northlands but with added infrastructure support for quality bus services, particularly "Express, via Edgeware" services

Dark Green (left hand side) = existing  rail corridor; any subsequent expansion into commuter rail would add further connections, not compete or render obsolete the suggested Green Road corridors


Most of these Green Roads would be on existing streets upgraded to create superior smooth (and vibration free) roading surfaces to carry buses, including potentially (as patronage grows over time) articulated "bendy buses" or three axle double decker buses.  Potential exists too for all-electric or hybrid buses greatly reducing noise. 

The fact that buses given more or less continuous right of way on their passageways would offer very quick journeys without needing to speed or accelerate fast. Add in special landscaping and some residential buffering and small park zones and throngs of cyclists and this would create a scene often  busy yet one leisurely in spirit.

Most of these Green Roads would be along existing streets but (importantly) along minor arterial and feeder roads where bus services and cyclists are not competing against huge volumes of conventional traffic and where bus and cycle lanes do not actually add to the congestion and road space reduction or fight other uses such as shop front parking.

However the key factor that makes these Green Roads viable is the "cut throughs" - the linking together of existing streets by new infrastructure and/or parkway boulevards that only active and public transport vehicles can use. Some of these involve public land, others require some property purchase. Some like the land around the Cranford Basin, below, has already been purchased for motorway, with ample room to include a completely separate busway (here shown red) skirting the area and crossing over Cranford Street. Adding together northern suburbs built and planned and rapidly growing satellite towns at Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Pegasus and Woodend, probably already 50,000 plus people stand to benefit from this smooth pleasant and quick access to Central Christchurch

It takes political courage to say the long term needs of the city and to relieve congestion must inevitably involve some purchase of private property (with an added compensation) but the areas in the way of these proposed "cut throughs" - on both west and north Green Roads are almost entirely older stock single story rental housing in areas that are anyway likely to be rebuilt as two or three storey apartment blocks within the next decade or two. It will also be much more difficult, politically as well as financially, to rebuild these neighbourhoods to retrofit transit corridors in a few years, and likely to lead to far less attractively planned solutions.

With property purchase comes great opportunity to foster better local community infrastructure, parkways and native bird conservation corridors, enhanced community facilities and new attractive transit linked housing at all social and income levels. Some of the projects could be joint public-private, such as redeveloping the South side of Maxwell Street to apartment blocks, deliberately designed to minimise impact of bus lanes below.

The Green Road projects as shown here might run up to $150 million in total (including some residential enhancement etc) but this seems to me a a very appropriate level of technology, spending etc for a city of Christchurch size, even as it protects corridors for future use. This might include possible later conversion to a light rail system, though the huge cost of these (averaging $56 million per km) makes these currently patently unsuited to such a small city and our rather modest GDP per capita by western economy standards.

In contrast I believe any serious international traffic consultancy study would show the cost-benefit ratios and multiple spin-offs inherent in this "Green Road" (bus and cycleways) suggestion represent a far better return on investment than the rather mediocre bus stations and squashed in low standard bus lanes that form the core of present infrastructure policy. Good transport shapes cities!!

It is also  reasonable and appropriate that Christchurch model its 10 year public transport infrastructure around a budget of at least around $250-300 million - a relatively modest amount, mostly funded by national taxes (reclaiming some small part of our own local fuel taxes) and something quite apart from earthquake recovery funds. This is a more than realistic amount viewed against a minimum  $1 billion (plus) spend-up in Wellington (adding the central spine decision, busway or light rail, to the $700 million commuter rail upgrade of last decade) and $4 billion plus spent or planned  in greater Auckland.on public transport.

Why should public transport in Christchurch a city almost a third the size of Auckland, and only slightly smaller in population be treated in the obscene, amateurish, miserly and ad hoc way that it is currently planned?

Where is the wider vision?? 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Riccarton Road and Quality bus stations - level thinking needed in Christchurch?

Photo: NZ in Tranzit 2010

This is a quality bus station, at Albany on the Northern Busway in Auckland.  The then city Council for the area - North Shore City (now amalgamated with Auckland City), governing a population only three quarters the size of Christchurch (290,000) paid $84 million dollars for fours such bus stations. This investment in busways has seen spectacular growth of patronage on the Northern busway which has virtually doubled ridership expectations, in the five years since completion achieving 2.3 million passenger trips per year. This is even more than Christchurch's highly successful Orbiter was carrying before the quake  A $550 million extension of this busway- mainly taxpayer funded - supported by NZTA is expected to begin construction in the next two years.

Regarding the photo above - note the door level -  and level  bus - internationally now considered a defining hallmark of A-Class quality bus rapid transit systems. 

Photo: NZ in Tranzit 2013

This is the current situation in Riccarton, Christchurch, in-stops (city bound). Both sides of Riccarton Road have a considerable camber, and it is not uncommon for elderly people (in particular) to find entering a bus with a sloping floor somewhat hair-raising, and for people of all ages to occasional stumble backwards. 
This is not a quality bus service, and the Christchurch City Council it appears will have considerable logistic engineering problems, to restructure the roading and footpaths to achieve safe, comfortable and attractive entry to buses, and also meet existing shop doorway entry levels. 

It is amazing indeed that OSH can consider such a steep tilted accessway, used by jostling crowds of all ages, and vulnerable people with age or physical disabilities or carrying shopping, or pregnant etc as acceptable. And has the Council scoped this work and calculated the real cost in remedying this situation, the time and disruption and loss of business to Riccarton Road shopkeepers?

It need hardly be said where buses run on lanes along steeply cambered roads, in gutter-side bus lanes as they do at some points in the current bus system, the sensation of falling off one's seat in to the aisle, or onto the stranger sitting beside one is not considered quality bus travel by most people. 

NZ in Tranzit sees a better way to create quality public transport corridors - by adopting overseas best practice strategies. In these cases falling back on bus priority and on-street lanes is done only when other more effective choices are not available. Preference should be given to creating entirely segregated "bus arterials" where road space is predominantly devoted to - separate - physically segregated bus lanes and off-road cycle lanes . 

To recognise their equal status with the grossly over valued automobile NZ in Tranzit calls these "Green Roads" .  On such roads camber would be minimal and the mini bus stations (rather than stops) have door level loading.

There is ample opportunity - at least currently, perhaps not tomorrow - to build such a segregated busway corridor through "central" Riccarton - with a very sophisticated bus interchange in Maxwell Street - and to do so for less than the cost of two of the bus stations built by North Shore City. 

But it all depends upon a city leadership able to build public transport infrastructure at an appropriate level for a city the size and wealth of Christchurch with in the New Zealand context. 

NZ in Tranzit believes the $6 million Government funding allocated for our premier Western Transport Corridor is absurd, trivial, debased, an insult - measured against hundreds of millions given to Auckland and Wellington, not least the better part of $170 million given for Wellington's Matangi trains only months ago. 

Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee and the National Government are milking Canterbury fuel taxes for hundreds of millions to send to Auckland and Wellington, while Gerry keeps his foot tightly placed on the jugular and airways of Christchurch city. 

This is blocking the realistic funding base for a proper rapid transit system - rail and/or busway corridors. 

Even before the earthquake the central city was strangulating under congestion - easier to shop at a suburban mall etc Only mostly segregated public transport corridors that deliver thousands of people quickly and easily right into the heart of city, even those from the outermost suburbs, can really create a vital alive city. Bus lanes are mostly elastoplast, not many will get out of bed for a two or three minute faster bus ride, but attractive modern busways build cities.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Bus shelters attractive to passing motorists - less than fully effective for bus users?

The upgrade of the bus stops and cycle lanes on Ilam Road, outside the University of Canterbury, present an attractive image, designed in a way sympathetic to the impressively large trees that line the road.

Despite giving bus services a more attractive profile, in real terms (and in university terms) NZ in Tranzit believes these changes bring few extra benefits for actual bus users

Under the new regime the number of seating spaces has been increased by 50% or total seating for about 15 people, on each direction, more if going cheek to cheek with strangers on a bench seat is your thing. 

The area has been tiled, and also offers a better level surface. Unfortunately a rather thoughtless and narrow cycleway has been  built far too close, immediately behind the shelters, a sure recipe for accidents and near misses, especially with less cautionary energies of the more youthful.

Mixing cycleways, bus passengers and pedestrians - too close for sensible comfort or safety?

Unfortunately, too, the Ilam Road university stop us served by two cross town routes and two city suburban routes is probably the single busiest passenger loading zone in the city without some form of overhead veranda protection (including shop verandas), extensive windbreak or inside covered shelter.  

In term time - essentially the colder half of the year - scores of  passengers - students, university workers, transfer passengers - that crowd this area will be left unprotected from the elements.  

The failure to design some attractive greater wind-block shelter from the colder winds and overhead roofing from sudden down pours, hailstorms, snow, and persistent wetting drizzle is obscure. 

However uncomfortable walking to a bus stop may be in bad weather, at least the movement keeps the body warm. In contrast standing waiting at a stop without proper shelter can be almost unbearable. very exposed to cold or wet or both.

Why claim you are trying to attract people out of cars, reduce congestion, address the rapidly escalating climate change etc and treat bus user needs with such obvious distain?  The bus shelter is as much a part of the journey as the bus itself.

It is obscure too why the university itself would not make some of land immediately adjoining the stop, the treed embankment, in the top photo, available - one would think universities at least would support any move to create more sustainable transport infrastructure. 

One can only suspect busism at work here! Had this been a new tail or light rail facility no expense would have been spared in getting door level loading and more adequate or enclosed waiting facilities. 

Last Sunday's summer rain at the temporary central bus interchange.  Capacity for shelter from the storms and colder winds that will not be available at the busy term-time university stop!

I have said before and will continue to say our society is rank with "busism" - the transport equivalent of racism or sexism, that sees bus users as inferior or unimportant and only warranting token support.  

In the same way that certain ethnic groups or women in general were so long cheated off adequate resources to advance -  and then judged intrinsically "inferior" -  bus systems are continuously cheated off the massive investment that rail and light rail receives and then deemed incapable of delivering quality service. 

Most of the cycleway facilities in this Ilam Road rebuilt - see below - seem a major step forward for cyclists around this busy area. 

It is a pity that political commitment to building quality bus infrastructure didn't go further than the (business as usual) mere tokenism and really seek to lift bus use onto a new level.

Cyclists protected from opening car doors and a rather generous footpath north of the bus zone.
Below - attractive, quality, bus waiting facilities in Hangzhou China (Photo Karl Fjellstrom ITDP)

More on the humble street side bus infrastructure at this posting (despite the extremely dry subject much to this blogster's surprise one of the enduring favourites amongst NZ in Tranzit readers - almost 3000 page views in in last three years).