Travel Dreams

I’ve had dreams about travelling for the last two nights, and surprisingly enough I actually remember a reasonably decent amount from both dreams (or at least a feeling of what they were about, which I know will lead to more details as I think about them).

In the first dream, I was in Sydney. I think on a holiday that included (at least) Leila, Ella and my mum. We were out and about, and I think Leila and I had gone off on our own to some place, planning to meet back in a bit. We were at Central train station, I think waiting for a train to take us further into the city, but they weren’t turning up and the wait for the next train was forever. So we ended up taking a train out the other way (to the west) in order to hopefully hook onto another train that would eventually take us where we needed to get. When I think about it, perhaps we weren’t starting off at Central, but I know we were somewhere close to the centre of Sydney’s train network.

But anyway, the first station out from Central on the main line is Redfern. I always remember Redfern because Jannatun told me in no uncertain terms to NEVER get off the train at Redfern. Although, by the sounds of it, things have improved and it’s reasonably busy because uni students use the station all the time, Redfern is a bit of a dodgy spot. There were riots there a few years ago I think. But anyway, for some reason in this dream Leila and I did get off the train at Redfern. It seemed like an OK place, although I was aware of its reputation. We wandered over to the platform where our next train would come from and waited. I was a bit fearful for our safety after the train didn’t arrive for a while (I think in reality every train stops at Redfern to ensure that people don’t have to wait there for long!) There were kids playing everywhere, including all over the tracks. At times trains would emerge seemingly from a tunnel, the kids would rush out of the way and the train would pass through. I think once or twice Leila and I had to carefully pass over the tracks to change platforms in hope of a train arriving, but nothing happened.

Eventually a train did arrive, and we caught it (although it did seem like we were heading even further in the wrong direction). The train line then was really really weird, as though it had mutated into some sort of gondola to pass from one high-point on the landscape to the next. I guess to explain this more clearly, my memory from the dream is of looking down and not seeing the train tracks below us. It seems like the power supply lines above us were actually ‘holding up’ the train, in a similar sort of way to what you could expect from a gondola. Although this seems weird, I kind of accepted it, as you do in a dream, and thought it was a fairly quick way for trains to ‘jump’ over areas. We ended up getting off the train at Tempe, a rather randomly small station that I wasn’t sure actually existed until I rechecked it on Wikipedia a moment ago (I guess my subconscious memory of Sydney’s system isn’t bad). We waited around for ANOTHER train (this time really making an effort to finally head in the right direction for once) although at one point a local lady saw how far away the next train was, exclaimed how suckful that was, and wandered off.

Nevertheless, eventually we did indeed make it back to Central station, perhaps where the dream had started, or perhaps not. I stood looking at a picture of the Sydney train network that was on the station wall, trying to make sense out of it. It seemed to me like there weren’t really enough suburban lines, with most of the network being for inter-city lines. As my confusion mounted, I think I must have woken up.

Then last night my dream, I was going on another Europe-type holiday with Leila. However, this time we were WAY less organised. I had this general feeling that the plane was leaving tonight, and yet we hadn’t even got around to deciding where were we actually going (other than the flight, but even then it seemed like we’d booked tickets to London and booked tickets to New York City), let alone organising accommodation and transportation within the places we were to visit. As the dream unfolded, and as my stress levels began to rise with the realisation that it was going to be an enormous effort to get everything packed in time for the flight, we slowly put together something of an itinerary. It included visiting Leila’s relatives in northern England, parts of Germany and the Netherlands. Oh, and Madrid. Interesting to see where my subconscious seems to think I need to go.

The Public Transport User

I have found myself catching the bus or train a reasonable number of times recently. Whether’s it’s a trip to Newmarket for a movie, or going into town for a small part of my job recently, it has felt – in some ways – quite liberating to rid myself of the car and get back in touch with public transport. I guess my dream job is some sort of transportation planner who can magically remove Auckland’s car dependency and create the city an awesome public transport system, so it’s good in some respects for me to actually be out there experiencing what things are like at the moment, trying to think of ways they could be done better.

A couple of weeks ago when I caught the train back from the city to my work, it was obvious what the main problem was there: the train was horrifically, terribly slow. I know that there are a reasonable number of stations between Avondale and the city, but it really didn’t seem as though that was what was holding the train up at all. In the end, it just felt like it was a gutless piece of crap that we were riding on, one that could barely make it to 30 kph as it climbed out of Britomart towards Newmarket. Yet even when it possibly could pick up some speed: like the long gap between Mt Albert Station and Avondale station it still putted along like it was waiting for something. Perhaps another train was due to pass through the single-line section of track between Avondale and New Lynn (at least there’s a current project to fix that problem), but it just felt so infuriating and time-wasting to be just edging along on the train, when really the whole advantage of a train is that it doesn’t have to battle with other traffic and that it doesnt’ have to stop as often as a bus. From somewhere like Avondale, a train should be significantly faster in its journey to or from the city than any other means of transportation (I guess perhaps except the car if traffic is light).

I think in the end it did come down to the pathetic state of the current rolling stock (that train was a particularly gutless DMU unit), and also probably areas of track that aren’t up to standard, pathetic signalling, the remaining area of single-track between Avondale and New Lynn…. and so on. But perhaps most of all, it really highlighted to me how essential electrification is to Auckland’s rail future. The train we were on was seriously putting the foot down with a damn loud result as we edged our way up towards Newmarket. In an electric train, I felt we’d surely just zip up that hill in half the time it took on the DMU. The 10 minute trip to Newmarket could be halved to 5 minutes, the 25 minute trip from Britomart to Avondale could be reduced to 15 minutes. Heck…. 15 minutes! It took about 45 minutes to do that same trip on the bus just last night (that’s another story). You wouldn’t have a chance of getting from town to Avondale in 15 minutes at peak hour in a car so all of a sudden catching the train would be the obviously quickest way to get into the city for most people living along the western line (that scenario is already true for many on the eastern and southern lines). As I write this, I hear the enormous thunder of another deisel train head past (the train line isn’t too far away from me) and it just drives home another huge advantage of electrification: the quietness. If people are to be encouraged to live closer to train stations (so that it’s more likely they’ll actually catch the train) then we don’t want them annoyed to hell by the constant roar of a deisel locamotive or DMU as it struggles to pull away from the station. That’s just so 19th century.

But yeah, the other bugbear I’ve had with public transport lately has come from using the bus to get into the city 4-5 times in the last couple of weeks. I have no real problem with the level of service we have in this corner of Auckland: buses come every 15 minutes even during off-peak hours, while my study of peak hour buses along New North Road routes showed that there are often 2-3 minute frequencies in the morning peak: excellent by any standard I reckon. However, the big problem with buses is how damn long they take to get you to where you want to go. On New North Road this isn’t helped by the absense of bus lanes (not quite sure why they’ve never got around to them on this particular arterial, considering they’re on most other main roads that head into the city). However, even when the roads are flowing freely (which they generally have been doing in recent months thanks to higher petrol prices) the bus seems to take an age to get anywhere, simply because boarding times are so damn slow. Catching a peak hour bus out of the city at around 5pm last night really proved to me how pathetic the current system is at dealing with lots of people getting on the bus at one time. Even if most people travelling are using bus cards and the driver doesn’t need to handle money constantly, the system requires so much time to process just one passenger that if there are 20 queued up you end up just sitting there for 2-3 minutes. Multiply that by three or four major ‘pick-up’ stops in the city and it’s no wonder it took about 45 minutes to get from midtown out to Avondale.

I remember Sydney having a great solution to this problem. If you had a bus pass you just fed it into a little machine yourself, it beeped to say the pass was OK and you got on, no interaction with the driver at all. In fact, the machine was located on the opposite side of the entrance to the driver, so if one person was holding things up by searching through their bag for their wallet, and searching through their wallet for some change, people could continue to board, speeding things up enormously. In Rome I remember the buses had a machine at the front and the back, while also having entrances in three locations. This meant things were sped up enormously, a good thing as Rome’s buses were damn busy as a result of their rather undeveloped metro system.

I have heard rumours about smart-card systems coming to Auckland soon. I just hope that whatever ticketing system we have, it enables people to get on the bus a damn sight faster than what happens at the moment.

Ancien

OK well I guess it would make sense to start my description of little bits of my fantasy city with a description of where the city began, Ancien. The pink/purple lines are underground rail (well, where you can’t see a track underneath it).

Ancien

It will come as no surprise whatsoever that this part of the city was inspired by my Europe trip. Wandering around parts of Florence and Venice I realised that my city just HAD to have an old, ancient core. This ‘core’ of the city would be pedestrianised, like Venice, and have a huge number of tiny, little alleyways, as well a a few particularly amazing buildings. To make it seem a little bit more realistic that the place has survived to intact, and also to make the place stand out, there’s a large ‘city wall’ around it southern half.

So, if you were to emerge from Ancien station (near the A in Ancien) what would it all look like? Well, I think the buildings would definitely be pre-1800, and most probably a good while earlier than that in general. Stone medieval or rennaisance design, 3-4 levels high at most I would think. This area would probably be fairly touristy, but I would hope in a reasonably nice way. Souvenir shops, cafes and restaurants, I could definitely see the ground level of most of the streets being retail. This would mean the place would be pretty busy and crowded, but hopefully that would create a nice vibrancy rather than just being annoying. After dark, it could definitely be one of the city’s main entertainment districts, although perhaps more ‘classy restaurant and bar’ than ‘nightclubs and pubs’. Above the ground-floor retail there might be offices for funky creatives, plenty of accommodation: ranging from luxury down to hostel-type I would think. Overall, it would feel quite touristy, but at the same time it would retain its charm. The major attractions would obviously be the Castle Ancien and the Chatelet Basilica, although I can imagine the history of the city wall might be quite interesting too. Perhaps tourists could walk along the entire length of its various segments.

Because there are no vehicle roads in this part of the city (well at least not the core area) access would mainly be by foot, and also from the three metro stations that are within the ‘walled area’. Kensington Station, just to the north, is probably the busiest of the three main commuter rail terminals in my city, and would easily be within walking distance of this area.

Outside the walled area, the immediate surrounds would also be dominated by quite old buildings I think. However, amongst those buildings there would be some newer ones, and generally there wouldn’t be quite the same feeling you would get within the walled area (you’d feel like you were back in a modern city rather than feeling like you’ve gone back in time). There would be cars around too. However, although this is very central, I dont’ think there’d be many high-rise buildings around here. It is a heritage precinct and even the more modern buildings would have fitted in with this well. To the west, Central Park is a particularly large area of green-space, which would in parts resemble a forest, and in other areas have large open fields for general recreation. It acts as a definite western border to the CBD, and also as some ‘lungs’ for the city.

Mapping

As I think I’ve mentioned before on this blog, I have spent a reasonable amount of the last year creating an amazingly massive fantasy city, well at least a map of one. It started off because I thought I would scan in one of the old cities that I had drawn in an exercise book when I was between the ages of 11 and 14 (I think). That had been a pretty impressive city at the time, although obviously it had masses of flaws. But really, I just wanted to see how it would look all “stitched together” in photoshop as one big thing I could finally view in its entireity, rather than as a series of 1A5 pieces of paper in a book.

After I had scanned it all in, I set about fixing up things that were obviously wrong, where pages hadn’t matched up with each other, where there were just stupid errors and so on. Eventually I found myself enjoying this “patching” that I redrew whole parts of the city, and (after many many months) had actually redrawn the entire city, complete with what one might expect from my knowledge these days, rather than what it was like back in the early 90s when I first drew it. Obviously I have kept the original, because it has an awful lot of charm (and I still have the exercise book it was drawn in, for maximum authenticity. Since that time the city has grown far far bigger than what it was originally, and because I’m fussy there are parts that I have redrawn many many times over (generally in the central city).

Over the next while I’ll share various bits of the city, and describe how I think they’d work in real life. A lot of thought has gone into how this place would operate, and I hope everyone else will enjoy hearing about this place somewhere near as much as I’ve enjoyed creating it.

There’s a smallish version (3.2MB) of the CBD at 100% scale here, which is up to date as of July 15th. I don’t think I’ve messed with the CBD much since then. An overview of the entire city, as of July 15th as well, is shown at much smaller than 100% scale (I think around 16.7%) here. If you’re really brave there’s a 70MB 100% scale of the whole city as it looked on March 31st here. A lot has changed since that time though.

In general, I think my city would be located somewhere in the northern hemisphere (only because it’s largely south-facing and I wouldn’t want the population to freeze). At 100% zoom the document is 5.5m across and 3.0 top-to-bottom. That means, with a scale of around 1:12,500 (1cm = 125m), it’s around 69km across and 38km north-south. With about half of that area being actually developed (and not either forest or water), that’s about 2600 km2 of urban area. As the city’s quite old in many places, and has a fairly dense population, of perhaps around 3,500 people per square kilometre (London has 4,700), I would end up with a total of around 4.5 million people. So it’s a significant city!

I look forward to sharing more little bits of it in the future, with some more detailed explanations of what that area is like. It will probably help me create a more complete picture of it myself.