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Christchurch to use Auckland’s old trains?

As the new electric trains roll out over the coming year or so, a question we don’t know the answer to is what will happen to the old diesel trains Auckland no longer needs. Of course we will need to retain a few to run services between Papakura and Pukekohe until that section can also be electrified (which is hopefully soon) but the rest of the fleet will have no use. For some time the most likely option has been that they would be sold off, probably to a Southern African country like some of the old trains from Wellington were. One of the reasons for this thought is that while many people have had suggestions about using them in other parts of NZ to start services, there was no serious talk from other regions about starting rail services.

That could all change with the Envrionment Canturbury commissioners voting today on whether to investigate a starting a rail service from Rangioria to Christchurch. It’s a response to chronic congestion caused by the so much development occurring north of the city following the earthquakes.

Commuter rail services between Christchurch and North Canterbury are on the cards after pressure from frustrated drivers.

Environment Canterbury (ECan) commissioners have been asked to approve up to $20,000 for an investigation into short-term passenger rail as a way to help alleviate the congestion into the city along the northern corridor.

The report said ”numerous enquiries” had been received from the public on the potential to use the existing rail track from the Waimakariri district.

Commissioners will decide tomorrow.

There is a chance also to buy old rail stock from Auckland Transport, which is upgrading to electric trains.

Traffic along the northern corridor has reached crisis point with  buses recording 22 minutes from the old Waimakariri Bridge to the Chaneys off-ramp 1.2 kilometres away.

The growth has been attributed to the effects of the earthquakes.

Waimakariri District Council data now predicts nine years historical growth in just three.

There’s bound to be decent number of potential users of such a service. According to Stats NZ there are about 50,000 people in the Waimakariri District and more than half of those are in Rangiora, Kaiapoi, Woodend or Pegasus. Further as mentioned the area is growing fast thanks to the earthquakes pushing a lot of development away from the city.

From Rangiora to Christchurch it is approximately 30km which is about the distance that Papakura is from Britomart. Kiwirail’s Coastal Pacific service that travels between Christchurch and Picton (only in Summer) does that journey in around 24 minutes nonstop which is a fair bit faster than the hour and forty minutes mentioned in this article on the proposal. In reality it would be a bit slower than that due to needing to stop in places like Kaiapoi if it went ahead. The tracks also pass through some significant residential areas of Christchurch itself.

Christchurch Rail

The biggest problem would be what to do with a train once it got to Christchurch. Like Auckland used to have, the nearest tracks are some way from the CBD and from the northern suburbs would require a Newmarket style end change. There are plenty of other issues too but I’m sure they’re ones that can be solved if there was a desire to do so.

ADDINGTON

There’s a missing leg to the junction.

 

If ECAN do decide to go through with a plan to trial some rail services it could end up following a very similar pattern to what happened in Auckland. The city has had some grand plans for light rail but can’t get any political support, at the same time there is rail infrastructure sitting in place but being largely overlooked by those in charge. Using some hand me down rolling stock to get services running patronage can be built up till future more substantial and upgrades can be justified.

If the online poll on The Press’ site is anything to go by, it’s certainly a popular idea with over 90% of all votes in favour of it. I would bet that Gerry Brownlee is unlikely to be one of those happy with the idea though.

Update, they voted to investigate it

Environment Canterbury commissioners have agreed to investigate commuter trains to and from the Waimakariri to help alleviate traffic congestion.

It is one of the options being investigated by a group led by New Zealand Transport Agency southern director Jim Harland.

The draft report is to be completed by June 13 and the final report earmarked to the council chief executive group by June 30.

ECan staff said it was a short-term solution for the six years it would take to complete motorway upgrades.

Is our transport model flawed?

This story from The Press caught my attention the other day.

Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) boss believes Christchurch’s public transport model is “flawed” and is lobbying the Government for change.

In a letter to then Local Government Minister Chris Tremain in January last year, Dame Margaret Bazley writes about how public transport sits between councils, and should be addressed at a national level.

The letter, released to The Press under the Official Information Act, states: “The current model for delivery of integrated and effective public transport is flawed in Christchurch in particular. We have signalled our support to the minister of transport for a review of public transport arrangements.”

I think the fact that ECAN is controlled by government appointed commissioners rather than elected officials leads people to think that this suggestion is automatically about trying to damage PT in Christchurch and that comes through in the comments a bit but reading further, I actually agree with ECAN.

In Christchurch, responsibility for the provision of public passenger transport lies with ECan, but the responsibility for providing the infrastructure to support public transport, such as bus stops, shelters, and interchanges, rests with the city council, which has caused some tension.

However, hundreds of emails between the staff from both organisations, released under the Official Information Act in a separate request, show they appear to be working together, with the differences occurring at the governance level.

ECan commissioner Rex Williams, who is in charge of public transport, agreed it was a flawed model.

A review would most likely be done in “due course”, he said.

“It’s not urgent. We should be able to get around it,” Williams said. “All we have to do it work together and commit to the policy instead of veering off with other stuff.”

He hoped the two organisations would be able to communicate better at a governance level.

Any review of public transport would have to take place nationally, and would be unlikely for a couple of years, Williams said.

During last year’s budget-setting process, ECan lobbied the city council to put aside $18 million a year for the next three years for public transport infrastructure, but $8.4 million was included in its budget.

In a written submission at the time, Bazley said ECan was unhappy with the level of funding from the council.

“The absence of any significant capital expenditure to improve the operation of public transport over the next three years reinforces our view that the city council no longer seems committed to a viable future for public transport in Christchurch,” she said.

The problem really stems from the fact that the organisation that controls the PT network is different from the one that controls the roading network. The best plans for PT mean nothing if the road owner won’t do anything to support them.  For example if ECAN want a bus stop added in but the council don’t want to do it then it doesn’t happen and getting bus lanes added can be a whole other level of difficulty.

The reality is this issue is not just one that is faced by Christchurch but by every city in NZ with the exception of Auckland. The problem exists due to the local body structure that we have and I assume the primary reason for putting public transport under the control of the regional body was to address the likes of Wellington and the old separate Auckland councils where there were multiple councils within a single urban area.

Auckland used to suffer this fate with the old ARTA setting plans for PT but it being reliant on individual councils to put in infrastructure like bus stops and bus lanes. For this reason it is perhaps even the more surprising that we managed to get the bus lanes we did on roads like Dominion Rd. Of course the creation of Auckland Transport was intended to be able to cut through these types of issues as well as the through the political impediments to change however oddly that didn’t help with the creation of more bus lanes until recently.

Overall I agree with what ECAN are saying. As we start to build a greater appreciation of the importance PT plays in the transport system in our cities then the current way it is set up simply isn’t going to work.

The new Christchurch bus interchange

In Christchurch, CERA have released plans for the new central city bus interchange and it looks like it will be a nightmare. They say

From the second quarter of 2015, Christchurch bus users will enjoy a state-of-the-art Bus Interchange in the heart of the city.

Bounded by Tuam, Colombo and Lichfield streets and SOL Square, it has been designed to meet the needs of customers – both now and in the future – and to integrate with its urban location and the existing public transport network.

On opening, the Bus Interchange will handle up to 115 bus movements per hour and by 2041 it will be used by about 7,500 people per hour.

It will cost $53 million and they also say it will include other development opportunities, provide easy access to the ‘slow core’ of the CBD that is being prioritised for pedestrians, includes cycle storage but also carparking (which is odd as they say the bus interchange is about trying to encourage PT use to get to the city.

The interchange is being designed by Warren and Mahoney along with Aurecon but I can’t help be feeling that the design is focused too much on how the interchange looks and not how it will actually operate.

And here’s the top down view.

The design seems incredibly impractical for a bus interchange, it looks more like an intercity terminus. Here are some of the issues with it.

  • Due to the internal roundabout it uses an incredible amount of space for what is only 16 platforms. Some island platforms could probably cut down the land requirement substantially which would have left more land available for development.
  • Due to how deep the sawtooth platforms are, buses will need to be reversing quite far to be able to get on to roundabout. That presents two major problems.
    1. There’s a pedestrian crossing to the island (not sure what’s on it) but it’s squeezed between the sawtooth platforms – which will probably be busy with passengers. Even worse is it will require buses to reverse over the crossing. Let’s just say that’s far from ideal and quite a safety hazard.
    2. On the South-western side it will mean reversing buses will block the entrance to the interchange, again another potential safety hazard.

This design gets even stupider seeing as ECANs proposed bus network in their 2012 Regional Public Transport Plan has buses through routed through the CBD, not terminating in it.

Christchurch RPTP Bus network

I much prefer this concept shown a while ago

Christchurch bus interchange early concept

It’s also worth highlighting this video from then the plans were launched a few days ago. Skip to 11:50 to here Gerry Brownlee saying such things as

“The concept of discrete shops, laneways and open space is very much a winner with the Canterbury public” (Gerry it’s not just those in Canterbury who like that).

“Public transport is very very important, people will know that in the CBD we’re looking at some slower speed restrictions, but part of that is to encourage public transport as much as possible”

From the Ground Up: Rebuilding Christchurch as a Sustainable City

Dr. Susan Krumdieck is an energy researcher and a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Canterbury. I met her earlier this year at the 2013 NERI Energy Conference, where she gave a spoken presentation and was listed as an author for five different posters being presented!

Susan argues that the current recovery and growth strategies for Christchurch, put in place since the earthquakes, are taking the city down the wrong path. For example, the  Land Use Recovery Plan (LURP) “is a short sighted and dangerous plan for the city in several ways: it puts the cohesion of the city at risk, pulling the people from the city center, it will be very expensive to build, and people will lose a lot of money in property that will not give a return on their investment”.

The LURP seems likely to be ratified today, although things seem to be complicated

Working with other researchers, Susan has proposed an alternate growth plan for Christchurch: “to redevelop within the city in a way that would re-energize the city, boost the economy and provide affordable housing”. In particular, the team suggested more intensive redevelopment of the Riccarton area as a way of beginning this process.

Susan has put together a couple of videos explaining her team’s proposals. The first one, below, is four minutes long and a pretty good introduction to her take on the situation.

The second one, below, is a 48 minute public seminar, and goes through the Christchurch situation and the researchers’ proposals in more detail.

Note that both videos, if you open them in Youtube rather than here on the site (click the “Youtube” button in the lower right of the video screen), have notes and comments which explain a bit more. In brief:

The ‘From the Ground Up’ project had the simple objectives of developing a plan to house 15,000 people within the urban boundary in a way that provides a rate of return on investment over 10% for developers, provides warm, low-energy sustainable housing for 20,000 people across the spectrum of income levels, which can adapt to zero oil-based transport and which can drive development of urban infrastructure like electric trams and the central city. The project used a methodology based on science, engineering, and research of best practice. The project resulted in a plan for “New Riccarton” a re-build of an old suburb into a new urban area with all the amenities.

We’ll hopefully be hearing more from Susan in the future – perhaps including some guest posts.

Christchurch Central City Transport Plan

Yesterday the government announced the formal transport plan for the Christchurch central city which is one of the parts to the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan. I’ve had a brief look through the plan and I must say that overall, it isn’t too bad. You can read the plan here. It appears that one of the key actions has been to prioritise streets for different modes instead of trying to make all streets do all things for everyone. I think that this is a good strategy and something that should be thought about for Auckland too. Here is the plan showing all modes.

Christchurch central city plan

One of the central themes to the plan appears to be about making it easier to get around the city by walking and cycling while reducing the impact from cars. One of the key parts to this is that the inner part of the central city will have the speed limit reduced to 30km/hr and the document also says that it will be more than just putting up some signs as the streets will be designed to reinforce the speed limits through streetscape upgrades. The outer zone will remain at 50km/hr although they say some of the residential sections will be managed with lower speed limits to “fit with the surrounding environment”.

Christchurch central city speed limits

Overall that seems very positive and Auckland could perhaps learn something. Queen St has a 30km/hr speed limit but that is the only street to have one in the CBD (although the shared spaces help to encourage people to drive slower.

Walking

One thing I like is how the plan frequently talks about the need for the central city to be people friendly to encourage people to once again visit the central city. I couldn’t agree more as it is people that buy things, not cars. In the core (inside the red dotted line on the image above) the plan talks about how some streets will be pedestrian focused either by being pedestrian only or becoming shared spaces. The plan also mentions that additional walking connections will be encouraged through the introduction of laneways (and they will be required in the retail precinct). The walking plans all sound really good however the key will be how they implement them.

Cycling

Like the walking section, there are a lot of positive aspects about this plan with it even talking about having some physically separated cycle lanes in some places (although just how many will be like this is still to be decided. The plan also talks about providing more cycle facilities around the city and requiring developers to provide cycle parking (this is happening in Auckland as part of the Unitary Plan). It even talks about the how cycling parking needs to be provided at the bus depot and at some of the major stops to enable people to combine cycling and PT.

Main Streets

Victoria and Colombo Streets which both extend outside of the slow zone will have the 30km/hr speed limit imposed and the plan says that they will be redeveloped to prioritise walking and cycling while the parts that have PT on them will have that PT priority measures included. Here is an image of what the change may look like.

Before

After

If the after image is what actually happens then that’s a nice change.

Public Transport

The plan talks quite a bit about the bus interchange however it only says that bus priority will be provided on streets where necessary which seems a bit weak. In saying that it appears that Manchester St will get a physically separated central busway for about 600m as shown in the image below. For most of the city the bus network has been consolidated onto two way streets to make it easier for users to understand – except for in the south of the city.

Christchurch central city plan central busway

Car Travel

As mentioned earlier one of the great things about the plan is that central part of the city will have the speed limit reduced to 30km/hr which should really help improve safety and comfort for pedestrians. However one disappointment is that the two way system will be retained with the exception of northern pair of Salisbury and Kilmore. The plan also says the roads “will be enhanced over time as needed to cater for increased traffic volumes.” That doesn’t really sound ideal and seems more about moving as many cars as possible improved only by the fact there is a lower speed limit so time will tell if they live up to the promise of being more friendly for everyone. Here is a before and after from the document showing Montreal St which appears to have been narrowed and had decent chunks of parking removed.

Before

After

Parking

The last section I will look at is parking and there appear to be some good things here too. The plan says the amount of on street parking will likely reduce overall due to many of the previously mentioned plans. In the core the parking will be focused on serving the disabled, deliveries and short term parking. Within the zone parking maximums have also been applied to try and reduce the amount of vehicles that need to travel through the more pedestrian focused areas. Public parking will be managed through initiatives like time of use and variable pricing. The plan also talks about how the preference is for any off street car park to have active street frontages which should hopefully reduce some of the impact of parking buildings.

Conclusion

All up there are some very positive things for Christchurch in this plan and some that would be good to use elsewhere. For example it would be great if we could a 30km/hr speed limit across the Auckland CBD. What’s perhaps even more positive is that Gerry Brownlee has been talking up how important it is for the city to be friendlier for pedestrians and cyclists.

Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Minister Gerry Brownlee says reducing the speed limits of Christchurch’s inner-most streets will provide for a more people-focused environment in the redeveloped city.

The new 30km per hour limit is a significant factor in the Christchurch Central Recovery Plan transport chapter “An Accessible City,” released today, which explains the transport system which will support the new compact CBD core.

“Overall we are trying to make the central city as attractive as possible for people to come in and shop, socialise and live, and I’m confident executing this plan will help meet that goal,” Mr Brownlee says.

And you can even hear him saying it will encourage more pedestrians and cyclists in this piece from TV3.

I must say, it’s really nice to be able to talk positively about a government announcement on transport for once. If only it happened more often.

How much sprawl in Christchurch?

We tend to focus on issues related Auckland however a recently a video from the NZTA caught my attention. The main purpose of the video is to show some very pretty animations of what stage 2 of the Christchurch Southern motorway will look like. The project is part of the Chistchurch RoNS and is currently going through the Environmental Protection Authority process to get consent, it’s open for submissions. I guess the video was put together for to help show the impact.

I don’t know enough about the project to say if it is needed or not so won’t comment on that aspect. What struck me in the video is the amount of sprawl that is suggested will occur over the next 30 years. This is highlighted as occurring in Rollerston, Lincoln and Prebbleton. Showing each area separately helps to reduce the impact but when you look at the the areas shown, you see they all merge together forming one large continuous mass in an area that it appears would almost rival Christchurch for size. Here are the images I’m referring to:

Chch video Rollerston

Chch video Lincoln

Chch video Prebbleton

Now perhaps the video is just trying to show the potential area where growth could occur but if that is the case then it just seems sloppy. If that much land is actually planned for growth then I am very very worried for Christchurch and it would be another case of them making many of the same mistakes Auckland has made.

The NZTA have also put this video out showing what the road may look like from the drivers seat. Do they really have that much money floating around for crap like this? Silly question, of course they do.

Disconnection by Design: The Christchurch Plan

 “What is the City but the people”  Shakespeare, Coriolanus

Out of the tragedy of the earthquakes there are opportunities to improve what was, in truth, a struggling CBD in Christchurch. In one critical area it is not clear that this is being taken. Perhaps amidst the ruin and suffering there has been an understandable tendency to gloss over the city’s preexisting problems, a natural urge to idealise what has been lost. But as a reasonably regular visitor there before the quakes it was very clear to me that this was a city with a very big problem, a big and increasingly damaging hole in the heart of it; an emptying centre. The city was becoming a classic ‘Doughnut City’, our very own little Detroit: all sub and a declining urbs. A centre that was largely being treated as little more than an impediment to quick driving between identical big box retail malls in the suburbs that encircle it.

It is also likely that this problem will return unless it is addressed directly in any reconstruction. And as there is a clear desire to rebuild a centre to the city it is important that everything is done to make it succeed and prosper. How then to address this? Why has this been such a problem in Christchurch?

It’s pretty easy to see that spread is a risk for a city without the natural containment of say Wellington with its steep hills and roiling seas on all sides to help keep it compact, or the squeeze of our harbours in Auckland. Which means that even more attention needs to be given to keeping dispersal to a level that doesn’t damage the viability of the city.  After a national transport policy over the last half century or so that consciously or not promoted spread [and continues today] and local additions like the place-ruining one way system through the old and charming centre and you get a city under threat of losing its locus.

But perhaps the biggest disaster to strike Christchurch last century, and one narrowly avoided in Auckland, was the removal of the University out to a greenfields site at Ilam. Tertiary education provides a vitality and a sheer number of economically engaged people year after year that no casino, convention centre, or sports ground ever will. Those amenities, while sometimes productive, are about occasional visitors and when poorly designed, especially when they are supplied with oceans of carparking, often do irreparable damage to a city centre. This model actively encourages the suburban or out of town visitor to enjoy the main act and then quickly retreat back to their source rather than engage more deeply with the host place.

While it isn’t practical to move the whole university back to the centre I certainly expected new plans for Christchurch to take the opportunity to tie the University back to the CBD with a new and direct transit link. The core of a new system of movement designed to liberate the condensed city centre from auto-dependency while adding the necessary human vitality. Not only to relieve the city of the burdens and costs of having to accommodate large numbers of cars that will be the result if driving remains the primary system of movement, but also so that it can truly meet the stated aims of the people as expressed here [page 21 of the plan], and claimed to be ‘reflected in the plan’:

From the community’s responses, five key changes formed the basis of the draft Central City Plan:

1. Green city
2. Stronger built identity
3. Compact CBD
4. Live, work, play, learn and visit
5. Accessible city

These changes are reflected in this Recovery Plan.

A key to making these five aims real would be to make damn sure that the first lines drawn on any page are direct and effective transit links between key sources of vitality and the centre that they are trying to revive. And then of course to continue to design the arrangement of new generators of activity around direct and appealing means of interconnection. That successful land use and good transport links go together is pretty elemental planning.

And with the devastation of the quakes there is the best opportunity the city will ever have to identify and protect efficient and integrated new transport routes for the rest of its future. Buses will clearly be the best immediate mode to use this new system as they can quickly and cheaply be reintroduced and levels of service ramped up as the rebuild continues. But to not plan for the possibility of upgrading to more appealing and permanent electric systems on key routes such as out to the university and the coast would be singularly short sighted. But the key is the network, the system, not the mode; and in the plan released yesterday there is no sign of any thought about the role that transport plays in in both forming place and the success or otherwise of it. Identifying and branding a direct university and city connector and making sure that its fast and frequent, and even free for student pass holders, should be there for starters. And it, like all transit routes should not terminate away from the new city’s attractions.

Here’s the plan. It looks like half a plan; no integration between land use and transit. A total reliance on the previous systems of movement that have so contributed to the city’s hollowing out. So the new building forms may well be 21st century but the city pattern will be from the 1950s. Even the destructive one way system may be back:

CHCH Central Recovery Plan

The one piece of transport infrastructure is a bus interchange station, with no indication of routing or integration with any other new amenity. Except it is, I note, handy to the courts. After a page on cycling separation including this sole mention of the university:

Christchurch City Council has expressed a desire to develop a cycle route between the University of Canterbury and central Christchurch. It would stretch across Hagley Park and Deans Avenue, west to the university campus.

There is this page on the Bus Interchange followed by a page on Car Parking which unfortunately looks like the real key to the authors’ thinking about transport; they want lots of convenient yet discrete parking and buses whose movements are kept to a minimum [!?]:

CHCH Bus Interchange

 

Of course all that convenient but expensively hidden parking will mean a great deal of driving, and therefore wide multilane roads, not narrower human scaled streets. This is addressed nowhere in the 120 pages. Is this want the people of Christchurch said they wanted? Where is the planning for light rail that was often mentioned? Surely here is a chance to spend on a new dynamic and inspiring piece of infrastructure instead of losing that money to vast quantities of carparking structures? While there is hope for a vastly improved commitment to new cycling infrastructure; surely a no-brainer for such a flat city, this is a plan to rebuild exactly what was a big contributor to Christchurch’s pre-quake problem, the opportunity offered by the devastation is being missed, this is auto-dependency by design; green building set in an anti-green city. A very big shame and a very big risk to the vitality and therefore the success of the new Christchurch.

Guest Post: The Christchurch Bus Exchange

This is a Guest Post by William Stewart 

When I first moved to Christchurch after leaving Auckland in 2004, I was amazed by what was then to me, the best execution of public transport I had ever seen. The biggest barriers to me in using public transport have always been ease of use, comfort and affordability.

No-one’s going to use a bus system which is complicated, illogical and difficult to find out which bus route to travel on or where to catch your bus. The core of the system in Christchurch was the Central Bus Exchange, a staging area through which almost all buses (excepting the Orbiter outer ring service) in the city were routed through. Having all the bus stops in (or beside) one building meant that transfers were easy, that you didn’t have to walk far to get between stops and the easy to understand maps helped visitors and new PT users find their bus stop. Compared with Auckland’s multitude of departure points from Downtown, Mid City, Civic Center, Albert St, it does make it a lot easier to the non native user to find their stop. Aiding ease of use were large electronic signage which clearly and accurately display arrival times of all buses using the Exchange and what platform they depart from. Each platform also had a smaller sign which displayed only departure times for that particular platform. While electronic signage is becoming increasingly common in Auckland over the last 10 years, because all of Christchurch’s CBD buses depart from the same place, every passenger has access to the signs, as opposed to many of the inner city stops in Auckland (i.e Albert St, Customs St) which don’t, and all to frequently have had their printed timetable vandalized.

After you’ve made public transport easy to use, you also have to make it comfortable. Your own weatherproof clean car with padded chairs is always going to be more attractive then a bench (if you’re lucky) on the street with possibly no rain cover and definitely minimal wind cover. Once you add in the dangers of being alone at a bus stop late at night in town, the litter, stench and graffiti that plagues our inner city stops, public transport can become a very unattractive option. With the Bus Exchange, Christchurch was able to provide a modern and comfortable venue for PT users. You could wait indoors for your bus, safe from rain or wind or excessive heat thanks to the interior air conditioning, relaxing on padded chairs in a security patrolled safe and well lit environment. We are seeing more and more people realize that these are the type of facilities that needs to be offered to PT customers. With the development of New Lynn, Britomart and Manukau, Auckland is getting there. Unfortunately these are all mainly beneficial to train users, there isn’t really anything which offers the same level of ease to bus users. Which the construction of Britomart I had hopes that they would better integrate the bus system with the train station, but that hasn’t happened. New Lynn is primarily a train station and while the bus station is integrated, it is designed for people to sit outside for their bus rather than in.

Here are some photos of the old bus exchange: 

Christchurch also meets the third tenet of providing an attractive choice to private transport which is affordability. It’s not really relevant to the Bus Exchange but Christchurch does enjoy integrated ticketing based on a time scheme rather then zonal. Users may travel on any number of buses for 2hours and pay only $2.30. If they travel longer, they pay $4.60, the daily max charge.

With the events of 22/2/11, Christchurch lost much of its city center including the bus exchange. We had a temporary bus exchange for a few months which filled an emergency requirement.
Thankfully October 2010 bought an improvement with a purpose built Temporary Central Station. I haven’t had a chance to use this new exchange extensively as a passenger, but I believe it will certainly fill the gap until we get the promised brand new under-grounded (so that emerging buses do not impact pedestrian movement) bus exchange at some future point. Another major impact the earthquakes had was on traffic within the city. With the central city cordoned off for well over 8months, and the central part of the city still cordoned off, traffic every where else in Christchurch has been chaotic with all of that throughput which usually uses the city center’s 4 one way lanes redirected to roads which are not designed to handle that quantity of traffic. This isn’t even mentioning the fact that due to having to bypass around the giant rectangle of closed city center added more time to every journey. This understandably had a massive impact on the bus times and for the first few months after the quake our services were unreliable, always late and very inconvenient.

With the gradual reopening of the city center, timetable adjustments which reflect increased journey times and some central city through roads being opened, traffic is slowly getting back to normal. With a bus exchange located once again in the city it makes it easier to get cross town and transfer between routes. While most shops and businesses have relocated out of the city center, the bus exchange being back does mean that people can once again easily commute into town. This will play a crucial role in the rebuilding of our CBD. Here’s a comparison of diagrams of the old and new interchanges: And some photos of the new temporary interchange:



Transport in 2011: some steps forward, some steps backwards

Trying to get my head around whether 2011 was a good year or not such a good year for advocates of a more balanced transport system like myself, is a bit of a challenge. There were a number of good things which happened, but at the same time there were also a number of steps backward. Here’s my brief summary of the year.

The early months of 2011 were a time when Auckland Council and Auckland Transport were still very much “settling in”. We saw some really interesting first glimpses of what the council’s vision for Auckland’s city centre was in January, we found out that Len Brown’s goal for public transport patronage was 150 million trips a year by 2021 (and we wondered how that would be achieved). We also saw construction of the now open Wynyard Quarter tram loop. Submissions on preferred options for the Puhoi-Warkworth section of the holiday highway were written.

The February 22 earthquake in Christchurch obviously stands out as the whole country’s biggest event of the year, but seemed to have a remarkably little impact on the transport discussion here in Auckland. The government passed over a golden opportunity to back down over Puhoi-Wellsford (or at least downgrade it to something more sensible at a time when the whole country would have understood such a move), while Auckland Council sensibly pointed out that it would be many more years before serious money for the City Rail Link project was required. Behind the scenes, it was becoming fairly clear that officials reviewing the business case for the CRL were unlikely to come to agreement on the project’s merits.

In March the Auckland Unleashed discussion document was released, outlining the Council’s vision – at a broad-bush level – for Auckland over the next 30 years. We saw a great video of Len Brown’s rail vision for Auckland, but once again this positivity was tempered by the government’s feedback on the document (weirdly released before the discussion document) that pushed for more sprawl and more roads. Following hot on the heels of all that spatial plan discussion, we finally saw some progress on the implementation of a smartcard ticketing system in Auckland, with the launch of HOP. Unfortunately the complexity of the deal done between Auckland Transport, Thales, Snapper, NZ Bus, NZTA and so forth meant that the launch was generally met more by confusion than celebration.

From the optimism of those early months (earthquakes aside), the middle months of the year were a little more depressing – although the superb patronage stats throughout the year tempered this disappointment. The 2012 Government Policy Statement for Land Transport Funding turned out to be even stupider and more roads-obsessed than its 2009 predecessor, proposing additional RoNS that were so crazy they didn’t even end up being adopted into National’s election transport policy. But perhaps the biggest disappointment of those middle months was the review of the City Rail Link project, with the narrow-minded thinking of Ministry of Transport officials ignoring matters as fundamental as the bus and car capacity of the CBD when assessing the merits of the project. It was not a great year for the MoT, who also managed to forget to record the spending of around $180 million.

On a brighter note, the actual implementation of the HOP card went smoother than most (including myself) had expected. Bus loading times declined dramatically thanks to the speed of tagging on (although I still get annoyed at the cash-paying idiots who block the whole entranceway – any chance of some signage NZ Bus?) On a personal note, June was a pretty epic month with baby Adele arriving five weeks earlier than anticipated, leading to a couple of weeks of very regular travel to the hospital.

August saw the introduction of the Outer Link bus, as well as significance reconfiguration of all Western Bays services. Although further tweaks have been necessary (and probably will continue to be necessary in the future), overall the changes were very positive and have led to an increase in patronage exceeding what was forecast. After that, all eyes turned to the Rugby World Cup, which began on that fateful day of September 9th.

The transport chaos of RWC opening night was very unfortunate, but told us some very insightful things. As suspected, the CCO model of delivering many of council’s services through separate agencies did mean that they became siloed and didn’t talk to each other over matters as simple as the number of people expected to attend opening night. The highly fractured structure of running public transport in Auckland meant that everyone could point the finger at everyone else, whilst avoiding responsibility for that happened. But more positively, we also saw (and hopefully didn’t put off forever) an unprecedented willingness of Aucklanders to use public transport. There were over 140,000 rail trips around Auckland on September 9th, there probably could have been over 200,000 if we had the system to cope with them. I don’t think we’ve seen too much long-term damage from that evening, but perhaps we might see some long-term benefit with the realisation that it very much is Auckland’s public transport system that lets us down in our quest to become a truly world-class city.

During, and just after, the RWC, we saw draft versions of a number of really important documents that will help guide Auckland’s future. These included, the Draft Auckland Plan, the City Centre Master Plan, the Waterfront Plan and an Economic Development Strategy. I put together a fairly detailed submission on the Auckland Plan, and overall many thousands of submissions were received by the Council. Final decisions on these plans will be made in the first few months of next year.

In September we also  found out one of the best pieces of transport news for the year – that we would get 57 electric trains rather than the originally proposed 35. The excellent work by Auckland Transport to secure this deal probably hasn’t been given the praise it deserves, especially as many tens of millions of dollars were squeezed out of the government as their contribution to the additional trains. It was also very welcome to learn that the trains are going to look damn nice too.

After the RWC was finished, the election rolled around pretty quickly. While the overall result wasn’t particularly positive, as it seems we will see more of the same from central government, there were some interesting outcomes. We will have our first transport planner MP, in the Greens’ Julie-Anne Genter, Labour’s new leader David Shearer has been a long-time supporter of public transport in Auckland, while Phil Twyford becoming labour’s transport spokerperson should also lead to a greater focus on Auckland transport issues. In the interests of fairness, we should give new transport minister Gerry Brownlee a chance before passing final judgment on him.

So overall it has been a pretty damn busy year when it comes to Auckland transport issues. As I noted at the start of this post, there have been a number of steps forward but also a number of steps backwards. 2012 should hopefully see the resolution of a number of these issues: a finalisation of the spatial plan, hopefully some agreed way forward on the merits of the City Rail Link, the proper implementation of integrated ticketing and many more interesting things.

I’m just hoping for a slightly less crazy year than this one.

Guest Post: Tale of two cities

This is a Guest Post by regular commenter Patrick Reynolds. It was published as an Opinion Piece in a recent Sunday Star Times (though not online).

William Bambridge, flautist ‘of some competence’, future photographer Royal to Queen Victoria, and sire of no fewer than three all-England international footballers, made this observation in 1844: ‘I suppose as a whole Auckland is a gradually thriving place, tho’ as a town it is miserably laid out and built.’ Fair enough.

Auckland then was brand new, an encampment by a stream, Waihorotiu, the one that still flows under Queen St complete with its taniwha. The problem is that this description of Auckland is still pretty accurate. There are encouraging signs that things are at last improving, but in general, and particularly since the middle of last century, Auckland has done little but get further and further from gracing its natural setting. As if we have been determined to fulfil Bambridge’s description.

What does it matter, you might ask, so long as it is ‘a gradually thriving place’. Well this is the very point. I have a view on how this country can best compete with Australia, on how to ensure it thrives a little more than gradually. And it isn’t about which place can pay its people the least or has the lower taxes.

It’s about where is the better place to live, and this means having a high quality built environment as well as the more unmolested natural one. And spreading this growing city thinly over the surrounding countryside is about the surest way to achieve neither of things. As well as to bankrupt us through the sheer inefficiency of this 1960s model.

The attractions of city life are especially real for the more mobile younger population who can always opt for Sydney, Melbourne, or Shanghai, and certainly will keep doing so if we allow our urban centres to stay so substandard. And go they should, but it is essential that we do all we can to attract them back again before their pension age. Currently our cities bore young people to the airport.

It might seem obvious but it is worth pointing out that we live in cities in order to be closer to one another, not all of us of course, but ever increasing numbers of us desire the intensity of city life.

For New Zealand is undergoing the same demographic movements as China and most of the rest of the world, the quantities are somewhat different but the dynamic is the same. The urban centres of the upper North Island, and Auckland in particular, are growing at a far greater rate than the rest of the country. Auckland is projected to be home to three out of every four new New Zealanders, by birth or immigration, over the next couple of decades.

Even if various politicians and the makers of beer commercials know that at some level we don’t believe this and play to our fantasies of still being rugged country types, it is important to understand that we are not a rural population. Well over 75% of us live in the main centres, we have long been a nation of townies, and are urbanising fast.

A city is a not simply a big provincial town, it requires a different order of organisation, it offers a different set of pleasures and problems. For example the freedom the highway promises in the countryside becomes isolating and defiling in the city. So it is a relief that with the creation of the Super City at last this seems to be understood by local government. As can be seen by the determination to provide Auckland with a real urban transit system and attempts to constrain the cancer-like spread of low value suburbia over the beautiful and productive rural fringes.

Like the ungainly teenager it resembles, it is unclear if Auckland will be able to fulfil this potential, especially as at least for now, every step of the way it has to fight for the right to its own ideas with an uncomprehending and provincial-minded government. One that seems to be unwilling to let the city become the sophisticated adult it surely can.

Even so in some areas Auckland is beginning grow out of the dreary legacy of the postwar era. We are discovering, for example, that the city is actually by the sea and are building towards it in promising ways. But we have a very big struggle ahead to accommodate both population growth and deal with the very real twin taniwhas of our time, the end of cheap oil and the pressures of climate change. And in this most auto-dependent of cities.

A few years after the interesting and perceptive Mr Bambridge visited Auckland another Englishman stepped off a ship here, off one of the fabled First Four Ships in fact. And into a place that was to become very well ‘laid out and built’ indeed, Christchurch. He was also to try his hand at that great Victorian innovation, photography, but that is not what we remember him for.

Benjamin Mountfort was destined to become the great architect of the Gothic Revival in New Zealand, designing landmark buildings like the Canterbury Museum, the Provincial Chambers, and a whole collection of churches in this style of the Victorian medieval. A retiring and devout Anglican his works perfectly express the conscious aim of the Canterbury Association and others to create an imagined England in the South Pacific. The ruling ideology of that British century made visible. And at once giving Christchurch a defining character.

Much of this is now tragically in ruins. As a child of the more ramshackle north I always loved the texture and the richness of the Victorian and Edwardian streetscape in the central city, as I do still that of its Presbyterian neighbour to the south. But of course it is now clear that this stacking of brick and stone is a hopeless technology for our young and shaky land.

But still, the centre of Christchurch remains well ‘laid out’, street pattern being durable, and from the great loss there are some quick wins to be made. There is the chance to be rid some of the more miserable 20th century additions as well as the daft one way system. And to build a new modern Light Rail network to reconnect the heart to rest of the city. And of course what can be saved must be, but it will need more than this.

Mountfort first lost a church to an earthquake in Napier in 1931 and perhaps the contemporary rebuilding of that city is the model. It seems to this Aucklander that there is a fantastic opportunity for the building of a new central Christchurch by the best architects of the 21st century. To launch an ambitious programme of seismically secure, ecologically advanced and just plain beautiful contemporary building. Structures that offer answers to the challenges of this new century.

To seize this moment to add a stunning and ambitious contemporary layer to the centre seems to me to be the best way to get Christchurch back onto the world map, and to prevent the city from further fracturing into little more than a dissipated collection of bland and characterless shopping malls.

But also, in an authentic way, to honour the city’s great architectural past as well as the industry and determination of its founders.