Mayor Bob Parker talks trams and trains

Posted on July 31, 2010 by

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A very interesting story in todays Press about the future of public transport in Christchurch. I will let you read it and decide for yourself but here are a few bits I found interesting (plus comments):

Look, says Parker, spreading out a set of maps on the coffee table, this is the reason it has to be done. One map is of the peak-time traffic flows as they were in 2006. A second of how they are projected to be by 2041 – when Christchurch has become a city of half a million, or more than 700,000 once surrounding townships are included.

Population projections often quoted in the media, and even in official government reports, usually only take into account the population of the immediate city rather than the greater metropolitan area (which is more important). Good to see an acknowledgement of the later as it puts things in perspective a bit more.

Parker’s critics, such as former ECan councillor and Canterbury Regional Transport Committee chair Jo Kane, buy this part of the argument but then ask, do we really need light rail?

Kane says ECan believed that bus technology could be evolved to create a bus rapid transit (BRT) system – a tram-like service without the tram-like costs. Some smaller cities like Adelaide have bus guideways where the buses have sensors to self-steer along dedicated lanes. Combined with traffic- light priority and other advances, buses could do the job of shifting people smoothly and efficiently.

Unfortunately for Jo Kane, Adelaide has one guided busway (built in the 1980’s) and today is upgrading and expanding its heavy rail system as well as developing an extensive light rail system. Not really the best example at all I’m afraid. Bus lanes are not BRT either so developing BRT anywhere is still going to require considerable expense.

Kane says this evolutionary strategy was precisely the reason we have been putting dedicated bus lanes down main routes like Papanui Rd and Colombo St this past year. The street geography is being carved out to allow for a future automated bus network.

Christchurch’s bus lanes could not possibly lead to a ‘future automated bus network’. Bus lanes were intended to make the bus system operate more efficiently and they do that fine.

And Christchurch – a small place at the bottom of the world – more than any city cannot afford to let a reputation for congestion become a turn-off as it has for Auckland and others, Parker says.

Bob Parker seems to be making a mess of his reelection campaign thus far, but he is right on the money here. I have been saying for a while now that Christchurch is roughly where Auckland was in the late 1950’s & early 1960’s so clearly the choices we make now will have a significant effect on the way the city grows. The question is, can we learn from the past?

Parker is pushing for light rail as the better idea. In as little as five years, he says, he can imagine “tram- trains” trundling down Riccarton Rd, connecting Canterbury University to a new central city Transport Interchange in Tuam St – a spine service, which could later be extended right out to the airport in one direction, the polytech and Brighton Beach in the other.

Interesting ideas from Bob there. Impressive but probably a little too optimistic though, as I really think that if we are going to talk rail then we need to start small and simple and go from there. Nevertheless, that is just my opinion and he certainly has a great vision. Would love to see it happen.

And then another set of services could be created based on the existing mainline train tracks that come into Christchurch from three directions. Why not, given the tracks are hardly used, yet nearly reach the centre of town?

This is probably his best point, making use of the existing mainline railways. Why build brand new BRT along a key route when you can upgrade and use the rail line? This, in my mind, should be a good pace to start from. Look at Auckland as an example. If you talked about an underground CBD loop and electrified rail fifteen years ago you would have been laughed at. Service upgrades and Britomart later and it’s almost a reality. Starting with something simple and cheap is they way to go, and could make those bold visions more achievable.

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